Romanoff and the 2006 Special Session

The Denver Post revisits one of Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff’s most controversial moments in leadership:

A year ago during a heated congressional race, former state Sen. Polly Baca said she couldn’t support Joan Fitz-Gerald in the Democratic primary because of her role in a special session on illegal immigration.

Fitz-Gerald was the state Senate president during that 2006 session, where lawmakers enacted what were touted as the toughest immigration laws in the nation. Baca said the measures hurt Latinos.

But a year later, Baca showed up in Pueblo to support Andrew Romanoff’s kickoff for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate. He is challenging U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

Romanoff was the House speaker during that same special session, and Baca was asked about what seemed to be a contradiction.

“It was Fitz-Gerald who pushed for it, and Andrew just went along for party unity,” Baca said.

“Polly is dead wrong,” Fitz-Gerald said last week, noting that former Gov. Bill Owens called the session.

Several Hispanic leaders, including Ricardo Martinez, co-director of Padres Unidos, backed Fitz-Gerald’s version of events. Martinez said he is supporting Bennet.

“What’s not spoken about is Romanoff’s record, and how he voted to prohibit in-state tuition to undocumented students,” said Martinez, who stressed he was speaking for himself and not his group.

As one of the most dramatic moments in Romanoff’s tenure as Speaker of the Colorado House, the immigration policy special session is sure to be rehashed during the upcoming primary. Opinions vary on the political value of that special session in hindsight–some say (and we tend to agree) that it successfully defanged a major GOP plank going into the 2006 elections, others say that the cost in terms of harm to the relationship with Latino voters was not worth outflanking the Republicans on a fringy issue.

And now, whether Romanoff (or Joan Fitz-Gerald, for that matter) likes it or not, you get to play hindsight quarterback too.

62 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. twas brillig says:

    No one could even remotely claim that the speaker wasn’t a major for behind the session. He deserves a lot of credit for beating the Republicans at their own game. But House Bill 1023 was his bill, and history has not been kind:

    The leader of a nonprofit agency is worried he might have to turn away subscribers to a newspaper-reading service for the blind because some of its elderly listeners could lack identification.

    And some illegal immigrants are too scared to ask for food at soup kitchens or medical care at free clinics – even those funded by private or federal money – because word has spread of a Colorado crackdown on illegal immigration.

    Colorado government began a “Papers, please” approach to service that cost far money than it ever saved (if any).

    Stand this up next to Romanoff’s opposition to EFCA, and I really wonder what kind of winning coalition he can put together that will win a primary.  

  2. TheDeminator says:

    I think it is unfair to say Baca backed Polis over Fitz-Gerald just because of the vote. Lets be fair here and state Jared Polis is the most support congressman in the delegation of fair immigration policy. It was the final nail in the coffin for her when it came to the Hispanic American vote.

    Besides a very very small group, the majority of leaders in the Hispanic community were behind Polis. He is a true champion for a number of issues for the community.

    It’s not one of Fitz-Gerald’s issues, she is not great on a fair immigration policy. Andrew R has been a supporter of the Hispanic American community in Colorado and he deserves the support from the community.

    • twas brillig says:

      Before you go telling the Hispanic-American community what it should be doing, consider this is from a piece by Sen. Morgan Carroll:

      U.S. Senator Michael Bennet attended and said that it is unacceptable to have 12 million people living in the shadows of our laws and that we need comprehensive immigration reform.  He highlighted the appointment of Justice Sonya Sotomayer to the U.S. Supreme Court as something we can celebrate that if we get a good education and work hard, that we can achieve anything.  He also mentioned that his mother immigrated from Poland escaping World War II at the age of 12 to the U.S. and did not speak English at the time.  She learned, found housing for the family and figured out when, where and how to get herself enrolled in school.  He said he was a proud co-sponsor of the Dream Act, Agriculture Act and a Small Business Act.  He opposed the building of the wall and the mandate to use e-verify.  In calling for comprehensive human reform he concluded that “we are all God’s children.”


    Colo. immigration law falls short of goal

    State agencies: $2 million cost and no savings

    Colorado’s new law banning state spending on illegal immigrants has cost more than $2 million to enforce – and has saved the state nothing.

    Less than a year after politically charged debates on illegal immigration, officials are reporting high costs, no savings and unexpected problems with the new laws.

    Once touted by statehouse Republicans and Democrats as the toughest anti-immigration package in the nation, the Colorado crackdown is falling apart.

    “We’re finding very few of the departments where these bills have a major effect,” said state Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, chairman of the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.

    The centerpiece of the get-tough effort was House Bill 1023, which prohibits spending taxpayer money on illegal immigrants except in cases required by the federal government.  

    • When it comes to bad legislation the State of Colorado takes center stage and historically the majority of Coloradans have to take credit for it. “Under TABOR we declined from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending as a percentage of personal income.”  Can you imagine any politician surviving a nay vote of this legislation?  Why the citizens of Colorado at that time didn’t want to pay for children of US citizens’ education why would they pay for undocumented workers?

      How can we blame politicians for legislation we the people forced them to pass?  We have to work at changing the attitudes of Coloradans to accept the fact that taxes are appropriate and that education is the nutrition of our minds and an investment in our future. Not being from this state originally (I’m a navy brat) it is mind boggling to see the ignorance of the majority of Coloradans who enthusiastically wallow in stupidity when it comes to taxes.  I say majority because up until recently the state has been a far-to-the-right population.  What other state would have an extremist religious state sign that proudly displays Focus on the Family on their highway?

      I don’t blame Joan Fitzgerald, Andrew Romanoff or former right-wing Governor Owens I blame the stupidity of Colorado voters who refuse to acknowledge the long-term damage they are inflicting on our state by the declination of funding to all state-run programs enforced by TABOR.  And no I don’t mean all Coloradans but if the shoe fits…


  4. cdsmith says:

    That special session was an unmitigated disaster for the state, as anyone paying attention can clearly see.  I can point you to at least two personal friends of mine, who have been subjected to extreme hardship (unable to complete their high school education, unable to get a job, unable to get a driver’s license, unable to open a bank account to deposit their social security checks) because of the legislation passed there.  In one case, the person in question had identification needed to get a driver’s license, but it wasn’t accepted because the birth certificate was from a county in Texas that Colorado decided they didn’t like.

    It’s very fair to ask some tough questions about: (a) what role Romanoff had in drafting the legislation, and (b) why he didn’t use his leadership position to do more to stop it.  Political expedience shouldn’t be accepted as an answer.

    It’s not just a Hispanic issue either.  One of the people I mentioned above is Hispanic and born in the U.S.  The other is Canadian and became a naturalized citizen at the age of 3 (a good 60-some years ago).

    • wade norris says:

      who was asked this question by Mario Solis Marich, when he came on the show last wednesday, in which Governor Owens basically said that they could either have a special session or there was going to be an effort to petition a new law on the ballot (we all know how easy it is to get something on the ballot in Colorado) so the party decided it was best to get it done through the session process.

      whether or not it is important to Latino voters is subject to debate.

      i would mention that what is more likely to be damaging with Latino voters is Ritter not picking a Hispanic to replace Salazar and then also DPS not picking a Latino to replace Bennet.

      Ritter’s disapproval among Latino voters is at a whopping 47 percent, and like it or not, people equate Ritter with Bennet – which is why it was puzzling that Ritter headlined his support letter for Bennet.

  5. lanman2k says:

    Bill Owens had threatened to call a special session. When a special session is called, I think the agenda is pretty rigid and cannot deviate much. If Owens, would have called the special session, it was going to be to split Initiative 55 into two Initiatives and put it back on the ballot. (The orginal Init. 55 was rejected by a judge.)

    The Dem leadership thought it would be best to pre-empt that special session agenda by calling their own. If Owens would have gotten his way, the immigration measures would have been on the ballot, and according to polling data, would have passed. I think that would have been far more damaging.

    In retrospect, I still don’t know what the perfect answer would have been. I do know there are more Latino leaders besides Polly Baca that are supporting Andrew Romanoff (Ed Casso, Abel Tapia, Ramona Marinez, etc.)

    • wade norris says:

      that was what AR said on the radio show – and this was a way to keep Owens from getting the upper hand.

      • dem83 says:

        you mean that Romanoff was just playing politics just like he was when he wanted to be appointed Senator…or Secretary of State…or Lieutenant Governor…or anything else that would fit his personal desire to remain in politics.

        What you just wrote, Wade, is the biggest reason to NOT support Romanoff. He preferred to play politics and one up Bill Owens instead of doing what was right by the people of Colorado!

    • twas brillig says:

      Even if the actual policies fell apart. Taking Bill Owens out of the driver’s seat was critical. It took away the Republicans’ plan, which was to get an the most vile referendum possible onto the ballot that would help turn out Republicans.

      But let’s not rewrite history, which includes this hyperbolic gem:

      As House Speaker and Colorado DLC Co-Chair Andrew Romanoff said at the time, “This year, Colorado passed more bills to curb illegal immigration than any other non-border state in the nation.  We did more to solve the problem of illegal immigration than Congress has done in a decade.”

      So let’s not act as Romanoff apologists on the one hand while making lurid “conservadem” smears against Michael Bennet with the other.  

  6. Instead of taking the fight to Bennet, Romanoff is on his heels.  

    Polly Baca was a major player maybe twenty-five years ago.  Now her only goal in life is to get her name in the paper even if it hurts her own candidate.  

  7. I cannot change my mind based upon the Speaker’s,late netry.

    I do support humanitarian immigration reforms. So does Sen.Bennet.

    My plan differs from both candidates, however.

    I believe that undocumented workers should be given green cards. The type of buy in can be negotiable.

    This is a huge wedge issue not just for Democrats (Labor doesn’t like wages held down by ubdocumented workers), but the Republicans as well. Rich compnay owners want low wages, so they can say they are against immigration reform, which keeps wages low and discrimination rampant.

    People that work and compete in inudstries of both parties do not like undocumented workers because as mentioned it keeps labor costs down.

    If everyoone can get a green card, then the lower classes can band together, and wages will increase for all.

  8. parsingreality says:

    I have had heated words with her about her whole pro-illegal stance, putting them above what’s best for America.  

    Even most Latino voters want illegal immigration curbed.  But it makes for better theater to rant and rave.  

  9. The fact of the matter is that Fitz-Gerald and Romanoff did the best they could given the situation, and had the GOP been in charge, the bills/laws coming out of that special session would have been much worse.

    • DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

      Hindsight is 20/20 and we can all discuss what we think would have happened if people acted differently. But the fact is they stopped a much worse proposal and neutralized this issue.

      Politics is the art of the possible.

    • Jambalaya says:

      …to draw a distinction between Romanoff and Fitz-Gerald based on the special session legislation?  I wonder if AR will correct her………

    • The realistThe realist says:

      I don’t know if people truly don’t remember the political environment in 2006, or if some are just too young to remember (!), or maybe it’s just that blue fog I complained about (the almost-endless blah-blah regarding the Bennet-Romanoff race).  If you really don’t remember the political and campaign environment in 2006 that resulted in the special session on undocumented immigrants, do a little research.  Take a look for example at the summary of the session on the Bell Policy Center’s website  Read summaries of some of the “fine” legislation and constitutional amendments being proposed, such as the one that would take away citizenship for infants born in this country of undocumented parents (talk about visiting the sins of the fathers on innocent children).  And remember, too, what some of the races were that year, and who most likely benefitted from getting some of these issues – however imperfectly – out of the way in July (the Governor’s race comes to mind).

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