SALEM, Ore. – Senate President Peter Courtney admonished a state senator for inappropriately touching women and smoking in his office at the Oregon State Capitol in an explosive letter obtained by KGW on Tuesday.
Courtney stripped Republican Sen. Jeff Kruse of his committee assignments last week, one day after Democratic Sen. Sara Gelser said she had been inappropriately touched by at least one Senate Republican.
In an Oct. 20 letter, Courtney wrote that two new incidents of inappropriate behavior by Kruse toward women were brought to his attention. The senate president said a second unnamed senator has come forward with allegations.
Kruse, who represents Roseburg, was instructed by legislative counsel that he was not to touch women at work.
“Continuing to touch women at work is inappropriate workplace conduct of which you have already been warned,” wrote Courtney. “Let me be very clear. Women in the Capitol do NOT want you to touch them.”
Last week, Kruse denied the “inappropriate behavior” in an email, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. He said the sanctions he was facing and Sen. Gelser’s accusations were “not connected.”
In an email to The Associated Press, Kruse said he had not been informed of what he's accused of.
"Because I am being denied access to any of the specifics of the allegations and actually I am being denied due process in this whole thing there is very little I can say because I don't know what the allegations are," said Kruse.
Gelser said she's heard accounts from other women in the Capitol of inappropriate touching by men and insisted "the culture needs to change." She heard the accounts over the weekend 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. "I am committed to ensuring that all us have safe and respectful workplaces. I urge anyone experiencing sexual harassment or inappropriate touching in the workplace to seek assistance through their office personnel process. To these individuals I would say: 'You have done nothing wrong. You have nothing to be embarrassed about. You deserve to work in a safe environment.'”
In a statement released Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown called the reports of sexual harassment "absolutely unacceptable."
"Recently, we have seen a tidal wave of women speaking out and standing up against harassment, discrimination, and abuse. As examples of these issues have again stoked a national dialogue, it is all too clear that no workplace or community is immune to them — sadly even in our state capitol," Brown said. "This behavior must be stopped, and I applaud the courage of those who brought these allegations to light."
Senate Republican leader Ted Ferrioli said he was aware of the allegations against Kruse.
"Currently, there is an ongoing investigation into these allegations, which we take seriously. To our knowledge, there has been no formal complaint filed. Upon the conclusion of the investigation we will work within our process to resolve these issues in cooperation with human resources, legislative counsel, caucus leadership, and the Senate President. To respect the privacy of all parties, we will not comment further on the allegations," Ferrioli said.
Courtney said each female member of the Oregon Senate, along with several staffers, will be questioned about any inappropriate touching from anyone as part of the ongoing investigation.
In addition to stripping Kruse of his political influence on committees, Courtney plans to strip him of privacy by having Kruse's office door removed.
“It is my hope that this lack of privacy will prevent you from smoking in your office,” Courtney said.
Kruse has been fined twice by the Oregon Health Authority for smoking at the Capitol. Courtney wrote that Kruse’s smoking showed a disrespect for Oregon law and the Capitol as a workplace.
“This is an unprecedented step for me as Senate President. I have never taken this kind of action before but I am left with no other options at this time to protect our employees, members of the legislature and the public,” Courtney said.
KGW's Pat Dooris and The Associated Press contributed to this story.