A Republican state senator in Colorado will keep his job despite allegations of sexual harassment after the upper chamber on Monday voted against a resolution that would have stripped him from office.
Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs is accused of having slapped the butt of a former female aide multiple times during the 2016 legislative session. Despite a report by a private legal firm that found the allegations credible, Senate Republicans — besides Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, who voted for the resolution — blocked the measure from passing. They said they found the report was unconvincing.
“I don’t think the preponderance of evidence is there,” said Montrose Republican Sen. Don Coram. “I’m concerned about the charges, but I’m also concerned about due process.”
The vote comes as Senate leadership is under fire from Democrats for letting Baumgardner off the hook despite an investigation by the private Employers Council firm that found a complaint of sexual harassment against him “more likely than not” occurred. After the results of the report were leaked to media, Democrats began calling for Baumgardner’s resignation and later submitted a resolution for his expulsion.
“There’s a dark cloud that’s haunting the Senate as it relates to sexual harassment,” said Aurora Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields. “Either we’re gonna empower victims to come forward or we’re gonna shame them into silence.”
Lawmakers have been grappling with the issue of sexual harassment all session.
So far this year, five lawmakers have been accused of sexual harassment in the wake of the national #MeToo movement— an uprising that led to the expulsion of the embattled Democrat-turned-Republican Rep. Steve Lebsock from the House of Representatives over allegations of sexual harassment, the first expulsion vote in Colorado in over 103 years.
But unlike the Lebsock expulsion, where House lawmakers shared their own stories of sexual harassment while spectators packed the gallery above, senators mostly talked about upholding the integrity of the high chamber beneath a mostly empty gallery. Some Democrats who spoke sounded conflicted and described the debate as painful.
“I do not wish harm to you,” said Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Lucia Guzman, a Democrat from Denver, as she looked toward Baumgardner. “What I do wish is honor for all of those who have been harmed.”
Republican Coram described the resolution as a public lynching.
Coram also talked about Baumgardner’s 13-year-old son, Matthew, who, he says, went from a student with A grades to failing because of bullying at school.
The report by the Employers Council on Jan. 18 determined that the allegations were credible, though the investigator said the case was difficult to resolve because of the “he said, she said” type of allegations, according to the report. And on Feb. 13, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham dismissed the allegations. In a letter to Baumgardner, Grantham said he was concerned by what he called inaccuracies, bias and conflicts of interests in the report.
Baumgardner denies the allegations. Still, he said he voluntarily stepped down from his position as chair of the Transportation Committee. On Monday night he apologized if he had done anything to offend anyone.
“Despite how difficult this has been for me and this institution, I believe this entire episode has on the whole been positive on this building on how we do business here,” Baumgardner said.
Democrats knew it would be a tall task to convince eight senators outside their party to vote for the resolution, which it would need to clear the two-thirds majority to pass. The vote was split 17-17 in a chamber where Republicans lead by just one seat. Baumgardner recused himself from the vote.
Last Thursday, President Grantham dismissed a separate sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Jack Tate alleging the Centennial Republican flirted and touched an intern last session. Grantham said the accusations do not constitute a violation of state or federal employment laws.
But there are other pending complaints that are still unresolved.
Two sperate complaints against Baumgardner are still pending, including one by former intern Megan Creeden who alleges he made an inappropriate sexual comment to her in 2016 and also pressured her to have a drink with him in his office, according to reports by Bente Birkeland of KUNC. Larry Crowder, a Republican senator from Alamosa, is accused of touching and making a sexual comment about another lawmaker. Grantham has not made a decision on the case. Meanwhile, Beth Martinez Humenik, a Thornton Republican senator, filed a complaint against Cherry Hills Village Democratic Sen. Daniel Kagan for using an unmarked women’s bathroom near the Senate floor. That complaint is also unresolved.
A meeting is scheduled Wednesday where the Executive Committee — made up of House and Senate leadership — will review a report by the Investigations Law Group that looks into the workplace sexual harassment policy at the state Capitol.