Editorial: Baumgardner deserves due process
Ever since allegations of sexual harassment against Colorado State Sen. Randy Baumgardner surfaced in November, the call for his resignation has been gaining traction, and, after an official, third-party investigation determined in early February that it was “more likely than not” these allegations are credible, this call has only intensified.
In mid-February, at least two Colorado newspapers — The Denver Post and Steamboat Today — penned editorials calling for Baumgardner’s resignation.
As much as we respect these fine publications, and even though we can see the reasoning behind their calls for Baumgardner’s resignation, we are not yet ready to unreservedly add our voices to them.
Let us be clear about a couple of things from the start.
First, sexual harassment and assault are reprehensible under any circumstances, and we in no way condone such behavior. Quite the contrary, we condemn it in the harshest possible terms. There is no excuse or justification for anyone to force his or her unwanted attentions on another. Even worse is when such behavior comes from someone in a position of power — an employer, a teacher, a youth leader, an elected official; anyone who would leverage a position of authority to victimize those subject to that authority is beneath contempt.
Second, we admire and salute the brave individuals who — many of them through the #MeToo movement — have found the courage to step forward and hold such people to account. Instances of sexual harassment and assault — particularly those involving people in power — have for too long been whitewashed, sanitized and pushed into the shadows. It’s high time that those who think they live above the rules of civilized, respectful behavior are shown the error of that belief.
Third, there is compelling evidence to suggest Baumgardner may, indeed, be guilty of these allegations: multiple victims, the findings of the third-party investigation, Baumgardner’s subsequent resignation as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee — all these facts work to support the case against the senator.
And finally — and despite public perception to the contrary — false allegations of sexual misconduct are exceedingly rare and are almost always exposed as such.
But even in light of all the foregoing facts, the overriding fact is this: Calling for the resignation of a duly elected official requires more than compelling evidence; in our view, it requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Such proof, in our estimation, has not yet been presented. It may well exist, and if it does, we would be the first to call for Baumgardner’s resignation.
Our concern is this: In our righteous and understandable zeal to hold to account those odious individuals who victimize others, we risk blurring the line that separates allegations from facts, and, in so doing, we imperil the basic tenet that undergirds our entire judicial system: The accused must be presumed innocent until they have been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
It is unfortunate our state legislature doesn’t have a system by which members who have been accused of misconduct may be placed on administrative leave until such accusations have been fully investigated and either confirmed or discredited. But in the absence of such a system, we feel it is fundamentally unfair — both to the accused and the accusers — to proceed on the strength of allegations alone and fail to exercise the due diligence required to arrive at the unvarnished truth.
As we write these words, we have learned that Republicans in the Colorado State Legislature are calling for sweeping changes in the way allegations of sexual misconduct are treated, including launching criminal investigations into such allegations by members of the Colorado legislature.
We wholeheartedly support this move. Such allegations should be subject to criminal investigation, and those found guilty of such should be appropriately punished.
But only after due process has been observed.
Our purpose is not to defend Sen. Baumgardner; rather, it is to defend the rights of the accused under our justice system. Everyone is entitled to a fair hearing, and if we deny anyone that right, we deny everyone that right.
So, as we said at the start, we are not yet ready to join the call for Sen. Baumgardner’s resignation, but we do have a message we address directly to the senator:
Sen. Baumgardner, only a few people know for a certainty whether these allegations against you are true, and you, sir, are among them. If you can look in the mirror and honestly say the allegations are false, we encourage you to stand and fight. Expose them for what they are. Defend yourself to the end.
If, on the other hand, you know, in privacy of your own heart and conscience, that they are true — that you really did what these individuals say you did — we encourage you to do the right thing, the noble thing, the responsible thing:
Admit it, apologize, and step down.