The #MeToo movement had a promising start to shine a light on sexual harassment in the work place. Unfortunately, it quickly went astray at the Colorado State Capitol, devolving into vengeance rather than justice and as a way to politically weaponize being a woman. It has turned the gold dome into a #MeToo Star Chamber to the detriment of real victims of sexual harassment and assault and threatens the employability of an entire generation of young women.
The current state of harassment hysteria at the Capitol is so bad that we are using taxpayer resources to investigate social interactions, some unintentional, as if they are actual incidents of sexual harassment. Some see harassment around every corner, in every compliment, and in every incidental touch. Male lawmakers better go along or risk being the next one indicted.
I prefer more of a #NotMe approach, which is the result of coming of age in the early eighties. Yes, I’ve been in a situation where I was uncomfortable sexually. One of the greatest lessons I learned from it was how to handle circumstances that inevitably arise because, well, we’re human beings. It’s a basic survival skill.
There is no textbook definition of socially awkward sexual comments or situations, nor should there be, but, ladies, most of us know it when we encounter it. If you don’t, then the larger crime is that the generation of women ahead of you failed to teach you.
A good friend of mine told me once, “I’m a lady, not a prude.” For professional women, those are words to live by. Sanitizing all social interaction in the workplace will take a great deal of joy out of being a working woman. Or worse, women may find themselves unwelcomed in the work place all together.
I bring up my #NotMe mentality in light of the recent Complete Colorado story by Sherrie Peif on the so-called “investigation” into sexual harassment allegations against State Senator Randy Baumgardner (R- Hot Sulfur Springs). This is the second investigation made public in the last week following the release of a report into allegations against Senator Jack Tate (R-Arapahoe County).
A little housekeeping before going any farther. I’m married to State Senator John Cooke (R-Greeley), majority whip and the newly appointed Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. Also, I’m a registered Republican. Yes, I prefer Republicans retain their tenuous one-seat majority in the Senate. It’s also true that I work for the free market Independence Institute (II), an organization that spends almost as much time criticizing Republicans as we do Democrats.
There’s no political love lost between II and any Republican who voted for last year’s controversial SB-267, which blew a hole the size of Colorado in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Don’t believe me? Then ask our Californian of the Year Award winner Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling). Since Baumgardner and Tate voted for SB267, they haven’t escaped our wrath either. We think voters in their districts should hold them accountable.
With all the harassment hysteria, I expected to read how both Senators were the Capitol’s version of Harvey Weinstein. The reality is much different.
Here’s what a reader can glean from the Baumgardner investigation: A staffer for then Democrat Minority Leader Morgan Carroll can’t recall which butt cheek or even if Baumgardner was the one who “grabbed” or “slapped” her bottom nearly two years ago. Witnesses didn’t see it and can’t remember what if anything the staffer told them.
The allegations appear to be more of a function of the layout of the capitol and swarms of people including lobbyists, lawmakers, staff, reporters, and interested parties, jockeying for position in tight spaces than actual sexual harassment.
And, we find out Employers Council’s investigator Amy Travin never bothered to visit the scene of the alleged incident. Then, she incredulously wonders why Baumgardner becomes defensive and can’t imagine that a “somewhat meek” Democrat staffer who admits to “basically running” Carroll’s office in 2016 would have any political motivations. With that, Travin ultimately decides “more likely than not” Baumgardner did what no one has seen or really remembers because Travin believes the Democratic staffer is more credible than he is. Unbelievable.
As I admitted my own bias, it’s also true that Democrats have their own political bias, which obviously could be at play here. But Travin can’t bring herself to acknowledge it. Democrats lost control of the Senate under Morgan Carroll, who is now Democrat state party chair. It was one of her staffer’s that made the complaint against Baumgardner. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Democrats are politically motivated too – unless you are Travin.
The most revealing thing from this document is the desperate need for an entity that can objectively and credibly research allegations; and if this is the incident on which Senate Democrats want to expel Baumgardner, then Fonzie is on his water skis. The #MeToo movement at the Capitol has jumped the shark.
Senate Democrats sexual harassment drumbeat
After days of the Senate Democrats sexual harassment drumbeat, which included Senator Daniel Kagan’s (D-Cherry Hills Village) unnecessary and graphic recitation of the sexual harassment statute and Senator Kerry Donavon’s (D-Vail) tear jerking recount of her own experience, it’s time for Senate Democrats to decide if this nothing-burger document is their #MeToo sword on which they will fall in order to argue for Baumgardner’s expulsion.
There is nothing in the investigation that rises to the level of expulsion. Nothing. Furthermore, Baumgardner should still be the Chairman of the Transportation Committee (I write this as the wife of new Chair).
Calls for removing him from the most important bill of the session, SB18-001 a comprehensive transportation funding package, should be rejected. If lawmakers vote against the bill because Baumgardner’s name is on it, so be it. Let them explain why they voted against millions of Colorado drivers frustrated with inadequate highways and crumbling bridges.
This isn’t justice. It’s the #MeToo Star Chamber demanding a Senate Republican political pelt to hang around its collective neck.
Could #MeToo be the thing that gives the Senate back to the Democrats? I’m sure Carroll hopes so, but it will come at a cost. Overplaying the #MeToo movement could hurt those in the future who risk not being believed or taken seriously.
Are women really this fragile?
I can’t believe how fragile we have become, and my generation of women may be to blame. We haven’t taught young women how to navigate and ultimately gain the upper hand in situations as they arise. If we really want to empower women, we should be teaching a #NotMe mentality rather than the gold dome’s version of #MeToo. If we don’t, we face the possibility of having an entire generation of women who no one will want to employ. And, that’s a high price for a once promising movement.
Amy Cooke is Executive Vice President of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.