Pat Poblete of the Colorado Springs Gazette reports on an incident yesterday in the Colorado Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee that should be getting more attention:
The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee had wrapped up roughly a half-hour of public testimony on a bill from Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, seeking to create a veteran suicide prevention pilot program when Chair Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, called a halt to proceedings. After a 10-minute recess, she cited health and safety concerns in adjourning the panel for the day without taking action on Garcia’s bill or the other four on the calendar.
A spokeswoman for Senate Democrats said the move was driven by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, who refused to wear a mask.
“As a person who buried 3 family members from COVID, Senator and chairwoman Gonzales takes this very seriously, as she should. If Sonnenberg doesn’t want to wear a mask, he has the option to participate remotely, not put people at risk.” [Pols emphasis]
As everybody in Colorado should be aware of by this time, there is a statewide mask mandate in effect to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. In Colorado, compliance with the mask order is overall considered pretty high–and it’s unusual enough for locals to engage in maskless “civil disobedience” that when they do it generally makes the pages of Westword or another local media outlet where they are roundly shamed.
But in the Colorado State Capitol, Republican lawmakers play by a different set of rules.
And even though in just about any other setting in this state a person going maskless to deliberately challenge the mask order would be confronted, shunned, and/or removed from the premises, the Colorado GOP Senate minority spokesman had the gall to defend Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg after he put everyone in this hearing room in danger:
“Senator Sonnenberg sat at least 12 feet from the nearest human being before removing his mask, which he put back on each time an individual approached him. To shut down a committee for the sake of shaming a Senator who posed no health risk is ridiculous,” said Sage Naumann, a spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus.
Nope, sorry–what’s ridiculous is a Senator who refuses to follow a public health order in a deadly pandemic. The root of the problem is longstanding arrogance on the part of Republican lawmakers even as their minorities have shrunk in elections, who treat the capitol as their personal fiefdom where the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to them. For example, every member of the public is obliged to pass through metal detectors and weapons are not allowed in the building–unless you’re a lawmaker, in which case you’re allowed to carry a gun in the building because…well, you’re a lawmaker. And that is why even though the governor can mandate the use of face masks everywhere else, Republican lawmakers like Jerry Sonnenberg feel at liberty to disregard that order in one of the most public locations in the state.
It’s tough to say what happens next–is this an obstruction tactic Republicans in the Colorado Senate intend to pull regularly going forward? Complacency about mask wearing has been widespread from House Republicans in particular ever since the mask order was put in effect, and this wasn’t the first time Democrats have had to contend with this kind of risky behavior from their colleagues. The question is whether the Democratic majority should tolerate it, and we frankly see no reason why they should.
If Republicans want to play this dangerous game, Democrats should continue to throw down like Sen. Julie Gonzales did yesterday. Don’t sweep it under the rug. Republicans in the legislature should be held to the same standard every Coloradan is expected to meet when we enter any public indoor space. This ridiculous behavior putting others directly at risk should be exposed and shamed. Coloradans know Gov. Polis plans to drop the mask order by summer if cases continue to decline. Poll after poll shows that the public overwhelmingly supports requiring face masks until the pandemic is over.
We say let every Coloradan see this. If Republicans want to turn mask resistance into a legislative obstruction tactic, they’ll pay a terrible price next time the voters have their say.