A traffic stop involving a state representative could have the unexpected consequence of fundamentally changing the balance of power in the Colorado legislature.
Representative Laura Bradford, a Republican, was pulled over by police in Denver in late January after making an illegal turn a few blocks from the state capitol, according to local news accounts of the incident . The officer who pulled Bradford over allegedly smelled alcohol on her breath and suspected her of driving drunk, but no criminal charges were filed. Police instead gave Bradford a traffic citation and called a taxi for her, according to news reports.
Denver police now acknowledge they gave Bradford special treatment because she is a state legislator and the Colorado Constitution contains a little-known provision granting immunity to lawmakers during the legislative session. " The members of the general assembly shall, in all cases except treason or felony, be privileged from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of their respective houses, or any committees thereof, and in going to and returning from the same," says Article V, Section 16 of the Colorado Constitution . Bradford was on her way home after meeting with lobbyists.
Bradford says she drank three glasses of wine the night she was pulled over, but she denies that she was driving drunk and stresses that she did not ask police for special treatment because she is a lawmaker — a claim Denver police have substantiated. Political fallout from the incident, however, has led Colorado Republicans to distance themselves from Bradford, with House Speaker Frank McNulty ordering an ethics probe into the traffic stop and whether Bradford behaved appropriately.
What McNulty and other Republicans may not have expected, however, is that Bradford is so unhappy about her GOP peers failing to stand behind her that she is now considering leaving the party . Her decision will be crucial because Republicans hold a 33-to-32 advantage in the state House, with Democrats in control of the state Senate and the governor's office and eager to gain more political leverage.
While Bradford says she will not become a Democrat, she is considering becoming an independent, and that could have far-reaching implications. " If that were to happen and Republicans lost their one-person advantage in the House," The Colorado Statesman reports , "the first order of business would be to determine the speakership. A House member could nominate a new candidate for the top leadership spot, and call for a vote of the entire House. At that point, it could come down to Bradford. If she were to choose to back a Democrat — most likely Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver — then Democrats would claim control."