Lucia Guzman Gets Real on Why She Left Office and Republican Hypocrisy

Lucia Guzman has left politics and will devote her time to studying Colorado's wild horses and gardening.
Lucia Guzman has left politics and will devote her time to studying Colorado's wild horses and gardening. Courtesy of the Colorado General Assembly
These days, Lucia Guzman can be seen sporting a casual look — shorts, a cotton blouse and cat-eye sunglasses. It's a marked departure from the suits she wore while serving at the Capitol this year.

And she's happier, too. Guzman is finally taking a break to do what she loves after eight years in the Senate (most recently as the minority leader), not to mention the eight years she spent on the board of Denver Public Schools, from 1999 to 2007. While her famed Lucia's Casa de Cafe in LoDo is part of a bygone era, Guzman is starting a new, post-politics chapter in her life. The Texas native and openly gay pastor is learning how to ride a mustang, studying Colorado's roaming wild horse herds and even thinking about buying a farm so she can have a few horses of her own.

Guzman told Westword that the past couple of years in the Senate have taken a personal toll. This past legislative session was especially hard on her because of the sexual-harassment allegations against Senator Randy Baumgardner, who was accused of slapping a legislative aide's buttocks multiple times in 2016, among other complaints. She was glad to see the #MeToo movement take root in Colorado politics and see victims standing up against their alleged abusers, but she grew demoralized after Republican leadership refused to discipline Baumgardner. And while the House expelled Representative Steve Lebsock over allegations that he had harassed several women, the Republican-controlled Senate voted on party lines to keep Baumgardner in office.

Here's what Guzman has to say about the Baumgardner issue, "post-truth" politics, the Democratic fight to win the Senate and the governor's race, and her greatest accomplishments after eight years in office.

Westword: What did you think about this session? You mentioned that it was different than any other session you’ve been involved with.

Lucia Guzman:
It was the most different climate that I’ve ever experienced in the eight years that I’ve been there. In the eight years I’ve been there, there have been times where we were in the majority, and the last few years, I guess the last four years, we were not in the majority. I’ve experienced highs and lows. But this one was very different. It’s the entire #MeToo experience that swept the country that certainly came into the legislature here. Maybe none of us expected or suspected it would, and it really tested leadership. It tested collegial relationships. It tested all of that. And for the most part, all of that testing, relationships — collegial relationships, bipartisan relationships, leadership relationships — I think took a huge fall, because trust was questioned. Trust was defined by so many individuals, and on one hand, what we might consider trust or infringement upon trust was not considered that with someone else. We had been questioning the system, questioning decisions when the Senate president [Kevin Grantham] questioned the report that came back from well-known, well-trained experts.

You’re talking about the investigators?

Yes, the investigators, and to question or just to make the statement that the reports weren’t based on anything. It just really moved everything around.

How were those relationships strained? As the minority leader in the Senate at the time, what were those back-room conversations on Baumgardner’s sexual-harassment allegations with Republican leadership like?

Leadership is considered three people: the Senate president [Grantham], the majority leader [Chris Holbert] and the minority leader [Guzman], so we had conversations amongst the three of us. I would, of course, impart this information with caucus leadership and later on the whole caucus. It started out as, wow, we've got this situation. It started way before the session began in October or November. The complaints were filed, and in the House [with Steve Lebsock’s sexual-harassment allegations] that complaint was huge, so it brought a spotlight on what was going on in the Senate, too. So we began to talk about, what does our protocol say? What do our Senate rules say? It says you have a workplace harassment policy and this is what should happen step by step, and leadership should get the report and make a decision. At the early stages back in November, the conversation centered around who is leadership. Is that you, President Grantham? Is it the three of us? It wasn’t spelled out in the rules; it just said leadership would make the decision. For a long time, I didn’t know my role in it, but we continued to talk and share information. From the beginning, I felt like I was supportive of the report [investigating Baumgardner’s allegations of slapping a legislative aide’s buttocks].

When was the Baumgardner report released by the investigators, Employers Council?

I would say maybe November, but certainly December. Some of that is blurred for me. But then a decision was never made, and I kept pushing for something. Are we three responsible? Are you responsible? Who is responsible? Because I am getting a lot of flak from my folks and the people in the community — a lot of flak. At the same time, the same thing in the House was going on with Lebsock. Then it moved from that to [Republican leadership saying], hey, we think we got this resignation in the bag, but we want to make sure [Senate Democrats] are not going to come up with another resolution to expel Baumgardner.

Did Baumgardner ever agree to resign?

I did not ever talk to him, but what I was always told [by Senate Republican leadership] was, “We are very close to his resignation. He really has seen the brunt of this. It’s hard on him. It’s hard on his family. It’s going to be hard on his child. It looks like it’s going to happen. I just want to know what your caucus expects. Are you going to do the same thing as the House and call for an expulsion?” Then it was, “We think we have this done. If you would talk to your caucus and if your caucus agrees, there will be nothing to that degree,” with regard to expelling Baumgardner.

I continued to say to the Senate president early on, whatever you decide, you've got to do it. What is it going to be? We need to know. I was always thinking, take Baumgardner off of all of his committees. We can’t force someone to resign. You can only hope that they will resign, so take him off of all of his committees. Just do that, but they were always fighting that. And instead of getting to that point of he’s ready to resign, it never happened. Our people got very angry at that, and we felt that we had been lured into this situation. So it moved to, we’re going to file this resolution to expel Baumgardner.

Do you think Republican leadership was trying to delay the Baumgardner issue until later in the session so that a resolution wouldn’t come up, or do you think they really were working in good faith?

I do believe that President Grantham and Majority Leader Holbert were really being honest at the time. I really believe they did have something, that Baumgardner was at that place of resigning, and to give him that time to do so.

We didn’t believe anything after they went to the Denver District Attorney’s Office, and then they started to say we don’t believe Baumgardner’s investigative report. It just went to pot, if you will. Then we didn’t believe anything. We lost trust in what Republican leadership was saying to us.

click to enlarge Senator Randy Baumgardner was formally accused in November of slapping a legislative aide’s buttocks on four occasions in 2016. - JEFFREY BEALL/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Senator Randy Baumgardner was formally accused in November of slapping a legislative aide’s buttocks on four occasions in 2016.
Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons

Because they were trying to go to the Denver District Attorney's Office?

Yeah, and just not deal with it, and continue to say that the workplace investigators did not do a good job and Baumgardner was not guilty at all. They didn’t remove him from any committees. Baumgardner removed himself from his chairmanship on the Senate Transportation Committee. It was like, thank you for resigning your chairmanship of this committee, yet he stayed on the other committees. I think they expected doing that in the long run would satisfy everybody, but it didn’t satisfy anyone — on our side, anyway.

What was the straw that broke the camel’s back for you and caused you to resign as minority leader mid-session?

The straw was when Senator Owen Hill put on his Facebook this terrible story about Senator Daniel Kagan. Senator Kagan was someone on our team who, every day, was getting up and giving a five-minute speech or so on the Senate floor trying to embarrass the Republicans into action on Baumgardner’s discipline. And at the end of their speech, they would always say, “We urge you to please respond to our request for a resolution to come up on the floor for debate.” Kagan described the difference between workplace sexual harassment and the possibility of a criminal act. And he was describing parts of the statute — intercourse, penetration and so forth. It made all the Republicans mad. Senator Hill put on Facebook something about “this creepy man” and how he didn’t feel safe bringing his daughters to the Capitol because Kagan has been in the women’s bathroom.

Senator Beth Martinez Humenik filed the complaint against Kagan, and that is such a lie. Even to this day, that has not been finished. That complaint is still being investigated. When I saw the complaint, I said to the majority leader, “I can’t believe you’re allowing your people to do things like this. This is awful. You are running an innocent man down.” Because Republicans have refused to deal with this, all they had to do was make a decision right away and relieve Baumgardner of his committee assignments for the rest of session. That’s all they had to do. They refused to do it, refused to acknowledge any wrong. When they used Kagan as a mechanism to call us liars, and when I saw that, I knew I could no longer work across the aisle with leadership. I cannot even look them in the eye, because what are they going to tell me? There is no truth left to this situation. There’s no honesty left. I can’t deal with it. I won’t deal with it. I believe when you have a leadership position, your role is to work with the other side, and I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. The right thing for me to do was to step down, but to step down and name my righteous anger. I’m a pastor by background. We have to name the truth as we see it.

Teachers protest at the Colorado State Capitol. - HEATHER FAIRCHILD
Teachers protest at the Colorado State Capitol.
Heather Fairchild
At first, Kagan said he only used the unmarked women’s restroom once. Then it came out that he might have used it multiple times. What really happened last year?

I think the truth is that they, meaning the Republicans, were trying to find some way to get the spotlight off of Baumgardner and off of the leadership that was getting more and more in trouble with the public for not doing anything. Even the Denver Post kept coming out time and time again saying Baumgardner should resign. Other newspapers called for the resignation of the Senate president. I think the Kagan complaint was a way for them to play something up like that.

I think Kagan really didn’t remember how many times he’d gone in there. We had called him in at that time, "Please, get Kagan in. We know he’s sick, but we’re going to lose this vote." He pulls himself up. He drives to work or his wife drives him to work. He has diarrhea and vomiting. He’s really sick, so he had to keep going to the bathroom.

Do you regret stepping down as Senate minority leader, especially since you didn’t get to make an appointment to the Legislative Workplace Interim Study Committee that’s drafting new sexual-harassment policies for the legislature through this year?

No, that didn’t bother me at all. I have always made sure that all my colleagues were part of leadership. I never was a top-down leader. If I wanted to make a decision to be stern, I could do that. I never had any regrets.

I thought about resigning for a while. I remember going into the caucus after thinking about it and said I could no longer do this. I was sleeping maybe two hours a night and, at the same time, running all the bills. We had transportation. We had PERA. We had a number of bills I was doing.

I did go home and wonder for a few days whether I should have done it and if I should have waited this thing out. Should I have sat back and let the Republicans do their stuff? But I was thinking futuristically, as well. There were only eight weeks left, and I wanted to start giving these others a chance to experience some of this. For the next person who is going to lead, they’re going to have to experience this and work with the Republicans.

I really felt like my call to step down was a good one.

What are you hoping to see come out of the Legislative Workplace Study Interim Committee, and do you think it’s possible for it to make effective change given that the six-member committee is evenly split between Democrats who voted to expel Lebsock and Baumgardner and Republicans who voted against both measures?

Well, I think it’s going to be difficult. Reviewing our sexual-harassment policies was going to have to happen anyway. They were going to have to come up with this process, and it would always have to be bipartisan. The entire Republican caucus except Ray Scott voted against Baumgardner's expulsion, so it doesn’t matter who the Senate Republicans put on there.

A consistent refrain from legislators who were opposed to expelling Baumgardner and Lebsock was twofold: There wasn’t enough due process for the accused sexual harassers, and the reports themselves weren’t definitive since the net result was a “more likely than not” verdict from the workplace investigators. Some even said that expulsion is a step too far for actions that aren’t criminal. Do you think the process was fair?

I think it had enough due process. This was not a criminal investigation; this was a workplace harassment issue. We have a workplace harassment policy. All one had to do was follow that policy. What’s missing from that policy is deadlines and dates.

And clarification on leadership?

That’s right, and that’s missing. Those things made it difficult.

A lot of trials happen, and they don’t have the for-sure witnesses or the "without a reasonable doubt" standard. If you’re in a death-penalty trial, then you have definitions of what that would mean. But workplace sexual harassment is not criminal. To me, we have to go with the best that we have and consider it. That’s where intellect, honesty and courage for leadership come into place. In other words, the process is set up in that proposed rule.

Get the information. Get someone to investigate. Take your time, get it done and come up with your best. These are people qualified to do this. These are studied scientific ways to come up with an assumption that they can depend on. And it’s Employers Council — I mean, the most Republican-run business-oriented group that we could get. They’re very Republican, but here you have Republican lawmakers questioning it.

There was due process, and just because they didn’t have a 100 percent, for-sure decision, well, a lot of decisions in court are decided that way. And again, this wasn’t a court of law trying to decide who murdered someone; this was just a simple in-house situation. Someone is saying I didn’t do it; someone filed and said he did do it, and there was an investigation. That, to me, was due process. How could you get any closer to the truth?

Taking Baumgardner off of committees is not like saying, “You’re going to get the gas chamber.” It would have been hard for him, but this is what they did in the long run anyway. [Republican leadership took away his interim and year-round committee assignments while days away from the end of session.]

Do you think Baumgardner will resign this year?

I’d be surprised. If he gets a pretty good job, he probably will resign. [Baumgardner's term ends in 2021.]

I don’t hate Baumgardner. I’ve never hated anyone. I said if this resolution passes and you are forced to leave, I don't want that for you. I wish you’d resign. I feel bad enough already. I feel sensitive already that this is in the permanent record that there is a file against you for this reason, there has been an investigation and there has been a resolution on the floor of the Senate in 2018 about you being expelled. That’s forever in there. It’s like Bill Clinton was impeached in the House. That’s forever there. I wish you’d resign, just resign.

Baumgardner was at the center of the Senate this session, but there’s more to the Senate this year than sexual-harassment scandal. What do you think some of the biggest wins this session were?

I think one of the biggest wins will come out in the elections this year. A bipartisan group of legislators worked to solve the gerrymandering issues, and they came up with a very unique and suitable solution to state legislative redistricting, and that’s going to be on the ballot. That’s really major, because that’s been tried in the years past and there hasn’t been agreement on both sides. We all agree that we should have fair and competitive elections. That hasn’t gotten a lot of play, but that’s one of the most important ones.

I think it was good to pass our budget this year that did give $100 million more into education. Of course, education is far from fixed.

Us, as Democrats, also have to decide what is our priority. We care about so many things.

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You were a Denver Public School Board member for several years and got to experience education issues close up. Did you ever expect that education would be as big of a legislative and election issue as it wasa this year?

I expected it to be this way because it was this way on the school board. When I first got to the Senate, I said, please don’t put me on the Senate Education Committee. I’ve been in battle. There are these different forces at play in education, from the Colorado Education Association — the union of teachers — and the Democrats for Education Reform, who are known as charter school supporters. [DFER was booed by delegates at this year's Colorado Democratic state assembly, who wrote into the party platform a rejection of the pro-charter organization.] Those are huge battles. I knew they would be big. What I’ve done as a leader is to try and bring them together.

Charters are public schools, but there have been some years where the implementation of the charter system draws out money from traditional schools, but that goes back to the individual districts and how they handle or mishandle what the schools need on the local level.

Every year, we have tried to get full-day, full-paid kindergarten for every child in Colorado.

Why is full-day kindergarten such an impossible task to accomplish?

For one thing, annually it would cost about $275 million or so to the state budget. It’s very expensive to provide that money there. To prioritize that, for those of us who believe in it, that’s a given. Just do it. But as close as our budget has come to being defunct over the years, if we did that — and I’ve always voted for it — what would we cut out? We need more money in the budget so we don’t have to take this away in order to have that. If we could have that, as well as have coverage for Medicaid and the programs we need to keep our air clean and that kind of stuff. There’s always that pushback, but I think it’s time. In the future, if we get our Democratic majorities back, my hope is the Democrats can join with some Republicans and revamp public education dollars to a good degree that teachers’ salaries are raised to a legitimate place so they can raise a family and buy a house.

Those in education finance might say districts would already have the money to implement full-day kindergarten if the state actually paid the full amount they are owed under Amendment 23. Instead, the legislature implemented the budget stabilization factor, which has created these deficits every year since 2009.

That’s right. That has to be wiped out.

What has been the justification to continue this practice, even after the economy began recovering from the Great Recession?

One is, there still wasn’t enough money to do everything, even though the economy was turning around. Us, as Democrats, also have to decide what is our priority. We care about so many things. Are we going to say no to more courtrooms that help those incarcerated folks get trained and get an opportunity to revamp their lives? Are we going to raise the cost of Medicaid? Transportation, our roads and bridges. Some people say that’s more important than kids having full-day kindergarten.

I think in the long run, we have to improve revenue. The only real paycheck that the state has is our taxes and our fees. We get some dollars from the feds, but they’re stipulated to go to a certain place. We need to raise the income tax.

Are you supportive of the full-day kindergarten and education funding ballot petition circulating now that would increase the state income tax and corporate sales tax?

Yes, I’m supportive of that. I don’t know if it’s going to pass or not, but I’m supportive of that.

click to enlarge HEATHER FAIRCHILD
Heather Fairchild
What was the most brutal battle that you had to wage in the Senate?

Driver's license for those who were undocumented and the ASSET bill, giving undocumented kids the right to go to college as in-state tuition students. [Both passed in 2013.] That was one of the most painful because of what we would hear. One person would say, “You know these immigrants coming across, they murdered someone coming across the border, an American family, and even murdered the dog.” And I remember having to say, "I am so pained that you would compare these kids that are here through no fault of their own. They simply want to get an education, that you would compare them to criminals. These kids are not criminals." I always had a great sense of respect for people. They would say these things, and I wouldn’t yell back at them. On the floor, I was always diplomatic.

The civil-unions bill for LGBTQ+ Coloradans was also very impassioned and very painful. That took many years, too [before passing in 2013].

What Senate races are you watching closely this year?

I think Senate District 20 is going to be a very important one. That’s the seat that [term-limited] Cheri Jahn of Jefferson County — the only unaffiliated member of the Colorado General Assembly — and Representative Jessie Danielson is coming over from the House. Danielson is a hard worker and a great legislator. She’s running against a pretty formidable Republican woman, Christine Jensen.

Representative Faith Winter is running for Senator Beth Martinez Humenik’s seat in Thornton. If we hold everything and take this seat, that’s the majority. And it’s very likely we will hold everything. [Democrats hold 16 of the 35 Senate seats.] Faith Winter is not a shoo-in, but she’s a very good candidate.

It’s possible that we would come up with nineteen seats for the Democrats, with Tammy Story taking on incumbent Senator Tim Neville for Senate District 16. Tammy Story has been working on this for two years, and people in that area are psyched. But we’ve been there before, like in 2016. We thought we had the backing then, but we didn’t.

It’s really up to the unaffiliated voters in these battleground districts.

They used to all go to Democrats, but they don’t anymore. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll be advising people, doing things behind the scenes trying to help.

What about your successor for Senate District 34 in Denver since you’re term-limited?

I’ve endorsed Julie Gonzales. She’s running against two other Democrats in the primary. She has been in that area for years. She’s a home girl, smart, a Yale graduate, has been working in immigration and has major support from labor groups. I wasn’t going to endorse in mine because I think when you’re in leadership and it’s a Democratic primary, it’s best not to do that.

I’m supporting Donna Lynne, and I would love to see her win the primary. I think she would be an outstanding candidate for governor and an outstanding governor.

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Then why did you end up endorsing a candidate for your seat?

I believe that district needs someone who really is knowledgeable of the constituents in the area, knowledgeable about immigration issues, because that’s such a big deal in north Denver, and very much a community-minded person. These others are building pretty good campaigns, so I thought if I could help at all, I think this is where I’ll endorse. And it’s my own seat, so I felt like I should be able to make a choice here. I was bold. Then everyone else wanted me to endorse them, and I said no, I’m not going to do that. I’ll just let them do their thing.

Are there important seats your worried could go the other way this election?

I think the governor’s race is the most important race we've got going. If the Democrats lose the governor’s seat, we’re in really big trouble.

Which Democrat do you think will clinch the primary nomination?

I’m supporting Donna Lynne, and I would love to see her win the primary. I think she would be an outstanding candidate for governor and an outstanding governor. Because she’s had to work as the lieutenant governor this year, she hasn’t been able to be out as much [on the campaign trail], and that might be holding her back some. And she [was] not as well known to other people across the state until recently.

It’s hard for me to say which Democratic candidate is the frontrunner, because each week one seems to be up higher than the other. There’s a lot of competition between those three — Cary Kennedy, Jared Polis and Michael Johnston — especially. They’re all probably around the same age, and none of them in my sense are totally broad enough [in their experience] to cover everything. The only one who is broad enough is Donna Lynne because she has worked as the CEO and knows the operations of the government, but these other candidates are leaders. They can be a good leader. Whoever wins the Democratic primary, I will support.

I originally wanted Congressman Ed Perlmutter [an Arvada Democrat] to be the governor.

Why do you think Perlmutter dropped out?

I think he knew he couldn’t raise money against Jared and got disgruntled because Jared said he wasn’t going to run. That’s a case where he probably should have stayed in.

Do you think Perlmutter would have stood a chance of winning had he stayed?

I think he would have left them all in the dust. He was my guy. He would have won, hands-down. You were my guy and you left! But we have to let him do that, because I stepped down in the Senate. We each have to do our thing.

What are your thoughts on the Democratic primary for attorney general? Those two candidates are completely different.

Very authentic. That’s what comes to my mind when I think of Joe Salazar. Phil Weiser is a really neat guy, very interesting. I don’t know how that race is going to come out, but I have known Joe a long time, working with him in the community and in the legislature. The guy calls it what it is. He may not be diplomatic in all ways, but he is authentic. That’s not to say that Phil Weiser isn’t authentic; he’s authentic to who he is, as well. To have someone who was the dean of the University of Colorado law school. ... He knows law. He has great abilities to make decisions, make courageous decisions. We can’t go wrong with either candidate. I think we’ll beat George Brauchler. [Brauchler is the only Republican running for attorney general, and he is the district attorney for Arapahoe and Douglas counties.]

Do you have any regrets during your time in the Senate?

I made a lot of decisions, but I don’t regret any one of those. I really don’t have any regrets. I worked hard. I regret that two of my colleagues were recalled, but we did the right thing that led to that. We passed those gun laws in 2013 for universal background checks and magazine capacity restrictions. It caused us in the long run to lose the Senate majority, but we don’t regret what we did.

That’s an interesting question, though. I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I have a lot of scars in terms of standing up for something. I have a lot more respect for the legislative process. Being in the legislature is a phenomenal way to serve, but it’s all-consuming. You don’t have time for family, you don't have time for this, you don’t make much money.

Now that you’re retired from the Senate, what are you going to do with your time?

I don’t know. I told someone the other day I think being in politics is like dog years. So I’ve been in politics for 56 years now. I will always be involved in some way with politics, even if it’s just advising and keeping up with what’s going on. But I don’t know. I’m taking a break; I’m pretty run down physically, emotionally, mentally. I’m really run down. I need to be by the streams. I need to think about what have I learned, what has happened all of these years.

My greatest interest right now is learning from the wild horses. The ranchers are saying there are too many of them. They’re coming onto their land, grazing and drinking all the water out of the streams. There are these different programs going on. Some groups train them — they’re like horse-whisperers. Inmates are training them. There’s all of this activity.

Some say the wild horses have no meaning here in Colorado, we don’t need them. The other idea is, no, they are part of our history. What is the humane thing to do? I’ve been working with this group GEMS — the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary — out in Deer Trail. I’ve been going there, and I’m learning how to ride on a mustang. Her name is Reba; she’s named after [country singer and actress] Reba McEntire. You can see the effects of what freedom meant to them. I want to study that. I’ll probably find some political part to it and write about it. I’ve already seen a couple of ideas for bills that I want my future colleagues to run.

I’ve worked all my life, since I was thirteen. I love gardening and growing crops. I might buy a small farm; small for me might be anywhere from ten to twenty acres. I love the San Luis Valley. I love Paonia and the West Elks area, where they have a lot of organic farms. One of the good things of my years is that I always made it a point to go around the state when I was the leader. I want to do camping and hiking. I have my scooter; I want to ride that. I don’t know what my future is, but I think I’m just going to see what opens.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.
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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.
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