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The kumbaya moment didn’t last long.
After a period in which Colorado politicians both at the statehouse and in D.C. set aside partisan loyalties — or, at least, professed to — as they responded to the coronavirus outbreak, we saw a stark turnaround this week.
Perhaps the most significant item on which some partisans have begun disagreeing is the matter of stay-at-home orders, and all they portend for individuals, the economy and public health.
Colorado’s governor, Democrat Jared Polis, clearly was reluctant to order the statewide shutdown that he eventually did issue yesterday. (More on that here.) In the days leading up to that order, we heard from a number of mostly Democratic officials, from mayors to council members to state lawmakers, pushing the governor in interviews and on social media to take bold action either regionally or across Colorado.
Meanwhile, some Republicans — including a couple who’d praised Polis for his leadership in the crisis — warned that ordering people to stay indoors, and businesses to shutter temporarily, amounted to tyranny. One of the top GOP officials in the legislature went as far as to compare officials issuing stay-home orders to the Gestapo.
At the statehouse, there’s another significant battle that’s being fought entirely on party lines, and that will play out in court in the coming days and perhaps weeks. State politics reporter Saja Hindi has more on that in today’s newsletter.
And on the federal politics beat, Justin Wingerter checks in on U.S. Rep. Ken Buck’s leadership in conservative messaging on the coronavirus response.
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As Coloradans look forward to a day when they can again dine out, they can also look forward to taking Fido or Fluffy with them. Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law this week that will allow dogs on restaurant patios — with the OK of restaurants and local governments.
Capitol Diary • By Saja Hindi
Session pause turns partisan
The Colorado General Assembly is now waiting for the state Supreme Court to make a decision: Do lawmakers have to meet for 120 consecutive days during the legislative session — this year’s was set to end May 6 — or can they take a break for a coronavirus closure and then finish off the remaining 50-plus days when they get back?
On March 13, Colorado Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said the motivation to put this question to the court wasn’t a political one, and that his party didn’t seek to run down the session clock in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. He said he simply wanted clarity.
What a surprise it is, then, that in a brief submitted to the court this week, all of Colorado’s 40 Republican lawmakers signed on to say that the 120 days of the session should be consecutive and that the legislature should have to adjourn May 6. That happens to be the scenario that would make it hardest on Democrats, both practically and politically, to advance their agenda this year.
“In November 1988, the People of Colorado overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to limit their state legislature to no more than 120 general session days each year, with each session ending on a date certain,” Holbert said in a statement. “That literally means that legislative days must be counted consecutively.”
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, said extending the session would set a dangerous precedent.
House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, on the other hand, accused her conservative colleagues of playing politics.
“With their brief, Republican lawmakers are recklessly using a global pandemic to jeopardize our ability to carry out our constitutional requirements and responsibilities,” she said in a statement.
Capitol Democrats and the Democratic governor and attorney general argued that lawmakers can suspend their session during a public health emergency without those days counting against their 120. If the Supreme Court disagrees, they’ll have to quickly prioritize the budget and bills related to the public health crisis. It’s unclear what, if anything, else could get done, either during the regular session or a special session that the governor could call.
Said Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo: “What Coloradans need right now is for us to focus on the immediate wellbeing of their loved ones and their livelihoods. What they do not need us to do is abandon all of the work they elected us to accomplish on their behalf.”
The General Assembly was halted until March 30, but lawmakers are expected to return to the Capitol on Monday to extend the closure — TBD for how long — just days after the governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order set to last at least through April 11.
More Colorado political news
- Coloradans are now ordered to stay at home due to the pandemic. What does that mean?
- Governor signs bill abolishing death penalty and commutes death row sentences.
- Immigration officers can no longer make civil arrests at courthouses.
- Colorado’s working class is anxious and afraid.
- Colorado Latino community’s access to coronavirus information and care is a concern right now.
#COSen 2020 • By Justin Wingerter
Republicans push back
Last week, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck objected to the statewide and nationwide trend of closing businesses to stop the spread of coronavirus in an interview with The Post.
It was a turning point of sorts. Before that, there was nearly unanimous, bipartisan agreement that the unprecedented closures were needed in this unprecedented time. Few in public office seemed to doubt them or were willing to criticize their political opponents over them.
Since then, Buck’s position has gained traction not only in Colorado but at the White House, where Trump has begun to criticize business closures. We’re nearing a point where Buck’s and Trump’s closures-are-worse-than-the-virus argument is the standard conservative position.
“The Denver mayor has unilaterally dictated which businesses are ‘essential.’ This is outrageous,” Neville said in response to the city’s stay-at-home order. He later called it “insane” and made reference to the Gestapo.
On Wednesday, Neville and five other Douglas County Republicans in the legislature called for ending the county’s ties to Tri-County Health, because Tri-County issued a stay-home order.
“Shutting down private businesses by government fiat is economically insane, not to mention bordering on martial law,” wrote Jon Caldara of the conservative Independence Institute.
It’s worth noting that the state’s highest-ranking Republican, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, has not joined in. During interviews with The Post on Friday and Wednesday, he declined to criticize Gov. Jared Polis’ actions.
“This is an extremely tough decision, and I’m not going to second-guess this decision,” he said of closing businesses. “I think this is not the time to play politics or to try to play a blame game.
“We’re all in this together and we have to listen to our health experts. We have to listen to those people around us who are saying what the right thing to do is based on their education and their background in epidemiology.”
Another delay for Hickenlooper?
Colorado’s Independent Ethics Commission expressed some doubt Wednesday morning that John Hickenlooper’s 18-month-old ethics case will be heard April 28. It was originally scheduled for Tuesday, then moved to April 28, and now may be bumped back again by coronavirus.
“I think we’re just on a wait-and-see basis at this point,” said Chair Elizabeth Espinosa Krupa.
Commissioners asked their executive director to look into technological options for a digital meeting. If the two sides — Hickenlooper’s attorney and the Public Trust Institute — agree on an alternative way to conduct the meeting, commissioners may choose that method.
But don’t expect it to be via Zoom, the popular video conferencing service. Hickenlooper’s attorney, Mark Grueskin, wrote the commission Tuesday that Zoom’s technical problems “threaten the reasonable conduct and legitimacy of a quasi-judicial proceeding such as this one.”
At the meeting Wednesday, Grueskin expressed frustration at the continued delays in his client’s case, telling commissioners, “It’s been a year and a half and you have seen how it has been used as a political cudgel” against Hickenlooper, a U.S. Senate candidate.
The ethics case and Grueksin’s payments are often the focus of anti-Hickenlooper attack ads.
Ads: Rocky Mountain Values, the deep-pocketed progressive group, released its latest anti-Gardner ad Wednesday, criticizing his attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Endorsements: Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat, was endorsed this week by the pro-gun control Brady PAC, which says it will invest in his re-election. After some unusual GOP maneuvering last week, Crow will likely compete against Republican Steve House in November.
More federal government news
- Colorado’s senators both voted aye Wednesday night as the Senate passed a massive, $2 trillion stimulus package.
- Coloradans stranded in Peru have sought help from the State Department and their members of Congress.
- In radio interviews, Gardner blamed the federal government’s slow coronavirus response in part on impeachment, Westword reports.
- Coloradans are asking for more from their members of Congress during this coronavirus outbreak, CPR reports.
- The pandemic has clearly upended politics as usual, but don’t expect major changes to the way Coloradans choose their candidates anytime soon, Colorado Politics reports.
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