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.
But Democratic leaders who control the House insisted the vote go forward — even if they appear to lack the votes to expel Lebsock, who denies any wrongdoing.
“At some point we have to ask ourselves: When is enough enough?” House Speaker Crisanta Duran asked her fellow Democrats.
An outside investigator reviewed allegations that Lebsock, a suburban Denver Democrat, sexually harassed or intimidated five women — including fellow Democratic Rep. Faith Winter — inside the statehouse and at bars and restaurants.
The investigation deemed the allegations credible, and Democratic leaders released a redacted report on the investigation to House lawmakers late Tuesday. Lebsock challenged the impartiality of the outside investigator at a hearing Thursday.
Republicans insisted their concerns about the treatment of a member of the other party involved due process, lingering questions about the investigation and the fact that the expulsion resolution gives no other option such as censure.
House Republicans said they deplore sexual harassment but none voiced support for an immediate expulsion vote. Instead, they sought time to study the investigator’s report and discussed appointing a special committee with subpoena powers to review the matter.
Others questioned why Duran didn’t disclose that she reprimanded Lebsock shortly after Winter allegedly was accosted at a bar in May 2016, and then named him chairman of a House committee.
“My question is, why was it not serious then to them?” said Colorado Springs Rep. Dave Williams.
Duran insisted she acted according to Winter’s wishes. Winter only went public after other women began speaking out about Lebsock.
“Why is it so difficult to believe multiple allegations from multiple women that were found to be credible from an independent investigator about sexual harassment?” Winter tweeted Thursday. “This is sending the wrong message to other victims.”
The debate has engulfed both chambers at Colorado’s statehouse. Democrats accuse GOP leaders who control the Senate of foot-dragging in announcing what actions, if any, they were taking against three Republican senators accused of misconduct. One of them stepped down as a committee chair but denied wrongdoing.
Senate President Kevin Grantham has insisted he cannot disclose any possible actions under confidentiality provisions in the Legislature’s workplace harassment policy.
But he took it a notch higher Thursday, decrying the process and urging Denver’s district attorney to investigate whether Lebsock and others committed any crimes.
However, District Attorney Beth McCann said a complaint must be filed with police before her office could investigate.
House Majority Leader KC Becker questioned the wisdom of raising the bar for people who say they were harassed.
“If the only time you are going to hold your members accountable for their behavior is if it’s criminal, we’re holding ourselves to a lower standard than people in the private sector are held to,” Becker said.
Lebsock could become 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.
Democrats hold 37 seats in the 65-seat Colorado House, and a two-thirds vote is needed to expel.
Associated Press Writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.