Senate rejects Clifton woman’s place on civil rights commission
DENVER — In a move rarely seen, Republicans in the Colorado Senate, on a party-line vote, rejected the reappointment of Clifton resident Heidi Hess, a Democrat, to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
Hess has served on the commission, and is currently its chairwoman, since 2013.
The rejection of a governor’s appointment came as a surprise for most, since such things rarely occur regardless of what party controls the governor’s office.
Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said he recommended rejecting Hess because she was listed as a representative for small business on the commission, but had recently advocated against business interests.
“I had concerns because of her advocacy,” Sonnenberg said. “She led a charge on the bill to allow people to sue their boss.”
Though it is the first Gov. John Hickenlooper appointee to be rejected since he took office in 2011, the last time a governor’s appointee was rejected was in 2012, when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted against appointing Marcia Benshoof to the Pinnacol Board of Directors. Pinnacol is the state’s worker’s compensation provider of last resort. Benshoof later withdrew her nomination, so she was not officially rejected by the full Senate.
On the floor of the Senate on Friday, Sonnenberg made a motion to vote on Hess’ reappointment, recommending a “no” vote, saying she supports legislation promoting ways to sue employers.
All 18 Republicans, including Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, rejected her.
When her confirmation hearing was held in the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Scott was the only Republican to vote for her, joking with her about being owed a cup of coffee and peach jam.
Hess is the Western Slope community organizer for One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBT organization. She also is the sole person from the Western Slope on the commission, which helps develop statewide policy on civil rights matters and hears appeals in discrimination cases.
While Hess could not be reached for comment, One Colorado Executive Director Daniel Ramos expressed shock and dismay at Hess’ rejection.
“It was really surprising for us to see that, on a party-line vote, Senate Republicans decided to oppose her appointment, where’s she’s served the last four years,” he said. “In 2013, she was approved unanimously. Seven current Republican senators voted for her back then.”
They include Sen. Randy Baumgardner, whose district includes Garfield County. The other GOP senators who previously voted to confirm her at that time are Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City, and Sens. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, Larry Crowder of Alamosa, Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs and Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud.
The root of the problem appears to be some confusion about which interest Hess represents on the commission. The seven-member panel has two business representatives, two local government representatives and three representing the “community.”
On the commission’s website, Hess is listed as an at-large community representative, but that same website just days before her confirmation hearing listed her as the small business representative, Sonnenberg said.
Hess is not a business owner, and that point bothered Sonnenberg and Hill, the other Republican who voted against her in committee.
The governor’s office declined to comment on the issue other than to say the intent was to appoint her as a community at-large member.