With The 2018 Session Looming, Leaders On #MeToo And Their Workplace

January 4, 2018
Photo: AC Legislative Leaders On Sexual Harassment(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, left, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, inside the Colorado state Capitol on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017.

Photo: AC Legislative Leaders On Sexual Harassment(Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)#MeToo, the movement that's brought to light sexual harassment and assault, reminds us that the halls of power are also workplaces. That includes Colorado's Capitol, where allegations surfaced against two state representatives and two state senators. Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham spoke with Colorado Matters about the impact the allegations will have on the session, as well as changes that are planned moving forward.

Another question for the leaders: The legal landscape around marijuana just got blurrier today after Attorney General Jeff Sessions -- who's compared pot to heroin -- will roll back a policy that had let marijuana flourish in Colorado and other places. Duran and Grantham will discuss that development, which we're reporting more on here.


Ryan Warner: This is Colorado Matters from CPR News. I'm Ryan Warner. Like it or not, legal marijuana is thoroughly a part of Colorado. In 2017 the state collected more than $226 million in taxes and fees off the drug, which is why it's big news here today that the Justice Department is changing course under Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He will rescind an Obama-era policy that allowed marijuana to flourish. It's one of the topics we'll tackle with the two most powerful leaders at the State Capitol, that is Democratic Speaker of the House, Crisanta Duran, and
Republican Senate President, Kevin Grantham. We are also going to talk about how they'll root out and prevent sexual assault and harassment at the State House. And the two join us from the Capitol. Welcome to you both.

Crisanta Duran: Hello.

Kevin Grantham: Hello.

RW: So NPR confirms that the Attorney General will now leave it up to U.S. attorneys around the country as to how aggressively they enforce federal drug laws in states that have legalized recreational marijuana like Colorado. Speaker Duran, may I get your reaction first and ask if this changes anything for the session that begins next week?

CD: Well I think the federal government needs to respect the will of Colorado voters, and we are going to do everything we can to push back on this. This is a slap in the face to the people who decided that they wanted to have marijuana legal in the State of Colorado. And we will continue to advocate for them. 

RW: You say you'll push back as much as you can. Do you know what form that might take?

CD: Well, I think at this point, we are looking at our options. And we need to make sure that we are respecting the will of voters.

RW: And Senator Grantham, what do you say to this?

KG: Well, I would have to agree. We will, obviously we're still digesting everything that came out this morning. And so we're going to take a look at that. But, bottom line is the people of Colorado have spoken. And we are here to perform and do the will of the people of Colorado and they have put this in the Constitution. We've sworn an oath to that Constitution and I think we will side with them. Even, speaking for myself personally, I didn't vote for Amendment 20 or Amendment 64, but the reality is I swore an oath to the Constitution, and we need to respect
that first and foremost and the people of Colorado.

RW: As I said in the introduction, the state collected more than $226 million in marijuana taxes and fees last year. I know that that's paid for everything from addiction treatment to school construction. Can you both give us a sense of what marijuana tax dollars pay for and what it could mean for the state is the market takes a hit, the recreational market especially? Speaker Duran?

CD: Sure. Well, the money has been put to good use. We've really used the dollars to regulate the drug with the effort, and always keeping in mind that we want to keep it out of the hands of kids and criminals as it relates to the dollars that have been invested in different ways. One of those ways that we've invested is is in school construction. I think that we need to continue to be able to have that revenue available and that we also continue to support school-based health
programs and so forth. I also think that when it comes to the issue of addiction, we need to ensure that there's investment going towards making sure that people get the help that they need. And so it is very unfortunate, I think we, with this decision that came down today, we are looking at our options,but we're going to fight for Coloradans.

RW: Senator Grantham, it's possible someone listening thinks, "Well, the state is addicted to marijuana in some respects or at least the money that it provides, so of course you'd be saying this is a slap in the face." How would you react?

KG: Well, you know, this is the system that was put in place through Amendment 64, Props AA and Prop BB. The voters themselves put this in place, and it's our job to do the will of the voters and regulate this as best we can. It's not a matter of being drunk on that money, it's a matter of taking the money that the Colorado voters have given to us and use it to the extent that they authorize us to. And I believe that's what we're trying to do, and we will continue that effort and try to allocate that money appropriately, whether it's to treatment or to law enforcement, whether it's the set amount that goes into school construction. All these things, we
have to weigh the benefits to local communities throughout the state in how we do that. Law enforcement is one of the big ones, trying to make sure that we attach enough money there so that we can get at the gray markets and black markets here in Colorado that affect every community, whether it's large or small. So we have a big struggle ahead of us on a yearly basis on how we tackle this. 

RW: You're hearing these sirens in the background that are circulating around the State Capitol at this moment. This is Colorado Matters. I'm Ryan Warner, and we are speaking with legislative leaders who join us from the State Capitol ahead of next week's start of the legislative session.
So, arguably, one of the biggest stories worldwide, has been "MeToo", people sharing
their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, and this is true of Colorado's Capitol where four formal complaints have been filed against lawmakers. And I want to note that Colorado's legislature has one of the highest percentage of women serving in the country. And though MeToo has not been purely about women sharing their experiences, it has largely been that, so it's against that backdrop I ask you what MeToo has taught you about the Capitol as a workplace? Speaker Duran.

CD: Well, thank you for the question. I think that we need to address the issue of harassment head on. And that is why on December 15th, the Executive Committee met, which is comprised of both Republicans and Democrats in leadership and we took some meaningful steps to address this issue. One step that we're taking is, is we're working to hire an HR person to be available to people if they have issues that they have experienced. We're also working on hiring an outside expert to give us advice about how we should change our policy and work to reform
the culture at the Capitol. The outside expert will also be taking advice and feedback from the public, all interested parties, to make some recommendations to us. And the third thing that we're doing is, is we want to insure there are more trainings available to everybody who works in the building, so they understand how to file a complaint if they choose to and how to address issues that come up in the workplace. But what I think we're seeing right now, across the country, is there's a cultural shift that is taking place. And women in a variety of different workplaces from Colorado to states throughout the United States, we need to make sure that women are being evaluated based on their merit, their skill and their hard work. And we also need to recognize that there have been
actions and rhetoric that have become normalized against women that are unacceptable and inappropriate. And the only way that we are going to make sure that we have an inclusive Colorado and an inclusive country when it comes to the issues that impact women in the workplace is if we are aware of them and that we are willing to take them on. And that is exactly what we're doing at the legislature.

RW: What has this taught you about the Capitol as a workplace, Senator Grantham?

KG: Well, that we are not immune to such things when it comes to sexual harassment, when it comes to accusations, when it comes to the difficulty in coming out and reporting such things. I think that was probably one of the more eye-opening things about all of this, is you know, for myself, and I think, not to speak for the Speaker on this, but to come to the realization that it's not as easy for some to come to us, even though I think we'd both accept such complaints readily and investigate them thoroughly under the current system. The reality is, people weren't
comfortable coming forward. And so we have to reexamine how we do that, and what kind of things can we put in place that actually makes it conducive for people to report when things happen because we don't want that stuff going on around here, so what can we do to help fix it?

RW: I suppose that speaks to the changes that the Speaker just mentioned. They're having some sort of outside voice or monitor that you can turn to that is not leadership. I think there's a question of how independent that person will be. So for lawmakers, Representatives Steve Lebsock and Paul Rosenthal, and Senators Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate have been formally accused of improper behavior, and their accusers include interns, lobbyists, fellow legislators. These men all deny the allegations.
Speaker Duran, the Denver Post reports this morning that the formal complaint against
Rosenthal was dismissed, indicating that you decided the General Assembly's sexual
harassment policy didn't apply to that situation. So he's accused of groping a man and making unwanted sexual advances before he was elected to the House. Briefly, how did you come to that conclusion?

CD: Well, let's talk about the process a bit. Number one, I'm really not allowed to talk about complaints that have been dismissed, previous complaints, current complaints. But I do want to talk a little bit about the process. And when there was a complaint that was filed, I decided to bring in an outside expert, a third, independent, neutral party to do a preliminary investigation.
And I said at the time that that was what I was planning to do as it relates to complaints that were filed with me. And so through that preliminary investigation that the outside expert did, there was a determination that it did not fall within the scope of the policy, as it relates to that particular instance. But this is why…

RW: Is that because he wasn't serving in the legislature at the time of the incident? Just briefly?

CD: Well, I'm not allowed to talk about the specifics, but it was determined from the outside expert that this did not fall within the scope of the policy. But this is exactly why, also, moving forward, we are saying we need systemic change. We need to see if this policy is the best that it can be, and I don't believe that it is the best policy that can be. And I think that's why we need
an outside expert to receive feedback, to be able to take into consideration a variety of different perspectives, to give us recommendations on how we move forward to ensure that we have the best policy we can, and that we also work to change the culture at the Capitol.

RW: I wonder how it will be, Senator, to have this session underway next week, and to be working so directly with members of the legislature and your own chamber, who are under active investigation. What do you think that's going to mean for the climate of the session?

KG: You know, I think the climate of the session will be such that we have such big issues that we have to deal with, that we're going to put our nose to the grindstone and we're going to get to work. We have to deal with things like PERA reform, we have to deal with things like roads and infrastructure funding. We have to deal with the budget again, like we do every year. And we're going to roll up our sleeves and we're going to get to work. The issue that has come before us of sexual harassment and the policy changes potentially, we've already set in motion the events that can help us come to some conclusions on that, and we need to let that process also move forward while we're also doing the work of the people, making policy like they ask
us to do.

RW: Let's talk about that process as it relates specifically to representative Steve Lebsock. So, I want to say that his, one of his accusers, at least, is a fellow Representative, Faith Winter, and I wonder, Speaker Duran, how you envision her, along with other members, interacting with him? You have called for his resignation multiple times.

CD: Well, I think going forward into this upcoming legislative session, we have a lot of work to do. And we have many issues to address when we think about making sure there's broadband in all four corners of the State, or we tackle the high cost of housing and childcare, or we ensure that there's adequate investments into education and substance-abuse treatment. There's a lot that we have to accomplish this legislative session. It's not going to be easy, but I think we have
to be focused on what the people of the state want to see, and that is that we continue the work that we started last year, and being productive.

RW: May I just skip back?

CD: Sure.

RW: I'm sorry. I'd like to get back, specifically, to the question of Representative Lebsock, and your asking him to resign. Meanwhile, Democratic Representative Matt Gray has said he'll introduce legislation to remove Lebsock from office, and that results of the pending investigation may solidify support for that. For his part, Lebsock says not only does he have no intention to resign, he plans to continue his run for state treasurer, and here's what he told CPR News Tuesday.

Voice of Steve Lebsock: I think all of your listeners would agree that it's inappropriate to call for someone's resignation with no due process, before that person's even had the opportunity to tell his side of the story.

RW: May I ask, specifically, about how you think that will move forward this session?

CD: Sure. I think that is a very good question, and I think that we are going to work to make sure that everybody in the Capitol feels comfortable. And you know, I do serve as the Speaker of the House. I cannot fire legislators. It is really up to the people who have elected them, or will continue to elect them, to make a decision about what the outcome should be in this particular matter. I did ask Representative Lebsock to resign based on the impacts of his actions on the integrity of our institution, and he has chosen not to. And so now, as it relates to the
resolution that Representative Gray has talked about bringing forth, I think we need to make sure that the investigation is concluded, and that there is a fair process.

And also, as it relates to overseeing that particular investigation of Representative
Lebsock, weeks ago that was actually delegated to Majority Leader Becker to oversee. And look, I'm not going to sugarcoat going into this next session, that it is not going to be difficult. It is going to, there are going to be challenges and unique challenges that we will see this session that I don't think I will have seen in the last seven sessions that I have served as a legislator. But we have to continue to be focused on the work that we have to do. There are a lot
of Coloradans who are depending on us to do the right thing, and deliver results, to the struggles and challenges that they face every single day. And while we are going to take on the issue of harassment head-on, we also need to take on the issues of housing and childcare. We need to take on the issues of adequate education funding. There is a lot that we must get done,and we will work together to try and accomplish those goals.

RW: Senator Grantham, where do things stand with the complaints against Senators
Baumgardner and Tate? I think I'm right to say that you've not removed them from any of their leadership positions, as Speaker Duran did with Representative Lebsock.

KG: Well because we're still waiting on any kind of findings coming back from the third-party evaluator. We're not gonna jump the gun on that so we're allowing the process to take place and to see what the findings are before we do anything like that and that's where it stands. Other than that, I can't really mention any details. We're bound to our role in this process and we're gonna let that process take place.

RW: Why do you think the Senate side has gotten less attention, coverage perhaps?

KG: Well I guess there could be a whole lot of speculation on that but I'll just leave it there in the world of speculation all of these allegations are taken seriously and we're looking at them all independently and we're gonna evaluate them on the backend. 

RW: I want to thank you both for being with us. Thanks for your time. 

CD: Thank you.

KG: Thank you.

RW: We heard from Senate President Kevin Grantham and Speaker of the House Crisanta
Duran. They joined me from the State Capitol, the 2018 Legislative Session begins on
Wednesday. This is Colorado Matters from CPR News.