DENVER – A female Colorado state lawmaker is going public with allegations that fellow lawmaker Rep. Steve Lebsock made sexual advances toward her last year, and she says there are several others who have made similar claims.
Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, told Denver7 Investigates Friday the incident in question happened toward the end of last year’s legislative session, in May 2016. Lebsock, D-Thornton, is now running for state treasurer in 2018.
Winter says at the end-of-session party, she and Lebsock were talking. She says Lebsock learned her husband was out of town.
"At that time, he proceeded to try to get me to leave the bar with him," Winter told Denver7. "He talked about what he wanted to do sexually. He used explicit language. He told me he would do things to me that my husband never had. I repeatedly told him no."
Winter says she told Lebsock to leave and "go back home."
"The more I refused, the more aggressive and angry he became. He was standing over me...he was grabbing my elbow trying to get me to leave," she said. "At that point, I did not feel safe."
She says she called Rep. Alec Garnett over, who was standing nearby, and says Garnett got Lebsock out of the bar and offered to get him an Uber. Birkeland's report shows Garnett used colorful language to get Lebsock away from Winter.
Winter told Denver7 she met with legislative leadership to discuss the incident shortly after it happened, and agreed not to go public with the allegation unless she heard similar allegations from others in the Legislature.
"The reason it was right now was because I wanted to behavior to end, and I told Representative Lebsock that if I heard of another woman that he sexually harassed, that I would be the first to come public, and that is what happened this week," Winter said.
She says Birkeland called her last week saying more people had levied allegations on background they had been sexually harassed, "including one very recently," Winter told Denver7.
Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster
More people have come forward with similar allegations against Lebsock, which is why she decided to tell the story now, Winter told Denver7. She said hearing similar accusations made her "want to cry."
Calls for Lebsock's resignation, questions over Capitol environment
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, released a statement after Birkeland’s story was published saying if the allegations are true, Lebsock should resign.
“These are deeply disturbing allegations. I believe there should be extremely high standards of conduct for the legislature, and I take any allegations of sexual assault and harassment very seriously,” Duran said.
“While my formal role in investigating complaints established under Joint Rule 38 prohibits me from making initial judgments about the facts, these numerous allegations would represent a major breach of decorum, and I would expect that Representative Lebsock would consider the impact of his actions on his colleagues and the public confidence in our institution, and do the right thing and resign,” Duran continued. “There is no place for those types of actions at the legislature.”
About 30 minutes after that statement was released, Duran had temporarily removed Lebsock from his chairmanship of the House Local Government Committee.
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) issued a lengthy statement about the allegations and harassment in general Friday afternoon:
"Harassment is unacceptable. Today’s news should give us pause to make sure that we have the appropriate protocols in place to investigate and take action on inappropriate conduct.
“We must ensure that all are respected and the environment where we work is safe. This is especially true for women who are underrepresented in politics. Women should have the ability to conduct their jobs in politics and government without fear of harassment or retribution.”
Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, via her governor's campaign, called for Lebsock's resignation.
"These are serious allegations, and this type of behavior -- corroborated by multiple people -- cannot be tolerated in any workplace, must less from a public official. As such, Rep. Lebsock should resign," she said in a prepared statement. "I understand coming forward in situation like this is not easy, and I stand with those who have the courage to do so."
Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll also called for "anyone who engages" in similar behavior to resign, though she did not name Lebsock directly. "This is not a partisan issue - this is an issue of human dignity," she said. Colorado Dems spokesman Eric Walker clarified that Carroll's statement meant she thought Lebsock should resign.
Winter told Denver7 she thought that should Lebsock resign, it would be "an appropriate course of action."
"I think he will continue to be isolated," Winter said of Lebsock should he decide not to resign.
She said she told her young son about her going public with the allegations.
"Mom's telling a brave story so other people don't get hurt," Winter said she told him.
She told Denver7 she feels relieved after coming forward.
"I've spent the last 18 months trying to avoid Representative Lebsock, trying not to be alone with him, and frankly just trying not to anger him," Winter said.
Duran said she couldn't confirm or deny whether complaints against Lebsock have been filed because she is responsible for investigating such claims, but said she would work with fellow legislators to figure out if changes are necessary within the Legislature.
“The conversation going on nationally right now about sexual harassment and assault is incredibly important, and I applaud the courage of the victims who have come forward with their experiences,” Duran added. “I want to reiterate that I have no tolerance for this behavior, and I am committed to doing my part to make the legislature a safe, respectful place for all.”
Attempts to reach Lebsock for comment have so far been unsuccessful. But he told Denver7's partners at The Denver Post: “I’m extremely sorry that Rep. Winter has been hurt, but I can also say honestly that I do not remember ever saying anything inappropriate to Rep. Winter (the night of the alleged incident).”
On Friday evening, Lebsock released a lengthy statement on the sexual harassment allegations. His full statement is below:
I am sincerely sorry for offending my colleague Faith Winter.
There have been some serious allegations made through the press over the last 24 hours.
I do not remember ever saying anything inappropriate to State Representative Faith Winter on the last day of session in May of 2016 (18 months ago).
I am respectfully asking any anonymous accusers and State Representative Faith Winter to submit any official complaint, through the normal professional process not just through the media. There is a professional, responsible process established by the Office of Legal Services for any accusations from employees of the State or anyone doing business at the State Capitol. I will honestly and thoughtfully submit my response to any allegation.
I have done nothing that can be described as criminal. Nothing.
The people of Colorado are tired of dirty politics and tired of anything that appears underhanded or out of bounds will not be accepted by our citizens.
We should take these accusations seriously, and through the normal legal channels.
18 months ago, I sincerely apologized to State Representative Faith Winter for offending her.
State Representative Faith Winter emailed me approximately 10 days after the last day of session May of 2016. I asked, but, was never told specifically what I said which she felt was offensive. I read her side of the story, 18 months later today, in the press.
Again, I renew my heartfelt apology to State Representative Faith Winter.
I will be honest during this process, and hope others will be honest also. We can be respectful to the process and respectful to everyone involved.
At the end of the road, I believe this experience will help me become a better person and I only hope the very best for everyone involved.
I have worked my entire adult life protecting women, children and the most vulnerable. I will continue fighting for working class families and people without a voice at the capitol.
Winter spoke with Denver7's Liz Gelardi, calling parts of his statement "unfortunate."
"He, in the statement, said Coloradans are tired of dirty politics... the audacity to say women coming out about their experience with sexual harassment and call it 'dirty politics' is unfortunate," Winter said over a phone conversation. "We would not be here today if he had not continued his actions of sexually harassing women."
Winter, who said Lebsock apologized after the harassment, added that though he may not remember what he did, "that doesn't make it appropriate."
"He said he was going to quit drinking and get counseling. I was hopeful that the behavior would stop," Winter said. "It did not stop, and so I fear that if he's in public life, the sexual harassment will continue."
She also said she is meeting with leadership and legal services on Monday to talk about future legal options.
Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Adams Co., put a lengthy statement on Facebook Friday praising Winter for coming forward and speaking to the indiscretions he's seen at the state Capitol over the years.
Liberal group ProgressNow Colorado similarly called for Lebsock's resignation after the allegations came out Friday.
"ProgressNow Colorado is calling on Representative Lebsock to resign immediately," executive director Ian Silverii said in a written statement. "We commend and appreciate the courage of every woman who spoke to KUNC for this story, including Rep. Winter and Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran. No woman should feel unsafe in our state's capitol, and no woman should fear retribution or negative political repercussions for coming forward and naming the men who have no place serving in our state's leadership."
Colorado Politics reporter Marianne Goodland, who has covered the state Capitol and Legislature for 20 years, said Friday she wasn't surprised the allegations came to light.
"The legislature is a horrible place for women, and it hasn't changed despite the fact we have more women lawmakers among the Democrats now in both the House and Senate. We still have a huge problem of sexual harassment," Goodland said.
"You hear these stories. Unfortunately, you hear them too often."
Winter said she appreciated the support she received from colleagues at the Capitol Friday after telling her story.
"I think sexual harassment happens in all workplaces and we need to call it out, but honestly, I have had wonderful support today and before this happened from both female and male colleagues, from female and male lobbyists," she said.
"Most of the people down there are there to do the good work of the people," Winter continued. "There are a couple bad apples, but on the whole, we are there working to make Colorado better."