Attempt To Oust Sen. Baumgardner Over Sexual Harassment Fails Mostly Along Party Lines

Originally published on June 30, 2018 11:07 am

For the third time in state history, Colorado lawmakers voted on whether or not to expel one of their peers. The effort failed. In a battle over #MeToo, respectfulness, fairness and principles, Republicans defeated a Democratic resolution to oust Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, despite an independent investigation that found allegations of sexual harassment against him credible.

The 17-17 vote went along party lines with one exception: Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, voted for expulsion. Sen. Cheri Jahn, an unaffiliated member, voted with Republicans. Baumgardner abstained.

The result was a contrast to the successful expulsion vote last month in the House. There, Republicans and Democrats joined together to overwhelmingly expel Steve Lebsock, a former Democrat, for only the second time in state history.  Five women formally accused Lebsock of sexual harassment and three complaints against him found several allegations credible.

The Senate debated Baumgardner’s expulsion for about three hours on Monday night (April 2, 2018). Democrats argued that because sexual harassment would not be tolerated in any place of business, it should not be tolerated at the Capitol. Some said that a vote not to expel would be tantamount to saying Baumgardner's behavior was acceptable and would send a strong message that accusers aren’t credible.

“Please do not dismiss her,” said Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora. “Please do not make it seem like she made it up."

An independent investigation concluded in February that “it appears more likely than not” that Baumgardner slapped and grabbed a legislative aide’s buttocks multiple times during the 2016 legislative session.

Many Republicans felt the evidence they had seen against Baumgardner wasn’t convincing and the report not credible enough to expel a fellow Senator.

“I’ve heard the word justice mentioned quite a bit tonight,” said Sen. John Cooke of Greeley. “Well justice means somebody accused gets a fair and unbiased investigation, and a fair and unbiased report.”

Republicans leaders allowed the resolution to be introduced and debated while two other harassment investigations against Baumgardner are pending, because Baumgardner has not scheduled a time to speak with an investigator. Those reports should be finalized next week.

Baumgardner was one of the final speakers before the vote. He denied wrongdoing, and said he has previously declined to speak out in his own defense because he wanted to respect the confidentiality and integrity of the process.

“With very few exceptions, this has been the most difficult and humbling experience of my life,” said Baumgardner. “This has been torture to hear accusations made that I could not answer.”

The top leader in the Senate, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham, said he hoped Monday’s vote would be a turning point for the chamber, and said, “standing up for justice is the best thing you can do.”

Meanwhile Democrats said the vote has caste a cloud over the Senate.

"Tonight’s vote is a shameful affront to both the victims who have come forward and those subjected to harassment in workplaces across the country,” said Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia. “Nobody should be exempt from the consequences of their actions — elected officials least of all.”  

The accuser, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said in spite of everything, she feels like she did the right thing coming forward with her complaint. “I wouldn’t take it back,” she said.

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado

Copyright 2018 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.