One of the biggest political stories of 2017 is almost certainly going to be one of the most notable stories of 2018 as well. The #MeToo movement that shone a new light on sexual harassment in the workplace dominated the news cycle for much of the second half of 2017, but it wasn’t until November that it broke through as a huge topic in the Colorado legislature. The topic will certainly be elevated again once the 2018 legislative session begins next week.
Bente Birkland of KUNC broke open the problem of sexual harassment in the legislature with a bombshell story in November that included several accusations against Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock – most notably from Democratic Rep. Faith Winter – about harassment dating back to at least 2016. Lebsock initially apologized for his conduct before embarking on a strange reversal culminating in a silly claim that he should be exonerated because of the results of a lie-detector test that he himself paid to be administered. Thus far Lebsock has ignored calls for his resignation – as well as invitations to switch parties — while continuing his no-hope campaign for the Democratic nomination for State Treasurer.
Lebsock was the first sitting legislator to face sexual harassment accusations, but he wasn’t alone for long. A few days later, Birkland broke news of new harassment allegations against Republican State Senators Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate; an official complaint was filed against Baumgardner shortly thereafter. Senate Republican leadership was quick to trot out a line about “zero tolerance” for harassment after the Lebsock story broke, but when faced with allegations touching their own members, Senate President Kevin Grantham went remarkably quiet, saying in a statement that they “cannot and will not be responding to unsubstantiated or anonymous allegations against members appearing in the press.” Grantham has kept his word in this regard but won’t be able to duck these questions so easily once the legislature reconvenes.
Meanwhile, Sen. Tate tried to patch up his reputation through public claims from a group of female lobbyists – all of whom have significant business interests in appeasing Tate – that he was totally not at all the kind of person who would sexually harass someone. Republican defenders of Tate even went so far as to claim that Tate did nothing more than “complement the clothing” of a former Capitol intern. Yeah, it got gross.
These sexual harassment stories faded a bit in the media in part because of distractions related to the Holiday season and the Alabama Senate election. But as we noted earlier, we fully expect the issue to be front and center once the legislature kicks off the 2018 session next week. Here’s hoping that the allegations – and the accusers – get a different sort of treatment in the new year.