UPDATED to include a statement from Senate President Grantham on the Democrats’ efforts to expel Baumgardner.
Sen. Randy Baumgardner Tuesday announced he would step down as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee in the wake of an investigation into sexual harassment that was reportedly found credible.
Senate Democrats responded to the announcement with one of their own: They will introduce a resolution Wednesday that calls for a Senate vote to expel Baumgardner.
Baumgardner, a Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs in northwestern Colorado, will not resign his other chairmanship, that of the joint Capital Development Committee, nor his position as vice-chair of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
Baumgardner’s announcement came in the wake of a second sexual harassment complaint, as reported by KUNC Monday, from former legislative intern Megan Creeden. She told KUNC she filed the complaint because of a lack of action from Senate Republican leadership on the first complaint filed against Baumgardner. According to KUNC, the report on the first complaint, after an investigation by the Employers Council, found “it appears more likely than not that Baumgardner grabbed and slapped a legislative aide’s buttocks four times during the 2016 legislative session.”
A letter signed by Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City and Chris Holbert, Senate majority leader, called the report biased, inaccurate, inconsistent and with conflicts of interest. The letter also asks Baumgardner to take sensitivity training by March 16. “With this resolution we deem the matter closed,” the letter concluded.
“It’s obvious this is beginning to impede important work we do at the Capitol,” Baumgardner told reporters Tuesday. He denied the allegations and called the investigation “flawed, inaccurate, incomplete and biased. I’m taking these steps voluntarily now in hopes it will bring this matter to a conclusion.”
Baumgardner refused to take reporters’ questions after his announcement.
Senate Democratic leader Lucia Guzman, however, is far from satisfied with the decision, and questioned why Baumgardner was allowed to choose his own consequences rather than having them determined by the Senate President.
Guzman said several members of her caucus spoke with Grantham earlier in the day and said those members called for Baumgardner’s resignation.
The resolution — concerning the “expulsion of Senator Randy L. Baumgardner” — could be introduced as early as Wednesday, but Guzman acknowledged that Grantham could delay its introduction until April 12 under Senate rules.
“The caucus wholeheartedly believes this situation has infringed on the character of the Senate,” Guzman said. “The resolution expresses the passion for integrity that this caucus has … our job is not to question the report,” she said, in response to Grantham’s claim that the report is biased and inaccurate.
Guzman added that it’s the Senate’s job “to question the perpetrator” in line with the guidelines of the General Assembly’s harassment guidelines. “We don’t take this lightly.”
Guzman said the amount of time to resolve the issue, especially since the report was completed more than three weeks ago, is “offensive.” She said that if Baumgardner had resigned his leadership roles at that time, that might have made a difference, “had this been taken seriously three weeks ago. It would have given the process more integrity.”
The resolution states that Baumgardner’s “verbal and physical conduct constituted sexual harassment because it was of a sexual nature” and created an “intimidating, hostile and offensive working environment,” in violation of General Assembly rules. Sen. Irene Aguilar, who also attended the press conference, said Baumgardner’s conduct bordered on criminal, since his touching of the aide’s body was inappropriate and targeted a sexual area, and since it involved someone (Baumgardner) in a position of authority.
Guzman is realistic about the resolution’s chances of passage. It would need 24 votes in the Senate, which means eight Republicans would have to cross the aisle to vote for Baumgardner’s expulsion, likely a tall order and possibly an insurmountable one. But Guzman said there are Republicans who are concerned about what’s going on, and she’s hopeful a few might consider it. “This is about the integrity of the Senate.”
Aguilar added she hopes more people on the other side of the aisle will see it as more than a political issue. “To see it only as a political issue is undermining the victim and victims’ rights.”
Grantham responded that “Colorado Senate Democrats had the opportunity to be a part of the decision process. Their leadership withdrew from that process. Now that the process has reached its conclusion they want to change their minds yet again and up the ante. Such politicization is always inappropriate, especially now that the matter is concluded.”