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The message was clear from Colorado House Democrats this week: Words matter. And it led to an argument that often happens after attacks against people of color: Was it really motivated by racism?

On Wednesday, Denver Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod brought up on the House floor the attack on Asian Americans in Atlanta, where a 21-year-old white man fatally shot eight people — six of them women of Asian descent — and injured one. 

About 200,000 people in Colorado (or 3% of the population) identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander, though no one in the Colorado General Assembly is. But GOP Rep. Matt Soper shared his Taiwanese-American wife’s experience as an Asian woman in Colorado, and Herod condemned white supremacy and the use of the phrase “China virus.”

Herod also called out some of her GOP colleagues who were not standing up, as is tradition, during her speech about the attack. (She later apologized.)

Some Republicans, however, took Democrats’ calls to action — and the phrase “white supremacy” — personally.

House Minority Leader Hugh McKean said on the floor that everyone in the chamber denounces acts of hate, but as of Wednesday morning, the question of motive had not been resolved — at least by law enforcement. He also said he didn’t believe the podium should be used to tell other members they’re bad. 

Rep. Rod Bockenfeld held his fist in the air, telling his colleagues, “It cuts me to my core every time I am called a racist, a white supremacist, because of the color of my skin. I didn’t ask for this color.”

Herod responded that she was not calling anyone racist, only that racist attacks need to be called what they are so that change can happen.

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Top Line

 

Interstae 25

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

A stretch of Interstate 25 south of Castle Rock near Tomah Road on Dec. 28, 2016.

Colorado gets less and less from its gas tax every year to put toward highway repairs and expansions. Enter a new solution on how to raise nearly $4 billion for transportation in about a decade: A bill that would raise fees on everything from gas, electric vehicles, your Amazon Prime delivery and the ride-share app you’ll use after getting loaded during a post-pandemic bar crawl. Read more about the newly announced proposal here.

Capitol Diary • By Alex Burness

Footholds for prisoners

A few weeks ago, we explored why popular ideas often don’t become law (TL;DR: lack of money and/or political will.) This week saw another example.

There’s a bipartisan bill from Democratic Sen. James Coleman and Republican Sen. John Cooke to require the state Department of Corrections to help inmates get a state-issued ID upon release. One in five people leave state prisons without identity documents, which can be a barrier to employment, housing and other things. 

“The goal is to have people not recidivate, not go back within a year or two years, and getting an ID card is critical for that,” Cooke said.

Studies and anecdotes show that when prisoners have connections to the outside world and support to build lives of their own, they’re less likely to return to prison. About half of prisoners in Colorado end up returning within three years.

A Senate committee passed the bill unanimously this week, and it’ll likely eventually become law.

There’s another policy that might also have broad support: free phone calls for prisoners and jail inmates. Colorado’s DOC chief said he supports it because if you can call home as often as you want, or vice versa, it’s much easier to feel like you’re part of society and to set yourself up for success when you get out. 

But phone calls cost money and so does the surveillance of those calls that officials say is critical to security. The closest lawmakers will get on phone calls, for now, is a new bill aiming to demand transparency from phone companies about their rates. 

More Colorado political news

Federal Politics • By Justin Wingerter

A tiff over constituents

During a town hall meeting Monday night in Montrose, U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert made a claim about Republican predecessor Scott Tipton that a former Tipton staffer says is false.

Boebert defeated Tipton in June’s Republican primary and we know what happened next. When a congressional seat changes hands, the outgoing representative’s staffers sometimes hand over pending casework — nonpartisan, nonpolitical work with federal agencies to get constituents the help they deserve, such as Social Security checks or veterans benefits.

Boebert said that didn’t happen, claiming Tipton actually denied her staff access to casework. 

“I need to be made aware of anyone who thinks they have a current case with me. There are 10 years of casework I do not have access to,” she told the town hall. 

Brian McCain, who was Tipton’s district director, said that is not true. Tipton’s staff worked to resolve all cases by the end of October, then turned over its last dozen cases to Sen. Michael Bennet, with permission from all 12 constituents, according to McCain. That would mean there was no casework to give Boebert when she took office.

“I made multiple attempts to contact Congresswoman Boebert’s team to ensure a smooth transition and share information on possible constituent issues that would need to be addressed,” McCain said. “I received no response during the remainder of my time as district director.”

Tipton signed a form on Nov. 9, six days after Boebert was elected, which asks whether he wants to release casework, letters and emails he had received to Boebert. Tipton wrote, “I DO NOT wish to release my (correspondence) data to the incoming Member-elect.” He did not mention casework because, McCain said, there wasn’t any.

For more on this week’s town hall, read the Delta County Independent’s article here.

Federal politics news

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

Classifying Denver matters when it comes to federal money

 

The consolidated government of Denver faces an identity crisis of sorts following the second federal stimulus package that President Joe Biden signed into law, with tens of millions of dollars hanging in the balance.