Lauded by liberals and business lobbyists alike, the Health Benefit Exchange Act, or Senate Bill 200, was seen as a bipartisan effort to reduce the burden of health insurance on the working class by pooling insurance policies under the control of a state board. For Amy Stephens, a Republican leader in what's easily Colorado's most conservative House district, supporting it was either a bold move or a tone-deaf one.
On the one side of that argument you have Rep. Stephens herself, a member of the Republican establishment and a social conservative who's risen into the House's second-most powerful role in just four years in office. With the federal government telling states that it would set up an exchange if they failed to do so on their own, Stephens says supporting SB 200 left at least some control to the state.
On the other side, there's Sarah Anderson and David Williams, who say the only thing Republicans should be doing with "Obamacare" is fighting it. And they're not alone. Far from it.
It's a late-spring evening in the gymnasium of the Classical Academy, in the heart of Stephens' House district, and Al Maurer, head of the Citizens' Legislative Action Committee, is hosting a "Citizen Town Hall" with many of the leaders, and activists, of local liberty groups. On the agenda are numerous talks on how activists can manipulate the legislative process. Former Sen. Dave Schultheis is in the audience. Sen. Kent Lambert shows up a couple minutes late.
Kanda Calef, who worked at the Capitol in 2008 for Stephens, discusses the strategies used to force through contentious legislation, and she uses SB 200 for her example of a controversial bill hurried through the legislative process by a powerful member.
"Only 13 House Republicans [out of 33] voted for it," Calef says, "and none of the Senate Republicans voted for it."
After the lectures, the audience takes the opportunity to ask questions, and to discuss strategies. Top on their list, as it is at many of these liberty meetings: How do we make Stephens pay?
Recall is mentioned, as well as lobbying to get her removed from House leadership. A primary challenge is also suggested.
"When you are talking about an incumbent who is the majority leader," says Calef, "you have to garner a lot of support. I have friends outside of my political world, and I call them and let them know what's going on. And I have lots of friends who are already crossing her off, saying that, you know, this was not acceptable to this district. In this district, we expect something different.
"So it is going to take everybody, all of us sticking together," Calef says. "We are not attacking Representative Stephens; it could be anybody if they introduced this legislation from this district."
Talk of a potential primary against Stephens is so ubiquitous in liberty circles that it appears to be an inevitability. However, that won't be a certainty until at least September, when the state is supposed to release its preliminary maps for state redistricting.
"At this point, since we don't know about re-apportionment we can't decide who that will be. But yes, as soon as that is decided, someone will be running against her," says Calef. "There are multiple people who have volunteered to do it. It's not going to be hard to find a candidate."
As for the money to run a primary, Calef says, people in general underestimate the organization of the grassroots. The money, she says, will be there.
Of Stephens, Calef says: "I think that she just thought that she was invincible."
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