Rep. Steve Lebsock denies sexual harassment claims, says ‘right now I’m in fear for my life’

Author: Joey Bunch - November 14, 2017 - Updated: November 16, 2017

Steve LebsockRep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, talks to reporters about sexual harassment allegations against him. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

State Rep. Steve Lebsock denied that he has sexually harassed anyone Tuesday and said he is the victim of harassment, coercion and blackmail by fellow Democrats at the Colorado Capitol.

Last week Lebsock, a candidate for state treasurer, was accused by Rep. Faith Winter of making crude remarks to her at a gathering at a bar at the end of the 2016 legislative session. KUNC’s Bente Birkland also reported Friday that former lobbyist Holly Tarry and former legislative aide Cassie Tanner also accuse Lebsock of speaking to them about sex.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran began an investigation Monday, but on Friday she called for Lebsock’s resignation and removed him as chairman of the House Local Government Committee. Since then other Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, have pressured him to step down, as well, he said.

“This is a case of blackmail and coercion. and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,” Lebsock told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday morning. “Right now I’m in fear for my life.”

He called it a coordinated campaign against him, but he could not say why.

Lebsock said he would alert authorities to the harassing phone calls and texts he has received, including dozens of phone calls and texts from a person who initially offered to get him a six-figure consulting job if he stepped down, alleging, according to Lebsock, that “this is what we do.” The calls then turned to threats, Lebsock said.

Colorado Politics confirmed the number, called and spoke to Joel Sayre, a former Denver resident who said he now lives in Flint, Mich.

Winter said she had seen other comments toward Lebsock on Facebook that amounted to trying to bully him into resigning. She reported the comments to legislative services. She said wanted to warn Lebsock but did not want to call him directly, because of the investigation.

“No one should be bullied, including him,” she said. “That does not take away from the fact that he needs to take responsibility for his behavior and his actions which he still continues not to do.”

Sayre said he made the calls and had shared Lebsock’s phone number with others.

“If he feels harassed, this is by phone,” Sayre said. “It’s not like I’m undoing his blouse or trying to take him out of a bar by his elbow.”

Sayre said his calls were about exposing Lebsock’s character.

Lebsock flatly denied Tanner’s allegation about an encounter with him at 1Up Arcade and Bar in 2014 during a Colorado Young Democrats’ gathering. Lebsock said Tuesday he remembered the night clearly — because of a high score he reached on Ms. PacMan — but he did not see Tanner there that night.

He said he was joined by another legislator, whom he would not name, but said would testify on Lebsock’s behalf at some point.

In a statement Tanner told Colorado Politics, Tanner said, “I stand by my story. Rep. Lebsock needs to look into his conscience and come to terms with what he has done, and be held accountable for it. How he can go from apologizing for his behavior on Saturday to denying it ever happened on Tuesday is repugnant and reveals his lack of character and sincerity.”

In the case of Tarry, Lebsock said it was a friendship in which the lines of appropriate conversation were crossed, which he regrets now.

“It wasn’t just a lobbyist-legislator relationship. It was a friendship,” he said. “I loved her like a little sister.”

Lebsock said he has worked at plenty of jobs where men and women talk openly about sex and, at the time, he didn’t see the pitfalls. All of the allegations against him invole coarse language. Lebsock has been divorced since 2015.

He said he welcomes the calls by Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham to do more training and write clearer policies on sexual harassment, and he hoped to be part of that conversation.

He deflected questions about whether he would remain in the legislature or continue his run for state treasurer.

“I’m not sure I can work in this hostile work environment,” he said. “I also believe in telling the truth.”

He declined to join in calls for Duran’s resignation. But he said she acted without hearing his side of the story and called for his removal without any investigation.

“That’s not due process,” he said. “It’s not who we are as Americans, and it’s wrong.”

Duran also promoted Lebsock to chairman of the House Local Government Committee this year. Winter had told Duran about the 2016 incident before then, but Lebsock told reporters Duran did not bring it up before elevating him to committee chair.

Duran released a statement after Lebsock’s remarks Tuesday.

“As speaker of the House, I will continue to support the right of a victim to decide how they want these personal and sensitive situations to be handled.” she said. “When I named Rep. Lebsock to the chairmanship, I believed that the situation had been resolved to the satisfaction of Rep. Winter. When these new allegations came to light last week, I took action to address them. I would not have appointed him chair knowing what I know today.”

Colorado Politics staff writer Jessica Machetta contributed to this story.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.