Colorado politics

This year's governor's race is like no other in Colorado history -- at least in terms of money. The $29 million contributed so far to candidates shatters prior records. A large chunk of that money comes from millionaires, spending big in hopes of being elected to a job that pays $90,000 a year.

"There actually are no limits to what an individual can contribute to their own campaign," said Steve Bouey, a manager with the elections division of the Secretary of State's Office.

A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers kicked off an anti-gerrymandering campaign this month. They want to take redistricting decisions out of the hands of state legislators and put it into the hands of twelve voters.

A Republican House leader is facing a backlash from his own caucus for sponsoring a bill that would allow law enforcement and family members to get a court order to temporarily remove a person’s guns if that person poses a danger. The so-called "red flag" measure cleared the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday night along party lines.

Crowded fields -- especially in the race for governor -- narrowed considerably after Colorado's Democratic and Republican state assemblies on Saturday, April 14.

A 235-page report from an outside consultant says the culture at Colorado’s state capitol is unhealthy -- and the system in place to detect and deter harassment is not working. It contains about two dozen recommendations on how to improve the culture and strengthen policies to deter workplace harassment – which means legislative leaders have a lot to wade through and some tough decisions ahead.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Brian Eason of the Associated Press and John Frank with the Denver Post about how lawmakers might use the information to make changes.

For the third time in state history, Colorado lawmakers voted on whether or not to expel one of their peers. The effort failed. In a battle over #MeToo, respectfulness, fairness and principles, Republicans defeated a Democratic resolution to oust Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, despite an independent investigation that found allegations of sexual harassment against him credible.

The 17-17 vote went along party lines with one exception: Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, voted for expulsion. Sen. Cheri Jahn, an unaffiliated member, voted with Republicans. Baumgardner abstained.

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Passing a balanced budget is the only thing Colorado lawmakers are required to do during the annual 120-day legislative session. A strong economy means there is more general fund money to spend on priority items including roads and schools. The 'long bill' as its known has cleared the Democratic-controlled House and now goes to the Senate which is controlled by Republicans.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said in a letter that sexual harassment allegations by a former intern against Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, do not amount to sexual harassment.

“I have determined that corrective action based on this complaint is unwarranted, and that this investigation is therefore concluded,” stated Grantham.  He noted that Tate has participated in a mandatory sexual harassment training for legislators and staff, and a voluntary seminar with the Majority Caucus. 

Senate President Kevin Grantham is under scrutiny  for his handling of harassment complaints. Critics say he’s been inconsistent, even partisan, and they question his ability to be fair and help make the Capitol’s culture more professional.

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For the second year in a row, Colorado lawmakers are working on a way to provide funding for the states roadways. In 2017 it was a proposed tax measure that failed. This time around it’s a bonding plan that would lock the state into annual payments coming from the general fund. This is where Democrats and Republicans disagree on the plan.

It has been nearly two months since an independent investigator with the Employer’s Council concluded and found the accuser to be credible in allegations of sexual harassment against Sen. Jack Tate.

Weeks later, there have been no consequences as a result and the accuser said she wants to know why.

So she says she now wants to make the investigator’s report public (PDF), which is allowed under the General Assembly’s workplace harassment policy, in hopes it will spur action.

Colorado’s public pension system needs more money to remain viable. The Public Employees Retirement Association, or PERA, is the retirement benefit for teachers and other public employees. Right now, it’s only 58 percent funded. Senate Bill 200 is starting its journey through the legislature and it will need bipartisan support if it is going to pass.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Brian Eason of the Denver Post and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal about the bill, and what’s at stake.

More than 100 Senate staff, aides and interns have been warned against speaking to journalists about workplace issues, including sexual harassment, and the trainings aimed at preventing it.

At issue are two emails obtained from Senate sources that say it is a violation of the chamber's policies for workers to grant interviews to reporters. A third email, sent directly to us by the top Senate administrator, asked us to tell members of other news organizations not to approach aides and interns for interviews, but rather to speak with communications secretaries. We didn't act on that request because it's not our role to direct the reporting of other news organizations. 

Democrats are harshly criticizing state Senate President Kevin Grantham, saying he’s preventing lawmakers accused of sexual harassment from being held accountable. Grantham has countered by saying that sexual harassment is a “cancer” that must be rooted out and that any lawmaker convicted of a crime should be expelled. But that answer hasn't satisfied Democrats.

In a nonbinding straw poll, Democrats gave Cary Kennedy a decisive victory in caucuses for Colorado governor. She took 50 percent of the vote. Congressman Jared Polis came in second with 33 percent and former state senator Mike Johnston finished a distant third with 8 percent.

The leader of Colorado’s Senate said that last week’s historic decision in the House to expel a legislator amid sexual harassment allegations would have no bearing on how similar cases in the Senate are resolved. Senate President Kevin Grantham said the House made a tough decision to remove a fellow legislator from the Capitol.

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It was a dramatic and at times tearful day at Colorado’s Capitol as member after member of the House made statements for and against the removal of a fellow legislator. In the end, the chamber voted 52-9 to oust Rep. Steve Lebsock, who had been accused by five women of sexual harassment and retaliation. Those allegations were “more likely than not” to have occurred, an investigation concluded early this week.

Tensions were high at Colorado's Capitol Thursday as Democrats and Republicans discussed whether to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, who has staunchly denied allegations of sexual harassment.

The independent Employers Council, which has been tasked with investigating several state lawmakers accused of sexual harassment, is defending its work. The lawmakers -- accused of misconduct by colleagues, Capitol workers, interns and aides -- have criticized the council’s efforts to get to the bottom of allegations. Some have even raised the question of bias. Amid this, and efforts to oust a lawmaker over allegations, two investigations in the Senate are now being handled by a new firm that declined to comment on its methods.

(Updated at 4:47 p.m.) Saying a report has confirmed multiple allegations of sexual harassment, Democrats in Colorado’s House of Representatives have moved to expel one of their own -- Rep. Steve Lebsock. It is an unprecedented move as Senate Republicans who have faced confirmed reports of sexual harassment at the Capitol continue to serve.

Colorado’s Capitol, like 28 other statehouses across the country, has security checkpoints at public entrances. There are metal detectors that visitors and lobbyists must pass through under the watchful eyes of State Patrol officers, who are there to protect everyone in the building and keep illegal guns and other weapons out. But for some, the security is too much.

Lawmakers inside the capitol are grappling with how to put more money into transportation, a priority for both parties. Now, the issue will be debated statewide because of a group of statewide ballot proposals. Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland talked to Brian Eason with the Denver Post and Marianne Goodland with Colorado Politics about the chances of passage – and what it means for the current legislative session.

A complaint alleging that Sen. Jack Tate harassed a woman at the state Capitol has been found credible. The woman, a former intern, alleged that Tate flirted with her and touched her in an elevator in an unwelcome manner during the 2017 legislative session. The former intern was 18 years old at the time, and has asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. 

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, who is facing calls to resign in the wake of sexual harassment allegations, has been named in a new complaint at the state Capitol. The accuser, a man who worked as a non-partisan Senate staffer in 2016, alleges that Baumgardner created an offensive and hostile work environment.

Colorado lawmakers are working on several high priority issues including human trafficking, updating a driver’s license program for undocumented immigrants and responding to the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Jesse Aaron Paul of the Denver Post and Marianne Goodland with ColoradoPolitics about the issues they are covering under the gold dome.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner said he will no longer serve as chairman of a powerful committee in the wake of formal complaints of sexual harassment. He said he volunteered to do so in a conversation with Senate President Kevin Grantham to help put a controversy behind him that has been simmering since November.   

“This is painful for me to do so in many ways because I’ve worked on these issues for years," Baumgardner said, as he announced he would no longer lead the Transportation Committee. "I think it’s probably one of the best things I can do."

Sen. Randy Baumgardner is now facing a second formal sexual harassment complaint at the Colorado Capitol. Megan Creeden, who served as an intern for another lawmaker, said she filed the complaint "hoping it will trigger something to happen."

An earlier investigation into allegations against the Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs concluded that “it appears more likely than not that Baumgardner grabbed and slapped a legislative aide’s buttocks four times during the 2016 legislative session.” 

Funding for Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission and the Division of Civil Rights is uncertain following a vote in the legislature Thursday, Feb. 8. The Joint Budget Committee deadlocked in a 3-3 vote – which effectively shuts off funding to the agencies starting July 1. Gov. John Hickenlooper criticized the decision, saying it “sends the wrong message to Coloradans and businesses looking to move here.”

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics and Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal about the politics behind the vote, and how it may impact other business at the capitol.

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, is the latest lawmaker to be named publicly in allegations of sexual misconduct.

Colorado Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman said she does not want to be involved in any process that would determine potential disciplinary actions against Sen. Randy Baumgardner for sexual harassment. This follows a public effort by her fellow Democrats who urged in a letter that she be a part of that process.

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