Lakewood, COLO.—There were two equally queasy groups in the Colorado House of Representatives State Affairs Committee hearing room at the state capitol Monday night. One group was supporters and advocates for civil unions, hoping desperately for a last-minute change of heart by one of the Republicans on the committee. The other group was moderate Republicans, watching nervously as multimillionaire philanthropist Tim Gill and his lobbyist Ted Trimpa sat for the whole hearing.
The bill died on a straight party-line vote, 5-4. Afterwards, Nic Garcia of OutFront Colorado tweeted, "Ted Trimpa, lobbyist for Tim Gill, said it's "GAME ON!" for November." At which point the smart Republicans in Colorado threw up in their mouths a little.
This was the civil unions bill that refused to die, at least until Rep. Frank McNulty, the Republican speaker of the House, defied the moderates in his own party to send the bill to a "kill committee" on the first day of the special session. It passed three committees in the regular session, garnering Republican support along the way, and would have passed easily on the floor. Gov. John Hickenlooper had to call the special session after McNulty ended the regular session last week by burning down the legislative house, immolating 30 other bills in order to prevent the floor vote on civil unions.
Monday night’s caving to the right wing is a political and practical blunder of epic proportions by the Republican House leadership. A reporter from the Pueblo Chieftain asked McNulty right after the vote, "Are you concerned at all that this seals your legacy as a bigot?"
But the long-term implications for the Republicans may be even worse than the short-term bad-faith optics. Not only did Tim Gill put in a rare public appearance at the hearing, two major Republican donors showed up for a pro-civil unions rally that morning. Fox31’s Eli Stokols tweeted, "Asked @RepMcNulty if he's nervous about GOP donors (Greg Stevinson, Dan Ritchie) showing support for #civilunions. Didn't get an answer."
The Denver Post’s editorial "McNulty divorces reality on civil unions," posted that same evening, bluntly opined,
McNulty and Republicans resorted to a disgraceful power play to kill a popular bill that would acknowledge a basic civil right. Democrats and their allies will spend plenty of energy pointing that out between now and November; while McNulty and his troops continue peddling their fiction.
Republicans hold the Colorado House by a single seat. An energized political push to elect a Democratic majority in the Colorado House, especially in the swing district Denver suburbs, doesn’t exactly help Mitt Romney. Nor does the right-wing cave by Colorado Republicans enhance Romney’s attempt to move to the center in a moderate state like Colorado. Add fleeing Republican donors to that equation and thanks to civil unions, it’s going to be a very long six months for Colorado Republicans between now and November.