DENVER—Democrats kicked off the 2014 Colorado General Assembly on the defensive, insisting that those who accused them of extreme partisanship in last year’s session are wrong.
In Wednesday’s opening-day speeches, Senate President Morgan Carroll and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino described the 2013 session as a model of interparty cooperation, despite the session’s reputation as the most liberal and divisive in state history.
“[T]hat bipartisan work and support on important bills was not the exception last session. Despite the headlines, it was actually the norm,” said Carroll (D-Aurora). “Colorado has a proud tradition of Democrats and Republicans working together. Last session in Colorado, 95 percent of the bills that passed were bipartisan.”
That wasn’t quite how House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso remembered last year’s session, which saw Democrats come under heavy criticism for pushing through sweeping legislation on firearms, elections, education funding and a rural renewable-energy mandate with no Republican votes.
Those one-sided votes came back to haunt them in September, when two Democratic state senators were recalled over their gun-control support, and in November, when voters rejected the Democrats’ proposed $1 billion K-12 tax increase by 66 to 34 percent.
In addition, five of 11 rural counties agreed in November to consider seceding from the state.
“[P]olicy disagreements are expected under the gold dome, but when legislation, rushed through with no bipartisan support, causes recall elections and secession movements, this legislative body is failing Colorado,” said DelGrosso (R-Loveland).
Most legislation passed during any legislative session is relatively uncontroversial and wins approval with bipartisan support. Those bills weren’t the problem, he said.
“Last session, we shared long hours of debate on several controversial bills,” said DelGrosso. “With rare exception, amendments offered by the minority were voted down.”
He also suggested that Amendment 66, the failed $1 billion tax hike, was defeated due in part to its lack of bipartisan support in the state legislature.
“When you consider this bill passed with no Republican support, it’s no wonder Coloradans defeated it by a two-to-one margin,” said DelGrosso. “The day after Amendment 66 lost at the polls, House Republicans rolled out our education reform agenda that will continue to improve our schools but will do so using existing resources.”
Ferrandino (D-Denver) blamed the bad publicity stemming from last year’s legislative brawls on the “pundits and partisans,” adding that “94% of the legislation passed last year went to the governor’s desk with bipartisan support.”
“That type of collaborative policy making is not the type of hyper-partisan rhetoric and high-octane fighting that makes the headlines, but it is the truth,” said Ferrandino. “I can cite one example after another from the work we’ve done over the past years to show that the pundits and partisans who say Colorado is a fractured state split between left and right, rural and urban, are simply wrong.”
DelGrosso said that Republicans plan to introduce bills to repeal Senate Bill 252, which doubled the renewable energy mandate on rural Coloradans. Republicans are also preparing bills to overturn last year’s gun-control bills.
“S.B. 252 from last session has not only put a financial strain on rural Colorado families, including our poorest counties in the state, but an unnecessary burden on businesses struggling to survive in these economically distressed areas,” said DelGrosso. “The voice of rural Colorado is being heard loud and clear by House Republicans and I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will hear it as well.”
Ferrandino made it clear Wednesday he’s uninterested in reconsidering unpopular bills like S.B. 252.
“Now is not the time to take a step backward, to re-litigate the fights of the past, and to descend into Washington-style impasse and dysfunction,” said Ferrandino. “Now is the time to continue moving Colorado forward, and to build for Colorado’s future.”