First Lady of the United States Jill Biden shakes hands with Sen. Dylan Roberts while greeting lawmakers during a visit on Monday, April 3, 2023 at the Colorado State Capitol building in Denver, Colo. (Timothy Hurst/Denver Gazette)

A look back at lawmakers who made a difference, for better or worse, in the 2023 General Assembly. 

Sen. Dylan Roberts, D-Avon. Roberts was viewed as a swing vote on not one, not two, but three committees. He chairs the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, which managed some pretty heady issues in 2023 — including his own wolf reintroduction bill, which passed the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Jared Polis this week. The bill was a model of bipartisanship among Western Slope lawmakers.

But Roberts’ influence was probably felt most in the Senate Local Government and Housing Committee, where he joined Republicans to cast the killing "no" vote on a bill to allow local rent control laws and won a major concession on the Polis administration’s ultimately unsuccessful housing bill, striking rural resort communities from the bill. On top of everything, Roberts prime sponsored 44 bills this session, every single one of which was approved by the legislature. 

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada. She not only chairs a Joint Budget Committee with five new members and helped forge a $38.5 billion budget with consensus among the committee — something that hasn’t happened in four years — but she was also a major force to be reckoned with on the housing bill. Zenzinger drew a “bright line” over state control of zoning, and led the opposition to the measure, which resulted in the bill dying on the final day of the session.

Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer, R-Brighton. Kirkmeyer's decades of local government experience made her a shining star for the Senate Republican caucus, both in her work on the Joint Budget Committee, as well as her attempts to come up with a win-win on the housing bill. With her work on the budget and its supplemental bills, Kirkmeyer passed the most measures of any Republican lawmaker this session. 

Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada. Along with Rep. Ron Weinberg, R-Loveland, she battled against Republican opposition to a right to repair bill for agricultural equipment, the first in the nation. Now in her third term as Colorado’s first transgender lawmaker, Titone is a leader calling out attacks against the transgender community — both nationally and from the other side of the aisle in the Colorado House — and fought for services that affirm gender identity, such as hormone therapy and surgical procedures, as a prime sponsor of Senate Bill 188.

Rep. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster. Bird has held her own counsel in the past, and 2023 was no different. Among the most moderate of House Democrats, Bird was also among the most effective — even without her work on the Joint Budget Committee and particularly on tax issues. Bird passed the most bills of any House lawmakers this year. And her two-year crusade to require the state to pay interest to the state pension plan for a missed balloon payment in 2020 made it to the governor's desk, after it went by the wayside last year because of strong opposition from Democratic leadership. 

First-year lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in the House. With 31 new lawmakers coming to the House in the 2023 session, everyone was watching to see who would have an impact.

Among Democrats, Reps. Ruby Dickson of Greenwood Village, William Lindstedt of Broomfield, Kyle Brown of Louisville and Javier Mabrey of Denver stood out. All were part of major policy legislation in 2023.

  • Dickson and Lindstedt’s bill to eliminate local housing growth caps — a core part of the Democrats' affordable housing plan — quietly passed the General Assembly, while all eyes were on the governor’s housing proposal. The two lawmakers also boasted perfect records during their first session, with every bill they prime-sponsored passing the legislature. The only other first-year to accomplish this feat is next on this list. 
  • Brown, the former architect of the Colorado Option when he was at the Division of Insurance, was a last-minute addition to the House after Rep. Tracey Bernett resigned in the wake of a residency fraud charge. As a resident of Louisville, Brown championed bills dealing with issues arising from the Marshall fire, and was a prime sponsor of the changes to the Colorado Option.
  • Mabrey, a leader of the progressive wing of the House Democrats, took the lead on some of the highest profile bills of the session. A housing attorney, Mabrey sponsored bills dealing with landlord and tenant issues, including unsuccessful efforts to allow local rent control and ban evictions without "just cause," which he vowed to bring back in future sessions. Mabrey also prime sponsored a bill to reduce consumer costs for EpiPens.

Among Republicans, Reps. Rose Pugliese of Colorado SpringsLisa Frizell of Castle Rock and Ron Weinberg of Loveland made their mark. 

  • Pugliese is assistant minority leader for the House's GOP caucus, making her the only first-year legislator to hold party leadership in both the state House and Senate this year. Her name pops up a lot on bills sent to the governor on post-secondary education and career workforce training.
  • Frizell, a former county assessor, led her caucus on debate around property taxes and had the first bill of the session on a short-term fix that died on a party-line vote — though with hints that Democrats would have liked to support it. Frizell's sponsorship of a bill that Democrats viewed as transphobic may have cost her support for other issues.
  • Weinberg is among the most popular of the first-year class, using his skills to navigate one of the most contentious sessions ever, and doing it without losing his sense of humor or his mind. With Titone, he was the Republican sponsor of the right to repair bill for agriculture equipment. He also saw 18 of his 22 bills approved by the legislature, no mean feat for any Republican in 2023. 

Not so much juice

Democratic lawmakers running for Denver mayor. Sen. Chris Hansen and Reps. Leslie Herod and Alex Valdez all threw their hats into the mayor's race this year. While Valdez withdrew from the election before ballots came out, Herod and Hansen stuck it out to the end, but came in fifth and sixth place, respectively. 

Herod and Hansen both played prominent roles on the Joint Budget Committee last year, but dropped out of this most powerful legislative committee to focus on their failed bids for mayor. Herod, who has been a workhorse in the Capitol, didn’t introduce a single bill until after the April 4 election was over and the ballots counted. She was also dogged by allegations of a toxic work environment from former aides. Hansen’s session started off slow but ended with a bang, as a prime sponsor of the property tax bill that is headed to the November ballot.

Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver.  Gonzales-Gutierrez won her election to an at-large seat on the Denver City Council but is leaving the legislature with unfinished business. Her longstanding effort to keep kids under the age of 13 out of the juvenile justice system died for the second year in a row. Another leader of the progressive wing of the Democratic caucus, Gonzales-Gutierrez couldn’t move the needle enough in 2023 on “just cause” for evictions, fair workweek standards, or student conduct policies that would have made it harder to expel students for off-campus behavior. This left her with a 50% success rate for her prime-sponsored bills — the lowest of any Democrat this year. 

A definite lack of juice. While no one can question their ability to talk for hours on end, the four most conservative members in the House — Republican Reps. Ken DeGraaf of Colorado Springs, Stephanie Luck of Penrose, Scott Bottoms of Colorado Springs and Brandi Bradley of Littleton — they hardly moved any needle on legislation. The four were among the least productive of the General Assembly, taking up four of the top five spots for the fewest bills passed by lawmakers. Bradley prime-sponsored five successful bills, but the rest of the quartet had only three bills between them make it to the governor’s desk. 

The juice that wasn't needed. The talk before the November election was about just how much influence Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, would have this session, given his party switch from Republican to Democrat last August and expectations that control of the Senate was up for grabs. But when the dust settled, Democrats held a 23-12 advantage and Priola’s “no” votes on issues, such as abortion and gun control, made not a whit of difference.

Someone who should have had juice, but in the end, not so much. Speaker of the House Julie McCluskie of Dillon had an unenviable job of managing the rowdy Republicans to her right and a progressive wing of the Democratic caucus with their own ideas, not always supported by other Democrats, on the left. In a contentious caucus meeting on the last day of the session, McCluskie said her list of lessons learned this year is longer than her list of accomplishments. 

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