Well that wasn’t much fun.
There is no sense sugar-coating it; through whatever prism one might wish to view the just-concluded general session of the Colorado state legislature — economic growth, advancement of individual liberty, what have you — the state weathered some pretty substantial blows over 120 days.
The Democrats sweeping electoral victory in the state last November adumbrated the enactment of a left-wing agenda, and boy, did they deliver. Everyone knows about the big-ticket items, i.e., enormous restrictions on energy development, an extreme version of a “red flag” bill which flirts with contempt for the constitution, a bill to shackle Colorado’s electors to the national popular vote that discards it altogether; and there were plenty of others that shimmied their way through while largely avoiding the glare of media attention. There were bills to impose ludicrously unattainable (and therefore hideously expensive) greenhouse gas targets on the state and to increase power bills to pay for electric vehicle charging stations for rich people's toys, for instance; others to import prescription drugs from Canada (where price controls have already created a drug shortage), and to pave the way for the adoption of single-payer health care and extra fees on Ubers and Lyfts. If you know anyone whose disposition is too sunny and cheerful, presenting them with a list of bills passed this year should knock that out of them in short order.
Yet, despite all of that there were still a few points of light that here and there pierced the fog. A bill was passed, for instance, which liberated a child’s lemonade stand from the Leviathan-esque grip of local government bureaucracy, another correcting a unique interpretation of tax law on the part of the Department of Revenue which somehow determined that a farmers use of fertilizer on his or her crops was suddenly no longer tax-exempt as a crop input; and, at long last, a pair of bi-partisan bills — Senate Bill 006 and House Bill 1240 — which made significant and meaningful strides toward untangling Colorado’s tortuous mess of a sales tax system.
That was, stunningly, not all. Some of the most egregious ideas — most notably the rent control bill and one that would ban restaurants from using polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers — died deserving deaths on the calendar. Others were favorably modified; the Family And Medical Leave bill, strenuously opposed by business groups and economists for courting insolvency even while adding financial overhead to both employers and workers, was turned into a study, at least holding the fiscal wolves at bay for another near. Similarly, the much-maligned Comprehensive Sex Education bill, which spurred the objection of parents who believed that the delicate and controversial matters delineated in the legislation were probably best left to more appropriate discretion, was modified into a grant program, rather than the overly-prescriptive shape it originally took.
The Republicans, who found themselves in the minority in both chambers, had relatively few arrows available in their quiver, but they used them to remarkable success. The Senate GOP in particular took great advantage of their experience and mastery of procedure to use the calendar to their advantage, slowing the process down sufficiently to force the majority to negotiate on things they probably really did not want to, lest the entire lot be left on the cutting room floor when the clock struck midnight on May 4 — including routine must-pass bills.
One GOP tactic that was not given much attention was used to considerable effect by Sen. Don Coram. Early on, the Montrose Republican signed on as a co-prime Senate sponsor of the much-maligned sex-ed bill, earning him the scorn, ferocious at times, of many of the GOP base. The ire of these folks proved as short-sighted as it was vicious. Coram recognized that he and his compatriots had precious few options for influencing policy in the political environment they found awaiting them in January; one that was available was to be listed as a sponsor on a bill. Coram was instrumental in diluting what many saw as an egregious intrusion of the state into deeply personal family matters. It’s not something that can be used in every instance, but it was effectively employed here, and Coram deserves credit for his prudence.
The Republican tactics were predictably derided as obstructionist, but if nothing else they served as a reminder that our system does not automatically confer a series of two-year dictatorships, even while accommodating one-party rule. Such use of process may be frustrating for the party in power, but it is evidence that the system still works, something which cool heads in both parties should be thankful for.
Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.