IN RESPONSE: Civil Rights Division is too important for GOP’s political brinkmanship

Author: Colorado Politics - March 14, 2018 - Updated: March 14, 2018

Lydia Macy, 17, left, and Mira Gottlieb, 16, both of Berkeley, Calif., rally outside of the Supreme Court which is hearing the ‘Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission’ on Dec. 5 in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Recently in this space, Sen. Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs Republican, wrote that Democrats had resorted to “misinformation,” “demagoguery” and “hysterical cries” about Republicans’ vote to defund the Colorado Civil Rights Division.

I’ll skip the name-calling and stick to the facts.

Each year, the CCRD investigates hundreds of claims of discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and other factors. It’s an important resource for individuals who face discrimination, including communities of color, LGBTQ individuals, women and seniors, helping them access justice without having to file expensive lawsuits. And it’s beneficial for businesses, for whom lawsuits are also costly and time-consuming.

Ensuring the continued existence of the CCRD should be a no-brainer, and beyond petty partisan games. But on Feb. 8, Republicans on the legislative Joint Budget Committee, which drafts the state budget, blocked funding for the CCRD. As a result, there is currently no money set aside in the budget for the CCRD to continue operating past June 30. This certainly can change before the budget is finalized. But despite claiming a desire to continue the division, Republicans have not yet voted to fund the division, leaving its future in limbo.

The Republican vote against funding the agency charged with protecting Coloradans from discrimination prompted widespread protest, and for good cause. Though it is not necessarily unusual to “table” – essentially set aside for further debate – components of the budget while it’s being put together, that move is generally reserved for items that are a point of disagreement, which will have to be debated and hashed out during the final budget negotiations.

Instead, we now see Republicans publicly claiming support for the CCRD while simultaneously blocking its funding. Trying to extract changes to the commission – such as stacking it with appointments from big business  to tilt it away from its core mission — by threatening the division’s funding, rather than entering into a regular policy discussion about the agency, is a brazen political maneuver and it should absolutely be called for what it is.

Democrats are open to honest policy discussions about how or whether the agency could be improved. But we are not open to changes that will undermine the commission and its core mission of protecting Coloradans from discrimination. A “compromise” that undermines the agency and the protections it offers is not good enough for me, or for the people of Colorado.

We are fighting for a clean reauthorization of the Civil Rights Division. The Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee ultimately joined with Democrats in a strongly bipartisan 10-1 vote to introduce the clean reauthorization. We hope we see the same level of bipartisanship from the Senate Republicans when the bill crosses over from the House later this month.

Our goal is to ensure that Coloradans have the right to work and live in Colorado without fear of discrimination and harassment in their jobs and their homes, and a strong, independent and balanced CCRD is critical to achieving that goal. The continued existence of this agency is too important to play brinksmanship politics, holding it hostage to extract changes. We hope that common sense prevails over politics, and we can pass a clean bill reauthorizing the division this year. Because Colorado is watching.

Crisanta Duran
Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics

Colorado Politics, formerly The Colorado Statesman, is the state's premier political news publication, renowned for its award-winning journalism. The publication is also the oldest political news outlet in the state, in continuous publication since 1898. Colorado Politics covers the stories behind the stories in Colorado's state Capitol and across the Centennial State, focusing on politics, public policy and elections with in-depth reporting on the people behind the campaigns — from grassroots supporters to campaign managers and the candidates and issues themselves.