The more interesting part of the dustup between Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams and state Rep. Leslie Herod is not what you see, conservative versus liberal, reckless use of a label and two public officials in a war of words and meanings. It’s what you don’t see.
There’s a lot of history and context to unpack.
The same evening law enforcement was sorting out a horrific mass shooting, including a slain officer, in the next county over, Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams was facing a testy audience at a meeting of Keep Colorado Free & Open, a group miffed at public health orders around COVID-19. Erik Maulbetsch from the right-watching Colorado Times Recorder broke the story about what happened next.
A woman in the crowd seemed to be talking about a revolution in an exchange caught on tape. Reams was in a tough spot. His job is to enforce the law, not encourage a crowd to break it. In a moment like this, a distraction would come in handy.
As they say about being chased by a wild animal, you don’t have to be the fastest, if the second-slowest will do.
Reams gave them Herod as public enemy No. 1, assuring he’s at least No. 2, if people are going to demand to buck the laws he's sworn to defend.
“I guarantee you, Leslie Herod down at the state Capitol has made a name for herself. In my mind, she’s a terrorist,” Reams said, Maulbetsch reported. “She’s a terrorist against the citizens of Colorado. Her record speaks volumes.
“If there’s anybody that you should have a reason to get out of office, it’s Leslie Herod, because she is absolutely running bills to strip law enforcement from your daily lives to prevent law enforcement from protecting you. And she’s turning the state upside-down. She’s on record. How many others can we get on record and then who do we run against them? That’s the ultimate question.”
That doesn't track, sheriff. The revolutionaries at the meeting want less government, and more law enforcement is not less government. It's more government.
True enough, Herod sponsored a major criminal justice bill last year. She’s also responsible for new whistleblower protections for health care workers, restoring voting rights to parolees and reducing some drug offenses from felonies to misdemeanors.
Plus, it’s not her first scrape with the law. Last year she tied up with El Paso County Bill Elder after Herod fact-checked his lobbyist and asked for her source of information in a committee meeting. The Republican sheriff called for her to be disciplined by Democratic leadership. She wasn’t.
Reams invoked identity politics to help himself out a jam. The thing is, he is helping Herod more than hurting her. His supporters were never going to vote for her anyway, primarily because they don’t live anywhere near her Denver district.
Herod was elected to the House in 2016 with an 85% majority, the largest win of any House member in a race. The Republicans didn't bother fielding a candidate against her in 2018 or last year.
Demonization is the oldest trick in the political book, and both sides can rally their side with it. Take Andrew Jackson. His nickname in 1828 was Jackass. What did Old Hickory do? He made the donkey the symbol of the Democratic Party.
Herod sees the name-calling as modern, Trumpian, a product of the times, the localization of a national trend of singling out those who look different when they start making a difference. Herod leads the Black caucus at the Capitol, and she’s the first openly lesbian woman of color to serve in the building. As a straw man in Weld County goes, she's a good candidate to caricature.
I asked Herod in a text exchange why it is she gets under the White skin of some Colorado conservatives.
“Women of color are leading bold change across the country, from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York to Rep. Park Cannon in Georgia, for worker rights, voting rights, and here in Colorado, for public safety and common sense gun access reforms,” she texted back. “Too often we have been targeted by other public officials, who are threatened by the appeal and promise of our demands for a safer, more equal, more prosperous future for all of us.”
She said she’s not breaking her stride for the offhandedness of either sheriff. In fact, if you’re lumping her in with AOC, Kamala Harris and other women of color shaking things up, she’ll take it. Herod shared the campaign trail stage with Harris on her way to becoming the first woman vice president and first vice president of color last year.
“Politicized comments and dangerous dog whistles will not detract me from this critical, lifesaving work, but they are not harmless,” she texted. “Too many women, people of color and LGBTQ people, like myself, have suffered from these types of attacks. But we will not be deterred. I am proud to be in the sisterhood of the courageous calling on America to live up to its promise of equal justice for all."
I know Herod probably better than most people do. She won’t back down, I can tell you that.