Mike Littwin: Jovan Melton’s defenders go on the offensive, and an ugly story gets even uglier
Fair and Unbalanced
I had House Majority Leader K.C. Becker on the line when the tweets began rolling in from the Wellington Webb-led news conference, meaning I had to break the news to her that the former Denver mayor was accusing Becker, House Speaker Crisanta Duran and other House leaders of, well, racism.
Becker took it pretty well, calling the news “unfortunate.” I took it a little further, calling it “absurd.”
Webb called the news conference in defense of state Rep. Jovan Melton, who had been asked by House leadership and Democratic Party chair Morgan Carroll to resign his seat over two long-ago arrests — one which led to a guilty plea — related to domestic violence against different women. Melton, born in Denver in 1979, is running for his fourth term in the House and is currently the House Majority Deputy Whip. He’s also vice chair of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus.
Webb accused Democratic House leaders of a “Jim Crow double standard” in their treatment of Melton, who is African American and who has denied “any allegations that suggest any violence against the women involved.”
Bishop Acen Phillips called it a “21st-century lynching of a black man.”
In other words, they were accusing fellow Democrats of racism three weeks before the November elections, noting that Democrats had long taken the black vote for granted. It wasn’t quite a threat — the black leaders pointed out they were still calling for everyone to vote — but it was definitely a warning.
”That’s very unfortunate,” Becker said when I read her the quotes. “I hope no one sees this as a proxy for a fight between #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.”
You can argue whether Melton should be forced to resign for a 20-year-old conviction — Melton said he won’t resign, and House leadership has said that it was entirely his decision — but calling it racist makes no sense, unless your goal is to be willfully provocative just for the sake of being provocative. You can argue — with little risk of disagreement — that Democrats often take black votes for granted. But let’s also concede that no thinking Democrat is interested in offending black voters in the run-up to an election.
When the House leaders released their statement asking for Melton to resign, they made sure to note that “the criminal justice system has not worked for far too many people of color and survivors.” But when race and gender and politics are mixed, no one can be surprised by the coming explosion.
In making his not exactly air-tight case, Webb noted that sexual harassment charges against Rep. Paul Rosenthal had not been investigated because they took place before he ran for office. And that no one had called for Rep. Dan Pabon to resign after his DUI arrest. And there is the complication in the case of expelled Rep. Steve Lebsock, who had been promoted to a committee chairmanship before the accusations against him were made public.
The Melton situation was complicated enough before Webb stepped in — and before it became an issue, at least briefly, in the governor’s race.
For those catching up, Walker Stapleton, who had no trouble with Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court, said Melton should resign. And Jared Polis, after first saying he believes in redemption, said Melton “really needs to look himself in the mirror and ask if he can continue to be an effective representative for the people of his district. … I agree with Speaker (Crisanta) Duran and with Majority Leader Becker that he should take a serious look at resigning.”
The voters get to decide on Melton, and in a heavily Democratic district of Aurora, they will almost certainly return him to office. And as for losing the confidence of his colleagues, well, no one has taken a poll of the statehouse.
I also think it’s fair to say if Melton’s past had come to light, say, five years ago, that this would not be the same issue it is today in the #MeToo era. That’s why the question of whether Melton should resign is not simply a political question. Becker was telling me it was “a very tough issue, especially if you believe, as I do, in an individual’s right to a second chance.”
In a statement following the call for his resignation, Melton said he was “both embarrassed and heartbroken to be reminded of my immaturity all those years ago.” But he also denied committing any violence.
And that’s where it became tough for Becker. “I said I believe the women, that I stand with survivors, but that I wanted to hear him out.
“He told us none of this ever happened, even though he had pleaded guilty. I told him not to put us in a position where he’s asking us to believe that these women had lied.”
The first case occurred in 1999 when Melton was a 20-year-old student at CU-Boulder. He pleaded guilty to harassment and received a 12-month deferred sentence. The Denver Post, which broke the story, cited the police report showing the woman accusing him of grabbing her “around the throat” and forcing her onto the couch. A neighbor called the police, who didn’t find any marks on her.
A roommate also told police that night there were “at least three to five” previous instances of violence. Later, the woman went to a judge, whom she told that Melton had twice sexually assaulted her and had broken her tailbone in two places. The judge granted her a permanent restraining order against Melton.
In the second case, nine years later, Melton was in the car with a then-girlfriend. As they were having an argument, the woman crashed the car into a guardrail. She told police that she lost control of the car when he hit her. The charge was later dropped when the woman changed her story, and the woman told The Post that Melton was not violent.
So, questions. In these cases, there are always questions. Should Melton resign? Shouldn’t he be given a chance at redemption? Has he taken responsibility for his actions? Rep. Faith Winter, whose accusations against Lebsock played a key role in the Colorado #MeToo movement, said of Melton, “I believe in second chances and room for growth. Unfortunately that growth cannot happen until responsibility is taken. It’s my hope that Rep. Melton takes full responsibility for his actions and starts to repair relationships with his colleagues and constituents.”
And another question: Wasn’t it all along ago? Well, it was just last March that Rep. Donald Valdez took to the House floor to accuse Melton of bullying him after they got into an argument over a bill. Valdez would say that he considered calling for Melton to be expelled.
In any case, Melton says he’s not going anywhere. And, months before a new session of the legislature begins, it looks as if the #MeToo movement, so much in the news at the Capitol last session, isn’t going away either.
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.
It’s almost time to ring in the new year and if your holiday schedule is shaping up to be as packed as mine, I wish you a well-deserved rest in 2024. In the meantime, it’s our chance to party, and party we shall.