DENVER (AP) — Colorado's Republican-led Senate voted late Monday against expelling a GOP senator accused of groping a former legislative aide.
Senators voted 17-17 to defeat the measure to expel Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who represents a rural northwest Colorado district. Baumgardner was the second Colorado legislator to face expulsion this session over harassment claims.
On March 2, Colorado state Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled following complaints he harassed or intimidated five women, including a fellow lawmaker. Lebsock's ouster came after Arizona Republican Rep. Don Shooter was expelled Feb. 1 over misconduct claims. A California lawmaker resigned before debate on his expulsion could commence.
Monday's vote in Colorado was the latest confrontation in the Legislature this session over sexual harassment allegations involving several lawmakers that arose with the #MeToo movement last fall. That movement saw millions of women taking to social media to publicize their experiences with sexual harassment in and out of the workplace.
Five Colorado lawmakers have been accused of misconduct in recent months.
Sen. Larry Crowder was accused by Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine of sexual harassment. He denied wrongdoing. Last week, Colorado's Republican Senate president, Kevin Grantham, closed a sexual misconduct investigation involving Sen. Jack Tate, a suburban Denver Republican.
Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal was cleared of allegations he harassed a political activist before he was elected in 2012.
A third-party investigator determined that the former aide's claims against Baumgardner were credible. The aide said that Baumgardner grabbed and slapped her buttocks on more than one occasion during the 2016 session.
Grantham had deemed Baumgardner's case closed following the investigation and after Baumgardner resigned as chair of the powerful transportation committee.
Democrats argued the punishment was too light and sent the wrong message to victims. They had lobbied for weeks to have their expulsion resolution introduced for debate.
Colorado's Democratic Senate minority leader stepped down from that post last month, citing frustration with majority Republicans' handling of workplace harassment allegations. Sen. Lucia Guzman of Denver had struggled with Senate Republican leaders over the handling of misconduct allegations against the three Republican lawmakers.
Grantham had refused to allow debate. He described some of the anonymous accusations against senators as tantamount to "assault," and he had urged prosecutors to investigate harassment complaints at the Capitol.
Grantham has pledged to work with Democrats to produce a new workplace harassment policy for the Legislature. Leaders of the House and Senate are set to discuss a proposal by an outside consultant on Wednesday.
Democrats had introduced their resolution calling for debate on Baumgardner after Lebsock was expelled March 9. Each day, they appealed to Republicans — most of whom would leave the chamber — for debate on the resolution.
Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia issued the following statement:
Tonight’s vote is a shameful affront to both the victims who have come forward and those subjected to harassment in workplaces across the country. Nobody should be exempt from the consequences of their actions — elected officials least of all.
While we are disappointed in the result of tonight’s vote, we remain committed to the #MeToo movement and the work ahead of us. The events of the past few months would not take place in a workplace with an effective harassment policy and healthy culture. Our work is not done until everyone who passes through this building can do so knowing that they will be treated with respect and dignity, and that sexual harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.
We’ll soon have the results of a third-party evaluation of the General Assembly’s workplace culture and harassment policy. Between this report and the events of the last few months, I am confident we’ll have all the information we need to understand the flaws in our current workplace harassment procedures and how they must be addressed. Systemic, cultural change is the end goal. We will not let this go.