Colorado House career of Douglas Bruce
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The Colorado House of Representatives career of Douglas Bruce began with Bruce's appointment to a vacant legislative seat in November 2007 and his swearing-in in January 2008; he was a focal point of controversy during his one term in the state house, becoming the first legislator in Colorado history to be officially censured. He was defeated in the Republican primary in his 2008 bid for a full term.
2007 House appointment
In October 2007, Bruce announced his plans to seek a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives. After Rep. Bill Cadman was appointed to fill a Senate seat vacated by Ron May, Bruce sought to be appointed to Cadman's seat representing House District 15. Bruce faced two other Republican challengers for the appointment during a short but contentious battle for the vacancy committee nomination, during which he questioned the professional credentials of one of his opponents, and opponents charged that he was too divisive a figure to successfully represent the district. Ultimately, Bruce received two-thirds of the votes from the 66 members of the vacancy committee, beating out former school board candidate and engineer Reginald Perry and businessman Steve Hasbrouck.
2008 legislative session
Bruce postponed being sworn in until January 14, 2008—several days after the start of the legislative session—in order to be eligible to serve a full four terms beyond the partial term under Colorado's term limits rules. The move was criticized by former Republican Senator Ron May and Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who, in response to Bruce's actions, called for legislation requiring that newly appointed legislators be sworn in within a specific period of time. Such a bill, which would require appointed legislators to be sworn in within 14 days of their selection, was introduced later in the session by Democratic Reps. Paul Weissmann and Dorothy Butcher; Bruce took the unusual step for a legislator of testifying against the bill at a committee hearing, but the bill passed the state house, with Bruce casting the only dissenting vote.
Bruce clashed with legislative leaders over the time of his swearing-in, demanding to be sworn in at 10 a.m. in front of the full house. Both Speaker Romanoff and Republican leader Mike May requested that Bruce take the oath at a different time, as is customary for vacancy appointments, in order not to interfere with House business. Bruce was present at the 10 a.m. start of legislative business on January 14, but he was not officially recognized by Speaker Romanoff during the morning session. After House Republicans voted 22-1 to call for a representative to be named for District 15 if Bruce did not take the oath of office by the end of the day, Bruce was sworn in by Romanoff at 1:30 p.m.
Already fined for an unexcused absence from the commission meeting on Monday morning, Bruce submitted his resignation as an El Paso County Commissioner after being sworn in as a state representative, effective January 15. After his resignation, Bruce sent a letter to the vacancy committee members who would choose his replacement criticizing Amy Lathen, the leading candidate for his commission seat, as unqualified and inconsistent on tax issues, calling her a "Republican in Name Only;" the letter was denounced by El Paso County Republican Party officials. Lathen, who had planned for months to run a primary campaign for the commission seat against Bruce, was elected by the vacancy committee with a majority of votes on the first ballot.
On the morning before he was sworn in, Bruce was present on the house floor during the session's morning prayer. Javier Manzano, a Rocky Mountain News photographer, took Bruce's picture during the prayer; Bruce kicked him in the knee, telling Manzano, "Do not do that again." Bruce later accused the photographer of "violating the order and decorum" of the house and refused to apologize. Republican Minority Leader Mike May issued a formal apology to the photographer, and state Republican chairman Dick Wadhams "strongly denounce[d]" Bruce's actions.
Speaker Romanoff and Minority Leader May convened a bipartisan six-member panel to investigate and made recommendations concerning the incident; on Friday, January 18, the panel recommended 6-0 that Bruce be censured by the House for his actions, and 5-1 that a formal apology be requested from Bruce. Although Manzano testified before the panel, he declined to press criminal charges against Bruce.
Romanoff elected to pursue the censure recommendation, and, on January 24, the full House of Representatives voted 62-1 (with only Rep. Kevin Lundberg opposed) to censure Bruce. He became the first representative in the recorded history of the state house to be formally censured.
|Bills Introduced in 2008 by Rep. Bruce
(for which Rep. Bruce is the primary originating sponsor)
|HB08-1145||Concerning education on fundamental civic documents.||Postponed indefinitely in House committee|
|HB08-1245||Concerning required reductions in specified government-imposed means of raising revenue.||Postponed indefinitely in House committee|
|HB08-1277||Concerning the prohibition of improper uses of property to enforce collections.||Postponed indefinitely in House committee|
|HB08-1279||Concerning governmental land use regulations [...]||Postponed indefinitely in House committee|
For the 2008 session of the Colorado General Assembly, Bruce was named to seats on the House Finance Committee and the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. At the start of the 2008 General Assembly session, before being sworn in, Bruce announced his opposition to a large portion of the House Republican caucus legislative agenda, including a sales tax holiday for school supplies, a pine beetle mitigation fund, new specialty license plates, and targeted tax credits, noting in a letter to Republican whip Cory Gardner: "I thought the GOP was the party of less government and more freedom, of protecting individualism, not streamlining socialism."
The first bill introduced by Bruce during the 2008 session was a measure to require the Colorado Department of Education to distribute copies of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution to high school seniors, to mandate classroom instruction on the documents, and to offer a brief constitutional law course to members of the Colorado General Assembly. The bill died after facing unanimous opposition from the House Education Committee.
Another of Bruce's bills, which would have prohibited counties from assessing any charges other than property taxes, including fines for delinquent payments or stormwater fees, on property tax bills, was also killed in committee. Bruce also advanced a measure which would have eliminated per diem expense payments for legislators and indexed legislators' pay to inflation, as well as requiring voter approval for any pay increases above this amount. All four bills introduced by Bruce were killed in committee. Late in the legislative session, Bruce introduced a bill to create a seven-member bipartisan panel, including three unaffiliated voters, to draw up Colorado's congressional and legislative districts following the 2010 census and reapportionment.
Bruce has also objected to the practice of attaching a "safety clause" to bills, a provision which uses a declaration that the bill is "necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety" to change the date of enactment and prohibit challenges to the legislation via the petition process. He has pledged to vote against all legislation containing an unjustified safety clause, and has offered amendments to a number of bills to remove the safety clause. Bruce's amendments often failed on account of legislators' personal hostility towards him; on at least one occasion, after the house voted down his proposal to strike the safety clause, the motion passed after being introduced by another legislator. House members eventually developed the practice of supporting the removal of the safety clause if the legislator sponsoring the bill agreed; in 2008, 41% of bill passed had no safety clause, up from 25% the previous year.
Bruce also proposed several changes to House operations and procedure, including use of tasers by state capitol security—a proposal received favorably by legislative leaders—and increased office space for legislators—an idea not well received.
Bruce was a vocal critic of the proposed state budget debated during the 2008 legislative session, characterizing the budget's $3,500 in expenditures per Colorado resident as "fiscal child abuse." During budget debates, Bruce offered unsuccessful amendments to eliminate 524 new employees at colleges and universities, to cut a federally funded program for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, and to prevent the transfer of 165 contract corrections employees to state payrolls.
Bruce also joined with left-leaning and environmental groups in opposing proposed changes to Colorado's petition process that would raise signature requirements and make it more difficult to put proposals to amend the Colorado state constitution on the statewide ballot.
Bruce also entered into debate on, and voted against, a bill to impose new requirements on landlords and set standards for rental properties. His actions generated criticism from other legislators, who argued that Bruce should have recused himself from voting on the measure because his ownership of rental properties created a conflict of interest; two other legislators recused themselves for similar reasons.
Removal from committee
On February 13, Bruce, alone among 100 state legislators, refused to sign on as a cosponsor to an annual joint resolution recognizing Military and Veterans Appreciation Day. Bruce had protested other resolutions in the legislature as a waste of time, similar to his practice of refusing to vote on resolutions as an El Paso County commissioner. Later in the session, Bruce proposed a change to House rules to allow members to abstain from voting on resolutions.
In response to public complaints, Republican Minority Leader Mike May removed Bruce from the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which oversees veterans' issues. Bruce dismissed the move as "political posturing." Other Republican legislators denounced Bruce in a public letter for "callous indifference" towards veterans. Bruce offered as evidence of his support for veterans his successful amendment to a house bill to include interest in a state repayment to the Colorado Veterans Trust Fund, a move which resulted in an additional $636,000 repaid to the fund. Bruce would later cite this as one of his major accomplishments during the 2008 session.
The following week, Bruce signed on as a cosponsor to an annual resolution calling for civility between members of the legislature; he said that it did not violate his standard of refusing to support symbolic resolutions because he considered the measure to be a "pledge of personal behavior."
Per diem controversy
As a legislator, Bruce was entitled to apply for per diem compensation for living expenses during the legislative session. After having delayed his swearing-in to the state house for five days after the start of the session, Bruce applied for and received compensation for those days amounting to $750 more than what he was legally entitled to. Colorado legislative council staff later accepted responsibility for what was referred to as a "clerical error" and has pledged to return the excess funds. Bruce has pledged to donate his legislative salary and per diem payments to the non-profit charity "Active Citizens Together," a group founded by Bruce to educate citizens on personal and property rights and advocate for limited government.
"Illiterate peasants" comments
On April 21, 2008, Bruce voiced opposition during house debate on a bill sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper to create a guest worker program to facilitate temporary employment visas for agricultural workers from Mexico. After speaking against illegal immigration and being advised to restrict comments to the bill by debate chair Rep. Kathleen Curry, Bruce took the floor a second time and commented:
|“||I would like to have the opportunity to state at the microphone why I don't think we need 5,000 more illiterate peasants in Colorado."||”|
Bruce was immediately gavelled to order by Rep. Curry, who ruled that he would no longer be recognized during debate on the bill. Bruce's comments were denounced by Assistant Majority Leader Terrance Carroll as violating the "decorum of the house;" they were also criticized by Minority Leader Mike May, the Mexican consulate in Denver. and the Anti-Defamation League. The following day, the Latino Faith-Based Initiative, and the Democratic Party Latino Initiative both called for Bruce's resignation from the legislature.
Bruce defended his remarks as being factually accurate, citing dictionary definitions of "illiterate" and "peasant". Legislators briefly considered bringing a formal ethics complaint against him, but ultimately chose not to. Legislators responded to Bruce's propensity for generating controversy by declaring that they would "start ignoring him". Rep. Curry requested additional law enforcement protection after receiving an influx of threatening messages from opponents of illegal immigration. Bruce, however, received hundreds of largely positive email messages in response to news coverage of the controversy. The following weekend, Bruce's comments were the target of a local protest in Colorado Springs attended by about 50.
Several days later, Bruce submitted an amendment — facetiously drafted by the "linguistic sensitivity codification commission" — to another bill addressing immigration issues to substitute "undocumented, temporary guest resident" in place of "illegal aliens" in statutory language. The amendment was offered and defeated twice.
Sexual harassment complaint
On April 30, Bruce was the subject of a sexual harassment complaint after a female legislative staffer alleged that he made inappropriate verbal comments towards her. After being formally confronted by House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, Bruce was instructed to stay away from the woman who filed the complaint, according to reports by other representatives. Legislative leaders refused to publicly discuss the complaint, but Douglas Bruce stated in a radio interview that the incident in question involved only looking and smiling at a woman.
After both Bruce and the woman involved were interviewed by attorneys, Bruce reported in July that the harassment complaint had been dismissed for lack of evidence, and suggested that the timing of the investigation's conclusion was politically motivated, coming just weeks before a contested primary race.
Bruce announced in November 2007 that he would stand in the 2008 general election for the House District 15 seat. He faces a challenge for the Republican nomination from attorney and Iraq War veteran Mark Waller. Following the precedent of his county commission campaign four years earlier, Bruce funded his own campaign, refusing to accept private campaign donations; instead, Bruce donated over $30,000 of his own money to his campaign. He did, however, unsuccessfully solicit donations for his charity, Active Citizens Together, from other lawmakers. Reflecting Bruce's status as a "pariah" among some Colorado Springs Republicans, Waller received endorsements or contributions during his campaign from at least five sitting state representatives, including Bob Gardner, Larry Liston, and Marsha Looper, as well as former Sen. Ron May and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.
Waller outpolled Bruce by receiving 57% of the vote at the Republican assembly in March, claiming the top line on the August Republican primary ballot; he was supported by some delegates who had voted for Bruce's legislative appointment months earlier. During his campaign, Waller did not draw a contrast on political positions with Bruce, but argued that Bruce's temperament caused him to be an ineffective legislator.
Bruce faced criticism from House Democratic and Republican leaders in April for distributing campaign fliers critical of Waller to Republican representatives on the House floor. Although not a violation of the law or House rules, legislative leaders denounced the action as a breach of decorum and tradition. Waller also called for Bruce's resignation in April 2008, after Bruce's controversial comments about Mexican guest workers. Bruce, in response, characterised Waller as a "conformer" rather than a "reformer," and stated that his controversial actions were designed to draw attention to inappropriate legislative actions.
Shortly before the August primary, Bruce was again criticized by Waller for mailing flyers promoting his charity, Active Citizens Together, soliciting volunteers and donations for the charity and stating: "to reform government, ACT with Douglas Bruce." Although Waller declared that the flyers were "an obvious attempt at campaigning," he did not file a complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State's office, as he believed no laws were actually broken; the flyers did not mention any of Bruce's elected positions. Bruce was also criticized for listing endorsements on his website from political officials who had endorsed his campaign for county commissioner, but not specifically endorsed his legislative campaign. After attention was called to the discrepancy, Bruce had the erroneous endorsements removed, citing an "overzealous webmaster."
In turn, Bruce filed several campaign finance complaints against Waller, all but one of which—an accusation that Waller improperly accepted a corporate donation—were dismissed. The hearing on Bruce's complaint was postponed until after the primary, over Bruce's objection, but resulted in Waller being cited and fined for failing to disclose a campaign contribution. Bruce also criticized Waller for his failure to vote in several recent elections, including the 2004 general election.
Bruce was narrowly defeated for the Republican nomination in the August 12 party primary, taking only 48 percent of the vote to Waller's 52 percent.
Democrat Allison Hunter withdrew from the race in December 2007, arguing that Bruce's appointment by a vacancy committee gave him "too great an advantage" in general election; Waller will face Democrat Michelle Maksimowicz in November 2008.
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