The final chapters of the investigation into 11 allegations of sexual misconduct against Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton consumed the Colorado House of Representatives Thursday, with the first House expulsion vote in 103 years scheduled for Friday morning.
If he loses, Lebsock becomes the first representative to be booted since 1915. If he wins, he stays in office and presumably continues his campaign for state treasurer.
The vote is freighted by political consequences for both parties, leading to frantic scrambling on Thursday:
- The day began with a floor fight over House Republicans' efforts to derail the Friday vote on expelling Lebsock. Republicans asked for a new investigation that would mirror the historical precedent. In 1915, a five-member committee of rank-and-file members was empaneled to conduct an investigation into alleged bribery by then-Rep. William Howland of Denver, eventually expelled on a 60-0 vote. Thursday's motion to set up a new panel was ruled out of order by House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver, and an appeal was also rejected.
- The day continued with a rare joint caucus and a call from Senate Republicans for an independent investigation by the Denver district attorney. In the joint caucus, lawmakers were allowed to question witnesses, including Michele Sturgell, an attorney from the Employers Council who conducted the Lebsock investigation. Sturgell testified for the better part of two hours Thursday, talking to lawmakers, including Lebsock, who actively engaged in the discussion.
Lebsock said that he told Sturgell in a meeting that the situation had become difficult for his family, and claimed Sturgell responded that "it's not like you're going to die."
But she said that was in response to Lebsock's claim that the situation was a "matter of life and death."
Lebsock also focused on a calendar provided to him by his now-ex-wife - who was tracking his comings and goings as part of her upcoming divorce - that claimed on March 24, 2015, the date of one of the sex harassment allegations, he came home at 1:30 p.m. He said he attempted to give the calendar original to Sturgell, who said he offered only a copy of it.
Colorado Politics reported Thursday that Lebsock was in a meeting on that date from around 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. with several people from the Department of Agriculture and the governor's office, verified by an email sent by Lebsock to those participants as well as their calendars.
During the joint caucus, Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City, surrounded by Republican women, set off fireworks of his own, announcing he would officially ask for an investigation into the sexual harassment charges for both Democrats and Republicans, to be conducted by Denver District Attorney Beth McCann.
"Sexual harassment in the workplace is a serious problem in the United States and right here in Colorado," Grantham told reporters. "It is an infection that has spread across our state Capitol, casting into doubt our ability as lawmakers to represent the kind of democracy our constituents can be proud of."
- The House then split into its two caucuses. Duran said the time to vote had come. "At some we have to ask ourselves when is enough enough?" she said. "Throughout this process, going back to 2016, to me it has been the most important thing we can do to respect the wishes of victims and to respect the confidentiality of victims."
House Republicans, however, said they want to create a select committee to investigate what Duran and other Democrats knew and when they knew it. They cited a May 2016 event that resulted in the first allegation of sexual harassment, filed by Rep. Faith Winter of Westminster last November. Duran appointed Lebsock chair of the Local Government Committee in 2017, even after knowing about the complaint.
Rep. Dave Williams of Colorado Springs said that action hinted at a cover-up. Democratic political operatives are trying to send a "virtual signal" to voters, he said, and would protect the seat rather than the women.
Democrats across the hall accused Republicans of gamesmanship and trying to delay a vote on expulsion past the end of the session. "I don't think we should go even into next week when we know what is right," said Rep. Jovan Melton of Aurora.
Underlying some of the tension: Winter is running for a state Senate seat now held by a Republican, which has a one-vote majority in the upper chamber. Should she win, and should the other seats being contested stay with their current parties, the Democrats would gain the upper hand.