Last week I had the great fortune of working remotely. Instead of traveling out of state or abroad, I opted to crisscross Colorado to once again visit some of my favorite mountain towns such as Steamboat, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Snowmass.
Overall, the trip was incredible, even if I repeatedly found myself cursing Colorado’s Department of Transportation for an endless string of giant potholes. But mostly, I felt delighted at the opportunity to adventure in my backyard and meet so many new and amazing Coloradans.
Above all, one interaction stood out. An active voter and local news supporter on the Western Slope, this person recognized me instantly despite my bulky ski gear. After some niceties, we decided to cruise up a ski lift together, chatting about politics for the seven minutes or so it took to get to the top.
Out of everything we discussed, it is one simple question that stuck most: “Trish, why are Democrats so timid? We have a super majority. We have full control. They’re killing their own bills. This isn’t what I voted for,” she paused, shaking her head and reaching into her backpack for a granola bar.
Of course, my new ski acquaintance was referring to the fact that Colorado voters gave Democrats a supermajority in the state House, along with a darn close supermajority in the state Senate. The same voters also gave Democrats full control of every major statewide position.
She was also referring to the slew of recent failures in the state legislature, as she saw it, lumping in a few federal examples for good measure. In each instance, Democrats, in her opinion, weren’t following through in full on key promises. As a lifelong Democrat, her disappointment was palpable.
Why, she would ask, are Colorado Democrats watering down housing efforts so extensively when housing statewide is in such crisis? Why would state Democrats fail to ban assault weapons when the public overall support the bans? And why can’t state Democrats get more serious about transitioning from oil and gas by ending new fracking permits outright instead of punting it to the voters if they even do? In short, she wanted to know, “What gives?”
Again, she was making very reasonable, data-backed points. The Democrat-sponsored Senate Bill 213 on housing is being massively pared down by Democrats as much as by Republicans.
The Democrat-sponsored House Bill 1230 to ban assault weapons failed to even make it out of committee, despite sponsor Rep. Elisabeth Epps offering to trim it down considerably. Of note, the bill wasn’t killed by only Republicans. It was killed by three Democrats who joined Republicans, with one of them, Democrat Rep. Said Sharbini, having recently won his solidly blue district with an 18 percentage point margin of victory.
It’s also true that a so-called assault weapon ban is in public favor. Not only has Colorado reached a 40-year high in gun deaths, but the U.S. is on pace for record mass shootings yet again this year. In a 2022 Pew Research poll, most Americans support an assault weapon and high-capacity ban. Why wouldn’t Colorado Democrats get on board then, especially given 83% of Democrats in the same poll were found to support it? We wouldn’t even have been the first state to do it.
To be fair, it’s not as if Colorado Democrats have done nothing this session. Much to the contrary, they’ve done quite a bit. So far, Gov. Jared Polis has already signed 94 bills of ranging importance into law, including several other important gun safety measures and efforts to further secure abortion access. That’s all good.
But it’s also true that the most controversial and sweeping bills proposed by Democrats this session don’t appear to be making it past some of their own members, including at times the governor. Setting aside debates of why that might be — and there are many, not the least of which pertains to the fallout of Republicans leading to a Big Tent for Democrats — this pattern of perceived timidness raises the question of whether Colorado voters will be happy with the results.
Will voters who gave Colorado Democrats full control of making state laws support the watering down of big bills and even outright killing of one of their own bills? I honestly don’t know, but I do know that at least one lifelong Democratic voter on the Western Slope is disappointed.
Certainly, one voter hardly suffices to reflect voter opinions and satisfaction at large. I’d never suggest otherwise. Except it’s not the first time I’ve heard concerns about Democrats being too timid, and, at times, I’ve felt the same.
Combined with recent low voter turnout in Democratic hotbeds, and continued majority disapproval for President Biden, I still can’t help but feel that for various reasons Democrats are setting themselves up for failure in the long term, in no small part because as a long-time Democrat myself I feel the growing lack of enthusiasm.
It’s easy to win elections when your opponents are a circus. That doesn’t mean you’ve truly earned the hope, goodwill and support of the voters.
So this week I offer readers more questions than answers in hopes of learning more. If you voted for the Democratic supermajority in Colorado, are you happy with the pace of progress? Does the lack of follow-through on some big bills leave you wanting more? Do you feel your support for the party waning lately, and if so, why?
I’d genuinely like to know; and I suspect many potential candidates would, too.
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Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio
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