May 7, 2024 - Politics

Colorado lawmakers strained by personality and politics as 2024 session ends

House Speaker Julie McCluskie and House Speaker Pro Tem Chris deGruy Kennedy speak at a legislative hearing in November. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Between banners and flags, Democratic leaders celebrated victories and showed unity at the Capitol throughout the 120-day session.

Yes, but: Frustration and anger among Democrats are reaching a boiling point ahead of Wednesday's adjournment.

Why it matters: The strain goes beyond personality conflicts and is affecting what legislation is advancing to the finish line.

State of play: 13 Democratic lawmakers confronted Speaker Julie McCluskie and House Majority Leader Monica Duran last week in a tense meeting that left one member in tears, according to Colorado Politics and the Denver Post.

  • The lawmakers said House leaders failed to protect them against Republican attacks and bullying on social media.
  • Democrats also are upset that leadership delayed their legislation and the party's moderates are watering down legislation in the Senate.

What they're saying: "We are struggling," Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) said. "Some of us are very hurt, some of us feel we continue to be harmed."

  • State Rep. Stephanie Vigil (D-Colorado Springs) accused Republicans of trying to "inspire violence against us" and suggested those members should "not be rewarded with legislative wins."

The big picture: The impromptu meeting echoed the final day last year in which progressive lawmakers blasted House leaders and expressed frustration about lack of unity on major policies.

  • Two lawmakers resigned in the interim citing the vitriolic atmosphere at the Capitol.
  • This session started with its own tensions as state Rep. Elisabeth Epps (D-Denver) trolled the House speaker on social media and did not attend floor sessions for weeks.

The intrigue: Even nonpartisan staff are noticing the uneasiness. House chief clerk Robin Jones, who's retiring, expressed hope for a better future, telling lawmakers, "I'm leaving because there's a lot of energy … in this building — some of it positive and a lot of it can be negative."

Zoom in: The most prominent legislation caught in the conflicts among Democrats is a ban on semi-automatic, assault-style weapons, which is poised to fail once again amid opposition from the moderate Senate and Gov. Jared Polis.

Other major Democratic bills that died this session include:

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