Colo. House votes to expel lawmaker accused of harassment

Colo. House votes to expel lawmaker accused of harassment

Colorado’s state House of Representatives voted to expel one of their own on Friday after hours of emotional debate in which several members broke down in tears.

The state House voted 52-9 to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, a third-term Democrat who represents a district north and east of Denver. Lebsock had been accused of harassing five women, including a fellow state legislator, a lobbyist and a former staffer, in 11 separate complaints.

Lebsock has denied the charges, even distributing a dossier that detailed personal information about his accusers. He refused repeated calls to resign his seat.

On Friday, legislators took to the microphones on the state House floor to lay out their reasons for voting for and against expulsion.


The debate grew deeply emotional: One legislator said she had been raped several times. Another said his wife had been raped after she was drugged. Two Democrats who voted to expel Lebsock said they were so fearful of retaliation that they were wearing bullet proof vests.

“What we have here is a systemic culture of harassment, assault. And it’s toxic,” state Rep. Susan Beckman (R) said.

Beckman was one of the mainly Republican legislators who voted against expelling Lebsock. She and others, mostly Republicans, said they were concerned about the process by which the investigation and the debate over expulsion took place.

Most of the legislators who voted in favor cited an independent investigation, which found the allegations against Lebsock credible. Some cited allegations that Lebsock retaliated against one the accusers.

The legislator who accused him, state Rep. Faith Winter (D), told The Hill this week that Lebsock had harassed her during an end-of-session wrap party in 2016.

"He and I had a conversation where he repeatedly asked me to leave the bar with him and described in detail sexual acts we would do. I said no five times," Winter said. "He did not take no, and each time I refused him he became angrier and more agitated, stood closer to me. At that point he grabbed my elbow, I stepped back, and he fell on me."

Winter said she reported the incident to House leadership, and leaders talked to Lebsock about his behavior. He promised to quit drinking and to stop harassing women, Winter said. When reports of his behavior came up again, legislative leaders asked Lebsock to resign, and Winter decided to come forward.

Lebsock is the first sitting legislator to be expelled from the Colorado state House in more than a century. He is the second legislator, after Arizona state Rep. Don Shooter (R), to be expelled following the "Me Too" movement.

Legislators in California, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and Oregon have all resigned their seats after harassment claims were raised against them.

The "Me Too" and "Time’s Up" movements have seen women legislators, lobbyists and staff speaking up about pervasive cultures of harassment in state capitals, spurring rule and policy changes in legislatures across the country. In Colorado, Winter said harassment training is now mandatory every year, and that she expected legislative leaders would back creating an independent office to handle harassment claims.

"Sexual harassment is about power, it's not about sex. And the very nature of our job is to have power and use power," Winter said. "We also don't have a boss. Essentially, the people hold us accountable. It's high cost for victims to come forward, and low consequences for the people that harass."