DENVER – Democrats today might be humming Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop,” that became President Bill Clinton’s campaign theme song in 1992, but Republicans might dread thinking about tomorrow – they’re facing a loss of power in the state House and Senate, and a landslide of liberal legislation.
But, Democrat and Republican legislative leaders are intent on working together in a bipartisan fashion. The unity might depend on the legislative agenda being shaped by the Democrats.
Rewarded for winning a 37-28 majority in the House, state Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) was nominated House Speaker by the Democratic House Caucus on Thursday. Ferrandino will assume the post on Jan. 9, the first day of session, and become Colorado’s first openly gay House Speaker.
“We have much work to do to keep our economy moving forward and restore the hope that Coloradans have in government,” Ferrandino assured supporters of the House Majority Project.
“Through collaboration with our Republican colleagues, the state House is going to accomplish great things for Colorado by working with Governor (John) Hickenlooper and the state Senate,” said the House Speaker-designee.
“It was clear Tuesday night that the people of Colorado rejected the politics of gridlock and hyper-partisanship that brought the business of people to a halt in this last year,” said Ferrandino. “Democrats are going to lead in a different direction – forward.”
The election delivered a stunning blow to Republicans who lost a fragile one-seat majority in the House and dashed hopes of gaining control of the Senate.
House Republican Caucus also convened Thursday and nominated state Rep. Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) for House Minority Leader, Rep. Libby Szabo (R-Arvada) for Assistant Minority Leader, Rep. Kathleen Conti (R-Littleton) for Caucus Chair and Rep. Kevin Priola (R-Henderson) for Whip.
Though several names were floated for leadership positions, Waller was viewed as a coalition builder who can work both sides of the aisle. That quality may be crucial in passing and amending bills in what is expected to be liberal legislative agenda.
The outcome of the election will impact the House committees – Republican committee chairs will be replaced with Democrats who will also have a 7 to 4 advantage in committee members.
One of Ferrandino’s top priorities will be the passage of the same-sex unions bill, which had been destined to pass in May with bipartisan support, but blocked by then House Speaker Frank McNulty. The bill was resurrected after Governer John Hickenlooper called a special session, but it died in a House committee – and never received a final vote on the House floor.
In the wake of that turmoil, Democrat outside groups vowed to unseat Republican legislators. An estimated $8 million was pumped by 527 and independent committees to defeat Republican candidates who either voted against the bill or were deemed extreme conservatives.
Reportedly, Republican groups spent close to $6 million to bolster legislative candidates and attack Democrat opponents.
What will be the top priorities on tap for the upcoming session?
A strong public education proponent, Ferrandino said the FY13-14 budget proposed by the governor is good, but shortchanges schools. The budget will be crafted by the Joint Budget Committee and subject to the approval of the legislature.
“I really want to see us invest in pre-school and kindergarten. We’re still a billion dollars short on K-12 education,” Ferrandino told the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Another challenge will be the implementation of Amendment 64, approved by voters, to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Hickenlooper opposed the measure, but said he will work with the legislature to develop guidelines for its implementation and regulation.
In another twist, Attorney General John Suthers, who also opposed legalizing marijuana, will be obligated to defend the state’s right if it’s legally challenged by the federal government.
Other legislative bills will likely include developing instate college tuition rates for children of illegal aliens who were raised here, healthcare, and strengthening the green energy program established under former Democrat Governor Bill Ritter.
Hickenlooper said this week that Colorado is moving in the right direction by developing wind and solar power. But he’d like to extend the credits for development of alternative energy sources five to ten years, and then gradually have them phased out.
Like Ritter, Hickenlooper has the advantage of Democrats controlling both chambers of the general assembly.