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Kruse Won't Resign, But Will Stay Out Of Oregon Capitol For Now

<p>Oregon Sen. Jeff Kruse at the Capitol in 2013.</p>

Oregon Sen. Jeff Kruse at the Capitol in 2013.

Despite increasing pressure to resign after an investigation unveiled a pattern of unwanted touching and harassment, Roseburg Republican Jeff Kruse will keep his job as Oregon state senator. 

But he won't step back into the state Capitol until a special conduct committee convenes later this month.

An independent investigation into behavior by the senator showed Kruse had a pattern of “ engaging in unwelcome physical contact toward females in the workplace.”

Both Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek called for Kruse’s resignation Tuesday night. By the following day, more lawmakers joined the call. But the Republican Senate Caucus said they accepted Kruse’s offer to “not be in the Capitol building” until the entire process plays out.

A special conduct committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 22 and will hear from both Kruse and two of his Democratic counterparts Sens. Sara Gelser, of Corvallis, and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, of Portland, who have accused him of inappropriate touching and harassment.

Many of Kruse’s fellow Republican senators declined to comment beyond their statement.

“The behavior alleged in the report, if true, is obviously not acceptable to the Senate Republican caucus,” the statement read. “This is why we have accepted Sen. Kruse’s, a 22-year veteran of the Oregon Legislature, offer to leave the Capitol building, taking with him the opportunity to represent his district pending the conclusion of this process.”

Gelser responded to the Republican caucus' statement in a tweet, saying, "If true? These findings of fact from an independent investigator represent substantiated allegations made by multiple frightened staffers (including R (Republican) staff) and lobbyists. Memo (from Republican caucus) suggests it's possible they are all lying? #BelieveWomen or at least believe the investigator."

One Republican caucus member, however, did leave the meeting with a statement calling for Kruse to step down permanently.

“Because Sen. Kruse had been warned not to engage in the unwanted harassing behavior and according to the report he admittedly didn’t take the warning seriously, he must be held accountable,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, a Republican from Bend. “I respectfully call on Sen. Kruse to resign or retire from the Oregon Senate. I also respectfully request that Sen. Kruse not force the Senate to have a conduct committee process and make the victims share these personally painful incidents publicly.”

Knopp said for too long there has been a culture in the state Capitol that women have to put up with harassing behavior to simply do their jobs.

“That culture must end now,” Knopp said.

When asked whether Kruse was leaving without pay, a spokeswoman for the caucus did not immediately respond.

An independent investigator was hired to look into the allegations of unwanted touching. The investigation found Kruse’s hugging and unwanted touching of women escalated after he was warned to stop. Although the investigation was sparked by a formal complaint from two of his fellow state senators, some of Kruse's advances were directed at other women, including two law students who were working in his office.

A Senate special committee on conduct will use the investigator’s report as a starting point to consider the sexual misconduct case and potentially recommend sanctions, including possible expulsion, against Kruse.

The Senate will vote on the committee’s recommendations.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lauren Dake is a political reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.