By JAMES ANDERSON
DENVER (AP) – An effort by Colorado Democrats to make one of their own the nation’s second state lawmaker expelled over sexual misconduct allegations since the rise of the #MeToo movement nearly derailed Thursday amid Republican objections to how the complaints have been handled.
A few Democrats also expressed concerns about whether the case against Rep. Steve Lebsock was being unnecessarily rushed to an expulsion vote set for Friday.
The suburban Denver Democrat has been a pariah at the Capitol for months as an outside investigator reviewed allegations that he sexually harassed or intimidated five women at sites inside the statehouse and at bars and restaurants.
The investigation deemed the allegations credible, and leaders of the Democrat-controlled state House set the expulsion vote.
Republicans dug in on objections to how the process had been handled – from the investigation itself to how much of it they were able to review, what Democratic House leaders knew and when they knew it.
As House lawmakers caucused Thursday over Lebsock’s fate, Senate President Kevin Grantham held a news conference to decry the process and call for Denver’s district attorney to investigate whether Lebsock had committed any crimes.
However, District Attorney Beth McCann said a complaint must be filed with police before her office could investigate.
Lebsock has denied the allegations, taking to the House floor Thursday to attack the credibility of the lead investigator.
Lebsock could be the second state lawmaker in the U.S. – after Arizona GOP Rep. Don Shooter – to be expelled since the #MeToo social media movement emerged last fall.
The Colorado sexual misconduct case is the latest to rattle statehouses across the nation, including in Kentucky, California and Arizona, overshadowing pressing legislative work such as underfunded public pensions, schools and roads.
The cases are also testing the credibility of a legislative workplace harassment policy that tries to balance privacy concerns with transparency in government but is criticized as opaque and lacking consistent enforcement standards.
Complaints and investigations into alleged misconduct are considered confidential under the Colorado Legislature’s workplace harassment policy.
There are no specific sanctions guidelines under the policy that is under review.
That concerns some lawmakers such as House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, who wants his caucus to see an unredacted version of the Lebsock report and an explanation of reported inconsistencies between its findings and earlier accounts of his conduct.
In November, public radio station KUNC-FM reported the first of the allegations against Lebsock that include claims by a fellow Democrat, Rep. Faith Winter, that he accosted her at an end-of-session party in 2016.
Lebsock apologized to anyone he said he may have offended. He expressed support for the #MeToo movement and invited his accusers to file formal complaints with the Democrat-led House leadership. They did.
Well before the outside investigation began, senior Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, House Speaker Crisanta Duran, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis demanded that Lebsock resign. Lynne and Polis are running for governor.
Democrats hold 37 seats in the 65-seat Colorado House, and a two-thirds vote is needed to expel Lebsock.
“If we don’t move forward with this expulsion, we are sending a very dangerous message that when we put on this badge, that we are held above accountability and reproach,” Winter said, referring to her badge as an elected legislator.
In the GOP-led Colorado Senate, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who represents rural Grand County, resigned as chair of the powerful transportation committee on Feb. 13 and agreed to sensitivity training when an investigator found credible claims he harassed a former legislative aide in 2016.
He denied wrongdoing and decried the investigation as flawed and biased against him, without providing details.
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