Second Colorado State lawmaker resigns this month, citing financial strain and ‘contentious atmosphere’

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Rep. Said Sharbini, at the Capitol, March 2, 2023.

Democratic state House Rep. Said Sharbini announced on Monday that he is stepping down from the Colorado legislature, weeks before the start of the new session. 

In his resignation letter to House leaders, Sharbini wrote that the financial strain and low compensation drove his decision, but also noted that the chamber’s “polarized and contentious atmosphere has hindered constructive dialogue” and was a factor. 

Sharbini, an attorney from Thornton, was in his first term after winning the election in 2022. He’s the second freshman House Democrat to resign this month.

Sharbini said it became increasingly clear that serving in the legislature was putting an untenable financial strain on his family. 

“The compensation offered for the responsibilities and commitments of this role has not been commensurate with the cost of living and my family’s financial needs,” he wrote in his resignation letter. “Doing this work has taken my focus off other ventures that have sustained me through my time here, and has caused a financial strain that can no longer be endured.”

State lawmakers earn roughly $42,000 a year.

Democratic House Speaker Julie McCluskie said in a statement that it was a joy to serve with Sharbini. “He has been a champion for his district and always stayed true to his values.”

House Majority Leader Monica Duran said she was sincerely grateful for the kindness of character he brought to the legislature.

“Representative Sharbini understood how tough our work could be, and his good humor made many days better - I’ll miss his presence very much.”

Sharbini would have served on the legislature’s Judiciary and State Affairs committees next session. His legislative accomplishments from the past session include sponsoring a bill to allow online payments for retail marijuana sales and to study corporate ownership of housing, as well as a number of criminal justice measures

A Democratic vacancy committee will select his replacement.

This is only the latest shakeup ahead of the upcoming session. Former Democratic Rep. Ruby Dickson resigned earlier in December shortly after lawmakers wrapped up a special session on property taxes

In her letter, Dickson blamed the sensationalistic and vitriolic nature of the current political environment, which she wrote wasn’t healthy for her or her family. She has not responded to a request from CPR to elaborate on her decision.

Leaving the Capitol was a tough decision for Sharbini; in his resignation letter, he characterized his heart as heavy. But he said the work environment made it increasingly challenging to effectively serve the constituents and fulfill his duties. 

“I truly hope those that continue on with this work take notice and begin to have more open and honest dialogue about future legislation and decorum in the chamber. This is a place that can generate great results for the people of Colorado. I truly hope that the voices of the marginalized can rise above to effect the change needed.”

Sharbini said he had hoped to play a role in bringing the often fractious chamber together. Earlier this month he talked to CPR News about a resolution he planned to draft with Jewish lawmakers and others to address the situations in Israel and Gaza. Sharbini was one of Colorado’s two Palestinian-American lawmakers; his father is from Nazareth, Israel, where many on that side of his family still live.

He has long promoted peace in the region. 

“I'm supporting the people that are caught in between and making sure that we get humanitarian aid to those that need it in Gaza,” he told CPR News.

The relationships Sharbini forged during his brief time in the legislature were on evidence as news of his resignation spread. “I've lost a friend in the legislature,” said GOP Rep. Ron Weinberg, who has family in Israel, in a text to CPR.

The war between Israel and Hamas has already impacted work in the legislature. At the end of the November special session, work in the House was temporarily halted over dueling public comments on the conflict. Sharbini was not involved in that incident.

There have been other intense moments of stress and raw emotion over the past year, including the final day of the spring session, which included a walkout by Republican lawmakers angry with how Democrats were running the chamber and an emotional confrontation during a Democratic caucus meeting

In recent years and months, lawmakers in both parties have raised concerns about the increasingly bitter partisan and intra-party divisions, and the at times grueling rigors of the job.