Last November’s elections sent the message that Colorado politics had shifted to the left, and where politics go, government follows.
For the first time since 2014, Democrats control majorities in the House and Senate, plus they retained the governor’s office with a new boss more liberal than the old boss.
What did this newly minted blue state get for its Democratic voters? Free all-day kindergarten, a climate change action plan, tougher rules on oil-and-gas operations, a measure of gun control and a vehicle to award Electoral College votes that likely will benefit a Democratic presidential candidate someday.
The government sausage this year came through a Democratic grinder. Two of the four leaders of the House and Senate -- House Speaker KC Becker and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg -- are from the liberal republic of Boulder, and a third member, House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, is the former executive director of the state Democratic Party.
As I reported in last week’s Insights, much of the energy of this session began in the governor’s office. The General Assembly was the engine that powered the relative success of Jared Polis’ 100-day plan he talked about on the campaign trail last year.
His signature achievement was all-day kindergarten, which was a Republican idea for the two previous sessions, dying in the Democratic-controlled House each year.
The $185 million idea had no problem once Polis commanded his Democratic foot soldiers in the House and Senate. He helped curb the appetite on family paid leave and a vaccination bill, amending one and mortally wounding the other.
And the Democrats are only getting started. Becker pointed out to reporters convened in her office that the General Assembly is for two years, and this is only year one. Democrats have another year to work on their goals, before Colorado voters decide whether they want to keep the party in charge of the statehouse.
“I want to emphasize this is not the end,” she said. “This is year one of a two-year term. We’ve all learned a lot about these particular subjects. We’ve all learned how Republicans are going to act in a trifecta.”
Garnett said his party used its duly won majority to do what its candidates promised.
“What we have prioritized here at the legislature is what we campaigned on and said we were going to prioritize if the voters of Colorado sent us back here to have majorities,” he said. “And once that happened, we were very transparent about what we were going to work on starting at the beginning of the session, and that’s exactly what we have done.”
Garnett said he and Minority Leader Patrick Neville worked very closely together, even though he has fundamental disagreements on the issues with the Republican from Castle Rock.
“In the end, we were all elected by the same number of people, and we have done our best to include everybody in the chamber on some of these bills that have made it through,” Garnett said.
“We don’t always agree, but in the end, after we debate policy at length, we can always shake hands afterward and move on, and I think that has been reflected from the beginning of the session to where we are now.”
Neville said the session worked out as well as it could for his party, given the partisan mismatch -- 41 Democrats to 24 Republicans in the House.
While Republicans employed delay tactics, especially in the Senate, to run out the clock on liberal bills, they couldn’t muster the votes to actually stop them. Democrats at times were apt to remind them of that.
Sen. Lois Court, a Democrat from Denver, wielded her power as chair of the Senate Finance Committee two evenings before the end of the session. Republican Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument was asking a lot of questions and gnawing on her patience like a squirrel on a nut.
"I'm not letting speeches be made," she said, upbraiding Lundeen and Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs.
At another point, she warned Lundeen not to test her patience. And when he pointed out that there were 500 people lined up testify against the immunization bill and only 30 for it, countering Court's claim of a closer ratio, she'd had enough: "Thank you for pointing that out," she said. "You may not point it out again, Sen. Lundeen."
That's the power of the majority talking.
“I think the House has done a decent job,” Neville said of the chamber’s Democrats. “Alec came to me on some of the more controversial bills and we were able to work something out. He seemed to realize if he came to the table, we could reduce the pain significantly.”
Neville even sounded humbled on the House floor on the next-to-last day of the session. With their majority, Democrats controlled the calendar, and they allowed time for Neville’s resolution to honor Dave Sanders with a stretch of C-470 to be named in honor of the teacher killed at Columbine High School 20 years ago.
Neville was a student at Columbine that day, and he talked about what a great teacher Sanders had been, the patience he took to teach Neville typing, and the heroism he showed herding students to safety when he was shot from behind, ultimately bleeding to death.
"We are ..." Neville said at the end of his memorial to Sanders.
The entire chamber, Republicans and Democrats, responded, "Columbine."
The entire house signed on as co-sponsors.