DENVER (AP) — Numerous female representatives in Colorado’s state House took their turns at the podium to come out as victims of sexual harassment or abuse in an emotional debate that culminated with the expulsion of the second U.S. state lawmaker accused of sexual harassment since the #metoo movement emerged last fall.
Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock wasn’t present when Democrats and Republicans voted 52-9 Friday on a Democrat resolution to expel him. One of his accusers — fellow Democrat Faith Winter — cried and smiled and was mobbed by supporters after the historic vote.
Winter and four other women accused Lebsock of harassment and intimidation inside the Capitol and at area bars and restaurants. Lebsock bitterly contested the claims, said his accusers were lying and accused an independent investigator of bias in concluding the claims were credible.
Lebsock’s ouster came after Arizona Republican Rep. Don Shooter was expelled Feb. 1 over misconduct claims. A California state senator resigned just moments before his colleagues last month sought to formally expel him after a series of sexual misconduct allegations.
Lebsock left the statehouse during Friday’s daylong debate and changed his party affiliation to Republican about an hour before he was expelled.
Normally, his replacement would be named by a Republican vacancy committee. But the state GOP said it might not do so. In that event, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper would name a replacement.
Republicans concerned about a possible rush to judgment — a redacted investigator’s report was made available to them only Tuesday — had suggested they’d vote no on expulsion. Some sought censure. Others called for a formal legislative panel to investigate the case with subpoena powers.
But many cited family experiences of sexual misconduct for their yes votes or were swayed by the experiences related by colleagues.
A male lawmaker tearfully talked about his wife’s rape while others spoke of harassment suffered by their wives and daughters. Lawmakers also read letters from four of Lebsock’s accusers, including one who watched the proceedings from the floor of the House. Many walked over to hug Cassie Tanner after her letter was read.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stood out of respect whenever there was testimony about harassment and abuse.
Two successive male representatives told fellow members of the House that they were so worried about tensions stemming from the case against Lebsock that they had taken to wearing bulletproof vests beneath their jackets and ties.
While many Republicans were concerned about what the standard of proof should be for proving sexual misconduct allegations, some were swayed by a document Lebsock sent to lawmakers intended to defend himself that also included sexual details about his accusers.
They said that amounted to retaliation against those who filed harassment complaints against him, a clear violation of the House’s sexual harassment policy and beyond the realm of he-said, she-said.
“At the end of the day it’s everything but I think the retaliation piece was a huge part of this because it was a clear violation and it was really egregious and it was something we could touch and see and interpret on our own,” Republican Rep. Lang Seas said.
Lebsock wasn’t present when House Speaker Crisanta Duran made a last-minute plea in a hushed chamber for him to resign.
“We will not tolerate harassment,” Duran said after the vote. “It’s unbelievable to me that in 2018 we are still having this conversation.”
Winter, for her part, expressed sincere relief.
“On Monday, for the first time in nearly two years, I’m going to come to a building where I’m not going to be worried about retaliation from someone I stood up to,” Winter said. “We get back to work. We pass bills and fight over legislation and policy ideas and represent the people of Colorado.”
The debate over sexual harassment has engulfed both chambers of Colorado’s Legislature. Three Republicans in the GOP-led Senate were accused of misconduct.One has stepped down as chair of a committee, while denying wrongdoing.
Senate President Kevin Grantham held a news conference Thursday to decry Colorado’s investigative process, which calls for a confidential, third-party investigation. He called for Denver’s district attorney to investigate whether Lebsock had committed any crimes.
However, District Attorney Beth McCann said a complaint must be filed with police before her office could investigate.