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State Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, applauds during the opening session of the 2017 Colorado Legislature at the Capitol in Denver. Guzman stepped down as minority leader on Thursday, March 22, 2018, citing frustration with majority Republicans’ handling of workplace harassment allegations. Brennan Linsley / AP Photo

‘I Feel Freer.’ Sen. Guzman Talks About Her Decision to Step Down as Minority Leader

In an interview with 5280, Guzman said that she lost faith that a deal struck between Senate President Kevin Grantham and the Democratic Caucus over the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Randy Baumgardner would be honored.

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The sexual harassment scandals that have rocked the Colorado State Capitol in recent months continue to cast a shadow on the legislative session, as a Friday deadline approaches on an alleged deal for an accused Senator to resign.

In a surprising move, Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) stepped down from her role as the Senate Minority Leader late last week over the Republican Party’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against three of its senators—Sens. Randy Baumgardner (Hot Sulphur Springs), Jack Tate (Centennial), and Larry Crowder (Alamosa)—along with a new complaint that Republicans filed against a Democratic senator.

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Guzman, who was elected to the Senate in 2010 and is term-limited, told 5280 that she lost faith that Republican leaders will satisfactorily resolve the issue. (All three senators deny the sexual harassment allegations.) “If I can’t look these guys clearly in their eyes and believe that I can work with them, then I should not hold this position,” she said. Guzman was replaced by Sen. Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo), and will take on his role as Assistant Senate Minority Leader.

Guzman points to an alleged deal between the 16-member Democratic Caucus and Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City), in which he promised that Baumgardner (Hot Sulphur Springs) would resign from his role no later than March 30 if the Caucus wouldn’t pursue resolutions to expel Tate and Crowder.

Three individuals have accused Baumgardner of sexual harassment, including a legislative aide who claimed that the Senator slapped and grabbed her buttocks four times in 2016. (Two other allegations against Baumgardner are still under investigation.) Weeks after an external investigator—the Employers Council, which conducts about 150 investigations a year in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona—deemed her allegations to be credible, Grantham announced that Baumgardner would voluntarily step down as Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and take sensitivity training, while retaining his other leadership positions. Senate Democrats said the disciplinary action was insufficient, and in February submitted a resolution to expel Baumgardner. Since then, Democrats have made daily speeches calling for Grantham to introduce the resolution. He has until April 12 to do so, which would be avoided if Baumgardner resigns.

Guzman alleges that Grantham called her to his office a couple of weeks ago to offer this deal, which she took to the Democratic caucus. The Dems reportedly agreed that harassment charges against Sens. Tate and Crowder did not merit expulsion. “I didn’t have to convince them that there didn’t need to be another resolution, but I did have to convince them that we needed to trust [Grantham],” Guzman said. “I got the caucus to agree because I was so sure that he was really going to bring this about.” Since that time, Baumgardner has not publicly indicated any willingness to resign.

On Thursday, Grantham wrote a letter to Tate concluding the investigation into a claim that he sexually harassed an intern by stating that there was no misconduct. Although an investigative report by the Employer’s Council found that the intern’s claims were credible, Grantham said he reached a different conclusion. “There was no definitive determination that the policy was violated,” he said.

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Grantham confirmed that he had a meeting with Guzman to discuss ways to resolve the outstanding issues of sexual harassment in the Senate, but said he couldn’t provide details because of confidentiality issues. “I discussed many things with her on many matters,” said Grantham. “The general gist was how do we move on so we can actually conduct the business of the state.”

Guzman stepped down from the three-person leadership team tasked with deciding penalties for Baumgardner in February. Grantham said if the Democrats wanted a different outcome, she should have participated in the process. “Colorado Senate Democrats had the opportunity to be a part of the decision process,” Grantham said in a statement. “Their leadership withdrew from that process.”

Guzman said she left the committee because Grantham allegedly told her in a private conversation that he had already decided to side with Baumgardner. “He let me know that he did not believe Baumgardner was guilty and he did not believe in the report,” Guzman said. “He’d already made his decision and I felt like, damn, that was a red flag.” With that in mind, she said she decided to leave the committee so that any leniency toward Baumgardner would not appear to be a bipartisan decision.

Grantham disputes Guzman’s account. “The reality is the decision-making process was still ongoing when she removed herself,” Grantham said. Asked about Guzman’s allegation that he decided to believe Baumgardner before the disciplinary process concluded, Grantham added: “I’ll be very clear: That was never said, and I never made up my mind on anything.”

Grantham added that he had concerns over “inaccuracies, bias, conflicts of interest, and inconsistencies” in the final report on Baumgardner, which he has since shared publicly, that could have been misunderstood by Guzman. “I probably shared those concerns with the minority leader and she possibly took those as conclusions even though they were never intended to be conclusions,” he said.

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Guzman said that she had dinner with Republican Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker and told him why she decided to leave the committee. While Holbert did not answer 5280’s request for comment, Grantham said Guzman never explained to him why she stepped down. “Withdrawing herself from the process did not help move things along,” Grantham said. “In fact, it probably only slowed things down.”

All that aside, Guzman says the tipping point for her resignation came when news broke last week that Republicans had filed a complaint against Democratic Sen. Daniel Kagan (D-Cherry Hills Village) for accidentally using a women’s restroom in 2017. Guzman alleges that Republicans are falsely attacking Kagan to deflect attention from the charges against Baumgardner.

Guzman said she felt “betrayed” by the action against Kagan, and lost faith that Grantham would honor their deal on Baumgardner. “I feel like I can only work with my colleagues across the aisle on the basis of truth,” she said. “Maybe they are going to do this resignation on the 30th. I don’t think so.”

On Monday, the investigative report into Baumgardner’s actions was leaked to a conservative website, despite the accuser’s wish for it to remain private, further complicating matters.

As the alleged deadline for Baumgardner’s resignation approaches, it’s clear that the months-long fight has taken a toll on the Senate leadership, its 35 members, and the chamber’s ability to pass important legislation in the final weeks of the 2018 session. Republicans currently hold a one-seat majority in the Senate, making compromise critical to pass important policy initiatives.

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Guzman says freeing herself from an obligation to collaborate now enables her to be a truth teller: “I feel freer. I don’t have to keep secrets and I don’t have to worry about what my role with the president is,” she said. She believes the only way to reform the culture in the Statehouse is for Democrats to win back the Senate in November. To that end, she plans to train new leaders in her caucus and campaign for Democratic candidates running for the Senate.

“This was not done as a quitter,” says Guzman of her decision to step down. “It was done as someone who wanted to reignite the powerful spirit of who we are as Democrats.”

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