By BENTE BIRKELAND, Colorado Public Radio
DENVER (AP) — Across the political spectrum, elected officials in Colorado say they face growing threats of online violence and harassment simply to do their jobs.
Now, state lawmakers are looking for new ways to provide more security to officials targeted to meet growing needs, so they can feel more secure in their jobs.
“I think anyone in the midst of a national conspiracy theory of election denial who receives threat after threat after threat would take this seriously, which I do,” said Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
Griswold frequently appears on national cable news to expose misrepresentations regarding the 2020 presidential election, and has taken steps to prevent the types of outside “audits” being conducted in Arizona. She said all of this has resulted in a slew of threats and stressed the need for heightened security for officials across the state in particular.
People on social media frequently call for Griswold’s death, rhetoric that has spilled over into the real world as well. At a meeting in Castle Rock convened by the right-wing group FEC United last month, Shawn Smith, a prominent supporter of election conspiracy theories, claimed he had evidence of criminal conduct by Griswold.
“And I think if you’re involved in voter fraud, then you deserve to be hanged,” he said to cheers and applause in video of the event obtained by Colorado Newsline. He added: “Sometimes the old ways are the best.
Smith then claimed he didn’t condone violence, but “when you get your hands on that hot stove, you get burned and you should see it coming.”
After that meeting, followed by numerous online threats, Griswold requested a weekend security detail as she felt the risk was heightened, but officers were only assigned to her home for a few hours.
The Colorado State Patrol is responsible for providing security to the state’s elected officials, but currently the law only requires a full-time detail for the governor. Lawmakers and other elected officials like Griswold may request short-term security, but how they respond to those requests is at the patrol’s discretion.
“I can’t say, ‘I need you here,’ and they have to show up,” Griswold said.
She calls the kind of threats she receives an attack on democracy. Griswold’s office requested $120,000 in state funding so she could hire private security.
— Griswold’s request was met with skepticism by some in the statehouse
Republican lawmakers say they’ve also faced threats, but oppose using state money for private security, especially if security guards could end up being used outside official business of the state.
Republican State Rep. Mary Bradfield notes that Secretary Griswold is up for re-election.
“And I don’t know how you’re going to separate his public appearances as secretary of state from his appearances as a candidate, because some of them get blurry,” she said.
Another option would be to expand the mission of the state patrol to include the continued security of more elected officials.
Patrol leader Col. Matthew Packard agrees that horrific comments against officials like Griswold and others have become more frequent now than at any time in recent memory.
“There are people out there who are willing to say horrible things, from the confines of their computer… (But) a lot of that is protected by the First Amendment, and so there’s a balance for that,” did he declare. “To the extent that this rhetoric negatively impacts someone’s safety, we are prepared and prepared to address it, within the limits of individuals’ constitutional rights.”
The State Patrol is asking for more money to beef up security in the state capitol and surrounding buildings, recruit more officers, and pay overtime to respond to some of these credible threats.
– Other lawmakers support extra security for politicians and are also familiar with harassment
A bill this session would go further than that. As introduced, SB-133 would allow statewide officials like Griswold to appeal state patrol security decisions if they disagree. It would also include money to provide security for state lawmakers at public events and town halls and streamline the process for making those security requests.
“Making sure you feel safe speaking to the public is a critical part of our democracy,” said Democratic Sen. Faith Winter, who is sponsoring the bill with Republican Sen. Kevin Priola.
SB-133 has yet to have a committee hearing and is expected to change throughout the process – Winter already plans to amend the bill to give all state officials up to 80 hours of security per week if needed.
In general, Winter said she thinks it’s important to have better security and threat monitoring procedures in place, in part to give people the confidence to enter public life.
“I recruit and train women to run for office, and increasingly across the country women are saying, ‘I don’t know if I want to run because I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel safe for my family,” Winter said.
Democratic State Rep. Leslie Herod knows firsthand what it can be like to live with these kinds of threats. She was one of the most outspoken voices in the capital on police reform, leading to continued backlash, including being branded a ‘terrorist’ by the Weld County Sheriff last year. .
“I had to change the way I do certain things in my life. And I don’t want to dwell on it too much, but my life has changed since I received so many threats,” she said.
— There are other proposals to strengthen the protection of civil servants
Prior to this year’s debate on the in-person safety of elected officials, state lawmakers were already poised to crack down on those who attack people in public life.
Last year, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to increase the penalty for threatening an elected official. And they also made efforts to try to help lesser-known officials. A measure to increase penalties for threatening public health workers — or exposing their personal information to encourage others to harass them — became law with broad bipartisan support.
This year, lawmakers are working on a bill that would make it illegal to publicly release the personal information of election workers — a practice known as doxxing — and allow those workers and their immediate family members to delete their private information. open file requests. It also increases penalties for threats and intimidation.
Lawmakers from both political parties lament how public discourse has deteriorated to the point where these measures are needed. One called the whole security discussion “tragic” but added: “This is where we are.”
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