Not two hours into the opening of the Colorado General Assembly last week, a group of Republican lawmakers made it clear that they’re at the Capitol not for the purpose of governing but rather to disrupt and evangelize.
The vote for House speaker had long been a bipartisan, unanimous affair in which the minority party supported the majority’s choice as a sign of respect for the institution and to signal that the office-holder is Colorado’s speaker, not the Democratic speaker or the Republican speaker.
But MAGA-style Republicans view political opponents as illegitimate, and they assume their job is not to govern on behalf of all citizens but to thwart Democrats at all costs, even when their efforts are doomed to fail and express only disdain for the institutions to which they’re elected. The hyperpartisan approach was on full display in the Colorado House on Jan. 9. Freshman Republican Rep. Ken DeGraaf nominated another freshman Republican, Rep. Scott Bottoms, to be speaker, even though doing so trashed decades of tradition and despite the supermajority held by Democrats in the House.
The move was not unprecedented. For decades unanimous speaker votes represented bipartisan solidarity, but Republicans, delirious with “big lie” energy, first broke that tradition during the last speaker vote, in 2021, only days after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
But not only did they reaffirm their brattiness last week, they went a step further. In 2021, at least their no-shot nominee, the late Hugh McKean, was, as a respected member who had attained the position of minority leader, a plausible candidate. Last week, the no-shot nominee was a no-experience extremist.
Bottoms, a pastor at the Church at Briargate, was nominated by fellow far-right ideologue DeGraaf, and Bottoms seconded his own nomination. The two have several things in common: They’re both new to the Legislature, they’re both veterans, they’re both from Colorado Springs, and they’re both apt to put Christian over democratic priorities.
“The Republican platform that we’ll be standing on is that we start with life, that God created life, and he created it at conception. He created male and female, he created them at conception,” Bottoms said.
DeGraaf similarly alluded to abortion in suggesting that denying basic rights to Coloradans is his main preoccupation.
“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and cursings,” DeGraaf said, paraphrasing scripture and comparing himself to Moses. “Oh, that you would choose life so that you and your descendants might live.”
Bottoms and DeGraaf were both admonished in real time by House leadership for violating a rule against impugning the motives of fellow lawmakers. Despite this looney spectacle, six other Republicans voted with DeGraaf and Bottoms, and it’s useful to note their names: Brandi Bradley of Littleton, Lisa Frizell of Castle Rock, Richard Holtorf of Akron, Stephanie Luck of Penrose, Ty Winter of Pueblo County, and Ron Weinberg of Loveland. (Weinberg recently was in the news for another troubling episode, when two handguns were stolen out of his truck near the Capitol.)
That DeGraaf and Bottoms would position themselves as theocratic obstacles to effective legislating was apparent during their campaigns.
“I will never, ever work alongside anyone that thinks that murdering babies is OK,” Bottoms told The Colorado Sun days before the November election. “Anybody that does not see that is immoral, ungodly, demonic, destructive. … I will never, ever, ever work with those people.”
“Demonic” is Bottoms’ word of choice for things he opposes — like transgender people.
“This is demonic stuff,” he said during a town hall in August, according to the Colorado Springs Independent, promising to push legislation that would put educators in prison if they “encourage a 6- or 7-year-old girl to go mutilate herself because she was kind of a tomboy,” even though his comments were based on a misapprehension of gender-affirming care.
DeGraaf’s campaign was a Christianity-centered grab-bag of misinformation and conspiracy theories. Notable among the falsehoods DeGraaf promoted was the suggestion that elections in Colorado can’t be trusted. The designated filing agent for DeGraaf’s campaign was Michael Lavrenz, who was at the Jan. 6 insurrection and whose mother, Rebecca Lavrenz, was arrested for entering the U.S. Capitol as part of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the building.
Any election denial inside the Capitol from Colorado lawmakers will constitute a dangerous escalation of ongoing threats to democracy.
DeGraaf’s legislative term will coincide with the first presidential election since former President Donald Trump tried to overturn the last one. Any election denial inside the Capitol from Colorado lawmakers will constitute a dangerous escalation of ongoing threats to democracy.
Republicans had been expected to narrow the Democrats’ majority in the Legislature after November’s election. The opposite occurred, and a primary reason for this was that voters rejected far-right lies.
But that doesn’t mean the General Assembly is free of extremists, and DeGraaf, Bottoms and their allies announced in the first hours of the new session they believe they’re on a divine mission to obstruct. They’re fond of citing America’s founding documents, but if they truly grasped the “we the people” spirit of the Constitution, they’d understand they’re doing it wrong.
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