You, too? Looks to me like some key players aren’t getting the #MeToo thing down at the state Capitol.
As the wave of accusations and agony over sexual harassment has rolled over the country and the Colorado Legislature, it’s astonishing how quickly some of the nation has moved ahead on this problem, and so many are befuddled.
It’s obvious that numerous elected state lawmakers just don’t get how serious the whole thing is. Chief among them are some of the political chiefs under the Gold Dome — including Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran.
They don’t understand that “sexual harassment” describes the abhorrent behavior, but it refers to is extortion.
In the cases of sexual harassment at the state Capitol, it’s elevated to political extortion. So every resident of Colorado are victims of the abusers and the inept political leaders who only perpetuate the problem.
I think these two understand how vexing sexual harassment is. Other than a few behavioral troglodytes, such as President Donald Trump, pretty much everyone in this country gets the big picture. They understand how unfair and unsavory it is for men or women to inflict a wide range of sexual behavior on someone they have some modicum of power or influence over.
If you thought all those women in the office were intrigued by your comments about how, “I got your report right here, baby,” well, unless you’re Trump, you know better now.
The problem at the Colorado Legislature isn’t recognizing what vulgar creeps like state Rep. Steve Lebsock and state Sen. Randy Baumgardner are. The problem is what Legislature leaders are doing about it, which so far has been pretty much nothing.
It’s time to point out that as disturbing as the Capitol sexual harassment swamp is, the news reporting on the delicate, complicated and shocking problem, especially, by KUNC radio reporter Bente Birkland and Denver Post reporter John Frank, has been stellar. Colorado media have delivered solid and critical stories to the public while maneuvering through endless ethical land-mines across a growing field of unnerving tales. Despite what Trump said this weekend about the #MeToo phenomenon ruining the lives of perpetrators, the Colorado media acted fairly and responsibly.
This mess started last fall when bombshell stories by Birkland revealed that a handful of male lawmakers had been credibly accused of a range of behavior seen as anything from crude and creepy to sexually inappropriate and intimidating to outright predatory.
The worst of the initial revelations targeted Lebsock. Going back to 2016, state Rep. Faith Winter reported outlandish sexual harassment by Lebsock. Following General Assembly rules, House leaders, including Duran, who at the time was not yet speaker, heard the accusations against Lebsock and privately admonished him. It wasn’t until the #MeToo wave took hold last summer that Winter went public with her claims, saying she was inspired by trend.
Lebsock has since become an anguished fiend, making ludicrous counter-accusations and defying overwhelming demands that he resign.
News accounts pointed out that Duran privately new about Lebock’s behavior, and she knew others besides Winter were worried by things Lebsock had said or done. Yet Duran allowed him to ascend as chairman of an important House committee. When confronted with that after Winter went public about Lebsock, Duran’s defense was that she had settled the accusations to satisfaction”of Winter.
No doubt she did. What Duran dismissed, however, is that by accommodating only one victim, she ignored others and sullied the integrity of the Colorado Legislature by knowingly allowing Lebsock to govern a committee and possibly abuse other lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists — for months after.
Grantham’s behavior is the same and worse.
A secret investigation into accusations made against Baumgardner — which is how the Legislature officially handles these things — upheld the allegations in a report delivered weeks ago. The report upholds charges that Baumgardner repeatedly harassed a legislative aid, grabbed and spanked her buttocks.
As of Tuesday, Birkland writes that a second woman has filed a formal complaint against Baumgardner. The woman had previously made public allegations about Baumgardner making inappropriate comments and pressuring her to drink with him in his Capitol office. Former legislative intern Megan Creeden told Birkland she formalized her complaint because it appeared justice wasn’t happening.
Baumgardner is chairman of two critical legislative committees. He has been allowed to keep those posts since the allegations were made publicly and officially against him last year. Grantham said then he wouldn’t react “off the cuff” in the matter. That’s because Grantham sees Baumgardner’s hanky-panky staffer spanky as either eye-rolling, amusing or at the worst, worthy of a frown.
It’s extortion, blackmail. A sitting Colorado senator has made it clear that at least one woman was abused, physically. How easy would it be for an unscrupulous victim or unscrupulous witness to blackmail Baumgardner by threatening to out him unless he made things happen in his committee, or when he voted on the Senate floor? It’s pretty easy to believe that someone as unscrupulous as a sexual bully would be unscrupulous enough to cave into extortion demands. Or maybe there have been lobbyists that Baumgardner has favored for swat-sessions that have received his political favors.
Grantham’s response? Nothing. Confronted with new allegation made public last week against Sen. Larry Crowder from southeast Colorado, Grantham pulled the same stunt Duran did in the Lebsock case. He said he thought the issue had been resolved to the satisfaction of Crowder’s accuser, state Rep. Susan Lontine. Lontine said Crowder pinched her buttocks in 2016 and made sexually inappropriate comments to her. The eternal group investigating this and all of the logged claims supported her allegations, according to reports.
There’s no question these incidents vary in their iniquity. Crowder’s single incidence of pinching a fellow lawmaker is nowhere nearly as serious as the sordid tales about Lebsock and Baumgardner, who did or do wield considerable influence in the Legislature.
In the case of Crowder, a clear apology, sexual harassment education and a first-offense warning seems appropriate. But in egregious cases involving Baumgardner, Lebsock and others pending, the path for legislative leaders is clear: Remove them from all committees, and insist they resign. Problem solved.
Duran did that, but too late when Winter went public with the Lebsock case. At the time a secret “resolution” was negotiated earlier, Duran should have insisted Lebsock “voluntarily” remove himself from leadership posts for good or at least for a time to prove his contrition.
Now, he and Baumgardner can only resign.
This is difficult, complicated stuff. But if Legislative leaders can’t grasp and solve this problem, voters should have little faith they can handle other weighty matters for the state.
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