Colorado Republicans Protect GOP Colleague Facing Sexual Harassment Complaints  

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Colorado Republicans Protect GOP Colleague Facing Sexual Harassment Complaints  

Jason Salzman

In votes that could have an electoral impact, the legislature expelled a Democrat accused of sexual harassment, as Republicans protected one of their own.

A month after sexual harassment allegations brought Democrats and Republicans together to expel a Democrat from the Colorado house, Republicans in the Colorado State Senate blocked a Democratic effort to expel a Republican senator who was accused of similar transgressions.

Facing a formal complaint that he repeatedly grabbed and slapped the buttocks of a Democratic aide at the state Capitol in 2016, state Sen. Randy Baumgardner (R-Hot Sulphur Springs) insisted to his colleagues Monday night that the accusations against him were false, despite a report from an independent investigator that they were “more likely than not” to be true. Two other complaints against Baumgardner have yet to be investigated.

All 16 Democrats in the chamber voted to expel Baumgardner, while 16 of 18 Republicans, plus one independent lawmaker, wanted the senator from northwestern Colorado to retain his position, sinking the expulsion measure that required a two-thirds majority to pass. Baumgardner did not vote.

The Republicans’ near unanimous defense of Baumgardner contrasted with the bipartisan expulsion of Colorado state Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton), who faced formal complaints of harassment by five women, including Democratic state Rep. Faith Winter (Westminster). The vote to expel Lebsock last month was 52-9, with 36 Democrats and 16 Republicans making up the majority.

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Lebsock, who switched party affiliation to the GOP minutes before he was expelled from the legislature, was accused of trying pull Winter out of a bar after she refused to have sex with him. He also allegedly reached over a table at another bar, unbuttoning the top button of a Democratic aide’s blouse, telling her, “That’s better.”

Like Baumgardner, Lebsock denied the allegations, even though they were deemed likely to be true by independent investigators. He waged a public defense of himself, which included attacks on his alleged victims. These attacks were cited by some Republicans as influential in their decision to expel him.

NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Director Karen Middleton thinks both Baumgardner and Lebsock should have been booted from the Colorado General Assembly.

“Senator Baumgardner, like Rep. Lebsock, should have been expelled,” Middleton said in a statement. “The message that senators who voted against the resolution sent to the women of Colorado is this: We are OK with this behavior. We are OK with the abuse of power represented by sexual harassment. We are OK with behavior that would not be tolerated in another workplace.

“Everyone should be held to the same standard and everyone deserves to feel safe at their place of work. That includes those aides and interns an independent investigator found Sen. Baumgardner more likely than not harassed …. And it shameful that enough of them did not in order to expel him,” Middleton said.

The Lebsock and Baumgardner votes could have a lasting effect on Colorado politics in the coming months.

State Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik (R-Thornton), who voted against expelling Baumgardner Monday night, is running against Winter, who filed one of the complaints against Lebsock that led to his ousting.

Sexual harassment could become a key issue in Winter-Martinez Humenik state senate race, which is seen as one of a handful of contests that will determine whether Colorado Democrats take total control of state government. That’s because Republicans hold a two-seat majority in the state senate in Colorado; Democrats control the governor’s office and state house.

“I re-read the report [against Baumgardner] many times,” Martinez Humenik told Colorado Politics, a political news site, explaining that the report too heavily relied on “perceptions.” “As a juror, there wasn’t enough evidence. You have to have evidence, and to say without a reasonable doubt, that someone is guilty or not.”

Just before Monday’s vote allowing him to remain in the legislature, Baumgardner, standing in the senate chamber, apologized for any offense he caused, adding that the complaint against him has made him “want to look in the mirror.”

“It has wanted me to make sure that the standards of my conduct I bring to this work are beyond reproach,” he said.