It’s a tale of two parties—two very, very different parties. In recent months, Democrats and Republicans in the Colorado legislature have each faced revelations of sexual misconduct by members of their own caucuses.
In March, the Democratic-majority Colorado House overwhelmingly voted to expel Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock after evaluating the results of an independent investigation spurred by multiple lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists accusing the Democrat of harassment, intimidation and numerous unwanted sexual advances.
Late Monday night, by contrast, the Republican-majority Colorado Senate failed to expel Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who’d likewise been accused of sexual harassment. Expulsion required a two-thirds supermajority vote of the chamber, but only a single Republican crossed party lines to vote with all 16 Democrats, resulting in a 17-17 tie that easily let Baumgardner keep his state Senate seat. Despite the similar alleged offenses, these two outcomes couldn’t have been more different—and more revealing about how seriously each party takes sexual harassment.
In November, a Senate staffer revealed to a Colorado radio station that the Republican had slapped and grabbed her butt four separate times during the 2016 legislative session, at the Capitol, during work hours. The staffer filed a formal complaint, and an independent investigation ensued. The investigators, an outside company called the Employers Council, reportedly found the allegations credible, and another Senate staffer told the victim in January that “the evidence suggests there should be a consequence.”
Senate Democrats introduced a resolution to expel Baumgardner in February, but the GOP-controlled chamber refused to allow debate on it. Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham went so far as to say that Baumgardner had already “been punished.” (Baumgardner resigned from one of his two committee chairmanships and agreed to sensitivity training.)
Two other investigations are pending against Baumgardner, at least one of which includes allegations of “sexual comments” made toward another staffer. The victims had previously all remained anonymous, but on Monday, a state political strategist came forward via Twitter to identify herself as one of his accusers.
After over a month of delays, Republicans finally deigned to consider Democrats’ resolution to expel Baumgardner on the night of the NCAA basketball championship game, plainly timed to distract from coverage of the vote. The debate itself was an ugly affair, with Democratic senators reading details from the original complaint filed against Baumgardner, signaling to victims that their complaints are taken seriously—by one party, at least.
Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham, on the other hand, has described some of the anonymous complaints against his colleagues as—can’t make this up— “assault.” Other Republicans expressed “concerns” about the independent investigation and “due process.” Baumgardner himself offered a highly conditional apology, saying he was only sorry if his behavior had unintentionally offended anyone. In the end, one lonely Republican, Ray Scott, voted to expel Baumgardner from the chamber.
This pathetic failure at accountability by Colorado Republicans stands in stark contrast to House Democrats’ move to expel Rep. Dave Lebsock from the House in March. Calls for Lebsock’s exit from the legislature began in November, when multiple lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists accused the Democrat of harassment, intimidation and numerous unwanted sexual advances. Unlike Grantham, who sought to protect Baumgardner, Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran called on Lebsock to resign; he refused.
An independent investigation was launched, which found sexual misconduct allegations against Lebsock “credible.” The Democratic majority leader introduced a resolution calling for his expulsion just days after the the investigation’s findings were revealed to lawmakers.
Ultimately, Colorado House members voted 52 to 9 to expel Lebsock—far more than the two-thirds required for such an action. In perhaps a perfect twist highlighting the huge gulf between the two parties when it comes to sexual harassment, Lebsock switched his affiliation to the GOP moments before his expulsion.
Sexual misconduct is not a partisan issue, and responding to it shouldn’t be, either. Colorado Senate Republicans evidently disagree.