A Republican state senator in Colorado, Randy Baumgardner, has been stripped of all his summer interim committee assignments following a sustained pressure campaign by Democrats for Senate leadership to punish him over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Today, the Senate’s president, Kevin Grantham, announced the move in a letter that became public.
“Please be advised immediately I am removing Senator Randy Baumgardner from Capital Development Committee, Transportation Legislation Review Committee, Water Resources Review Committee, and Wildfire Matters Review Committee,” Grantham said in a May 2 letter to Mike Mauer, the nonpartisan director of the Legislative Council.
The hammer coming down knocks Baumgardner off his chairmanship of the Capital Development Committee. But some Democrats say it doesn’t come down hard enough.
In a separate letter, Senate GOP Majority Leader Chris Holbert appointed Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from Greeley, to serve as vice chair of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Baumgardner was previously serving in that position before he was brushed off in this latest reprimand. He is still serving on the committee, however.
Democrats have been expecting movement on the matter all week.
But on Thursday, Bente Birkeland of the Rocky Mountain Community Radio coalition broke the story in KUNC, like she has with most other stories regarding sexual harassment under the gold dome in Denver during a session bookended by turmoil over the issue.
In February, Baumgardner, of Hot Sulphur Springs, stepped down from his leadership role as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. And since then, after an investigation found credible allegations that he slapped the butt of a former female aide multiple times during the 2016 session, and negative headlines engulfed him, the mustachioed rancher has largely been sidelined from public debate over the Senate’s top priorities.
But he remained in the Senate and served as a consistent target throughout the session.
Unsatisfied with what Democrats described as inaction on the part of the Senate’s Republican leadership, lawmakers introduced a resolution in February to expel Baumgardner from office. That resolution failed almost entirely along party lines after an April 2 debate.
A few days earlier, on March 30, a subsequent investigation into additional allegations by Alternative Dispute Resolution Inc., an independent firm based in Littleton, validated two additional complaints of sexual misconduct against Baumgardner. (Senate leadership says they were not aware of these findings when they scheduled the resolution vote about three days later.)
One of the recent complaints alleges that he created a hostile and offensive work environment, earning the nickname “boob grabber” for how his hands allegedly brushed a woman’s breasts after a hug. A second complaint found credible determined that Baumgardner acted inappropriately when he allegedly made a sexual comment to a former intern, Megan Creeden, and pressured her to drink with him in his office. Reporter Birkeland published the two investigative findings after the accusers said they wanted them made public.
Since Birkeland first reported the results of the investigation, Democrats said they would try to pursue another resolution. The issue, however, was that the deadline to introduce such a measure was April 9.
In a statement on Thursday, Grantham thanked Democratic Minority Leader Leroy Garcia for his participation in the process, saying it was helpful in bringing the matter to a speedy conclusion.
“It’s never pleasant meting out punishments of this sort to colleagues,” Grantham said. “But the three of us who were tasked with making this decision are comfortable that it was justified in this case.”
But Democrats say they still want Baumgardner to resign, said Mansur Gidfar, a spokesman for Senate Democrats.
“His ‘participation’ entailed being told what Republicans had already decided they were going to do. To suggest that Sen. Garcia thinks this punishment is adequate is false. Our entire caucus has said from the beginning that Sen. Baumgardner must resign. Nothing about today’s decision changes that,” Gidfar said.
He added Republican leadership is exploiting Democrats’ good faith effort to re-engage in the disciplinary process in an attempt to lend bipartisan credibility to their “pathological inability to hold Sen. Baumgardner accountable.”
The committee changes made Wednesday will remain in effect until the 2019 legislative session when a new Senate leader will make committee appointments.
Grantham is term-limited. Baumgardner is not up for reelection this year.
Meanwhile, today, the executive committee made up of leadership in both chambers discussed potential changes to the state’s sexual harassment policy. They plan to make minor changes to the Capitol’s harassment policy by the end of the session, May 9, and more changes over the summer.