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A tale of two cultures in sexual harassment claims

As the #MeToo movement continues to gather momentum following liberal icon Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, we’ve been dismayed and discouraged by the difference in which the private sector and elected officials are handling claims of sexual harassment. Most notably, we hope that voters note the double standard.

After The Washington Post published credible accounts about sexual misconduct and harassment on the part of longtime PBS star Charlie Rose, the journalist apologized and found himself out of a job. Yet, as we’ve lamented in recent weeks, the same can hardly be said for Alabama’s Roy Moore. Instead, too many Republicans are giving him the oxygen he needs to stay in his Senate race by arguing allegations of child molestation and improper contact with teenage girls are simply the work of biased Washington Post reporters — or don’t matter because political power is more important to them.

This week, NBC took swift action against Matt Lauer, firing the “Today” morning show personality after a woman who once worked for him told network executives about a 2001 encounter in which he forced himself on her sexually in his office.

But in Washington, Democratic Sen. Al Franken and Rep. John Conyers Jr. remain prepared to fight through ethics reviews to remain in the chamber, despite credible claims of sexual harassment made against them.

Here in Colorado, Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, is fighting credible claims by multiple women that he took advantage of his position to sexually harass them. He’s doing so despite calls from prominent leaders in his party, and from outsiders, our editorial board among them, to resign.

And two women have filed formal sexual harassment allegations against Republican Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate. So far, the conservatives from Hot Sulfur Springs and Centennial, respectively, aren’t apologetic.

Of the two complaints, the one against Baumgardner is the more concerning. According to a report from KUNC’s Bente Birkeland, a former legislative aide says Baumgarder slapped or grabbed her bottom four times over three months during 2016 legislative work hours. The complaint follows credible accounts of a separate woman, intern Megan Creeden, who also is considering filing a formal complaint. Creeden said last month Baumgardner pressured her into drinking with him in his office and made inappropriate comments about her in a crowded Senate committee hearing room. As with Lebsock, we would hope Baumgardner could admit his actions preclude him from public service and step aside.

Allegations against Tate don’t include claims of physical harassment. Rather, he stands accused of leering at a former legislative intern and routinely commenting on her clothing in the last legislative session. A public apology would seem in order, but, as with Baumgardner and Lebsock, Tate has chosen to resist.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that politicians ultimately have no boss to respond to until Election Day, when other considerations can cloud judgment.

Yes, the desire to win political and policy battles is a strong one, but at what price? A future in which even credible claims of wrongdoing are cast aside in the ruthless pursuit of partisan victory is hardly one that best serves the people the system is supposed to represent.

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