GOP state senators criticize Polis on stay-at-home order

Almost all Senate Republicans send letter to gov, aside from two in metro Denver districts


Nearly the entire list of state Senate Republicans signed a letter to Gov. Jared Polis that criticized Colorado's statewide stay-at-home order aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, arguing that Polis contradicted his previous statements about the chances such an order would be successful in Colorado.

“On March 19th, you declared to lawmakers that a stay-at-home order 'is not viable' in Colorado and warned that residents would most likely not be compliant with such an order,” wrote 14 of Colorado's 16 state Senate Republicans in the March 27 letter.

The order, announced by Polis on March 25, directs Coloradans to stay home except for certain necessities, such as shopping for groceries or seeking medical care, among other activities. Employees can still attend work in a long list of industries, such as grocery stores, restaurants for take-out and delivery, agriculture, banks and many more.

MORE: See latest coverage of COVID-19

In the letter, senators cited Polis' March 16 statement on Facebook that when a crisis such as the pandemic requires “command action,” it should be of “the minimum severity and duration necessary to achieve success.” Senators also referenced that Polis has pointed out the difference between Colorado and an “authoritarian country like China where people can be locked down.”

“You continued to reinforce the idea that targeted measures would be your approach 'rather than a mallet.' We agreed with the Governor Polis of March 19th,” the letter reads.

State and Denver metro-area officials have encouraged voluntary compliance with the order and have said they'll rely on citizen complaints and peer pressure to ensure it is followed.

Encouraging “individuals to report on their neighbors may have the unintended effect of breaking the bonds of community unity,” the senators argued.

Senators wrote that their leadership, in private conversations with Polis, was told that if such an order would be given, it would be issued in consultation with leadership of both parties in the state Legislature. “This did not occur in any collaborative way,” the senators added.

The governor's office did not directly address whether Polis told Senate GOP leadership that he would consult with them about a stay-at-home order.

"The governor and his team have heard from dozens of legislators from both parties during the crisis ... the work and feedback of legislators and constituents in their communities is having a tremendous impact on the state’s response and governor’s decisionmaking process," said Conor Cahill, the governor's spokesman.

Cahill continued: "These are painful and heavy decisions for any elected official including Gov. Polis, and they are being made in real time as we receive the most up-to-date data from across Colorado."

Rural picture

The senators also took issue with what they called a lack of consultation from the governor on how the order would affect rural communities, “where your administration's data shows that the virus is not spreading the way it has in the metro area,” the letter read. Senators questioned what the order would accomplish by closing down business activity and daily routines of Coloradans in areas with fewer COVID-19 cases.

“If the government is to take drastic action that may lead to increases in the (unemployment) numbers, the very least that we can do is provide the data to back it up,” the senators wrote.

The senators guessed that the data the governor has seen in private briefings is likely more comprehensive, “but that data has not been shared with the public or with our caucus,” they argued.

As of March 26, Colorado has documented more than 1,400 cases of COVID-19 across 39 counties, with 184 hospitalized, more than 10,000 tested and 24 deaths.

Mike Willis, the state Emergency Operations Center's director, on March 24, told reporters: “It's very safe to assume that there are substantially more cases in rural Colorado than are currently being reported” and that as the state develops more testing capability, the picture of the spread will be clearer.

The GOP senators who did not sign the letter include Jack Tate, who represents Centennial and nearby areas, and Kevin Priola, who represents the south Thornton and Brighton areas, along with a large swath of rural Adams County to the east.

State Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert and state Sen. Jim Smallwood, both of Parker and whose districts cover Douglas County, signed the letter.

In the letter, senators wrote that they hope they and the governor can “continue moving forward in unity.”

“While we were surprised by Wednesday's actions, we remain committed to assisting you and your administration in ensuring the health and safety of all Coloradans.”

Another letter

Days earlier, six Republican state lawmakers signed a letter to the Douglas County commissioners — the county's three-person legislative and administrative body — urging them to cut ties with the Tri-County Health Department after it issued its own stay-at-home order March 25. Tri-County oversees Adams, Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

The letter took issue with the fact that the order was decided without the majority support of the county commissioners.

Under state statute 25-1-506, a public health board has the right to declare direction such as the stay-at-home order.

In the letter, the lawmakers, who represent Douglas County areas, urged county commissioners to align with El Paso County Health or create a new health agency.

Holbert and Smallwood were also among the lawmakers who signed the letter regarding Tri-County. The rest were GOP state House members, including House Minority Leader Patrick Neville.


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