Will Colorado’s leaders please stand up?

Elected officials on both sides of the aisle are failing to lead effectively

Lauren Boebert, then the Republican candidate for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, stands with supporters during a MAGA meet up with the Trump Victory Team at the Old Mesa County Courthouse in Grand Junction, Oct. 8, 2020. (Barton Glasser for Colorado Newsline)

Two-year-olds have nothing on some of Colorado’s current leadership.

It’s hard to pick a favorite temper tantrum as of late. Is it Rep. Larry Liston wearing a mask on his bald spot to prove he doesn’t have to comply with rules? Is it Denver Mayor Michael Hancock who hypocritically boarded an airplane while advising residents not to travel? Perhaps it’s Rep. Ken Buck for wearing a T-shirt which read, “Kill ‘em All Let God Sort ‘em Out” during COVID-19. Or maybe Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert, who cheekily held a turkey funeral for Thanksgiving to skirt gathering size restrictions while hospitals in her district maxed out ICU capacities.

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Apparently, the uncouth know no bounds.

These are not isolated events. They are just a few of the denigrating acts by many top leaders in Colorado. Most recently this was demonstrated at large when roughly half of Republican members refused to wear masks at a special session called by Gov. Jared Polis, with one GOP staffer even recently testing positive for the virus and showing up in person anyway. 

Forget policy differences, these are major and defining character flaws that should disqualify anyone from holding office. They certainly aren’t the traits of respected leaders — at best they are the equivalent of children throwing toys and pulling pigtails for attention, any semblance of decorum and adulthood mere folklore.

Yet there is also a less ostentatious, and equally problematic, lack of leadership among state officials. For Democrats, it’s a failure due to timidity. Whether oversight on the importance of a fully virtual legislative session amid calls to work remotely, hesitations to enact and enforce mask mandates, not prompting “stay-at-home” orders per guidelines or flat-out refusals to call out their own, the breakdown of consistency is remarkable. What good is holding a majority if you aren’t going to use it?

For Republicans, it’s gross negligence and dereliction of duty. This has led to situations such as Boebert’s third violation of campaign finance laws, and Sen. Cory Gardner running away with his tail between his legs after defeat, a silence that is deafening to the millions of Coloradans still struggling with the effects of the pandemic.

Whatever happened to these positions meaning something? When did offering respect, civility and just plain decency to constituents and colleagues become a display of weakness instead of strong moral character? In an age where inflamed rhetoric has become celebrated, and partisanship almost a badge of honor, many officials are now making a mockery of the very offices they hold — and those who voted for them. 

Leaders who stand out are few and far between. Colorado Democrats Rep. Joe Neguse and Attorney General Phil Weiser consistently remain above the fray, working effectively while keeping remarkably positive and nonpartisan tones in a chaotic year. Few others appear to be as astute at this balance, making them two of the strongest candidates to lead the party in the future — assuming they want it.

The Colorado GOP, on the other hand, is such a mess it’s a challenge to find an example of any leadership at present. With their most well-known figures practically an endless “Looney Toons” casting call, we’re one more loose screw away from “That’s all Folks!” How one could possibly dial back the QAnon and hateful taunting is hard to see. Still, a few folks appear to be trying, including state Rep. Bob Rankin and former state Rep. Cole Wist, both often ostracized by their own party — despite remaining solidly conservative — precisely for having the good sense not to fall off the diving board. But a few good names is hardly a bench to dig from, as the Denver Broncos can recently attest. Which begs the question, where do we go from here?

As an onlooker, I’m hardly in a position to dictate. I suspect the Pulitzer-prize winning author and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin might hold the key. I had the good fortune of speaking with her last year about her latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times.” Distilling over 400 pages into a few words is impossible, but I dare say the first step boils down to an emotionally intelligent and morally compassed leader from each party emerging, a sort of call for dignity from within.

Does Colorado have such leadership on hand? An ever-growing number of unaffiliated voters might suggest not, but time will tell. As a test piece of division in national politics, I hope so.

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