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Paul Rosenthal loses re-election bid after sexual harassment allegations in #MeToo era

Democratic state Rep. Paul Rosenthal’s re-election bid came to an end Saturday after the Denver lawmaker failed to qualify for the primary months after allegations of sexual harassment.

The three-term incumbent’s defeat is the first in Colorado for an accused lawmaker amid the #MeToo movement.

A sexual harassment complaint prompted a Democratic primary challenge from two women, Ashley Wheeland and Emily Sirota. The allegations played a role in the vote, according to interviews with delegates, along with Rosenthal’s break from liberal activists on homeless and energy issues.

Colorado State Representative Paul Rosenthal

Courtesy of State of Colorado

Colorado State Representative Paul Rosenthal

“I think this is one of those wave years, where a lot of new folks were getting involved and there was a lot of enthusiasm,” a somber Rosenthal said after the vote. “I think that some of the activists disagree with some of my votes — but that’s what we do at the legislature, sometimes we have to take a difficult vote.”

Wheeland and Sirota qualified for the ballot in a vote by 81 delegates at the House District 9 Democratic assembly and will compete in the June party primary for the southeastern Denver district. The winner is expected to secure the seat in this heavily Democratic territory.

Rosenthal received only 24.7 percent of the assembly vote, below the 30 percent needed to make the ballot. Wheeland won 39.5 percent and Sirota won 35.8 percent.

The unusual primary challenge of an incumbent lawmaker came after Rosenthal was accused in a formal complaint of groping and making unwanted advances toward a young gay man at a 2012 campaign event when he was running for the state House.

The man described in an exclusive Denver Post report how Rosenthal, who is gay, also tried to touch his buttocks and kiss him. Rosenthal denied the charges and said his accuser was lying.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, later dismissed the complaint, apparently because the alleged incident occurred before Rosenthal took office. The dismissal, however, was not a determination of innocence or guilt.

Rosenthal, a former committee vice chairman, also received counseling and apologized to a legislative aide during the 2016 legislative session, The Post reported, after an informal complaint for inappropriate behavior.

But Rosenthal, who will serve out the remainder of his term, rejected the idea that the harassment allegations factored into the vote.

“I heard it quite a bit from folks — even people who did not support me — that they did not think that that was an issue,” he said in an interview at the assembly. “The feedback I got the most was about a bill or a vote that I took and I think that’s kind of what helped motivated some people to vote the way I did today.”

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