Now that Democrats have control of both houses of the Colorado Legislature, the political maneuvering is under way. And as seen in Wednesday's resignation announcement by Senator Daniel Kagan, the target of an investigation over his repeated use of a woman's bathroom at the State Capitol, and the lack of consequences for Representative Jovan Melton despite revelations regarding two prior domestic-violence incidents, maintaining political power is clearly taking precedence over consistency during the #MeToo era.
Earlier this year, Dems were scoring lots of PR points by calling for an end to the boys-will-be-boys mentality at the General Assembly ("Colorado Legislature May Once Again Lead Country in the Fight for Gender Equity, April 2018). Censures were aimed at legislators such as Steve Lebsock, accused of sexual harassment by at least eleven women, and Randy Baumgardner, who allegedly slapped a legislative aide's buttocks four times during the 2016 legislative session.
Mentioned parenthetically were charges against Kagan in regard to his bathroom habits — but the story flared up again in September, when state Republicans tried to use CBS4's publication of an investigatory document (it's accessible below) to distract from blowback over several GOP lawmakers' Facebook jokes about an accuser of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
According to the Kagan report, Republican Senator Beth Martinez Humenik was sitting in a stall in the women's restroom, which happens to be located next to a men's restroom, when she noticed that the person using the stall next to her was wearing "a man's shoes and a man's suit pants."
Moments later, she said, Kagan walked out. When she asked him what he was doing in the women's restroom, he responded that he wasn't feeling well and then went on his way as she told him, "Senator Kagan, this is not okay. I don't want to see you in here again."
After Kagan failed to heed this warning, Martinez Humenik filed a workplace-harassment complaint — and the report that resulted cites evidence aplenty that his usage of the women's restroom wasn't a one-time thing. Its summary:
Senator Martinez Humenik’s allegation in this report demonstrates that she perceives Senator Kagan has used the private, women-only restroom located adjacent to the Senate President’s Office on more than one occasion since his election to the Colorado Senate in November 2016. There is sufficient corroboration and support by neutral witnesses that Senator Kagan engaged in such conduct on three occasions during the 2017 Legislative Session. Also, at times, Senator Kagan’s own statements substantiate Senator Martinez Humenik’s claim. However, there is no information suggesting that Senator Kagan continued to engage in such conduct in 2018.
Martinez Humenik wanted a formal apology from Kagan. What she got instead, as first reported by the Colorado Sun, was his December 5 declaration that he would be stepping down effective January 11 — and while the statement made no mention of bathroom matters, they're widely believed to have motivated his move.
As for Melton, he's resisted suggestions that he resign despite revelations circa October that he had been arrested twice on domestic-violence charges during the past two decades — the first time in 1999, when he was twenty (he pleaded guilty to harassment in that matter), and most recently in 2008, in a case that was subsequently dismissed.
When these matters were made public, we declared Melton to be toast — but that prediction proved to be wildly inaccurate. Melton was easily re-elected in the safest of safe districts, and it now appears that the Democratic leadership in the state House is willing to give him a pass despite the arrival this week of more bad publicity.
On December 3, Colorado Public Radio shared a letter Melton wrote to the woman in the 1999 incident (it's linked at the bottom of this post as well) in which he acknowledged that a relationship with him was "not healthy" for her and stressed that "I would rather see you safe and alive and myself unhappy, than force you to be with me." Additionally, the woman spoke about the toll the matter has taken on her and her belief that Melton "needs to be honest with himself, take responsibility for his actions, and face his mistakes if he wants to move forward and show the people that voted for him that he does have the capacity to see his faults and the courage to shift his perspective."
The CPR article suggests that Melton views his re-election as a vindication of sorts — he's quoted as calling it "a testament that a person’s past shouldn’t determine their future" — and points out that there's no current plan by House leadership to expel him, as happened in Lebsock's case. In a statement, incoming Speaker KC Becker and Majority Leader Alec Garnett wrote: "Given the gravity of the situation and the impact on his constituents, as well as public confidence in the state legislature, we encouraged him to resign. Ultimately we made it clear that it was his decision whether to step down from his position."
On the 3rd, Westword reached out to Melton, Becker and Garnett on this topic. At this writing, none of them have responded — which suggests that all three hope they'll simply be able to power through any potential unpleasantness. That seems to be the approach of Senator Jack Tate, a Republican facing sexual-harassment allegations of his own, who revealed via Facebook that he won't make a bid for re-election after the completion of his current term, which runs through 2020.
In today's politics, #MeToo repercussions can't be ignored — but that won't stop politicians from trying. Click to read the Senator Daniel Kagan investigation report and the Representative Jovan Melton letter.
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