It was the year when things were supposed to start returning to normal, but just days into the new year, it became clear that 2021 would be anything but normal.
As the year dawned, much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccines were being deployed to front-line health care workers and older residents as Colorado and the nation reeled from a historic pandemic that knocked the economy on its heels and exposed partisan rifts that would only intensify as the year unfolded.
The immunization represents a “light at the end of the tunnel,” said state Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, an emergency room nurse who was among the first to be immunized. Noting that he trusts the science behind the vaccines, Mullica added that he was getting immunized to “show that it’s safe and this is the way we’re gonna get through this.”
Meanwhile, the tumultuous 2020 presidential election denied former President Donald Trump a second term and saw Colorado deliver its electoral votes to Joe Biden by a double-digit margin as state voters affirmed recent trends favoring Democrats.
That included replacing Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner with Democrat John Hickenlooper, a former Denver mayor and two-term governor, leaving the GOP without a single full-time, elected statewide official for the first time since the 1930s. (University of Colorado Regent At-large Heidi Ganahl, who declared in October that she is challenging Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, is the lone Republican holding statewide office.)
Colorado’s nine-member D.C. contingent welcomed two new lawmakers, with Hickenlooper and Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert getting sworn into office. They joined returning lawmakers U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter, Joe Neguse and Jason Crow, all Democrats, and Republican U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Ken Buck.
Trump supporters storm U.S. Capitol
The year started with a bang on Jan. 6 when supporters of the former president stormed the U.S. Capitol in an unprecedented attempt to halt official certification of Biden’s election.
About a dozen Colorado residents — including Olympic gold medal swimmer Klete Keller — are among more than 600 people from 40 states who have been charged with participating in the attack, which also triggered a second Trump impeachment and spawned an ongoing investigation by a House select committee.
As Congress convened, two Colorado Republican — Lamborn and Boebert — formally objected to counting electoral votes from states won by Biden, with Boebert among the House Republicans who argued on the House floor that Arizona’s votes shouldn’t be accepted. She pressed her case about a half hour before rioters breached the Capitol.
The state’s other Republican delegation member, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, in the final months of his tenure chairing the ColoradoGOP, said ahead of the attempt to overturn Biden’s win that he doesn’t believe the Constitution grants Congress the authority to challenge Electoral College votes duly submitted by the states, though he stressed that he was “outraged” at what he termed “significant abuses in our election system.”
Across the aisle, Neguse was tapped as one of four Democratic lawmakers tasked with responding to GOP efforts to block certification of Biden’s 306-232 Electoral College win.
In the wake of the attack, which delayed congressional proceedings until late that night, Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, praised Crow and other House members for the “courage, calm and resolve” they displayed as mobs rampaged through the Capitol. Crow, a decorated Army Ranger veteran, was among a handful of lawmakers who took shelter in the House gallery while Capitol Police officers barricaded doors to the chamber and drew their weapons, eventually shooting and killing one protester attempting to gain entry.
On the same day the Capitol was attacked, officials reported that Colorado had accumulated 4,183 deaths caused by COVID-19 in the 10 months since the pandemic arrived in the state, representing a 1.44% fatality rate among the 362,825 recorded cases. Hospitalizations and deaths were on the rise as the state counted at least 1,132 active outbreaks and data showed that infection rates were more widespread than at any time previously in the pandemic.
Coloradans tapped for impeachment team
As the U.S. House moved toward impeaching Trump for a second time — in what would be only the fourth impeachment of a president in the nation’s history — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named two Colorado Democrats, DeGette and Neguse, to the nine-member team of “managers” who would be tasked with prosecuting the case on charges Trump incited the deadly Capitol riot to prevent Congress from making Biden’s victory official.
Boebert vs. metal detectors
Meanwhile, Boebert set off one of the newly installed metal detectors outside the House chamber when she attempted to enter the floor for a debate. The vocal Second Amendment advocate and owner of a gun-themed restaurant in Rifle, who had earlier declared her intent to carry a handgun at the Capitol, refused to allow a search of her bag after setting off the device, leading to what was described as a “standoff” with security officials.
Blasting what she called a “political stunt,” the freshman lawmaker maintained that metal detectors would have done nothing to deter the violent attack on the Capitol and weren’t improving safety for members of Congress.
General Assembly convenes, then delays
The first regular session of the 73rd General Assembly gaveled in on Jan. 13 for a few days to launch proceedings and take care of some legislative housekeeping before adjourning until a planned return in February, by which time more legislators and staff were expected to be vaccinated.
Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, took the reins in the House and Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, returned to helm the upper chamber. Following the November election, Democrats held onto their 41-24 majority in the state House and gained a seat in the state Senate for a 20-15 majority.
Space Command switcheroo
The same day, Colorado officials were thrown for a loop when Trump announced that U.S. Space Command would move from its temporary headquarters in Colorado Springs to Huntsville, Alabama. Several Pentagon insiders and lawmakers told The Gazette that the move appeared to be based on political considerations, bypassing the military’s pick to keep the command in Colorado — a conclusion bolstered months later when Trump declared he had “single-handedly” picked Alabama as the site.
Lamborn, a top Trump ally, joined with Colorado lawmakers, including Bennet and Hickenlooper, to call on Biden to review the decision, which is the subject of a pair of ongoing investigations by the congressional General Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s inspector general.
Trump’s 2nd impeachment ends in acquittal
After Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate began on Feb. 9, DeGette and Neguse took center stage in what promised to be a swifter proceeding than the first impeachment a year earlier, which had stretched over three weeks and resulted in Trump’s acquittal mostly along party lines.
In opening arguments, DeGette argued that the mob of Trump supporters were following the former president’s “orders” and had “acted at Donald Trump’s direction.”
Neguse won plaudits for his delivery of closing arguments, which asked senators to weigh whether the violence was foreseeable, whether Trump had encouraged it and whether the former president had acted willfully.
“We humbly, humbly ask you to convict President Trump for the crime of which he is overwhelmingly guilty, because if you don’t — if we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered — who’s to say it won’t happen again,” Neguse said.
After the five-day trial had concluded, Bennet and Hickenlooper were among the 50 Democrats and seven Republicans who voted, 57-43, to convict Trump, short of the two-thirds needed for conviction.
Legislature starts up for good
Following a five-week break after briefly convening to launch the session, members of Colorado’s General Assembly returned to the state Capitol on Feb. 16 with an eye toward economic and other relief for state residents still reeling from the pandemic and economic downtown.
The next day, Polis delivered his third State of the State address, declaring that the fight was far from over a year into the pandemic. Polis called for overhauling the state’s tax code by doing away with tax breaks for special interests. He also asked lawmakers to reduce health care costs.
With the pandemic’s deadly toll totaling more than 5,600 Coloradans, Polis applauded “the heroes of the pandemic,” recognizing doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, National Guard troops, U.S. Census workers and legislators.
Boebert attracts Dem challengers
More than a year and a half before the 2022 election, Boebert already faced more than a half dozen declared Democratic challengers, including state Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, state Rep. Don Valdez, D-La Jara, Pueblo community organizer Sol Sandoval and a number of first-time candidates.
In his announcement, Valdez pledged to be a champion for rural Colorado.
“I’ve proven I can win in a rural district and I have a record of putting people first,” he said. He also referenced Boebert’s history of expressing support for the discredited Q-Anon conspiracy theory, a position she later renounced.
”Wild conspiracy theories won’t protect our water, expand rural health care or improve our schools,” Valdez said.
Months later, after the state’s independent congressional redistricting commission finalized boundaries for the next decade ahead of the 2022 election, Donovan, whose $2 million in fundraising swamped her primary opponents’, announced her withdrawal from the race. Not only was Donovan no longer a resident of the same congressional district as Boebert, but the redrawn district tilts more toward Republicans.
Congress passes massive COVID-19 aid bill
Colorado’s congressional delegation reacted along party lines after passage of a Democratic-led $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill dubbed the American Rescue Plan.
Democrats cheered the legislation as a necessary response to the pandemic and the still-damaged economy, including the bill’s $1,400 direct payments to most adults and extension of emergency unemployment benefits to help the 18 million Americans still out of work a year after the pandemic was declared.
“It will put money in people’s pockets and shots in their arms,” DeGette said.
“It is not coronavirus relief,” Lamborn said. “It is a massive progressive wish list. I voted NO.”
The legislation included a provision championed for years by Bennet, a temporary, one-year expansion of the child tax credit, which some studies predicted would cut the child poverty rate nearly in half, moving an estimated 5 million children out of poverty.
“This is the most significant investment Washington has made in children and families in decades,” Bennet said in an online event to promote the provision. “It’s going to make a massive difference in the lives of kids and families here in Colorado and across the country.”
In addition to increasing an existing $2,000-per-child tax credit to $3,600 for children under six and $3,000 for children through age 17, the bill made the credit fully refundable — meaning the benefit is available to parents who don’t make enough to pay taxes — and this year was partially paid out in monthly checks instead of being available in a lump sum at tax time.
Bennet and other supporters of the program pushed hard to make the expanded credit permanent in a massive budget reconciliation bill that passed the House in November, but, by mid-December, its fate in the evenly divided Senate appeared to be in doubt after U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, declared he wouldn’t support the package in any form.
Gunman kills 10 at Boulder King Soopers
A gunman killed 10 people, including a police officer, on March 22 at a Boulder King Soopers, adding the university town to the list of Colorado locales associated with mass shootings. The fatalities included Officer Eric Talley, an 11-year veteran of the Boulder force and the first officer on the scene after responding within minutes of the initial 911 call.
The man accused of the shootings, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, has been found incompetent to stand trial and is at the Colorado Mental Hospital in Pueblo for treatment.
A month later, Biden announced an executive order tightening federal regulation on a device allegedly used by the gunman as part of a series of actions aimed at curbing what he called an “epidemic” of gun violence. The regulation, proposed by Neguse in the wake of the King Soopers shooting, would make pistols used with stabilizing braces subject to the National Firearms Act, which also regulates sawed-off shotguns and silencers — requiring a federal license, a $200 tax and a more thorough application process.
Colorado GOP picks new leadership
Colorado Republicans elected 33-year-old attorney Kristi Burton Brown to chair the state party on March 27 after three rounds of balloting in a five-way race to replace Buck, who declined to seek a second two-year term.
“It’s time for a new generation of leadership in our party,” said Burton Brown, who became only the second woman ever to chair the state GOP. “Republicans are facing the battle of our lives.”
Burton Brown, who rose to prominence in her teens as the public face of Colorado’s “personhood” amendment — an attempt to assign legal rights to fertilized embryos, effectively outlawing abortion — prevailed over former Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who finished second, and former congressional candidates Casper Stockham and Rich Mancuso, and GOP communications consultant Jonathan Lockwood.
For the first time ever, all three of the Colorado GOP’s elected statewide officers are women: Burton Brown, vice chairman Priscilla Rahn and secretary Marilyn Harris.
State Democrats, meanwhile, stuck with Morgan Carroll, electing the former state senator to a third term chairing the party.
Colorado lands All-Star Game
Major League Baseball decided to move its 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver’s Coors Field amid concerns over changes to Georgia voting laws viewed as too restrictive. Polis and others lobbied to land the Midsummer Classic, which was slated to celebrate the memory of Hank Aaron, the iconic Hall of Famer from Atlanta, who died in January, based on Colorado’s reputation for having among the most secure election systems in the country.
“This would be a wonderful chance to showcase our accessible elections, great baseball fans, and baseball’s best ballpark,” Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold said.
Trump, on the other hand, called for a boycott of Major League Baseball and urged his supporters to boycott other companies that criticized changes made by Georgia to its election laws, including Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, Citigroup and UPS.
“Now they are going big time with WOKE CANCEL CULTURE and our sacred elections,” Trump said.
On July 13, the American League won, 5-2, marking the league’s first All-Star win since 1998.
Redistricting gets off to slow start
Colorado’s premiere independent redistricting commissions — one tasked with drawing congressional lines, the other responsible for coming up with legislative boundaries — were finally hard at work following a lengthy commissioner selection process. They were the fruits of Amendments Y and Z, statewide measures approved by voters in 2018 intended to increase the role of the state’s plurality of unaffiliated voters in the once-a-decade processes.
But after a rocky start that saw the Republican chairman of the congressional committee demoted by fellow commissioners after his remarks about election integrity came to light, the commissions stared down months-long delays in the crucial census data that would be required to produce the maps.
State lawmakers wrap up session
The General Assembly called it a day in early June, weeks later than usual after postponing business at the state Capitol until after most lawmakers and others involved in the process had been vaccinated.
Among the session’s accomplishments: Passing a $5.4 billion transportation package that included new fees on gasoline and electric vehicles, as well as ride-sharing apps and deliveries. The legislature created the Colorado Behavioral Health Administration to oversee programs and spending on mental health needs, including the $114 million Behavioral Health Recovery Act to address addiction services and crisis intervention.
Lawmakers assembled a package of more than 40 bills aimed at stimulating the economy with some $800 million in Colorado Recovery Plan funds that covered everything from infrastructure to education to workforce improvements.
The much-vaunted public option — a state-run health insurance plan for the individual and small-group markets — made it across the finish line but had been watered down so many times by opponents in the health care industry that supporters had little to cheer about. In its final form, the bill establishes cost-reduction targets with a public plan only required if insurers can’t meet them.
House Republicans wrapped up the session by considering a vote of “no confidence” in House GOP leader Hugh McKean of Loveland, a relatively moderate lawmaker who drew ire from some of the caucus’s more conservative firebrands for failing to prevent the chamber’s majority Democrats from passing legislation.
State Rep. Ron Hanks, R-Cañon City, proposed the vote, which favored McKean, 15-8, with McKean abstaining.
“The leftist agenda has left the caucus battle-weary,” said Hanks, a freshman lawmaker. “There is a confidence of crisis brewing.”
After McKean prevailed, he told the caucus he was optimistic about the 2022 session: “I think we come in a lot stronger and tougher. I also think we’re in an election year so you’re not going to see as many radical things because people don’t want to be answering for that at the polls.”
State GOP unveils campaign priorities
Colorado Republicans convened at a Denver gas station to unveil a 10-point “Commitment to Colorado,” a list of priorities developed by the state party and conservative organizations meant to attract voters in upcoming elections.
Organizers said the event was held at a gas station to highlight rising gas prices and draw attention to the first item on the GOP’s agenda, a promise to “make Colorado affordable.” Top priorities on the list also included prioritizing public safety and expanding school choice, as well as conserving the environment, protecting the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and vowing to “restore transparency, character and common sense to public office.”
“We know from polling and from listening to unaffiliated voters that these three issues matter most to them,” said Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “Our job is to explain the difference, to explain what the Democrats have said and what they’ve actually done.”
Republicans said that, a year and a half into the pandemic, they hoped their message would resonate with voters that putting Democrats in charge hasn’t left Coloradans better off.
Matthew McGovern, executive director of the Democrats’ House Majority Project, dismissed the list as “meaningless talking points.” He added: “The Republicans’ agenda hasn’t changed just because they had a press conference.”
Mesa County clerk under scrutiny for data breach
In the first stirrings of a scandal that would intensify over months, the Democratic secretary of state, Jena Griswold, in August prohibited Mesa County from using election equipment allegedly compromised when the county’s Republican clerk and recorder, Tina Peters, participated in an alleged security breach that led to the voting system’s passwords showing up on right-wing websites.
A preliminary investigation — that soon sprawled into a local, state and federal criminal probe — determined that an official in Peters’s office had told county staff to turn off required video surveillance prior to a routine software update on the system. That left authorities in the dark as Peters and several cohorts appeared at a symposium in South Dakota devoted to airing election conspiracy theories and sponsored by My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell, a supporter of Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, in part by using rigged election equipment. The claims have failed to withstand scrutiny, and the Associated Press reported in December that out of more than 25 million votes cast in six battle ground states in 2020 — not including Colorado — there were fewer than 500 cases of voter fraud, far too few to influence the outcome. What’s more, an exhaustive AP investigation found, the allegedly fraudulent votes were more likely to have been cast by Trump supporters worried that the other side was cheating.
While at Lindell’s symposium, precise digital copies of the election software used by Mesa County also appeared online, leading to additional allegations that Peters had helped leak sensitive information in an apparent quest to find evidence of election irregularities.
Griswold sued to prevent Peters from overseeing the November off-year election after appointing former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, the Republican unseated in 2018 by Griswold, and former clerk Sheila Reiner to supervise the vote. The Colorado Supreme Court later upheld a lower court decision agreeing with Griswold and the fall election went off without a hitch.
Peters later claimed she’d been trying to preserve records by making back-up files in an attempt to prove that the county’s Dominion Voting Systems equipment had been manipulated, though a lengthy “report” released by her compatriots mostly demonstrated that her computer expert didn’t understand how computers or voting systems work.
Along the way, Peters deputy Bellinda Knisley was charged with felony burglary and misdemeanor cybercrime charges for allegedly trying to print a document at county offices using Peters’s credentials while she was barred from the office during an investigation into charges she had created a hostile work environment.
Peters is also facing campaign finance and ethics complaints, including allegations that she accepted gifts from Lindell involving travel on the pillow magnate’s private jet and lodging provided for weeks when Peters said she was in hiding, claiming she feared for her safety.
Cops, paramedics charged in death of Elijah McClain
A grand jury returned a 32-count indictment, including manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide charges, against three current and former Aurora police officers and two paramedics for the 2019 death of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died after he was injected with ketamine, a powerful tranquilizer, at an Aurora bus stop.
In July, Polis signed a law banning police from instructing paramedics or other medical professionals to use ketamine and restricting the drug’s use absent a medical emergency. Under the new law, medical workers also cannot use ketamine on anyone suspected of a crime absent a medical emergency. A report issued in February by an independent panel found police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop McClain.
The circumstances surrounding McClain’s death became a rallying cry for police reform, including during massive protests in Colorado in the summer of 2020.
Democratic Attorney General Phil Weiser opened the grand jury investigation in January and initiated a separate civil rights investigation into whether the Aurora Police Department has a pattern of violating the civil rights of city residents. In November, Weiser said the city was searching for an independent monitor to oversee a potential consent decree under negotiation between the city and the Attorney General’s Office following its findings that the department has a history of using excessive force and failing to document stops as required by law.
New congressional, legislative maps adopted
After a months-long process that played out as many of Colorado’s leading politicians put their ambitions on hold, the state’s inaugural independent redistricting commissions approved maps that will be used for the next decade.
The congressional map includes a new, eighth district awarded to Colorado to reflect increased population over the last decade. Situated north of Denver, stretching from suburbs in Adams County to Greeley and parts of Weld County, it’s likely to be the only true swing district in the state.
The new district includes a large enough concentration of Hispanic voters that they can arguably influence the district’s elections. While the commission was forbidden from taking incumbents into consideration when drawing district lines, the other seven districts favor the incumbent House members’ parties, according to analyses of voter performance in recent elections.
By December, three Democrats and five Republicans had jumped in their parties’ primaries for the 8th CD, promising expensive and contentious races that could determine which party holds the gavel in the U.S. House next year and whether Colorado will be sending a 5-3 delegation favoring Democrats to Washington or electing an even 4-4 delegation.
Voters shake up school boards, nix ballot measures
Voters across Colorado delivered mixed messages in the November off-year election, handing big wins to Republican-aligned candidates in conservative strongholds and tilting further to the left in other areas in nominally nonpartisan races for school board and some municipal offices.
Conservatives retook the majority on the Douglas County School Board and notched wins in other GOP-leaning districts, including in El Paso and Mesa counties, while progressive school board candidates counted wins in Denver and Jefferson County. In addition, Republican candidates in Aurora won a majority on the city council, though what first appeared to be a sweep for conservatives turned into a more measured result in the state’s third-largest city.
In a reversal from typical recent patterns, voters shot down two statewide ballot initiatives sponsored by leading conservative groups that would have lowered property tax rates and given legislators more say in how the governor spends money. Voters also defeated a proposal that had backing across the political spectrum that would have increased marijuana taxes to pay for after-school education programs.
State Republicans were nonetheless thrilled with results the same night in Virginia, where Republican Glenn Youngkin won the governor’s race in what amounted to a double-digit swing toward the GOP in the year since Biden carried the state, whose demographics and political history resembles Colorado’s.
Boebert derided for remarks about Muslim lawmaker
In what was only the latest in a string of social media controversies surrounding Boebert, a video posted online in late November showed her telling supporters about an encounter in a Capitol elevator with U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of three Muslim members of Congress.
As she entered the elevator, Boebert said, she spotted the Minnesota Democrat and recalled saying, “Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,” suggesting Omar was a suicide bomber. She also said she referred to Omar as a member of the “Jihad Squad,” a reference to the “Squad” of progressive House Democrats that includes Omar.
Omar, the only federal lawmaker who regularly wears a hijab, a religious headscarf, said Boebert fabricated the story and demanded an apology. Boebert issued a statement apologizing “to anyone in the Muslim community I offended” but in a phone call with Omar refused her colleague’s request for a public apology and said Omar hung up on her.
While some House Democrats — including Neguse, Crow and DeGette — signed on to a bill to censure Boebert and strip her of committee assignments, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others said that a formal reprimand would only boost Boebert’s celebrity and maintained it is up to McCarthy, the GOP leader, to police his own caucus. By mid-December, the House had instead approved a bill aimed at combatting worldwide Islamophobia.
State notches 10,000th COVID-19 death as omicron arrives
On Dec. 15, as the state marked the one-year anniversary of the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, Colorado passed another grim milestone as the official counter ticked past 10,000 deaths in the state due to the novel coronavirus. The same day, the United States surpassed 800,000 deaths from the virus, which arrived in the country roughly two years earlier.
At around the same time — as the new, highly contagious Omicron variant was beginning to show up in the state — Polis reiterated his contention that in Colorado, the pandemic “emergency is over,” a position he’s held since summer when vaccinations became widely available and hospitalizations for COVID-19 trended sharply down. As the year drew to a close, hospitals were reportedly near capacity and health officials warned that the latest variant could upend the already strained health care system.
Resisting calls to reimpose a mask mandate, Polis stressed the importance of vaccinations and suggested the current pandemic is largely one affecting the unvaccinated, in line with data that show substantially greater risk of hospitalization and death among those who haven’t been immunized.
“You don’t tell people to wear a jacket when they go out in winter and force them to. If they get frostbite, it’s their own darn fault,” he told Colorado Public Radio host Ryan Warner.
Added Polis: “If you haven’t been vaccinated, that’s your choice. I respect that. But it’s your fault when you’re in the hospital with COVID.”
This content was originally published here.