David Zalubowski, The Associated Press State Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton listens during debate last Friday over whether to expel him from the Colorado legislature after five women accused him of sexual misconduct. Lebsock was ousted in a 52-9 vote.
Colorado Republicans said Friday that they will choose a replacement for former state Rep. Steve Lebsock, who last week switched his party affiliation to the GOP just before he was expelled from the House of Representatives over sexual harassment accusations.
The former Democrat was ejected from the legislature on a 52-9 vote.
That gave the GOP the option of convening a vacancy committee to select the ex-Thornton lawmaker’s replacement. They also could have punted the decision to Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“Statute clearly assigns our vacancy committee the authority and responsibility to fill this seat,” Colorado Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hays said in a written statement. “After careful consideration, we concluded it would be dereliction of duty to punt the appointment to … Hickenlooper. We owe it to the people of House District 34 to give them the experience of ethical representation, which the Democrats, when they controlled the seat, signally failed to provide.”
Hays says the party’s decision to select Lebsock’s successor was influenced by his contention that Democratic leadership in the House kept the allegations against Lebsock a secret when they first surfaced in the spring of 2016.
“Without the cover-up, it’s highly unlikely the Democratic nominee, Lebsock, would have won re-election in November 2016. If voters had known what Democratic leadership knew, they would have roundly rejected Lebsock,” Hays said in the statement. “We won’t reward the Democrats’ bad behavior by allowing them to choose the replacement for a representative who won his seat in November 2016 only thank to their cover-up.”
House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, has defended her handling of the allegations against Lebsock, which surfaced after fellow Rep. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, came forward with a complaint nearly two years ago. At the time, Winter asked that the situation be handled internally, but went public in November with her accusations after finding out there were other accusers.
Duran has said if she had known all along about the breadth of the complaints against Lebsock, she would have acted differently.
Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, made a failed call for an investigation into Duran on March 2 as the House was debating whether to expel Lebsock. Last fall, Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Fountain, went so far as to accuse Duran of putting lawmakers at risk.
Republicans, who announced the move Friday, must next form a committee and have until roughly April 1 to pick Lebsock’s successor.
Democrats hold the House majority, and a Republican taking Lebsock’s spot won’t change that. The former representative had been siding with the GOP this legislative session on many issues.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the Colorado Democratic Party is going to challenge the move. Democrats have said regardless of what happens to Lebsock’s seat, they are confident the post will be in their hands come 2019, following November’s election.
The GOP says its vacancy committee will meet later this month to pick a replacement.
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This is a developing story.