The Colorado House voted to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat from Thornton, Friday, the first such move since a member was found to take a bribe on a floor of the chamber in 1915.
Lebsock left the Capitol as soon as the vote was taken without speaking to the press. Within an hour before the vote, Lebsock slipped away to change his party registration to Republican, no doubt an act of spite toward his former party.
Lebsock was removed on a 52-9 vote, exceeding the two-thirds needed. Because of his party switch, A Republican vacancy committee, not a Democratic one, from his district will name his replacement for the final two months of the four-month session. Lebsock had announced his intention to run for state treasurer this year, a candidacy that will be greatly complicated by Friday’s vote and party switch.
No one spoke in his defense in nearly seven hours of testimony by House members. Many said the process by which he was ousted needed to be improved, however, including Democrats who supported kicking him out.
A single outside investigator found Lebsock not to be as credible as his five accusers.
“There was no touching at all,” Lebsock said in his closing remarks Friday.
He was emotional and looked tired and skinny in his baggy suit. He spoke of how he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps.
“Some of the things that were said were totally inappropriate in the well today,” he said of speakers against him.
He said he was not asking for a sympathy vote.
“Vote what you think is right,” Lebsock said.
He was formally accused by five women who cited 11 incidents against him. His first accuser was Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who said he aggressively solicited sex from her at an end-of-session gathering at a bar near the Capitol in May 2016. She filed her formal complaint last November, after she heard he had acted similarly toward other women.
Lebsock denied all the allegations and said the fact-finder in the investigation was unprofessional and dismissive of his defense.
“There has been a severe lack of due process since the beginning,” Lebsock said.
He continued to challenge the process involving a single outside investigator who issued a judgment on credibility.
“This has been anything but the highest standard,” he said. “In fact, it’s been the lowest standard.”
Winter said she believed in second chances and trusted in Lebsock’s promise to stop drinking and not act similarly toward other women after her initial complaint in 2016.
Winter spoke of the fear and intimidation she felt. She said she was “always on the lookout” to avoid Lebsock, including staying out of elevators in the Capitol and legislative office building.
She said she knew her credibility would be attacked.
“The last months have been awful,” Winter said. “I’ve taken attack after attack after attack.”
Letters were read on the floor from the four other accusers. Winter read two of them.
Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, read a letter from accuser Cassie Tanner, who was Kraft-Tharp’s aide at the time of the alleged harassment.
“I never intended to cause pain and discord with my story,” Tanner wrote. ” … Now I know silence is not the answer, and I’m not afraid anymore.”
She closed with, “A yes vote means you believe me.”
In hours of testimony, no one defended Lebsock’s character, but several House members were critical of the process, saying it denied due process and set a dangerous precedent in a building that runs on politics.
Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, said he had always found Lebsock “to be an OK guy.”
“But loyalty has its limits,” he said.
Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, spoke of Lebsock’s “unbelievable retaliation” against victims, including a 30-page memo to other lawmakers at the beginning of the session. Gray said Lebsock wrote about the private sex lives of his victims he said they shared with him and dismissed their claims against him
“Nobody should have to interact with him in a position of power here,” Gray said.
Lebsock said he went on offense after weeks of his accusers going to reporters, violating the confidentiality of the process.
“Members, when you’re falsely accused, you don’t know how to react,” he said.
Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, was a witness to Lebsock’s actions toward Winter in a bar. He said he wears a bullet-proof vest, suggesting he fears Lebsock’s retaliation.
“The fear I feel is not fair for any of us to feel, and if we don’t take action today it could happen to any of,” he said. ” … I love my job but I love my family more.”
Gray, who first proposed expelling Lebsock before the session started, said he, too, wore a bullet-proof vest.
“I put mine on in the parking garage so my kids don’t have to see it,” he said.
Winter, in tears, followed Garnett. “Men shouldn’t fear for their lives for believing me,” she said.
House Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder read an e-mail from Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, who recalled a conversation with Lebsock the day after the session began in January.
Moreno said Lebsock told him, “By the time I’m done with this, no one will elect Faith Winter.”
Winter is running for a seat in northern metro Denver that could tip the balance of power to the Democratic Party in the statehouse.
Rep. Susan Beckman, R-Littleton, said she was supportive of the victims and admired Winter’s poise during the process. Beckman, like other Republicans, said she was concerned about the process and the lack of information afforded to members for which to base the decision. As a human resources professional, including as an office director in the Colorado Department of Human Services, Beckman said she’s seen hundreds of such reports, but not one as rushed and messy as Lebsock’s.
Democrats know what they knew about Lebsock since the original complaint in May 2016 subsequently allowed “a systemic culture of harassment and assault,” Beckman said.
“My complaint about the process is not vindictive toward anyone at all,” she said of his accusers.
Rep. Mike Foote, D-Boulder, said to the victims from the House floor, “I believe you.” He said legislators’ decision was not difficult
“What’s difficult is what happened to you, because of one person,” the Boulder County deputy district attorney said to the alleged victims.
He said Lebsock’s conduct would not be tolerated in any other workplace.
“If this person cannot work for someone else, he should not work in this body,” Foote said.
Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, spoke of her experience as an intern in the Capitol, hearing comments directed at her similar to Lebsock’s alleged statements to other women. She said other women are watching to see how this case is handled before they decide if they should come forward.
Lebsock is one of five current lawmakers who have been accused of sexual harassment, and he could become the second state legislator nationwide who has lost his office in the way of the #MeToo movement. He would join Rep. Don Shooter, a Republican, of Arizona.
(Editor’s note: A cutline on this story was corrected to say that Rep. Alec Garnett is the assistant House majority leader.)