The Spot: Coloradans’ role on a dark day, delegitimizing the election and Denver’s minimum wage goes up

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Around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday mountain time, Sen. Michael Bennet launched into a characteristically loud speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate that reached its zenith a few minutes in.

“Go out there and tell them the truth,” the Denver Democrat told his Republican colleagues, “which is that every single member of this Senate knows the election wasn’t stolen!”

He pointed to a place beyond the Senate chamber, beyond the sandstone walls of the Rotunda and beyond the limestone walls that had, hours before, failed to hold back a mob of rioters who found their way into the building. They were convinced, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the presidential election was rigged against President Donald Trump.

Coloradans played no small role in Wednesday’s dark events. Let’s summarize.

The debate: Before rioters breached the Capitol, Colorado’s youngest members of Congress played a starring role in the debate over certifying the presidential election that Democrat Joe Biden won.

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Rifle was the fourth speaker for House Republicans and the only freshman to speak for either side during the debate over Arizona’s electors. Rep. Joe Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, spoke after Boebert. Read more about their debate here.

Make no mistake: These were conscious decisions by House leadership of both parties to boost members they see as rising stars. Speaking roles during high-profile, closely watched debates like this are not handed out lightly or without purpose. Read DU political analyst Seth Masket’s take on Boebert’s rise here.

The professor: Elsewhere in that pre-riot period, University of Colorado visiting scholar John Eastman rallied the soon-to-be demonstrators and rioters with specious claims of election fraud as he stood next to Rudy Giuliani near the White House.

Eastman’s behavior has spurred controversy before, and plenty of folks on the Boulder campus weighed in on his latest antics Wednesday. Read the Boulder Daily Camera’s reporting here.

The riot: Several members from Colorado were in the House chambers as warnings about what was happening outside grew increasingly alarming.

“We were locked in the House Chambers,” Boebert tweeted at 2:17 p.m.

“The Speaker has been removed from the chambers,” she tweeted one minute later.

In the gallery, Rep. Jason Crow sheltered behind thick railing, talked with concerned colleagues and helped others fasten their gas masks, the subject of an iconic Associated Press photo. (More on that below.)

The votes: Congress reconvened late Wednesday to certify Biden’s victory, a process that ended early today. Here is a rundown of how Coloradans in Congress voted.

The fallout: Colorado Democrats have begun calling for the president’s removal from office. Neguse signed a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, urging him to use the 25th Amendment, which allows for the temporary transfer of power away from a president. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, tweeted that Trump should be impeached and arrested. She later deleted that and posted a new tweet, calling for impeachment and removal, but not arrest.

Expect calls for Trump’s removal to increase today, even if it’s unlikely they will succeed.

MORE: Read about pro-Trump protesters who gathered in Colorado and their responses to the U.S. Capitol riots. And view photos of the Colorado Capitol rally.

Elsewhere in this week’s Spot, Alex Burness writes about months of “voter fraud” messaging in Colorado, while Conrad Swanson covers a significant policy change for workers in the new year.


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Top Line

You probably saw this stunning photo, taken by the Associated Press’ Andrew Harnik, of Colorado’s Jason Crow on the floor in the gallery of the U.S. House on Wednesday. Here’s the story behind that image.

Capitol Diary • By Alex Burness

Delegitimizing the election result was team effort

What happened Wednesday in Washington was not spontaneous. As several outlets have reported, the mob takeover of the U.S. Capitol was planned, in plain sight, during the weeks leading up to it.

But let’s back up even further and ask why it is that such a thing would be planned in the first place. We know, of course, that the president has spent years casting doubt, without evidence, on the integrity of American elections. He did it after he won in 2016. Predictably, he took it up several notches after he lost in 2020.

Today, I’m thinking back to all the ways Coloradans — specifically members of the Colorado GOP — helped Trump advance this message.

Months ago, the state party was warning of Democratic attempts to “steal” the election. “LET’S STOP VOTER FRAUD,” read one email blast from the Colorado GOP.

One party chair, Adams County’s JoAnn Windholz, told me flat-out that casting doubt on election integrity, even in the absence of hard evidence, was a useful voter engagement tool. “Right now, the Democrats are in control of everything in the state,” she said. “And I think this is probably one way to get more Republicans involved.”

It was in late September that I spoke with her, right around the time that state GOP Chair and U.S. Rep. Ken Buck was asking then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate Colorado’s Democratic secretary of state for sending out postcards reminding people to register to vote if they were eligible. This was such a non-story that the outlet that originally reported on the postcards, CBS4, took the extraordinary step of entirely retracting its piece on the topic.

Buck, you might have seen, also signed on recently to a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn election results in key states Trump lost in November, even as he was defending Colorado’s own election system.

And so it was interesting to me that Buck and the Democratic governor, Jared Polis, issued a joint statement Wednesday that said, in part, “we honor the outcome” of the election. Literally less than a month ago, Buck, by joining the Texas suit, clearly signaled he did not honor the outcome.

Buck was far from alone in Colorado in speaking out against fictitious threats to election integrity. One of Trump’s top election lawyers, after all, is the Longmont native Jenna Ellis. You might recall that she was invited to testify virtually before the Colorado legislature in December, after a group of Republican lawmakers, voicing “concerns surrounding our election process,” convened a hearing on election integrity.

There isn’t enough space in this newsletter to recount all the contributions Coloradans made to delegitimize elections, both in this state and federally. 9News anchor Kyle Clark gave it a try Wednesday night, and his remarks are worth a listen.

I also invite you to read this Denver Post story from October. It’s clear that while they may not have intended for a mob to travel to DC and riot against the election results, Republicans laid the groundwork that inspired this week’s action — and they had significant backing here at home.

More Colorado political news

  • Colorado lawmakers plan to take another crack at lowering the cost of insulin — this time for people left out of a prior effort.
  • It’s January, which means lawmakers are once again gearing up for the annual “How do we fund transportation?” debate. The Colorado Sun reports on where those talks stand.
  • Just before he exits the state legislature, GOP Rep. Richard Champion had some kind words for the folks swarming the U.S. Capitol, per this Littleton Independent report.
  • A pro-Trump demonstration in Denver yesterday was not violent, but security concerns did prompt the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee to adjourn for the day.

Other federal politics news

  • A hectic freshman term ended Sunday for two Coloradans in Congress.
  • A Boebert video drew a response from the police chief in Washington, D.C.
  • Colorado’s U.S. House Democrats lined up behind Nancy Pelosi for another term as speaker.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

Another minimum wage increase in Denver

The price of rent, groceries and more are increasing in Denver. But so, too, is the city’s minimum wage.

Employers must pay workers at least $14.77 an hour as of Jan. 1. That’s up from the $12.85 minimum wage that began at the start of 2020, under a gradual wage hike approved by Denver City Council in late 2019.

And there’s still more to go.

On Jan. 1, 2022, the minimum wage will increase to $15.87. It will adjust for inflation each year after that, tied to the region’s consumer price index.

One exception to the minimum wage is for the food and beverage industry, where employers can receive a credit of up to $3.02 an hour for tipped employees. That means if servers, bartenders and the like receive at least $3.02 an hour in tips — and most should — the employers only have to pay them $11.75 an hour this year.

When the minimum wage increase initially passed, Mayor Michael Hancock estimated that about 50,000 people in Denver would benefit. The total number of workers has likely increased since then, said Tayler Overschmidt, director of communications for Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien.

While the auditor is responsible for ensuring businesses pay their employees appropriately, the total number of workers receiving a pay hike — and the number of businesses that must pay them more — isn’t something the office directly tracks, Overschmidt said. Rather, it operates on a complaint basis.

This means if an employee or group of employees believe they aren’t receiving the required hourly pay they should file a complaint with the auditor online at O’Brien can levy fines and penalties against businesses in violation, Overschmidt said, but typically management takes corrective action quickly to avoid any additional costs.

Some small business owners have spoken out against the minimum wage increase as the pandemic and financial crisis continue, arguing that it’s a difficult — and costly — pill to swallow while profits are already thin.

The auditor’s office offers online tutorials and more for businesses that must pay employees more under the change, Overschmidt said.

More Denver and suburban political news

  • Aurora’s new limits on donations to mayor and city council candidates make it the lastest large city in Colorado to adopt local campaign finance reforms.
  • A class-action lawsuit meant to stop Denver officials from breaking up homeless encampments during the coronavirus pandemic will continue next month, though a ruling will take longer. Meanwhile, Denver’s two safe outdoor camping spaces have offered a glimmer of hope and stability for the homeless.
  • Two companies at the center of bid-rigging accusations on the Colorado Convention Center expansion project have paid the city of Denver $9 million as part of a new settlement agreement.
  • Denver Mayor Michael Hancock appointed Gregg Crittenden to serve as the interim police watchdog while city officials search for a permanent replacement.

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