For the first time in more than a century, the Colorado General Assembly will vote on whether to expel a lawmaker, a move that comes after five women made 11 credible accusations of sexual harassment against embattled Democratic state Rep. Steve Lebsock.
The Democratic-led House announced Tuesday it would take a vote Friday on a resolution to oust Lebsock, action that requires support from at least two-thirds of the chamber’s members — or 44 of the 65 lawmakers.
If successful, Lebsock would be the second state legislator in the nation to be expelled since the rise of the #MeToo movement. Arizona ejected a lawmaker earlier this month.
The stunning announcement marked the latest development in a sexual harassment scandal gripping the Colorado Capitol, where at least five state lawmakers have faced formal complaints of sexual harassment in recent months.
The move to expel Lebsock, which represents the most serious action taken against any Colorado legislator accused of misconduct, stands in stark contrast to how complaints have been handled in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Lebsock, a Democratic candidate for state treasurer, remained defiant and declared that he would fight the expulsion resolution.
“I’m not guilty. I’ve done nothing wrong. I have never sexually harassed anyone,” the three-term Thornton lawmaker told reporters.
— John Frank (@ByJohnFrank) February 27, 2018
Under the Colorado Constitution, each chamber can vote to remove any member from office for bad behavior, but expulsion has happened only once — the 1915 removal of Rep. William Howland in the wake of a bribery investigation.
House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder, who says the legislature hasn’t considered a resolution for expulsion of a member since then, released the investigation’s findings to the full House on Tuesday in a tense, hastily called session in that included extra security from two armed state law enforcement officers.
The outside investigator, Employers Council, determined that the allegations against Lebsock were “more likely than not” to be true. Democratic leaders announced the expulsion vote before Lebsock had seen the final report and before the resolution was finished.
One claim involved an encounter with Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, in which she alleges Lebsock discussed sexual acts and tried to grab her by the elbow and get her to leave a bar with him. A former legislative staffer and lobbyist each filed separate publicized complaints against Lebsock for inappropriate behavior, and two other women made private complaints, which came to light Tuesday.
Becker said she determined the allegations were “both serious and egregious in nature,” which prompted her to seek Lebsock’s expulsion.
“His behavior demonstrated a pattern of behavior that not only violates the (workplace harassment) policy, but puts the integrity of this body at risk,” Becker told reporters. “It is our responsibility to hold our members to higher ethical standards than what I think Rep. Lebsock was demonstrating.”
Lebsock suggested the move to expel him is part of a political vendetta, one designed to protect Winter, who is seeking a key state Senate seat that Democrats need to win to secure the chamber majority in November.
Lebsock called the investigation “biased and unprofessional,” citing numerous instances that led him to believe it was prejudiced against him. And he suggested his accusers were lying, noting that two of the women who accused him changed elements of their stories.
Winter defended the investigation and dismissed the idea that it’s a he-said/she-said situation. She said the vote to expel Lebsock would send a message to sexual harassment victims. “If we don’t move forward with his expulsion,” she said, “we are sending a very dangerous message (that lawmakers are) held above accountability and reproach.”
Complaints in Senate
In the Senate, Republican leaders made similar objections about the outside investigations into two state senators facing allegations of misconduct and took a different approach to resolving the complaints.
Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, dismissed a substantiated complaint against Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, citing biases with the investigation.
Baumgardner voluntarily stepped down from one of his three leadership posts earlier this month. Democrats demanded tougher consequences, criticizing Grantham’s response and called for Baumgardner’s expulsion in a resolution.
Republicans have refused to introduce the resolution so far, and Grantham said he won’t allow Democrats “to turn the Senate into a kangaroo court” for political purposes.
No formal action has been reported against Sen. Jack Tate, of Centennial, after a report last week that investigators found incidents that a legislative intern reported as misconduct “more likely than not” happened.
Will there be the votes?
In order to expel Lebsock, at least eight Republicans in the House will need to be on board with the resolution to oust him.
Becker acknowledged she does not know whether she has the votes to expel Lebsock but will allow them to view redacted versions of the investigatory report.
Becker declined to make the documents public on the grounds that she is barred from doing so, but Winter said she would make portions available ahead of the vote.
House Republican leader Patrick Neville, of Castle Rock, said he read the full investigation against Lebsock and it only generated more questions in his mind about the facts of the case. He remains undecided on whether to support Lebsock’s expulsion.
“I don’t think it answered anything for me. If anything, it made me question the process and the investigation,” he said in an interview.
Neville said lawmakers considering a vote to expel also need to keep their constituents’ “intent in mind.”
“The constituents in Rep. Lebsock’s district are his bosses, they put him there, like it or not,” he said. “But, then again, they didn’t have this information when they voted in 2016 either. So lots of things to consider at this point.”
But Becker said lawmakers needed to respond more urgently.
“We, as a General Assembly, have the responsibility to police our own, to hold our own members to a high level of accountability,” she said. “And that’s what we’re doing with this process.”
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