DENVER – Below is a transcript of the speech that Minority Leader Chris Holbert gave on the opening day of the 1st Regular Session of the 73rd General Assembly:
“Mr. President, Mr. Majority Leader, members of the Colorado Senate, families and guests:
With the start of the first regular session of the 73rd General Assembly, our part-time citizen state legislature returns to help steer our state through one of the most challenging times in the history of our state, and with that, the health, economic, and budgetary consequences that have come with it.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is how abundance in the best of times must be appreciated. For nearly a decade, a robust and growing Colorado economy provided state coffers with record-setting revenue, making a glutton out of our legislature. Then, with the sudden collapse of that economy due to COVID-19 and government restrictions on business and personal activity, we saw the greatest single-year revenue decline in state history.
Senate Republicans offer our thanks to the prior members of the Joint Budget Committee, Senators Rankin, Moreno, and Zenzinger. Not just for their ability to navigate those troubled waters, but their willingness and cooperation to do so. It was a thankless job that required them to stick to facts, numbers, and data despite overwhelming emotional upheaval from every department, agency, organization, and program that depends on government funding. Mr. President, with your permission, might we take a moment to give those members a round of applause to show our appreciation?
But, the work of the Joint Budget Committee isn’t over – our work as the Senate isn’t over. Unfortunately, years of blue sky promises from the ruling political party in this state are now not able to be fulfilled. Efforts to pad state coffers with new tax and fee proposals have been met with fierce opposition by the voters of this state. Where the majority party has been successful at implementing new programs, that was often at the expense of long-existing programs that are now facing drastic cuts.
In 2019, Colorado voters rejected Proposition CC, which sought to halt refunds under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. In 2020, the People of Colorado passed both Proposition 116, which lowered the rate of state personal income tax; and they passed Proposition 117, which will ensure that voters have the right to weigh in on fee increases and put an end to the endless creation of massive government enterprises.
To the voters who have made their voices clear, we Senate Republicans hear you. Now more than ever, in an economy so controlled by Executive Orders from the Executive Branch, we should stand opposed to increasing the burden on the working men and women of Colorado. I will stand against the creation of a new tax, an increase of an existing tax rate, or attempts to implement new fees on existing taxes and I encourage the members of the Senate Minority caucus to stand with me in that effort. Such plans for so-called “new revenue” would only serve to increase the burden on Colorado families to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.
During the last 10 months, over 300 Executive Orders have been issued by our Governor. Arguably, during an emergency such as this, the executive branch must step up and lead. I offer my thanks to Governor Polis and his administration for their endurance during these unprecedented times. Still, with the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, we must be willing to have a conversation, however uncomfortable it may be for those in the same political party as our current governor, regarding the balance of power in our state government during the next prolonged statewide disaster emergency.
People from across Colorado, in all thirty-five state Senate districts and of all political affiliations have rightly asked, “Where is our legislature?” For example, they rightly demanded answers as to why we, colleagues, decided to limit hair salons to 50% of their rated occupancy or 10 persons, whichever was less? They have rightly wanted to understand why we decided that restaurants and other establishments were to be limited to certain capacities. They demand to know by what criteria we legislators decided which businesses were deemed “essential” and which were not. But, the answer to all such questions is the same: we didn’t. We couldn’t. We are a part-time citizen legislature and we did not participate in making any of those decisions for the people who we represent.
We have seen many changes to our Colorado Constitution within the last 32 years, and perhaps it is time that we discuss how we can ensure that the legislature remains a co-equal branch with the executive branch during a prolonged declared statewide disaster emergency.
Senate Republicans will fight to ensure this discussion occurs this session, led by Senator Lundeen who will again introduce a concurrent resolution seeking to restore balance between the Executive and Legislative branches of our state government during the next prolonged declared statewide disaster emergency.
That proposal is not a partisan one, nor does it seek to pass judgement on the current Governor for actions he did – or did not – take during this crisis. Nobody could have foreseen an emergency declaration that lasted 308 days, gave authority for hundreds of executive orders, and left our legislative branch out of the conversation.
But now we know. Today, we have the benefit of experience and knowledge that our predecessors did not have. And now, we must act.
Senate Republicans also invite our friends opposite to join us in an effort to end the random discrimination against Colorado small businesses that have been deemed “non essential.” Senator Rob Woodward will, once again, introduce a bill based on legislation that passed the Ohio House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support. We can do that, too. We’ve worked together before and we can do it again.
What would Senator Woodward’s bill do? It would simply allow businesses to remain open by following the same guidelines as “essential” businesses, rather like we are now.
You may be familiar with the story of a “Smoker Friendly” store located in Parker Colorado. That business sells tobacco products to adult customers. I’m not a customer, I’m not even a prospective customer. But, by what criteria was the owner of that business forced to remain closed? It wasn’t the products that he sells. Nope, a customer could go to any one of several large national businesses within sight of that small business to buy tobacco products.
Was it the size of his business? No, it wasn’t that, either. During the entire shutdown period, a customer could go to any one of the several liquor stores located nearby, both large and small, to buy liquor. Or, for those who patronize cannabis dispensaries, those customers could do business at any of the small or large dispensaries located throughout the metro Denver area. How about the local small business in my community that sells sprinkler parts? No, they weren’t deemed “essential” so they had to remain closed… while the big box national chains couldn’t keep enough sprinkler parts in stock last spring.
This isn’t a partisan issue, colleagues. This is just as right for the constituents who you represent as it is for the people who I represent. And, it’s the right thing for us to do for the business owners and employees of those businesses throughout Colorado.
There has also been a great deal of discussion regarding our role as part-time, citizen legislators. Short of a rare special session called by the governor and limited by our state constitution to only those topics that the governor identifies, we state Senators and Representatives of the People of Colorado have the power of our elected office for only 120 days each year. During the other eight months each year, we are citizens just like everybody else. Yes, there have even been murmurs that we should transition back to a full-time legislature.
The hell we do.
Let us not allow a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic to cloud our judgement on this issue. Our roles here as legislators should not be divorced from the realities of everyday working Coloradans.
In November 1988, Colorado voters made the right choice. They did not want, and I believe still do not want, a full-time, year round, state legislature. As citizen legislators it is our job to represent our constituents during a 120-day general session and then we are to go home, back to our regular jobs for those who have them, and to be citizens, just like the people who we are blessed to represent.
Senate Republicans believe it is time to discuss our legislature’s role in a declared emergency, but we do not embrace the premise that our temporary circumstances should inspire us to return to a full-time legislature.
The COVID pandemic has shifted conversations about healthcare here in Colorado. It was just one year ago that those in the ruling party were labeling our hospitals as being greedy while pushing for a so-called “public option” as if involving the government to an even greater extent in the delivery of healthcare would somehow make it more affordable or more available. No, that hasn’t worked and it won’t work. If you want to make healthcare more affordable, then get the government out of that business, not more involved in it.
But, it is worth asking now – what would the statewide ICU capacity have been if the public option had been in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic? What communities would have been without a local hospital if the public option had been passed?
Now, with public approval of our hospitals at an all-time high due to their extraordinary efforts to save lives and combat the COVID-19 virus, some in the ruling party have changed their tune. Perhaps it would be wise to heed the warnings that came from that industry. An industry that has literally saved tens of thousands of lives during this pandemic deserves to flourish in the realm of private-sector innovation, not stifled in the dusty halls of government bureaucracy.
Yes, Senate Republicans will continue to oppose so-called “public option” legislation, but are excited to bring other bills that will aim to increase transparency, bring down costs, and expand options for Coloradans without putting their local hospital at risk of closure.
We are excited to see Senator Smallwood reintroduce bipartisan legislation that will ensure that this legislature reviews the impacts of our actions on healthcare plans, taking into account how many Coloradans are impacted, expected changes in rates, and other essential information that will guide us as we work to bring down rates and expand options for all Coloradans.
Crises like the one we are currently experiencing have a way of clarifying our thinking when it comes to governance. It provides a moment to prioritize what really matters in our society, and nothing could be closer to the top of that list than the education of our children.
COVID-19’s disastrous effects on the public education system left parents confused, anxious, and in many cases, distraught. Many parents with the resources and insight leapt into action early, finding alternative pathways to ensure their child remained educated and prepared for the lifetime ahead of them.
Unfortunately, those parents tended to be more affluent and more white. The disparity between those who were achieving and those who were struggling has only widened, and allegiance to the monolithic institutions of old has only furthered that divide. Senate Republicans recommit themselves today to the individual – the student, the parent, and the teacher, and not to those antiquated institutions.
That’s why Senator Lundeen will be bringing legislation that seeks to reallocate resources from these failing institutions directly into the hands of our parents and students to ensure that those who are not affluent and predominantly from communities of color can have the opportunity to succeed.
There is a kid today in Sun Valley – a neighborhood in Denver where the median income is just over $11,000 – who doesn’t have the same opportunities as the kid living across town in the neighborhood of Hilltop – where the median income is over $138,000.
We can help bridge that divide but it requires us to refocus ourselves on the individual – on the student. I hope my colleagues across the aisle are willing to think outside the box, to buck the norms of yesterday, so that we may be able to provide a brighter future for all students.
At the end of our extended general session last year you, Mr. President, along with Senator Fields and with input from Senators Cooke and Gardner, led the nation in law-enforcement reform legislation. Thanks to that collaborative effort, we were able to pass the largest piece of police reform legislation in generations and did so with significant, bipartisan support.
There will always be work to do on the criminal justice front, which is why Senate Republicans remain committed to ensuring that all Coloradans, regardless of their race, their creed, gender, or their background, are treated equally under the law.
To that end, Assistant Minority Leader Cooke will introduce legislation to reform “Brady Lists” – compilations of officers with disciplinary records created by individual District Attorneys – to ensure that we have clear standards for ensuring that officers who violate policy are added to the list and that those officers also receive due process.
No one in this chamber – nobody outside this chamber – wants bad law-enforcement officers patrolling our neighborhoods. We are excited to continue cultivating the bipartisan spirit that was present during the debate of Senate Bill 20-217 into this session so that we may continue to make progress on that important issue.
Senators, we have a tough road ahead of us. Welcome to the Senate, Senators Kirkmeyer, Simpson, Liston, Buckner, Coleman, Jaquez Lewis, and Kolker. Never shy away from sharing your perspective, your life experiences, your expertise, and your wisdom with us. We are excited to get to know you, work with you, and together strive for the betterment of the People who call Colorado home.
Mr. President, when you took that gavel two years ago, you stated that no party had a monopoly on good ideas. We hope this session will be another when those words become reality. Let’s not just praise bipartisanship, let’s embody it. Let us not just tell the media that we enjoy working with our colleagues across the aisle, let’s actually do so.
You were right, Mr. President, when you said we should reject Washington D.C. politics. We should reject blind partisanship as we demonstrated during the recent, three-day, special session. We should embrace debate and discourse.
I can only hope that we fulfill that potential and show the entire nation what happens when Colorado leads.
God Bless you, colleagues. May God Bless the People of Colorado and, as we sang earlier, God Bless America!
Thank you, Mr. President. And now, let’s get to work!”