Sen. Kruse’s resignation is a relief

Pamplin Media Group State Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, denied allegations he inappropriately touched female colleagues and staff members, saying he would resign so that the Senate could get on with its work.

State Sen. Jeff Kruse had to go.

His flouting of Oregon Senate rules against sexual harassment was egregious. His repentance, if any, was short-lived. His resignation is a relief.

When it came to changing his behavior, including his routinely breaking state law by smoking in his Oregon Capitol office, Kruse was known for promising one thing and doing another. That is why Senate leaders initially were careful to say little about his resignation, not wanting to irritate him into rescinding it.

But Tuesday’s deadline passed and Kruse’s Feb. 8 resignation now is irrevocable.

It is unfortunate that the Roseburg Republican set March 15 for his departure, which enables him to still draw his legislative pay until then while leaving his constituents unrepresented for the rest of the 2018 Legislature. An immediate departure might have enabled his successor, who will be a Republican, to be selected and sworn into office before the legislative session ends. March 11 is the constitutional deadline for the Legislature’s adjournment.

At least Kruse is out the Capitol door. His victims won’t be forced to recount his shameful behavior and their painful experiences before a special Senate Committee on Conduct. The Senate won’t face a potentially divisive vote on expelling him.

This ordeal demonstrates that Kruse is not the only person with much to learn.

An outside investigator found a repeated pattern of sexual harassment by Kruse toward female legislators and female staff, including members of the Senate Republican caucus staff. Yet the caucus’ statement about that detailed investigation report said, “The behavior alleged in the report, if true, is obviously not acceptable to the Senate Republican caucus.”

... If true …

Those two words underscore why victims of harassment are reluctant to speak up. Even when supported by compelling evidence — like the Kruse investigation report — they fear not being believed.

A power imbalance exists in our nation’s capitols and many other institutions. Staff members, and sometimes lawmakers, owe their jobs and their political careers to the people in power — people to whom they are expected to be deferential.

When allegations arise, these powerful people often close ranks. They say the unwanted behavior was simply misunderstood. They question how “supposed victims” can remember incidents from long ago, not comprehending that traumatic memories can last a lifetime. They cast the complainants as attention-seeking whiners.

Some of that occurred among Kruse’s defenders. They did not grasp the gravity of his misconduct and its searing impact on his victims.

But other senators did. On the morning after the investigation report was released, Senate President Peter Courtney asked Kruse to keep out of the Capitol. That afternoon, Sen. Tim Knopp broke with his fellow Republicans, said he believed the women and called for Kruse to resign.

“For too long, there has been a culture in the Oregon Capitol and some places of public and private employment that women need to put up with harassing behavior to keep their jobs,” Knopp said. “That culture must end now.”

That is a moral imperative. For the Oregon Legislature. For our state and nation. For the world.

Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Harassment, even if unintentional, is morally and ethically wrong.

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