Oregon lawmaker resigning amid groping allegations

An Oregon state senator resigned after an investigation determined he had harassed women in the Capitol building with prolonged hugging, groping and other unwelcome physical contact.

Sen. Jeff Kruse, in a statement Thursday, remained defiant, indicating he was deprived of his rights and proclaiming his innocence. He said his resignation is effective March 15.

An investigative report released Tuesday said the long-time Republican senator from the former timber town of Roseburg had groped or gave lingering hugs to two female senators, two law students who used to work for him, Republican and non-partisan staffers, a former legislative aide and a lobbyist.

The report said the behaviour had continued for years, despite warnings that he stop.

The investigation was one of many in statehouses nationwide following a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against men in power since an October expose of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein by the New York Times.

In Arizona, Republican state Rep. Don Shooter was voted out of office on Feb. 1 after sexual misconduct allegations, becoming the first state lawmaker in the U.S. to be expelled since the #MeToo movement gained steam.

Several Oregon politicians, including Gov. Kate Brown, had called for Kruse to leave the Legislature.

Sen. Sara Gelser, a Democrat who said she had been subjected to the unwanted physical contact for years, made a formal complaint last November, giving the #MeToo movement its highest-profile case in Oregon. Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward later made a similar complaint.

Gelser said that when she was sitting at her desk on the House floor in 2011, where she first served in the Legislature, Kruse leaned onto her back and put his hands and arms down her shoulders and across her breasts.

The 51-page report by investigator and employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff cited complaints by other women who weren’t named.

A Senate panel had scheduled a hearing to determine whether to recommend expulsion or other sanctions, or take no action.

In his statement Kruse said: “For civil rights to be meaningful, there must be civil rights for all people, including the right to fundamental fairness for persons accused of harassment.

“I continue to deny these allegations and I regret that I will not have the opportunity to defend myself before the Senate Conduct Committee,” he said.

He said he was resigning so his constituents could “receive the fullest representation they are due.”

Kruse told the investigator that he believed his behaviour was “instinctual” and that although he wanted to change, “It’s not easy to change when you have been doing something for 67 years.”

Senate President Peter Courtney said Kruse made the right decision.

“While Senator Kruse’s resignation ends a difficult chapter for the Legislature, we cannot allow it to end this discussion,” Courtney said. “We owe it to the courageous women who came forward to seize this moment.”

Jackie Winters, the Senate Republican leader in the Legislature dominated by Democrats, thanked Kruse for his 22 years of service.

“As we move forward, we must work to provide a safe work environment for all,” Winters said.

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick praised the women who spoke up about harassment.

“Women showed incredible courage to come out with their experiences, and hopefully this will provide them with some comfort,” the Democrat told reporters.

Kruse said he was proud of his accomplishments in health care and education.

“I look forward to returning to the wonderful community that has supported me for over two decades,” he said.

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