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Many In Colorado Are Wondering If #MeToo Has Changed The State's Political World


Allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault have clouded Colorado's state Capitol for the past year. In March, one member of the General Assembly was voted out of office by his peers. But others hung onto their seats even after allegations against them were found credible. Now, one week before Election Day, Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland reports on whether the #MeToo movement has done anything to change Colorado politics. And we should warn listeners this story contains a description of sexually inappropriate behavior.

FAITH WINTER: Hey, how are you doing? My name's Faith. I'm your state representative.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Democratic State Representative Faith Winter is knocking on doors in the northern suburbs of Denver. She's running to unseat a Republican state senator. Democrats are pinning a lot of their hopes on Winter. Republicans only have a slim one-seat majority in the Senate, and Winter could change that.

WINTER: And I hope to earn your vote.

BIRKELAND: And there's something else notable about this campaign. Last year, Winter came to me accusing former Democratic State Representative Steve Lebsock of sexual harassment. That led to an investigation by an outside firm that found the allegations from Winter and four other women credible. Lebsock was removed from office.

WINTER: Coming forward was scary and I risked my career to do it.

BIRKELAND: But she says the issue isn't something voters frequently bring up to her, and her Republican opponent and current State Senator Beth Martinez Humenik says she hears frustration with the way the #MeToo movement's going.

BETH MARTINEZ HUMENIK: Actually, what I have heard is that people are tired of hearing about it, and they think that it's actually affecting the folks that are wanting to bring forth claims to the point where they may not want to because they don't want it played out in the media.

BIRKELAND: On the campaign trail, neither candidate is going out of their way to talk about their role in the #MeToo movement or sexual harassment. Winter voted to expel a member of the House while Martinez Humenik voted to keep a different senator who was accused of sexual harassment, and she stands by that vote.

MARTINEZ HUMENIK: There was too much reasonable doubt and not enough credible evidence there.

BIRKELAND: The senator, Republican Randy Baumgardner, denied the allegations that he grabbed and slapped a staffer's buttocks twice in 2016, yet an investigator found them credible. Days after the expulsion vote failed, mostly along party lines, eight other people's allegations against him were also found credible. Martinez Humenik says she never read the second investigative report. Katerina Birge is the former staffer who filed the first complaint.

KATERINA BIRGE: I think it is considered a settled matter, and I think it's a nonissue to most Coloradans.

BIRKELAND: Birge says she's disappointed that what's happening in Colorado isn't more top of mind for voters who can ultimately hold lawmakers accused of misconduct accountable.

BIRGE: I don't see myself as a movement. I see myself as a person who told the truth and thought what was happening was destructive. Sadly, I don't even want to go back to the Capitol anymore because I've lost faith in the people who run the Capitol.

BIRKELAND: Meanwhile, Coloradans are watching to see if this race will tip the balance of power in the state House next year. For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American PublicMedia'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.

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