By Marianne Goodland
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
The caucuses of the Colorado House Thursday elected their new leaders, leaving out some of those who had led the caucuses in the past.
In the new Republican majority, Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, was elected Speaker of the House. McNulty, as was the case for all of the Republicans elected Thursday, had no public opposition.
House Republicans were in a jubilant mood Thursday — the leadership elections were marked most by jokes and laughter and celebration of their victory two days prior.
The elections were led by outgoing House Minority leader Mike May, R-Parker, who introduced some of the new members, calling Rep.-elect Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, “the majority-maker.” May was the last, and only Republican member of the House in the 2009-10 session who also served when the Republicans were most recently in the majority, during the 2003-2004 session.
McNulty accepted the leadership post with “a level of anxiousness and excitement.”
Republicans quickly went through their elections, finishing the task in less than 45 minutes and with only a few comments about the change.
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, was elected House Majority Leader. She promised her colleagues she would “govern wisely.”
In his first leadership role, Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, was chosen as assistant majority leader. In his seconding remarks, Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, said Waller was on the surface lighthearted and jovial, but beneath the surface, Waller is “light-hearted and jovial,” but after the laughter stopped he added that Waller was thoughtful and pragmatic. Waller said he would accept the nomination “so no one else has to sit next to Rep. Stephens.”
Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, was elected caucus chair. “This is a joyous occasion, but it is a solemn duty we undertake,” she told the caucus.
Finally, Republicans elected Rep. BJ Nikkel, R-Loveland, to be the next House Majority Whip. Following the elections, the Republicans were joined by Attorney General John Suthers, who welcomed the “new members of the insurgency,” and joking that he had been “lonely” as the only statewide elected Republican for the last four years. “There are serious expectations for us as Republicans, and an incredible amount of disenchantment,” which he said Republicans had taken advantage of to pick up the majority. “It is up to us to act with the fiscal responsibility that the voters want,” Suthers said.
In a statement issued Thursday, Stephens said jobs and the economy would be the number one priority for House Republicans when the session convenes next January 12. ‘We have a lot of hard work ahead of us and some tough decisions to make, but I am confident that the House Republicans are ready to meet these challenges head-on,” she said.
The one name that did not come up for consideration in Thursday’s elections was that of Rep. David Balmer, R-Centennial. Balmer had been the assistant minority leader during the 2009-10 General Assembly. However, Balmer became embroiled in an ethics scandal over leadership of the Republican caucus in December 2008, when May announced he would resign his leadership position to return to taking care of his hotel business. Balmer and McNulty intended to compete for the minority leader job. May filed an ethics complaint against Balmer, alleging he attempted to influence a lobbyist to participate in the leadership race. The complaint was dropped for lack of evidence, although then-lobbyist Erik Groves was admonished by the Legislature’s Executive Committee for discussing an internal leadership race with a legislator, a violation of lobbyist rules. (The legislator was Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, who filed the ethics complaint against Groves that resulted in his admonishment.)
McNulty saluted his predecessor, calling May the man “responsible for putting us in the position to earn the support” of voters and who led them through the challenging times. He also saluted Balmer for his leadership.
In a press conference Wednesday, giddy with the victory, Republicans spoke of working with their Democratic friends. McNulty said winning the House would bring “a little balance to the statehouse,” and he was pleased that Colorado voters “reacted to our message of job recovery.” He also noted he had spoken to governor-elect John Hickenlooper and was ready to work with him on a “bipartisan agenda to get people back to work.” Stephens sounded a more partisan note, saying the majority is “an opportunity to get to the business at hand, and it won’t be business as usual.” That may include, according to Stephens and McNulty, rolling back legislation that requires online retailers to collect sales tax, one of the most contentious issues of the 2010 session.
On Friday, McNulty announced his appointments for Speaker Pro Tem and for the second House Republican on the JBC. Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, will be Speaker Pro Tem. Freshman legislator Rep.-elect Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan, will serve on the JBC along with Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, who will be the committee’s vice-chair next year. Gerou was appointed to JBC during the summer.
A little more contentious with the new minority Dems
On the Democrats’ side, every leadership post had a contested election, and some of the acrimony within the caucus from the last days of the 2010 session appeared to have lingered.
It started with the election for House Minority Leader. Assistant House Majority Leader Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, vied for the House Minority Leader post. Kerr was the number three Democratic leader after Tuesday’s elections; both the majority leader, Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville; and Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, are term-limited and will be leaving the legislature in January.
Kerr told his Democratic colleagues that losing the majority is a “two-year blip. As minority leader, I will be a fighter for the Democrats and the people we represent.” Pace said as leader he would be responsible for “implementing our core values, and to make sure these voices are not lost in the next two years.” Pace said he would be both “scrappy” and willing to work across the aisle to reach consensus.
The election, conducted by ballot, went to Pace. Kerr did not seek any other leadership position.
Kerr had been seen as most likely to take over the Democrats’ top leadership role, and in the last session, Pace had served in a lesser role, as the Assistant Majority Caucus Chair.
While the mood Thursday among Democrats was cordial, the fights within the caucus were alluded to by several people. Rep.-elect Matt Jones, D-Louisville, said he had attended a caucus meeting during the last session and “saw sniping among the members. You can’t afford that.” Outgoing Speaker of the House Carroll also referenced the fights in the caucus during the 2010 session, saying that he was a better man for it, because “iron sharpens iron.”
The election of Assistant Minority Leader was between Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver. Todd won the position, but McCann told her House colleagues during her speech she would seek the Senate seat held by Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver. Romer, who was re-elected to a second term Tuesday, is expected to join the growing field of candidates interested in replacing Hickenlooper as mayor. When told McCann had made the announcement, Romer said, “what seat?”
The Democratic whip will be Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, who defeated Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Englewood. Democrats selected Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder as deputy whip. In her nominating speech, Levy said Hullinghorst knew where the bodies were buried, and “I helped bury them,” chimed in Hullinghorst. She was elected by acclamation after Rep.-elect Jones withdrew. Jones is no stranger to the Colorado House; he served as a representative from Adams County from 1989 to 1993 (the seat currently held by Rep. John Soper) and sat on the 1991 reapportionment commission as the House representative.
Hullinghorst reminded her colleagues that there is “nothing more important than using our power,” and that one area where they will have power is in the budget, and presumably, the Joint Budget Committee. “Don’t give those votes away lightly,” she said.
Cartwheeling U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter joined the caucus during the elections to provide a pep talk. There were calls for him to repeat his election night cartwheel performance, to which Perlmutter gave an emphatic “No! Watch it on TV!” He said he was still optimistic about Democrats’ chances in HD 29 and HD 33, where ballots are still being counted.
“You will still have a ton of power,” Perlmutter said. “You have the Senate and the governor.” Perlmutter also said attacks from Republican outside groups against him and other Democrats such as Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, were especially intense because Republicans are laying the groundwork for the 2012 presidential race.
The final elections were for caucus and caucus chair. Those posts were won by Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver; and Rep. Su Ryden, D-Aurora, respectively.
The caucus was also joined by Carroll, who said serving as speaker was “the high point” of his life, and that he would miss watching the things the Democrats will accomplish. Carroll said he would miss the “important voices” of the Democrats who lost: Reps. Dennis Apuan, Sara Gagliardi and Joe Rice, and that he would not yet acknowledge the losses of the seats held by Reps. Debbie Benefield or Dianne Primavera.
Eight years ago, when he was first elected, Carroll said he was 40 pounds lighter and had no gray hair. “I’ve grown up here…I’ve spent my [thirties] here,” he said. Carroll said he makes no excuses for the actions of the 2010 General Assembly, especially as it pertains to the controversial tax credit and exemption bills. “When I get to the ‘pearly gates,’ I won’t be asked about the tax credits and exemptions. I’ll be asked if I fed the hungry, took care of the sick,” the widows and the children.”
The last visitor to the Democratic caucus was Hickenlooper, who said he is excited about the opportunities “to create innovation and take a fresh approach to things.” Hickenlooper admitted he had no background in partisan government, saying he was “blindingly ignorant” and asking for the Democrats’ help. The next six months will define the next four years, he told the caucus, and added that he would find ways for legislators to get things done, both Republicans and Democrats, “if we can step past the bitterness” of Tuesday’s elections. He said he had seen the budget plan presented Tuesday by Gov. Bill Ritter, but that the state’s budget “sucks,” and then joked that was a term he couldn’t use anymore.
Lt. Gov-elect Joe Garcia noted that he was taught to avoid fights, but “if you can’t avoid it, land the first punch and fight dirty.” Hickenlooper, on the other hand, had been taught that, “if you can’t talk your way out of a fight you deserve to get whipped.
“We’ll use John’s approach,” said Garcia.
In the Senate, where the balance of seats remains 20-15 Democrat, Republicans chose Sen.-elect Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, to replace Sen. Al White, R-Hayden, on the JBC. It was the beginning of a move to the right for the Senate Republicans in their leadership selections. White was not nominated.
Lambert is believed to be the only member of the JBC who has ever voted against the Long Appropriations Bill. And White earned the ire of his Senate colleagues by voting with the JBC on the Long Bill as well as on other JBC budget bills; he was the only Republican in the General Assembly to vote in favor of the Long Bill in the last session.
As expected, Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Lakewood, was elected Minority Leader. Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, was chosen as assistant Senate Minority Leader, replacing Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. Brophy had been a co-sponsor of several major pieces of successful Democratic legislation in the 2010 session: SB1, which seeks to put PERA on better financial footing, and HB 1365, which incentivizes Xcel Energy to convert its less-efficient coal-firing plants to natural gas. Neither bill was popular with conservative Republicans; SB 1 got ”no” votes from nine conservatives and one moderate Republican; HB 1365 got “no” votes from eight of the nine conservatives (Kopp did not vote) and two moderate Republicans.
Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, was elected Minority Caucus Chair and Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, was chosen as Minority Whip, replacing Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial. Spence is believed to be the only Republican in the General Assembly who did not endorse American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo for governor.
Senate Democrats kept most of the same 2010 team in leadership. Sen. Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, remains Senate President; Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, is President Pro Tem; Sen. John Morse, R-Colorado Springs, is the Majority Leader, with Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, elected as Assistant Senate Majority Leader. The new Majority Caucus Chair is Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who replaces Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora.
The Senate Democratic members of JBC are Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, who was appointed to the committee after the session was over in May; and Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver. With Steadman’s selection, four JBC members will be rookies to the committee, beginning with the 2011 session. A new chair for JBC will be elected next week, and because of the alternating chamber rule, that new chair will be from the Senate and a freshman on the committee.