Today, I am reminded that we do not choose the times in which we serve; we are called to serve in the times that God has given to us. A few short weeks, or even days ago, no one could have imagined the events of this day or even this hour. We are concerned for the health and safety of our families, our friends, our community, our state and nation, and ourselves. We want to do everything that is possible to support our president and Colorado’s governor, and our other elected officials as they issue directives and enact legislation for our protection and well-being.
Our State Legislature adjourned last Saturday until at least March 30. This was primarily for the protection of the public who attend our committee meetings and sessions and come to the Capitol, as well as our staff who must work with us closely when we are in session. Even though we are not meeting, I, and my colleagues, have spent every day since leaving the Capitol responding to constituents with information about the changing situation, communicating with the Governor’s office about citizen concerns, and with our legislative colleagues and staff on matters dealing with this public health crisis.
Like many of you, I am concerned that we not destroy our way of life and economy while dealing with the immediate crisis. For instance, the governor’s directives have placed many citizens out of work and placed businesses, small and large, in danger of almost immediate insolvency and bankruptcy. Hopefully, we will avoid much loss of life and serious illness from the virus by taking these emergency steps. But, it is quite probable that the aftermath of the emergency measures will be far more painful and damaging to our state at large than the virus. When the Legislature returns to the Capitol, our most immediate task will be to take every step possible to minimize the impacts of the executive branch directives on families and businesses that provide employment.
We must take care. Our precious rights and liberties might be sacrificed on the altar of safety and security. We should support our elected executive leadership, federal, state, and local, as they seek to protect the public to whom they are responsible. Their choices are difficult. But, the wholesale closing of businesses and limiting even faith-based and political gatherings of more than 10 people stretches the bounds of reasonable restrictions. After all, shouldn’t it be OK for me to have a prayer meeting of more than 10 in a large enough room. And if, as a matter of my faith, I choose to put my arm around someone to assure them of my support and love in a difficult time? You might say that no one would prosecute me for that. But Gov. Jared Polis’ order ends with a bold print admonition that failure to comply is subject to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail upon conviction. That is chilling to say the least.
This edict also prohibits my political party from effectively conducting its delegate assembly in the coming days to hopefully nominate candidates to represent citizens at the state and local levels. One of the things I regularly do as a state legislator is challenge and question the apparently unbridled authority of a powerful executive branch — no matter which party holds that office at any given time. My ability as a citizen and candidate has been restricted by this most recent directive on meeting size. Sure, it applies to the other party as well. But, in a government of separated powers and the rule of law, the most powerful position for the executive is to not have the check of a properly elected and effective Legislature. After all, in ages past, the king’s first step in asserting power was to dissolve parliament. You say it couldn’t happen here? In Ohio last week, the governor through his health chief, canceled its primary election in the cause of public health and safety. California’s governor has suggested martial law, suspending civil government, might be used there.
Let me hasten to say, I believe our governor is acting in good faith and what he believes to be the best interest of the people. And as an elected official and citizen, I too want to ensure the health and safety of our citizens. But, every one of these measures comes at a cost and every one of them requires care and thought even if time is short and the situation exigent. I simply caution our elected executive officials and all of us: Take care. Whatever we lose in terms of personal rights and liberties and respect for the rule of law, we might never regain.
Sen. Bob Gardner represents Colorado Senate District 12 in Colorado Springs.