Heidi Hess for Colorado Civil Rights Commission

When Heidi Hess appeared before the Senate State Veterans & Military Affairs Committee for her confirmation hearing for appointment to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Sen. Ray Scott joked she owed him a cup of coffee and peach jam for his vote.

The seven-member Colorado Civil Rights Commission “is responsible for investigating complaints and conducting hearings about alleged discrimination in employment, apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training and vocational schools.”

After voting in favor of advancing Hess to chair the Colorado Civil Rights Commission in committee, Scott flipped his vote on the Senate floor to reject her. She was voted down by an 18-17 party-line vote.

If Hess delivers the coffee and jam to Scott, one is likely to end up in his lap, the other over his head.

Meantime, kudos to Gov. John Hickenlooper for standing firmly behind his decision to re-appoint Hess to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, despite Republican opposition.

As the West Slope field organizer for One Colorado, an organization that advocates for, and protects the rights of, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) people, Hess has a history of conflict with Republican legislators. This particular conflict, according to Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, goes back to 2013 when Hess “led a charge on the bill to allow people to sue their boss.”

Apparently as retaliation for that outrage against Republican protectionist policies, Sonnenberg rejects Hickenlooper’s appointment of Hess to the commission.

In an unusual move by the Senate, Hess’ re-appointment was rejected on the 18-17 party-line vote May 5. Normally, such gubernatorial appointments are routinely approved regardless of which party holds the Senate and the governorship.

Ignoring the senate vote, Hickenlooper has not removed Hess from her position on the commission. As The Daily Sentinel reported, “when an appointee is not confirmed by the Senate, the last person to hold the seat …continues to serve until the governor appoints a successor.”

“There was no reason not to appoint her,” the governor told The Denver Post. “She was doing exactly what she was supposed to be doing — trying to make sure that people don’t experience bias, that they are not discriminated against.”

Obviously the Republicans don’t agree with that assessment. “This is the lady that advocates for ‘sue your boss’ and other things,” Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg is quoted by The Denver Post. “I think this would be a conflict on interest and I don’t think it would be a good decision for the state of Colorado.”

The “sue your boss” reference is to House Bill 1136 passed in 2013 that enabled workers to more easily sue their employers. Hess was an advocate for the bill.

According to a Denver Post report, One Colorado “called the rejected appointment a ‘blatantly discriminatory vote’ while Senate Democrats said in a tweet that it was ‘despicable.’ ”

“I think it was a bit of a surprise,” Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, said. “Back in 2013 when Heidi was first confirmed there were many (Republican) senators who voted for her who are still in the state Senate. It’s a bit surprising that they have decided to vote against her.”

Ramos called for Republicans to reconsider the blocked nomination and confirm Hess for the position. “The commission itself will be lacking a critical voice from western Colorado,” Ramos said. “For us, I think the other piece that is important is that she has served on the commission for the past four years and currently serves as its chair.”

There was some temporary confusion regarding the constituency represented by Hess, but that was resolved. Initially listed on the civil rights commission web page as representing small businesses, the position is now described as an at-large candidate, representing the general public rather than a commercial or government interest.

If the people are to have a voice at the table when legislators and bureaucrats gather to make policy, Heidi Hess is the obvious choice. Republicans should lift their embargo against her and confirm Gov. Hickenlooper’s choice for the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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