Colorado Editorials: No way forward for state Sen. Baumgardner after sexual harassment claims — other than out of the Capitol
No way forward for state Sen. Baumgardner other than out
The way forward is now clear for state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, the latest state lawmaker caught up in a recent wave of sexual harassment allegations at the state Capitol and across the country.
Baumgardner must apologize to the woman or women he abused at the Capitol. He must apologize to his constituents and to his legislative colleagues. He must resign.
Baumgardner is one of a handful of Colorado state legislators recently accused of sexual harassment. He and others were tabbed by men and women who went public last November as politicians and celebrities across the country made dozens of allegations of sexual wrongdoing.
The allegations against Baumgardner, state Rep. Steve Lebsock, state Sen. Jack Tate and state Rep. Paul Rosenthal were begun by KUNC radio reporter Bente Birkeland in a series of reports.
Birkeland again broke a story Thursday that allegations against Baumgardner were deemed “credible” by an outside entity charged with investigating the charges. The Denver Post later reported it had confirmed the news.
Political leaders in the state Senate, apprised of the development, would not comment, citing the state Senate’s restrictive and outdated policy on sexual harassment claims.
It doesn’t matter. The claims have long been made public by a former legislative aide that Baumgardner on more than one occasion grabbed and slapped her buttocks. The accuser has asked to remain anonymous for fear that she would face retribution if the public knew her identity.
Another woman complained to Birkeland that Baumgardner had made highly inappropriate and suggestive comments to her, and others had heard him.
Baumgardner should step down for the same reason we have insisted other legislative abusers step down: The Legislature, and those allowed to serve and work there, must remain above impropriety and even the appearance of impropriety. Baumgardner, who is chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, is damaged goods.
Adults who spank and fondle anyone on “company” time do not exhibit the good judgment required to be stewards of the public’s business. While no other women have so far come forward to accuse Baumgardner of similar assaults, the possibility certainly exists. If his Senate colleagues let him off the hook with an apology and a promise, the very real possibility that he would act to prevent being outed by other past victims becomes an obstacle to his credibility.
Because of what he’s done, Baumgardner cannot lead, and he cannot serve.
Similarly, Rosenthal, accused of trying to lean on a legislative aide to get him a date with her brother, must resign. The allegation is that he became a creepy pest about it. It’s an inappropriate abuse of his position as a lawmaker. Whether Rosenthal was trying to get a date, a free cup of coffee or anything outside the scope of his legislative work, he was clearly abusing his position as an elected official by pressuring “company” employees on “company time.”
Lebsock has shown himself to be a vile and vindictive abuser who has become a real danger to the legislative process by refusing to step down after being outed as an abuser by a host of women. It’s likely state lawmakers will have to force him out after an investigation into allegations against him is complete. He’s made it clear he won’t quit and continues to verbally abuse harassment victim state Rep. Faith Winter.
As for Tate, his case, too, is apparently before the outside Senate investigation team. Should allegations be deemed credible that he was verbally inappropriate and intimidating to an 18-year-old aide, he, too, must go.
With the entire nation paying keen attention to the issue of sexual harassment as part of the (hash)MeToo phenomenon, it’s important for companies and individuals to determine whether abusers should be permitted absolution, and under what circumstances.
At the state Capitol, these offenses are not self-inflicted wounds, such as being outed as drunk drivers, shoplifters or child-support deadbeats. In these four cases, the offenses are committed by and against those integral to the functioning of our state government. The danger to that government created by these abusers’ exploitations never ends, no matter how sincere an apology might be, even if it’s offered.
In addition, men or women who don’t have the sound judgment to see the danger to themselves, our government and the cruelty they inflict on their victims are ill-suited to represent Colorado in any other matter. Their credibility ruined, they simply cannot honorably or effectively represent constituents.
The only way forward for Baumgardner, and those like him, is out.
Aurora Sentinel, Feb. 2
A chance for sanity on fracking
The Colorado Supreme Court’s decision to take up what is popularly known as the Martinez case could produce the high court’s most significant decision since Romer v. Evans 22 years ago. The court came down on the right side of that one. Let’s hope it happens again. It is no exaggeration to say this represents Colorado’s best chance to break the oil and gas industry’s stranglehold on a state once known for environmental protection.
Although the high court’s decision to review an appellate ruling in favor of the original plaintiffs — led by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Boulder-based Earth Guardians — is better news for the industry than letting the appellate ruling stand, it is appropriate that such an important question of law and public policy be decided by the high court. Indeed, the industry has largely ignored the March 2017 ruling by a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals. It has continued to threaten litigation against any community that fails to submit to the industry.
Local governmental jurisdictions have likewise been intimidated from enacting the policies they prefer, chastened by the high court’s 2016 decision striking down Longmont’s fracking ban and Fort Collins’ five-year fracking moratorium. In that case, as we noted at the time, the high court had little choice. Antiquated state law requires the state to “foster” rather than administer or regulate the oil and gas industry. Under the doctrine of state pre-emption, that antediluvian statute trumps local control of land use. The legislative and executive branches of state government, fully captured by the industry thanks to a corrupt campaign finance system, have thwarted all efforts to take the state’s thumb off the scale.
This case is different. The appellate ruling cleared a path to a saner interpretation of state law. It allows local jurisdictions that oppose massive industrial fracking operations to make a case against them based on public safety and environmental protection, which must come first. The ruling would be unlikely to curtail the industry’s operations in localities that do not object on those grounds, which is the case in many areas of the state. But it would give local jurisdictions that don’t want these enormous fracking operations a legal avenue to block or move them based on ample evidence of threats to public safety and the environment.
It is more than symbolic that the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the alleged state regulator that has never denied a drilling permit, is allied with the American Petroleum Institute and Colorado Petroleum Association in its appeal to the Supreme Court. Gov. John Hickenlooper had a chance to turn the state into an honest broker as part of the deal that removed anti-fracking proposals from the 2014 election ballot. Instead, he imposed rules that thwarted the will of a majority of his oil and gas task force, allowing industry participants to block meaningful reform, perhaps the most disgraceful episode of his governorship.
Much has happened since then, and all of it reflects poorly on the governor’s shortsighted protection of an industry that once employed him. Last April 17, a home in Firestone exploded, killing two people and injuring a third. Investigators determined a cut flow line from a nearby Anadarko Petroleum Corp. well caused the explosion. The state took no enforcement action against anybody.
Barely a month later, an Anadarko oil tank exploded in Mead, killing one industry worker and injuring two others. In December, the Denver Post reported at least a dozen fires and explosions along oil and gas pipelines in the eight months between the Firestone explosion and year-end. In January, the Post reported oil and gas spills were up 17 percent in 2017, amounting to nearly a dozen per week.
Meanwhile, the industry pushed forward on massive new fracking projects in close proximity to homes and schools in Boulder and Broomfield counties, industrial developments that would have been prohibited by local land-use regulations if those jurisdictions were allowed to apply them.
In what has become a dystopian annual ritual since Republicans took control of the state senate, Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville proposed a bill last month to give localities the ability to regulate oil and gas development in the same way they regulate all other industrial development, through zoning and land-use policy. In a now-familiar kabuki dance, Republicans killed the bill in committee last week.
Regardless of one’s views on fracking near population centers — now known as “residential fracking” — places like Boulder and Broomfield counties, two of the most spectacular tracts of land on Earth, have objectively sensible reasons to believe that enormous fracking projects will damage thriving economies dependent upon environmental attributes. It is insane that they have had no legal means of protecting their economic and environmental interests against rapacious industrial invaders.
And we haven’t even mentioned climate change. There is no dispute among scientists the governor purports to believe that a large percentage of the Earth’s hydrocarbon reserves must be left in the ground if the planet is to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the goal of the Paris climate accord Hickenlooper claims to support. It seems like common sense that a good place to start in designating reserves to be left in the ground would be localities where the people have made it clear they oppose extraction. Yes, mineral rights issues must be resolved, but they cannot be allowed to trump public safety or survival of the planet.
And so it is left to the high court. Four of the seven justices were appointed by Hickenlooper, six of the seven by Democrats. In most places, that would be a good sign for environmental protection. Given the incestuous relationship between the oil and gas industry and many Colorado politicians of both major parties, it is hard to know whether it is a good sign here.
What we do know is that Appeals Court Judge Terry Fox showed them a way out of corporate capture into the light of sanity. Her opinion on behalf of the appellate majority was based on a knowledge of English grammar, which explains why it escaped the rest of state government for so long. The operative sentence in the statute said the General Assembly declares it is in the public interest to “(f)oster the responsible, balanced development, production, and utilization of the natural resources of oil and gas in the state of Colorado in a manner consistent with protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources.”
The COGCC interpreted that language “as requiring a balance between oil and gas production and public health, safety, and welfare,” the court noted. But Judge Fox pointed out that the adjective “balanced” applies to the nouns it immediately precedes (“development, production, and utilization”). She agreed with the plaintiffs that the phrase governing public health and safety was “in a manner consistent with,” which would make those protections a prerequisite to fracking, not merely competing interests to be balanced with it.
The court concluded the law has been misinterpreted grammatically by the COGCC for years, to the benefit of the industry. This should come as no surprise. Wouldn’t it be delightful if poor sentence structure and an appellate reminder about the role of the adjective in English grammar required the Supreme Court to give the people of Colorado the rights they should have had all along? We await its decision hopefully.
(Boulder) Daily Camera, Feb. 3
Third cop murder in Colorado means something is wrong
Gunmen have murdered six police officers throughout the U.S. since Dec. 31, including the killing of El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick in Colorado Springs on Monday.
Something is seriously wrong in Colorado. Three of the country’s past six police officer murders have been along the Front Range, in three counties that make up only 0.46 percent of the country’s population.
The men leave behind wives, children, friends and a law enforcement community that has come under siege.
A suspect shot Flick, three other local officers, and a civilian during a vehicle theft investigation. It was three days after officers from Colorado and neighboring states participated in the funeral procession of 31-year-old Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm.
Five-year Deputy Scott Stone, shot in the abdomen Monday, remained in fair and stable condition Tuesday at Memorial Hospital. Shrapnel hit Sgt. Jake Abendschan, a 16-year veteran, whom a hospital released Monday. Also released from that hospital was Colorado Springs police detective Marcus Yanez, who was shot in the groin.
The suspect died at the scene.
We cannot imagine what the families of our law enforcers go through each time a new shift begins, sending loved ones into the country’s most hostile environment for police officers this year.
“With the recent loss of now three deputies and many others injured, there’s no denying the grave impact this sequence of shootings is having on our state,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday.
“We will once more come together to provide sympathy and strength for the deputy’s loved ones and pray for the recovery of those injured; however, we also must come together and say enough is enough.”
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder said Monday’ shootings come in the midst of diminishing appreciation for law enforcement.
“This is a tough business,” Elder said. “Unfortunately, in the past few years there has been a lack of respect for the men and women that are there to protect our communities, and frankly it just shocks me, it shocks my staff, it shocks the leadership of public safety throughout the country… It’s got to end.”
It’s got to end, but no one is sure how.
Hickenlooper understands the magnitude of this spate of murders and should call for a special investigation into all associated circumstances.
We need to know what, if anything, these killings have in common. Were drugs and/or alcohol involved? Were guns obtained in violation of state and federal laws? Is mental illness a factor? Why is the state’s violent crime rate rising, creating more risk for law enforcement? We need a comprehensive forensic investigation into everything in the mix. We need information.
Meanwhile, the public cannot do enough to show appreciation and respect for the men and women of law enforcement. In schools and in homes, adults should educate children about the important role of first responders in keeping them safe and free.
When their lives are in danger, Colorado’s first responders never hesitate to put on the badge and answer our calls — while their families sacrifice, worry and wait for another shift to end.
The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, Feb. 7
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