By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Cue the lights. Raise the curtain. Places everyone.
The start of the 67th General Assembly and the 2009 legislative session kicked off Wednesday morning amid pomp, circumstance and color. Opening day ceremonies in the Senate moved relatively quickly — especially when compared to the pace in the House, which took nearly two hours to honor former lawmakers and swear in new ones.
Members of the Colorado Senate listen to opening day speeches during the first day of the 2009 legislative session.
Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, wasted no time introducing the body’s nine newest members.
“Welcome to the Colorado Senate! And strive to never lose the feeling you felt when you entered this historic chamber this morning,” he said. “If you can maintain that feeling, our state will be better after your service.”
Family members and friends of the legislators created an atmosphere filled with smiles, laughter and camaraderie. The gravity of the looming budget crisis and the prospect of tough fiscal decisions, however, dampened the mood.
During his opening remarks, Groff — whose speech was considerably shorter this year than last — was quick to mention the challenges lawmakers will face as they tackle the state’s budget woes.
“Despite decisions and investments we have made in our efforts to create the new energy economy and assist small businesses — which has placed Colorado in a much better economic situation than many states face — we are not immune from the national financial crisis,” he warned.
“We face a tremendous budget deficit of $604 million, we now have 43,000 people in our unemployment insurance system, and saw $48 million paid in unemployment benefits in November, the highest rate in the history of the state.”
Groff portrayed a state transportation infrastructure in dire need of repair, the cost of which is projected to fall behind the amount budgeted for it by $1.3 billion annually. He also emphasized the importance of affordable health care and the need to abandon political gamesmanship in order to do the best work for Colorado.
However, he presented no policy agenda, and suggested no concrete solutions.
Republican Minority Leader Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, was more direct in his opening remarks. The young Western Slope lawmaker was quick to praise both Groff and House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, for their leadership and their willingness to work across the aisle.
Sen. Al White of Hayden raises his hand to be sworn in to his first term in the Colorado Senate.
He also reiterated the need for legislators to leave the 2010 campaign out of the 2009 session.
“A lot has been said about the historic significance of President Groff’s rise to the presidency of the Colorado Senate (and indeed he) has shattered barriers,” Penry said, alluding to the fact that, as he spoke, Colorado became the first state where black legislators hold top positions in both Statehouse chambers. “The same, of course, is true of Terrance Carroll, the new speaker of Colorado’s House, as it is true to an even greater extent for the man from Illinois who will soon raise his right hand and take the oath of office for the presidency of the United States.
“As Americans, it is important that we acknowledge with national pride what the electoral rise of men named Obama, Groff and Carroll says about the progress of equality in our Republic.”
Penry, however, also was quick to offer a long list of policy positions he expects the Republican minority to propose — with job creation, economic stimulus and a revisiting of the state’s rules and regulations for natural gas extraction at the top.
“For every bill, every amendment, every rule and every regulation that comes before this body, the question should be asked: Is it good for our economy? Will it promote job growth? Will it make Colorado an attractive place for job creators?” Penry said. “This question can be called the jobs test, and if any bill or amendment or rule fails it, we should have the good sense to fit it in or delete it.”
Despite calls from leadership on both sides to forget the bitterness of the campaign trail and cooperate in order to pass effective legislation, the Senate Republicans were quick to blast Groff — not for what he said during his opening remarks, but for what he failed to say.
“I applaud the (Groff’s) strength and courage when taking on the education monopoly (and) I join him in calling for reform and improvement in our education system,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, assistant Senate GOP leader.
“I do wish he had offered real ideas on how to address the sagging economy and deteriorating road and bridge system in Colorado — as Sen. Penry did — instead of just lamenting the situation.”
Let the session begin.