Jan 10, 2024 - Politics

Colorado Democrats target progressive Denver lawmaker

Rep. Elisabeth Epps sits in the House balcony in protest during a special session at the Colorado Capitol on Nov. 20. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

Rep. Elisabeth Epps sits in the House balcony in protest during a special session at the Colorado Capitol on Nov. 20. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The rare public reprimand of state Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a prominent progressive, ahead of the legislative session capped a controversial year for the first-term lawmaker and set the stage for a bruising re-election campaign.

Why it matters: Epps' tribulations represent a warning shot for other progressives who refuse to adhere to the political traditions that govern the Capitol.

State of play: Epps (D-Denver) ran as a disruptor from the start, leading a federal lawsuit against Denver for police brutality and defeating an establishment-backed Democratic candidate in the primary.

  • She repeatedly bucked leadership in her first term and soured the finish of the 2023 session with a filibuster against a Democratic bill.
  • In the interim, she joined a colleague in filing a lawsuit against legislative leaders alleging "pervasive" violations of the state's transparency laws.
  • In November's special session, she caused a disturbance and risked arrest for refusing the House speaker's order to clear the balcony, where she sat with pro-Palestinian protesters.

What they're saying: In the censure letter, House Speaker Julie McCluskie (D-Dillon) cited her violation of the chamber's rules and disrespect, saying she "failed to uphold the honor and dignity of our democratic institution."

What's new: Now Epps is being sidelined.

  • The speaker removed her, a self-described abolitionist on criminal justice issues, from her seat on the House Judiciary Committee, a prime assignment.
  • Leaders also moved her legislative office and seat in the chamber to less desirable locations, both of which she considered retribution.

The other side: Epps, who declined multiple interview requests, posted on social media that she won't be silenced.

What to watch: She faces a difficult primary election challenge against Sean Camacho, who is endorsed by 14 current Democratic lawmakers and party leaders, including Attorney General Phil Weiser.

  • If she loses, she'd follow in the footsteps of Denver City Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, who also lost her re-election bid in November after being an outspoken progressive.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to show Rep. Epps was publicly reprimanded, not censured.

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