Over the past few weeks, a commotion has erupted between Fox News and Colorado’s, uh, secular utopians. The folks who cobble together Bill O’Reilly’s nightly contribution (sic) to American political and social discourse have trained their eye on Colorado Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino.
At issue is Ferrandino’s apparent refusal to bring “Jessica’s Law” up for debate on the House floor. Formally known as the Jessica Lunsford Act, the law is named for the nine-year-old Florida girl who was abducted, assaulted, and buried alive in 2005. It would mandate a minimum 25-year prison sentence for anyone who sexually assaults a child, and Colorado is one of only six states that hasn’t passed some form of the law.
Ferrandino says the reason the law has repeatedly died—similar versions of it have failed four times in Colorado—is that most law enforcement and court officials, observers such as the libertarian Independence Institute, and even certain children’s advocates believe that it wouldn’t improve the situation any more than Colorado’s existing laws do.
The dust-up with Fox News began in early March, when an O’Reilly producer confronted Ferrandino on a Denver street to demand why he hadn’t let House Bill 1149 be debated. (House Speakers act as gatekeepers who prioritize proposed legislation. Such decisions often are made using political calculations—or, as was the case last year when then Speaker Frank McNulty tabled civil unions legislation that was sure to pass, miscalculations.)
The interviewer peppered the Speaker with a list of crimes that were apparently committed against children in Colorado, though he offered only headline-level details. He then wondered—with the requisite smarminess that’s become a Fox News trademark—whether we in Colorado think we’re smarter than the states that have already passed this law. So in a holier-than-thou tone, he accused Ferrandino of being…holier than thou. (In a not-so-subtle irony, the interview was filmed while Ferrandino appeared to be rocking the stroller of his foster daughter as the toddler gurgles just out of the frame.)
O’Reilly then followed the interview by inviting Denver radio host Mike Brown—yup, that Mike Brown—to help him bemoan the “secular paradise” that Colorado is so in danger of becoming. These two sages have somehow concluded the whole state wants to be more like Boulder—Fox News code for hedonistic, knee-jerk, nanny state lefties.
Fast forward to March 10, when Denver Post editor Curtis Hubbard wrote an opinion column criticizing O’Reilly for invoking the bugaboo of Ferrandino’s sexual orientation—he’s Colorado’s first openly gay Speaker—during a late-February interview about Jessica’s Law with Colorado Representative Libby Szabo (R-Arvada). (O’Reilly didn’t mention Ferrandino’s personal life during the March 1 segment that aired after the street interview.) O’Reilly then invited Hubbard to appear on his show, where he continued his grand tradition of verbally steamrolling over anyone who doesn’t kiss his ring. Specifically, he accused Hubbard of being a “smear merchant,” an interesting accusation from a guy who is to smears what da Vinci was to intelligence and creativity.
No sane person would deny the need to protect children, and O’Reilly has a legitimate point when he argues that the Democratic-controlled Colorado Congress should at least let HB 1149 come up for debate—unless there’s nothing new to be said about a law that’s failed here four times.
But invoking Ferrandino’s sexual orientation as a “gotcha,” a figurative wink toward O’Reilly’s base doesn’t prove anything substantive about Jessica’s Law. It does little more than fire up the feeble minds who let such cues convince them of anything. And whether it’s O’Reilly, 60 Minutes, or Michael Moore, the ambush interview too often can become the refuge of charlatans (another insult O’Reilly hurled at Hubbard) who are more interested in pushing an agenda than in uncovering anything resembling the truth.
As writer Bryan Schatz discovered in his detailed profile of Ferrandino in the March issue, our new Speaker is first and foremost a sincerely dedicated public servant. He also is a savvy dealmaker who won’t easily be stereotyped, intimidated, or outworked. His opponents would do better to try and match his perseverance than retreat to the lazy refuge of character assassination.
Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.