DENVER– The 69th General Assembly opened Wednesday with state House and Senate leaders recalling tragedies of last year, calling for bipartisanship in tackling top priorities of economic recovery, job creation and education. Those goals will likely be echoed today in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s State of the State Address.
“When disaster strikes, our government is there to help. When a wildfire roars into Colorado Springs or a madman opens fire in an Aurora theater, our government responds,” declared House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.
“In those urgent and impossible moments, it is our government – in the form of police officers, firefighters and paramedics – that is first on the scene,” said Ferrandino. “…it is our government that provides grief counselors and social workers. It is an intricate web of local, state and federal agencies working together to rebuild homes, lives and communities.”
Ferrandino’s “our government”speech hinted at the philosophical differences between the Democrats and Republicans.
“It is reasonable to debate the size and scope of our government and its institutions,” said the House Speaker. “But to blindly and cynically condemn government is to willfully ignore the many ways it makes our lives more secure and contributes to shared prosperity.”
“To quote Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts),” said Ferrandino, “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”
Ferrandino asked Republicans and Democrats to find consensus to fund economic development to assist business expansion to create jobs – particularly in the aerospace, clean tech, bioscience, information technology and renewable energy fields – and in education, deemed “our single largest economic driver.”
Reaping the benefits of oil and gas exploration must not put communities at risk from water or air pollution, he said. Several bills may be in the works to increase setbacks between oil and gas drilling and residential communities and schools, and require water testing.
Quoting author Ayn Rand, “the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities,” Ferrandino asked for bipartisan cooperation to pass the same-sex civil union bill this year.
At the start of his speech, Ferrandino, the state’s first openly gay House Speaker, introduced family members.
“My husband, Greg Wertsch, who picks me up when I’m down and knocks me down a peg or two when I take myself too seriously,” said Ferrandino.
Though their foster child Lila wasn’t in the chamber, Ferrandino said “This beautiful baby girl has enriched our lives beyond our wildest dreams. And you get a different perspective on life when you’re changing diapers in the Speaker’s office.”
Leaders in the House and the Senate gave speeches that mixed political goals and personal stories, somber tones and humorous quips.
House Minority Leader Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) heavily emphasized “opportunities” throughout his speech, from supporting increased funding for K-12 and higher education to energy development that utilizes renewable sources, oil and gas and clean coal.
Expressing his commitment to economic development, Waller again declared, “Opportunity is the difference between a paycheck and an unemployment check.”
“Colleagues, let us continue this tradition of bipartisanship,” said Waller, recalling the successful passage of the budget with unanimous support last year under the leadership of House Speaker Frank McNulty.
“Titles and majorities may shift,” said Waller, “but our responsibilities to our constituents stay the same.”
Republicans share the goals of Democrats “to promote the best policies for the people of Colorado,” said Waller. “We may disagree on what the best policy may be, but I know in my heart we all want Colorado to thrive and prosper.”
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) also talked of the tragedies that befell the state last year – and paid personal tribute to individuals who saved lives during the Waldo Canyon fire and the Aurora theater shooting.
Senate President John Morse delivered a speech about a terrible accident more than 30 years ago in El Paso County and called on the legislators to work together like the first responders that tried to save the young man’s life.
Morse said legislation will address economic recovery, education, healthcare, child protection, crime prevention, civil rights and implementing legalized marijuana approved by voters in November.
The best advice came from outgoing House Speaker McNulty who implored the new legislators to enjoy the day because there will be plenty of time ahead for “lobbying across the aisle – I said lobbying, not lobbing.”