An idea generated by US Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) and carried in Congress by Diana DeGette (D-CO) will have Colorado’s bipartisan house delegation sitting together at the January 25th State of the Union Address by President Barack Obama.
DeGette, who represents Denver’s 1st Congressional District, was one of 58 US Senators and Congressman to sign on with Udall’s plan for bipartisan seating.
Udall drafted a letter to all 535 members of the US House & Senate last week suggesting that the traditionally partisan seating chart at the annual State of the Union Address sets a standard of divisiveness each year. Senator Udall suggested that the symbolic gesture would indicate to the American public that their elected representatives can “debate our differences with respect, honor and civility.”
The Senator further suggested that an emphasis on divided seating implied a divided government.
Wrote Udall, “The choreographed standing and clapping of one side of the room – while the other side sits – is unbecoming of a serious institution. And the message that it sends is that even on a night when the President is addressing the entire nation, we in Congress cannot sit as one, but must be divided as two.”
Congresswoman DeGette carried the notion of bipartisan seating to Colorado’s seven-member delegation, where it was received with reluctant approval by Republican representatives. Cory Gardner (R-CO) representing Colorado’s northern & eastern plains, and Mike Coffman (R-CO) representing the Denver-metro area’s southern suburbs, both agreed to join DeGette in the showing of mutual respect.
Colorado’s Republican Congressmen, however, stayed on-message in saying that the gesture was less important than working towards job creation and economic growth in 2011.
Gardner suggested that Americans would be unimpressed and “care less about where we sit and more about the future of our country.”
Coffman used the opportunity to take a good-natured jab at DeGette saying, “I look forward to sitting with the dean of our delegation, Diana DeGette, who has always provided adult supervision to make sure that we are never uncivil to one another.”
Congressman Coffman continued, “Now that we have the seating arrangements ironed out, we can get back to the real task at hand, which is getting our economy back on the right track.”
Representatives Scott Tipton (R-CO) and Doug Lamborn (R-CO) will join Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) in rounding out the Colorado house delegation.
Most Republicans dismissed the idea of mixed seating as trite, and the Colorado delegation may have difficulty finding seven seats together as the majority of representatives from other states will follow the traditional partisan path. Most likely, Colorado’s Congressmen will end up marginalized as a result of their bipartisan stance, so look for your state representatives in the far corners of the joint session of Congress.
Despite the dilution of an otherwise sound idea, DeGette says that the symbolic gesture will be meaningful for Coloradans, sending a “powerful message that we are committed to working together on behalf of the people of Colorado.”
DeGette is the Chief Deputy Whip in the now Republican-controlled Congress.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has pressured fellow Senate Republicans to support bipartisan seating. Murkowski will hold a press conference next Tuesday before the State of the Union as part of a final push in favor of the idea.
Read Udall’s letter to legislators and a list of co-signers