No matter which political party you prefer, the news that Republicans in the Colorado Legislature were gathering Monday in Denver came as no surprise.
After all, the General Assembly convenes in just six weeks, on Jan. 12. Given the continuing financial strain, forcing Gov. Bill Ritter's final proposed budget to cut another $1.1 billion for the 2011-12 fiscal year, it makes sense that GOP groups would want to talk strategy.
Except for one problem. Those legislators didn't discuss new ways to balance the budget. They felt a different issue was important enough to fill their plate.
That's not a joke. We're a month after the election. Republicans did take control of the state House by the thinnest possible margin, 33-32. Democrats still rule in the Senate by a more comfortable 20-15 edge, with Sen. John Morse of Colorado Springs continuing as majority leader.
Yet, now we have some GOP members, including just-elected Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, bleating about how we have to copy Arizona's xenophobic approach to immigration. Lambert says he'll introduce the bill.
"I was aware of what was going on in the building," Morse said Tuesday from his Capitol office, "but we were busy doing things that were truly important. What they were doing was a waste of time, and it was certainly not going to waste my time."
Morse insists he won't judge all of his Republican peers by those few, adding, "I'm very hopeful that the Republican caucus as a whole is interested in solving real problems. But there are still some individuals who are into grandstanding moves like that, and they'll never be held into account by the voters."
While others talked immigration, Morse's week has been filled with meetings about education funding, committee assignments and other real issues. Such is the disconnect between far-right lawmakers and reality.
My reaction to the news was to remember an afternoon in late September, listening as Morse outlined legislative challenges for 2011. He talked about K-through-12 education, Medicaid, prisons, higher education, human services and the judicial system. Off the top of his head, he adeptly broke down percentages and dollar figures, lamenting that so many were wailing about taxes being too high, "and we're 46th out of 50 states in taxes collected."
"Our budget is becoming mathematically unworkable," he said then.
Morse never brought up illegal immigration that day. It wasn't a pressing issue. Nobody buys into the latest feeble attempt at fear-mongering, the suggestion that all of Arizona's illegal immigrants will flee that state for Colorado. It's not happening. And one other thing: Colorado's next governor, John Hickenlooper, already has said he would veto legislation duplicating Arizona's law. Hickenlooper also vows to make Colorado as business-friendly as possible, helping create jobs and attract more companies.
So arch-conservatives should just forget about immigration. Don't listen to me, either. Consider a note written to a number of media outlets by Donna Elder, an 83-year-old from Manitou Springs who calls herself a "strong Republican for the past 62 years, working for the Party in a number of capacities over the years in many states." She admits she just voted for a Democratic governor (Hickenlooper) for the first time in her life. Here's an excerpt:
"To push this divisive illegal immigrant measure when it is being challenged in the courts in Arizona, seems totally wrong-headed as well as damaging to the future prospects of the Republican Party as a whole. Please, let's at least let this divisive legislation have a hearing in the courts before introducing it into the Colorado Legislature.
"In a larger frame, I feel that the far-right wing of the Republican Party, mainly through Sarah Palin, has garnered a huge following, but there is no way the Republicans are going to win with just the Far Right. If the Republican Party does not moderate to embrace even lifelong Republicans like myself, plus other citizens who are independent voters, my prediction is we will not be winning any big elections..."
My guess is, Donna is not alone. So it's up to reasonable leaders now, on both sides, to deal with Colorado's issues.
And if the far right wants to continue obsessing about immigration, nobody else will be listening.
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