Unless state Sen. Jeff Kruse has a bombshell revelation to share when he meets on Feb. 22 with the Senate Conduct Committee, a independent report into his behavior seals the deal: Kruse should resign his Senate seat.
The last nail for the Roseburg Republican almost certainly came this week, when an independent investigator released a report into allegations that Kruse continued a pattern of unwelcome physical contact with two female senators (including the mid-valley's Sara Gelser), gave lengthy unwanted hugs to other women at the Oregon Capitol and created a hostile workplace. The investigator, Dian Rubanoff, an employment law attorney, also found that Kruse did not change his behavior toward women at the Capitol despite receiving warnings to do so.
Kruse did not deny many of the allegations, telling Rubanoff that he did not recall many of the specific incidents. He did say that the contact was not intended to be sexual in nature.
Rubanoff went to considerable lengths to gather evidence (including video footage from the Legislature) that could collaborate or dispute the allegations of unwelcome conduct. (A copy of her report is attached to the online version of this editorial.) She finds that she could not confirm some of the allegations, but chalks that up to faulty memories, not deliberate misstatements.
Nevertheless, her conclusions are devastating. Here, for example, is part of her summary on the allegations that Gelser made against Kruse:
"What is clear and undisputed is that by March 3, 2016, Senator Kruse was on notice that female Senators had complained about him, and he was given specific guidelines about conduct to avoid with women in the workplace in the future. By his own admission, Senator Kruse chose not to make changes in his behavior because he did not know which females had found his conduct to be offensive, and he did not want to change his behavior with everyone. ... I find that by the end of the 2017 legislative session, Senator Kruse had created an offensive work environment for Senator Gelser because she believed it was necessary to tolerate his physical contact with her 'in order to get work done in the Senate.'"
Kruse has said he will not resign, but that's not doing his constituents in the Roseburg area any favors: Senate President Peter Courtney last year took the extraordinary step of stripping away Kruse's committee assignments, severely limiting his ability to shape legislation. On Tuesday, while his Republican colleagues caucused over the matter, Kruse agreed to stay away from the Capitol for a two-week period, which means that he won't even be on the Senate floor for 40 percent of the five-week legislative session.
And, increasingly, Kruse appears to be losing the support of his Republican colleagues. On Wednesday, Rep. Cedric Hayden, who also represents the Roseburg area, called on the senator to resign.
"It's clear after reading the investigative report that Senator Kruse can no longer be an effective leader for his district, and for rural Oregon," Hayden said in a statement, and added: "The people of his district, and Roseburg, a community we both represent, are being shortchanged. Moreover, women in our Capitol — lawmakers, advocates, and the visiting public — need to know that the elected leaders in our state will not tolerate an environment where their safety is at risk."
Kruse will return to the Capitol for that Feb. 22 session with the Senate Conduct Committee. If that committee finds Rubanoff's report credible, it can recommend that the full Senate discipline Kruse. Disciplining a senator, which could include expulsion, requires a two-thirds majority.
Unless Kruse is able to mount a more credible defense, however, it appears likely that the Senate will be able to muster that two-thirds majority; just three Republican votes will be needed. In the meantime, Kruse's constituents have lost their voice in the Senate. The best option is for Kruse to resign. (mm)