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December 14, 2023 11:56 AM UTC

House Democrats Clean Up "Acrimonious" Workplace with Committee Changes

  • 13 Comments
  • by: Colorado Pols

Everybody knows one. Every office has them.

They are the people who make a workplace into a toxic environment with their words and actions (and microwaving leftover fish in the break room). The actions of one or two individuals can poison the culture of an entire office and make it difficult for others to do their work effectively. The State Capitol is no more immune from toxic co-workers than any other office in Colorado.

That’s why House Speaker Julie McCluskie on Wednesday announced new committee assignments for the next legislative session, which begins on Jan. 10. The big news in that announcement was more about the names that did not appear in an expected place on the committee assignment list: Democratic Reps. Bob Marshall (Douglas County) and Elisabeth Epps (Denver).

As Jesse Paul and Sandra Fish report for The Colorado Sun:

“Serving on a member’s top choice of committee is a privilege — not a right,” McCluskie, D-Dillon, said in a written statement to The Colorado Sun. “I took this step to address frustrations that the Judiciary Committee needed a reset due to the level of acrimony in the personal relationships on the committee and to help deliver the progressive outcomes our caucus is looking for. My decisions on where to appoint members depend on their respect of their colleagues, ability to collaborate and adherence to decorum, which was clearly violated during our special session last month.”

McCluskie’s comment referred to how Epps interrupted the chamber’s proceedings on the final day of the special session on property tax and other financial relief as she called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Epps left the House floor and joined pro-Palestinian protesters in the chamber’s gallery before proceeding to shout during a speech delivered by Republican Rep. Ron Weinberg, who is Jewish, responding to Epps’ comments about the conflict. The outburst prompted a long recess before Weinberg continued his remarks…

…Epps also posted on social media that she had shouted “shame on you” to Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, in a parking garage on the night before the special session ended.

Rep. Elisabeth Epps shouted at lawmakers FROM THE GALLERY during November’s special legislative session

We wrote in November about the performative politics of Epps and a band of fellow protestors who attempted to disrupt Colorado’s special legislative session — which was called in an effort to reduce property tax burdens on Colorado families — in a pointless effort to get Colorado lawmakers to do…something about the Israel-Gaza conflict. Of course, Colorado lawmakers have NOTHING to do with American foreign policy and couldn’t change the direction of a conflict in the Middle East any more than they could demand that somebody move the moon.

This sort of non-strategic shouting is the same kind of nonsense employed by unserious politicians such as Congressperson Lauren Boebert — people who are more interested in trying to make a point than they are in crafting policies for their constituents. The end result is generally the same in either case: It serves only to create a toxic work environment (Google Boebert and Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and you’ll see what we mean). Like Boebert, Epps is primarily interested in getting attention as an elected official; in her first term as a lawmaker, Epps is already the subject of an HBO documentary about her, um, interesting ideas on policing.

Not long after the Colorado special session ended, freshman lawmaker Ruby Dickson, who is Jewish, abruptly resigned from the legislature, saying “the sensationalistic and vitriolic nature of the current political environment is not healthy for me or my family.” It wasn’t hard to read between the lines of Dickson’s statement.

But it wasn’t just the special session that caused McCluskie to remove Marshall and Epps from committee assignments.

Marshall and Epps were also sidelined for their joint effort to sue both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature regarding certain communications between lawmakers that might violate the spirit of Colorado Open Meetings requirements. As we wrote in September regarding the lawsuit that included Epps but was largely driven by Marshall:

These concerns probably could have been worked out without a formal lawsuit and saved taxpayers from the $13,000 bill that covers the legal fees of Marshall’s attorneys, but perhaps it’s hard to be “open meetings guy” if people don’t know that you are complaining about open meetings.

Sure, you could file a lawsuit against your colleagues during your first few months in a new job. Or you could, you know, talk to them instead. Oddly enough, that lawsuit has even created some common ground between House Republicans and House Democrats:

 

If even House Minority Leader Mike Lynch thinks Democrats did the right thing, it’s pretty tough to argue otherwise.

Epps and Marshall were not removed from committee assignments altogether; Epps remains on the State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and Marshall is still a member of the Finance Committee. But House Judiciary is a much more influential and sought-after committee posting.

This is an entirely justifiable move for House Speaker McCluskie, whose job includes being a responsible manager for her 46-member Democratic caucus. Perhaps this decision will also help Marshall and Epps understand that their real allegiance should be to their constituents, and not their pursuit of pet causes and individual attention.

Comments

13 thoughts on “House Democrats Clean Up “Acrimonious” Workplace with Committee Changes

  1. "McCluskie’s comment referred to how Epps interrupted the chamber’s proceedings on the final day of the special session on property tax and other financial relief as she called for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war."

    I don't know why she tried to bring this up on the floor when her grievance should have gone to the House Foreign Relations Committee.

  2. As a constituent of Epps I'm beyond upset.  She owes her constituents, especially her Jewish constituents, a major apology.   I'll be voting for Sean Camacho at this point, as well.

     

  3. Epps is a long time , dedicated community activist and justice reformer, and I support her.

    The Colorado Freedom Fund has successfully promoted legislation (19-1225) , later passed into law, which would end cash bail for petty and traffic violations. Owing $75 on a defective taillight ticket should not sentence a driver to months in jail. Epps helped build the coalition which drove this bill forward.

    Epps has been a driver for "No Cash Bail". This justice reform, enacted now in 6 states, eliminates the requirement for cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felony offenses, with ultimate power to impose bail still resting with the courts.  Arguments for and against cash bail can be found here.

    She's walked the talk, too – raising thousands of dollars to bail fathers out of jail on Juneteenth and Father's Day, as well as throughout the year. Although all the men featured in the Post article were young black males, there is no race or gender requirement on the bail funds.

    If your opinion is that no reform of the criminal justice system is necessary, and that activists like Epps are just "coddling criminals",  then I'd invite you to come to my work at a halfway house, and chat with people who have been caught up in the system for decades of their lives. There is a public safety purpose for incarcerating some offenders; however, the majority do not improve, since there is no mental health or therapy available for prisoners. Incarcerated folks do not "think it over", Instead, they learn how to be better criminals, and generally waste their potential behind bars.

    Elisabeth Epps has done and is doing great work. While I don't agree with protesting in favor of Palestinians to the Colorado State legislature, I do agree with the intent of the protest. The death toll for Palestinian children is now above 6,000, with 17,000 total dead or starving with no humanitarian aid allowed.

    Netanyahu is not supported by his own people. He is a tin-pot dictator like Trump. We should all be pushing for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

     

     

    1. “….and I support her”

      Big surprise there. Although you support her, you can’t vote for her since you live in Jefferson County.

      Epps has a good number of Jewish constituents in her district who probably disagree with her gratuitous opinion about Israel’s war with Hamas. Many of those folks will probably not be supporting her. (I say “gratuitous” because taking a public position has nothing to do with her role as a state legislator.)

      She’s a buffoon whose is trying to be the Ilhan Omar of the Colorado legislature. It’s nice to see that leadership in both parties are not going to put up with that crap.

  4. I'm not a constituent of Rep. Epps but her behavior in the legislature has been performative and divisive. I agree that there should be a ceasefire in Gaza, that innocents are being slaughtered and that Netanyahu is ruthless and should be held accountable but what has the Colorado legislature got to do with that?

    We can admire Rep. Epps for her work in criminal justice, her work there is much needed. That doesn't give her license to tear the House down.

  5. Marshall, at least, was trying to do something about the "good old boy" culture at the Capitol and to encourage openness, which is a noble goal.

    Epps, though, she's a circus performer. She's like the other "progressives" in our party who are all about censorious scorn for others. I hope the voters in her district boot her in favor of her primary opponent, who seems to me to have quite a bit more savvy and capacity to play well with others.

  6. To understand the dynamics re Rep Marshall’s reassignment, one has to know something about the history of the CO Democratic Party’s haves and have-nots.  The working gap between the Democrat’s Denver/Boulder progressives and the party’s suburban moderates remains considerable aka “the elephant in the room”.  

    Simply, DougCo’s Democratic voters have consistently Given more than we’ve Taken, in supporting statewide candidates and other Party Initiatives. Boiling it down – the Party apparatus enjoys our dollars & volunteering, all the while sticking with the long-held presumption that all DougCo elections are automatic victories for the GOP. 

    Re: Marshall’s 2022 run, the State Party declared his effort to be futile and not worth central support. It’s obvious the same “don’t touch that” central philosophy prevailed in CD3 in 2022. When Frisch announced as a Democrat, little attention or support flowed from the Party’s National and Colorado arms to his unwinnable race.

    Running up to the 2022 election, Marshall garnered extraordinary local support by calling out the conservative Douglas County School Board majority for illegal meetings, lying and taking support from the Koch think-tanks – the Independence Institute and LPR.  He subsequently carried “good governance” as his prime platform. And he won.

    After swearing in, Rep. Marshall pulled one political sin on top of another.  First…putting his full constituency’s moderate interests above those of the progressives in Denver party. Second, he applied “good governance” to House leadership on both parties.  Those of us who elected Marshall were well aware of his plans, before the election, because Marshall told us exactly what his approach would be once elected.

    Nobody expects political party leadership to be perfect…we can, however, expect leadership to be collegial, aboveboard and lawful. To suggest that Marshall filed suit without approaching leadership is bullbutter. To say he filed suit only when leadership ignored his warning is accurate.

    One more thing…labelling Rep Marshall’s conduct as acrimonious…more bullbutter. 

    1. I agree with you in entirety about Marshall.

      In fact, Rep. Marshall's focus on accountability and good government is exactly what Democrats should emphasize. They should take care not to get too far down Epps' rabbit hole of attacking the police and thinking that identity politics will sell very much in this state.

      The biggest threat to a continued Democratic majority at the capitol is the looming rise in property taxes. I know no one who will not vote for a hard cap on annual property tax increases. The reality is that housing costs keep going up along with everything else and, for those of us approaching retirement, we are going to be on a fixed income. If Democrats don't assure a hard cap that provides slow and predictable and reasonable changes in property tax revenue demands, they will give a big wide opening to Republicans. 

      The second threat is Gov. Polis' continued reluctance to aggressively deal with climate change and air pollution. His administration very evidently does not want to do anything that the fossil fuel lobby doesn't like. But there are plenty of voters who should be sympathetic to Dems that know they're living with the costs of that decades-old deference. Sometimes dangerously. They may not vote for Republicans, but they may not turn out to vote for Democrats, either.

      Then there's the social issues. 'Nuf said.

      1. The biggest threat to Democratic dominance in the state (mostly applicable to the legislature, Senate mainly) is complacency. Considering the hue of the state’s political landscape, the moderation of Coloradan voters, the now established far-right stances and leadership of the state GOP that’s out of step with most voters, I personally doubt Republicans will be enjoying a majority any time soon. Colorado Dems are also made out different stuff. For example, they have managed to have a majority more often than not since 2004, even when the state was red-ish and purple. However, as you mentioned, apathetic non-voters can be just as bad as swing voters, especially in competive districts.

        I have a brother in Washington state who’s a volunteer and member of a local Democratic county chapter. He tells me that while the state is solidly blue and Democrats enjoy majorities more often than not, there has been times (as recently as 2016) that Republicans held a majority in the legislature (the senate in this case). Aside from that, Dems enjoy only relatively narrow majorities at times. He tells me it’s complacency and Dems there acting like they can’t be stopped so they sort of govern with the intention of pleasing the establishment and living in a echo chamber. This comfort is making Dems lose ground is portions of rural Washington, uninpsired Dem candidates losing to Republicans in some spots ripe for a blue wave, and making places that should heavily cast votes for Dems have relatively low-turnout. The results? Republicans there honestly being overrepresnted in a state that actually greatly disfavors them. It also helps that the state GOP there aren’t far-right lunatics.

        Why menton this? Colorado Dems should always remember why voters have trusted them over the GOP since even the swinging days, because they listen, refuse to establish ideological purity, are independent and actually care more about constituents than party politics. It’s the reason Dems have secured majorites even in the worst times and have transformed the suburbs and even some rural areas into Democratic strongholds. Never take it for granted.

      2. I'm a big fan of Marshall. Any Democrat who has managed to figure out how to crack through that seemingly impenetrable Red Wall that is Douglas County knows something that the rest of us should learn.

      3. Here's my spin…history shows the biggest threats to Colorado's Democratic state supermajority are:

        • Colorado Democrats have failed to engage anyone under the age of 45. GOP has same problem.
        • Believing Polis is a Democratic and not a rich Libertarian.  Example – Propublica expose' re Polis not paying his fair share taxes using invesntment tax dodges.  He will typically advocate for the wealthy…let's get rid of income tax. Publicly criticizing Polis is verboten.
        • Elected Democratic leadership [everywhere] treats their collegues like wet dirt…underhanded and/or exclusionary tactics/operations to hold power in their hands. Example – this article.
        • Democrats pretending the CO Party is a "big tent". Example – Moderates not welcome. Example – If you're a Democrat living outside of Denver/Boulder, don't ask for anything…period. 
        • Overreach with proposed legislation that doesn't tackle predominant issues (it's the economy, stupid).  Example – Democratic leadership and the Governor failed miserably with HH (reminds me of the 2015 Superbowl Russell Wilson pass on the 1 yard, with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield).           
        • Legislation that gets in the middle of family or personal affairs under the assumption government has something efficient to offer. Example – providing school-based mental health services to minors without parental notification.  

         

        1. "Example – Propublica expose' re Polis not paying his fair share taxes using invesntment tax dodges"

          His "fair share" of taxes? According to who? You? Bernie Sanders? AOC? 

          Do you have any evidence that Polis has avoided or evading that which he is legally obligated to pay? I thought not.

          Do you voluntarily contribute more money to the IRS and the DOR than you are legally obligated to pay? I thought not.

          Finally, if you think we would have been better off with Governor Ganahl, you should have done more to get her elected.

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