GOP pols steamrolled, steamed

By Leslie Jorgensen
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Being the minority party under the golden dome ain’t easy — as several Republican legislators have discovered. After the feel-good-bipartisan-kickoff of the session in January, now some Republicans are feeling like they’ve been flattened by a decidedly Democratic steamroller.

Some Republicans complained that they proposed bills and amendments that were torpedoed only to be resurrected by Democrats. Some cringed as their bills — with Democratic co-sponsorship — became the majority party’s loving cups at Gov. Bill Ritter’s bill signing ceremonies.

Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, wanted to introduce House Bill 1291 to boost the National Guard Tuition Assistance Program from $650,000 to $800,000.

However, the bill exceeded her three-bill limit — she had filled the seat vacated by Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, in mid January.

According to Nikkel, the House leadership offered to make an exception if she would agree to add Rep. Dennis Apuan, D-Colorado Springs, as a prime co-sponsor. She agreed — but had reservations.

“The way Representative Apuan was placed on the bill highlights what may be very inappropriate behavior by the majority party to ‘blackmail’ those of us who asked for another bill to run,” said Nikkel.

“I frankly had no idea who Apuan was. He turned out to be a war protester that the majority party is trying to portray as pro-military,” said Nikkel. “I didn’t want to be associated with him and his background, but I had no choice.

“Representative Apuan did nothing on this bill. He didn’t even show up to testify in committee,” said Nikkel. “He didn’t do anything on this bill except have his name on it.”

Making matters worse, Nikkel said, was that although she tried for two weeks to contact Ritter’s office to find out when and where the bill would be signed, she finally received the details in a text message only on May 11 — a few hours before the bill was to be signed by Ritter at Apuan’s town hall meeting in Colorado Springs.

“It was unethical and inappropriate,” declared Nikkel, who was unable to get to Colorado Springs in time for the signing ceremony.

Apuan said he was stunned by Nikkel’s complaints.

“I am really baffled that she would say that I contributed nothing,” said Apuan, former director of the Justice and Peace Commission in El Paso County.

“She asked me to be a sponsor on the bill,” he said. “So when I said ‘yes,’ this became my fault.”

Apuan was unable to attend a House Committee on Education hearing on HB 1291 because he was scheduled to testify about House Bill 1275, to establish provisional certification for emergency medical technicians, before the Committee on Health and Human Services.

“She said that House Bill 1291 was straightforward and that it was not necessary for me to reschedule the hearing of my other bill,” Apuan recalled.

Apuan said that when HB 1291 moved to the Appropriations Committee, he appeared with Nikkel in a “50-50 stewardship.”

On the second reading of the bill in the House well, Apuan said, “people were taking pictures of us — they were happy to see nice, bipartisan stewardship.”

“It’s unfair to say that I was not involved,” said Apuan, who shrugged off the criticism as yet another attack by Republicans who have targeted his House District 17 seat in the 2010 election.

Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, says he shared a similar experience as he watched his legally correct amendment speared by a Democrat.

“When the majority party sensed that I might be successful in offering an amendment that would pass, they would kill the amendment in committee, but offer it on the floor to deflate opposition to the bill,” said Gardner.

“A great example was House Bill 1260, which designated beneficiary agreements,” recalled Gardner, an attorney.

HB 1260, sponsored by Democrats Rep. Mark Ferrandino and Sen. Jennifer Veiga, both of Denver, allows two adults to enter into "designated beneficiary agreements” to establish rights that allow each partner to make medical decisions, receive retirement benefits, inheritances and life insurance proceeds.

“As introduced, the bill contained a de facto recognition by Colorado of domestic partnerships and civil unions from other states. I offered an amendment to remove this,” said Gardner, noting that the provision conflicted with Colorado voters’ rejection of same-sex marriage.

Gardner’s amendment was killed in committee, but was resurrected by Ferrandino on the second reading of the bill in the House.

“I believe this was to cut off the argument and opposition that I was prepared to present on the House floor to something that was clearly rejected in 2006 by Colorado’s voters,” said Gardner.

Maybe so. The bill, which has been signed into law — passed the House with several Republican votes.

In another incident, Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, introduced House Bill 1158 in January — but it languished for two months unheard by the House Committee on State, Veteran and Military Affairs.

The bill sought to extend the deadline to withdraw a ballot initiative from 33 days to 60 days prior to an election.

It looked like a slam-dunk solution to avoid repeating last year’s general election ballot snafu. The ballot had contained four controversial initiatives that had been scrapped in a compromise between labor and business interests.

On March 24, House Speaker Terrance Carroll introduced House Bill 1326, a ballot initiative reform bill that also moved the deadline to withdraw a measure from the ballot.

That aspect of Carroll’s bill mirrored Waller’s 60-day deadline prior to an election — and, thus, Waller’s bill was no longer pertinent. It died in committee on March 26.

Was this an unusual session — or majority rules politics as usual?

Majority Party Communications Director Katie Reinisch says it was business as usual.

“It’s not unusual for the majority party to ask that a co-sponsor be added to a bill,” said Reinisch. “I think this is pretty SOP (standard operating procedure).”

Reinisch said that although this might surprise a freshman legislator such as Nikkel, it’s the same practice used by Republicans when they held majorities under Gov. Bill Owens.

“We’re much nicer — and much fairer!” Reinisch said.

“As a minority party legislator, you stand a better chance of having your bill passed if it’s co-sponsored by a member of the majority party,” she said.

For example, Reinisch said, Reps. Sara Gagliardi, D-Arvada, and Spencer Swalm, R-Centennial, had both proposed bills to lower the age limit for blood donors.

Swalm wound up as prime co-sponsor on Gagliardi’s House Bill 1023, which lowered the age from 18 years to 16 years with parental consent.

“They worked together!” exclaimed Reinisch.

As for the Apuan critics, Reinisch said she’s tired of seeing the “majority party’s favorite freshman legislator being attacked.”

“El Paso County Republicans are just mad because Representative Apuan won the seat from them,” said Reinisch.

Leslie@coloradostatesman.com