Colorado Lawmakers To Weigh The Findings Of The Lebsock Investigation

<p>David Zalubowski/AP</p>
<p>Colorado State Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, looks on as the Colorado House of Representatives convenes for the start of the 2018 session, Jan. 10, 2018.</p>
Photo: Colorado Legislature 2018 | Steve Lebsock - AP
Colorado State Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, looks on as the Colorado House of Representatives convenes for the start of the 2018 session, Jan. 10, 2018.

Colorado lawmakers will convene Thursday to debate the merits of an independent investigation that the House majority leader says found sexual misconduct allegations against a state representative to be credible.

Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat who represents a suburban Denver district, has been accused of sexually harassing or intimidating five women, both inside the statehouse and at local bars and restaurants. He has denied the allegations.

House Majority Leader KC Becker introduced a resolution to expel him Tuesday citing the investigation results, which have not been publicly released.

Complaints and investigations into alleged misconduct are considered confidential under the Colorado Legislature's workplace harassment policy. Becker said she would release a redacted copy of the Lebsock findings to lawmakers.

Lebsock's case, which is one of many nationwide, is testing the credibility of a workplace harassment policy that tries to balance victims' privacy concerns with transparency in government but has been criticized as opaque and lacking consistent enforcement standards.

Accusers of @RepLebsock have released the redacted investigation into his alleged misconduct. This is what lawmakers have to inform their decision about whether to expel him on Friday. #copolitics #coleg

There are no specific sanctions guidelines under the Legislature's workplace harassment policy, one that, like others across the country, is under review. That concerns some lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, who wants his caucus to see an unredacted version of the Lebsock report and an explanation of reported inconsistencies between its findings and earlier accounts of his conduct.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers will caucus on the issue Thursday. On Friday, debate in the House is scheduled and Lebsock could see an expulsion vote that same day.

He'd be the second state U.S. lawmaker, after Arizona GOP Rep. Don Shooter, to be expelled since the #MeToo movement emerged. Millions of women shared their experiences as victims of sexual harassment or assault on social media last fall, resulting in a wave of misconduct allegations in statehouses nationwide.

An Associated Press analysis in January found that at least 14 legislators in 10 states had resigned over the past year following accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct. At least 16 others in more than a dozen states have faced other repercussions.

Lebsock's case began in November when public radio station KUNC reported the first of the allegations, including claims by a fellow Democrat, Rep. Faith Winter, that Lebsock accosted her at an end-of-session party in 2016.

Lebsock apologized to anyone he said he may have offended. He expressed support for the #MeToo movement and he invited his accusers to file formal complaints with the Democrat-led House leadership. They did.

Well before an outside investigation began, senior Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, House Speaker Crisanta Duran, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis demanded that Lebsock resign. Lynne and Polis are running for governor.

"They will double down," Lebsock said of Democratic leaders in a defiant video he posted on a website in December for his flagging candidacy for state treasurer. He claimed his accusers, including a former legislative aide and a former lobbyist, were lying.

That retaliatory conduct, House Majority Leader KC Becker announced Tuesday, reinforced what she called a pattern of conduct that merits his expulsion.

Democrats hold 37 seats in the 65-seat House, and a two-thirds vote is needed to expel Lebsock.

"If we don't move forward with this expulsion, we are sending a very dangerous message that when we put on this badge, that we are held above accountability and reproach," Winter said, indicating her badge as an elected legislator.

It's believed the last time a Colorado lawmaker was expelled was in 1915. Rep. William W. Holland, a Denver Republican, was voted out after colleagues determined he had lied about receiving a bribe on the House floor, according to newspaper accounts at the time.

In the GOP-led Senate, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who represents rural Grand County, resigned as chair of the powerful transportation committee on Feb. 13 and agreed to sensitivity training when an investigator found credible claims he harassed a former legislative aide in 2016. He denied wrongdoing and decried the investigation as flawed and biased against him, without providing details.

Senate President Kevin Grantham and other top Republicans echoed Baumgardner's complaints. They strongly suggest they'd air their grievances with the process if current policy didn't bind all parties to confidentiality.

That didn't stop minority Democrats from calling for Baumgardner's expulsion. According to their resolution, a former legislative aide alleged that Baumgardner grabbed and slapped her buttocks on four separate occasions in 2016.

As head of the Senate, it's Grantham's call whether the resolution is introduced for debate and there has been no sign that he will act on it. Democrats accuse him of foot-dragging.

"To handle these matters in any other way contradicts the basic tenants of fairness, justice, and due process for which America is known," Grantham said back in November.