The first week back for members of the Colorado House saw more than a little political infighting, but Friday, it turned ugly.
Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, is known for his frequent mentions of the murder of his son, Alex, in the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting. Sullivan goes to the House podium from time to time, always on Fridays, to remind people that his son was murdered on a Friday. That happened again on Feb 19.
"Today is the 448th Friday" since Alex was murdered, along with 10 others, Sullivan began, during the portion of the House business devoted to introductions and announcements. Last Sunday was also the three-year anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting in which 17 died and 17 others were injured, Sullivan reminded House members.
If anyone believes either shooting was a hoax, Sullivan said as he held up a blue folder, he would share the crime scene photos from the Aurora shooting.
Sullivan went on to extol the results of the first year of the law setting up the Extreme Risk Protection Order, also known as the red flag law, a bill he sponsored in 2019 with now-speaker of the House Alec Garnett, D-Denver. For every 11 petitions filed nationwide in the past 20 years, one life was saved, Sullivan said. In Colorado, that's 10 people who were able to sit with their families this previous holiday season.
"Ten may not be a big number, but I can assure you it means plenty who don't have to endure another year and another empty chair around their Christmas table like my family has endured the last eight years. I'm here to remind you daily what gun violence looks like," he said.
Garnett cautioned Sullivan and others that announcements and introductions were not the place to push individual policies.
Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, followed. "I will tell you that all of us have suffered loss in our lives, either at the hand of violence or the hand of what we see as this virus," he said. Holtorf lost an aunt to COVID in November.
"Scripture tells us that when something is taken away from us, we must understand that maybe there is a time when God needs the spirit of those children to do something in heaven. I have suffered loss, but I've learned not to hold bitterly onto that loss and never let go."
Holtorf asked that people not be vengeful, mean-spirited callous, coarse or divisive. "Unfortunately I continue to see this," he said.
Holtorf relayed his experience from the military, stating that many who served have come home bitter or angry. But the most important lesson he learned, he said, directing his comments to Sullivan, "You have to let go."
At that point, Garnett stopped Holtorf and warned everyone that if such comments continue, he would no longer allow members to do introductions and announcements.
"We must get back to principles and practices of how this chamber acts. We're not going to use the opportunity of announcements and introductions to talk about policy issues." That's for committee hearings and debate on bills, he said.
It's the second time this week that personal politics have publicly erupted in the House chamber. On Tuesday, Rep. Don Valdez, D-La Jara, during a moment of personal privilege — which is generally reserved for personal matters — used that time to first mention that his father had died from COVID, and then to go after Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Penrose, for his attendance at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C. that led to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Valdez called for Hanks to be kicked off committees, and then for him to be expelled from the House. Hissing from House members could be heard, and Garnett said Valdez was out of order.
Valdez was later walked off the floor by Speaker Pro tem Adrienne Benavidez, D-Adams County for a talking-to.