Hillman: Patience, respect are essential to debating difficult issues
For the past two weeks, Democrats and Republicans have engaged in a test of wills in the Colorado House of Representatives. Democrats are using their 46-19 majority to pass bills they consider essential to address shootings in public places and to establish Colorado as a regional refuge for “reproductive health care.”
Republicans know they cannot stop these bills, but because they view them as a threat to citizens’ constitutional freedoms, they have chosen to inconvenience the majority by filibustering these controversial bills.
Filibustering — making prolonged speeches to delay legislative action — is not easy. If you don’t believe me, try talking non-stop in front of a crowd for an hour. It’s even harder under legislative rules, which require comments to pertain to the bill; reading weather forecasts is not allowed.
So, I respect the decision of House Republicans because their most effective recourse is to make passing these bills time-consuming, thereby counting against the Legislature’s 120-day clock. Democrats control the legislative calendar, but by allowing their own members to procrastinate on difficult bills, they give Republicans leverage.
An adage at the Capitol says, “The majority gets its way, but the minority gets its say.” That is, serving in the majority requires the forbearance to endure the speeches of the minority, knowing that you will eventually prevail.
After two days of Republican filibustering on gun bills, wearied Democrats invoked a seldom-used legislative rule to limit debate and proceed to vote. They subsequently employed this maneuver on six separate bills. Democrats were surely inconvenienced when the Legislature did not recess for the weekend, but Republicans gave up their weekend, too, all the while knowing they would ultimately lose.
It is not unprecedented to use legislative rules to end debate, but it rarely ends well because it takes away the only deliberative recourse available to opponents. If endured, a filibuster will eventually run out of steam. But to curtail debate by majority vote is to inflame and reinvigorate the minority, whose only choices in response are to surrender or fight back. Predictably, the Republican minority fought back using other procedural delays.
If Republicans were in control and brought bills to ban abortion and allow frivolous lawsuits against abortion providers, Democrats would hurl themselves in front of that train using every available tactic. No one should be surprised that Republicans do the same to defend principles and constituents, which they see being trampled by Democrat-sponsored bills on guns, abortion, gender-identity, and property rights.
Certain Democrats deride Republicans for supposedly loving guns more than people. That’s cynical and thoughtless. I cannot conceive that anyone in either party is immune to the heartfelt sickness that washes over me each time I hear about a school shooting.
Consider that if Republicans genuinely believed one of these bills would stop a deranged killer, they would indeed weigh those lives heavily when considering whether “shall not be infringed” means “shall not be inconvenienced.”
Instead, consider that Republicans genuinely believe that these bills will be ineffective, that their inefficacy will lead to more severe restrictions in the future, and that any crimes these bills might prevent are offset by additional crimes against honest citizens who are rendered defenseless by these laws. Disagree with those beliefs if you will, but don’t call them irrational.
No doubt, many Democrats earnestly believe these bills will save lives. Republicans usually do not share Democrats’ faith in the power of government to conquer human nature. Instead, Republicans face the unpleasant reality that some awful tragedies do not have a public-policy solution.
Still, both parties should respond with grace to those who sincerely seek solutions even as they debate the practicality of those solutions.
Good people can disagree on difficult issues. But it’s imperative that leaders recognize that our system of government requires vigorous, sometimes-exhausting and always-respectful debate.
Mark Hillman served as Senate Majority Leader and State Treasurer. To read more or comment, go to MarkHillman.com.