Lebsock faces expulsion following report into sexual harassment allegations

Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, on the opening day of the 2018 legislative session. Photo by John Herrick

Colorado House leadership is planning to introduce a resolution Friday that would expel state Rep. Steve Lebsock from his seat after a top lawmaker said an external investigation found that allegations of sexual harassment filed against him were credible.

“It is our responsibility to hold our members to higher ethical standards than what I think Representative Lebsock is demonstrating,” said House Majority Leader KC Becker during a news conference on Tuesday.

An investigation by a private legal firm found that 11 allegations of sexual harassment by five women were more likely than not to have occurred, according to Becker.

Lebsock, a Democrat from Thornton who is running for state treasurer, denies the allegations. One of the complaints came from Lebsock’s fellow lawmaker, Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster. Another was filed by  Cassie Tanner, a former legislative aide, who alleges Lebsock opened a button on her shirt at The 1-up bar in Denver. 

Lebsock says there were witnesses that the investigator did not interview. And, he says, a YouTube video helps make his case.

The resolution to oust him from office, which Becker said will be introduced as early as Tuesday afternoon, requires a two-thirds vote of the House, or 44 of the 65 total members. This means Democrats will need at least eight Republicans and all of their own members besides Lebsock to support the resolution.

Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, spoke with reporters in the House chamber about her complaint of sexual harassment on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018. Photo by John Herrick

Rep. Winter alleges Lebsock used vulgar language, grabbed her arm, and tried to get her to go home with him at Stoney’s Bar in Denver in 2016. Winter filed a formal complaint last year.

Lebsock has used the results of a lie detector test to assert that he is innocent. He said the allegations are political; Winter is challenging Sen. Beth Martinez-Humenik, R-Thornton, for her competitive Senate seat. He says Democrats are siding with Winter in an effort to buoy her candidacy so they can take back the Senate, which Republicans currently control by one seat.

Winter told reporters on Tuesday that the last thing she was thinking about when filing a complaint was politics. She said the complaint has cost her a lot of time that could have been spent campaigning or fundraising for her Senate bid. She also said it has been an emotionally trying process for her.

“I don’t think being called a liar in the media by one of my colleagues is helpful,” Winter told reporters.  

Becker is expected to release a memo and redacted copy of the report on the investigation before Friday. She will also make a presentation during a caucus meeting on Thursday, a letter to lawmakers states. A private legal firm, the Employer’s Council, is leading the investigations into the sexual harassment claims.

Becker said Lebsock has not seen the report yet. He will have until Friday to make his case before the full House when a resolution is expected to be taken up.  

“We thought it was important to move quickly,” she told reporters.

The swift move by Becker draws a sharp distinction between how House and Senate leadership choose to address allegations of sexual harassment.

Senate Democrats protested how long it was taking for Senate leadership to issue any disciplinary action against Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, who Democrats were demanding resign following allegations that he slapped and grabbed the buttocks of a legislative aide during the 2016 legislative session. Ultimately, the Senate’s Republican leadership said the reports were biased. Baumgardner resigned from his position as chair of the Transportation Committee in a move he said was voluntary.

At least five lawmakers have faced formal sexual harassment complaints since late last year. There are allegations against Sens. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and Jack Tate, R-Centennial, that Senate leadership has yet to address. House leadership dismissed a complaint against Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, earlier this year.

Colorado Public Radio reported in January that no lawmaker has been expelled since 1915.

Correction: This story previously stated the resolution needs support from seven Republicans and all Democrats to pass. It was updated on Wednesday to say the resolution needs eight Republicans and all Democrats besides Lebsock, who is expected to oppose the resolution, in order to pass. 

Title Photo: Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, on the opening day of the 2018 legislative session. Photo by John Herrick