Colorado’s top Democratic lawmaker is under fire for how she handled a sexual harassment complaint against a member of her party amid a call for an independent investigation.
House Speaker Crisanta Duran appointed Rep. Steve Lebsock as chairman of the Local Government Committee in 2016 despite knowing about a sexual harassment allegation made against him by another lawmaker.
The situation was detailed in a Denver Post story Friday as Rep. Faith Winter came forward to detail how Lebsock described sexual acts and tried to get her to leave with him from a legislative party in May 2016.
Duran declined to comment Friday on why she appointed Lebsock, D-Thornton, to serve in a position of power seven months after learning of Winter’s encounter. The Denver Democrat did call on Lebsock to resign and temporarily removed him as chairman after Winter went public with her story. The Post later talked to two more women who put their names to claims that Lebsock sexually harassed them.
The Aurora Sentinel newspaper editorial board on Monday called on Duran to resign from her leadership position, and Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Fountain Republican, demanded an investigation from the attorney general’s office, alleging a “cover-up.”
“The fact that you placed a known harasser with multiple accusations against him in a position of power over us, lobbyists and interns shows an incredible lapse of judgment,” Landgraf wrote in a letter to Duran. “You put us all at great risk.”
Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, announced Monday they would review the state legislature’s policies and institute annual workplace harassment training.
In a statement, Winter defended Duran’s action’s in this case, saying she did “everything correctly.” Shortly after the incident with Lebsock, Winter told then-Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and Duran, then the majority leader, but decided not to file a formal complaint at the time. She did file a complaint Monday, after a request from Lebsock.
“From when I first informed Speaker Duran about the incident to (Monday), when I informed her I would be filing a formal complaint, she has been very supportive and has also followed all the guidelines as outlined in our workplace harassment policy,” Winter said in the statement. “I 100 percent support the speaker, and we need to focus on the only person to blame for Steve Lebsock’s actions – Steve himself.”
House leaders subtly acknowledge Lebsock’s history in their assigning of offices for the 2017 term by attempting to keep him away from other women in the legislative building on Sherman north of the Capitol.
Under the legislature’s workplace harassment policy, a complaint about workplace harassment by a lawmaker is filed with the House speaker, Senate president or their designated representative. A formal complaint is kept confidential and investigated by the top lawmakers, in coordination with legislative legal counsel. The result may end in disciplinary action, but outside a public apology or censorship it remains private.
In her letter to Duran, Landgraf said she wants the outside counsel from the attorney general’s office to review the allegations and the legislative policies.
“My response is just to ask for a change in policy and make it clear I don’t think it’s appropriate for members of the House to basically police themselves,” Landgraf said in an interview Tuesday. “We need somebody from the outside looking at all of this.”
Landgraf argued that other lawmakers should have been informed before the story appeared in the media, despite the concerns about privacy.
“If there is somebody going around behaving in a predatory manner, I think people at the Capitol should know that,” Landgraf said in an interview Tuesday. “To me, the worst thing is the Democratic leadership did know and they basically rewarded this man by giving him a House committee chairmanship.”
The letter has the potential to add partisan politics to the situation, but Landgraf said, “it’s already been politicized.” House GOP leaders did not sign onto the letter and were not aware of it, a caucus spokesman said.
This is a developing story that will be updated....Read more