SALEM — A state senator from Roseburg accused of groping women defied calls to resign Wednesday after telling investigators his behavior was “instinctual” and hard to change.
Sen. Jeff Kruse was away from work as Gov. Kate Brown, other Democratic lawmakers and Republican Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend urged him to step down a day after an investigative report detailed several allegations that he subjected two female senators to unwanted touching and gave lingering hugs to many woman.
“I respectfully call on Senator Kruse to resign or retire from the Oregon Senate,” Knopp, the first Republican to call for Kruse’s resignation, said in a statement. “I also respectfully request that Senator Kruse not force the Senate to have a Conduct Committee process and make the victims share these personally painful incidents publicly.”
The report included video showing him leaning in closely to a colleague and touching her in a Senate committee room.
“I have no plan to do anything different than what I’m currently doing,” Kruse told his hometown newspaper The News-Review. “We’re still in a formal process here. I have significant issues with the report.”
However, Wednesday afternoon the Republican Senate caucus said it had accepted an offer from Kruse that he stay away from the Capitol building pending the conclusion of the investigation. A Senate panel will hold a hearing on the matter on Feb. 22.
Kruse didn’t return an email seeking comment from The Associated Press.
Kruse is accused of harassment but generally not of a sexual nature, though the investigator found that he touched and hugged women more than men, and the people who complained were women.
Sen. Sara Gelser, one of the accusers, “did not think that Senator Kruse’s actions were sexual, just overly familiar and unwanted contact,” the report said.
The four-member Committee on Conduct is slated to consider the investigative report later this month and must make a recommendation that Kruse be reprimanded, censured, expelled, or that no action be taken, committee Chairman Sen. Mark Hass told Kruse, Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, the other senator who made a formal complaint.
The 51-page investigative report was written by investigator and employment law attorney Dian Rubanoff.
“Kruse has engaged in a pattern of conduct that was offensive to Senator Gelser and Senator Steiner Hayward, as well as other legislators and employees at the Capitol,” Rubanoff wrote. “I do not believe that Senator Kruse is a bad person, or that he has intended to hurt or offend anyone.”
Kruse was advised in 2016 to stop hugging female legislators and staff members and leaning in close to talk to them, but he ignored that and even escalated the behavior in 2017, the report said.
Two video clips showed Kruse leaning in close to a female senator who appears to be Gelser and putting his hands on her.
The report also revealed misconduct by Kruse against a House member, a third female senator, two law students who used to work for him, Republican and nonpartisan staffers, a former legislative aide and a lobbyist.
One of the law students told the investigator that Kruse would call her “little girl” and tell her she was “sexy” while at work in the Capitol. She also told the investigator that Kruse subjected her to “a lot of hugging.”
Staffers in the Senate Republicans caucus office told Rubanoff that Kruse had pulled them in or wrapped his arms around them.
Kruse told Rubanoff he realized his perspective needed to change after he attended one hour of counseling last year.