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Top Senate Democrat Steps Down, ‘Losing Faith’ Republicans Will Act On Sexual Harassment

Posted: March 26, 2018 at 10:30 am by , in Capitol Coverage

Lucia Guzman said she had been thinking about her decision to step down as Colorado’s Senate minority leader for weeks. Finally, early on Thursday morning, the Democrat walked onto the Senate floor. It was quiet, mostly empty and she said she removed her name placard from her prominent desk. Image:  Sen. Lucia Guzman speaking with her caucus about sexual harassment at the capitol – credit Bente Birkeland.

“On the one hand it felt like failure and loss, but on the other hand it felt like success and empowerment,” said Guzman.

She said the reason she quit the position is because she is no longer able to work closely with her colleagues — Republican leaders.

“I am human and I can no longer work or even look in the eyes of the president and the leadership,” said Guzman, who is now the Assistant Senate Minority Leader where she won’t have to be in direct talks with them as frequently.

Her decision comes amid a concerted push by Senate Democrats to force a vote on whether to expel Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, after an independent investigation found it more likely than not that he had slapped and grabbed a former legislative aide’s buttocks multiple times.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican, has declined to introduce the Democratic resolution to oust Baumgardner, who has voluntarily stepped down as chair of one committee, but not another, and agreed to sensitivity training. Yet Baumgardner has also denied wrongdoing regarding the allegations against him and faces two other ongoing sexual harassment investigations.

Guzman said Grantham and Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert have failed to hold Baumgardner accountable.

“Anything and everything that has tried to lure us from the truth, or lure us from a decision that isn’t a hard decision to make,” said Guzman, who had served as the head of her caucus for three years. “I’m just very, very disappointed. I’m losing faith that they will do anything.”

Independent sexual harassment investigations into two other senators – Jack Tate and Larry Crowder, both Republicans – found their accusers credible.

Guzman said the tipping point of her leadership resignation came when a Republican senator filed a complaint against a Democrat, Sen. Daniel Kagan alleging that he wrongfully used the women’s rest room. Kagan insists it was a mistake.

Majority Leader Chris Holbert (L) and Sen. President Kevin Grantham (R) speaking at a media briefing. CREDIT BENTE BIRKELAND / CAPITOL COVERAGE

 Grantham issued a statement regarding Guzman’s departure: “I have enjoyed a cordial and constructive working relationship with the Minority Leader since we came into the legislature together, so I’m naturally disappointed to learn of her departure, as well as the reasons she gave for it. We intend to continue working proactively with the new Minority Leader to get the work done that Coloradans want us to do.”

Sen. Leroy Garcia will replace Guzman as Minority Leader.

As this story unfolded, a Republican legislative aide was fired over an offensive Snapchat. The Snapchat surfaced on Twitter the day after the aide, Andrew Knarr, was quoted in a news story questioning the credibility of an intern who accused Sen. Tate of sexual harassment. In the picture, Knarr derided a required sexual harassment training for Capitol employees: “Mandatory 2 hour sexual harassment training. And they aren’t even gonna show me the proper way to grab a woman’s a–. This is f—ing [edited] gay.”

Once his boss, Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, saw the image on Twitter, he left the Senate floor and fired Knarr.

“The only situation I’m close to is this one which I addressed within minutes,” said Smallwood. “Hopefully that would give my constituents confidence that when faced with difficult decisions we make those decisions right away. If somebody’s acting unprofessionally and it’s documented.”

One former aide praised Smallwood’s swift action.

“I hope Senate leadership follows his example and moves to finally address similar behavior from elected officials,” said Cassie Tanner, one of the women to file a sexual harassment complaint against Steve Lebsock, a former Democratic representative who was expelled by his peers in the House earlier this month.

Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.