Littwin: Who’s the bigger culprit in sexual harassment report—Boob Grabber or Grantham?

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, on the Senate floor on March 14. Photo by John Herrick

Which is the bigger scandal — that yet another investigator has concluded that Randy “Boob Grabber” Baumgardner is a serial sexual harasser or that Senate Republican leaders may have hidden the results of the second damning report at the time of the vote on whether to expel him?

Most of us learned nothing much from the new report, except to expand the range of female body parts that most interest Baumgardner. We knew from the first report, which Senate President Kevin Grantham and Majority Leader Chris Holbert dismissed as inaccurate, inconsistent or biased, that Baumgardner had repeatedly grabbed and slapped a legislative aide’s buttocks.

In this report from a different investigator, one that no one has yet called inaccurate, inconsistent or biased, we learn that Baumgardner inappropriately hugged staffers in a “tight and/or clingy” manner, inappropriately brushed against their breasts, earned the nickname Boob Grabber and, furthermore, is a very bad man to work for. For consistency’s sake, he was also accused of leering at buttocks.

As you’ll recall, most of the arguments during the hastily-called expulsion hearing were about the report rather than the behavior. Defender after defender came to the microphone to question the work and validity of the investigator. And all but one Republican stayed in line, meaning the vote against Baumgardner fell well short of the two-thirds required.

Kicking out a senator, overturning the will of the voters, is a serious matter, of course. So is sexual harassment.  When Steve Lebsock was kicked out of the House for sexual harassment, it was the first such expulsion in more than a century. 

Here’s the thing. The Baumgardner vote was taken on April 2. According to yet more great reporting from KUNC’s Bente Birkeland — who has owned this story of the Capitol scandal  — the second report was received by Senate Secretary Effie Ameen on March 30, three days before the vote. It was Good Friday, meaning the report might not have been registered until Monday, the day of the vote.

In explaining why the expulsion vote was taken before the second report could be considered, Holbert said the Senate calendar was controlled by Ameen, the Senate secretary. That is not exactly true. Leadership controls the calendar. The secretary, as longtime legislature reporter Charles Ashby points out, merely maintains the calendar.

Was Holbert, the majority leader, throwing Ameen under the bus to protect his own hide — or was it to protect Baumgardner’s hide?

Meanwhile, on Monday, Grantham said that despite the information in the new report, he wouldn’t ask Baumgardner to resign. He also said he wasn’t sure what punishment might be appropriate because he hadn’t had time to thoroughly study the report.

Here’s the thing: Right now, we have no idea when Ameen told Grantham and Holbert about the report, but how many people out there think Ameen is the problem? Who thinks that nobody mentioned to Grantham, the Senate president, that the report was in? Did Holbert not look at the second report before he called the vote? If the results had been positive, do we really think that Baumgardner’s defenders wouldn’t have wanted them out there before the vote?

And exactly how many investigators would need to come back with a negative report on Baumgardner before Grantham would call for him to resign?

Does anyone see any good answers here?

Birkeland does say that when the report was given to Ameen, the investigation was still open because Baumgardner, to that point, had refused to sit down for an interview with the investigator. The investigation closed April 11. It’s possible, I guess, that leadership was out of the loop. But you’d have to guess really, really, really hard.

Grantham also said he had never heard rumors of Baumgardner’s ill behavior, which seems, well, surprising. One female senator told me that Baumgardner’s reputation was well known to all women working in the Senate. And Birkeland reported that in 2012, when Bill Cadman was Senate majority leader, he allegedly told Baumgardner he could no longer hug staffers while at the Capitol. But Grantham was apparently in the dark, meaning he has no idea what’s going on around him in the Senate or, well, I’ll leave the other possible conclusion to you.

So, here’s what we have. Let’s agree that if the second investigator’s report had been made available before the expulsion vote, everything would have been different. No longer could Republicans claim bias because Senate leadership had, in fact, chosen the second investigator. The only plausible defense for Baumgardner would have been that his egregious behavior wasn’t sufficiently egregious for Senate Republicans to expel him despite the many accusers who had come forth.

That would have been a tough call in the #MeToo era, even for, as I might have written before, the #NotUs Republicans.

It’s too late for a resolution now. The deadline has passed. The legislative session is nearly at an end. But the story isn’t over.

If Baumgardner doesn’t resign before the next session, the Baumgardner report will almost certainly be brought up again. And with only a one-vote margin and facing a possible Democratic wave in the November elections, Senate Republicans have to be worried about staying in control.

After all, it’s not only Baumgardner who would be an issue in November. It’s also Republican leadership. It must be clear to everyone by now that Baumgardner has to go. Grantham is term limited, so he’s going anyway. The question is where that leaves the rest of the party.

Photo of Sen. Randy Baumgardner by John Herrick

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