Senate President Peter Courtney stripped state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, of all his committee assignments... https://t.co/k1DsTVg1pn— Tena olson (@tenaolson) October 22, 2017
An Oregon state senator has been harshly warned by the Senate president not to “touch women at work. Period.”
State Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Rosenburg) was stripped of all his committee assignments one day after two female senators accused him of touching them inappropriately. This means he will no longer be able to amend legislation.
On Oct. 20, Senate President Peter Courtney wrote a letter of admonishment to Kruse informing him about two new cases of indecent behavior by him that came to light.
DEVELOPING: President of the Senate to State Senator Jeff Kruse: “Let me be very clear. Women in the Capitol do NOT want you to touch them.” pic.twitter.com/BqT4hOx91L— Eileen Park (@EileenParkTV) October 24, 2017
“This week I was made aware that your behavior toward women in the workplace has also gone unchanged,” Courtney wrote. “You were instructed in March…that you were not to touch women at work. Period.”
Apparently, Kruse still did not understand that his behavior was completely unacceptable.
“If somebody is stretching your comfort level, why wouldn’t you say something to them, rather than make a big political thing about it?” Sen. Kruse had said on Monday. “I’m assuming at this point you cannot touch a woman on her shoulder, or you cannot whisper in her ear, or anything like that.”
Courtney had to resort to explicit bluntness since Kruse doesn't seem to get it.
“Continuing to touch women at work is inappropriate workplace conduct of which you have already been warned,” wrote the senate president. “Let me be very clear. Women in the Capitol do NOT want you to touch them.”
The scandal came to light when the Oregon Republicans tried to blame Democrats, notably Sen. Sara Gelser, for accepting money from Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of a pattern of sexual misconduct.
In response, Gelser tweeted, “Will you ensure no member of your caucus inappropriately touches or gropes female members and staff in the capitol?”
Sexual harassment not a laughing matter. Telling truth & asking for safe, respectful groping free workplace is not a race to the bottom.— Sara Gelser (@SenSaraGelser) October 17, 2017
State Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick backed Gelser on this, saying she witnessed Kruse approaching Gelser at her desk on the Oregon Senate floor, wrap his arms around her and stepped in her personal space during a public debate.
“I said, ‘Get your hands off Sen. Gelser,’” Burdick recalled.
She also said she could not remember the date of the incident and did not report it to the Legislature's employee services office or legal office at the time. But she did say it was not the first time she had seen Kruse inappropriately touch a woman in the Capitol.
Gelser also said she had heard tales from her colleague about being similarly harassed by men in the Capitol after Kruse was punished.
“Issues of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching are not partisan issues. They are workplace issues. Far too many people are disrupted from doing their work by inappropriate touching and sexual harassment, and I hope that will change,” Gelser said Tuesday.
Although the public and members of the press have very limited access to the Senate floor, they can see the Senate proceedings from the aisles or upper balconies, which offer an unobstructed view of the chambers. The proceedings are also recorded and livestreamed and can be watched by anyone but the view is limited, usually focusing on whichever member of the Senate is speaking at that time.
Gelser’s sexual harassment report came during a time when women across the country are raising their voices against unwanted sexual contact. The Hill reported earlier this week that staff and lawmakers in many states said that sexual harassment is rampant in their state’s Capitol.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: Reuters, Steve Dipaola