Representative B.J. Nikkel, a Republican from Loveland, became a hero to supporters of the Senator Pat Steadman-sponsored civil unions bill when her vote in favor of the measure allowed it to pass the House judiciary committee yesterday; see a slew of tweets singing her praises below. She was the sole Republican to support the proposal. Could her previously announced decision not to run for reelection have anything to do with it?
As CBS4 reported back in February, her decision in regard to her current seat was made after legislative district lines were redrawn. As a result, she and fellow Republican rep Brian DelGrosso found themselves in the same district -- so she stepped aside.
Afterward, Nikkel didn't immediately become a supporter of the civil unions bill. In an April piece on the topic from the Colorado Statesmen, she sounded noncommittal, saying, "I haven't even read the bill. I hear it's the same bill brought back from last year, which I was a 'no' on. Once it gets on to the House, I'll take a look at it, but I've been focused elsewhere."
Meanwhile, Steadman, who also godfathered the civil unions bill that died in a House committee last year, searched in vain for a Republican to co-sponsor its sequel. In a January interview about civil unions, he confirmed that he'd been "in conversation with some members of the House about potentially becoming the sponsor, but I haven't found the right person who's willing."
Steadman added: "I remain very concerned that we're going to see a repeat of last year. I know there's a strong majority of members of the House that would vote for the bill if it got to the floor. But it may be politically expedient to bottle it up in committee and not let it get there."
This fear lingered even after the Senate passed the civil unions bill, as it did last year. At that time, Steadman said he understood why Republicans feeling the heat from their party leadership were reluctant to sign on. In his words, "Imagine the pressure the thousandth lemming feels as it, too, leaps over the edge of the cliff."
This time around, however, Nikkel didn't jump, and she subsequently became the beneficiary of grateful tweets from activists, notables and just plain folks. Some examples:
Kudos to GOP state Rep. BJ Nikkel for coming down on the right side of history tonight. Civil unions are about fairness and equality. #coleg
— Dan Haley (@danhaleyCO) May 4, 2012
— SBailey 4 Congress (@Bailey4COCD2) May 4, 2012
Thank Representative BJ Nikkel for her courageous vote in favor of civil unions. Send her an e-mail now. Show her... fb.me/ztBmvSkr
— Out Boulder (@OutBoulder) May 4, 2012
Rep Nikkel - we don't agree on much but thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing the right thing. Sincerely. #copolitics
— Ryan Johnson (@RyanJohnsonCO) May 4, 2012
This reaction couldn't be more different from the one that greeted Nikkel after voting against civil unions in 2011. As we reported at the time, a B.J. Nikkel Coward Facebook page accused her of "singlehandedly" killing the bill and predicting that the proposal's demise would cause suicides.
As you might expect, that Facebook page is no longer online.
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We've left messages with Nikkel and will update this post if and when she responds. But immediately after the vote, she said, "I think it was the right thing to do. We're all Coloradans, right?"
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More from our Politics archive: "Civil unions passes Senate, sponsor hopes House lemmings won't jump off cliff."