Forty Years Ago This Week: “It was dandy,” House Minority Leader Federico Peña, D-Denver, said of the 53rd General Assembly.
“It was basically a positive experience,” Peña said. “Things looked dim at the beginning of the session, but so far we’ve been able to set up policy reports, we’ve had better communication, the relationship with the governor is better than in past years, plus, we’ve gotten some bills passed.”
Peña took over as top House Democrat after Rep. Bob Kirscht, D-Pueblo, was ousted. Kirscht later switched parties to become a Republican.
“At first I was sorry Kirscht did it, but we’ve gotten along without him and he’s done well without us,” Peña said. “Of course he’s had to gain some footing with the Republican Party and has proceeded cautiously.”
Twenty Years Ago: Following what was a recent and bitter failure of the special session to pass growth control measures, Gov. Bill Owens announced that he would call another special session to address redistricting. Owens stressed that party leadership would this time have to meet beforehand to discuss proposals that would actually have a chance of passing.
House Speaker Doug Dean, R-Colorado Springs, immediately expressed his heartfelt assurances that Republicans would cooperate fully.
“I suggested to President Matsunaka that each of the four leaders in the legislature — House Speaker and Minority Leader, Senate President and Minority Leader — appoint one legislator each to begin meeting to see if redistricting can be worked out,” Dean said.
Matsunaka however suggested a “bottom’s up” approach in which all 35 Senators would have input on bills, not just leadership.
“I have always felt comfortable going down the hallway to the Speaker’s office to discuss potential solutions,” Matsunaka said. “I hope that once our senators have had a chance to develop some strategies and look at several solutions, I can talk to the Speaker to discuss a resolution.”
Matsunaka sent Owens a letter a week later, reiterating his support.
“I met with the Speaker of the House to discuss general parameters of a special session,” Matsunaka wrote. “I believe we can work together to trade proposals once each party and their constituents have had an opportunity to weigh in on this very important issue. The Speaker and I believe we can communicate and work towards a bipartisan solution. If indeed you will be calling the Legislature back, when is your intention to do so?”
But it just wasn’t possible. No, not the failed special session on growth control, that moved forward. We’re talking about former state Sen. Tillie Bishop staying in retirement. After 28 years in the state legislature, the Grand Junction Republican had been forced out by term limits in 1998.
Since then, Bishop had travelled with his long-suffering wife Pat, sat on several non-profit boards and had won appointment to the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Board. But Bishop found that being out of the action didn’t quite suit him.
Bishop announced that he had been planning a run for the Mesa County Board of Commissioners and would be making his final decision soon.
In a heavily Republican District 2, Grand Junction Mayor Cindy Enos-Martinez predicted that Bishop would have little, if any, trouble getting elected.
“Goodness yes, I missed it,” Bishop told The Colorado Statesman. “On the commission you do your job every day in front of the people whose lives are affected. That’s different from the legislature where you do your job 250 miles away and come home on the weekends and give people your version of what happened."
Local Democrats weren’t the least bit surprised in the news. Former Democratic County Chairman John Redifer, a political science professor at Mesa State College, said, “It’s not as though he’s been hiding it.”
Rachael Wright is the author of the Captain Savva Mystery series, with degrees in Political Science and History from Colorado Mesa University, and is a contributing writer to Colorado Politics and The Gazette.