Dems happy, GOP sad

The midterm wrap-up

By Jason Kosena

The legislative session is more than halfway finished, and the Democrats (majority) are touting their policy success while the Republicans (minority) are complaining about the lack of bipartisanship under the Dome.

It’s another year at the state Legislature.

House Speaker Terrance Carroll pays tribute to Sen. Chris Romer — whom he described as the Dems’ coach — during a mid-session review.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

Leaders of both parties held press conferences with reporters last week to offer their thoughts on the session after the 60-day mark. Minority leaders Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, and Rep. Mike May, R-Parker, expressed mostly disappointment during their 20-minute round robin.

“For me, personally, the first 60 days have been marked with disappointment. This General Assembly has been out of touch,” Penry said. “Sweeping fees, new tolls on roads, lifting the lid on government spending. Thus far, this General Assembly has done a lot to hurt and very little to help.”

Penry said the lack of bipartisan cooperation by Democrats has made it impossible to pass good legislation. Instead, he lamented, Colorado residents must endure such new laws as FASTER, signed by Gov. Ritter last week, which will raise vehicle registration fees in order to fund bridge and road repairs.

Sen. Chris Romer of Denver delivers a powerful commentary about the first half of the session and promises, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

“There was a chance for bipartisanship on FASTER, and we didn’t get any,” Penry said.

May agreed.

“We need to rise to challenges of the day, and, instead, it has sunk to partisanship,” May said. “I can’t express how extreme my disappointment is in the lack of bipartisanship on the transportation problem.

“What we ended up with was a fee. And, now, with the 6 percent bill rolling through the Legislature, we will see a net loss on transportation if that bill passes,” he said, alluding to Senate Bill 228, which would lift the 6 percent cap on growth in the state’s general fund. The bill, which is expected to pass, also would eliminate a requirement that any revenue above 6 percent be used on road maintenance.

Democratic leadership responded to the accusations of partisanship by listing myriad bills that have moved or are moving through the Legislature and, they say, will boost employment, help businesses stay afloat and lend a hand to homeowners overwhelmed by debt.

The list included House Bill 1276, to provide assistance to homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes; House Bill 1057, to mandate unpaid leave for parents to attend their children’s school-related meetings and events; and House Bill 1064, which outlines a 10-year plan to reduce poverty in Colorado.

Democrats did not, however, deny that their actions reflected partisan goals.

“There are going to be differences between the parties, and there will be times when the vote breaks along the party lines, but there is always time for good bipartisan conversation,” said Senate President Peter Groff.

He added that, although FASTER passed with only one Republican vote, it reflected the input of Republicans who worked with Democrats in its drafting.

“We have had substantive and friendly conversation, and you have to vote on your political beliefs and what you think it best for the future,” Groff said.

John Straayer, a Colorado State University political science professor who has followed the state Legislature for more than four decades, said this year’s midway point is fairly typical, with the minority complaining about the lack of bipartisanship and the majority taking credit for the legislation it has passed.

The issues, too, are typical.

“Many of the issues which are dividing the parties today are the same ones which have divided them for years,” Straayer said. “Taxes and fees, immigration, health care coverage for domestic partners, money, morals and culture.”

Straayer said this year’s rancor is intensified, however, by the nearness of the 2010 election, which is focusing Republican attention on the prospect of regaining majority status and exacerbating political ambition all around. That election is particularly important, he noted, because legislators elected that year will control the redistricting necessitated by the 2010 census results.

“For both strategic reasons, and because of an ideological resistance to anything but minimal government, many Republicans are in the ‘just say no’ mode,” Straayer said. “On the other side, many Democrats are now pushing what they could not push during their 40 years in the minority.

“When there is virtually no money, frustration grows. And, with it, partisanship,” he observed.

Even amid the frustration and dissent, members of both parties gave their support to education reform legislation.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, a member of the Senate Education Committee, said Groff and Speaker of the House Terrance Carroll have worked with Republicans on legislation to fund capital construction for charter schools and to create charter schools for autistic children.

“I think there is a nationwide effort to reform education, to change the way that we educate children across the country — and not just in Colorado,” Spence said. “We can’t continue to do the same things we have done in the past and expect different results. I think President Groff and Speaker Carroll understand that.”

House Minority Leader May agreed.

“Speaker Carroll and President Groff deserve a lot of credit for getting their party to come to the middle on education issues,” he said. “That is one area where I think we have made some good strides.”

Rep. Nancy Todd of Aurora, who is sponsoring “green collar” job training, is flanked by fellow Democratic legislators who gathered last weekend in front of the Colorado Convention Center for a press conference about their legislative accomplishments in the first half of the session.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman