The Spot: Colorado Republican’s use of “Buckwheat” moniker during House discussion condemned

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Colorado state Rep. Richard Holtorf, a Republican from the Eastern Plains, called a colleague “Buckwheat” while delivering remarks on the House floor this week. (Here’s the video.)

Holtorf said he meant it as a term of endearment, but most others didn’t take it that way — Buckwheat is a Black caricature, so many lawmakers interpreted it the same way as if he’d called someone “Speedy Gonzales” or “Aladdin.” Holtorf claims he was addressing Latino Democrat David Ortiz when he used that term, but Black caucus members were — and are — furious.

Holtorf offends his colleagues on a regular basis. He told Rep. Tom Sullivan, the father of an Aurora theater shooting victim, to get over that loss. He defended Rep. Ron Hanks for making a joke about lynching and claiming the three-fifths compromise wasn’t racist. During a debate on abolishing Columbus Day, he argued that the Indigenous people who were slaughtered by colonizers weren’t very nice people. 

What did feel new Wednesday was the reaction from the chamber. Last month, Black caucus members called on their white colleagues to help stamp out racism in the Capitol. Sullivan, who shouted Holtorf down this week, took that to heart. 

“You’ve got to say something when you hear something that’s outrageous. Who are you calling Buckwheat? I know what that word is. I know what you meant. I’ve listened to him the whole time he’s been here. I know who he is,” Sullivan said.

Ortiz said he hopes the chamber can reset and put an end to the “constant stream of f***ery.”

“The fact that white allies are ready to jump up to put some real pressure, I respect that,” he added.

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Top Line


Denver’s going big on its latest attempt to house its homeless population: buying a hotel on the northeast side. Conrad Swanson has details.

Capitol Diary • By Saja Hindi

Ag’s windfall

Colorado’s $700 million state stimulus package is split into a bunch of separate bills. One that passed the House this week benefits the National Western Stock Show and other agriculture-related events. 

The state is giving $3.5 million to the more than 100-year-old stock show, which usually brings in $100 million or more but was canceled this year because of the pandemic.. 

In addition to money for the Stock Show, HB 21-1262 gives $2 million to the Department of Agriculture for things like the Colorado Forum on Agriculture, the Colorado Farm Show in Greeley and county fairs, as well as another $3.5 million to the Colorado State Fair. 

“These events strengthen our western culture and are a big part of who we are as Coloradans. I’m proud the legislature is standing up to support Colorado agriculture, the Stock Show and local events that are vitally important to our communities,” bill sponsor Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine said in a statement.

State lawmakers wanted to help an industry that was struggling from the pandemic and are expected to allocate $34 million to $58 million to agriculture-related spending. Republicans have previously said they have felt the industry has been under attack in the state, so it’s no surprise that this bill came with bipartisan support and passed 55-8 in the Colorado House before heading to the Senate.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from Sterling and a co-sponsor of the bill, said it “truly is helpful in stopping the bleeding” at shows like the National Western Stock Show. 

More Colorado political news

  • Universal preschool is coming to Colorado in 2023.
  • Coloradans who have insurance could get a free annual mental health exam if this bill passes.
  • Gov. Jared Polis signed a new law allowing medical cannabis in schools.
  • A 2019 law let 17-year-olds vote in primaries. But after Amendment 76 passed, it may take a lawsuit to decide whether that’s still the case.
  • What exactly does the bill meant to lower jail populations do?

Federal politics • By Justin Wingerter

A Q&A with Peter Yu

Peter Yu, a Republican businessman and first-generation American from Loveland, is running against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2022. He recently took a break from crisscrossing Colorado to talk about his travels, why he thinks he can win next year and what he learned from a 2018 loss to U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse in the 2nd Congressional District. Our conversation has been edited for brevity.

What have you learned from traveling around Colorado? What are you hearing out there?

“There’s a common theme: People are just frustrated. They’re worried about their financial and future opportunities in this state and, honestly, they’re just exhausted with identity politics and they just want solutions rather than talking points. … The pandemic has hit small businesses extremely hard and most people are having a difficult time keeping their business open and their employees paid.”

Why do you think a Republican can win statewide?

“The truth is, this isn’t about a Republican winning a statewide race. It’s more about a representative who truly represents the people. We need to stop making it about party affiliation because it doesn’t matter if you have an R or a D next to your name when you go to vote. The reality is, we all have the exact same issues right now. We’re coming off a pandemic and we need to stop playing politics and stop playing the fear game, because that doesn’t help anyone.”

What did you learn from the 2018 race?

“What I learned from the 2018 race is that it was a very identity politics campaign. That broke my heart a little bit, because obviously I ran in a district that leans heavily against me, but I honestly believed it was about the candidate and it wasn’t about the politics and the one thing I didn’t realize is that sometimes people can’t get past whether there’s a D or an R next to your name. That was the one thing that was a little bit of a surprise to me. However, the thing that really uplifted me and made me … continue on down this path is the response I got. Democrats, unaffiliateds, Republicans continue to call me, continue to talk to me and donated to me.”

More federal politics news

  • Here’s how Colorado’s senior senator helped create a major anti-poverty program.
  • Colorado has resolved a dispute it had with the federal government over grant money.
  • Susan Martinez, of Pueblo, has ended her campaign for the 3rd Congressional District.
  • Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is returning to a Denver lobbying firm.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

One more tool in Denver’s affordable housing toolbox

For decades, officials in Colorado’s cities said there was a major obstacle to offering more affordable housing — what is commonly known as the Telluride Decision. But the state legislature is on a path to clear that blockage. 

In short, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that forced developers to include affordable rental units in new buildings — also called “inclusionary zoning” —  qualifies as rent control, which is illegal under state law. For example, if a developer wants to build a complex with 100 apartments in Denver, the city cannot require 15% to be affordable housing.

But HB21-1117 would legalize those types of requirements once more. The House and Senate have already passed amended versions of the bill and if the chambers rectify those differences, the measure will go to Gov. Jared Polis, who is expected to sign it into law. 

That means Denver could enact new affordable housing requirements by the end of the year or early next year, city planner Analiese Hock said — which would be beneficial considering the rising rents. 

But it’s more complicated than you might think, Hock said. 

Denver would have to offer other options beyond requiring a percentage of affordable housing, like allowing developers to pay fees in lieu of building affordable housing or building affordable housing in a different area. 

And nothing is a catch-all solution, Hock said. 

“It’s a tool that is good at providing a modest but steady amount of affordable housing into the market,” she said. “We don’t have the expectation that this tool will solve all of our affordable housing needs.” 

More Denver and suburban political news

  • Expect the entire Denver metro to get older and more diverse in the coming decades.
  • Denver landlords will be required to hold long-term rental licenses for each of their properties under a new law unanimously approved by the City Council.
  • The Aurora ICE facility has its largest COVID outbreak yet, and it’s not clear whether migrants were tested before arriving. 
  • A proposed ballot initiative in Denver looking to strengthen the city’s homeless camping ban would put officials in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” situation, according to one attorney.
  • RTD’s fares are pricey, and the agency plans to study how to change that for riders’ benefit.
  • Westminster’s mayor, who faced a recall, stepped down.

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