Colorado lawmaker switches parties after being ousted as Democrat on sexual misconduct allegations

A Colorado state Democratic lawmaker was expelled Friday amid allegations by female colleagues about sexual harassment or abuse -- but not before switching political parties.

Rep. Steve Lebsock was expelled by a 52-9 vote after five female state House members took their turns at the podium to come forward as victims of sexual harassment or abuse.

Democrat Rep. Faith Winter and four other women accused Lebsock of harassment and intimidation inside the Capitol and at area bars and restaurants.

Lebsock bitterly contested the claims, saying his accusers were lying and accusing an independent investigator of bias in concluding that the claims were credible.

He becomes the second U.S. state lawmaker to be expelled since the #metoo movement emerged last fall. Last month, Arizona state Republican Rep. Don Shooter was expelled over misconduct claims;  a California state senator resigned before colleagues tried to formally expel him amid sexual-misconduct allegations.

Lebsock’s change of party will not end Colorado Democrats’ House majority. State Republicans can name his replacement, but they are purportedly considering passing on that privilege, which gives the task to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Their decision not to name a replacement is said to be related to Lebsock being a Democrat when allegedly committing such abuses.   

Some Colorado GOP lawmakers suggested they vote “no” on Lebsock’s expulsion, considering they received a redacted investigator's report on the matter only a few days earlier.

Others wanted to just censure him or called for a formal legislative panel with subpoena powers to investigate the case. However, many ultimately voted “yes,” citing family experiences of sexual misconduct or having been swayed by the experiences related by colleagues.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle stood out of respect whenever there was testimony about harassment and abuse.

Two successive male representatives told fellow members of the House that they were so worried about tensions stemming from the case against Lebsock that they had taken to wearing bulletproof vests beneath their jackets and ties.

While many Republicans were concerned about what the standard of proof should be for proving sexual-misconduct allegations, some were swayed by a document Lebsock sent to lawmakers intended to defend himself that also included sexual details about his accusers.

They said that amounted to retaliation against those who filed harassment complaints against him, a clear violation of the House's sexual harassment policy and beyond the realm of he-said, she-said.

"At the end of the day it's everything but I think the retaliation piece was a huge part of this because it was a clear violation and it was really egregious and it was something we could touch and see and interpret on our own," Republican Rep. Lang Seas said.

The debate over sexual harassment has engulfed both chambers of Colorado's Legislature. Three Republicans in the GOP-led Senate were accused of misconduct. One has stepped down as chair of a committee, while denying wrongdoing.

Senate President Kevin Grantham held a news conference Thursday to decry Colorado's investigative process, which calls for a confidential, third-party investigation. He called for Denver's district attorney to investigate whether Lebsock had committed any crimes.

However, District Attorney Beth McCann said a complaint must be filed with police before her office could investigate.

“It’s been the honor of my life to serve the people of Colorado, and I was willing to fight this year for the people of Colorado,” he then said. “Members, please remember that we should always strive to do the right thing,” said Lebsock, according to The Denver Post.

Colorado Democratic Party spokesman Eric Walker told the newspaper that: “Republicans can have him. … Either way, we’re confident the district will be represented by a Democrat by the time the next session begins.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.