Colorado legislators last week voted overwhelmingly to kick out State Representative Steve Lebsock, a Democrat, after five women had accused him of eleven total instances of sexual harassment. To say Lebsock did not go gentle into that good night is an understatement.
One of the accusers was a colleague and fellow Democrat, Rep. Faith Winter, who claimed that Lebsock “acted aggressively” toward her when she turned down his sexual advances during an end-of-session party in 2016. She claimed that he grabbed her elbow, causing her to feel threatened. Lebsock denies the allegations of all of the women, and claimed that he was being railroaded out of his seat to help his accuser, Winter, win a state Senate seat in November. So vigorous was Lebsock in his defiance that two other Democrats, Assistant House Majority Leader Rep. Alec Garnett and Rep. Matt Gray, announced in speeches that they had been wearing bulletproof vests in the chamber for weeks in response to his threats.
No, Steve Lebsock didn’t order a hit. He was more creative. To enact his revenge on his party for making him Colorado’s Al Franken, he formally switched his party registration from Democrat to Republican just minutes before the state House expelled him. As a result, Republicans, rather than Lebsock’s original party, get to fill the vacancy left by Lebsock’s expulsion.
Of course, nothing says that the Colorado GOP couldn’t treat this technical maneuver as the petty payback it is, and in the interests of comity and fairness, let Democrats choose who will fill Lebsock’s seat by allowing Democratic governor John Hickenlooper to appoint his replacement. Nah! Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays said a vacancy committee would meet later this month to pick Lebsock’s replacement, saying,
“Statute clearly assigns our vacancy committee the authority and responsibility to fill this seat. After careful consideration, we concluded it would be dereliction of duty to punt the appointment to Gov. John Hickenlooper. We owe it to the people of House District 34 to give them the experience of ethical representation, which the Democrats, when they controlled the seat, signally failed to provide.”
The rationalization for this argument is that the Democrats had known about Lebsock’s harassing conduct all along, and covered it up before the #MeToo fervor struck. Of course, if the Democrats knew, it’s likely that his Republican colleagues knew as well.
Rocky Mountain Yecchh, as John Denver might say.
This is an all-round ethics botch:
1 There was a report by an investigator regarding the allegations, but no formal hearing or what would normally be called due process. This episode was one more example of the #MeToo presumption of guilt principle.
2. In the session debating Lebsock”s fate, the report was so thoroughly redacted that much of it was incoherent. Rep. Winter, who was one of lebsock’s accusers, argued, “How much do they want victims to go through in order to seek justice?….That confidentially is designed to protect the survivors.”
Those accusing someone of sexual misconduct should have two choices: give the accused a chance to directly rebut their claims in fair hearing, or not make the accusations at all. There can be no due process if the “jury,” in this case the legislature, can’t see all of the evidence and if the accused can’t respond to it directly.
3. Let’s ditch the prejudicial use of the term “survivors” in sexual harassment cases. They are complainants, accusers, or alleged victims. Sexual harassment never killed anyone. Everyone “survives” it.
4. Winter, as one of the accusers, should have been recused from any participation in Lebsock’s ouster.
5. Lebsock sounds like one hell of a guy, doesn’t he? But even scum deserves due process. I don’t blame him for being angry. I do blame him for using the legislative process and the vacancy replacement process to wreak personal revenge. This is signature significance for a petty, untrustworthy public official who puts his own needs above the good of the people. Good riddance.
6. The Republicans taking advantage of this windfall by becoming the agents of Lebsock’s vendetta is irresponsible and unfair. They should have foiled Lebsock and allowed the Democratic governor to replace a legislator who was elected as a Democrat.
I used to give a yearly legislative ethics seminar in Colorado Springs for newly elected state legislators. A few years ago, without explanation, the sponsoring organization decided to “go in a different direction.”
See what happens?
Pointer: Tim Levier