It’s unclear what plans newly appointed Rep. Judy Reyher, R-Swink, has for the legislative session or whether political fallout will follow the firestorm her controversial and racially-charged Facebook posts caused in November.
One post singled out African Americans as “hatred-filled beings.” In another, Reyher, the former Otero County Republican Party chair, said she wanted to “bitch slap” every person who voted for Barack Obama. Other shared posts and memes challenged Obama’s citizenship. When questioned about the posts, she later told a Denver Post reporter, “the black community and the Democrats are the most racist group of people that exist,” and saying blacks “hate white people with a passion.”
Reyher later apologized for the posts in a letter to the Denver Post, asserting that she is not racist and embraces diversity.
PULP reached out to Reyher numerous times, by phone and email, asking what her plans were for the legislative session, which will begin mid-January, because her district — which includes Otero, Pueblo and Fremont counties — faces issues much different than the ones of urban Denver and western Colorado.
It’s unclear what bills Reyher will carry. She didn’t return messages. One major question is her stance on alternative energy. One of Reyher’s shared posts was an article about the “Utter Complete Total Fraud of Wind Energy.” HD47 borders the Pueblo Vestas plant, which employs hundreds in the region, several likely living in her district.
The 2018 legislative session is also slated to be hot with partisan bills, as many lawmakers are facing elections and carry bills that aim to satisfy the political base, even if they don’t stand a chance of reaching the governor’s desk.
Reyher was appointed to her seat in House District 47 by fellow GOP members to replace former Rep. Clarice Navarro, a staunch Trump supporter who vouched for now-president through 2016 and took Pueblo chile to the inauguration.
Navarro was tapped to serve under the Trump administration as the executive director of the Colorado Farm Service Agency. While in the legislature, the southern Colorado native sponsored a variety of bills ranging from crime to transparency in schools. Few were specific to challenges that rural Colorado face, such as healthcare, broadband access and economic development. though she did sign on to and voted for bills related to those topics.
Whether Reyher’s statements will be an issue or distraction when it comes time to rally the troops in the House is unclear. Colorado GOP Chairman Jeff Hays wouldn’t say one way or another.
“I’m disinclined to stand in public judgment of legislators’ comments. Making myself the arbiter of controversial statements, however ridiculous or offensive, would set a bad precedent and distract from the chairman’s primary mission,” Hays said in a statement. “I will repeat what my administration has said before, which is that legislators speak for themselves and their constituents, not for the party. That’s true when the press is good and when it’s bad.”
But some other Republicans aren’t as indifferent.
Pueblo Republican Tamra Axworthy, who challenged Reyher on being elected to the seat by her fellow party members, said the party is unified, but called the questionable Facebook posts damaging.
Axworthy lost the appointment by one vote, also stirring controversy.
“I believe that on the most important issues we are united. Things like restoring the American dream, defending the constitution, government reform, and honoring our veterans are all things Republicans agree on,” she said in an email. “Judy’s remarks on social media are harmful to our party and its image as they proved able to fuel animosity, feed the stereotypes, and discredit our progress. However, no one person, including Judy Reyher, has the power to divide us on things that matter.”
The Pueblo Republican said HD47’s big issue is the economy, whether that relates to education or water. And there isn’t as much of an emphasis on rural Colorado either, Axworthy added. But that’s because there are fewer rural legislators than urban ones.
“Unfortunately that makes them extremely outnumbered and quite unpopular as they so often have to vote contrary to the ‘party agenda’ in order to protect their districts,” she said.