After initially saying that he hadn't done anything wrong or criminal, a Colorado state legislator accused of sexually harassing a fellow lawmaker and other women said Saturday he is sorry for causing them pain.
In his initial response to the allegations that went public Friday, Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock said he did not remember doing or saying anything inappropriate to Rep. Faith Winter last year at a legislative party and said any accusers should file a legislative complaint against him rather than speaking to the media. However, in a statement to The Denver Post Saturday, Lebsock said that he had come to realize that he had caused the women pain.
"I have come to realize that it does not matter that, at the time, I may have perceived my words as playful. It does not matter that, at the time, I may have felt that we were flirting. It does not matter that, at the time, I may have felt what I said was OK," he said in the statement, which mentioned the first names of Winter and two other women who have publicly accused Lebsock of harassment.
Winter said Lebsock suggested they engage in sexual acts and acted aggressively toward her when she refused during an end-of-session party in 2016. She said he grabbed her elbow, and she felt threatened.
Colorado's Democratic House speaker, Rep. Crisanta Duran, removed Lebsock, who is from Thornton, as chairman of the Local Government Committee after the allegation was first reported by Rocky Mountain Community Radio.
The report said nine people in all, including Winter, legislative staff and lobbyists, complained privately about Lebsock's behavior. Following the radio story, two women, former lobbyist Holly Tarry and ex-legislative aide Cassie Tanner, told the Post that Lebsock had harassed them.
Tarry, a former animal welfare lobbyist, said Lebsock made unwanted sexual advances more than once between 2013 and 2016. She told the newspaper she quit her job "because of that kind of treatment, and not just from him" at the state Capitol.
Tanner said Lebsock reached over and unbuttoned one of the buttons on her blouse at a Denver Young Democrats event at a bar in 2014, saying something to the effect of "that's better." She said she has tried to avoid him ever since.
Winter, who represents Westminster, said she told legislative leaders about the incident but didn't file a formal complaint, fearing that her reputation would be hurt and it would make it harder for her to do her work. She said that Lebsock eventually apologized and, later, promised to get therapy. However, she said she warned him she would go public if she heard of other complaints of harassment against him.
In a joint statement, Winter, Tarry and Tanner said they appreciated his apology but said it did not go far enough.
"His apology was about how he made us feel but he never apologizes for his actions. Additionally, he concentrates on his words but in at least two cases there was also physical contact. Touching without consent isn't playful or flirty. It is harassment or assault," they said.
They said that Lebsock's previous apology to Winter did not change his behavior and called on him to resign.
Lebsock, who is running for state treasurer, said he will make a statement about his political future by Nov. 30.