If you don’t remember the bad old days — you know, like last year — the Colorado Senate is here to remind us how sexual harassment used to be handled before the #MeToo movement. In which an accusing woman has her credibility challenged, the process for her to be heard is disparaged and the accused man walks away with job, and reputation, intact.
As the Senate debated a resolution to expel Sen. Randy Baumgardner, we were back in the familiar he-said, she-said situation, and since the “he” was on the majority team, that’s how Baumgardner survived an accusation that he slapped and grabbed the buttocks of a legislative aide. He got every Republican vote but one, which leaves GOP Sen. Ray Scott as either a party-hating turncoat or the lone person on Baumgardner’s side who bravely put truth ahead of party.
It didn’t matter that an investigator (and Scott) found the accuser credible. Or that Baumgardner, as I was assured by several women, was one of those guys in the Capitol that women warned each other about.
As Sen. Irene Aguilar, who introduced the resolution to expel Baumgardner told me, “I’m grateful that we got the chance to debate. But here we are talking about the process, and no one is talking about how the victim received no justice. That just shows how far we still have to go with sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement.”
The question that immediately struck me was why Baumgardner survived in the Senate while Steve Lebsock — you remember him — was so recently tossed from the House.
There are some easy answers. Lebsock’s party turned against him and demanded he resign. Lebsock made a jerk of himself through the entire process while Baumgardner basically stayed as invisible as his mustache allows. Lebsock was accused by a colleague and by many others. It was hard for anyone, other than Lebsock, to call all of them liars.
Baumgardner, meanwhile, was accused by only one person, even if that one person’s accusation was found to be “more likely than not” credible by an independent investigator. But the accuser was an anonymous legislative aide, which means it was easy to accuse her of being a liar. Republicans haven’t show much interest in pursuing the matter. And the investigator was being slammed by Senate President Kevin Grantham for crimes against evidence gathering and, of course, for bias — with the process apparently out to get Republicans, even if Lebsock was, at the time, a Democrat.
The investigator’s report was leaked, and the not-exactly-experts leaped upon the fact that it didn’t read like a police report, which figured because it wasn’t a police report. It was a sexual-harassment, preponderance-of-evidence-in-often-difficult-to-resolve-circumstances report.
And so it was that whispers about the Baumgardner accuser were growing ever louder as time came for a vote. She was a stalking horse for Morgan Carroll, former Senate president and now chair of the state Democratic Party. She was a Democratic aide, making it clear that this was a partisan ploy to regain control of the Senate.
The whispers made little sense, but Aguilar said, “I guess it’s what they used to justify their votes.”
As you may know, Republicans have a slim majority in the Senate. Getting rid of a Republican senator gives the Democrats a better chance to retake the Senate in November. So, get an anonymous aide to accuse a Republican senator in the #MeToo era, and voilá, the Dems steal a seat.
Except for one thing. Baumgardner is in a fairly safe Republican district. Getting rid of Baumgardner in all likelihood gets you another Republican in return.
“I found it insulting that they impugned not only our motives but also make us out to be idiots,” said Aguilar, laughing. “If we were looking for a senator to accuse, wouldn’t we at least choose someone from a swing district? Don’t they think we’re smarter than that?”
Democrats had been demanding a vote on Baumgardner for weeks. Grantham, without ever saying (as far I can remember) who might be lying, let Baumgardner off with no punishment. Baumgardner made one of those if-I-offended-anyone, non-apology apologies without saying what he might have done that was offensive.
But now, there are two other accusations pending against Baumgardner. So, we could be moving into he-said, she-said, she-said, she-said territory. And if investigators return with another more-likely-than-not ruling or two, that could bring us right back to the place we were before the 17-17 Senate Baumgardner vote. It takes a two-thirds vote to expel someone.
Rep. Faith Winter, the most prominent Lebsock accuser, told The Indy’s John Herrick that she was “really frustrated with the doubting of the accuser and also the victim blaming. They tried to out her, they tried to discredit her, and that’s a problem.”
In general, Winter said, the lawmakers who’ve come forward have been more or less believed whereas the aides and interns and lobbyists have had their credibility challenged. Winter called it a “double injustice,” where “the people that are most vulnerable in the building and more likely to be harassed are also less likely to be believed when they come forward.”
I don’t know what Baumgardner did or didn’t do. I do know how Senate Republicans reverted to form, freely challenging the accuser’s credibility while suggesting that the issue was not misuse of power by a lawmaker but about an assault on the GOP’s power in the Senate.
And so we could be left with this: When Lebsock was kicked out of the House in a bipartisan vote — making it the first expulsion from the legislature in more than a century — I’m guessing many in the legislature must have figured that their dramatic response was all anyone should require of them. Lebsock, it seems, may have to pay for everyone’s sins.