Colorado lawmaker expelled over sex misconduct allegations
DENVER (AP) — Colorado lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Friday to expel a Democratic state House member over sexual harassment allegations, making him the nation’s second state lawmaker kicked out for such misconduct since the rise of the #MeToo movement.
Democratic state Rep. Steve Lebsock was not in the House chamber when lawmakers voted 52-9 to expel him after an emotional daylong debate in which numerous women lawmakers revealed that they, too, had experienced sexual harassment and assault by others.
Lebsock also was absent when House Speaker Crisanta Duran made a last-minute plea in a hushed chamber for him to resign before the vote.
“We will not tolerate harassment,” Duran said after the vote. “It’s unbelievable to me that in 2018 we are still having this conversation.”
In an apparent act of spite before his expulsion, Lebsock left the statehouse during Friday’s daylong debate to change his party affiliation to Republican. The Colorado secretary of state’s office confirmed the change.
Normally, his replacement would be named by a GOP vacancy committee. But the state GOP said it might not do so and, in that event, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper would name a replacement.
Lawmakers tearfully embraced Rep. Faith Winter, a Democrat who said Lebsock accosted her at an end-of-session party in 2016.
An independent investigator determined her claims — and those by four other women — were credible. Lebsock denied it to the end.
“On Monday, for the first time in nearly two years, I’m going to come to a building where I’m not going to be worried about retaliation from someone I stood up to,” Winter said.
A teary Lebsock addressed the chamber shortly before the vote.
“I wish all the best for the accusers, and I hope for the best for all of you,” he said.
Arizona Republican Rep. Don Shooter was expelled Feb. 1 over sexual misconduct claims. A California state senator resigned just moments before his colleagues sought to formally expel him after a series of sexual misconduct allegations.
The vote in Colorado followed dramatic accounts of sexual harassment or abuse by House members . A male colleague tearfully talked about his wife’s rape, while others spoke of harassment suffered by their wives and daughters.
Lawmakers read letters from four of Lebsock’s accusers, including Cassie Tanner, who watched the proceedings from the floor of the House. Many people walked over to hug her after her letter was read.
Two male House members said they were so worried about tensions stemming from the case against Lebsock that they had taken to wearing bulletproof vests beneath their jackets and ties.
As late as Thursday, many Republicans said they couldn’t vote to expel, which put the outcome in question because Democrats hold a majority but not the two-thirds needed for expulsion. They cited concerns about the independent investigation, standards of proof and a rush to judgment.
But for many, Friday’s debate — and the details of alleged retaliation by Lebsock against his accusers — changed their minds.
Some were swayed by a document Lebsock sent last year to lawmakers intended to defend himself that also included sexual details about his accusers.
They said that amounted to retaliation — a clear violation of the House’s sexual harassment policy and beyond the realm of a he-said, she-said stand-off.
“At the end of the day, it’s everything, but I think the retaliation piece was a huge part of this because it was a clear violation and it was really egregious and it was something we could touch and see and interpret on our own,” Republican Rep. Lang Seas said.
Winter recounted that pattern early in the day.
“The last months have been awful,” Winter told her colleagues, who stood somberly as she spoke. “I have taken public attack, after attack, after attack while I have patiently stood by waiting for due process to take its course.”
“Today is not about sex. It is about power,” she said.
Lebsock, who also represented suburban Denver, said Winter and other accusers were lying. He asked his colleagues Friday for a formal committee investigation, saying the previous outside review that concluded the claims were credible was flawed.
“It’s been the honor of my life to serve the people of Colorado and I was willing to fight this year for the people of Colorado,” Lebsock said, looking up at the visitor’s gallery.
Lebsock declined to address the specific claims against him.
The debate over sexual harassment has engulfed both chambers of Colorado’s Legislature. Three Republicans in the GOP-led Senate were accused of misconduct; one of them, to date, has stepped down as chair of a committee, while denying wrongdoing.
Senate President Kevin Grantham held a news conference Thursday to decry Colorado’s investigative process, which calls for a confidential, third-party investigation. He called for Denver’s district attorney to investigate whether Lebsock had committed any crimes.
However, District Attorney Beth McCann said a complaint must be filed with police before her office could investigate.