Chase Woodruff at Colorado Newsline has a story up today that everybody in Colorado politics should read, as it explores the meek closure of another wild rhetorical loop from the historically impactful 2019 session of the Colorado legislature. Readers are of course familiar with Senate Bill 19-181, the landmark reform of the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that Republicans in the legislature warned would “shut down oil and gas in Colorado” and later quietly conceded they could live with after all.
Another major flashpoint from 2019, as Woodruff writes today, was the establishment of something called the Office of Just Transition to help fossil fuel-producing regions of the state cope economically with declining production. Two years ago, Republicans gearing up for half-baked recall attempts against Gov. Jared Polis and targets of opportunity in the legislature hyped the Office of Just Transition into some kind of dystopian horror show:
In a tense, late-night floor debate over House Bill 19-1314, which created a new Office of Just Transition in the state’s labor department, Senate Republicans called the legislation “laughable” and “offensive.” It was an “insulting and egregious bill.” Sen. Bob Gardner, a Republican from El Paso County, advised Democratic lawmakers traveling to the communities impacted by the bill to “leave town pretty quickly,” because “your welcome might be pretty short.”
“I’ll tell you what my people think,” said state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican who represents several coal-dependent communities in northwest Colorado. “They don’t want the government retraining them and telling them what they’re going to do, and setting up some committee to feel their pain. They just want you to tell them when they have to move out of this state, and go to Wyoming. That’s what they want. They do not want this bill.”
But a funny thing happened between 2019 and the present day, and it wasn’t just those recalls turning into a running joke. Republicans who once warned that the Office of Just Transition was a fast track to an Orwellian nightmare are suddenly on the Newspeak bandwagon! The same Bob Rankin who raged about the creation of the office in 2019 is now a sponsor of this year’s legislation to fund it:
Rankin wrote in an email that he had previously opposed the Office of Just Transition because he “believed its creation was simply to provide political cover for an overly aggressive attack on fossil fuel jobs.”
“Perhaps this stimulus funding will actually find its way to help damaged communities,” Rankin said. “I would still prefer that the funds be provided directly to the towns and counties rather than through the state government grant process.”
Other GOP lawmakers who opposed HB-1314 and have since voiced support for just-transition efforts, including Will, did not respond to interview requests. But, with millions of dollars in state funding poised to flow into their communities, their public statements are a far cry from the skepticism they expressed two years ago.
With the political acrimony having for the moment dissipated enough for a reality-based discussion to occur, it seems local Republicans are much more willing to accept that the transition to renewable energy is in fact happening–and the energy-producing communities they represent therefore need the assistance Democrats knew they would need from the beginning. It’s an undeniable sign of how the political climate in Colorado has changed after 2018’s historic wave followed by the successful defense of the Democratic majority in 2020. And it underscores the nonpartisan reality that fossil fuels really are on their way out.
All told, it’s a very good sign for Colorado’s long-term minority party to see them setting aside the crazy rhetoric to do the right thing for their constituents in the state legislature. Who knows? If this newfound pragmatism over political pique gets picked up by our state’s Republican congresscritters, perhaps Republican representation won’t always be a ticket to self-imposed second-class citizenship.