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.
In one example, Grantham, a Republican, told the media that Sen. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, acted improperly, although an investigation into allegations against Kagan had not yet begun. But when sexual harassment allegations against three Republican senators were found credible, Grantham did not say if his colleagues had acted inappropriately and has instead called the independent investigations flawed.
In another example, Grantham scolded a nonpartisan Senate staffer for sharing his allegations of workplace harassment with the press, but defended the right of a Republican senator to do the same thing when she alleged harassment.
“Some people will perceive bias and unfair treatment,” said Jennifer Drobac, a law professor at Indiana University and a national expert on sexual harassment.
The Kagan Complaint
Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, accused Kagan of wrongfully using an unmarked restroom designated for female staff and legislators. Many Capitol watchers have taken to calling the controversy “Bathroomgate.”
Earlier in day before the complaint was filed – March 19, 2018 – Grantham told reporters of Kagan: “this individual is known to frequent, habitually, the women’s restroom.”
Grantham added, “You want to talk about an uncomfortable workplace environment or whatever that terminology is. You have people that don’t feel safe going in there without going in with somebody else.”
Kagan admitted to being in the bathroom once but said it was a mistake, and he denied doing it multiple times.
Under the General Assembly’s workplace harassment policy, Grantham has the power to hire an outside firm to investigate the complaint against Kagan. Grantham oversees the process and determines if punishments are merited.
“I think it’s important for the integrity of all processes moving forward that someone, especially in a leadership position not prejudge what the outcome could be before there’s an outcome,” said Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia. “So I think for this reason [Grantham] should recuse himself from that process and allow the process to be without bias.”
When asked if he would recuse himself, Grantham said: “I will just have to look into that.”
He wouldn't be the first to do so. Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran recused herself from the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Rep. Steve Lebsock. Duran faced a backlash when she said Lebsock should “do the right thing and resign” after we reported on sexual harassment allegations against him. Some said she didn’t give Lebsock due process. Duran was also criticized for previously promoting Lebsock, then a Democrat, to a committee chairmanship when she knew of concerns about his past behavior.
First Amendment Questions
Grantham was also unhappy that a nonpartisan male staffer spoke to the press about a harassment complaint filed on Feb. 22. The staffer accused Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, of creating a hostile workplace, alleging repeated unwanted advances towards a female coworker.
“A staff member went to the media first and absolutely broke the rules as we all agree to live by,” Grantham said. He added that he thought speaking to the media should be a last resort and said the staffer was “trying to create a media storm out of it, so that’s a little bit upsetting.”
Yet a month later, when Martinez Humenik filed her complaint against Kagan, she came to us with the story and Grantham did not say she broke any rules.
“I think like many accusers and complainants she has availed herself of the press, like many of them have,” Grantham said. “It’s a fine line and that’s why I’m not speaking about it now because a complaint was filed.”
That leaves the staffer, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job, feeling like there’s a double standard.
“We did exactly the same thing but I’m breaking the rules and in her case it’s a fine line,” the staffer said. “I feel like I’m being targeted for going to the press.”
Some critics, like Erin Hottenstein, with the group Colorado 50-50, which seeks to elect more women to office, find Grantham’s remarks unsettling.
“President Grantham is treating a member of his own party a certain way and treating a staffer who made a complaint against someone in his own party a different way, and that kind of inconsistency really shouldn’t be happening,” said Hottenstein. “It makes the process look partisan and it really shouldn’t be partisan at all.”
Lack of Consequences
Others note the lack of teeth Grantham has put into backing the findings of investigations. A report dated Jan. 31 found it more likely than not that Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, leered and acted flirtatious with a former intern. Tate has not yet faced any consequences.
A complaint against Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, said it’s more likely than not that he pinched a colleague’s buttocks and made an inappropriate sexual comment. The accuser said she didn’t get the sincere apology she asked for and expected.
But the harshest criticism has been Grantham’s handling of the findings against Baumgardner. The senator said he voluntarily stepped down as a chairman of one of his committees and agreed to attend sensitivity training. Still, Democrats have said that’s not good enough because Baumgardner allegedly grabbed and slapped a former legislative aide’s buttocks multiple times.
“This only becomes a commentary on all of us if we stay silent and do nothing,” said Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, on the Senate floor March 15. “Continued inaction, as if nothing has happened, does not give confidence to others to come forward.”
For weeks, Senate Democrats have conducted speeches, voicing their support for the #MeToo movement or by telling their own #MeToo stories. At the heart of Democrats’ message is a call on Grantham to introduce their resolution calling for the expulsion of Baumgardner, who still faces two unresolved harassment investigations.
Some have found the speeches empowering while others have said certain speeches have been overly graphic and inappropriate. All three Republican senators – Baumgardner, Tate and Crowder – have maintained they’ve done nothing wrong.
Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.