The saga of sexual misconduct at the Capitol continues to be drawn out this year as more victims publicly point the finger at their alleged abusers. And as those claims have been vetted by workplace investigators, legislators have demanded action.
First, Democrats cannibalized their own in early March when they gave Steve Lebsock the boot after he'd been accused by at least eleven women, including a sitting House Democrat, of sexual harassment. The House overwhelmingly voted for his expulsion, the second Statehouse expulsion in Colorado history. Now, Senate Republican Randy Baumgardner is under fire after an investigation concluded that a complaint of sexual harassment was found to be credible.
Colorado Senate Democrats tried to emulate their House colleagues when they put forward a resolution yesterday evening to expel Senator Baumgardner over those sexual-harassment allegations, but they failed in a 17-17 vote in the Republican-controlled chamber. All sixteen Democrats and one Republican voted for Baumgardner's expulsion; two-thirds of the chamber, or 24 votes, are needed to expel a member.
“I’m relieved by the outcome, but it’s not a pleasant experience," Baumgardner said in a statement to Westword. “I didn’t know what to expect. I just hoped that facts would win out over baseless accusations.”
Baumgardner was accused of slapping and grabbing a former legislative aide's buttocks during the 2016 legislative session. Even after a January report from a third-party investigator that alleged Baumgardner "more likely than not" inappropriately touched her buttocks, Republicans stood firmly to protect their colleague last night. Senate President Kevin Grantham testified that he would not vote to expel Baumgardner because even with the report in hand, the standard of evidence was too low to justify the harsh penalty. Although he refrained from using the word "conviction," his statements echoed previous public statements that a criminal conviction would be his standard for expulsion.
"I can speak for myself; I can speak for my vote — and my vote is going to be against this resolution," Grantham said during his testimony. "If we were going to send a message, let it be one that demands for the highest level of accountability that it should demand a high level of evidence, and we do not have that. We demand accountability, agreed. That accountability has to be based on something, some level of reality, some level of facts that are evidence, something we can point to that says, 'Yes, that happened.'"
The workplace investigator, who was commissioned from human-resources firm Employer's Council, relayed personal trepidation in the January report about confirming the sexual-harassment complaint because there were no witnesses to the butt-grabbing and slapping, which allegedly happened on four separate occasions. Instead, the investigator relied on the credibility of both the accuser and Baumgardner in determining whether or not sexual harassment did occur. In that report, Baumgardner was deemed less credible because he was patronizing, quick-tempered, "appeared to pretend" to be ignorant of the allegations and did not give a straight answer to the investigator, claiming that he "did not recall anything like that."
"It would be reasonable for someone to not remember something as innocuous as what you ate three weeks ago. It does not seem, to this investigator, to be a reasonable response to 'not recall' when asked if you touched a private part of another person's body. This type of response hinders his credibility," the investigator noted in the January report, adding that the accused didn't appear to have a reason to fabricate the complaint, especially given her anonymity in the press.
Here's a redacted copy of the investigation report into Baumgardner's conduct:
The January report marked only one of three sexual-harassment complaints against Baumgardner, who is still being investigated on the other two. The second complaint was made by Megan Creeden, a former intern for another lawmaker, who alleges that Baumgardner made an inappropriate sexual comment to her and pressured her to drink in his office. And the third and final investigation was prompted by a complaint from a male staffer who is accusing Baumgardner of creating an offensive and hostile work environment because he repeatedly gave a female staffer unwanted attention. Those investigations have been turned over to Senate leadership but have not been released, as they do not include comment from Baumgardner.
Senator Irene Aguilar, who was the primary sponsor of the expulsion resolution, claimed on the Senate floor that Baumgardner was delaying the investigation by refusing to work with investigators. Baumgardner has wholeheartedly denied those allegations, saying he has repeatedly told investigators that the reason for the delay has been because of scheduling issues with his lawyer.
“That statement, like a lot of what was said Monday night, isn't accurate. I delayed meeting with the investigator until my attorney can attend, which is my right, and he’s occupied for the moment on another case. My attorney has been in contact with the investigator. I asked the secretary of the Senate whether there was a deadline, and I was told there isn’t one. So it’s untrue to say I’m refusing to cooperate," Baumgardner said in a statement.
Although Baumgardner voluntarily stepped down from his chairmanship on the Senate Transportation Committee in February in response to the sexual-harassment complaints, he has continued to deny all allegations.
"With very few exceptions, this has been the most difficult and humbling experience of my life. It has been torture to hear accusations made that I could not answer," Baumgardner said during the expulsion hearing. "It has made me look in the mirror a lot harder. It has made me want to make sure that the standards I bring to this work is beyond reproach. ... As I stated in the investigation report, I deny the allegations levied against me. However, as I have done before, I have apologized if I have said anything during my time here that has unintentionally given offense or made someone feel uncomfortable."
Baumgardner isn't the only member of the Statehouse facing complaints of sexual harassment this legislative session. Republican Senator Jack Tate of Centennial was accused by his former intern of touching her shoulders and nudging her waist, of leering at her and of commenting on her skirt while they were in an elevator. Last week, Grantham cleared Tate of any wrongdoing, though a third-party investigation concluded that the complaints were found "more likely than not" to be true.
Republican Senator Larry Crowder of Alamosa has been accused by House Democrat Susan Lontine, a Denver representative, of pinching her buttocks and making a sexually inappropriate comment to her. A third-party investigation found Lontine's claims to be "more likely than not" to be credible.
And finally, Representative Paul Rosenthal, an openly gay Denver Democrat, has been accused of inappropriately touching and attempting to kiss another gay man at a campaign event in 2012, before he was elected to the House. House Speaker Crisanta Duran dismissed the complaint earlier this year because the allegations were made prior to Rosenthal becoming an elected official.
To clean up the frat-house culture under the Golden Dome, legislators have commissioned a consultant to help revamp the Capitol's policy for workplace sexual harassment. A report is expected to be delivered to legislators Thursday morning in the Executive Committee of the Legislative Council.
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