DENVER – Tempers flared in the state House of Representatives this week as Democrats pushed through a pair of resolutions aimed to send a message to the Trump administration regarding Colorado values.
House Joint Resolution 1013 called for a rescission of Trump’s immigration ban, and House Resolution 1005 reaffirmed Democratic support for reproductive rights.
“We are hearing about those things constantly right now. The emotions outside the building, the fear, are very, very high and we felt it was worthwhile as state legislators to be making a statement as elected officials,” said House Majority Leader KC Becker, D-Boulder.
But motives from both sides were questioned, and accusations leveled that legislators’ time should be devoted to resolving Colorado issues instead of being wasted on politicking.
“If they have issues and they want to fix them, they can run a bill and go through the process, but this is just partisan gamesmanship,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Franktown.
But for the Democrats who sponsored and supported the resolutions, they represent an opportunity to voice the concerns of their constituents and make a stand for their rights in the face of threats from the GOP in the federal government and at the state Capitol.
“They’re always saying they’re about liberty and the Constitution, well, only when it pertains to the rights that they want. Everybody else – they’re good about destroying their constitutional rights to reproductive choice for example, and I think that we need to call a spade a spade when we have too,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.
In many ways, the resolutions, which are presented to the whole chamber, are more impactful than rallies or news conferences because you aren’t just preaching to the choir, Becker said. “This actually allows for discussion and debate.”
But the debate can devolve into mudslinging, which many Republicans felt happened on Tuesday when the Democrats took a stand on immigration.
“Some of the comments that were made were just so outlandish, and quite frankly out of line,” Neville said.
This led representatives from both parties to make statements trying to bridge the divide
Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, said, “These are tough issues, but folks, let’s not call out and personalize because we differ on some of these issues.”
On the Democratic side, Rep. Johnathan Singer, D-Longmont, said, “I heard some things from my side of the aisle today (Tuesday) that were awfully close to something I’m very concerned about in this body, and that’s that we do not impugn each other’s motives.”
The political displays have spilled into the streets and onto the western steps of the Capitol in the past two weeks in the form of rallies for women’s rights and in support of the Affordable Care Act and the Colorado Health Exchange, and a protest of the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
For the Democrats, that represents a display of solidarity in the face of a threat to many of the values they hold precious.
“People are shocked in terms of what’s happened in our country. Americans are good people, and America is something we treasure, and we are not going to let the America we know, we’ve strived for, be belittled and worn down to a place where it’s a country of inclusivity for a few and not all,” said Senate Minority Leader Lucía Guzmán, D-Denver.
The sentiment was echoed in the House.
“Trump is forging a new attitude that is not inclusive, is not one that seeks input and analysis, and that’s dangerous, and I think we have a responsibility to be speaking out,” Becker said.
Republicans, in the House at least, believe the fears are overblown.
“I think you’re seeing a bit of some fear-mongering coming from the other side as a way to try to get in the way of any advancements that the president actually wants to do to improve people’s lives, but that’s all that it is, is fear-mongering,” Neville said.
Regardless, both sides agree the concern comes from activity at the federal level and it is influencing politics in Colorado.
Gov. John Hickenlooper told the media on Wednesday that he is worried about what is going on at the nation’s Capitol and how it is influencing the General Assembly.
“I’m concerned about the tenor of debate that’s coming out of Washington on a lot of levels,” Hickenlooper said. “I think there’s a level of fear that we hear from people from other countries or other religions that feel their children are being bullied in school, that there’s a level of anger and unacceptance.
“We’ve got some really difficult issues to find common ground on in Colorado, and having the model in Washington be so divisive isn’t going to help.”
The fear and concern can be hard to leave at the door, especially for the passionate people who are drawn to politics, Becker said.
“We do hold ourselves to a high standard of debate, and I’m proud of Colorado because of that. But that doesn’t mean we are not going to be zealous advocates,” she said. “We will absolutely be zealous advocates for the values we as a caucus, and I think we as a state, hold.”
But at the end of the day, there are Colorado issues that must be resolved by lawmakers before the Legislative session closes in May.
“People elected you to lead on the issues that matter to them. They also elect you to get the day-to-day work done of the General Assembly,” Becker said.
On Thursday, Democrats attempted to move past the tension that developed earlier in the week by putting forth a mock resolution that touched on hot button issues for both parties, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, gay marriage and the need to grow the government and raise taxes.
“Doing the mock motion (Thursday) was really trying to take the hot air out of the room and reach out in a funny and friendly way across the aisle,” Becker said.
With Legislation regarding abortion, Second Amendment rights and the need to find a funding mechanism to address the transportation infrastructure across the state yet to come, it remains to be seen if partisan tensions will subside after Thursday’s outreach by Democrats.