EDITORIAL: House Speaker Duran should do the ‘right thing,’ too — step down from leadership

It’s unfathomable why Duran, knowing at least as much as the public now knows, would make such an onerous appointment

EDITOR’S NOTE: This editorial has been updated to reflect Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran’s comments about having appointed state Rep. Steve Lebsock chairman of the House Local Government Committee.

We agree with Democratic Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran that fellow Rep. Steve Lebsock should resign in light of numerous accusations of sexual harassment — and that she do the “right thing” herself by resigning her leadership position in light of her extraordinarily bad judgment in the scandal.

Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat, has been accused by at least nine women so far of making unwanted, relentless and lewd sexual advances on women, including fellow lawmaker Rep. Faith Winter, according to stories by the Associated Press and The Denver Post. The story was first reported by KUNC reporter Bente Birkland. Winter said she was inspired to go public with the recollection as part of the national #MeToo revelations by sexually harassed women.

As local news stories revealed over the weekend, Lebsock verbally accosted Winter at an end-of-session party in 2016, shortly after the Legislature ended for the year. She and witnesses said he was drunk and abusive.

Accounts by Winter and fellow Democrats made it clear that when Duran, a Denver Democrat and House Majority leader, was elected to the House Speaker position later that year, she was well aware of the Lebsock scandal, and that other women had made similar complaints.

Yet, after becoming speaker, Duran appointed Lebsock chairman of the House Local Government Committee. When news of this scandal broke Friday, she revoked his leadership position based on public accounts she’d known about for months. Duran called on Lebsock to “do the right thing,” and resign from the Legislature.

He absolutely should. Not only are his repeated and egregious acts repugnant, hurtful and bullying, he’s unrepentant about his pathetic behavior.

In an Associated Press story Sunday, Lebsock said he was sorry his “flirting” was not “perceived” as his being “playful,” but he never apologized for the harassment, and clearly doesn’t even recognize it as that. It’s a common theme women hear when men go too far and don’t let up. “I was only kidding.”

At least nine women so far are clear that Lebsock wasn’t kidding, and that his behavior was boorish at best.

Undeniably, it was the antithesis of behavior expected from a legislator in a leadership role, and it’s unfathomable why Duran, knowing at least as much as the public now knows, would make such an onerous appointment.

Democratic House members told Denver Post reporter John Frank they were dismayed by Duran’s move.

We are, too. At best, her appointment and judgment appear dubious and callous. Duran has declined to comment on that matter, adding to the appearance that she’s complicit in overlooking Lebsock’s sordid behavior. Instead, she released a long diatribe Monday, calling for increased awareness of sexual harassment at the Capitol and underscoring her role in admonishing and preventing it.

“Sexual harassment and assault are unacceptable, and we need to take this issue head on,” Duran said, calling for rule changes in the Legislature in regards to how the government body handles such claims. “Our legislature should be a place where everyone feels safe and respected, where anyone who has been subjected to harassing behavior knows that they can speak up and be heard without fear of reprisal, and where the arc of your career is determined by your hard work, qualifications, merit and skill.”

Duran only serves to make herself look foolish with rhetoric that is not only too little, too late, but contradicts her own behavior in the case. If there’s a compelling justification for having appointed Lebsock to his leadership position, fellow legislators and the public deserve to hear it. This isn’t company business. It’s the public’s business, and the public has the expectation and the right to know what happened.

On Monday, Duran released a statement saying that if she’d known 16 months ago what she knows now, she would not have made the appointment. The tardy remark only makes it seem that the lurid revelations Winter made about Lebsock’s harassment were not of themselves a compelling reason for passing him over for an esteemed appointment and choosing, instead, among thirty-some qualified Democrats in the House.

There were no shortage of qualified and willing Democratic House members able to lead the Local Government Committee, and there are no shortage of qualified and capable Democratic legislators who can lead the House.

Clearly, Duran is not among them and should step down from that post.