Colorado Rep. Steve Lebsock accused of sexual harassment
DENVER (AP) — A Colorado state legislator on Friday said he doesn’t remember doing or saying anything inappropriate to a fellow lawmaker who accused him of making unwanted sexual advances toward her during a party in 2016.
Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock issued a statement saying he apologized to Rep. Faith Winter for offending her — but added he had done nothing wrong that could be described as criminal. He said any complaint by Winter should be submitted formally through a process at the Capitol that handles such complaints.
“I will honestly and thoughtfully submit my response to any allegation,” said Lebsock, who represents suburban Adams County and is running for state treasurer in 2018. “I have done nothing that can be described as criminal. Nothing.”
Lebsock’s statement followed a report by Rocky Mountain Community Radio in which Winter, who also is an Adams County Democrat, said Lebsock suggested they engage in sexual acts and acted aggressively toward her when she refused during an end-of-session party in 2016. She said he grabbed her elbow and that she felt threatened.
“Steve Lebsock’s behavior is egregious,” Winter said.
Colorado is the latest statehouse with reports of misconduct in the wake of sexual harassment and assault allegations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
Colorado’s Democratic House speaker, Rep. Crisanta Duran, removed Lebsock as chairman of the Local Government Committee after the report and called on him to resign, as did fellow Democrats Donna Lynne, the lieutenant governor, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. Lynne and Polis are running for governor.
Winter said she told legislative leaders about the incident but didn’t file a formal complaint, fearing that her reputation would be hurt and it would make it harder for her to do her work. She said that Lebsock eventually apologized and, later, promised to get therapy.
She said she went public after hearing of other alleged incidents involving Lebsock in the midst of the national uproar over harassment and abuse that erupted after the Weinstein allegations.
“At the time I told Representative Lebsock that if I ever heard of him harassing another woman, I would be the first to go public,” she told Rocky Mountain Community Radio.
Lebsock initially told the news outlet that he didn’t know what Winter was referring to. Then he expressed support for the ”#metoo” social media movement in which victims of sexual harassment and abuse have come forward worldwide.
Democratic Rep. Alex Garnett, the assistant House majority leader, said Friday that he saw Lebsock talking to Winter at the 2016 party with his hand on her elbow.
Garnett said Winter asked him if he could help get Lebsock home. Lebsock responded angrily when Garnett offered to arrange an Uber ride for him, Garnett said. He said Winter then told him what had happened.
“It backed up everything I saw,” Garnett said, adding it was important to stand by Winter at this difficult time.
“Sunshine on these types of issues is the only way to ensure that we have clean culture where everyone is rewarded on our work ethic and our ability to legislate well,” he said.
The report said nine people in all, including Winter, legislative staff and lobbyists, complained privately about Lebsock’s behavior.
Four lobbyists, who refused to be identified, said they considered filing formal complaints against Lebsock over inappropriate behavior in the past three years but feared doing so would harm their careers. That and Winter’s allegation prompted the Senate minority leader, Democrat Lucia Guzman, to say that the Legislature’s “process for reporting and addressing sexual harassment is in urgent need of review and improvement.”
Lebsock urged any accusers to file formal complaints “and not just through the media.”
Dean Toda, a spokesman for House Democrats, said legislative leaders would not be able to confirm if a formal investigation involving Lebsock is underway. Under current policy, formal complaints are handled confidentially. The workplace policy covers lawmakers, government staff, lobbyists, news media and others working at the Capitol.
Lawmakers in Arizona, Kentucky, Minnesota and elsewhere have come under fire after being accused of sexual harassment. In Alabama, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore denies allegations of sexual misconduct with minors decades ago.
Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin contributed to this report.