Welcome to the last edition of The Spot for the 2019 legislative session! That’s right: We’re in the final – final – stretch of the first regular session of the 72nd General Assembly, and we’ve learned a lot in the last 118 days.
We’ll have a lot of coverage wrapping up the end of the session in the coming days and weeks as we take stock of just how transformative the past four months have been. But here are a few initial thoughts on what we’ve learned.
Everyone thought House Speaker KC Becker wouldn’t be able to manage her caucus. Everyone was wrong.
When it was clear House Democrats would have a near-supermajority in the House, lobbyists, journalists and long-time political observers speculated the lower chamber would be unruly and the Boulder Democrat wouldn’t be able to manage her troops. Quite the opposite has happened. House Democrats have nearly been in lockstep the entire session with few – if any – unforced errors.
Meanwhile, management of the Senate – and the cohesion of the Democratic caucus – is still an open question.
If everyone thought the House was going to be a hot mess, everyone knew the Senate was going to have its act together. This, too, turned out to be wrong. State senators and lobbyists alike have privately wondered out loud who – if anyone – was running the show in the Senate. And the questions have intensified in the waning days. The Colorado Independent’s Alex Burness dove deep into Senate President Leroy Garcia’s management style and Republicans have made a case that Majority Leader Steve Fenberg did not manage the calendar well (a premise Fenberg rejects). There’s been open infighting on issues such as the death penalty, family leave and rent control – bills that either died or were gutted. To be sure, the Senate has passed a lot of consequential legislation – and the Senate Republicans were unforgiving – but it was nowhere as tidy as the House.
Gov. Jared Polis won’t stop until he gets what he wants.
Lawmakers who have been around awhile had grown accustomed to a laissez-faire attitude from the governor’s office. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper let lawmakers know his priorities and red lines, but day to day he let the legislative branch do its thing. Polis took a much harder approach to lobbying lawmakers, especially on his marquee campaign promise: funding full-day kindergarten. Polis, who spent a decade in Congress before becoming the state’s top executive, has also taken his effort on the road, stopping by a number of kindergarten classrooms to drum up local support. To be sure, Polis’ mettle will be tested in the last few hours of the General Assembly. A vaccination bill that Polis has signaled issues with is still making its way through the legislature without the changes he requested, and a vaping tax measure that he has pushed for is in question.
Senate Republicans were very effective at driving Democrats crazy. But they really didn’t stop any progressive legislation.
There are still 30-some hours left in the legislative session, which is plenty of time for the car to go off the rails. However, so far, Senate Republicans have been more effective at stalling than killing legislation they deem too extreme. It was D-on-D violence that torpedoed major legislation such as the death penalty repeal and the family leave plan. At most, Republicans could kill changes to the state’s sexual education law, a bill that would let Xcel get a larger share of the state’s renewable energy, and the vaccination bill. While these bills are important, they fall outside of the Democrats main priorities. Democratic leaders and staff have said they’re already proud of the work they’ve accomplished, and the remaining bills are just gravy.
It was the year of the amendment. Now we wait and see if 2020 is the year of the cleanup bill.
Despite Democrats having a trifecta, there have been a lot of amendments to high-priority bills. The generous interpretation of this fact is that Democrats were able to rein in their ambitions. The skeptical version is that there are a lot of lawmakers who have no idea what they just approved. Some of the more conservative Democrats are already bracing for a major round of so-called cleanup bills next year.
The progressive lobby scored major wins (even if they didn’t get everything they wanted) while the business community worked overtime, especially with Senate Democrats.
After four years of pent-up frustration, progressive Coloradans saw many of their most important policy goals pass through both chambers – long-sought bills such as an expansion of a driver’s license program for immigrants without documentation and a ban on gay conversion therapy have finally made it through the Senate, where Republicans had previously blocked much of the legislation from making its way to the governor’s desk. Sure, there were setbacks. Meanwhile, the business lobby, which has relied on Senate Republicans to kill bills they have long objected to, earned its fees and then some this year by trimming the family leave bill down to a study and getting major concessions on the equal pay bill.
The staff, especially the Senate bill reader, had thankless jobs.
If you haven’t thanked a member of the staff – partisan and nonpartisan – that really keeps the General Assembly moving forward, be sure to do so during the next 36 hours. They worked liked never before to meet the needs of lawmakers and were often caught in nasty partisan fights. A special shout-out goes to Andrew Carpenter, the Senate’s bill reader, who likely has some very sore vocal cords after the last 118 days.
Welcome to The Spot, The Denver Post’s weekly political newsletter. I’m Nic Garcia, a politics reporter at The Post. Keep the conversation going by joining our Facebook group today! Forward this newsletter to your colleagues and encourage them to subscribe. And please support the journalism that matters to you and become a Denver Post subscriber here. Send tips, comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your regular Spot newsletter won’t appear in your inbox next Thursday. Instead, keep a lookout for a special Denver edition Wednesday morning full of municipal election results.
35-ish hours until the General Assembly must adjourn; Six days until Denver votes; 55 days until the first Democratic primary presidential debate
Your political digest
- U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, cancer-free, is running for president. Denver Post
- The Colorado Senate pulled an all-nighter as Democrats were accused of going “nuclear.” Denver Post
- Vaccination bill stays alive with last-minute hearing in Colorado Senate. Denver Post
- Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ mission to cut health care costs hangs in the balance as session nears end. Denver Post
- Bill allowing for rent control hits dead-end in Colorado Senate. Denver Post
- A Super Tuesday for Colorado: Gov. Jared Polis makes 2020 presidential primary official. Denver Post
- Colorado equal pay bill passes General Assembly after years of trying. Denver Post
- “Jerr-E-ville” stands — and falls — as a symbol of Denver’s homeless struggle. Denver Post
- Colorado lawmakers’ new sexual harassment policy is held up on accuser confidentiality. CPR
- State Rep. Kyle Mullica, the lawmaker behind the vaccine bill, receives death threats. CBS4
- Say no to the Colorado legislature’s gimmick to gamble with our state’s water. Colorado Independent
- In Colorado, Democrats have made their decision: Capitalism died with Hickenlooper. Washington Examiner
Finding bipartisanship on pot
As a contentious legislative session comes to a close, it’s worth remembering there were moments of bipartisanship on controversial legislation in the Colorado Senate.
On Tuesday, liberal state Sen. Julie Gonzales stood next to conservative Sen. Vicki Marble on the Senate floor as they touted two bills allowing for marijuana delivery and social cannabis consumption.
“This gets people off the streets,” Marble said of the social consumption bill, comparing the status quo to a government allowing liquor but banning bars. “It gets them out of the alleys where, believe it or not, they hook up with the underground black market, they get someone who’s going to sell them marijuana cheaper, and they may run into someone who’s doing opioids.”
Both bills passed the Senate on second reading that day over the objections of Marble’s fellow Republicans on delivery as well as social use.
“It seems to me it’s only a matter of time until a drone comes to your front porch and drops off your baggie,” Sen. Bob Gardner said. Fellow Republican Sen. John Cooke, a retired sheriff, accused lawmakers of “demonizing and trying to criminalize tobacco” but “glorifying dope – glorifying drugs and drug dealers.”
For a conservative firebrand like Marble to join forces, even briefly, with a progressive like Gonzalez, who has been endorsed by Denver’s democratic socialists, shows bipartisanship is still happening. (Insert joke here about weed bringing people together). – Justin Wingerter
House honors chief clerk Eddins, who has seen it all
Justice Nathan B. Coats (right), the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court, speaks Marilyn Eddins, chief clerk of the House, at the Colorado State Capitol on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.
The Colorado House pressed pause on its frenetic race to the end of session to pay tribute to chief clerk Marilyn Eddins on Wednesday morning.
Eddins is retiring this year after more than 40 years as a nonpartisan House staffer and 15 years as the chamber’s chief clerk.
Lawmakers in the chamber surprised her with a resolution honoring her service and six of the seven speakers she served showed up to congratulate her and wish her well on her next adventure.
Former Speaker Andrew Romanoff said Eddins’ husband has often told him that choosing her was the best decision he ever made.
“I feel the same way,” Romanoff said. “And I think the truth is we’re all lucky that she chose us.”
You can read more about Eddins in this profile from ColoradoPolitics.com. – Anna Staver
Polis, Buck to participate in National Day of Prayer call
Former congressional colleagues Gov. Jared Polis and Rep. Ken Buck – who now also chairs the state’s Republican Party – will participate in a live teleconference call tonight to mark the National Day of Prayer.
The call, organized by Colorado Christian University, will be hosted by Dr. Donald Sweeting, the university’s president.
Polis had this to say about his participation: “I’m excited to join tens of thousands of Coloradans in prayer. I’m honored to celebrate the power of prayer to heal our geographic, political, economic, and racial divides. Prayer unites us, weeks ago I hosted the first prayer conference at the Governor’s Mansion with representatives of many faiths. On this National Day of Prayer I’m humbled to add my voice to millions of others towards an aspirational vision of who we can be as individuals, as a state, and as a nation.”
Tweet of the week: How did state senators stay awake the day after their all-nighter? Taylor Swift.
Here’s the video to watch along.
Mile High Politics
Turnout down so far in Denver’s mayoral election
If this is going to be a wave year in Denver elections, it’s not materializing yet. Turnout is trending only slightly ahead of 2015, with about 11.1 percent of ballots cast through Monday night, compared to about 10.8 percent on the comparable day in the last cycle.
But there are a couple of factors to keep in mind: First, the 2015 elections had six open City Council seats, which can create more competitive races. This year, there are only two open council seats, but Mayor Michael Hancock faces a much stronger challenge.
There also may be more voters this year: The city issued about 418,000 ballots last month, compared to just 350,000 in 2015.
So far, the total number of ballots cast is already running about 23 percent ahead of 2015, even though turnout by percentage is roughly equal.
Those extra ballots are likely coming from new transplants to the city, new voters and perhaps people re-energized by the 2018 “blue wave” election. And there’s no telling how those extra ballots will split among this year’s bumper crop of candidates. – Andy Kenney
Your guide to who wants to take on Sen. Cory Gardner
A running joke these days among Colorado’s political journalists is the that the only field larger than the Democratic primary for president is that in the Colorado Democratic Senate primary. While it may not be factual, it sure seems like it.
To help all of us keep track of who is in the race, we’ve compiled this helpful cheat sheet that federal reporter Justin Wingerter will keep updated as the election nears.
A little friendly rivalry
We end this edition of The Spot with a tweet from former Gov. John Hickenlooper this morning, wishing his friend and one-time employee good luck.