As KUNC’s Bente Birkeland reports and we discussed in some detail yesterday the historic expulsion of Rep. Steve Lebsock from the Colorado House last Friday has shifted attention in the widening crisis over sexual harassment in the Colorado General Assembly to the Colorado Senate, where two Republican Senators have been accused of their own serial bad behavior–allegations that, like those against Rep. Lebsock, were found credible by an outside investigator.
But as the whole nation’s attention suddenly turns to Colorado as the new model for holding perpetrators of sexual harassment in positions of power accountable, there’s a problem.
The men in charge of the Colorado Senate don’t want to make history. They like the status quo.
The leader of Colorado’s Senate said that last week’s historic decision in the House to expel a legislator amid sexual harassment allegations would have no bearing on how similar cases in the Senate are resolved. Senate President Kevin Grantham said the House made a tough decision to remove a fellow legislator from the Capitol.
He added that a criminal conviction would be the standard for expelling a legislator from the Senate…
Grantham said an investigation that finds allegations of sexual harassment credible is not enough for him to support the removal of a lawmaker. He said criminal charges would be.
“If we’re going to talk about expulsion, then there still has to be criminal acts and indictments and convictions,” said Grantham. [Pols emphasis]
As of yesterday, Senate Democrats are publicly ramping up the pressure on Grantham with a daily demand to introduce for debate the resolution to expel Sen. Randy Baumgardner—Denver Post:
For the second time this week, Democrats in the Colorado Senate called for Republican leadership to allow debate on the resolution they sponsored to expel GOP Sen. Randy Baumgardner over accusations of sexual harassment…
She said Baumgardner’s actions created an intimidating, hostile and offensive workplace environment.
“For this reason, the members of the Senate Democratic caucus ask that the Senate resolution we prepared and submitted for introduction … be promptly introduced and brought to the floor for debate,” Sen. Irene Aguilar, a fellow Denver Democrat, said the day before.
First of all, let’s dispense with the absurd notion that a criminal conviction is now or should ever be the standard for taking disciplinary action in cases of sexual harassment. That’s simply not the standard in any other workplace in Colorado, where investigations with far less independence and thoroughness are routinely the basis for corrective actions up to and including termination of employment. To declare a criminal conviction, or even criminal charges, to be the minimum standard for intervening in a case of sexual harassment gives members of the Colorado Senate protection that no one else enjoys–not even, as of last Friday, their colleagues in the House.
The Democrats and Republicans in the House who voted for expulsion rejected Grantham’s argument.
“This wasn’t a criminal investigation; this was a workplace investigation,” said Rep. Polly Lawrence, R- Roxborough Park.
Grantham’s off-base call last week for Denver District Attorney Beth McCann to investigate for criminal violations fell flat precisely because of what it represented: a moving of the goalposts after GOP Senate leadership decided they didn’t like the results of the independent investigation into Republican Senators. Grantham and accused Senators like “Handsy” Jack Tate might not like it, but sexual harassment that falls short of a criminal act most certainly does exist.
And Senate President Kevin Grantham just declared that in his chamber, sexual harassment not rising to the level of a criminal act may be carried out by Senators with impunity. Or at least, unlike any other workplace in Colorado, without getting fired.
Folks, this is a political disaster of the likes rarely seen at any level of government. Republicans already lose women voters by significant margins in Colorado elections, a gap that has made the difference between defeat and victory in close races (see: Bennet, Michael).
This a mistake that could help ensure a whole generation of women never, ever vote Republican again.