The national wave of allegations of sexual misconduct that began in Hollywood spread to the Colorado legislature Friday, as a Democratic lawmaker was accused of sexual harassment by one of his colleagues.
House Speaker Crisanta Duran said state Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton should “do the right thing and resign,” but in a defiant statement issued Friday night, Lebsock declined.
Instead, insisting he’s “done nothing that can be described as criminal,” Lebsock challenged his accusers to file formal complaints through “normal legal channels,” rather than in the media.
The story, first reported by Bente Birkland of public radio station KUNC, came as lawmakers in Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota and elsewhere have come under fire after being accused of sexual harassment.
The KUNC story alleged that Lebsock harassed at least nine legislators, lobbyists and staffers. State Rep. Faith Winter, also of Adams County, said Lebsock accosted her at an end-of-session party in 2016 and tried to get her to go home with him.
“Steve Lebsock’s behavior is egregious,” Winter told Birkland.
Winter says his advances impacted her job and her personal life, making it uncomfortable for her to work at the Capitol.
Duran, also a fellow Democrat, immediately called for Lebsock’s resignation and removed him from committee assignments when the story broke.
“These are deeply disturbing allegations,” she said in a statement. “I believe there should be extremely high standards of conduct for the legislature, and I take any allegations of sexual assault and harassment very seriously.”
KUNC asked Lebsock about the allegations, to which he replied, “I’m not sure exactly what you’re referencing.”
Lebsock then expressed support for the recent #metoo social media movement, which has seen thousands of sexual abuse and harassment victims outing their attackers on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. “The ‘me too’ movement has afforded victims of sexual harassment an opportunity to talk about some of the things that have happened in their lives and I think that’s a good way for people to start the healing process,” Lebsock said. “I think that’s about all I’m willing to say at this point because I’m not sure what you’re referencing at all.”
In a statement posted online Friday night, Lebsock apologized for “offending” Winter but insisted he can’t remember saying anything inappropriate to her that night.
“I have done nothing that can be described as criminal,” Lebsock’s statement read. “Nothing.”
He asked Winter and his “anonymous accusers” to file formal complaints “through the normal professional process not just through the media” and vowed to “honestly and thoughtfully submit my response to any allegation.”
After stating that Coloradans are “tired of dirty politics and tired of anything that appears underhanded or out of bounds,” Lebsock said the accusations should be taken seriously and “through the normal legal channels.”
“At the end of the road,” the statement concluded, “I believe this experience will help me become a better person and I only hope the very best for everyone involved.
“I have worked my entire adult life protecting women, children and the most vulnerable. I will continue fighting for working class families and people without a voice at the capitol.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, supported Duran’s call for Lebsock to resign. “Sexual harassment has no place at our State Capitol or any other workplace,” he said.
Duran said a House rule prohibits her from making initial judgments about the facts, but that the numerous allegations “would represent a major breach of decorum.”
“The conversation going on nationally right now about sexual harassment and assault is incredibly important, and I applaud the courage of the victims who have come forward with their experiences,” she said.
Morgan Carroll, chair of the Colorado Democratic Party and former Senate president, told Colorado Politics that predatory behavior has no place in society, and certainly not at the state Capitol.
“This is not a partisan issue — this is an issue of human dignity,” she said. “Anyone who engages in this sort of behavior should step down,” she said.
Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, who faces Lebsock in a primary for state treasurer, said sexual allegations must always be taken seriously.
“I am appalled and angry that sexual harassment like we have been seeing in the national press for weeks could be happening in my own workplace,” Young said. “All of us need to do a better job of making sure women — or men — are not treated like this and that everyone feels safe reporting and stopping harassment when they see it, hear about it or themselves are victims.”
Calls to Lebsock and Winter were not returned by press time.
Ernest Luning of ColoradoPolitics.com contributed to this story.