Almost two weeks have passed since the Capitol began rolling out its new sexual harassment prevention training, and yet, another scandal broke this morning under the Golden Dome.
This time, Representative Susan Lontine, a Denver Democrat, publicly accused Senator Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, of sexual harassment. Lontine initially filed her formal complaint in November. Although formal complaints are confidential and not subject to open-records requests, Lontine has publicly alleged that her Senate colleague pinched her buttocks and made a sexually inappropriate comment to her.
So why go public with it now? Allegedly, Crowder brushed off the accusations in a meeting this week between the two.
"All along, I intended this to be private," Lontine says. "My investigation was completed at the end of December, and it wasn't until last week that Senator Crowder reached out to meet with me to fulfill what he thought was what I had requested of him, and what I had requested was a private apology. ... At that meeting, Senator Crowder based his apology on how sorry he was that I misunderstood the use of the word 'performance.' That was pretty much it. I didn't consider that to be a very good apology; he didn't at all acknowledge that's not at all what he said, and he didn't admit to touching me on the House floor. ... That was not an apology."
To top it off, Lontine got wind that she may not be the only person at the Capitol who crossed paths with Crowder.
"Representative Lontine received information from at least one other legislator who had been — I don't know the exact circumstances — but had had an unwelcome exchange with Crowder," says Dean Toda, the House Democrat communications director.
Crowder didn't return calls for an interview, but his written statement rebuffing Lontine's claims has been making the rounds.
“I offered Representative Lontine an apology, and it was a sincere apology, in an effort to show respect for her perspective and restore the cordial working relationship we have had,” Crowder said. “Representative Lontine accepted my apology, we shook hands and I believed the matter was concluded. I'm not going to speculate about why she now wants to make this into a press event, despite my good faith effort to understand her viewpoint and make amends. I consider the matter resolved and will continue to do the work my constituents sent me here to do.”
A third-party investigator looked into Lontine's formal complaint and concluded that her accusations were “more likely than not” to be accurate, according to a statement from the Colorado House Democrats.
Crowder isn't the only state legislator who has faced alleged sexual harassment. Take a walk down memory lane here.
The allegation that started it all at the Capitol — the snowball effect of women naming their accusers — was that of Representative Faith Winter, a House Democrat from Westminster, who accused fellow House Democrat Representative Steve Lebsock in November. That investigation is still ongoing. Other legislators facing formal complaints include Republican senators Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate.
Unlike individuals in a typical workplace setting, politicians accused of sexual harassment aren't that easy to get rid of; because they're elected, not hired, it's not as simple as firing an employee. And because of blanket confidentiality, even when sexual harassment is confirmed, the reports are kept under lock and key. The public has no way of knowing how widespread the issue is and who is responsible unless a victim decides to openly name their accuser.
"I think when our boss is the voters, our boss is the public — we have leadership, but they’re not in control of us — if there is going to be change, there has to be transparency when the reports come back credible,” Winter says. "There's no accountability without the public knowing, and the stakes of coming forward in the legislature is high while the stakes for harassing are low."
The legislature hired a consultant to recommend policy changes last month, but nothing has been brought forward just yet.
For Lontine, she hopes to see the politics taken out of the process, since, at the moment, party leaders field complaints and act as intermediaries.
"It needs to be addressed who is reporting and who is instituting consequences. At this point, especially when it's against a [Colorado General Assembly] member, it's political, and it shouldn't be," Lontine says.
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