SUNDAY UPDATE: Via the Denver Post’s Danika Worthington:
“I have come to realize that it does not matter that, at the time, I may have perceived my words as playful,” he wrote. “It does not matter that, at the time, I may have felt that we were flirting. It does not matter that, at the time, I may have felt what I said was OK. It does not matter that I may not remember the exact words which were hurtful. It does not matter that, at the time, I thought we were joking.”
“The only thing that matters is how I made these three women feel,” he continued. “I am sorry.”
Later in the day, the women — Winter, former lobbyist Holly Tarry and former legislative aide Cassie Tanner — released a joint statement to The Post that said, while they appreciate Lebsock’s new apology, they believe he has still not taken full responsibility for his actions.
Rep. Steve Lebsock (D).
KUNC’s Bente Birkeland breaks a story today that could very well mean the end of one Democratic state lawmaker’s career–and rips the scab off a widespread problem that has been long-whispered of in the halls of the Colorado state capitol building, coming to light only now as the cultural upheaval over the treatment of women by men in positions of power goes on throughout our nation.
Let us begin with one unequivocal declaration: of zero tolerance.
Nine legislators, staffers and lobbyists are alleging that Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat running for state treasurer, harassed, intimidated or made unwanted sexual advances against them. And in response to our reporting, a top Democratic leader is calling on Lebsock to “do the right thing and resign.”
Rep. Faith Winter said Lebsock tried to get her to leave a bar with him in 2016. Both were attending a party to celebrate the end of the legislative session. Lawmakers, lobbyists, staff, the governor and members of the media attended the event a few blocks from the Capitol Building…
Winter, a Democrat, said she repeatedly refused Lebsock’s advances, but he wouldn’t stop and instead got angrier and more aggressive. She said he was standing over her and grabbing her elbow and she didn’t feel safe.
Many others in the Capitol are corroborating Rep. Faith Winter’s story of repeated harassment from Rep. Steve Lebsock, who is now a candidate for state treasurer. And apparently it wasn’t just Rep. Winter, with at least one lobbyist describing inappropriate behavior on Rep. Lebsock’s part toward herself personally. The story also refers to but does not describe still another more recent incident.
Colorado Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran is calling for Rep. Lebsock’s resignation following the publication of these allegations today, as the Denver Post’s John Frank reports today:
The statement issued Friday by Duran, a Democrat, read: “I would expect that Representative Lebsock would consider the impact of his actions on his colleagues and the public confidence in our institution, and do the right thing and resign. There is no place for those types of actions at the legislature.”
And despite the feigning of ignorance about the story from Rep. Lebsock when confronted by Bente Birkeland, we do expect that he will be taking her advice very soon. This is not a politically survivable situation. But as Birkeland’s story continues, Lebsock is not likely to be the last to face hard questions for his conduct under the Gold Dome:
Beyond Rep. Steve Lebsock, there are other complaints about a handful of male senators touching women’s lower backs, giving lingering hugs, making uncomfortable and unwanted comments about appearances, massaging necks, telling off-color jokes of a sexual nature and showing pornographic pictures.
Several female lobbyists said they try to avoid being alone with certain senators and go to offices in pairs or ask a male colleague to talk to them instead. None were willing to be named for this story, saying they feared going public would hurt their work at the legislature.
Another said, “It’s a well known fact across the building that people like Rep. Lebsock and a number of Senate Republicans have all behaved in a way that would never be accepted in any other conventional workplace. It crosses party lines and has been happening for generations.” [Pols emphasis]
We of course have our suspicions about which Senate Republicans may be the type to commit sexual harassment in their workplace, but we’ll wait for that to come out through the many responsible channels now hard at work uncovering what appears to be a most distasteful culture of misconduct fostered by some of that chamber’s members. This isn’t the first time a case of sexual misconduct has rocked the Colorado General Assembly–in 2008, Rep. Michel Garcia was swiftly forced to resign after exposing himself to a lobbyist at a social function.
But what we’re talking about here is much more pervasive than anything that has been previously disclosed. We don’t have any way of knowing how many legislators may ultimately be implicated, or what the partisan breakdown of offending lawmakers might be.
What we will say is that sexual harassment in the workplace is never, ever acceptable, no matter what your politics are. To the extent this is a cultural problem in the Colorado General Assembly as it is everywhere, the time for allowing it to go on unreported and unpunished is over. Our society is becoming aware on a massive scale of something terrible that has been allowed to persist even as women fought for and won their rights to equality and dignity. From Harvey Weinstein to Steve Lebsock, it must stop.
It must stop. Every man who has ever treated a woman this way must stop.
It will never be okay again.