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DENVER – In one of the most emotional days at the state Capitol in recent memory, the Colorado House of Representatives voted to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, Friday from the chamber over explicit sexual harassment allegations levied by five women against him that were deemed to be credible by an outside investigation, and Lebsock’s alleged retaliation that followed when three of the women filed formal complaints.
The vote was 52-9 in the 65-member chamber. There were four who excused themselves. Those voting "no" were Reps. Buck, Everett, Humphrey, Lewis, Neville, Ransom, Reyher, Saine and Sandridge – all Republicans.
Weeks after KUNC's Bente Birkeland published her first report exposing the allegations, Lebsock distributed a memo to all House members in which some of the victims said they felt he was trying to retaliate against them. He claimed that his accusers were politically-motivated and that he hasn’t received due process in the proceedings.
Friday morning, representatives from both parties laid out their reasons either for or against expelling Lebsock in emotional testimony. The testimony included speeches from Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat who is one of Lebsock’s alleged victims, and letters from other victims read by other lawmakers.
House Majority Leader KC Becker read from a letter she received from a member alleging that Lebsock said, “By the time I’m done with her, no one will elect Faith Winter,” before the governor’s State of the State speech.
Most Democrats demanded that members of the chamber vote for Lebsock to be expelled, and some Republicans said they were concerned about his actions—particularly his alleged retaliation.
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.
Some Republicans called for Lebsock to resign ahead of the possible expulsion vote – something Lebsock refused to do.
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 love this institution. It's been the honor of my life to serve the people of Colorado."
Lebsock is the first member of the Colorado General Assembly to be expelled from the chamber since 1915. When the last state legislator was expelled, it was at the request of an investigative committee.
Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, asked Thursday 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.
Lebsock is 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.
Now that Lebsock has been expelled, his seat is vacant. It will be filled by a vacancy committee, with members from the Democratic Party, Speaker Duran said after the vote.
However, Lebsock threw a wrinkle into the process when he changed his voter registration from Democrat to Republican just moments before he was voted out.
I changed party affiliation at 3:02pm. As I walked down to speak for the last time, approx. 4pm, I handed the minority leader a document with affiliation change. Nothing was planned. He did not know about party change before. #copolitics
The last-minute move could mean Republicans would be able to choose his temporary replacement, but a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State referred media to speak with lawyers to get a clearer understanding of the upcoming process.
Later Friday, the Colorado GOP tweeted Republicans have "the right to fill the vacancy," but whether the committee chooses to do so remains to be seen.
Our HD 34 Vacancy Committee has the right to fill the vacancy. Whether it chooses to do so is another question. If it declines to act within 30 days, the gov gets to fill the vacancy. Because Lebsock was a Dem when he committed his misdeeds, the VC could decline to fill his seat.
"As far as Lebsock goes, the Republicans can have him. As far as the seat, we're looking into it. Either way, we're confident the district will be represented by a Democrat by the time the next session begins," said Eric Walker, the communications director for the state's Democratic party.