The entrance of the Colorado State Senate is pictured at the Capitol on June 12, 2020. (Andy Bosselman for Newsline)
Colorado Republicans have been told by voters for a long time that they aren’t trusted to take charge of major organs of state power. Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office for four years, and the last time Democrats didn’t control at least two of those power hubs was 2004.
Now Republicans see an opportunity to regain control of the Senate. They would need to flip only three seats, and, at a time of high inflation and other societal challenges, they think they can do it.
If they succeeded, how would they deploy majority power in the Senate?
We have some good indications, based on past behavior and statements — and it’s not pretty.
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One consequential new direction in which a Republican majority would take the Senate concerns reproductive health. In short, Republicans would try to eliminate abortion rights in Colorado.
There is no doubt about this, though they would need control of the state House and governor’s office to complete the mission.
General Assembly Democrats announced in December that they planned to run an abortion rights bill during the 2022 legislative session. The bill, which codified longstanding abortion rights in Colorado, was largely a response to the expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court would snatch away national abortion rights guaranteed in the Roe v. Wade decision. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed the Colorado law in April, and the court overturned Roe v. Wade two months later.
Every one of the 15 Republicans in the state Senate voted against the abortion rights legislation, known as the “Reproductive Health Equity Act.” Furthermore, they went all out in creating obstacles to its passage.
“Senate Republicans are united in opposition to this bill, and we will work as hard as we can to defeat it when it reaches the Senate floor,” then-Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Douglas County Republican, said at the time. In case there was any doubt about how much the GOP was intent on depriving Coloradans of abortion rights, Holbert said in a speech that “nothing matters more” to Senate Republicans than opposing the bill.
When the Supreme Court announced it had overturned Roe, the Senate Republican Caucus noted ominously that the ruling “puts the abortion question into the hands of the states” and called Colorado’s new abortion rights protections “the most egregious expansion of abortion in our state.”
When it comes to election security, climate protections, fundamental civil rights and other critical areas of legislative activity, a Republican majority would be anathema to the health and safety of Colorado constituents.
How about climate protections?
Forget it. Republicans would reverse every one in sight if they could. Holbert, the highest ranking state Senate Republican during the most recent session, said last year of “so-called” climate change, “I do not believe that it is man-made.”
Holbert has since resigned his seat. But his approach to global warming, which in Colorado has already contributed to aridification, catastrophic wildfires and an emerging water supply crisis, is common among Republicans. In the Senate in 2019 they voted as a bloc against landmark greenhouse gas reduction legislation and a historic bill to improve the state’s regulation of the oil and gas industry.
The bill to overhaul oil and gas regulation, Senate Bill 19-181, represented a sweeping shift in the way Colorado approached its regulatory role — it would no longer “foster” fossil fuel development but rather “regulate” it to protect public health and the environment. Implementation of this “mission change” legislation has taken years and resulted in countless rule changes that benefit all Coloradans. Yet the Republican nominee for Colorado governor, Heidi Ganahl, has said she would try to repeal the law.
It’s unlikely Ganahl will unseat Polis. But it’s not hard to imagine a Republican-majority state Senate cooperating with Ganahl in returning the state to a posture of servitude to some of the state’s worst polluters, a notion that’s reinforced by the GOP’s resistance to other environmental legislation in the most recent session.
Perhaps most alarming is how a Republican majority in the state Senate might handle fundamental matters of democracy and elections. Exactly one Republican in the Senate — Kevin Priola of Brighton — could bring himself this year to vote in favor of a resolution that urged Congress to pass voting rights legislation and affirm that the 2020 presidential election results were legitimate. The vote should have been unanimous, but the Colorado GOP is rife with election deniers.
Almost every Republican in the Senate also opposed a bill that was drafted in response to the “insider threat” posed to Colorado elections by MAGA county clerks like Mesa County’s Tina Peters, who’s under indictment for her role in an alleged election security breach in her own office.
When it comes to election security, climate protections, fundamental civil rights and other critical areas of legislative activity, such as criminal justice, the state budget and education, a Republican majority would be anathema to the health and safety of Colorado constituents. We don’t have to guess how Republicans would wield majority power. Their past behavior makes it all too clear.
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