DENVER — Colorado’s Republican-led Senate could expel a GOP senator accused of harassing a former legislative aide in 2016, bowing to Democratic pressure to bring the issue up for debate late Monday.
The debate was the latest confrontation in the Colorado Legislature this session over sexual harassment allegations involving several lawmakers that arose with the #metoo movement. That movement saw millions of women taking to social media to publicize their experiences with sexual harassment in and out of the workplace.
In Colorado, the chances Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who represents a rural northwest Colorado district, will be expelled are slim in a chamber with a strong Republican majority. Baumgardner denied wrongdoing but stepped down from a committee post.
A third-party investigator has determined that the former aide’s claims were credible. She said that Baumgardner grabbed and slapped her buttocks on more than one occasion during the 2016 session.
Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham had deemed the case closed and previously had refused to allow the resolution to be introduced. Democrats argued that the resolution should be debated, in part, to send a message to alleged victims that their complaints are taken seriously.
A two-thirds vote, or 23 votes, in the 35-member Senate is needed to expel. Republicans hold 18 seats, Democrats 16 and there is one independent.
On March 2, Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled following complaints he harassed or intimidated five women, including a fellow lawmaker. Lebsock’s ouster came after Arizona Republican Rep. Don Shooter was expelled Feb. 1 over misconduct claims. A California lawmaker resigned.
All told, five Colorado lawmakers have been accused of misconduct in recent months. KUNC-FM first reported the allegations, including those against Baumgardner.
Democrats argued Baumgardner’s punishment was too light and sent the wrong message to victims. Sen. Lucia Guzman, the Democratic Senate minority leader, stepped down from that post last month, citing frustration with majority Republicans’ handling of workplace harassment allegations.
But Grantham has described some of the anonymous accusations against senators as tantamount to “assault,” and he had urged prosecutors, rather than lawmakers, to investigate harassment complaints at the Capitol.
Grantham did pledge to work with Democrats to produce a new workplace harassment policy for the Legislature. Leaders of the House and Senate were set to discuss a proposal by an outside consultant on Wednesday.
Several other allegations of harassment in the Colorado Legislature have been investigated.
Colorado Republican Sen. Larry Crowder was accused by Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine of sexual harassment. He denied wrongdoing. On Thursday, Grantham closed an investigation involving Sen. Jack Tate, a suburban Denver Republican, finding complaints against him didn’t rise to the level of harassment.
Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal was cleared of allegations he harassed a political activist before he was elected in 2012.
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