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DENVER – Colorado State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, stepped down Tuesday as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee after a formal sexual harassment complaint filed against him last year was found to have been credible and reports of another complaint.
Baumgardner is one of several state lawmakers caught up in allegations and formal complaints made over the past several months as the #MeToo movement gained traction across the country.
KUNC and The Denver Post both reported in recent days that the anonymous woman who filed the complaint against Baumgardner had been told by outside investigators that her complaint had been deemed credible.
The woman made the allegation last November, telling KUNC that Baumgardner had slapped or grabbed her buttocks several times at the state Capitol during the 2016 session.
And Baumgardner was made aware of another complaint set to be filed against him by a Capitol intern, Megan Creeden, he said Tuesday.
At the Tuesday news conference Baumgardner hosted to address the complaints and his stepping down as the transportation committee’s chair, Baumgardner said he’d met with Senate President Kevin Grantham Tuesday morning to discuss stepping down, and that Grantham suggested it would be the best idea.
“Although this is painful for me to do so, because I’ve worked on this issue for many years, it’s probably one of the best things I could do at this time,” Baumgardner said. He said Grantham agreed in light of the new complaint.
Baumgardner also was ordered by Grantham and Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert to attend sensitivity training “on or before March 16.”
But in a letter to Baumgardner, Holbert and Grantham wrote they were “concerned by the inaccuracies, bias, conflicts of interest, and inconsistencies” they saw in the independent outside investigation report.
They wrote that they “intend to address” the concerns with the investigator for the Employers Council, but added that they would accept his voluntarily stepping down as chair of the transportation committee and agreement to go to sensitivity training “in the interest of moving forward” with the complaint.
And despite the agreement between the Republican senators, Baumgardner continued to deny the allegations made in the first formal complaint.
“I want to stress something at this point: That the allegations made against me are not true. Despite the findings of the investigation, I find it to be flawed, inaccurate, incomplete and biased,” Baumgardner said.
As to the new complaint, which KUNC reported would be filed by Creeden, Baumgardner also denied the allegations.
“I knew her socially, and I respect her a great deal. And I want to take this opportunity to say that…if I did anything at all that was offensive to you…I want to apologize,” Baumgardner said. “Or anyone else that I’ve been here at the Capitol with – if I’ve said anything that could be perceived as offensive, I’d like to apologize to them as well.”
Baumgardner said that being accused has been an “eye-opening experience” and that he’s struggled personally with not being able to publicly defend himself because of confidentiality agreements.
Baumgardner also chairs the Senate’s capital development committee, and is the vice chair of its agriculture, natural resources and energy committee.
After the reports that the first complaint against him had been deemed credible, all 16 members of the state Senate’s Democratic caucus called for Baumgardner to be stripped of his committee chairmanships and to resign entirely.
“Victims and the public at large deserve swift, deliberative, and transparent action in response to these allegations. Instead, despite having access to the independent investigation’s findings for weeks, Senate GOP leadership has taken no action and said that the public may never know what happens,” Senate Dems said at the time.
And on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman said the Democratic caucus was moving forward with a resolution to expel Baumgardner because he won't resign. She said the "slight" demotion from one of his committees was "an inadequate response" to Baumgardner's actions. She also slammed Baumgardner's characterization of the investigation into his actions.
"Efforts to impugn the investigative process are completely inappropriate. House and Senate leadership agreed to use these third-party investigators just a few months ago," Sen. Guzman said. "Baselessly undermining an independent investigation because it doesn't tell you what you want to hear calls the integrity of the Senate into question and sends a horrible message to other victims considering coming forward."
Two other Colorado state lawmakers still face continuing investigations regarding their alleged sexual harassment of women: Republican Sen. Jack Tate and Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock.
Tate was accused of making unwanted advances toward an unnamed intern, though he denied the allegations. Lebsock was accused by Rep. Faith Winter, a fellow Democrat, of sexually harassing her at a party that wrapped up the 2016 session.
Lebsock has been defiant in the face of calls from his own party leadership to resign, has said that “some of the alleged incidents have been significantly exaggerated” and that other allegations made against him “are completely false.” He said he wouldn’t caucus with the Democrats this session.
Baumgardner is leading the push behind the Senate Republican's major transportation measure this session, Senate Bill 2.