The Colorado House voted Friday to expel a Democratic state legislator faced with complaints of sexual harassment filed by five women, including a Democratic colleague.
Elected in 2012, state Rep. Steve Lebsock was ousted in a 52-9 vote after an emotional six-hour floor debate, then made the stunning announcement that he had changed his party registration from Democrat to Republican immediately before the vote.
I changed party affiliation at 3:02pm. As I walked down to speak for the last time, approx. 4pm, I handed the minority leader a document with affiliation change. Nothing was planned. He did not know about party change before. #copolitics
— Steve Lebsock (@RepLebsock) March 3, 2018
The switch was apparently made so that the vacancy would be filled by a Republican rather than a Democrat — Democrats had led the charge to remove him from office — although Colorado Democratic Party officials were confident they would ultimately regain the Thornton seat.
“As far as Lebsock goes, the Republicans can have him. As far as the seat, we’re looking into it. Either way, we’re confident the district will be represented by a Democrat by the time the next session begins,” said the party in a statement.
Mr. Lebsock became the first Colorado legislator to be expelled in more than 100 years and the second state lawmaker expelled this year over sexual-misconduct allegations in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
Last month, the Arizona House voted 56-3 to expel Republican state Rep. Don Shooter after an investigation found he had made “unwelcome sexualized comments” to a number of women.
At least 14 legislators in 10 states have stepped down in the last year after being accused of sexual harassment, according to the Associated Press.
A week ago, California state Sen. Tony Mendoza, a Democrat, resigned rather than face an expulsion vote over “a pattern of unwelcome flirtation and sexually suggestive behavior towards several female staff members” and other women, according to the investigation.
In Colorado, Democratic state Rep. Faith Winter filed a complaint in November against Mr. Lebsock, saying he touched her inappropriately and pursued her aggressively for sex as lawmakers gathered at a bar to celebrate the end of the legislative session in May 2016.
“I said no, five times. Five times. Not once, not twice, five times,” said Ms. Winter in her floor statement on Colorado Politics. “I used all the tools women have to say no. I laughed it off, I told him to go home to his girlfriend, I said no directly. Nothing worked. Each time I said no he became angrier, he stood closer, he stood over me. I felt unsafe.”
Two Democratic state legislators said they were so worried about retaliation from Mr. Lebsock that they began wearing bulletproof vests to work several weeks ago.
Mr. Lebsock fought the sexual-misconduct accusations, releasing the results of a polygraph that he passed and describing some of the allegations as exaggerated or false. He has also argued that his case has not received due process.
“Our investigations in this body should be held at the very highest standard,” said Mr. Lebsock before the vote. “This investigation has been anything but a highest standard. In fact it’s been the lowest of standards.”
The state constitution holds that, “The person appointed to bill the vacancy shall be a member of the same political party, if any, as the person whose termination of membership in the general assembly created the vacancy.”
Democrats held a 37-28 majority in the state House, meaning that having Mr. Lebsock’s seat flip to Republican would not affect the balance of power.
This story was based in part on wire-service reports.