Republican Rep. Dave Williams speaks in the Colorado House on Jan. 18, 2022. (The Colorado Channel)
Stop believing the Colorado Republican Party is compatible with democracy.
It is not.
Its own members have told us so. Some of the party’s defenders keep saying it is, but they’re invariably discredited by the actions of elected Republicans, and after the events this week at the Colorado Legislature, there can be no more doubt. Right there in the state’s temple of representative government, Republicans announced — publicly, unmistakably, irrevocably — their contempt for democracy and constitutional order.
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On Tuesday, a day after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Democrats in the state House and Senate adopted resolutions urging Congress to pass voting rights legislation and reaffirming the legitimacy of the 2020 election, in which former president Donald Trump lost and President Joe Biden won.
That the resolutions and robust federal voting rights protections are necessary at all is a sign of the critical risk the right poses to democracy in America. Trump himself, starting on election night in November 2020, is responsible more than anyone for advancing the “big lie” that the election was fraudulent. America First fundamentalists, many of whom hold elective office, have been happy to take his cue and preach the lie as a form of conservative dogma. Faith in “stop the steal” disinformation made possible the Jan. 6 insurrection, and it is the inspiration behind indefatigable Republican efforts to restrict voting access everywhere in the country, including Colorado.
Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly opposed the resolutions. That was disappointing, if not all that surprising. But they went much further — they attempted to pass amendments to the House resolution that codified their disdain for truth and allegiance to an autocrat.
The most odious of these came from state Rep. Dave Williams, a far-far-right Republican election denier from Colorado Springs who is running to replace far-right Republican election denier U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn. One of Williams’ amendments sought to “thank” state Rep. Ron Hanks, the leading GOP candidate in Colorado for U.S. Senate this year, who admitted he crossed police lines during the attack on the Capitol, “and the millions of other Americans who joined him on January 6, 2021” in Washington, D.C., to “peacefully assemble, and seek redress from their government in order to secure our elections.”
In other words: “Thank you, insurrectionists.”
This malign, counterfactual gesture in itself is an outrage. But here is the coarse truth all Coloradans must confront: It was supported by two-thirds of Republicans — that is to say a clear majority of the GOP caucus in the Colorado House registered its unambiguous approval for an attempted coup.
The members who voted for this measure deserve the disgrace that history will assign to each of them, and, to hasten that reward, here are their names: Mark Baisley, Rod Bockenfeld, Marc Catlin, Richard Holtorf, Stephanie Luck, Patrick Neville, Rod Pelton, Andres Pico, Janice Rich, Shane Sandridge, Matt Soper, Tonya Van Beber, Kevin Van Winkle, Perry Will and Dan Woog, in addition to Williams.
Hanks recused himself from that vote, but he introduced his own amendment that called into question the legitimacy of both the 2020 and 2021 elections. An even greater majority of the GOP House caucus voted to support Hanks’ amendment.
Another of Williams’ amendments sought to “call into question the legitimacy of Joseph R. Biden to be President” and offer support to Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, a conspiracy-besotted security threat who posed such a risk to election integrity that a court barred her from performing her duties. A majority of Republicans voted “yes.”
With these votes, there is no room for debate on the matter — the Colorado Republican Party is antithetical to democracy. And a majority of its members — not all but most of them — in reflection of the national party, pose an imminent threat to the survival of the republic.
Last year, at the outset of the 2021 legislative session, Rep. Donald Valdez, a Democrat from Alamosa, asked his colleagues in the House chamber to consider Hanks’ expulsion, based on the Republican’s presence at the insurrection. The Democratic House Speaker Alec Garnett interrupted Valdez and shut him down as if offended by the suggestion.
Garnett this year, however, seems to have grasped the danger Valdez was early to recognize. The speaker, not one prone to histrionics, briefly lost his composure in reacting to the proposed GOP amendments on Tuesday.
“Colorado,” he said from the floor of the House, looking straight into The Colorado Channel camera, his voice shaking and rising with indignation. “We cannot remain silent. Did you see those amendments? The choice is clear. The choice is clear between the two groups of elected representatives in this building today. We are telling you that your ability to vote is under threat.”
It’s democracy or authoritarianism. Colorado Republicans have made their choice. The Colorado people must make theirs.
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