Oregon Lawmaker Groped Women At State Capitol, Report Finds

Oregon's governor and House speaker are calling on State Sen. Jeff Kruse (R) to resign.
Several women have accused Oregon state Sen. Jeff Kruse (R) of groping them. 
Several women have accused Oregon state Sen. Jeff Kruse (R) of groping them. 

Oregon State Sen. Jeff Kruse (R) repeatedly groped women ― sometimes while on the Senate floor or in the governor’s office ― despite repeated warnings, according to an independent investigation.

The 51-page report, compiled by employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff and released Tuesday, found Kruse subjected two female lawmakers and many other women to unwanted touching and “lingering” hugs.

The 66-year-old Republican legislator engaged in a “longstanding pattern ... of unwelcome physical contact” toward women in the workplace, including State Sens. Sara Gelser (D) and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D).

“The evidence ... shows that he has engaged in a pattern of placing his hands on women in the workplace below their waists, or touching his head to their heads, whereas the evidence indicates that he does not do this with males in the workplace,” according to the report.

Gelser accused Kruse of once placing “both his hands on the front of her shoulders with the palm of each hand resting on or near her breasts” while on the Senate floor in 2016, according to the report. On another occasion, Gelser told Rubanoff that Kruse “wrapped his left arm around her shoulder with his fingers extending down toward her breast, and placed his right hand on her thigh with his fingers under the hem of her skirt.”

Members of the state legislature’s counsel and human resources department advised Kruse in 2016 to stop hugging his female colleagues and “keep an an arms’ length distance from them,” according the report. But Kruse’s inappropriate behavior only escalated. 

It was not lack of respect for her – just falling back into old patterns. When you have been doing something for 67 years it’s not easy to change. Oregon State Sen. Jeff Kruse (R) to employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff

Steiner Hayward repeatedly told Kruse in 2016 and 2017 that his physical contact with her was unwelcome, according to the report. After Steiner Hayward rejected Kruse’s attempt to kiss her hand during an October 2017 meeting in her office, Kruse defended his behavior.

“I’m just a hugger,” Kruse allegedly told Steiner Hayward. “It’s not as if I want to have sex with you. ... I don’t see why this is such a big deal.”

Kruse also engaged in “offensive behavior” toward two law students who were assigned to his office in 2017, and “cupped” the buttocks of a young female lobbyist at an event at the governor’s office, according to the report. 

One law student told Rubanoff that Kruse often called her “little girl” and “sexy.” When another staff member flirted with her, Kruse said, “You are pretty, so that can happen,” according to the report.

“My behavior has not changed as fast as it should have,” Kruse told Rubanoff when asked about his interactions with Steiner Hayward. “It was not lack of respect for her ― just falling back into old patterns. When you have been doing something for 67 years it’s not easy to change.”

A representative for Kruse did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

Gov. Kate Brown (D), state House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) and several Republican state legislators have called on Kruse to resign in light of the allegations.

“Senator Kruse’s behavior is not acceptable in the Capitol or any workplace, and he should step down,” Brown said Wednesday in a statement to HuffPost. “The legislature must immediately take steps to ensure that every person who walks into Oregon’s Capitol is safe and respected.”

The first public accusations of sexual harassment against Kruse were reported in October, as the #MeToo movement gained momentum. Gelser told The Oregonian that Kruse had sexually harassed her for years, and accused him of touching her breast and thigh at the State Capitol.

Kruse acknowledged that he gave Gelser side hugs but said he didn’t find his actions to be inappropriate, according to The News-Review, a publication covering Oregon’s Douglas County. 

“I have never done anything that I believe anybody could portray as being sexual,” Kruse told The Oregonian in October.

Rubanoff wrote in her report that she was “concerned” that Kruse could “fall back into old patterns” if he were permitted to continue his work as a state legislator.

“I am also concerned about the message that will be sent to women in the workplace regarding the futility of coming forward if there are not meaningful consequences for [Kruse],” she wrote.

The report is set to be considered by the Senate Conduct Committee during a public hearing on the investigation on Feb. 22.

Read the full report on the Kruse investigation below: