It seems like just about every Colorado political pundit and elected official has gotten it wrong about embattled Aurora state Rep. Jovan Melton having to resign over a domestic violence scandal.
Melton should absolutely step down — but not because of the allegations against him.
As just about everyone in the entire world has heard endlessly during the past year or so, we’re a country of laws and rules. It’s true.
At the state Capitol, the rules have recently been really loose as to what creates a “fire-able” offense as a state lawmaker. Republicans say you’re welcome to remain a state lawmaker if you spank and harass females who work at the Legislature, or if you tell teenage interns to “come up and see me some time” for some personal career advice.
That really happened during the last legislative session. Fellow Republicans were not only cool with it, they huffily defended it.
The Sentinel and many others called for GOP state senators Jack Tate and Randy Baumgardner to resign their posts because their cases of sexual harassment had been adjudicated under the rules of the Senate. An independent investigator had determined that accusations against them were grounded and more likely than not to have occurred. Neither admitted their offenses and certainly never apologized for them. Neither resigned.
That’s not the case with Melton. First of all, a group of prominent black and minority political leaders were absolutely right to point out Thursday that Melton’s criminal incidents occurred before he was ever elected, which bought another Democratic state lawmaker a pass earlier this year. State Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, was accused of sexually harassing a campaign worker, before he was elected. Dems dismissed the claim because of the timing.
Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and a handful of other minority leaders dubbed calls for Melton’s resignation by fellow Democrats and others as a ‘political lynching.’
It’s not. It’s easy to see that Melton would be in the exact same mess he’s in now if he were white, or even female. Instead, it’s about forgetting that we are a nation of laws, and that we work under the rule of law, as Republicans are so fond of pointing out.
The #MeToo scandals involving Republican state senators were adjudicated under the rules of the Senate, and they were found guilty of committing serious sexual harassment — as working senators.
Melton, too, was convicted: of harassment, in one case from 1999, and of nothing, in another case in 2008, before he became a state lawmaker. The Denver Post launched the story after learning of past police records.
In the first case, when Melton was 20, he and his girlfriend became embroiled in a disturbing fight that escalated into some form of physical contact. The female victim, Melton’s former girlfriend and fellow student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said Melton was abusive and physically violent. A police report from the incident, however, did not substantiate the victim’s claims. Melton was convicted of harassment, not assault, and the victim was awarded a no-contact order.
Eight years later during a separate incident, allegations of domestic violence during some kind of traffic altercation, with a woman who is now Melton’s wife, resulted in dismissed charges, according to police and court records. His wife recently said there was at no time anything violent about the incident.
Is Melton’s harassment crime as a 20-year-old college student unforgivable and fodder for public shaming and giving him the sack? Under the rule of law, the second allegation essentially didn’t happen. And the first allegation was never substantiated by trained police. So, no, it’s not.
Republicans smelling political blood in the fiasco are hypocritical in excoriating Melton and Dem leaders on this case when they act the exact same way. Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton was arrested in 1999 for drunken driving and was accused of hit-and-run. The DUI charges stuck, and the hit-and-run charges were dropped. Republicans have long said it’s no big deal, and that Stapleton should be judged on how he was convicted, not how he was accused. Drunken driving is one thing. Hit-and-run is something altogether different.
I would hope that, as a country, we don’t officially act on what we think has happened, rather than what the evidence say what’s happened. That’s how too many political leaders handle the issue of climate change, believing what they want instead of what we know.
Now if Melton’s critics want to re-investigate the 1999 incident, that’s a different story.
But Webb and other critics of the rush to demand Melton resign, because of the nature of the incidents, are absolutely right to scold fellow Democrats for racing to judgment. Given that one current state lawmaker has been able to continue to serve after receiving a drunken driving conviction, and others have been allowed to “overcome” a bevy of assorted transgressions, the fast call for Melton to step aside makes no sense, based on the time and tenor of Melton’s adjudicated offenses.
Melton should, however, absolutely resign — because he hid his criminal record from voters. That’s the unforgivable transgression Melton committed and is a fire-able offense under the current rule of law — the unwritten law of political ethics.
Melton knew his criminal past would be a deal breaker with voters, so he decided to remain silent about it, hoping what happened this week never would.
I never cease to marvel over what people think they can get away with as public officials and keep hidden. This is one of those cases. I get it that people deceive themselves thinking that they’ll never get caught. Had it not been for the diligence of the Denver Post in checking the backgrounds of candidates recently, Melton might have gotten away with it. I’m incensed by someone so arrogant that they think they should be able to run for public office without being honest with voters about something so critical as criminal domestic violence allegations.
Would voters have elected him in 2012 had Melton shared all this with voters during his first campaign? I doubt it. Conservatives may have no problem with violent male candidates beating up other guys, as was the case two years ago in Montana with now Senator Greg Gianforte, who beat up a reporter. But nobody’s cool with domestic violence and men getting physical with women. If he really did it, it’s a character flaw Melton might have been able to rise above as an accountant or engineer, but not as an elected official.
Since Melton decided, however, to hide his past and explain this under pressure, days before voters decide his fate, he’s made this his own undoing.
The level of dishonesty here is unforgivable for an elected official, destroying all credibility. Melton should resign.
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