State Senate Republicans turned a search for justice for women sexually harassed and accosted by state legislators into a farce Tuesday.
Months after two women publicly accused state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Sulphur Springs, of sexual harassment, and weeks after an independent report backed the allegations of a legislative aide who filed a formal complaint, Republican State Senate President Kevin Grantham, finally responded to calls for action.
It was, at best, one of the most astonishing exhibitions of political tone deafness ever to ring out in the State Capitol. More likely, it was an ill-conceived scheme to diminish or dismiss allegations against Baumgardner, which, as told, border on assault. Grantham issued a scathing letter to the press, in which he tries to undermine the investigation conducted by an outside human relations consultant, without ever offering any details or explanation as to why he denounced the process. Then Grantham issued an edict that he considers “the matter closed.”
During an even more embarrassing press conference, Baumgardner denied that he’d ever done anything wrong. Yet he issued a tepid apology to his accusers. He announced he would remove himself as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. He complained about how hard it has been to be accused of spanking a legislative aide and not being able to offer an explanation, making himself out to be a victim. Then he refused to take questions on the matter.
“I want to stress something at this point that the allegations made against me in this complaint are not true,” he said.
He gave no explanation as to why he would step down from one of three leadership positions he holds if he’s innocent.
The allegations came from a legislative aide, who, according to stories first made public by KUNC reporter Bente Birkland, said Baumgardner slapped and touched the aide’s buttocks on four occasions in an unwelcome, sexual and intimidating manner.
It boggles the mind that Baumgardner or Grantham could see any variation of this complaint as anything but egregious sexual harassment — unless the alleged victim was lying about the entire thing.
If, indeed, Baumgardner is the victim here of a scheme to undermine him by fabricating serious charges of borderline sex-assault, then the public, and law enforcement, need to be apprised of that immediately. Extorting a public official is a felony.
While the public hasn’t seen the secret investigative report, that scenario seems highly unlikely.
What Tuesday’s cavalcade of conundrums revealed is that neither Baumgardner nor Grantham see the seriousness of Baumgardner’s offense. They were both clearly put out by an unwelcome obligation to assuage those who see sexual harassment at the Capitol as a significant problem.
It begs the question how two political leaders could watch similar scenarios unfold recently in Congress, in Hollywood, in businesses across the country and still handle this problem as inept and insensitive male chauvinists.
Baumgardner has sullied not only his own reputation and credibility, but he’s now joined with Grantham to taint the image of the Colorado Legislature as being a frat house for grown-ups where state senators caught spanking legislative aides can get away with it.
Beyond embarrassing, it seriously undermines the credibility of the important work the Legislature does.
Baumgardner should either offer credible proof of his allegations that his accuser is a liar, or that the investigation was rigged, or he should offer a meaningful apology and resign from the state Senate.
Grantham has shown he hasn’t the temperament, the understanding nor the ethical temerity to lead the Senate chamber. He should step down as president now.
These two have made a laughing stock of the Colorado Legislature and done real damage to the progress made by the #MeToo wave that has swept the nation.
While women at the Capitol had great hope that, finally, the era of sexual harassment and humiliating, intimidating frat-boy antics has finally ended, Baumgardner and Grantham have made it clear that as long as they’re around and in charge, they’re going to have to continue to watch their backs, and their backsides.