Almost lost in the day-long debate Thursday in the Colorado House over the "Long Bill" General Fund budget was one of some two dozen unsuccessful amendments proposed by Republicans. Offered by freshman GOP Rep. Bob Rankin, Amendment 12 sought $1 million additional dollars for the Colorado Tourism Office. The purpose? We'll let Rep. Rankin explain, but once you realize what he's asking for, it's really quite astonishing.
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KAGAN: Representative Rankin, to the amendment.
RANKIN: Mr. Chairman, this um, this bill moves one million dollars from the so-called ‘accounting fund,’ eight million dollars, to the Colorado Tourism Office. And since the amendment doesn’t clearly explain it, I should probably discuss what I intend to be done with that one million dollars.
First of all, let me say I do not intend this discussion to be a return to the debate over gun control. However, what I would like to point out is that we have a current and evolving problem that I think we can easily solve. And that is that the perception of the hunting community about what’s going in, going on in Colorado is causing a significant problem. I mean, I have a whole stack here of emails, and press releases that you may have seen. I mean recently, we just had our first two cancelations of shooting clubs who were coming to Colorado, there was one in Montrose for July, had about three hundred people showing up and they just canceled. And this is not, you know this is not a problem based on reality, it’s really a problem based on perception and misunderstanding. [Pols emphasis]
When we had a debate on gun control, and, Representative McCann, where are you. I apologize for quoting you, Representative McCann, but when you and I were talking about, um, the perception of hunters of our gun control bills, we actually ended up agreeing on something. And if I can quote Representative McCann, uh, “I think we need to do a public education effort.” There is confusion over our gun laws. So in this confusion, is causing us to lose hunters, tourists, and revenue. And I think we have a solution, we have an organization in the advertising arm of the Colorado Tourism organization that does an outstanding job. We actually return more per dollar in state revenue than any other state with our tourism advertising campaign. And these people are really pros, they know how to reach out on a very targeted basis.
We can, and right now the Attorney General’s office is going through an interpretation of our laws [Pols emphasis] and how they apply to different segments. We can actually put this together, in a public relations campaign we can reach out to the hunter community and turn around some of this perception and still save a lot of our, a large segment of a billion-dollar business this year. This, this can be done so, you know, what I ask for is some additional money and some direction to these people who are already doing a fantastic job of bringing tourism and outdoor people to our state. And let’s see if we can’t fix this problem. So, thank you for your attention, and, you know, please support this, we, we actually really need to get the word out on how these gun laws actually affect tourism and hunters. [Pols emphasis] Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Rep. Rankin, whose House district sprawls across rural northwest Colorado, is concerned about the "perception" of Colorado's recently-passed gun safety laws, particularly among the hunting community which injects millions of dollars into this area's economy each year. Rankin notes recent event cancelations, including a July shooting event in Montrose, and asserts the issue is "not a problem based on reality, it’s really a problem based on perception and misunderstanding." It's not practical to clip all seventeen minutes of debate over this amendment, but GOP Reps. Chris Holbert, Kevin Priola, and Libby Szabo all come to the microphone to ask for support. Rep. Holbert even acknowledged that the money would go toward "dispelling myths" held by hunters about Colorado's new gun laws:
HOLBERT: If the Office of Tourism can step in with this extra million dollars that Representative Rankin is asking for, we at least have the opportunity to go out and explain how those work, those processes will work, dispel some of the myths, [Pols emphasis] and help these hunters through the only season that they have.
To summarize, Colorado Republicans this week asked for a million extra dollars for a public relations campaign–to clear up a problem not "based on reality," but a problem "based on perception and misunderstanding" about Colorado's new gun safety laws. As Rep. Holbert said, there are "myths" that need "dispelling," so that hunters know that they and their guns are still welcome in our state.
Folks, where do you suppose those "myths" came from?
Could it be the warning from Colorado Republican legislators that background checks would "criminalize the private transfer of firearms?" Was it the claim from Sen. Kevin Lundberg that limiting magazine capacity would "ban all magazines?" When Sen. Kent Lambert declared from the well of the Colorado Senate that these laws have "effectively banned gun ownership," or in a later interview that guns in Colorado will be "confiscated or taken away here over the next couple of years"–do you suppose these are "myths" Rep. Holbert wants to "dispel?"
It's truly remarkable. This GOP amendment was to solve a "perception problem" the GOP created. It's an admission that, in the full context of what happened, more or less obliterates their credibility.
Look, we get what Rep. Rankin was trying to accomplish. The fact is, the intense campaign of misinformation and purposefully cultivated hysteria over recently passed gun safety legislation could very well cause economic harm to the state of Colorado, and that harm could be felt disproportionately in areas heavily dependent on tourism and hunting like northwest Colorado.
But we also know who is to blame for that irresponsible and potentially damaging misinformation. Bob Rankin need look no further than his own Republican caucus to solve this problem.
By asking them to stop telling the lies that caused it.