It was a dramatic and at times tearful day at Colorado’s Capitol as member after member of the House made statements for and against the removal of a fellow legislator. In the end, the chamber voted 52-9 to oust Rep. Steve Lebsock, who had been accused by five women of sexual harassment and retaliation. Those allegations were “more likely than not” to have occurred, an investigation concluded early this week.
It was unclear early in the day whether Lebsock, a Thornton Democrat who switched party affiliation to Republican today, would be voted out. He is also running for state treasurer.
Several lawmakers questioned whether Lebsock had received due process and whether expulsion was proper. For seven hours statements continued, including from two men – Democratic Reps. Alec Garnett and Matt Gray – who said they had begun wearing bullet-proof vests to the legislature, fearing for their safety, after standing up for others who made sexual harassment allegations.
“I'm sick of wearing my bullet proof vest,” Garnett said in tears, alleging that Lebsock had threatened to “take him down.”
Lebsock throughout the day denied any wrongdoing and said he would never harm a fellow lawmaker.
We were the first to report the allegations against Lebsock on Nov. 10, 2017. Rep. Faith Winter, a Democrat from Westminster, was vocal in her allegations over the months but reminded House members that others made claims, too.
“This isn't about me,” Winter said, her colleagues standing as they listened. “It's about at least ten other people that spoke to a reporter. Four others filed complaints. Plus there are others who were too scared to come forward.”
Winter added that speaking out came with a cost and Lebsock’s impassioned defenses crossed the lines of decency: “I've had my sex life tweeted about because of this. There's a YouTube video out of me: 112 days where we have been retaliated against. I know more victims were thinking of coming forward but once the retaliation started he achieved the worst part of his actions. He silenced victims.”
Going into the vote it looked like the resolution would not pass, but the mood shifted when others said they were scared to come forward and that the Capitol did not feel welcoming and safe. Some Republicans said one of Lebsock's defensive moves -- a 28-page letter he distributed to members several weeks ago -- included inappropriate, including sexually explicit, personal information about his accusers, and that swayed their votes.
“There is no exception in our policy for engaging in retaliation,” said House Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist. “It is forbidden for a reason.”
After the vote, Gov. John Hickenlooper issued a statement: “Today’s vote by Colorado’s House of Representatives was important and necessary to address well-documented instances of sexual harassment in the workplace. This has been a painful chapter and it is our sincere hope that we all learn from the bravery of the women who came forward.”
Three other lawmakers at the Capitol have had allegations of sexual harassment against them found credible in investigations. Democrats in the Senate are seeking to oust one of them, Sen. Randy Baumgardner, a Republican, and accuse leaders in the Senate of blocking the effort to bring that matter to a vote.
Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.