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Rep. Steve Lebsock denies sexual harassment claims, says 'I'm in fear for my life'

November 14, 2017 Updated: November 15, 2017 at 7:29 am
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State Rep. Steve Lebsock denied Tuesday that he has sexually harassed anyone and said he is the victim of harassment, coercion and bribery by fellow Democrats at the Colorado Capitol.

Lebsock, a candidate for state treasuer, was accused last week by Rep. Faith Winter of making crude remarks to her at an end-of-session gathering at a bar at the end of the 2016 legislative session. KUNC's Bente Birkland also reported that former lobbyist Holly Tarry and former legislative aide Cassie Tanner accuse Lebsock of speaking to them about sex.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran began an investigation Monday, but on Friday she called for Lebsock's resignation and removed him as chairman of the House Local Government Committee. Other Democrats, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, since have pressured him to step down as well, said Lebsock.

"This is a case of blackmail and coercion, and we're going to get to the bottom of it," the Thornton legislator told reporters at the Capitol Tuesday morning. "Right now I'm in fear for my life."

Lebsock called it a coordinated campaign against him, but he could not say why.

He said he would alert authorities to the harassing phone calls and texts he has received, including dozens of calls and texts from a California area code that initially offered to get him a six-figure consulting job if he stepped down, alleging, according to Lebsock, that "this is what we do." The calls then turned to threats, Lebsock said.

Colorado Politics confirmed the number, called and spoke to Joel Sayre, a former Denver resident who said he now lives in Flint, Mich.

Sayre said he made the calls and had shared Lebsock's phone number with others.

"If he feels harassed, this is by phone," Sayre said. "It's not like I'm undoing his blouse or trying to take him out of a bar by his elbow."

Sayre said his calls were about exposing Lebsock's character.

Lebsock flatly denied Tanner's allegation about an encounter with him at 1Up Arcade and Bar in 2014 during a Colorado Young Democrats event. Lebsock said he remembered the night clearly - because of a high score he reached on Ms. Pac Man - but he did not see Tanner there that night.

He said he was joined by another legislator, whom he would not name but said would testify on his behalf at some point.

In the case of Tarry, he said, it was a friendship in which the lines of appropriate conversation were crossed, which he regrets now.

"It wasn't just a lobbyist-legislator relationship. It was a friendship," he said. "I loved her like a little sister."

Lebsock said he has worked at plenty of jobs where men and women talk openly about sex and, at the time, he didn't see the pitfalls. All of the allegations against him involve coarse language. Lebsock has been divorced since 2015.

He said he welcomes the calls by Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham to do more training and write clearer policies on sexual harassment, and he hoped to be part of that conversation.

He deflected questions about whether he would remain in the legislature or continue his run for state treasurer.

"I'm not sure I can work in this hostile work environment," he said. "I also believe in telling the truth."

He declined to join in calls for Duran's resignation. But he said she acted without hearing his side of the story and called for his removal without any investigation.

"That's not due process," he said. "It's not who we are as Americans, and it's wrong."

Duran also promoted Lebsock to chairman of the House Local Government Committee this year. Winter had told Duran about the 2016 incident before then, but Lebsock told reporters Duran did not bring it up before elevating him to committee chairman.

Duran issued a statement after Lebsock's remarks.

"As speaker of the House, I will continue to support the right of a victim to decide how they want these personal and sensitive situations to be handled," Duran said. "When I named Rep. Lebsock to the chairmanship, I believed that the situation had been resolved to the satisfaction of Rep. Winter. When these new allegations came to light last week, I took action to address them. I would not have appointed him chair knowing what I know today."

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