State senators Baumgardner, Tate hit with allegations of sexual harassment at Colorado Capitol - Colorado Politics
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State senators Baumgardner, Tate hit with allegations of sexual harassment at Colorado Capitol

Author: Ernest Luning - November 17, 2017 - Updated: November 19, 2017

Randy-Baumgardner-by-Ernest-Luning-1024x942.jpg
randy-baumgardner-by-ernest-luningState Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs (Ernest Luning, Colorado Politics)

Two Republican senators were accused Thursday of improper behavior at the Colorado Capitol amid a wave of sexual harassment and misconduct allegations that have rocked the Legislature over the past week, but the lawmakers both denied they had done anything inappropriate.

In a story first reported by Bente Birkeland of public radio station KUNC and posted online Thursday night, an intern described a series of “uncomfortable encounters” with state Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs during last year’s legislative session, and a former intern, speaking anonymously, said state Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial had repeatedly spoken to her and acted inappropriately over a period of months last year.

Baumgardner and Tate both rejected the reported allegations and insisted they treat those they work with at the Capitol with respect.

GOP leaders said late Thursday that complaints about harassment at the Capitol should be filed using official procedures, not litigated in the press.

The latest allegations follow a cavalcade of accusations against Democratic lawmakers since last Friday, when Birkeland first reported that state Rep. Faith Winter said fellow Democrat Steve Lebsock, a candidate for state treasurer in next year’s election, made unwanted and aggressive sexual advances toward her at a 2016 party to celebrate the end of the legislative session. Since then, a lobbyist and former legislative aide have made similar accusations against Lebsock, who has resisted calls to step down and rob end his campaign for statewide office.

State Rep. Paul Rosenthal, a Denver Democrat, on Wednesday emphatically denied allegations brought by a political organizer who charged Rosenthal touched him improperly at a 2012 fundraiser.

Almost as soon as allegations against Lebsock were reported, House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat, removed him from his position chairing the House Local Government Committee and urged him to give up his seat in the Legislature. Lebsock said Wednesday he was the victim of harassment, coercion and blackmail and feared his life was being threatened.

On Monday, both Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Cañon City Republican, called for a review of the Legislature’s sexual harassment prevention policies and said they would increase training for lawmakers and staff members.

In the new round of accusations, Megan Creeden, a 25-year-old intern during the 2016 legislative session, told KUNC that Baumgardner made her feel uneasy on numerous occasions by repeatedly urging her to have drinks with him in his office and making comments described as “creepy” by a legislative aide who witnessed the exchange.

Six other women, including lobbyists and legislative staff who weren’t named, said they avoid Baumgardner and won’t work alone with him, KUNC reported.

“I always aim to conduct myself in an honorable, above-board manner that will make my constituents proud, and it has never been my intent to make anyone in this building uncomfortable,” Baumgardner said in a written statement. “I have nothing but respect for my female colleagues, and for the women I work with regularly on staff, in the lobby and in the press corps.”

The allegations against Tate were made by an unnamed woman who was 18 and working at the Capitol as an intern last year. She claims Tate made comments about her clothing, leered at her and nudged her, KUNC reported. Another intern, who is named in the KUNC story, said Tate was acting “creepy” around the unidentified intern, “hinting at stuff” and remarking on her outfit.

An aide to state Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat, learned about the 18-year-old intern’s discomfort with Tate and urged her to file a complaint, but the intern decided not to.

In a statement, Tate told Colorado Politics: “I am unaware of any instance in which I made an individual feel uncomfortable. I have been at the Capitol for three years and during this time no person has expressed to me or to any of my colleagues that I caused discomfort or created distress. I have the utmost respect for the men and women with whom I work on a daily basis.”

Baumgardner and Tate both declined, through spokespersons, to elaborate on their statements.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, said the chamber’s GOP leadership takes “every allegation of harassment or misconduct seriously” but urged anyone with a complaint to file it through official channels and said he won’t respond to “unsubstantiated or anonymous allegations” appearing in news reports.

“We ask those who feel they have been victims of harassment or inappropriate behavior at the General Assembly to file an official complaint, in confidence that their anonymity and rights will be protected,” Grantham said in a written statement.

“Going forward, Senate Republican leaders cannot and will not be responding to unsubstantiated or anonymous allegations against members appearing in the press, which the existing complaint process is designed to handle. This process exists to protect confidentiality, respect the rights of both accuser and accused, rigorously review the facts, give a fair hearing to all sides, and impose penalties proportionate to any confirmed offense. To handle these matters in any other way contradicts the basic tenants of fairness, justice, and due process for which America is known.”

State Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays made a similar point.

“There is no room for sexual misconduct in the Colorado General Assembly or anywhere else,” Hays told Colorado Politics. “The Legislature has procedures in place to hold wrongdoers accountable. Let’s use them.”

Three women, including Winter, this week said they have filed formal complaints against Lebsock, and Rosenthal’s accuser told reporters he initiated a complaint. Birkeland reported that Creeden, one of Baumgardner’s accusers, said she decided to avoid Baumgardner rather than bring a complaint but is still considering filing one.

Unlike ethics complaints, which are public, allegations of sexual harassment and similar conduct at the Capitol are handled confidentially under established procedures by each legislative chamber’s leadership, officials say, although those bringing the accusations and those facing them are able to discuss the complaints.

Within hours of the allegations against Lebsock surfacing, calls for his resignation were pouring in from leading Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll and numerous legislators.

Gov. John Hickenlooper called on Lebsock to resign on Monday after more accusers had come forward. “Now that the facts are apparent, he should certainly resign,” the Democrat told KUNC.

By Thursday, as allegations were being aired against additional lawmakers, the governor issued this statement: “Everyone should feel safe and respected in the workplace. We should take every step to create processes that deal with these serious issues quickly, confidentially, and equitably. Everyone is best served when strong, fair processes are in place to address accusations of improper conduct.”

Lebsock said he intends to make his plans known on Nov. 30.

 

Editor’s note: State Sen. Jack Tate’s name was erroneously reported as Larry Tate. The error has been corrected.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.


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