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Whitehead insult much ado about nothing, Penry says

By Charles Ashby

On the floor of the Colorado Senate earlier today, Broomfield GOP Sen. Shawn Mitchell either said something offensive to another senator, or maybe he was just joking.

Either way, it was much to-do about nothing, said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction.

During a floor debate on House Bill 1001, the measure that would increase the state's renewable energy standard for large utilities, Mitchell (right) referred to Sen. Bruce Whitehead (left), D-Hesperus, as a one-year lawmaker. Whitehead was appointed to the Senate last year after Sen. Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, resigned to accept a post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He's running for the seat against Rep. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

Penry released the following, lengthy response:

"With all due respect to those who were offended by Sen. Mitchell's statement, I say, let's take a deep breath and not get too carried away in our own self importance. Sen. Mitchell made a flip, throw-away statement.  He was gavelled by the chair and said he deserved it. Given that, let's slow the rush to put Sen. Mitchell on trial for the high crime of having a sense of humor," the senator said, pictured here with Democratic Sen. Dan Gibbs of Silverthorne on the Senate floor.

"In my time down here, I've been accused of not caring about children, even though I have 2 children.  Not caring about public schools, even though I went to public schools.  And of doing bidding for oil and gas instead of the citizens near gas fields, even though I live near those gas fields.

In no case did I ever come down and seek the censure of the offending member. That's because I know this is the Senate - the Senate - a place where sometimes fierce debates take place.  And in those fierce debates, fierce and sometimes sarcastic things get said.  And in just about every case I know, life presses forward.  

One of the reasons that partisanship and acrimony have reached such epic levels in Congress and legislative bodies around the country is because people have forgotten that public discourse doesn't have to be about grandstanding and fearmongering.  It can also be fun.  

Of course, civility is important and decorum with it. Every person in this room has earned a threshold of respect and deference and courtesy. But let's not forget, this room is also a political arena, where important debates about controversial issues take place. So let's not allow the imperatives of Senatorial decorum to deteriorate into a politically correct culture where word-policing and whining become norm. This is, after all, the Senate - a place where fierce debate ought to take place.

Senator Mitchell was gavelled, and admitted to deserving it. So let's bring the gavel down on this silly side-show too, and move forward with the important debate at hand."

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