Fearful Of Fellow Legislator, Colo. Lawmakers Began Wearing Kevlar At State Capitol
Colorado state law permits lawmakers to carry concealed weapons at the state Capitol because it's their place of business.
But as a tense and tumultuous period at the Colorado House of Representatives drew to a close, two state representatives revealed that they had started wearing bulletproof vests while at the Capitol – worried they might be shot by one of their fellow Democratic lawmakers.
On Friday, legislators voted 52-9 to expel Rep. Steve Lebsock, who is accused of sexually harassing or intimidating at least nine legislators, staffers and lobbyists, as NPR member station KUNC first reported in November.
And as the vote on Lebsock's fate approached, two legislators who had been vocal in advocating for the accusers began taking additional steps to protect themselves.
"I bought a bulletproof vest," Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett told the chamber on Friday, tearing up. "And I'm wearing it. It's right here."
He patted his chest.
"I'm wearing Kevlar," he said. "Because I fear for retaliation. I am in the chamber of the House of Representatives, and I'm wearing a bulletproof vest because I fear retaliation for telling the truth and standing up for victims of sexual harassment. I've been wearing it for three weeks."
Garnett, a Democrat, told The Denver Post that he was specifically worried about the potential for violence from Lebsock, whom he said had threatened to "take [him] down.' "
He said he had stopped buttoning his shirt up or tying his tie before getting to work.
"Because once I get in here I have to put on my bulletproof vest, because my wife doesn't want to see me put it on," Garnett explained. "So I walk into my office. There's a sign that says 'Harassment Free.' And I put on my bulletproof vest. And I button up my shirt and I go into the members' bathroom and I tie my tie."
Rep. Matt Gray, also a Democrat, told the chamber he had started wearing one of the vests, too.
"I put mine on in the parking garage so my kids don't have to see and I don't have to explain to them what it is," he said.
The Post reports that Lebsock cried as he replied to hearing about the vests.
"Members," he said. "I am an honorably discharged Marine Corps veteran. And if someone walked in here — members, you would have had me here to protect you. Even the ones that don't like me. I'm just hoping you know that."
A Republican member of the House, Lori Saine, told KUNC's Bente Birkeland recently that many in her party's caucus carry concealed guns in the Capitol, which she said makes her feel secure.
But Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer told KUNC he thought guns in the Capitol were a bad idea.
"When you enter a government building, when there are heated vigorous debates and people are on edge, sleep deprived and — you know, let's be honest — there are people in this building who are drinking, that is a deadly mix," said Singer.
Democratic Rep. Faith Winter was the first to file an official complaint of misconduct against Lebsock, whom she says made aggressive and angry unwanted sexual advances toward her at a party celebrating the end of the 2016 legislative session. She decided to come forward with the allegations after learning that other women said they'd experienced similar harassment from Lebsock, suggesting a pattern of behavior.
"The women in the building are going to be believed," Winter told Colorado Public Radio after the vote to expel Lebsock. "They felt that their voices were heard and valued, and I think it's going to change the culture there."
Though some Republicans argued that expulsion was a "nuclear option" that appropriated the will of the voters, many members shared emotional stories of harassment, abuse, or rape that they or their loved ones have experienced.
Lebsock, who is still a candidate for state treasurer, left the chamber after his expulsion. Only later did members learn that minutes before his departure, he changed his affiliation to Republican – making it possible for the GOP to fill his now-vacant seat.
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