In the opening day of this year’s annual session of the Legislature, outgoing speaker Crisanta Duran and her replacement, K.C. Becker (D, Boulder) highlighted the need for bipartisanship, healing and a new tone for our politics.
Speaker Becker mentioned bipartisanship and working together nearly a dozen times. And then, in one of the most remarkable rhetorical about-faces in speech giving history, she said this: “[In the last election] Coloradans chose compassion and opportunity over cruelty and chaos.”
The speaker’s words were reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s infamous and inflammatory comments in 2016, when she characterized those who vote Republican as part of a “basket of deplorables,” many of whom were “irredeemable.” As it turned out, her intemperate remarks were not only unkind, they were also bad politics. Speaker Becker’s comments are part of the same genre of speech, one that demeans or disqualifies a person instead of debating ideas.
Does the speaker believe that a single mother or independent businessman or private at Fort Carson who voted Republican and recognizes the virtues of free enterprise — which has brought us things like the light bulb, the iPhone, and life-saving medicines — is “cruel”? It’s bad enough that Becker’s comments are mean-spirited; it’s equally bad that they appear to reflect a genuine ignorance about what makes this country work. The speaker’s comments were downright odd given that study after study confirms that Republicans are more generous in donating their time and money to charitable organizations than our friends on the other side of the aisle — hardly the trademark of “cruelty.”
Did the speaker mean to condemn Republican voters, whether old or young, whether employees or owners or stay-at-home moms or graduates just entering the workforce, as forces in favor of “cruelty and chaos”? They deserve this label because … they differ with Democrats about the benefits of lower taxes and smaller government? Really?
Judging from the bills introduced by Democrats on Friday, bipartisanship might not be their top priority. To cite but one example: The Family Leave Act will increase taxes on every person with a job (Democrats like to call them ‘fees’, but since they’re involuntary and taken from every pay check, they certainly feel like a tax). Many companies receive or offer such a plan, but because businesses will not only have to fund their plans but also the plans of all Coloradans, they’re likely to reduce benefits, or employees, or both. The cost to taxpayers will runs to hundreds of millions of dollars a year at a time when ‘affordability’ is a struggle for most taxpayers.
This and other bills will eventually be debated in the Legislature; it’s what we do. But the difficulty of doing it in a civil fashion has been compounded by the speaker’s remark that her political opponents favor cruelty and chaos. Of course, we understand the effect of name-calling. It relieves Democrats from the obligation to defend the feasibility and cost of their ideas — they can just stop debate by name-calling and dehumanizing their opponents (after all, why should they have a conversation with a cruel, and therefore, immoral, person?).
This is neither a constructive approach nor the one we believe Colorado voters expect us to have. It is especially unfortunate coming from the speaker of the House — we might expect activists and agitators to use language like this, but not a leader who advocates bipartisanship while calling on her opposition to join her in “working together.”
It’s possible, of course, that Becker was the victim of an insensitive speechwriter; if so, she should explain, apologize, and move on. We would welcome this course of action. On the other hand, if her comments accurately reflect her true feelings, they are damaging to the sort of civil discourse that has benefitted our state in the past and contrary to the words she spoke elsewhere in her speech.
I urge Speaker Becker to renounce her intemperate comments about Republican voters and distance herself from the impression that a new Hillary is running the state Legislature. It’s never too late to do the right thing.
Kevin Van Winkle, a Republican, represents District 43, Douglas County in the state House of Representatives.