As you may have noticed, the #MeToo movement has marched into the state legislature and doesn’t seem ready to leave any time soon.
As I write this, there have been five recent cases — that we know of. There may be more. We have no idea because according to the legislative rules, such as they are, they can’t tell us. Or won’t tell us. It’s not really clear.
What is clear is that we have a problem here. There are 100 legislators, 62 of them male, and five cases. You can do the math. It’s a very big number. Or let’s just put it this way — over the past few months, at least one of every 12 males tasked with writing the laws for our state has been accused of sexual harassment.
This is a crisis.
The question is whether the legislature understands that. And, at this point, it’s not clear at all.
To put this right, there needs to be more disclosure, there needs to be more accountability, there needs to be more urgency. There needs to be action.
There are two reasons we even know about these cases. The first is the people who have stepped forward in what is fast becoming the #MeToo tradition, in which one revelation is followed by another, in which one story is heard and often believed and is followed by another story heard and often believed. It’s remarkable how the dynamic has begun to shift in such a short time.
And the second is the great reporting done by KUNC’s Bente Birkeland, who has owned this story from the start. Birkeland just broke the story of the fifth case, in which state Rep. Susan Lontine accused Sen. Larry Crowder of harassment — of pinching her buttocks and making a lewd remark — and a third-party investigator has substantiated the claims.
Lontine made the complaint in November but came forward this week, she said, because after a ruling that her allegations were “more likely than not” to be true, she wanted an apology from Crowder. She got one, but Lontine felt it was insincere and felt that Senate President Kevin Grantham hadn’t taken sufficient action.
Grantham, a Republican, is now under attack from a few sides. Sixteen of the 17 Democrats in the Senate have demanded that Senate Republican Randy Baumgarder resign. This follows another third-party investigation, in which accusations that Baumgardner had repeatedly slapped and grabbed the buttocks of a legislative aide during the 2016 session were found credible.
The report came weeks ago, and, as far as we know, Grantham has done nothing. Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman has said she dropped out of the disciplinary process because of the inaction. Grantham tells The Denver Post that Guzman’s decision prevents a bipartisan resolution. And there we are.
One problem, there is no settled disciplinary system. Another problem, there is no system of disclosure. Two Democrats in the House have been stripped of their chairmanships — one of them, Steve Lebsock, has been asked by leadership to resign. Three Senate Republicans have, as far as we know, received no punishment.
Disclosure is the key here. I’m a fan of great reporting, but we can’t just depend on Birkeland breaking stories that should be publicly released.
As Jeff Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, told me, “In a regular workplace, in a case like this, the boss would handle it, and that would be that. In this case, we’re the bosses of the people we’ve elected, If we don’t have the information about people who work for us, how are we going to be informed when it’s time to vote?”
All the laws that now seem a little confusing were, in most cases, written to protect the accuser (which, of course, would stay in place) but also the offender, which has to be changed. Due process is important, but so are the results of that due process. And we know how gets this changed. The legislature passes a bill; the governor signs it. I think I learned that in seventh-grade civics class.
To see the problems with non-disclosure, all you have to do is turn on your favorite, non-Fox cable news network to see the story of Rob Porter, the top White House aide who was accused by two ex-wives and one former girlfriend of physical and emotional abuse. You’ve probably seen the picture of the black eye. It took that photograph, for which Porter seems to have no alternative explanation, to force his resignation.
On Friday, in his first remarks about Porter, Donald Trump said it was “a very sad” time and “tough time” for Porter and that “I certainly wish him well.” He added: “He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well.”
No mention of the three women who stepped forward. No mention of the abuse. No mention of the black eye. No mention of how long it took for this to come to light. Only that Porter says he’s innocent, in much the way, it should be pointed out, that Trump insists he’s innocent. And that Trump hopes it all works out for the wife beater.
The lesson here is easy to understand, and it’s one that every Colorado legislator must take to heart. The #MeToo movement can’t survive on its own. The people who are finally listening now have to act in support of those who are finally being heard.
Mike Littwin is a longtime Colorado journalist and a columnist for The Colorado Independent. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column can be found at http://www.coloradoindependent.com.