Breaking News
More () »

The journalist who first reported on alleged sexual harassment within Colorado's capitol

It's entirely possible that we wouldn't have discussed the alleged sexual harassment within Colorado's capitol had it not been for Bente Birkeland, and the women who trusted her to share their stories.
KUNC reporter Bente Birkeland interviews Democratic State Rep. Joe Salazar.

For the first time in 103 years, state lawmakers expelled one of their own members.

Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, is now simply Steve Lebsock, Thornton resident, after being voted out of office 52-9 on Friday.

What happened on Friday really started in November, when KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio reporter Bente Birkeland first published a story detailing sexual harassment allegations against the now-former lawmaker.

"It’s definitely cast a cloud on the building," Birkeland said. "I think everyone’s aware of it and it’s been tough."

After Friday’s historic vote, Birkeland recalled a conversation with a source.

"One source texted me and said, 'This doesn’t feel like much of a victory,' but then she also conceded that ‘not holding someone accountable would have been a huge defeat and could have created a chilling effect on other people watching.'"

Birkeland, a 10-year veteran reporter at the Colorado State House, said she never would have imagined she would still be reporting on this issue months later.

"I really thought this would be a piece I'd turn around in a few days," Birkeland said. “A lot of times I'm covering bills. I'm covering policy. I didn't set out to do some big expose on what’s happening at the Capitol."

She had heard rumblings of sexual harassment inside other state houses and decided she should take a look at what the culture is like under Colorado's gold dome.

"I just thought, 'Hey, I should do my due diligence and at least ask around,'" she said.

She spoke with a lot of people around the Capitol and "Lebsock" was a name that came up right away.

RELATED: Investigation: Lebsock's statements not 'credible'

"People don't want to talk about this personally or professionally." Birkeland continues, "There's a lot of fear that 'A, it won't be worth it. Nothing will change. Someone won't be held accountable.' And then, 'B, this fear of retaliation,' which national experts I’ve talked to is a real fear and actually happens, a good part of the time people do come forward.”

Birkeland believes it’s too early to know what the long-term change will be.

"A lot of people want to make some significant changes. There's a new HR person and how that person will fit into the grand scheme of things, it’s a little early to say," Birkeland said. “But, I think that we will see some steps toward some changes by the end of this session."

RELATED: In January, Bente took over the Next anchor chair to discuss what, if anything, will change at the capitol. Watch that interview here.

Before You Leave, Check This Out