Top Senate Dem Resigns Her Leadership Role Citing Rancor Over Sexual Harassment

<p>(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)</p>
<p>Senate Minority Leader Lucía Guzmán. D-Denver, speaks on the opening day of the 2017 legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.</p>
Photo: Capitol Jan 11 2017 18 | Lucia Guzman
Senate Minority Leader Lucía Guzmán. D-Denver, speaks on the opening day of the 2017 legislative session on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017.

State Sen. Lucia Guzman, previously the top Democrat in the Colorado Senate, resigned her role as minority leader Thursday. She will instead serve out the remaining six weeks of her term as assistant minority leader. Guzman is an ordained minister who also served on the Denver Public Schools Board. After eight years in the Senate, she will be termed out at the end of the 2018 session.

Guzman said she had considered the decision over the last few months. In an interview, she said stepping back would clear the way for a new class of leaders within her party.

Sen. Leroy Garcia will take the reins as minority leader. The Pueblo Democrat had served as second in command under Guzman up until now.

The determining factor for Guzman were recent accusations made public by Republican senators on Monday. They claim Daniel Kagan, a Democrat from Greenwood Village, frequents a women’s bathroom steps from the Senate floor. Kagan insists he entered the unmarked women’s restroom only once last year by mistake.

“I saw that as my colleagues across the aisle basing the truth on lies,” Guzman said. “I could no longer work with the Republican leadership as I had in the past with a sense of respect and belief in the promises they have made.”

Republican Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik filed a formal complaint against Kagan on Monday. While Martinez Humenik would not detail the complaint, KUNC reported her claim that she witnessed Kagan in the women’s bathroom multiple times in 2017. Senate leadership has referred the complaint to a lawyer to decide whether it merits the attention of an outside investigator.

Sen. President Kevin Grantham, Colorado’s top Republican, said he was disappointed to see Guzman leave her position. He added Senate leadership did not spur the Kagan allegations.

“Her words that the accusations are coming from GOP leadership are demonstrably untrue,” Grantham said. “These are coming from senators and those have been public and they will go process just as previous accusations have.”

However, Grantham did amplify those concerns with his Monday remarks, saying Kagan was known to “habitually” enter the women’s restroom.

Three Republican senators have faced formal harassment investigations so far. The most serious has come against Republican Randy Baumgardner, who was found to have likely groped a former aide on multiple occasions in 2016. Senate leadership declined to act on the results of the investigation. Baumgardner did voluntarily agree to take sensitivity training and step down as chair of the Senate Transportation committee.

Democrats have introduced a resolution for Baumgardner’s expulsion, but Senate President Grantham has so far declined to bring the matter up for a vote. His reluctance has led to a parade of angry and often graphic speeches from Democrats on the floor.

“They want to make a point. They want to make a statement. I hope they will be as forthright and enthusiastic when it’s their own [accused of harassment],” Grantham said of the Democrats right to have such testimonials.

Guzman also noted her frustration with a lack of action on Baumgardner. By Senate rules, Grantham must bring the resolution to the floor before mid-April. He said he had no plans to maneuver around the deadline.