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'Goodbye Party' For Oregon Lawmakers Criticized For Honoring Disgraced Former Senator

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

Oregon Sen. Jeff Kruse at the Capitol in 2013.

UPDATE (Sept. 19, 7:05 p.m.) — A "goodbye party" for departing Republican Oregon lawmakers has been canceled after drawing scrutiny because of a controversial figure who made the list of honorees: disgraced former Sen. Jeff Kruse.

Chris Barreto, wife of Oregon state Rep. Greg Barreto, told OPB Wednesday evening she had canceled the party, after earlier pushing back on criticism from a Democratic state senator.

The event, which was scheduled for this weekend at Barreto's Keizer home, was being thrown in honor of “our friends who have left or are leaving the legislature,” according to an invite that circulated in recent days.

The invitation included the names of 11 current or former Republican legislators. Most have chosen not to run for another term, or have already left the Oregon Legislature to accept new jobs. Then there was Kruse, who resigned his Senate seat under pressure earlier this year, after an investigation revealed he’d sexually harassed women at the Capitol — including interns and fellow legislators.

Events for departing lawmakers are nothing new, but Kruse’s inclusion in Barreto’s party drew heat Wednesday from state Sen. Sara Gelser, who brought Kruse’s behavior to light late last year.

“I am stunned and appalled,” Gelser said, after OPB sent her a copy of the invitation. “These are the people that I work with and they are having a party for a man that chased law interns out of the building.”

In a tweet, Gelser called on lawmakers to denounce the private party. She specifically called out Rep. Knute Buehler, another of the party’s honorees who’s departing his House seat to challenge Gov. Kate Brown in this year’s gubernatorial election. It wasn't clear Wednesday afternoon whether Buehler planned to attend. 

Kruse, a Republican from Roseburg, left the Legislature in March, but fallout from his behavior continues in Salem. The Legislature has asked the Oregon Law Commission to recommend changes to its policy on workplace harassment. And in August, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian filed a complaint alleging that legislative leaders hadn’t done enough to counteract Kruse’s behavior, and allowed a culture of harassment.

“If that doesn’t speak to the culture of the Capitol, that you have a bunch of elected officials who are going to go celebrate ,” Gelser said Wednesday. “He has no business being on there.”

But one of the party’s organizers disagreed. Chris Barreto, wife of the lawmaker throwing the party, told OPB that the event was “a private party at our home, being held for private individuals,” and that it wasn’t Democrats’ concern.

“I don’t stick my nose in their business,” she said.

Chris Barreto sent out invitations to the party, she said, but the gathering got a boost from Promote Oregon Leadership, a political action committee run by Oregon House Republicans. The PAC sent the invite out in an email earlier this week. Executive Director Preston Mann said Tuesday the group wasn’t formally involved.

“From time to time we pass along invitations on behalf of folks, which is the case with the event you mentioned,” Mann said.

According to Chris Barreto, Kruse hadn’t indicated whether he planned to attend the party.

Shortly after OPB posted a story on the event Wednesday, Chris Barreto sent an e-mail saying the event had been cancelled, but not offering further details. 

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration between public radio stations around the Northwest called the Northwest News Network.