All but 10 Democratic lawmakers at Colorado’s state capitol signed a letter Thursday, including the Speaker of the House and Senate Minority Leader, asking two GOP leaders to participate in mandatory sexual harassment and diversity training in the wake of comments made on social media related to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
The letter asks House Minority Leader Patrick Neville and Senate Majority Leader Christ Holbert to complete the training before legislative leaders meet to discuss changes to the General Assembly’s workplace harassment policy.
Sexual harassment allegations against four lawmakers in the last legislative session were found credible by outside investigators and an independent consultant concluded the culture in the building was not healthy.
“The General Assembly has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, held mandatory trainings, and put together an interim committee to recommend new policies and processes for dealing with sexual harassment and sexual assault in the Capitol,” states the letter. “All of this will have been done in vain if these elected officials in positions of power, no matter what trainings they do, no matter how much money we invest, or how many committee hearings we hold, are dismissive of victims.”
CPR News reported on a Facebook post dated Saturday, Sept. 15, where House Minority Leader Patrick Neville shared a link to a story from the Babylon Bee, a Christian news satire website, with the headline “Exclusive Report: Kavanaugh May Have Cheated While Playing ‘The Floor Is Lava’ As A Child.”
Holbert and another Republican lawmaker commented on the post, making similar jokes about trivial childhood transgressions opponents might dig up on Kavanaugh, such as him not touching a base while scoring a run in little league.
The satirical story from the Babylon Bee was written the same day that additional details of the teenage sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh were first published online by The New Yorker and then in other news outlets across the country, including The Denver Post. Neville linked to the Babylon story on Facebook the following day. He said he was not joking about sexual harassment or any other serious situation.
“I shared the post because it had reminded me of a game I played as a child, and I was amused by the references to the game in the article and my own memories associated with playing it,” he said. “That was my motivation in sharing the article.”
Holbert said his comment was also unrelated to the allegation from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and said she should be heard and respected.
“I knew nothing about Dr. Ford or what she was alleging until Sunday. To claim that I was making light of those allegations before I knew about them is false,” said Holbert in a statement from the Senate Majority Office.
As for the request for him to take more sexual harassment training? A spokesman for Holbert issued this statement: “The news report was based on a false premise so the request is based on a false premise.”
Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora spearheaded the letter. She called it “a bunch of hogwash” that Holbert and Neville had no idea what they were writing about because the subject of the allegation against Kavanaugh had been publicly known at least three days earlier.
“We just have to make sure that we have the right people and right attitudes in place. We can’t have this tone of lightness as it relates to these serious allegations. It’s not easy for a person to come forward and tell their stories.”
Ten Democrats didn’t sign the letter, either because they declined or couldn’t be reached. Others wanted it to go even further. Democratic Rep. Joe Salazar said he thinks Holbert and Neville should be removed from the executive committee altogether, but under legislative rules that would would require a leadership vote from that particular caucus.
“We’ve seen how Holbert as the majority leader operates in terms of their members. This is calculated for them to obstruct and to deny sexual harassment victims their right to get some type of justice from the legislature.”
The Facebook comments opened old wounds for some about last legislative session that was rocked by sexual harassment allegations and led to the expulsion of former Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock. Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner survived an expulsion vote in the Senate, largely along party lines. Democrats criticized Holbert for scheduling that vote before all of the investigations against Baumgardner were finalized.
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