Oregon state Sen. Sara Gelser said a fellow lawmaker sexually harassed her at the Oregon Capitol. Gelser, D-Corvallis, first raised the issue publicly on Twitter last week, but initially said she would not name the lawmaker in question.
On Monday, Gelser confirmed that she was referring to Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. Kruse was stripped of all his committee appointments on Friday by Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem.
Courtney did not respond to a request for comment, but the Oregonian reported that Courtney made the decision in part due to allegations of “inappropriate touching.”
Kruse has not responded to a request for comment, but denied touching Gelser inappropriately in an email to the Oregonian.
Gelser said she has filed complaints about Kruse with the Legislature’s Human Resources department as well as the Legislature’s attorney.
In an interview with OPB’s Think Out Loud, Gelser would not describe the nature of Kruse’s behavior, but said that women at the Capitol have experienced a range of inappropriate behavior by men. She said these include “being touched too long, having a hand on your thigh either above or below your skirt in what someone believes is just a friendly way, a hand around the shoulder where the fingers are going beneath your shirt, having someone pull you in too close, a hand that’s lingering on your lower back, or someone talking to you so closely that your ear is wet when you pull away,” she said.
Gelser said this type of behavior isn’t limited to meetings behind closed doors. “This can happen in the hallway,” she said. “It happened on the floor of our chambers.”
Gelser said female lobbyists and legislative staffers have also experienced sexual harassment at the Oregon Capitol.
“I hope that what comes of this discussion is that it’s not about a set of experiences that I had, but about a culture that needs to change,” said Gelser.
Gelser’s initial tweet came after widespread coverage of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. She was responding to a tweet from a Republican staff member accused her of taking campaign donations from Weinstein.
I have no $ from HW. Will u ensure no member of ur caucus inappropriately touches or gropes female members and staff in Cap?— Sara Gelser (@SenSaraGelser) October 16, 2017
The Oregon Democratic Party accepted a $5,000 donation from Weinstein in the mid 1990s, before Gelser was in the Legislature.