By Jody Hope Strogoff
As the second week of the session began Jan. 18 at the Gold Dome, members of the 70th General Assembly were enmeshed with a couple personnel changes along with the realization that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
First, as a result of some political shuffling in the suburbs, lawmakers swore in a new Republican state representative and a state senator from Arapahoe County to fill the vacancy caused when former state Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial, resigned to take a position as head of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. Former state Rep. Jack Tate was tapped last month to fill the vacant Senate seat, and Tate’s House District 37 slot was subsequently filled by local Holland & Hart attorney Cole Wist, who was elected by a vacancy committee on Jan. 16 and sworn into office a few days later as the new session was underway. Wist first ran for the State House 20 years ago as a Democrat from the West Slope. This time around, he defeated six other candidates for the seat.
Jon Keyser, another GOP legislator and an attorney with the Denver office of Hogan Lovells, also bid goodbye to colleagues this past week after announcing at the beginning of the year his decision to give up his elected Jefferson County seat in order to devote himself full time to running for the U.S. Senate. His replacement was chosen over the weekend by a vacancy committee, whose members had been lobbied by eight current Republican legislators to select Tim Leonard, a real estate developer and a former state Senate candidate whom they described in a letter as a “rock-ribbed conservative who will be bold, who will fight and who will never cower in the face of adversity.” Leonard easily won the seat with 16 votes of the 21 voting members at the meeting on Saturday and will take the oath of office today.
There will be no musical chairs, however, in other suburban areas where local legislators are planning campaigns for federal office. Unlike the newly departed Keyser who stressed the importance of being a full-time candidate for the GOP nomination against incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, fellow GOP candidate Tim Neville, a state senator from Jefferson County, plans to keep his legislative seat during the 2016 campaign.
And state Sen. Morgan Carroll, a Democrat from Aurora and former Senate president when her party last controlled the upper chamber, likewise announced her decision last week to remain at the state Capitol while she runs for Congress in CD 6 against well-entrenched Republican incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman.
With their caucuses’ membership finalized — at least for the immediate future — the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic House are set to tackle a host of contentious hot button issues, some that have been addressed by predecessors with various degrees of success: among them are death-related bills (efforts to abolish the death penalty in Colorado could be back again after having failed four times in the past, most recently in 2013); taxes, education spending, abortion rights (The “Offenses against Unborn Children” bill will likely garner a lot of attention); and energy-related topics, chiefly “fracking” in the state. The issue was temporarily diffused in 2014 through a compromise brokered by the governor who convened a special commission to study the topic of fracking and make recommendations in lieu of having the controversial measure dealt with through a ballot issue. The subject remains extremely volatile, however, especially in this election year with the threat of some anti-oil and gas proponents trying to put it on the ballot again.
Likewise, legislators may be drawn into other “been there, done that” topics, including the introduction of a rash of potential gun bills designed to lessen control by the government. With the chambers currently under split control, there is not a whole lot of belief that the governor will sign new gun legislation this year.
But the mood of the legislature wasn’t one of total polarization in the early days of the new session. In a sporting bipartisan show of support on Friday, red and blue lawmakers united behind the Denver Broncos’ orange and blue, with both chambers signing on to a joint resolution declaring Sunday, Jan. 24, as Denver Broncos Appreciation Day. The good faith effort was in anticipation of the Broncos’ victory over the New England Patriots and a trip to the Feb. 7 Super Bowl as the standard bearer of the American Football Conference. Politics, after all, is a contact sport to which both parties can subscribe.
This coming Friday, Jan. 29, will be the 17th day of the session. It is the deadline for legislators to introduce Senate bills, except for supplemental appropriation bills recommended by the Joint Budget Committee and the Long Bill.
— Jody Hope Strogoff, Jodyhope13@gmail.com