The AIDS Party

Colorado Republicans never cease to astound me. Here were are, on the eve of a major “Tax Day Tea Party,” when plenty of Americans are irritated with the Democrats over intrusive government, and Colorado Republicans issue a media release reminding everybody that they also want an intrusive government, especially when it results in more people getting AIDS and Hepatitis C. But, hey, some people deserve to get those diseases, according to one senior Republican.

It is this sort of nonsense that persuades me that 2010 may still be the year when Republicans manage, against all odds, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Again. Because they are just that stupid.

As Tim Hoover over at the Denver Post reviews, the state senate’s Health and Human Services committee referred Bill 10-189. The bill would “allow needle exchange programs for illegal drug users,” as Hoover summarizes.

Here’s the most remarkable line from Hoover’s report: “Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, said the bill was a move toward eliminating ‘the negative consequences of this behavior that’s not acceptable to the majority of Coloradans.'” Negative consequences like AIDS and Hepatitis C. Because who would want to remove those!

Of course, as Hoover also points out, the Republicans were not unanimous in opposing the bill. In fact, the Republican vote was only two-to-one against. Because Shawn Mitchell, who often sides with liberty in the legislature, has not absolutely lost his mind.

Now, it is not always clear why members vote for or against certain amendments and bills in committee. Sometimes a Senator is playing some longer-range strategy. However, given that, on the face of it, one of the three Republicans on the committee supports the bill, it is unclear to me why the GOP’s Colorado Senate News issued a media release stating Republican opposition to the bill. Is not Mitchell one of the most respected Republicans in this state?

Regardless, the media release itself is dishonest:

“Nobody wants to see the spread of infectious diseases, but I hardly think it is the taxpayers’ job to foot the bill for a needle exchange program,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “And with just a month left in the session we should be focused on the economy and next year’s $1 billion budget cliff. There just isn’t room to debate the creation of a new public health program.” … He also lamented the fact that bill doesn’t explicitly bar the use of public funds for needle exchange programs.

But neither does the bill promise “public funds for needle exchange programs.” Instead, the bill explicitly says that a county or district public health agency may contract with a nonprofit organization to run a needle exchange program. If Lundberg were genuinely interested in cutting off tax funding for needle exchange, he would have restricted his position to modifying the bill accordingly, not arguing against all needle exchange programs. (Of course, I do not believe a nonprofit should have to suck up to bureaucrats to get permission to do good works in the community, but such a truly liberty-oriented bill would have faced even harsher opposition.)

The comments by Senator Minority Leader Josh Penry are equally dishonest:

“Dirty needles are an occupational hazard for drug users, sure, but so are laced drugs and gun fights,” said Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction. “Does Senator Steadman think we should buy heroin and bullet proof jackets for druggies too?”

Penry leaves his “we” conveniently vague. Regarding clean needles, does he mean taxpayers or willing contributers to nonprofits? If he means taxpayers, he should address that narrow issue.

The obvious difference between clean needles and heroin or bullet proof vests is that the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis C can have more extensive spill-over effects onto other parties. Of course Penry understands this point very well, only he is trying to score political points through willful distortion of the issues.