DENVER – Amid calls for her resignation and harsh words from a Republican lawmaker, Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran said Tuesday she wouldn’t have appointed Rep. Steve Lebsock to the chairmanship of a House panel had she known there were more sexual harassment allegations against him, but stood by the way she handled the situation.
Duran, a Denver Democrat, appointed Lebsock, D-Thornton, to be the chair of the House Local Government Committee in 2016 after Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and other House Democrats told her about Lebsock’s alleged advancements.
Duran was the House majority leader at the time, when Winter reported that Lebsock had made inappropriate comments to her and tried to get her to leave a party that followed the wrap of the 2016 legislative session.
Winter has maintained that she believes Duran and others acted properly in how they handled the situation. Winter said that she agreed not to file a formal complaint at the time, but said if anyone came forth with more allegations against Lebsock, she would take her accusations public.
“I did inform him that should I continue to hear of him continuing to harass other women, I would be the first one to come forward publicly,” Winter told Denver7.
“From when I first informed Speaker Duran about the incident to today when I informed her I would be filling a formal complaint, she has been very supportive and has also followed all the guidelines as outlined in our workplace harassment policy,” Winter told Denver7. “I 100-percent support the Speaker, and we need to focus on the only person to blame for Steve Lebsock’s actions – Steve himself.”
She said Lebsock was “very apologetic and said it would not happen again” at the time, but after KUNC’s Bente Birkeland told Winter there were others making similar allegations to her, Winter went forward with the story by telling it to KUNC, and the rest of Denver’s press outlets.
Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, both announced similar efforts Monday that would lead to a full review of the sexual harassment reporting system at the Capitol, and make changes if necessary.
And despite Winter’s and others’ backing of Duran’s handling of the allegations last year, the Aurora Sentinel editorial board on Monday called for Duran’s resignation from the speakership, and Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, called for an investigation.
In a letter Landgraf sent to the governor, attorney general, and legislative leadership, she slammed Duran’s handling of the allegations and called for Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office to appoint a special counsel to review the policies, hinting that Duran’s efforts “covered up” the allegations against Lebsock.
“The fact that you placed a known harasser with multiple accusations against him in a position of power over us, lobbyists and interns shows an incredible lapse of judgment. You put us all at great risk,” Landgraf wrote in the letter, obtained by Denver7.
Adding that Duran “blemished the House of Representatives,” Landgraf said she believes the bipartisan efforts to review the reporting policies won’t work. Landgraf said, “I believe the leadership of the House is incapable of policing members.”
But Duran retorted, saying she believes she handled the situation in accordance with what Winter wished at the time, and acted accordingly when new allegations came to light.
“As Speaker of the House, I will continue to support the right of a victim to decide how they want these personal and sensitive situations to be handled. When I named Rep. Lebsock to the chairmanship, I believed that the situation had been resolved to the satisfaction of Rep. Winter,” Duran said in a prepared statement. “When these new allegations came to light last week, I took action to address them. I would not have appointed him chair knowing what I know today.”
Lebsock has continually maintained that he did not sexually harass or make sexual advancements toward Winter or the two other women who alleged to The Denver Post he’d done such things.
He reiterated his denial Tuesday, when he said he was being harassed by others and that calls for his resignation were unfair without him having a chance to defend himself.
Meanwhile, the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault had a blatant statement those who have called for Duran’s resignation: “Calling for Speaker Duran’s resignation is not only irrational, it keeps perpetrators invisible.”
Lebsock maintained Tuesday that he is working to decide whether or not he will resign from his House seat and pull himself out of the 2018 race for state treasurer.
Editor's Note: This article mistakenly said that Rep. Landgraf had called for Duran's resignation. She did not, but did slam Duran's handling of the situation and asked for a special counsel to be appointed to probe Duran's actions. The article has been corrected. Denver7 regrets the error.