The way forward is now clear for state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, the latest state lawmaker caught up in a recent wave of sexual harassment allegations at the state Capitol and across the country.
Baumgardner must apologize to the woman or women he abused at the Capitol. He must apologize to his constituents and to his legislative colleagues. He must resign.
Baumgardner is one of a handful of Colorado state legislators recently accused of sexual harassment. He and others were tabbed by men and women who went public last November as politicians and celebrities across the country made dozens of allegations of sexual wrongdoing.
The allegations against Baumgardner, state Rep. Steve Lebsock, state Sen. Jack Tate and state Rep. Paul Rosenthal were begun by KUNC radio reporter Bente Birkeland in a series of reports.
Birkeland again broke a story Thursday that allegations against Baumgardner were deemed “credible” by an outside entity charged with investigating the charges. The Denver Post then later confirmed the news.
Political leaders in the state Senate, apprised of the development, would not comment, citing the state Senate’s restrictive and outdated policy on sexual harassment claims.
It doesn’t matter. The claims have long been made public by a former legislative aid that Baumgardner on more than one occasion grabbed and slapped her buttocks. The accuser has asked to remain anonymous for fear that she would face retribution if the public knew her identity.
Another woman complained to Birkeland that Baumgardner had made highly inappropriate and suggestive comments to her, and others had heard him.
Baumgardner should step down for the same reason we have insisted other legislative abusers step down: The Legislature, and those allowed to serve and work there, must remain above impropriety and even the appearance of impropriety. Baumgardner, who is chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, is damaged goods.
Adults who spank and fondle anyone on “company” time do not exhibit the good judgment required to be stewards of the public’s business. While no other women have so far come forward to accuse Baumgardner of similar assaults, the possibility certainly exists. If his Senate colleagues let him off the hook with an apology and a promise, the very real possibility that he would act to prevent being outed by other past victims becomes an obstacle to his credibility.
Because of what he’s done, Baumgardner cannot lead, and he cannot serve.
Similarly, Rosenthal, accused of trying to lean on a legislative aid to get him a date with her brother must resign. The allegation is that he became a creepy pest about it. It’s an inappropriate abuse of his position as a lawmaker. Whether Rosenthal was trying to get a date, a free cup of coffee or anything outside the scope of his legislative work, he was clearly abusing his position as an elected officials by pressuring “company” employees on “company time.”
Lebsock has shown himself to be vile and vindictive abuser who has become a real danger to the legislative process by refusing to step down after being outed as an abuser by a host of women. It’s likely state lawmakers will have to force him out after an investigation into allegations against him is complete. He’s made it clear he won’t quit and continues to verbally abuse harassment victim state Rep. Faith Winter.
As for Tate, his case, too, is apparently before the outside Senate investigation team. Should allegations be deemed credible that he was verbally inappropriate and intimidating to an 18-year-old aid, he, too, must go.
With the entire nation paying keen attention to the issue of sexual harassment as part of the #MeToo phenomenon, it’s important for companies and individuals to determine whether abusers should be permitted absolution, and under what circumstances.
At the state Capitol, these offenses are not self-inflicted wounds, such as being outed as drunk drivers, shoplifters or child-support deadbeats. In these four cases, the offenses are committed by and against those integral to the functioning of our state government. The danger to that government created by these abusers’ exploitations never ends, no matter how sincere an apology might be, even if it’s offered.
In addition, men or women who don’t have the sound judgment to see the danger to themselves, our government and the cruelty they inflict on their victims are ill-suited to represent Colorado in any other matter. Their credibility ruined, they simply cannot honorably or effectively represent constituents.
The only way forward for Baumgardner, and those like him, is out.