Mike Littwin: It was cleanup time at the state Senate, and Baumgardner was swept out
Fair & Unbalanced
As you’ve probably heard, Randy Baumgardner, the oft-accused sexual harasser who survived an expulsion vote last session, has now resigned from the state Senate. But only after considerable, um, encouragement.
It’s kind of fitting, I guess, but you could say Baumgardner was basically harassed out of office.
It’s a new day, with new consequences. No one could have imagined a year ago that Baumgardner would have been forced to resign, that Steve Lebsock would have been expelled, that the #MeToo movement would have dominated the last session of the legislature.
Democrats are in the majority now, and they wanted Baumgardner out last April. The Republican leadership, which had done all it could to protect Baumgardner when it held a one-vote majority, is now in the minority and probably relieved to see him go.
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When Lebsock was expelled from the House, by a stunning 52-9 vote, it was the first such expulsion in more than century. Just before the vote, Lebsock, in his last act as a legislator, changed his affiliation from Democrat to Republican so Republicans would be able replace him. It was that kind of year, a year that no one wanted to see repeated.
And so it’s no surprise that leaders from both parties were ready for an early cleanup before next year’s session begins.
It was easy to predict months ago that a blue wave was coming, that Democrats would recapture the Senate and that Baumgardner’s tenure would be in peril. It all became clearer when Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert handed out committee assignments and skipped Baumgardner altogether. Now, maybe this has happened before in the state Senate, but I can’t remember it. And I’d say the same thing under oath.
This was not some random oversight either. This was a kick in the rear for the now ex-senator who, according to an independent investigation, had been found to have repeatedly grabbed and slapped the buttocks of a legislative aide.
That much was contained in the first report on Baumgardner, one that Republicans, you’ll remember, had argued was “inaccurate, inconsistent and biased.” It’s an old tactic. You don’t defend the indefensible. You smear the accuser or the accusing investigator anyway. It was not only ugly, but also a terrible move politically in a year when women voters deserted Republican candidates.
Of course, you may also remember that Republican leaders, including Holbert, had failed to release the results of a second damning report — this one revealing that Baumgardner had earned the nickname from staffers of Boob Grabber — in time for the expulsion vote. If both reports had been out when the vote took place, so, I’m guessing, would have Baumgardner.
He did resign his committee chairmanship, and leadership would later strip him of his committee assignments. It was a prelude of what was to come, but few on the Republican side thought he should resign, and he continued to insist he had done nothing wrong.
That was then. When Democrats won the majority in November and would elect Leroy Garcia as Senate president, Garcia immediately called for higher standards — which Baumgardner presumably did not meet. Hell, he didn’t meet the lower standards either. If higher standards ruled, Baumgardner was in trouble, and Republicans had already strongly signaled that the committee-less senator would be on his own this time.
He had no choice but to resign, which, as Lebsock certainly showed, is a far better option than being expelled.
Meanwhile, Sen. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat, also resigned. He wasn’t pushed, I’m told, but the resignation did come after an investigation showed that he had, strangely enough, inappropriately used an unmarked women’s restroom. The humiliation alone would lead most people to resign. And so another issue was put to rest.
That’s not the whole story, of course. Three other lawmakers were accused of various misdeeds last year. Also, Rep. Jovan Melton was asked by Democratic House leadership to resign after news broke of his involvement in two long-ago arrests — one which led to a guilty plea — on charges related to domestic violence. This one grew really ugly, with former Mayor Wellington Webb accusing House leaders of a “Jim Crow double standard.”
Melton also became an issue in the governor’s race. Walker Stapleton called for his resignation, Jared Polis said Melton “really needs to look at himself in the mirror” and decide whether he can capably represent his district. I don’t know if Melton looked in the mirror, but he did continue his run for re-election and was easily voted back in. Do you kick a guy out after the voters, with full knowledge of the issues, re-elect him?
I have no idea what will happen next session, but I do have some idea what Baumgardner’s resignation means in the #MeToo era and what Lebsock’s expulsion means in the #MeToo era: No one will ever be able to say he wasn’t warned.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com
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