“State Sen. Sara Gelser said Monday that Sen. Jeff Kruse subjected her to inappropriate touching for years and that the conduct continued despite her reports to the Legislature’s human resources and legal staff.” (Gordon Friedman-The Oregonian 10.23.17)
It all started with some tweets last week. The communications director for the Senate Republicans chided Senator Gelser for not returning contributions to her campaign that he alleged Harvey Weinstein made. Senator Gelser responded that maybe he should make sure the Oregon Republican Senate caucus members should quit inappropriately touching women. That set of a series of events.
First Senator Peter Courtney signaled who Senator Gelser was referring to when he stripped Senator Jeff Kruse of his committee assignments, limiting his legislative power to a simple yes or not vote on the Senate floor.
Then over the weekend, reporters drilled down into the deflections and misstatements that State legislative HR managers were saying – and not saying. Helped along by some sleuthing by a local blogger.
Then today Gelser finally went on the record. Saying that she was referring to Senator Kruse, and revealing Kruse’s actions. Some of her allegations were backed up by Senator Burdick who said she witnessed some of the inappropriate touching. The State’s HR managers also changed, or clarified, their report regarding whether an informal complaint had been made by Senator Gelser earlier.
In addition, according to Senate President Peter Courtney, Kruse had been warned in March of this year by legislative counsel to stop touching women.
Some valid conclusions to draw from the evidence and actions.
The Oregon Legislatures Personnel Rule 27 prescribes how a complaint can be made about workplace harassment. There is a formal and informal process. Senator Courtney informed Senator Kruse last friday by letter that he had lodged an informal complaint after hearing about continued repeated unwanted physical contact by Senator Kruse . That report would under the rule cause an investigation of the allegations and only after that investigation is completed would any “appropriate action” be taken. All Legislators and employees involved in the investigation shall cooperate and keep information regarding the matter confidential.
That means there has more likely than not been a completed investigation. In that case all witnesses have been interviewed. Senator Kruse has been allowed a chance to tell his side, and that Senate President Courtney then imposed sanctions. And these sanctions are as close to actual removal from office, without actually removing him from office, that one can think of. The sanction also included an order to remove the door from Senator Kruse’s legislative office.
Senator Courtney is a careful politician. He believes in Senate tradition. For him to have taken this drastic action means that this is a very serious and well substantiated allegation. It’s also fair to say that historically when allegations like this arise, they inevitably get worse, not better, with time.
We can also conclude that Senator Kruse purposefully misled reporters in regards to the reason for the sanctions. In the October 20th, 2017 Oregonian article “Kruse denied having inappropriately touched Gelser and said that, to the best of his knowledge, the sanctions he is facing and Gelser’s accusations of inappropriate touching are “not connected.”
He should have simply stopped when he denied the allegations. For him to state that to the best of his knowledge the sanctions were not connected to Gelser’s accusations doesn’t pass the straight face test. It’s clear since we now know there was an informal complaint process that Senator Kruse had to be very aware of the complaint, the exact facts alleged, the seriousness of the accusations and had been given an opportunity to respond.
Senator Kruse must resign
No public official has an absolute right to office. That office belongs to the people of Senate District 1 and Senator Kruse temporarily occupies it. Senate District 1 is a safe Republican District with many capable Republicans who would be willing to serve. Senator Kruse’s resignation would not turn this seat over to a Democrat. It would almost assuredly remain in the GOP’s hands.
Senator Kruse was elected in November, 2016. His term doesn’t end until December 31, 2020. That means for the next 3+ years, three legislative sessions, unless Senator Courtney reverses his decision Senate District 1 voters will not have a full voice in the Oregon Senate. That is unacceptable. The voters of Senate District 1 are entitled to representation.