The top Republican in the statehouse is sponsoring a bill that pits him against Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper over executive power and continues a heated controversy from last year’s legislative session over an LGBT advocate on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
The measure being brought by Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City, would bar any gubernatorial board or commission appointee from continuing to serve on a respective panel or being nominated again for the post if they are voted down by the Senate.
“If there’s a rejection, then that person shouldn’t serve in that capacity on that commission,” Grantham said.
The bill stems from GOP senators’ rare party-line vote last year to reject Heidi Jeanne Hess’ re-appointment to the Civil Rights Commission on grounds that she was anti-business.
Gubernatorial appointees typically are confirmed without issue, and the Republicans’ decision drew outrage partly over the suggestion that Hess, who is the Western Slope field organizer for One Colorado, an organization that promotes and protects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, was rejected because of her LGBT ties.
Hickenlooper, too, was upset by the GOP’s vote — saying, “I don’t think you should use people as punching bags to make a political point” — and kept her on as a member of the commission. His office contented that under a state law, “when an appointee is not confirmed by the Senate, the last person to hold the seat … continues to serve until the governor appoints a successor.”
Hickenlooper’s actions in turn irked Grantham, who likened the governor’s move to overreach. That’s why, Grantham says, he’s bringing legislation this session to clear up any confusion.
“Statute is completely silent in Colorado when it comes to this issue,” he told reporters Tuesday. “Other states have much more clear language on what happens to a person when they are rejected. Most states that have such operations within the Senate versus the executive branch are very clear that that person cannot serve. Even our U.S. Senate, when they reject someone, that person does not serve. Period.”
When asked about the legislation, Hickenlooper said he thinks it tramples on his office’s power.
“On the surface, yes, it is an infringement,” he said. “And I think the Constitution is pretty clear that, until you find somebody new, that person continues to serve.”
Hess, a Grand Junction Democrat, has since resigned from the Civil Rights Commission. In a statement to The Denver Post on Tuesday, Hess said “it is my sincerest desire to remain on the Commission representing the community at large.”
“Unfortunately, because of the Colorado Senate Majority’s unwillingness to reconfirm me, I am unable to continue my second term,” she wrote, noting that she had been the panel’s only member from the Western Slope. “… It is unfortunate that the essential voice of rural Coloradans will no longer be represented on the Commission — who often face discrimination at much higher rates than those in urban areas.”
Hickenlooper said Hess is in the process of being replaced. “We will find somebody new and put them up for confirmation,” he said.
Grantham’s legislation — Senate Bill 43, also backed by Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Paul Lundeen — is scheduled to be heard later this week in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.
Democrats, who control the House, could reject the measure if it makes it through the GOP-led Senate.
“That will be an interesting one,” Grantham said of his bill. “I don’t know if it gets through the House or not. But, honestly, it shouldn’t be a Democrat-Republican issue.”