Colorado women: “We can do it!” 125 years leading the way on women’s suffrage, equal rights

Thursday, March 8, 2018 5:08 PM

It is during the month of March, designated as Women’s History Month, that women’s achievements are commemorated across the nation. For Colorado women, there is much to celebrate. To date, 152 women from all over the state have been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame. Morley Ballantine, former chairman and editor of The Durango Herald, is the only Southwest Colorado woman to have earned this honor, so far. Perhaps women like Patsy Brown, (see Journal, Feb. 26 and Rebecca Levy’s letter) could be next?

Colorado women have accomplished a lot, including, in 1893 with the support of its men, becoming the first state in the union to empower women with the right to vote, 27 years before Congress ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting that same right to all women nationwide. True, Wyoming afforded women the right to vote in 1869, but at the time, they were a territory and did not become a state until 1890.

So, the distinction is Colorado’s to claim and perhaps why, at 38 percent, we stand out as fourth in the nation of having the most women serving in the state Legislature, just behind Arizona and Vermont at 40 percent and Nevada at 39.7 percent.

Colorado women have been in the business of governing for a long time. Yet, despite Colorado ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972, women still have a ways to go to be free from discrimination, to earn equal pay and, among other things, to be free from sexual harassment in the workplace.

It goes without saying, of course, but as with the #MeToo movement and the spate of sexual harassment allegations have made clear nationwide, sexual harassment is endemic (and perhaps an epidemic) in our culture and society, as well as at our own state Capitol.

Last Friday, the House voted on the expulsion of Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, over allegations by five women that included 10 accusations of sexual harassment and one count of retaliation.

Though Rep. Lebsock denied each allegation, an independent investigation by an outside agency found the accusations to be credible. It is the first time since 1915 that a vote was called to expel a legislator.

Only members of the House voted, and two-thirds, 44 of its 65 members, needed to vote for Lebsock to lose his seat. The final 52-9 vote in favor of expulsion shared what should be a bipartisan sentiment: There is no place for sexual harassment in the workplace, including, and especially, at the state Capitol. Serving in elected office demands maintaining the public’s trust. A workplace where co-workers feel unsafe, that their job may be at risk or they may face retaliation for speaking up against this type of behavior should not be tolerated.

Rep. Marc Catlin (R-Montrose) was not in the Capitol at the time and did not vote. In the end, 52 of 61 House representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, with their vote said, “We do not treat one another this way.”

They sent a positive message to Colorado women, and all victims of sexual harassment.