During legislators’ first day back at the Colorado Capitol, the Democratic House speaker shut down his colleague’s call to consider the expulsion of a Penrose Republican, Rep. Ron Hanks, who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., that culminated in a deadly insurrection.
Despite unified condemnation from Democrats — and many Republicans — of the violence at the nation’s capital, the episode Tuesday at the Colorado Legislature exposed differing opinions over how to hold those who were present accountable.
Following speeches by Speaker Alec Garnett and Minority Leader Hugh McKean on Feb. 16 as lawmakers began the work of the 73rd session of the General Assembly, state Rep. Donald Valdez, a Democrat from Alamosa, asked Garnett for a moment of personal privilege, which Garnett granted. Under legislative rules, “personal privilege” refers to an opportunity for a lawmaker to speak to their colleagues on a timely and urgent topic that’s pertinent to them personally.
Valdez, speaking to the entire House chamber, reflected briefly on his father’s death due to COVID-19. He then called for review and discipline — up to and including expulsion — of Hanks as a result of his participation in the D.C. protest.
“With us here today is our newly elected colleague, Rep. Ron Hanks, whose conduct on Jan. 6 raises serious questions that must be answered in front of this body,” Valdez said. “I am asking that a panel be formed to take testimony in public under oath about Mr. Hanks’ behavior and intent on that day of insurrection and beyond.”
Valdez later sent Newsline an emailed statement that included his full remarks, including the statement: “If (Hanks) actively supported an insurrection this body must consider the appropriate punishment which at the very least should be removal from his Committees up to expulsion from this body if we have the authority to do so.”
But Garnett quickly interrupted Valdez, shutting down the debate before it began.
“Let’s not condemn any motives” of legislators for their actions outside the House chamber, Garnett said. The speaker asked that House members brief him in the future before taking a moment of personal privilege, so that he’d know ahead of time what they wanted to discuss.
In an interview with Newsline following the incident, Valdez declined to comment on Garnett’s refusal to entertain his proposal.
“This is about those who believe in democracy and fair elections and those who do not,” Valdez said instead. “Those who attended the rally wanted to set aside a free and fair election and install into office someone who lost. That is called a coup d’état.”
Hanks told Newsline that he was “looking forward to working with Rep. Valdez in the future.”
“I had no injury from what he said — kind of wanted to hear the rest of it, to be honest with you — before he got gaveled out,” Hanks said. “It’s not injurious to me.”
Hanks described those — including himself — who gathered in support of former President Donald Trump, “listening to what might happen next in the process of certifying elections,” as separate from the group of people who marched to the Capitol and broke into the building.
“I would call them two separate events,” Hanks said of the assembly and insurrection. “The antifa invasion of the Capitol in which people I think that were pro-Trump — I still don’t know who these people were — but I do intensely believe that antifa was there and that cops opened the gates for them.”
Since Jan. 6, more than 230 people have been charged with crimes in connection to the insurrection, according to National Public Radio. None have been identified by authorities as being associated with the antifa movement. Five people, including one Capitol police officer, died during the attack.
Hanks was excused for all three days when the Legislature met in January a week after the insurrection. The Denver Post reported that Hanks told Republican leaders he was feeling sick.
Those three days would have been Hanks’ first serving as an elected lawmaker. However, he’d already been present at the Capitol during the December 2020 special session.
Hanks, who had not officially started his term as a legislator, was ordered to leave the House floor — where he was watching from the sidelines on Dec. 2 — because he refused to don a face covering. The incident involved a verbal confrontation between Hanks and the House’s chief sergeant-at-arms.
“I’ve decided, determined that this mask idea is insipid, insidious, and frankly it’s tyranny,” Hanks told Newsline in December. “You know, if masks worked … Gov. Jared Polis and his husband wouldn’t be sick now.”
Polis and First Gentleman Marlon Reis announced in November they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Hanks, a combat veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force, noted he is hard of hearing. “I have a hard time reading people’s lips when they’re covered with a mask,” he said.