Colorado's Democratic House Speaker, Crisanta Duran, is facing calls for an investigation over her handling of sexual harassment allegations against a fellow Democratic lawmaker.
The accusations against Rep. Steve Lebsock were publically reported Friday and have been the subject of extended media interest. After initially saying he did not remember the incident in question, Lebsock later apologized to state Rep. Faith Winter, also a Democrat, and two women who have accused him. Lebsock has denied doing anything wrong and said any accuser should file a formal complaint — which Winter has now done.
Rep. Faith Winter first alerted House leaders to her disturbing interaction with Rep. Steve Lebsock in 2016 — but no formal complaint was made at the time. Winter said she submitted the complaint Monday.
Such complaints in the House of Representatives are handled by Speaker Duran but she isn't allowed to confirm the existence of a complaint under the legislature's harassment policy. Duran has said she would appoint an independent party to investigate any complaint.
Critics say Winter’s initial 2016 report didn't stop Duran from later making Lebsock a committee chair. Last week Duran temporarily stripped him of his chairmanship of the local government committee after the accusation became public. In a statement meant to respond to critics, Speaker Duran said she supports “the right of a victim to decide how they want these personal and sensitive situations to be handled.”
“When I named Rep. Lebsock to the chairmanship, I believed that the situation had been resolved to the satisfaction of Rep. Winter,” Duran’s statement continued. “When these new allegations came to light last week, I took action to address them. I would not have appointed him chair knowing what I know today.”
The Aurora Sentinel's editorial board said Duran showed "extraordinarily bad judgement" and called for Duran to resign her leadership position. And B.J. Nikkel, a former Republican state lawmaker, tweeted out that Duran put other women in the Capitol at risk by giving Lebsock more power — amplifying the position taken by the Sentinel’s editorial board. For her part, Rep. Winter said Duran handled everything correctly and lamented that the Aurora newspaper did not contact her.
Winter said on social media that she stands by the Speaker and that criticism is politically motivated.
This is why women don't come forward. Steve has accused me of "dirty politics" and now the other side is using this as a reason to attack the speaker. Shame on anyone that is using this for their political advantage. #copolitics— Faith Winter (@FaithKWinter) November 14, 2017
The Denver Post reports that Republican state Rep. Lois Landgraf has added to the criticism of Duran, stating in a letter that House leadership has shown an “incredible lapse of judgment” and seeking an outside investigation:
“In light of the recent allegations of sexual harassment, and considering an apparent 16 month lapse of judgment on the part of these allegations, I demand that the Attorney General’s office, a department outside the influence of the House of Representatives, appoint a special counsel to review these charges, to review current policies and procedures in the house, and to make recommendations to the entire House of Representatives on what we must do to ensure that this type of dangerous situation cannot be covered-up in the future.”
Lebsock met with some members of the media at the state Capitol earlier Tuesday and said he is being harassed and unfairly pressured to resign. The Thornton lawmaker said he is getting harassing texts and is not being given a chance to defend himself.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
You are one of the CPR readers who wants to know what is really going on these days. We can help you keep up - The Lookout is a free, daily email newsletter with news and happenings from all over Colorado. Sign up here and we will see you in the morning!