#MeToo in State Government


with State Representative Faith Winter, D-Colo.


Dec 31, 2018

A recent study found that 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men had experienced some form of sexual harassment during their lifetime.

Faith Winter, Colorado state representative, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss how the Colorado legislature is working to change the capitol’s harassment policy.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: According to Pew Research Center, the #MeToo hashtag was used more than 19 million times on Twitter throughout the first year of the campaign -- a movement aimed at raising awareness about the prevalence of sexual misconduct. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers," I´m Tetiana Anderson. At the state level, select legislators are taking action against sexual misconduct. Joining me is Colorado State Representative Faith Winter. She is an honoree of Governing magazine´s 2018 Public Officials of the Year. Representative Winter, thank you for joining me.

Winter: Thanks for having me here today.

Anderson: So, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct -- something that hits very close to home for you. You made allegations against another representative at the time. But even after you made that public admonition, you had concerns. What was it that worried you so?

Winter: When originally I came forward, it was only to leadership. I just wanted the behavior to stop. And what I had said is, "As long as the behavior stops, we´re done." And so he said he would stop drinking, he´d get counseling, and it wouldn´t happen again. But I made a promise at that time that if it did happen again, I was going to be the first to come forward. And unfortunately, in November of last year, I found out that he had harassed interns, aides, lobbyists. And for our democracy to work, we need everyone to feel comfortable in having their voice in that building. And I knew that it rested on me to come forward to stop this behavior.

Anderson: So, we know that that representative was later voted out by an overwhelming majority. How crucial was it then that you shared your personal story? I mean, was that really the catalyst for that, even though he had a history of bad behavior?

Winter: It was a catalyst, because everyone was scared to come forward. And I knew, coming forward, I would face months of retaliation, which I did. He wrote a 28-page manifesto against me and the other women that came forward publicly. He created an awful YouTube video against me. But even through that retaliation, it was my truth and my story that kept me strong. And going into the day of the expulsion, we didn´t have the votes. And I was the first person to speak, and I told my story. And then we started reading the stories of the other women that were harassed by this person. And then people started sharing their stories, just of their experience in the capitol. And it was one of those rare moments in democracy where we actually changed hearts and minds through the use of storytelling that day.

Anderson: So, the focus now in Colorado is to sort of change the whole culture of sexual harassment in the workplace. But what´s being done specifically to address it in the halls of government?

Winter: So, we need to change culture and policy. I think we´ve moved a great deal forward in changing culture, just in the fact that women are willing to talk about our experiences. And then, in terms of policy, before, for a complaint to be registered, you had to go to leadership of a party. And that automatically politicized the complaint. Now, we have an independent person that runs human resources. We have an independent person to go through complaints. We have an independent investigation procedure. And so in the last year, we have taken fantastic steps forward in making sure that complaints coming forward against a legislator aren´t political. They´re really about a nonpartisan, independent process.

Anderson: How important do you think it is that women really sort of have a seat at the table -- whether it´s in government, whether it´s on corporate boards, whether it´s in powerful positions in academia -- when it comes to giving voice and really stopping issues like sexual harassment?

Winter: It´s extremely important. We know that our best ideas come when we have a diversity of backgrounds, a diversity of views, a diversity of experiences at the table. I´ve been recruiting women to run for office for the past 14 years. And I´ve served in office since I was 27. When I was young, we were having a conversation with a city council that was very much older than I was. And we were deciding who to appoint to boards and commissions. And there was this phenomenal woman who was very qualified for the Planning Commission, but she was pregnant. And one older man said, "I don´t know if we can appoint her. She´s pregnant." And another one said, "Yeah, I don´t know if she´s going to have the time." And I had said, "Well, first of all, it´s illegal we´re having this conversation. Second, women can use their uterus and their brains at the same time." And no one would have brought that up, if I wasn´t at the table. And that´s one very easy reason that shows we need more women at the table, we need a diversity of backgrounds and voices at the table, because that´s what our states and countries needs, right now.

Anderson: Colorado State Representative Faith Winter, thank you so much for being here.

Winter: Thanks for having me.

Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Tetiana Anderson.

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