Colorado lawmakers discuss expelling Rep. Steve Lebsock over sexual harassment findings

UPDATE: The House voted 52-9 to make Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, the first Colorado lawmaker expelled since 1915.. There were four who excused themselves. Those voting "no" were Reps. Buck, Everett, Humphrey, Lewis, Neville, Ransom, Reyher, Saine and Sandridge – all Republicans. Read the updated story here.

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DENVER – The Colorado House of Representatives is likely to vote Friday on whether or not to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, from the chamber following an independent investigation that found Lebsock “more likely than not” sexually harassed several women he worked at the state Capitol with in recent years.

Also at stake is his alleged retaliation against the complainants, which were not covered in the report.

Watch the hearing live in the player below or by clicking here.

 

Lebsock was given a total of 2 ½ hours to speak ahead of the possible vote, and members chosen by Republicans and Democrats were also given time to speak.

In order for the expulsion measure to succeed, 44 votes are needed in the 65-member chamber, which is controlled by 37 Democrats. Democrats have called for him to resign, and say they will support the motion to expel Lebsock, but some Republicans are on the fence, saying the redacted investigation into Lebsock wasn’t clear enough.

The independent investigation, which started following the KUNC report that broke the story open in November, found that 11 allegations of sexual harassment or unwanted advances made against Lebsock by five women were credible.

House Majority Leader KC Becker, who introduced the measure to expel Lebsock, started the hearing off by saying the Legislature would be “letting down everyone in Colorado who could lose their job for a lesser offense.”

Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who was one of Lebsock’s alleged victims and who was allegedly propositioned by Lebsock at a party after the 2016 legislative session, started the hearing with an emotional speech saying that the evidence against Lebsock was overwhelming and that he’d retaliated against her and the other women who had come forward.

“Today is not just about me. This is about at least 10 other people. Ten others spoke to a reporter, 5 others filed complaints, 3 went on record with the media, plus the several other women that I have talked to that were harassed by this individual who were too scared to come forward,” Winter said. “Ten others that have felt their hearts race, felt intimidated and have felt bullied by this individual.  Ten others that their place of work was changed forever. Today is not about sex; it is about power. Sexual harassment is about power and the power that this individual wielded over others.”

Lebsock spoke after Winter, saying he would not refute any testimony put forth on the floor, and again, as he did Thursday, calling for a select committee to investigate the allegations.

He argued there could have been a “professional hearing” and that some of his witnesses in the case weren’t contacted by the investigator probing the allegations.

“Members, this is not due process. Let’s hold ourselves to a higher standard. Our constitution affords every American. Our constitution demands that every single citizen be afforded due process, and that’s not what happened in this matter,” Lebsock argued.

He read a letter written by a person who joined him during the investigative interviews who argued that the investigator showed a “demeanor and body language” that showed she would not be fair and would be biased toward Lebsock.

A motion by Rep. Lois Landgraf, who said she believed Winter but said that there were rules that needed to be maintained in the General Assembly, that would have exempted her from the expulsion vote failed.

Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, noted that in Lebsock’s own statement made after the allegations came out, he said “The only thing that matters is how I made these three women feel. I am sorry.”

Gray said Lebsock “changed his mind” and began an “unprecedented” campaign “to protect his own career.”

“He put information about their sex lives in your mailbox and tried to shame them,” Gray said of Lebsock to his fellow members. “That’s why this is an appropriate outcome to this matter.”

Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, read a letter from another of the victims of Lebsock, Cassie Tanner, who is Kraft-Tharp’s former aide.

“I’m not here to tell you how to vote…but I do want to tell you what your vote today means to me and a lot of people,” the letter said. After reading the letter, Kraft-Tharp said she was voting in favor of the expulsion measure, and apologized to Tanner for Lebsock’s alleged actions.

Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Arapahoe Co., asked about due process for the victims, pushing back on Lebsock’s complaints about the process he received.

“This is no ordinary workplace that handles this question in ordinary ways,” Weissman said. “This debate, this resolution, is due process, is [the victims’] due process. This process is not only due, it is overdue….I implore you, I don’t ask you, I implore you to vote yes.”

Rep. Jonathon Singer, D-Longmont, said he “liked” Lebsock and called him a friend, but added: “He has betrayed the trust of not only myself and the women, but the people of Colorado.” Singer also read a letter from an anonymous victim, in which she wondered how she could defend herself in the case.

Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, said he would vote to expel Lebsock because he believes the victims and doesn’t believe Lebsock is fit to work in the House if he has trouble working with others.

Rep. Lang Silas, R-Arvada, said he’d looked at the investigation and thought “exactly” what Foote said. He noted the case did not involve a “normal employment situation” because Lebsock was an elected official. But he said he remained undecided, and that he wanted Lebsock to have the opportunity to address the acts of retribution.

He also asked Lebsock to use the opportunity to make his case so the Republican caucus could make an informed decision.

House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, wondered what it would be like for his own 15-year-old daughter to be one of the alleged victims.

“What would it be like for her to be in the same position as any one of these victims?” Wist wondered. “How would I expect her to feel if the focus was on her instead of wrongful conduct?”

He said there were correct and incorrect ways to fight back. Wist also said that he wanted the process to play out and for everyone to listen to everything people said in the hearings—particularly the concerns over Lebsock’s alleged retaliation.

Lebsock has claimed that his accusers are politically-motivated and that he hasn’t received due process in the proceedings. But the retaliation aspect took over the hearing ahead of the vote, as did ongoing discussions as to why Winter's allegations weren't made public for more than a year.

Reps. Alex Garnett and Matt Gray both said they had been wearing bulletproof vests to work at the Capitol because of their fear of retribution from Lebsock, and others said they felt Lebsock had gone to extents to retaliate against them.

Rep. Dave Williams, an El Paso County Republican, angered Democrats and some Republicans when he introduced an amendment to investigate House Speaker Crisanta Duran, alleging a "cover-up." But the amendment was voted down, 45-15.

Rep. Larry Liston became the first Republican to commit to voting "yes" on the expulsion measure after saying he'd started the day leaning "no."

“Loyalty has its boundaries, and my loyalty must go back to my family, and my daughter, and the ladies in this chamber who I have to utmost respect…to serve with," Liston said.

Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist, R-Centennial, became the second yes vote from Republicans over his concerns about retaliation.

"In my judgment, I have not received the answer to my questions to explain why this retaliation occurred," Wist said.

Rep. Lois Landgraf became the third Republican to vote for Lebsock's expulsion, saying the facts of the investigation were "extremely disturbing."

"Based on what I've heard so far, I don't think a process more to my liking would have yielded a different result, in my mind," she said. "If we vote no, we say the people coming forward were not honest...I can't do that."

Republican Rep. Justin Everett said he was a no vote because he didn't want to set a new standard for expulsion. House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, said he had a tough decision to make.

"I'm not here to defend Steve Lebsock. But I do think this process is unbecoming of this body," Neville said.

In a final speech ahead of the vote, Lebsock continued to deny there was touching "at all" and harkened back to the polygraph he took, though polygraphs are not admissible in court.

He also got emotional while talking about Garnett and Gray saying they feared retaliation. 

"I'm an honorably-discharged Marine Corps veteran, and if someone walked in here, you would have had me to protect you – even the ones who don't like me," Lebsock said, adding that some things said during the day's speeches were "totally inappropriate."

He said ahead of the vote that he knew what the vote count would be, but made a final plea.

"I'm not asking for a sympathy vote. Members, vote your conscience," Lebsock said. "We have gotten to the place in our country...our state...that winning at all costs is the most important thing...we have an opportunity to change course."

He read aloud from a letter from a former aide who slammed the Legislature and the investigation, and said he should have hired an attorney or PR person, and denied that his manifesto was intended to be retaliation, again saying that everything within it was true.

“Due process is important, and due process was severely lacking. I think all of you can see that,” Lebsock said to end his speech before yielding the podium to Speaker Duran.

Duran gave Lebsock another opportunity to resign before the vote.

“Back in 2016, there was one victim, and I did everything in my power to respect her wishes, because it is very personal and sensitive whether or not a victim comes forward. And I know that, because there have been things that have happened in my life that I have never come forward with, and that was my decision,” Duran said.

“And throughout this process, the power of victims needed to be respected, and heard, and honored. And I am a firm believer in the power of forgiveness as well, the power of redemption, and of second chances," she continued. "And regardless how this vote goes today, I hope that we can find within ourselves to ensure that that power of forgiveness and redemption can be felt for everybody, including Rep. Lebsock. But I am voting for this today, and I am asking you to vote for this today as well, because there are five women who have come forward. There has been a pattern of behavior that has been established, and there has been retaliation. And today, I did feel a bit like some of the victims that have come forward.”

Lebsock had one more chance to speak ahead of the vote.

“It’s been a long day, and it’s time to come to a close. I wish everyone involved in this process well. I wish all the best for the accusers, and I hope for the best for all of you," Lebsock said. "I ove this institution. It's been the honor of my life to serve the people of Colorado."

When the last state legislator was expelled, it was at the request of an investigative committee, and the lawmaker had already been arrested on charges related to perjury involving an alleged bribe.

The Lebsock case is one of several sexual harassment investigations ongoing at the Capitol. Two Republican senators have also been accused, and one of them was found by outside investigators to have “more likely than not” committed the alleged transgressions.

Still, Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, asked that Denver District Attorney Beth McCann investigate the alleged harassment, saying some of them appeared to be “tantamount to assault.”

But McCann said that any victims would have to file a complaint with police before her office could investigate. Her office sent a letter back to Grantham Friday.

Should Lebsock be expelled, he would be the second state lawmaker across the country expelled since the start of the #MeToo movement. Arizona Republican Rep. Don Shooter was expelled on Feb. 1 over misconduct claims.

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