Short take: Littwin on where sexual politics meets plain old politics at state legislature

Senate President Kevin Grantham briefed reporters ahead of the 2018 legislative session on Jan. 8.

Come to the Colorado Senate to see where sexual politics and, well, plain old politics clash. Senate President Kevin Grantham has made it clear that he won’t support expelling any senator (especially a Republican senator) for sexual harassment unless there’s a criminal conviction involved.

In other words, Grantham has raised the bar on sexual harassment to the you-gotta-be-behind-bars benchmark.

This comes just days after House Democrats expelled Steve Lebsock on an overwhelming bipartisan vote, which followed an independent investigator’s finding that Lebsock had “more likely than not” harassed five women who brought official complaints. In addition, he threatened retaliation against his accusers, and that was that — if you don’t count Lebsock’s late-game party switch and Dr. Chaps’ belief that Lebsock would make a good Republican.

Politically, though, this was a cost-free move for Democrats, who have a healthy majority in the House. But in the Senate, Republicans hold only a one-vote majority and expelling one Republican senator means all hell breaks loose, dogs and cats live together and Democrats take control of the Senate for the rest of the session.

So is Grantham really saying that it’s OK by him if an independent investigator finds it credible that Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner repeatedly slapped and grabbed a legislative aide’s buttocks or is he saying he’s willing to overlook anything in order to keep his majority? And is he really saying he wouldn’t consider expulsion if a senator threatened retaliation against an accuser?

I’m betting that it’s the one-vote majority that dominates Grantham’s thinking. And so we see some pretty shameful behavior besides Baumgardner’s “more likely than not” ass grabbing.

Grantham and Baumgardner both blasted the independent investigator, accusing her of bias and inaccuracies and a conflict of interest. Neither specified what the bias was or what the inaccuracies were, so it’s basically what we call in the business a smear job. It’s also basically calling the accuser a liar, which, despite the gains of the #MeToo movement, seems to still work in some darkened corners of the GOP.

In Baumgardner’s case, Grantham is not only refusing to entertain the idea of expulsion — which is, admittedly, a tough call — but he decided on basically no punishment at all, which is another matter entirely. The preponderance of evidence standard is the only one that works in a Human Resources-type investigation wherein a company/legislative body is going to police itself.

Grantham’s no-expulsion-unless-a-Republican-assaults-someone-in-plain-view standard is obviously self-serving and also morally bankrupt. Lack of conviction means no admission of guilt means no punishment means no path toward expulsion. That’s why Grantham is cynically encouraging the Denver DA’s office to get involved because he knows a criminal investigation wouldn’t go anywhee.

In defending his stand, Grantham notes that Lebsock’s expulsion is only the second in the history of the legislature. “Because of the actions that the House took…it doesn’t change 100 years’ worth of precedent in one day,” he said.

And there’s the other way to look at it — that Grantham’s inaction doesn’t change 100 years’ worth of precedent in how the state legislature generally treats sexual harassment.

Photo of Senate President Kevin Grantham by John Herrick