State House Republicans have been a big disappointment for Colorado Springs' state Sen. Kent Lambert. Big. And he has a warning for them: Your flirtations with the Democratic Party might cost you the House majority.
It is only a one-seat, 33-32 majority, after all. And with two bills, Lambert says, Republicans have signaled to voters that they are not willing to uphold the strict conservative values that their constituents sent them to Denver to represent.
"There are a lot of voters out there," says Lambert, "who are saying, 'If you think that you can do this without us, have a good day, because we can't trust you. You lied to us. You aren't following the Republican principles.'"
The worst sins
The lesser of the two sins against the party was SB 11-186. Sponsored in the House by Springs Republican Mark Waller, it establishes a bonding alternative for courts, known as deposit bonds. Waller says that the bonding option raises money for county services and allows courts to release more defendants on bond than the current system, which relies heavily on bail bondsmen.
"It's smart-on-crime legislation," Waller says.
To Lambert, it's the creation of a government-sponsored competitor in "a system that works fine now through private corporations."
"It is a lose-lose for Republicans," he says, "just as was Senate Bill 200."
But this is the mortal sin: health care exchanges.
SB 200 creates a public nonprofit exchange intended to "foster a competitive marketplace" for health insurance, open to all carriers authorized to conduct business in Colorado. It will be overseen by a commission and board, and has won strong support from across the business community — and liberals. Democrat Betty Boyd from Lakewood sponsored the bill in the Senate.
Not a single Senate Republican supported SB 200, Lambert notes. Yet Amy Stephens, the Republican House Majority Leader from Monument, sponsored the bill and shepherded it through passage in the House with the support of 13 Republicans.
"I think that there is the possibility that we can lose the House of Representatives over that vote," says Lambert. "There are people who say that there are Republicans who are just like Democrats, that there is no distinction, and this is the kind of bill that feeds into that perception."
Lambert says that voters will "opt out" if Republicans don't follow their campaign promises, that will say the Republicans who voted for 200 "lied to us."
"We've heard that there are going to be a lot of options," he says. "Some are actively considering primarying those Republicans that are voting for this."
That means GOP primary opposition, possibly for Stephens.
Lambert echoes much criticism of Stephens' bill coming from the tea party right, saying that the bill is a dangerous capitulation to the "extortion by the federal government to mandate what states have to do." Lambert claims it will create a foothold in Colorado for full implementation of President Obama's sweeping 2010 health care reforms.
"That is active socialism," he continues. "And any time you are setting up these socialist systems, you are setting up dictatorships. You have to. You have to eliminate choice. The whole thing is unconstitutional, in my opinion, from soup to nuts ... and no Republican should vote for it."
Waller didn't vote for the bill, but he says it wasn't because he shares "Lambert's vitriol for it. ... I don't think health care exchanges are this horrific, evil thing."
Stephens sighs when she learns of Lambert's criticism.
"'The full implementation of Obamacare,' are you kidding?" she asks.
Stephens says she's been interested in insurance exchanges since learning about Utah's system, established in 2008. The business community and her constituents backed her.
While she is a fan of exchanges, she is not a fan of Obama's legislation.
"I believe the judge when he says it's unconstitutional," she says. But, she adds, it's the law of the land at the moment. And the state must have an exchange up by 2013 and fully running in 2014.
If a state failed, the federal government would set up the exchange.
"And I am a huge states' rights person, and I believe that a bureaucrat in D.C. doesn't know Grand Junction," she says.
Why wouldn't the state want to take action now, she asks, and make the exchange specific to Colorado?
"At this point in the game, I'd rather be ahead of the curve and protect my state from a states' right viewpoint, than just sit on my hands," she says. "And the Lamberts and these guys said, 'You should be sitting on your hands and doing nothing.' I wasn't sent to Denver to do nothing."
She adds that "people of good conscience can disagree.
"Some don't get that concept. They think that because they are the Pharisees, the Republican Party Pharisees, that if people of good conscience differ, well they're pure and you aren't."
When asked if they realize primary races could hurt the party, she responds: "Do you think that they really care? These guys don't care if they are in the minority, as long as they are purely in the minority. And if you are in the majority, you are purely in the majority."
This is a puzzling attitude to take, she says, for "supposed liberty-lovers. Which I always thought I was one until someone like Lambert voted me off the island," she adds. "This guy ... the arbiter of pure."
Waller has an idea of his own: "Maybe it's time to start targeting the people that try to tear our party down."