EDITOR’s note: This story has been updated to reflect additional comments from the Governor.
A punishment for Sen. Randy Baumgardner, amid allegations of sexual harassment that investigators found credible, has spurred a series of reactions at Colorado’s Capitol, and some critics described the discipline as a slap on the wrist. Senate Democrats have renewed their calls for Baumgardner’s resignation or expulsion and Gov. John Hickenlooper declined to say whether he thinks Baumgardner should step down.
Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, was removed from interim committee assignments for the summer, as well as his leadership position on the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Two letters from Republican leaders — one from Senate President Kevin Grantham and another from Majority Leader Chris Holbert — spelled out the punishment on May 2.
This latest action is the most stringent punishment any Senator has received over sexual harassment allegations this legislative session. A GOP staffer added that it is a financial loss for Baumgardner to be removed from interim committees and a personal loss because he won’t get to spend time working as deeply on important issues he cares about.
Today (May 3), Grantham declined to comment on the disciplinary action, but elaborated about the decision-making process in a short statement to the press, indicating that it was a bi-partisan process.
“It’s never pleasant meting out punishments of this sort to colleagues, but the three of us who were tasked with making this decision are comfortable that it was justified in this case,” Grantham stated. “Minority Leader Leroy Garcia’s participation in the process was of great help in bringing this matter to a speedy conclusion. So I want to extend a special thank you to him.”
But Garcia, a Democrat, noted that he does not have the authority to make a decision about Baumgardner’s fate.
“That is their decision,” Garcia said. “I was made aware of the decision that they stood behind.”
So far, three separate investigations from two companies have found numerous allegations of sexual and workplace harassment against Baumgardner credible. In one, a former legislative aide said Baumgardner grabbed and slapped her buttocks. Another found that Baumgardner was nicknamed the “boob grabber” because he would touch women in unwanted ways while hugging them.
“There are two options that Senate Democrats would be happy with, and Coloradans would be happy with and it’s either resignation or an expulsion,” Garcia said of Baumgardner.
On April 2, Baumgardner survived an expulsion vote, but only one of the allegations against him was found credible by an investigator at that time.
Garcia is the second Democrat to serve as the minority leader this session. The first, Sen. Lucia Guzman, stepped down after she said she lost faith that Republican leaders would act on sexual harassment allegations against their members.
“I am human and I can no longer work or even look in the eyes of the president and the leadership,” said Guzman.
Meanwhile earlier this week Hickenlooper declined to weigh in on what should happen to Baumgardner. He worried it could upend important negotiations on pending issues like transportation infrastructure.
“My opinion may deeply upset or unsettle people trying to find compromises on issues of deep significance.”
He also added that Baumgardner’s actions were a gray area.
“What is the offense that requires someone to give up their seat?” said Hickenlooper. “It’s really just a matter of opinion. My opinion is really not that much more relevant that somebody else’s.”
In November, Hickenlooper told us that former Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock should step down after our reporting uncovered allegations of sexual harassment. “As the facts become apparent certainly he should resign.” Hickenlooper made that statement before there were any formal complaints filed. After an investigator found allegations credible, the House overwhelming voted to expel Lebsock in a bipartisan vote.
Update: Hickenlooper’s response at 7:53pm: “Senate leadership explained that the report examining allegations against Sen. Baumgardner was deemed credible. We are disappointed that more accountability was not shown in this latest action, which seems far too little, too late. The heart of the issue here is changing the work culture of the Capitol. People should feel safe and supported at work. We continue to demand a culture change, a fair process, and to encourage victims to feel comfortable speaking up.”
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