When state Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, first said she was sexually harassed by a fellow lawmaker in October, she didn’t mention Sen. Jeff Kruse by name.
Instead, she said, she came forward not because of her experience but because of a broader culture that needed changing.
This week, an independent investigation revealed Kruse had a longstanding pattern of harassing women. Gelser was not alone; there were other lawmakers, a lobbyist and interns assigned to Kruse’s office.
After mounting pressure, the Roseburg Republican resigned effective March 15. He will be paid his salary and a daily stipend of $142 until that date.
Now, about four months after first raising questions about the culture in the Salem statehouse, Gelser said she’s hoping the conversation can shift back to addressing the systemic changes that need to take place.
“The process is designed to protect powerful men. The law student that wasn’t able to complete her internship here because it was so hostile because of the way he treated her, she didn’t get to negotiate the terms of her departure,” Gelser said, referencing one of the students who left the Capitol early after being harassed while working in Kruse’s office.
“She just lost the opportunity to serve in her state Capitol. That is one of the big pieces of our overall culture that needs to change,” Gelser continued. “We need to move from a place where we create face-saving opportunities for people that violate others and instead focus on how do we make whole those that have been violated.”
House Speaker Tina Kotek said she’s committed to hiring an outside consultant to examine the Legislature’s policies, but wanted to see how the Kruse investigation played out first.
She tweeted Thursday evening that Kruse’s ability to dictate the terms of his own departure “is exactly what’s wrong with the power dynamic that exists at the Capitol.”
But the next steps are unclear. Gelser said the coming days are important.
“What these men and women need to hear is that when they bring forward concerns, they will be taken seriously,” Gelser said. “And when you get to the point where they are substantiated by an independent investigator, that they will be believed.”
It’s not only Democrats calling for a change.
“It’s clear this wasn’t an isolated incident,” said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend.
Knopp was the only member of the Senate Republican caucus who called on Kruse to resign.
“For too long, women have had to put up with harassment to do their job or advance their career,” he said. “The problem is, it’s part of the culture. And it’s not OK.”