upon adjournment

Lawmakers working together? Let’s see if it lasts

Column by Vic Vela

If last year’s legislative session was an exercise in surrealism, than this year’s version was like a Bob Ross painting.

Sure, there were moments of contention this year. But, for the most part, the olive branches that lawmakers extended to one another all turned into “happy little trees,” as the late Ross would say.

This year’s session didn’t have the same venomous bite to it as last year’s. And, for the most part, everyone was on his or her best behavior and legislators actually ... umm ... worked together on a lot of things?

To the rolled eyes and groans among the jaded members of the press, lawmakers have been touting this session as one where about 96 percent of the bills that passed came with bipartisan support.

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, points out that the 2013 session was pretty bipartisan as well, but that the “noise” that came about from a handful of bills — such as one that created civil unions and others that tightened gun laws — made it difficult for others to notice that lawmakers often were working together.

“There was a lot more heat in the building last year,” Ferrandino said. “One of the differences is we had a biblical flood in our state between the two sessions and I think a lot of people said, `Let’s (set aside) the gamesmanship, the feigned indignation and fighting that we do for theater sometimes and actually just get the work done.’”
Even claims that the session was a bipartisan success came with bipartisan support.

“Overall it was not quite as contentious this year as it was last year,” said House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland.

DelGrosso acknowledged that there were fights on some issues, but not many.
“I think that was kind of good for everybody ... to have a little more civility,” he said.

Some of the key pieces of legislation that passed the Legislature this year came with overwhelming bipartisan support. They included the Student Success Act, a major K-12 school-funding bill, and an effort to fund a state-operated aerial firefighting fleet.

And some of the high-profile bills that died were bipartisan efforts, such as a bill that would have banned photo radar technology like red light cameras and another bill that would have prohibited the sale of cigarettes to persons under 21.

There was a sharp difference in tone at the Capitol this year and there wasn’t nearly the kind of tension that resulted in marathon debates on issues like gun control, like we saw last year.

Now, this year started out looking like it was going to be an extension of 2013, when Senate Republicans — just days into the session — blasted Democrats by accusing them of bending the rules to prevent repeal efforts on gun bills from being heard.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, even suggested that Senate President Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, be recalled over the whole thing — which, by the way, turned out to be a non-story because the controversy was born out of a misunderstanding.

Still, when Cadman threw down, I was like, “Oh, snap. Here we go. Where’s the popcorn?” Seriously, I settled in for what I expected to be 2013 redux.
Instead, nothing.

This year’s session was hardly a heavyweight fight. At best, it was like watching a 12-round fight between a couple of aging boxers who can’t lift their arms to throw punches any more.

But, don’t kid yourselves. These guys are politicians and they know when it’s appropriate to sit around the campfire and sing songs together and when it’s time to throw down.

For example, House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, recently took issue when a reporter asked her if the quiet session was a result of Democrats getting the message that they may have overreached on some issues last year.

“I think one reason why this one was less contentious was that (Republicans) got the message,” she said. “We’re here to do the work of the people and that’s how we do it. We do the work that we think is of core importance to the people of Colorado and a lot of that was bipartisan.

“We don’t pick fights to pick fights and maybe they’ve begun to understand that.”
But Republicans believe that voters will have long memories when they go to the polls in November. And Cadman will be eligible to become Senate President if just one seat flips in that chamber.

“I think what we offer is opportunity and what these guys offer is oppression,” said Cadman. “I mean, these guys virtually want to control everything...”

So, in spite of all the feel-good bills that came out of the Capitol this year, there is going to be a real messaging battle that’s going to be played out on television and through yard signs and bumper stickers this fall.

And who knows what that’s going to mean for next year’s Legislature, which could end up looking a whole lot different than this year’s.

So, I wouldn’t get too accustomed to all this do-goody bipartisanship just yet. Because all it takes is one scorching issue to burn all those happy little trees to the ground.

Vic Vela covers the Legislature for Colorado Community Media. He can be reached at vvela@coloradocommunitymedia.com. Or, follow him on Twitter: @VicVela1.