Denver 2011 mayoral debate

In this April 6, 2011, file photo, mayoral candidates hold up "Yes" signs as they respond to a question during a debate in Denver sponsored by New Era Colorado. From left are: Carol Boigon, Michael Hancock, Doug Linkhart, James Mejia, Chris Romer, and Theresa Spahn. 

A decade in politics can be a lifetime.

Especially in a state with term limits and the kind of rapid, uneven growth Colorado has experienced since Denver was still trying to shake its long-discarded reputation as a cow town, even a few years can turn the political world on its head.

Throw in the 24-hour news cycle's constant demand for fresh material and this past year's Tilt-a-Whirl of events, and you've got a recipe for disorientation.

Ten years ago this month, Colorado's political world might not have been any kinder, but the pace and daily pressure seem gentler, if only through the gauze of the years.

Many of the players are the same, though some have taken on different roles.

Four members of Colorado's current D.C. delegation were in place — U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Doug Lamborn and Ed Perlmutter — and Gov. Jared Polis was serving his second term in Congress.

Of the other current House members, Joe Neguse was in his third year as a CU regent, Ken Buck was prosecuting criminals in Weld County, Jason Crow was a couple years out of law school and Lauren Boebert was still a couple years away from opening Shooters Grill, the gun-themed restaurant in Rifle that put her on the map.

John Hickenlooper, fresh from two terms as Denver's hizzoner, the most powerful elected position in the state, had only recently made the move across Broadway and was settling in to his new job as governor — by some measures, among the least powerful jobs available to a Colorado politician, more so in 2011 because Republicans had regained control of the Colorado House by a single seat the previous November.

Ten years, two gubernatorial terms and a brief presidential campaign later, Hickenlooper is settling in as the state's junior senator, one of 100 lawmakers constitutionally tasked with taming the passions erupting from the other side of the U.S. Capitol in the House of Representatives. By some measures, the barkeep-turned-politician blessed with a mile-wide optimistic streak has spent the last decade moving into successively weaker positions, though the each campaign for office has been more hard-fought than the last.

The main event 10 years ago this month was the crowded, elbow-filled race to succeed Hickenlooper as Denver mayor, a seat kept warm for six months by Bill Vidal, the former deputy mayor, who ran city hall from Hickenlooper's departure to Michael Hancock's inauguration.

An eclectic field of 10 candidates soldiered on through April, capping the whirlwind five-month campaign and a seemingly endless series of debates and forums — totaling nearly 50, with the vast majority attended by the vast majority of candidates, by the time the last ballot was cast in the May 3 general election.

Just over a week before ballots were due, following release of a poll that showed Hancock gaining on the two front-runners, former state Sen. Chris Romer and James Mejia, councilwoman Carol Boigon dropped out and endorsed Hancock, who went on to face Romer in the runoff. (Immediately after the first round, Mejia merged his campaign operation with Romer's, but Hancock scored a convincing win in the June 7 runoff.)

A high point of the race had to be the debate held at a LoDo nightclub, sponsored by New Era Colorado, that featured all the candidates performing their best version of The Dougie, a popular hip-hop dance, and all but two declaring that if they weren't running, their vote would go to Jeff Peckman, the candidate who had earlier sponsored a municipal ballot measure to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission to track UFOs and, with any luck, make contact. 

Under the gold dome, April was mostly overtaken by an increasingly divisive debate over whether to establish a state health insurance exchange at the same time both parties were attempting — and failing — to steer the congressional redistricting process.

Other events peppered the political news, including the April Fools Day reveal of the poets behind enigmatic Twitter handle @Yo_JBC_Raps, a phenomenon that had been dispensing rhymes anonymously all session. (A sample: "When signing #budget bills the pen don’t lie. But does Hick want reform? And will he wear a tie?" ... maybe you had to be there.)

After drawing reporters to the West Steps on a chilly Friday morning, the perpetrator turned out to be a coalition of progressive organizations including  the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, Colorado Common Cause, New Era Colorado, CoPIRG and the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Inside the Capitol, the rift between the Republican Party's business wing and upstart tea partiers — still relatively new to the scene — was widening, nowhere more clearly than in the reception to bipartisan legislation introduced by House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, a Monument Republican, to establish a state health insurance exchange.

Sponsored with Senate President Pro Tem Betty Boyd, a Lakewood Democrat, the bill won praise from Hickenlooper and scorn from many members of the House GOP caucus, whose one-vote majority disappeared as the session raced to its conclusion when then-state Rep. Larry Liston, a Colorado Springs Republican, had to undergo emergency eye surgery and was prevented from attending.

Broomfield Republican state Sen. Shawn Mitchell argued that the proposed exchange was a government solution to government problems better solved by allowing consumers to purchase health insurance across state lines. Anyway, a chorus of GOP naysayers said, the Affordable Care Act was headed for certain demise in the U.S. Supreme Court, so it would only waste everyone's time crafting a state program that would have to be abandoned.

Democrats, including state Rep. Jim Riesberg of Greeley, objected every time their GOP colleagues used the term "Obamacare," explaining that the derogatory nickname only diminished the seriousness of the topic.

Stephens, who spent as much time defending herself and her conservative credentials as she did shepherding the legislation to the governor's desk, sponsored another bill on a parallel track aimed at creating a consortium of states that could opt out of the Affordable Care Act, but Democrats pointed out that a majority of voters had just months ago rejected an Independence Institute-backed ballot measure that would have removed Colorado from the federal health care plan.

At a contentious hearing, an Arkansas Valley Tea Party member testified that she was on disability and Medicare and didn't want the federal government putting her on a "death list," explaining that was the only way the feds could afford it was to "kill off all the old people." She added, "And I don't want microchips, either," drawing what our reporter described as "nervous laughter" from some at the hearing.

The exchange bill eventually passed and went into effect two years later, when Obamacare — by then a name favored by its backers — rolled out nationwide.

After weeks of crisscrossing the state hearing testimony about which cities wanted to be in which of the state's seven congressional districts, the legislative committee tasked with drawing new lines following the 2010 census was at loggerheads.

The Democrats produced six maps, each with what they claimed produced a single safe seat for each party and five competitive seats, while the Republicans unveiled five proposed maps that kept things pretty much the way they were, expanding a few of the districts a bit and contracting the others slightly, with four safely Republican seats, two safe Democratic seats and one toss-up.

“A consistent message was heard,” state Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, wrote in a presentation after the two parties had stopped talking to each other and were briefly communicating by memo.

“Every vote should count, district lines should be fair and competitive and districts should not create ‘congressmen for life.'"

But few were thrilled with the maps the Democrats produced, which carved the state up into a plaid-like checkerboard, dividing the Western Slope into a northern and southern half and doing the same with the Eastern Plains. Boulder was in the same district as Grand Junction and Adams County was paired with Cortez, of all places.

“I have an ‘R’ behind my name, but it stands more for ‘rural’ than Republican,” said state Rep. Don Coram, Republican of Montrose. 

State Rep. David Balmer, a Centennial Republican, tried to make peace at one point, asking committee members to engage in a team-building exercise, with every member saying something positive about the other side’s maps, but after several Democrats played along, the Republicans sat in stone-cold silence.

As it had in previous decades, the process wound up in court, where a judge drew the boundaries.

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