Democrats are moving forward with a resolution to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock from office over allegations of sexual harassment even though they may not have the votes, House leadership confirmed Thursday evening.
The decision comes after a marathon day of caucus meetings where lawmakers hashed out their views on a report by a private legal firm that found Lebsock, a Democrat from Thornton, made unwanted sexual advances on lobbyists, a legislative aide and a lawmaker over the last four years. Lebsock denies the allegations.
Republicans, and some Democrats, are concerned that lawmakers will be basing a historic vote — the first since 1915 — to expel a lawmaker from office on a redacted report by one investigator. The expected vote comes after five male lawmakers were accused of sexual harassment this session, with one allegation dismissed, and as the country grapples with the #MeToo movement.
But it’s unclear whether House leadership has the 44 votes, or two-thirds majority, to pass the resolution. Republicans say there should be a clear, uniform legal standard, such as a preponderance of evidence, to base their vote on. Many say the process of reviewing the allegations was flawed from the start.
“When you are going to be judicial, you should be judicious,” Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, told The Colorado Independent. “And you should be very careful and make sure due process is followed, particularly when it is expulsion.”
But Democrats want to make a stand. During the party’s caucus meeting Thursday afternoon, some lawmakers choked up when talking about the report. Some said they couldn’t even read it through.
“We have to show people that we are going to stand up against men, or anyone, who are sexual abusers,” House Majority Leader KC Becker told The Colorado Independent.
Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who wants the resolution to pass, was concerned about the legal basis for the vote to expel Lebsock, and said it might be challenged in the courts. But Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, said one word sums up the legal standard: conscience.
“What is the right thing for the people and the state considering all the circumstances? Conscience,” Weissman told his Democratic colleagues, many of whom were hunched over their desks after a long day of discussion on the issue. “Who do you want to see when you look in the mirror?”
Still, lawmakers were wondering whether they should hold vote if the resolution might fail. Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who alleges Lebsock tried to get her to leave with him during a legislative party in 2016, said a vote in itself is a win.
“We know the votes might not be there tomorrow,” Winter said. “But at least someone tried.”
An investigator’s report into allegations of sexual harassment against Lebsock came out early this week. The report finds 11 allegations were “more likely than not” to have occurred. It detailed six times that Lebsock asked for sex or made unwanted sexual advances.
Lebsock’s exchange Thursday morning with the investigator, Michele Sturgell, who testified before a joint caucus, was edgy at times. Lebsock held up a calendar that he said should have been used as evidence to prove he was home the day Cassie Tanner, a former legislative aide, alleges he unbuttoned the top button on her shirt. (The credibility of the calendar in question is being disputed, according to a story by Colorado Politics on Thursday.)
This is one example, Lebsock says, that shows he was not given due process. He says he wanted the women to file formal complaints to prove his innocence. Instead, he said, the false allegations against him have ruined his reputation.
“That’s why everything is still on the table in the future in regards to a possible defamation lawsuit,” he told The Colorado Independent. He did not elaborate on any potential lawsuit.
The Republican-led Senate is calling for a different process to review allegations of sexual harassment. Leadership wants the Denver district attorney to investigate sexual harassment allegations that rise to the level of sexual assault. This comes after three senators were accused of sexual harassment: Sens. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, Jack Tate, R-Centennial and Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.
Leadership is yet to reprimand any of the men, and have dismissed the case against Baumgardner, calling a report into his allegations biased.
House Speaker Becker said their proposal leaves out cases of sexual harassment that are not criminal.
“It’s basically saying any civil conduct — sexual harassment — is OK at the Capitol,” Becker said.
The Denver Post is keeping a tally of where lawmakers stand on the resolution ahead of Friday’s vote. As of Thursday evening, 22 lawmakers said they would vote for it, according to the tally.