The Observer recently caught up with the GOP House Speaker, who took some time to sit down with us and answer a few questions.
TCO: From your perspective, what were the highest and lowest points of the 2012 legislative session and why?
McNulty: Highest point was securing property tax relief for seniors and increasing funding alongside of accountability for education. Even as the budget negotiations were coming to a productive conclusion, members of the House Democratic leadership were publicly lamenting the fact that they couldn’t spend the money we were sending to seniors for property tax relief. It was a great victory for Colorado and for those qualifying seniors in need of tax relief in these tough economic times.
Funding education must be a priority and we prioritized it. Increasing funding again beyond Gov. Hickenlooper’s recommendation and providing needed accountability. Education should be focused on students, parents and teachers and not bloated bureaucracies.
TCO: What would you regard as the House’s top legislative accomplishments this year and why?
McNulty: Over the summer we identified a series of budget priorities and carried through on each of the budget priorities. During the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network breakfast, I announced our House Republican support for ending the diversion of monies dedicated, through our state constitution, to funding critical programs like low and no cost mammograms to help women fight and beat cancer. We also announced that we would not budge in our focus to provide much needed property tax relief for seniors eligible for the homestead exemption. We were able to provide additional relief for seniors qualifying for our state’s old age pension program and for those seniors in desperate need of dental care.
I am equally proud of the focus our House Republicans maintained on our efforts to improve job creation and economic opportunity for all in Colorado. While we didn’t get every piece of our jobs agenda to the governor, we showed that by working in a bipartisan manner, consulting directly with employers and visiting with small business owners across the state, we could cut pieces of job killing red tape and at least begin the process of building a more stable and positive economic environment in Colorado.
TCO: What were the biggest legislative disappointments?
McNulty: Senate Democrats just will not get on board with the idea of locking in more responsible spending levels by state government and allocating additional revenues to roads and bridges and our savings account dedicated to k-12. While I am very pleased that we moved pieces of our jobs agenda to the governor’s desk, I know that small businesses would be in a better place right now had the Senate Democrats moved each of our jobs bills through the chamber they control and on to the governor for his signature.
TCO: You often hear voters say that the political process is broken, and that there is no difference between the two major political parties. Should Coloradans care whether it is Frank McNulty or Mark Ferrandino holding the gavel when the Legislature reconvenes in January? Why?
McNulty: The difference made by our House Republican Majority was seen on day one. Ten days into the 2011 session we pushed for more responsible (and lower) spending targets for the state budget. Senate Democrats once again pushed back to increase spending-only to run into the more reasonable and responsible House Republican Majority. After four years of Democrats’ record spending and gimmicks and job killing tax increases to support it, Colorado desperately needed a majority willing to make the same tough decisions being made at every kitchen table across Colorado and in every boardroom and breakroom in our state. House Republicans showed that we can prioritize state dollars for critical programs like education and cancer prevention, while at the same time, stop the budget gimmicks and reduce the overall size of state government payrolls. More Republicans in January 2013 will continue the responsible leadership demonstrated these past two years and will offer us the opportunity to continue our focus on creating jobs, fostering economic opportunity and prioritizing funding for students, parents and teachers.
TCO: It’s no secret number of unpopular Democrat initiatives – such as the car tax hike, the executive order unionizing state government workers, and new restrictions on oil and gas development – contributed to the GOP takeover of the Statehouse two years ago. Do you have any plans to try and roll back those policies if Republicans make gains in November?
McNulty: During the time that Democrats controlled the state House, state Senate and the Governor’s mansion, they put in place a series of job killing regulations, tax hikes and fee increases. We have been successful in rolling back pieces of the “Dirty Dozen” and I’m very proud of that. We showed that those taxes didn’t need to be increased to fund budget priorities and maintain a responsive state government. Undoing what the Democrats did is a process. I understand that there are some who would like us to flip a switch, but things were pretty screwed up and our House Republicans are doing a remarkable job cleaning up the mess that they left.
TCO: Governor Hickenlooper won a contentious three way race in 2010, in part by promising to govern from the center. Do you think he’s lived up to that promise?
McNulty: In some ways he has. Credit to him for his efforts to find common ground on the policy issue of hydraulic fracturing. In other ways he hasn’t. Tacking to a hard left position on social issues is not the way to govern from the center. Forcing a social agenda to the top of the pile is not governing from the center. The more he returns his focus to regulatory relief and job creation, the greater the opportunities for him to shake the liberal left tag that’s been placed on him for his recent social activism.
TCO: What do you say to those in the GOP establishment who say that your handling of the same-sex civil unions issue will only serve to energize Democrat super donors like Tim Gill and Pat Stryker, and that the Republican Party would have been better off had you simply rubber-stamped the controversial proposal?
McNulty: Tim Gill and Pat Stryker are hard core Democrats. They bought the Legislature in 2004 and to say that they would walk away from a place where they spent SO MUCH MONEY is absolutely foolish. There is no doubt in my mind that they will always be spending obscene amounts of money in Colorado to control the political process. It’s a flat out shame that they think they own our state Legislature just because of their wealth.
TCO: If you had to do it over again, is there anything you would do differently in the same-sex civil union debate?
McNulty: Hard to say. House Democrats wouldn’t budge on their demand to move Rep. Ferrandino’s same sex marriage bill to the front of the line. With that type of intransigence, there’s not much room to do it differently.
TCO: During the special session, Compass Colorado and others made a decision to hit back at Governor Hickenlooper rather than playing defense. Did that work in your view? And can we expect a more aggressive line against Hickenlooper and The Left in the future?
McNulty: Depends on where Governor Hickenlooper spends his energy. He has a powerful bully pulpit. If he uses it for raw political purposes, I suspect you’ll see more. If he continues to follow the Obama campaign strategy of divide to conquer, then yes, it will be tougher for him. If he rejects the Obama campaign’s attempts to distract voters from his horrible record on the economy, then Governor Hickenlooper’s work becomes easier. Our ability to find common ground with Governor Hickenlooper increases greatly when he’s talking about regulatory reform and cutting red tape.
TCO: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker became a top target for The Left after his decision to take on the state employee union, becoming the target of a high profile recall effort. What message do you think the outcome of that election sends to the rest of the country?
McNulty: I referred to it as a shot through the hull of big monied big labor. For much of this recession, the public sector has been insulated from the effects of the economy. As private sector jobs have been lost, government jobs have increased. It’s true that state employees haven’t seen a pay raise in the last four years, but the government sector has not seen anywhere near the same job losses that private employers have seen. And this is the message from Wisconsin…government needs to make the same tough decisions that families and employers are making across this country. Critical to this is the message that elected leaders who have the courage to make these decisions in the face of thuggish threats and outright violence will be supported by the voters they are serving.
TCO: President Obama hammered John McCain by almost ten points in Colorado four years ago, but a recent Marist poll showed the President and presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney in a statistical dead heat here. What has changed? And do you think the President’s name at the top of the ballot will help or hurt Colorado Democrats in November?
McNulty: Colorado voters are smart. They wanted change from candidate Obama and all they see from President Obama is more of the same. He doesn’t have the resume to be credible on economic issues and has done nothing to turn this economy around. We continue to bounce along the bottom with unemployment increasing again and other economic factors trending the wrong direction again. Governor Romney presents a very different option for voters who are interested in job creation and economic opportunity. Governor Romney has a proven record as a private and public sector CEO and that appeals to voters. President Obama’s failed economic policies are killing small businesses and continue to hurt families in our state. Governor Romney offers a very different approach that empowers job creators and respects families fighting so hard to make ends meet.
TCO: Your name has been floated in recent weeks as a potential GOP challenger to Governor Hickenlooper in two years. Is a run for governor – or some other office – something you’ve considered?
McNulty: We have an great opportunity to increase our House Republican Majority in 2012. We’ve shown that positive conservative leadership makes a difference in Colorado and we will not take our eye off of the opportunity to continue this type of strong leadership.