Senate Dems cry foul over latest sexual harassment report on Baumgardner

Author: Marianne Goodland - April 26, 2018 - Updated: May 10, 2018

TwitterColorado State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, looks on during a debate on the chamber’s floor about a Democratic resolution calling for Baumgardner’s expulsion Monday, April 2, 2018, in the state Capitol in Denver. Baumgardner is accused of inappropriately touching a former legislative aide. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

“We’ve been fooled!”

Senate Democrats are reacting angrily to the latest report on allegations of sexual harassment against Colorado state Sen. Randy Baumgardner. They vented their anger both at the Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, demanding he resign, and at Senate leadership, who they claim refuse to take action regarding the allegations.

An independent investigation into those allegations, conducted by Littleton Alternative Dispute Resolution, found credible claims that Baumgardner sexually harassed a legislative aide in 2016 and created a hostile work environment for a handful of nonpartisan Senate staffers.

The report, made public Tuesday by KUNC’s Bente Birkeland, is the second to find credible allegations against Baumgardner. The first report, completed by the Employers Council, led Senate Democrats on a 42-day crusade to seek a resolution to expel Baumgardner. He has denied all allegations but resigned as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee after the first report was released and agreed to take sensitivity training.

Several Senate Democrats took to the microphone Wednesday to ask the Senate to rethink its vote on the resolution of expulsion that was rejected on a largely party-line 17-17 vote on April 2 (24 voters were needed to expel). They also demanded that Baumgardner resign.

The harshest words came from Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora. “I’m drowning in the muck and mire as it relates to workplace harassment, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct!” she thundered. While Fields asked for the Senate to reconsider its vote on the resolution, she reserved her strongest comments for the Senate’s Republican leadership.

“I’m losing confidence in the leadership’s ability to address sexual misconduct by members of this body. I believe leadership begins with the journey of integrity,” she said, hinting that she believed those leaders — Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker — lack it.

Fields complained that one report after another has found Baumgardner sexually harassed aides and nonpartisan staffers, yet the leadership failed to believe the reports. Grantham and Holbert, in a letter released in the wake of the first report, called it biased, inaccurate, inconsistent and with conflicts of interest.

“I believe we’ve been tricked. We’ve been misled, we’ve been fooled,” she said, because when the Senate voted on April 2, another report — finding the allegations against Baumgardner credible — had been filed. That report, dated March 30, was provided to the secretary of Senate the day of the resolution vote.

“What will it take to lead in this crisis?” Fields asked.

Grantham told a small group of reporters Tuesday that neither he nor Holbert had the report when the Senate voted on the expulsion resolution. Only the secretary of the Senate, Effie Ameen, had that report on April 2, he said, and she didn’t give it to the Senate leadership until April 20.

The delay allegedly occurred because Baumgardner had refused to meet with the investigator, Kathryn Miller. He finally sat down for that interview on April 11, a date she set as final before turning in her report. He denied all allegations. Miller then wrote up a supplemental report, dated April 16, that didn’t change her findings from the March 30 report.

Grantham also told reporters that Senate Democrats were aware of other complaints but did not ask for a delay in the resolution’s introduction. “They wanted to press forward,” he said.

Grantham said the decision to hold the vote on April 2 was to clear that matter off the Senate’s schedule before they began work on the budget bill, which was scheduled to start the following day. He also corrected a statement made by Holbert on Monday, that Ameen was the person in charge of deciding when the resolution would come up. That was Grantham’s call.

Grantham reiterated his belief that the second report was more professionally done. He also said he expects “something” will be done by the time the session ends on Wednesday, May 9, and “it won’t be a 2-1 decision,” meaning a decision made only by himself, Holbert and minority leader Leroy Garcia of Pueblo.

But Grantham also did not opine about the report’s validity, stating the three still need to go through the process of review and discussion of the report, which he said should happen by the end of this week. He also hinted that he believes there will be consequences for Baumgardner’s behavior, although he didn’t give any indication what that might be, and vowed those outcomes would be public.

Grantham also responded to questions on whether it’s safe for women — especially aides, interns and the nonpartisan Senate staff — to work in the Senate.

“Ask the women who work here,” he said.

He said women speak “freely” to him that they do not experience the kinds of harassment that the report found credible that Baumgardner had committed.

Grantham and Holbert have both said that no one has ever come to them with complaints. A 200-plus page study with more than 500 respondents said complaints are rarely lodged, in part because the respondents believe nothing will be done about them.

The lead investigator, Liz Rita of Investigations Law Group, told lawmakers that, “It’s safe to say that no workplace in America would consider these numbers an indicator that its culture around harassment is healthy or that its system is working to detect, to deter and to deal with harassment.”

However, when asked if women should feel comfortable making those complaints with the leadership, Grantham said he did not expect to be the person that victims would come to, hence the need for a new system to handle those complaints.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.