DENVER—Gov. John Hickenlooper called Thursday for a focus on bipartisanship in the 2014 legislative session, but Republicans can be forgiven for greeting his proposal with a certain skepticism.
The 2013 legislative session, often described as the most liberal in state history, may have also been the most partisan. Democrats pushed through major legislation with no Republican votes on a half-dozen fronts, including election reform, gun control, education funding, and the rural renewable-energy standard.
“It would be lovely if he behaved in a bipartisan manner, but that’s not what we saw last year,” said state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray), a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor.
At a press conference to discuss the 2014 session, the Democratic governor said he wanted to bring “a non-partisan focus on job creation, the economy, try to make sure that we can support our small businesses.”
He said Colorado “has a chance to set a model for the rest of the country” when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 8, although “that’s admittedly something we can’t necessarily control in a political season. We can be easily thwarted.”
This year’s legislative session falls in an election year that finds Hickenlooper seeking a second term amid flagging approval ratings. Running for the GOP gubernatorial nod are Brophy, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state legislator Mike Kopp and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.
“If we can do things in a bipartisan way here, I guarantee you they will work out better, we’ll get better outcomes, and better compromises and solutions, and then other states will follow us,” said Hickenlooper. “And eventually, who knows? If we do that within our legislature, then Congress will follow. Again, I don’t have as much control over that as I’d like to, but that’s a bold ambition.”
Promoting a pro-business agenda is also at the top of his wish list for 2014, he said, which may or may not include workers’ compensation reform.
“I think this legislative session we’re going to try and really push the emphasis to be on small business,” said Hickenlooper. “I haven’t seen any drafts or I really haven’t had any conversations about a workers’ comp bill, but my first question is going to be, ‘Is this going to help small businesses?’”
Tancredo suggested that Hickenlooper direct his call for bipartisanship to his fellow Democrats, who continue to control both houses of the legislature.
“[I] assume he was talking to the loony left who run the legislature,” said Tancredo. “Does he promise to veto any anti-business bill? Oh, I forgot. He doesn’t do vetoes.”
The governor, who was criticized for failing to veto any bills in the previous session, was asked Thursday by the Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels whether he planned to use his veto power this year.
“I’ll find something to veto, I guarantee it,” quipped Hickenlooper, adding, “That was a joke, Lynn.”
Republicans said the problem is that the governor promised a spirit of cooperation last year, yet the legislative session was marked by tension and divisiveness.
Gessler, for example, lambasted Democrats for drafting without his input House Bill 1303, a sweeping elections overhaul that ushered in same-day voter registration and all mail-in elections.
Democrats said the bill was written instead with the help of county clerks, even though Gessler’s office is in charge of overseeing elections statewide.
“The governor had the same empty words last year. Instead, he completely avoided doing anything to improve our economy,” said Gessler in a statement. “My vision is to lead the state and build our economy–not merely talk about it.”
Until Hickenlooper shows he can rein in the “our-way-or-the-highway” impulses of his own party, Brophy said the governor’s talk of bipartisanship isn’t going to be taken seriously.
“His actions don’t match up with his words,” said Brophy. “It doesn’t matter what he says. It matters what he does.”