Littwin: Republicans deal out a hand of overreach poker at the capitol
Ask any Colorado Republican about the upcoming election season, and you can expect a wide smile. And why not? According to the polls, John Hickenlooper suddenly seems vulnerable. The Democrats are down to a one-seat majority in the state Senate. And even in the House, where the Democrats hold a significant margin, the lead is not quite safe.
So, looking at this array of problems for the Democrats in this post-recall election year, what do the Republicans do?
That’s right, just what you’d expect them to do.
They introduce a bill, with 19 House and Senate sponsors, that would outlaw abortion. With no exceptions for rape or incest. With doctors who perform an abortion — say, for a 12-year-old rape victim — facing a Class 3 felony, a minimum of four to 12 years in the slammer.
The bill has everything but the mandatory transvaginal probe, so popular now with some Republican legislators, but that’s only because, with no abortions, there would be no need for one.
The bill can’t pass. And, in any case, it’s clearly unconstitutional. It’s the personhood amendment — soundly rejected time and again by Coloradans — dressed up as HB1133. It’s political malfeasance. It’s also a gift-wrapped opportunity for Democrats.
What could these 19 Republicans have been thinking? (OK, that was a trick question.)
This is everything your mother — especially if she’s a Democrat — warned you about. This is the world of would-be Republican hegemony. In the past three years, following the 2010 elections, there have been 205 restrictions on abortions voted into law in more than half the states. There’s a trend here, one that may not be welcome in Colorado.
Look, it’s hardly surprising to see some hard-right social conservatives in the House propose an anti-abortion bill. This is the same bill that was proposed last year. But here’s the strange part: This wasn’t a case of fringe outliers sneaking one past the House guardians. The House minority leader, Brian DelGrosso, is one of the sponsors. (Note to Frank McNulty: You’ve got to get a chuckle out of that one.) Before DelGrosso signed on, Republicans had some kind of plausible deniability. Not anymore.
Another of the sponsors is Perry Buck, the newly elected state representative who also happens to be the wife of U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck, who got tangled up in the personhood amendment last time he ran. Buck was for it, then he was against it, and then he was — I’m not sure what he was, and neither was he.
And now, if you haven’t heard, Buck has somehow fumbled his way to comparing pregnancy to cancer — his latest attempt to top his infamous gays-as-alcoholics gambit — saying that he understood that women wanted to control their bodies because he, after all, had cancer, which is now in remission.
“It’s certainly the feeling that I had when I was a cancer patient — I wanted to be in control of the decisions that were made concerning my body,” Buck said on radio station KLZ. “There is another fundamental issue at stake. And that’s the life of the unborn child.”
OK, as Rep. Amy Stephens told the Denver Post, that’s Ken being Ken in his high-heeled-sneakers way. And Buck being Buck is the front-runner in the Republican Senate primary race, in which Stephens is also running.
But maybe more interesting than the Buck family or even DelGrosso’s strange decision to co-sponsor a controversial bill that wasn’t going anywhere is the decision made by those who didn’t sign on. That would include all the state legislators who are running for governor or for the U.S. Senate.
No Stephens. No Owen Hill. No Greg Brophy. No Randy Baumgardner. They obviously can see the danger here in Democrats using this bill as a campaign issue. In the states where Republicans have taken control of state government in the past few years, abortion has moved to the front of the line as an issue. The New York Times did a story the other day about the 205 abortion restrictions that have been voted into law in more than half the states since the 2010 elections.
The Times article cited a study by the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research group. Most of the new laws, the study shows, follow a pattern: Restrict abortion providers, limit abortion insurance coverage, ban abortions at 20 weeks, and limit medications used in abortion. The battle in Texas and Wendy Davis’ filibuster took the national stage. But, in fact, the stage is being set in states across the country.
Twenty-two states enacted 70 abortion restrictions during 2013. And 24 states have barred insurance coverage for abortions on the new Obamacare exchanges.
Republicans haven’t won a top-of-the-ballot election here since 2004. The conventional wisdom is that the Democratic winning streak was born of smart politics, more favorable demographics and, when Republicans were in control, GOP overreach on social issues.
Republican optimism this year centers on the hope that voters will say that Democrats have overreached this time — on guns, on school-funding tax proposal Amendment 66. It’s a little harder to make that argument, though, when you show, for all to see, that what you really want to do is reach right back.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for the website Colorado Independent.com.
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