Newsmaker Q&A: Rep. Dan Thurlow, voting his conscience and taking the heat

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Dan Thurlow, a Republican from Grand Junction, has been making a lot of headlines lately for voting with Democrats. He ran afoul of hard-charging, far-right-politics group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners for voting against a bill that would have made it easier for Coloradans to buy machine guns and hand grenades. He also became the subject of digital recall rumblings after he voted to ban psuedo-science “conversion therapy” for gay people and against so-called religious freedom measures that he thought were too broad and might lead to discrimination. Who is Dan Thurlow? We caught up with him last Friday.


So, there’s a “Recall Dan Thurlow” Facebook page? 

Here’s the whole background on me: I came [to the Capitol] with the idea that I’m a guy who’s at retirement age and I wanted to just do something different. One advantage I have is that I don’t have much worry about whether I’m reelected or not. What I think that does is free me up to vote the way I think I should vote.

As you know, the issues down here are not simple. There’s always a complication and usually a good argument on each side. So I try to read the bills before committee, to listen in committee and then I try to make a rational decision based on what I read and what I hear. That’s the only way I know how to do it. That’s what I promised my constituents when I ran for office. That’s what I’m doing. I absolutely understand they have the right to disagree with me and they have the right to vote against me if they want and to vote for me if they agree.

As far as the whole recall thing, I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t think it’s a very big groundswell. It’s a free country. They have the right to do what they want to do.

Have you been hearing good things from constituents about your votes? 

Oh, absolutely. On the votes I’m taking, nine-to-one the response is positive. And what’s funny about it, it’s not just the positive of “I agree with you” … it’s positive as in “That’s how you should go about the process.”

As you know, constituents can’t read every bill — that’s not what a normal person with a life has time to do. If you go and look at the gun bills for instance, there were five of them and they were complicated. There was one I didn’t agree with and I’d be glad to sit down with anybody and explain that vote. So far, everybody that I talk to and explain it to goes, “Oh, I understand why that wasn’t a good bill,” even if you’re Second Amendment proponent, which I am.

This was the machine gun…

Machine guns and hand grenades. The bill wouldn’t have done anything to ban them, it was to make them easier to buy. Machine guns and hand grenades.

So that was the vote that put you afoul of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, right? 

I really didn’t hear much right after that vote. The stuff started after the vote on conversion therapy and on [the religious freedom bills] 1161 and 1171. Those are bills that I’m glad to talk over with anybody. I understand the feelings people have. They were premised as being about religious freedom. Believe me, I support religious freedom, and think we have a lot of it. But the other side of the argument is that we have to allow people to live their lives the way they want to live them.

I believe the conservative position is for government to stay out of our life in a regulatory manner, in a tax manner, and for government to stay out of our bedrooms. That’s what I’ve supported. To me that’s the conservative position.

What’s the feedback you’re getting from your colleagues down at the Capitol? 

Literally every legislator that I’ve talked to that has any experience here has said, “Vote your convictions and, over time, that’s how you’ll be successful.”

So, last weekend state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call was ousted i a tough election. He was seen as too establishment, too moderate. But he ushered in a big win for the party with Cory Gardner, who won his U.S. Senate seat by pitching himself as a ‘new kind of Republican’ who would lay off social issues. Is the pressure you’re drawing rising from the same fault-line in the party?

I guess I really don’t. I didn’t attend [the party] elections. I was in Grand Junction that weekend. I haven’t been tuned into the intricacies of those politics. I guess I don’t have a viewpoint on that.