A House Republican took a Democratic colleague to task Wednesday for calling him “half Latino” as the debate over sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants simmers at the state Capitol.
Saying he wanted to talk about “a matter that affects the dignity of this chamber,” state Rep. Dave Williams, R-Colorado Springs, took to the House microphone near the end of morning announcements to “call attention to the insensitive words that were spoken about me” during a discussion about pending legislation concerning sanctuary policies.
“One of our members referred to me as a ‘half Latino,’” Williams said. “This term was used to diminish my standing on this policy issue and to lessen my credibility within the Latino community. These tactics are disgraceful and in poor taste. I’m sorry that my surname doesn’t match my ethnicity or my heritage, but I’m proud of who I am and where I come from.”
Although Williams didn’t identify the lawmaker — in keeping with the chamber’s rules of decorum — he told The Colorado Statesman he was referring to state Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, a dependable Williams critic in recent weeks as the two spearhead antagonistic legislation concerning sanctuary policy.
“I get the partisanship of this place, and I understand the need for both sides to score political points from time to time,” Williams said. “But this crossed the line. This was disrespectful to me and to my family. The very implication that my voice on matters concerning the Latino community doesn’t count because I’m not full-blooded — this is something that should not be tolerated.”
Salazar had a curt response to his fellow lawmaker’s remarks on Wednesday.
“There’s nothing to respond to,” he wrote in a text message to The Statesman.
Williams earlier this month introduced House Bill 1134, known as the “Colorado Politician Accountability Act,” which would establish civil and criminal liability for public officials who help establish so-called sanctuary policies for a jurisdiction if immigrants residing in that jurisdiction harm people or property.
Salazar is readying contradictory legislation he’s calling “The Ralph Carr Freedom Defense Act,” named after the Colorado governor who opposed federal policies to intern Americans of Japanese heritage during World War II. While it hasn’t been introduced yet, Salazar says the bill would prevent state and local agencies from working with federal authorities to register or hold state residents based on national origin, race or religion. It would also forbid state and local agencies from sharing certain information about Colorado residents with federal authorities.
“This administration is going to want the state and local government to help them identify people. And guess what? We’re just not going to do that,” Salazar said, referring to the Trump administration, at a discussion on sanctuary policy Feb. 2 at North High School in Denver.
“This bill is grounded in humanity,” Salazar said at the discussion. “But there are those at the state Capitol who don’t believe in humanity. They believe in divisiveness. Rep. Dave Williams is bringing a bill that is the opposite of mine. His is the anti-Ralph Carr bill.”
As the audience at the Colorado Latino Forum event — including Democratic lawmakers and city officials — murmured their disapproval, Salazar continued: “There’s an ugliness around the bill. Write his name down — Rep. Dave Williams. He is half Latino. Write his name down and call him tomorrow. Visit his office tomorrow and tell him we will not tolerate any more divisiveness from the Republican Party.”
Those were the remarks that angered Williams, who said on the House floor Wednesday, “I want to believe that this body truly cares about inclusiveness. I want to believe that this body truly cares about tolerance. But I can’t help but wonder these things in light of these events.”
Salazar’s characterization, Willliams said, was similar to dismissive comments made about Barack Obama.
“Could you imagine if this was said about President Barack Obama? He had the honor of being the first African-American president, and rightfully so. And if someone questioned that achievement, I think all of us would rightfully disavow that,” Williams said. “In that same manner, calling someone only ‘half Latino’ as a way of discrediting a position they have taken is unbecoming of the dignity of this chamber, and it compromises our Colorado values of equality.”
Williams closed by appealing to the decorum — “whether under this Gold Dome or not” — afforded colleagues in the General Assembly.
“We are a body of ideas and constructive dialogue,” he said. “We need to be able to disagree without resorting to personal attacks or disrespectful characterizations meant to drive divisiveness and hate. I want to ask all of you to remember that we are all equal members of this body and deserve an equal level of respect.”
For his part, Salazar posted an “action alert” on Facebook Wednesday morning, urging Colorado residents to turn out in opposition to the Williams bill at its first scheduled committee hearing next week, at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 22 before the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee at the Capitol.
“This is your chance to repudiate the hateful, divisive, unconstitutional Republican attacks on our Colorado communities,” Salazar wrote.