With the scandal over widespread sexual misconduct and harassment in the Colorado General Assembly entering its second week, the latest development being accusations against two Republican Colorado Senators, we wanted to take a moment to circle back and examine the three statements put out by GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham’s press office as the controversy has unfolded.
The initial statement came last Friday, as KUNC’s Bente Birkeland broke the first story of allegations against Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock:
We take any and all allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct very seriously. The legislature has been proactive about heading-off potential problems by conducting in-depth sexual harassment awareness training for legislators and staff, and we have a formal process in place to address issues if they arise. At this time we have no active complaints on these issues, [Pols emphasis] but we will continue to be proactive [Pols emphasis] about educating lawmakers and staff and policing problems should they occur.
Then the following Monday, an updated statement from Senate GOP leadership outlining new proposed steps from President Grantham to address the problem–still without any mention of the possibility that Senate Republicans had themselves been implicated:
We have a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment, [Pols emphasis] but welcome the opportunity to improve upon our procedures. I propose to my colleagues the following 5-part improvement plan to increase access to information and ease reporting processes.
But yesterday, after allegations against Republicans finally broke, a very different statement:
We take every allegation of harassment or misconduct seriously. We ask those who feel they have been victims of harassment or inappropriate behavior at the General Assembly to file an official complaint, in confidence that their anonymity and rights will be protected. Going forward, Senate Republican leaders cannot and will not be responding to unsubstantiated or anonymous allegations against members appearing in the press, [Pols emphasis] which the existing complaint process is designed to handle.
Over the last week, the chief complaint from critics of Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran is that she knew about the allegations that Lebsock had committed sexual harassment but “didn’t take action.” It’s not true; the statements of the principal survivor in Lebsock’s case are clear that the matter was resolved through mediation in the House–and the survivor came forward publicly only after further alleged incidents by Rep. Lebsock. It’s critical that this timeline be clearly understood.
But as we said yesterday, the allegations against at least one Republican Senator who has now been identified, Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, were very far from secret. The original story from Berkeland last Friday referenced at least three yet-unnamed Republican Senators who were known offenders–the guys every woman in the Capitol knew to keep their distance from.
What does that mean? It means Senate President Kevin Grantham’s claims that Senate Republicans are in any way “proactive” in addressing sexual harassment, or that anything like a “zero tolerance” policy exists in his chamber, are false. If they were true, Randy Baumgarder would have been subjected to the same scrutiny Lebsock faced in the wake of his actions in 2016–at least the “informal mediation” described by all parties in Lebsock’s case. Some kind of acknowledgement that something bad had happened.
And the other Senators, too. At least one whose name we don’t yet know.
With this in mind–with the fact that at least one Republican accused of harassment was, like Rep. Lebsock, a poorly-kept secret under the Gold Dome–all of these statements from Senate Republican leadership are revealed to be evasions. There was no “proactive” work going on in the Colorado Senate to put a stop to sexual harassment, while the House at least tried to intervene. And after the savage grilling House Speaker Duran has faced over the last week for her handling of Lebsock, suddenly it’s Kevin Grantham who appears to have actually “turned a blind eye” to harassment in his chamber.
Item one: Speaker Duran gets an apology from…a bunch of dudes. You know who you are.
Item two: The editorials calling for Kevin Grantham’s head had better be good.