Democrat Joe Neguse ranked as the most bipartisan member of Colorado's House delegation in the last Congress, according to the latest index released this week by the nonpartisan Lugar Center and the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.
Former U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, however, produced by far the most bipartisan record among the state's D.C. denizens during the two years before voters sent the Yuma Republican packing.
Neguse, of Lafayette, landed in the top 10% of House members on the scale, which measures how often lawmakers' legislation attracts co-sponsors from across the aisle and how often they sign on to bills sponsored by members of the other party.
In contrast, Ken Buck, the Windsor Republican who recently finished a two-year term as chairman of the Colorado GOP, was the least bipartisan member of the delegation, finishing in the bottom 10% of House members.
The report measured bipartisanship for the 116th Congress, in session in 2019 and 2020, using a complicated formula that also compares members to averages accumulated over the 28 years the scholars have been assessing the trait.
Gardner lost a bid for a second term last fall to Democrat John Hickenlooper despite a consistent history in the Senate of crossing the aisle — a record he touted on the campaign trail, in ads and debates. As he has for most of his years in the Senate, Gardner finished near the top of the pile for the chamber.
The new report determined that senators from both parties performed above the historical average, with Republicans doing somewhat better at bipartisanship in the GOP-controlled chamber, on average, than Democrats. The reverse was true in the Democratic-controlled House, where members of the majority party scored higher than minority Republicans, and members from both parties doing just barely better than historic numbers.
“Although partisan combat between the parties and their leaderships reached a crescendo during the 116th Congress, individual members of Congress worked on legislation with their opposing party counterparts with surprising frequency,” said Dan Diller, the Lugar Center's policy director. “The Bipartisan Index scores show that despite the embittered partisan climate, members still sought out bipartisan partnerships in the run-up to the 2020 election — usually below the radar of the national news cycle.”
Maria Cancian, dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy, saw encouraging signs in this year's report.
“Our democracy has been tested in untold ways over the last year, with Congress often seeming unable to act on behalf of the common good,” she said in a statement. “But according to the Bipartisan Index, an evidence-based tool, our lawmakers are collaborating in many areas — an encouraging sign despite our hyper-partisan politics.”
With a score of 1.26380, Neguse, serving his first term, was the 41st-most bipartisan House member.
“I full-heartedly believe we must work to turn down the temperature in our politics,” Neguse said in a statement. “In Congress, I’ve worked in a bipartisan manner with my Republican colleagues, inviting them to our state to see first-hand the Colorado experience and working to craft legislation wherever we can find agreement. We believe our willingness to work with anyone has helped secure victories for our communities, by having nine bills enacted into law, the second-most of any House office, and helping us solve the challenges our district and our state are facing.”
Neguse was also ranked one of the most effective lawmakers in the last Congress by the University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University’s nonpartisan Center for Effective Lawmaking, and he was the House member with the second-highest number of bills signed into law, according to GovTrack.
At the other end of the spectrum on the Lugar Center's index, Buck was the 413th-most bipartisan member over the last two years, with a score of -0.95169.
Ironically, Buck and Neguse cross the aisle regularly to sponsor legislation together, including a bill to designate the 600-acre site of the Amache internment camp in southeastern Colorado, where more than 7,000 Japanese Americans were held during World War II, as a national historic site.
Perhaps pointing to the limitations of the index, some of Buck's other work with Democrats — including on antitrust legislation with Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline, co-founding the bipartisan House Reformers Caucus with Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York and working with Rep. Barbara Lee of California on the House War Powers Caucus — aren't reflected in the raw numbers. A spokeswoman for Buck declined to comment on the Lugar Center's latest report.
The other House members from Colorado fell in between Neguse and Buck in the 437 House-member ranking, including the delegate from Washington, DC.
Democrat Jason Crow finished in 63rd place with a score of 1.01193. The Aurora Democrat was followed by Republican Scott Tipton, who finished in 102nd place with a score of 0.64690. The five-term incumbent from Cortez lost a primary last summer to Lauren Boebert, who attacked Tipton for cooperating too much with Democrats, including by sponsoring legislation with Neguse to benefit his district.
Democrats Diana DeGette of Denver and Ed Perlmutter of Arvada finished fairly close together, in 178th place and 185th place, respectively, with scores of 0.21696 and 0.19111, again respectively.
Further down the rankings toward Buck's position, Colorado Springs Republican Doug Lamborn was the 328th most bipartisan House member with a score of -0.35018.
Before Neguse came along for the 116th Congress, Republican Mike Coffman held the bipartisan crown among Colorado's House members, right up until his 2018 defeat by Crow.
Coffman — who was only out of office for about a year until he was elected mayor of Aurora — was the 16th-most bipartisan member of the 115th Congress, from 2017-2018, and the 25th-most bipartisan member of the congress before that. In both instances, the moderate Republican finished well above the next-best performing Colorado lawmaker — Democrat Jared Polis, who was elected governor the same year Coffman lost his House seat, and who finished in 119th place in the 115th Congress and in 111th place for the 114th Congress.
But Gardner was Colorado's bipartisan superstar, in recent years at least, finishing in fourth place in the last Congress with a score of 2.65591 — just behind Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and ahead of Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski finished second and — marking her eighth consecutive year atop the rankings — Maine Republican Susan Collins, who won re-election last year in a state that had been considered a battleground, topped the list. What's more, Collins yielded the highest bipartisanship score — 4.584 — since the scholars started keeping track in 1993.
Gardner finished just a notch lower, in fifth place, for the previous 115th Congress, spanning 2017-2018. That ranking marked a big jump for Gardner, however, who came in 36th on the charts for his first two years in the Senate during the 114th Congress, from 2015-2016.
Colorado's senior senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, routinely finishes closer to the middle of the pack of 100 senators, coming in 44th place in both the 116th and 115th congresses with score of 0.47966 and 0.18292, respectively. In the 114th Congress, Bennet landed in 22nd place — 14 spots above Gardner, who had yet to switch into full bipartisan mode — with a score of 0.545378. Bennet finished in 35th place in the 113th Congress, with a score of 0.046977, the same year Gardner's predecessor, Democrat Mark Udall, finished in 45th place with a score of -0.13999.
Critics of the index argue that its methodology can mask the most nakedly partisan behavior, giving a veneer of reasonableness to some of DC's most zealous standard-bearers for their side.
But Lugar Center founder former six-term Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who was unseated in a 2012 Republican primary under criticism he worked too easily with Democrats, argued in a statement that the index measures something important.
"The Founders of our Republic were realists who understood the power of factionalism, parochialism, and personal ambition," he said.
"They understood that good intentions would not always prevail. Accordingly, they designed a system to check abuse and prevent power from accumulating in a few hands. But they knew that the efficient operation of such a Republic would require a great deal of cooperation. They knew that it would require most elected officials to have a dedication to governance, and they trusted that leaders would arise in every era to make their vision work.
"In this spirit, we encourage members of Congress to more frequently open themselves to the possibility that colleagues from the opposite party may have good ideas that are deserving of consideration."