General Assembly Offers Lessons in Being Decent, aka Harassment Prevention Training

Keep your hands to yourself while under the Golden Dome (and just about everywhere else).
Keep your hands to yourself while under the Golden Dome (and just about everywhere else). Arina P Habich/
After this last round of legislators gone wild in Colorado — four politicians have been accused of sexual harassment in two months — lawyers have descended on the Capitol to teach handsy politicians how to maneuver the murky waters of a mixed-gender professional workplace.

Workplace-harassment trainers from Truhlar and Truhlar put together a nineteen-page prevention manual that was distributed to the  General Assembly on Monday for the first course in sexual-harassment training at the Capitol. Eleven more workshop days are scheduled through early March for legislators, aides, interns and staff.

It's not like legislators have been clueless about maneuvering the workplace; they have undergone hours-long harassment training every biennium for the past decade.

"I think one thing that's important in the first place is [that the training] sends a message from leadership...that this is important, we take this seriously, that it's important enough to do every year, and it's mandatory," says House Majority Leader KC Becker. "So I think it sends a tone from leadership about our commitment to the issue [of sexual harassment]."

But in the post-#MeToo and -#TimesUp era, when a growing list of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey are being publicly exposed by their victims, men are mentally retracing their steps to see if they, too, may have crossed that line between a decent human being and a harasser. That's where the new training comes in.

Participants were broken up into groups of 25 to learn what constitutes verbal, nonverbal and physical sexual harassment. (Hint: Keep your sexual thoughts and body parts to yourself at all times when working with colleagues!) Unlike in previous years, the new training included role-playing activities and had room for more Q&As because of group sizes. The new training will be mandatory and will recur every year.

"I think the trainings are just one piece of the puzzle, one part of the solution," Becker says.

Legislators are working on two other fronts to combat harassment: They contracted with Investigations Law Group late last week to suggest sexual-harassment policy changes, and they're in the process of hiring the legislature's first HR person, who, among other duties, will handle sexual-harassment complaints.

See the training guide below:

It's worth drudging up the not-so-distant past of Colorado lawmakers who have been accused of alleged harassment. Regardless of the veracity of the following claims, they might prove to be more educational than paid workplace training.

1. It started with a hot tub. Or so Democratic Representative Steve Lebsock said in a January YouTube video countering allegations of sexual harassment. Lebsock has been formally accused by three women for the following: unbuttoning a former legislative aide's blouse, asking a former lobbyist if she would have sex with him, and describing to a House colleague all the sexual acts he'd like to perform with her while repeatedly grabbing her elbow. Lebsock has denied all of the formal (and informal) complaints made against him, saying that he's the target of a "coordinated smear campaign" because he declined to sit in a hot tub with the House colleague, who was the first woman to formally accuse him of sexual harassment.

2. Slapping asses is not okay. Republican Senator Randy Baumgardner is facing allegations that he slapped and grabbed an intern's buttocks on four different occasions in 2016.

3. Opinions are like assholes — everyone has them. And nobody likes assholes. Republican Senator Jack Tate is facing allegations that he regularly leered at an eighteen-year-old intern and commented on her choice of outfit, including a skirt, last year. To make things worse, the complaint also alleged that he had a habit of touching her shoulder and letting his hand linger for an uncomfortably long period of time.

4. Groping, crotch grabs and kissing is off the table, even if it's not at the Capitol. Being on your best behavior isn't just confined to the Golden Dome. Last year, Representative Paul Rosenthal was accused of grabbing the inner thigh of a field organizer, groping him and attempting to kiss him at a political campaign event in 2012.

5. Assault isn't a good look for any politician, even if you're as infamous as Douglas Bruce. Love him or hate him, kicking a photographer is never okay. While the Bruce incident was not sexual in nature, it's worth recalling, because so much about the culture of sexual harassment revolves around civility.

6. Please, keep it in your pants. Literally. Who can forget the explosive resignation of former representative and Aurora Democrat Michael Garcia? (He completely exposed his genitals to a female lobbyist while playing pool at the Lancer Lounge and asking, "Wouldn't this be nice inside of you?")

Everyone can learn a thing or two from the history of alleged sexual harassment by Colorado legislators. Maybe these in-the-flesh examples will be as instructive as  — if not more instructive than — the Capitol's workplace harassment training.
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Nora Olabi covers general and breaking news for Westword with an emphasis on politics and local government. Prior to making her way to the Front Range and joining Westword in 2017, she worked at major Houston newspapers. She's a proud Houstonian who's acclimating to snow and mountain living.
Contact: Nora Olabi