It’s going to be hard to take the 2018 Colorado Legislative session seriously until somebody addresses the sleazy elephants and donkeys in the room.
State lawmakers this week kick off their 120-day race to get themselves re-elected, throw shade and road-blocks across the aisle, and maybe do a little state business along the way.
I’ve professionally watched the state legislature for a long time. I’ve never seen a circus like this. We used to laugh at silly antics like the time a state lawmaker tried to make it a law to badmouth broccoli. And then there was the time former state Rep. Vi June tried to make it a law that all gas stations supply free tire-air at gas-pump islands.
Now we have to cringe as horn-dog elected officials explain in gruesome detail how they didn’t try to unbutton each other’s clothing because they had their hands on their joy sticks or phones or something. Other middle-aged lawmakers insist they never meant anything nefarious by telling young girls how much they liked their skirts.
If you’ve been able to avoid the gold-dome cabaret for the past few months, you won’t be able to any longer.
Serial mansplainer state Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton and the Moon, got seriously busted last fall for coming on to fellow state lawmakers, lobbyists and, it would appear, anything with estrogen that would let him talk. After Lebsock drunkenly kept “kidding” state Rep. Faith Winter about pressuring her into hooking up for some rewarding nakedness in 2016, she’d had enough and outed him to political leaders in the state House for his blatant sexual harassment.
Privately, Lebsock then got a talking to by fellow Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Crisanta Duran, who was the No. 2 Dem when this went down. Lebsock reportedly apologized with the “what-ever-do-you-mean” shtick, and he said he’d, in the future, keep his “just kidding” to himself.
All hell broke loose last fall, however, during the wave of #MeToo revelations rolling across the country. Winter went public with Lebsock’s seedy kidding, in part because she discovered he was inflicting it on other women at the state Capitol, too.
Pressured to resign last November, Lebsock has since repeated a barely plausible and contorted defense that he beats lawmakers and the public with almost daily now. This culminated in a graphic 28-page manifesto this week, saying he wants his side of the story out for everyone to gag over.
I’ll spare you from having to get through it. This is what he says: He didn’t do it. Winter had it coming. He works with sluts who know they want it. He was just kidding because that’s what everybody down at the Capitol does. He’s a nice, honest guy.
Lebsock has been delivering his political self-immolation to the media and to fellow lawmakers ahead of the results of an actual investigation into all this sewage. He does it in hopes of buying time before fellow lawmakers throw his sorry ass out of the Capitol. Fed up, legislators are willing to invoke the nuclear option and revoke Lebsock’s electedness, something Colorado law actually allows for and has been used only once, a long time ago.
Don’t go there — yet.
As skeevy and unbelievable as Lebsock is, he has a real point here. This entire sordid nightmare is pretty much based on media hearsay. While the evidence so far is compelling, and Lebsock’s response is so disturbing that I have no problem with kicking him off of committees and making him sit in the corner with his hands where everybody can see them, removing an elected official from office is serious stuff. It’s the stuff that needs to be based on tested evidence, not salacious news stories. If Lebsock won’t have an epiphany and quit, wait until the investigation is complete to remove him.
There was plenty of credible hearsay back when Duran promoted Lebsock to committee chairman after Winter and others outed him as a perv in 2016. An Aurora Sentinel editorial called her out for that, saying that if she couldn’t provide a credible answer as to why she would do such a thing, she should step down as House speaker.
She has yet to do that.
Duran says she promoted Lebsock and later let him keep his chairmanship because Winter was OK with it, and she didn’t want to risk outing Winter as a sexual-harassment victim and complainant by telling him he couldn’t be a committee chairman.
Duran overlooks the fact that she could have kept Winter’s complaint private and told Lebsock that men who get caught compulsively “kidding” about doing the deed with fellow lawmakers and other legislative types don’t get to be chairmen, at least not until they prove themselves as cured. Why would that be so difficult for Duran to understand and act upon?
Back in the day, it was clear that elected officials must be held to a higher standard than construction workers and the rest of us dweebs. Political leaders, even more so. And the speaker of the House? That top-partisan job requires that someone not only avoid the mess Duran created here by not navigating difficult ethical land mines, but that they avoid the critical appearance of impropriety.
That’s where Duran failed. It appears to anyone who isn’t a partisan Democrat that Duran might have hushed up Lebsock’s perviness to avoid the squalid mess Democrats find themselves in right now.
I’m not saying Duran did it, but she nuked her own credibility by not doing the difficult thing in the first place, which was the right thing. Allowing Lebsock into a leadership position could only endanger other women. Leadership isn’t an either-or proposition. If Duran believed Winter’s allegations, she needed to protect her from being outed, and punish Lebsock for being a disgusting bully — and prevent him from victimizing others.
She didn’t. She’s never apologized or even admitted her mistake, leaving other lawmakers and the public to believe she’d do it all again. The #MeToo movement is important enough to hold not just offenders accountable, but it’s important enough to hold accountable those who were in a position to do something about it, and didn’t.
Since then, the Legislature has been overwhelmed with other sordid, unrelated tales of testosterone gone awry, making it seem that for scuzzy guys, the state Capitol is Nirvana for real-life creeps, wannabes or those too stupid to know how repugnant they are. They impugn the majority of people down there as disgusted by all of this as most of us are.
This is Colorado’s state government, not a boozy swingers’ party or dating service. If you can’t control your hormones and impulses, quit. Today. If your only hope for getting a date or some action depends on your duty as a legislator, download Tinder.
It’s not that difficult. Just don’t ever do or say anything you’d feel awkward explaining to the press, or that I would have a field day with in this column.
Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or dperry@AuroraSentinel.com