As the Colorado Independent’s John Herrick reports, a few members of the Colorado General Assembly convened yesterday as a “Legislative Workplace Interim Study Committee,” to address an issue that dominated the headlines during the 2018 session of the legislature: what has been exposed to be a pervasive and well-entrenched culture of sexual harassment by lawmakers against lobbyists, legislative staffers, and even fellow elected officials.
Certainly no one can object to a meeting to address this crisis, which resulted in the expulsion of one lawmaker this year and what should have been career-ending allegations against at least one other. Unfortunately, as Herrick explains, there’s little reason to be optimistic that this committee will be able to effectively tackle the problem.
And why, you ask? Because Republicans and Democrats on this committee do not agree on the facts of what happened this year or what to do about it:
Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, mostly dismissed sexual misconduct complaints brought against three members of his party: Baumgardner, Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial and Larry Crowder of Alamosa. In the House, Duran, a Democrat, called on Lebsock to resign before an investigation into allegations of harassment were completed. She also stripped him and Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who was accused of making unwanted sexual advances on another gay man at a political event in 2012, of their committee leadership positions. Duran dismissed the complaint against Rosenthal because the allegations occurred before he was in office.
Hoping to iron out a policy that can be enforced fairly and consistently, leaders from both the House and Senate called for the summer committee to meet over the interim between sessions. From the Senate, they appointed Sens. Bob Gardner, a Republican from Colorado Springs, Beth Martinez Humenik, a Republican from Westminster, and Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City. From the House, they named Lori Saine, a Republican from Firestone, and Faith Winter, a Democrat from Westminster. Speaker Duran — a term-limited Democrat from Denver — appointed herself to the committee that she chairs.
The choices made by Republicans to serve on this committee are problematic to say the least. Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik was a steadfast ally of Senate President Kevin Grantham as Grantham deliberately worked to undermine the investigation into Sen. Randy Baumgardner’s repeated confirmed instances of sexual harassment. It was Sen. Humenik who stood with Grantham at the press conference in which Grantham punted responsibility for the actions of his caucus, arguing that a criminal offense should be the minimum standard for intervening in harassment cases unlike every other workplace in Colorado. Worse, Humenik helped Senate Republicans deflect from the credible allegations against Baumgardner by filing an frivolous retaliatory complaint against a Democratic Senator accused of using an unmarked women’s bathroom.
As for Sen. Bob Gardner, as Herrick reports, he helped kill a bill to set new standards for sexual harassment cases on college campuses that even Sen. Humenik supported, in addition to his loquacious defense of Sen. Baumgardner during the unsuccessful hearing to expel Baumgardner from the Senate. Rep. Lori Saine, one of the legislature’s most embarrassment-prone members herself, claimed that Steve Lebsock’s serial harassment of women and retaliation against accusers simply didn’t rise to the level of expulsion–a view that fortunately didn’t prevail with her fellow House Republicans.
For all of these reasons, there is very little hope that this committee will be able to come up with anything like a comprehensive solution to ensure women who work at the state capitol in any capacity are protected from harassment and abuse. The actions of Republicans in the Colorado legislature have made such a mockery of the proper way any responsible employer should respond sexual harassment allegations that to expect them to come up with a solution is simply ludicrous. There’s no solving a problem when half the people tasked with solving the problem don’t think there’s a problem.
But there is one sure-fire way for the voters of Colorado to make this right, and that is to relieve the Republican Party of its one-seat Senate majority in the November elections. In the end, the failure of the Colorado General Assembly to police itself on sexual harassment is the failure of Republican Senate leadership. Every Colorado Senate race is now a battleground for the #MeToo movement.
If that’s not a powerful message to carry into election season, we don’t know what is.