With the 2023 Colorado legislative session now in the books, it’s time for us to hand out some grades.
As always, we focus more on the politics than the policy here at Colorado Pols (for a more policy-centric “Winners and Losers” list, check out ProgressNow Colorado or Axios Denver).
Colorado Families (For Real)
Politicians always claim to be helping families, but that help is not always as significant as it is made out to be. That’s not the case in 2023. The legislature did two very important things for Colorado families that flew under the radar a bit: 1) Increasing the child tax credit, and 2) Amending the school finance bill in preparation to REALLY fully-fund K-12 public schools for the first time in decades.
The latter is a particularly big deal. As Erica Meltzer reported for Chalkbeat Colorado last month:
Legislators have toyed with the idea of fully funding Colorado schools several times in recent years, but always held back amid economic uncertainty. While Colorado’s constitution requires school funding to go up each year by the rate of population and inflation, lawmakers haven’t met that requirement since the start of the Great Recession.
Since 2009, Colorado has withheld more than $10 billion from its schools.
Now the school finance act that passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee Wednesday includes a provision that would require the state to fully fund K-12 schools starting in the 2024-25 budget year.
The school finance act also includes a significant funding increase for state-authorized charter schools beginning with the 2024-25 school year.
Democrats were thrilled in November when voters handed them a historic 46-19 majority in the State House, but it’s no small task to work with such a huge number of lawmakers. House Speaker Julie McCluskie dealt with some internal hiccups in her first session holding the gavel, but overall she handled her caucus well considering that some friction is inevitable with such a large and diverse group of people. McCluskie could be the first person since Andrew Romanoff to serve as House Speaker for four years.
House Majority Leader Monica Duran played a significant role in helping McCluskie to keep the legislative calendar on track despite regular filibuster tantrums from House Republicans. No caucus is ever going to get everything across the finish line, but Duran helped to make sure that the top-ticket items kept plugging along.
Anybody Who Wants to Pay Less for Health Care
Reducing health care costs has been a regular mantra for Democrats and Gov. Jared Polis, and the legislature made big gains on the front in 2023. Lawmakers capped the price of EpiPens (HB23-1002); created limits on hospital “facility fees” (HB23-1215); set Medicaid reimbursement rates for Community Health Services (SB23-002); capped the interest rate for medical debt at 3 percent per year (SB23-093); and reduced the cost of prescription drugs by taking on the middleman (Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs) with HB23-1201 and HB23-1227.
The “Unambiguously Lame Duo” of Republican Reps. Scott “There is No” Bottoms and Ken “Skin” DeGraaf grabbed the House Floor microphone early in the session and then never really let go. The largely-idiotic rants from the Colorado Springs duo didn’t help House Republicans to accomplish anything, but in speaking to the MAGA Republican base and regularly grabbing headlines, the two freshmen raised their name ID significantly and became the go-to cranks for the House GOP. They’ll spend the next few months fighting it out over which one of them is “Batman” and which one is “Robin.”
People Who Don’t Want to Be Killed by a Firearm
The highlight of the 2023 session is undoubtedly a host of gun violence prevention bills passed by the Democratic majority despite filibusters and other nonsense opposition from Republicans. We wrote about this at length earlier, so we won’t repeat ourselves on the details.
Sullivan moved to the State Senate this year after a couple of terms in the State House, but his new legislative address didn’t change the fact that he is the legislature’s conscience on gun violence prevention. Sullivan’s artful explanation for why Democrats shouldn’t be focusing on an assault weapons ban helped clear the path for other important gun violence prevention bills. As Sullivan wrote in a constituent newsletter:
Since 2019, we have passed 11 common-sense GVP bills that have elevated Colorado to the top of statewide legislation in this space nationwide. The country is watching and applauding our success. We have elected the largest Democrat majority in 60 years and that is in part because of the actions we have taken when it comes to the public health crisis that is gun violence. We can be very proud of that.
Indeed we can, sir.
Calling Dave Williams a “winner” may be a dubious honor, but we dare anyone to find a softer landing for someone so undeserving. The former State Representative and current Chair of the State Republican Party spent most of the session working “remotely” as a legislative aide to Republican Rep. Brandi Bradley. Williams was paid for a 40-hour work week despite the fact that his position as State GOP Chair is also supposed to be a full-time job. When details about his seemingly no-show job became public in late April, Williams miraculously appeared in the chambers of the State House. This didn’t make his fellow Republicans very happy, but it made Williams some money.
The third-term Democratic lawmaker from Arvada took a star turn in 2023 that was capped by a long, glowing profile in The Washington Post. Colorado’s first openly-transgender lawmaker made headlines for her firm but fair speech on the House Floor following some typically-disgusting comments by Republicans regarding transgender people. Titone followed that up by directing a first in the nation “right to repair” bill for Colorado farmers that was so impressive that Republicans tried to take credit.
This also flew under the radar, but the passage of a couple of wildfire-related bills will no doubt prove prescient later this summer. Senate Bill 23-161 and HB23-1288 among others will provide much-needed resources for fighting wildfires, including the purchase of a new helicopter, and protections for homeowners
Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud
House Republicans proved during the legislative session that they are apparently no longer going to pretend to moderate their viewpoints. For example:
♦ State Rep. Matt Soper threatened civil war if Democrats proceeded with gun violence prevention legislation;
♦ Several House Republicans used the introduction of a simple Equal Rights Amendment resolution to demean transgender people and attack abortion rights;
♦ House Minority “Leader” Mike Lynch said this in response to a question about how he would manage a House majority:
Republicans also had no problem acknowledging that they will oppose any gun violence prevention legislation for any reason (even dumb ones). Scott Bottoms unashamedly told his church congregation that Republicans “don’t care” about the impact of gun violence on Coloradans, and Rep. Mary Bradfield told 9News that she would never support gun regulations because “I’m a Republican.” Given that the overwhelming majority of Americans – and Coloradans – support increased gun regulations, these comments won’t be very helpful for the GOP in 2024.
Check out our “Losers” after the jump below…
House Minority “Leader” Mike Lynch
The cowboy hat-wearing Republican from northern Colorado proved to be as inept a caucus leader as we have ever seen in this state. Things got off to a rough start when no House Republican bothered to join the standard resolution honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it got worse from there. Lynch demonstrated the strategic mind of a moth when he openly said that he would introduce “really drastic right-wing legislation” if given the opportunity. He also made little effort to moderate some truly ridiculous legislative ideas.
“Negotiations between the parties have fallen apart at times, as some House Republicans have refused to accept the terms of deals that others were ready to accept.”
— Colorado Public Radio (4/11/23)
With only 19 Republicans, Lynch shouldn’t have had so much trouble keeping things organized. Yet it only took a few weeks to understand that the caucus was paying no attention to Lynch. He tried to make deals with Democrats to end Republican filibusters, but members of his caucus immediately destroyed any compromise by refusing to stop talking. In early March, Lynch presided over a press conference blasting Democrats for moving too slow; the very next day Republicans began a half-assed filibuster against another gun safety bill. It’s no wonder that nobody took Lynch or House Republicans seriously because it was impossible to know who was speaking for the caucus. When Republicans tried walking out of the Chamber on the last day of the session, Democrats just went ahead and voted without them.
On the plus side for Lynch, at least nobody in his caucus literally threatened to kill him.
Candidates for Denver Mayor
Campaigning for a huge job like Mayor of Denver while also serving in the state legislature turned out to be a worse idea than it sounds for two Democrats. State Sen. Chris Hansen and State Rep. Leslie Herod both attempted to juggle their legislative responsibilities with a citywide campaign and earned “also-ran” status for their efforts.
Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen
Did you realize that there were Republicans in the State Senate in 2023?
Well, there you go.
Republicans Rooting for Democratic Infighting
Following the end of the 2021 legislative session – literally minutes after the final gavel – Republicans who were obsessed with internal battles tried to oust their own Minority Leader; they even held a vote on the subject (the late Hugh McKean survived by a vote of 15-8). Republicans had 24 caucus members in 2021 – almost half of the 46-member Democratic majority in 2023 – so it was natural to wonder if Democrats would fall victim to their own intra-party squabbles in this legislative session.
While it would have been unrealistic to expect a massive Democratic majority to not end up in a few disagreements, Democrats largely avoided major intra-party fights. There were a few internal squabbles – including grumbling from a few freshmen in the House on the last day of session – yet nothing that was particularly noteworthy or harmful.
Republicans entered the 2020 legislative session with the stated goal of trying to slow down the sausage factory, even going so far as to seek legal avenues to shorten a legislative session that was delayed because of the COVID pandemic. Those obstruction tactics didn’t work.
Republicans attempted the same performative obstruction tactics in 2021. It didn’t work.
In 2022, Republicans went back to the same well. Former House Minority Leader Patrick Neville summed up the GOP strategy when he acknowledged, “I don’t know if we have an agenda.” You’re probably noticing a pattern here: It didn’t work.
So, naturally, Republicans kicked off the 2023 legislative session WITH THE SAME FAILED STRATEGY. As we wrote in this space in April:
It doesn’t matter what issue is being discussed; for House Republicans, the only response is to delay.
On Thursday, House Majority Leader Monica Duran invoked a rule to end third reading debate over SB23-093 (“Increase Consumer Protections Medical Transactions”) and move to a vote in the House chamber. Among other things, SB23-093 would cap interest rates on medical debt in order to help prevent Coloradans from going bankrupt over emergency medical bills.
The legislation passed, with only four ‘NO’ votes. House Republicans had been intentionally delaying discussion about a bill that they actually supported.
In 2023, Republicans tried to be more pointlessly obstructive with several half-assed filibusters that ultimately did nothing to change the outcome of the legislation being discussed. They pushed idiotic legislative proposals of their own that had zero chance of advancing out of a committee. Their final act, in the final hour of the 2023 session, was to walk out of the House Chambers so that they could talk about walking out of the House Chambers. The “Unambiguously Lame Duo” of Republican Reps. Scott “There is No” Bottoms and Ken “Skin” DeGraaf made Republicans look even more ridiculous than normal, but it should be noted that they were only following the same GOP script that never seems to change.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO)
This was an odd session for the no-compromise gun group that has dominated internal Republican politics for years. Things got off to a horrific start for RMGO when lobbyist Kevin Lorusso testified in a House committee that Black males shouldn’t be counted in gun violence statistics. The group’s Executive Director, Taylor Rhodes, floundered for a long time before finally recognizing the damage of this testimony.
As gun violence prevention legislation moved forward, Rhodes promised to turn the State Capitol into a “circus” of opposition from gun rights activists. That circus turned out to be more of a small carnival, with RMGO organizing only a handful of people to testify at various committee hearings. In the end, it wasn’t all that difficult for Democrats to pass five significant pieces of legislation addressing gun violence.
While RMGO’s influence among a broader group of Republicans seems to be fading, their hold on GOP insiders remains inexplicably firm. As we wrote in February: “When the militant gun rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) tells Republicans to dance…they f***ing dance.”
Virtually everything that Republicans did in the 2023 legislation amounted to a love letter to their MAGA base. If you organized a few dozen people to hold a rally for some extreme purpose, Republicans were right there with you. If you wanted to attempt to ban all abortion, despite the fact that Colorado voters DO NOT WANT THIS TO HAPPEN, these GOP lawmakers were happy to oblige. This list of bills from Team DeBottoms is all right-wing gobbledegook with no hope of advancing out of committee. We saw the same thing with a trio of late resolutions pushed by the likes of Rep. Stephanie Luck (R-Penrose) and Rep. Brandi Bradley (R-Douglas County). Much of this is the result of the fact that the only Republicans who can get elected in Colorado are those who appease the base enough to win a Primary Election; but if Republicans don’t try to branch out from the MAGA nuts, they’ll never get out of this cycle of losing.
To the LOSER category, I’ll add Outdoor Recreationists, who lost big when the Senate Judiciary Committee killed Senate Bill 23-103.
If passed, the bill would have strengthened protections for private property owners who allow free access to parts of their lands for public recreation.
A large variety of organizations wanted this bill and also many individuals. The trial lawyers didn’t want it. Guess who won?
Wow, you sure don't like trial lawyers. How many do you actually know?
Interestingly, it was undoubtedly a trial lawyer (or several), who worked hard to now convince that small group of private property owners that the current protections they have already enjoyed in Colorado for several years (beyond egregious and purposeful negligence), are suddenly inadequate to allow limited area public access?
(I wonder if CHB has any clue just how many of those “trial lawyers” who worked to defeat this arguably unnecessary legislation, are or work for large GOPer leaning law firms?)
"it was undoubtably a trial lawyer (or several) who worked hard to now convince….."
You sound like a far rightie trying to make something up. Try insurance agents and companies.
Ouroborus? Is that you? (Exactly how this thread began.)
Colorado already had/has those reasonable protections. They didn’t expire. They didn’t evaporate. They weren’t repealed,
I’ve lost track of the exact number of times those landowners have pulled similar access blackmail stunts (in particular around the DeCaLiBron) in the close to forty years I’ve lived here, but it’s approaching double digits.
Too bad so many “outdoor recreationalists” have been hoodwinked into believing that being able to chirp “did a 14er”(even the most strollish) is some supremely notable badge of outdoorsy magnificence, in a state chock full of outdoor activities and wonders at every elevation.
Run out of all things taxation related to piss and moan about?
But you may be right (. . . blind pigs, broken clocks, and a multiverse of infinite possibilities . . .), when I start closing in on your recognizable tone, things have become humorous to laughable.
PS. Here’s your villains. https://publiclandjurisdiction.com/true-colors-exposed-with-colorados-corner-crossing-bill-hb-1066/
FYI, I supported 1066. Too many of Colorado’s private landowners hold our public lands hostage/for ransom. Trial lawyers ain’t the baddies on this defeat however, twas the moneyed private and access-for-fee landowner interests who were. Again. Predictably.
I’ve lived here 42 years and I’ve seen the Decalibron closed maybe three times; 2005, couple years ago, now.
“approaching double digits” comment shows you don’t follow this issue. 14er climbing has a major, positive, economic impact on rural Colorado.
I’m aware of 1066. Bill wasn’t well thought out. 1066 also covers a distinctly different situation than 103.
“run out of all things taxation related to piss and moan about?” Actually on hold as it’s much more amusing watching you piss and moan about nothing.
I’d tell you to have a nice day. But I suspect you have other plans.
Always a unique pleasure, CHB. I don’t believe I’ve ever held conversation before with anyone who more presumes himself the world’s foremost expert on what he snottily imagines others don’t know.
Sounds like your little far lefty/far righty boo-boo is easily triggered. Carry on.
Congrats. The tone is exactly as expected, but the level of cogency is extraordinarily above your usual. ChatGPT?
I was so intrigued by the expression "far lefty/ far righty boo boo", I Google it….got nothing but references to Boogaloo boys. Can you please explain the expression, "far lefty/ far righty boo boo"?
And maybe also describe the triggering mechanism…? 🙂
Similarities and Differences Between Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals | British Journal of Political Science | Cambridge Core
Of course, the article is dated – that is, written circa 2009. And since 2016, the US has joined those European countries in flirting with fascism.
“Both view American society as dominated by conspiratorial forces that are working to defeat their respective ideological aims.”
This quote was why it was such a seamless transition from Bernie Sanders screeching “The system is rigged” to Donald Trump screeching “The system is rigged” in 2016.
“how many trial lawyers do you know…..” Enough to make a relevant comment.
“arguably unnecessary legislation…..” Guess you don’t like climbing 14,000′ peaks. But never fear. There still are around 50 that you can climb that are on federal public land. Of course, you will need at least a little specialized training to do 14ers like the Black Pyramid (an original 19th century name for that peak).
Calling "Republican Strategery" something that exists is a big stretch.
Although we already knew this, it is today that Rep. Titone made it.
I would like to let everyone know that Rep. Brianna Titone, HD-27 is front page of the Washington Post today, 10May23.
to her and more success in the future. I am so very proud that she represents my old home there.
I read it. It was good. She deserves all the accolades she's getting.
In Washington state, the Democratic legislature passed a raft of serious housing reform bills. And an assault weapons ban.
In Colorado, our historically dominant Democratic majority failed to do so.
And failed to meaningfully address the property tax crisis that threatens to kick old people out of their homes as local governments jack up their tax collections as property values rise. Instead, they punted the question to an election – an OFF-YEAR election, no less.
Oh, and our huge Democratic majorities didn't do anything particularly significant about transforming the state's economy away from greenhouse gases and fossil fuels.
Kind of makes you wonder what the point of voting is.
Keeping insane GOPers out of office works for me. How's keeping the insane GOPers out of office sound to you?
I agree with the goal. It's dissatisfying to be left with "vote for us because we're not them" for forty years. And to see that, every time, the Dems will wimp out on doing anything meaningful about, well, very much. Timidity and excessive caution and fear of being criticized runs so deep in the party.
That’s because Dems from swing districts – and there are a couple of those left – did not want to self-immolate by passing legislation which the US Supreme Court will invalidate as unconstitutional on a five plus one to three split next year, such as the assault weapons ban. Not every one of those Democratic reps come from a Denver or Boulder district.
Keeping the lunatics out of office as a reason works for me, too.
A number of bright people work in the legislature, and a few more are in the Polis administration. There were a couple of proposals for housing and none of them was able to gather broad enough support.
I don't know Washington state politics beyond a very high level summary — but don't don't think they have anything similar to TABOR or Amendment 23. I've not read of Washington restricting property taxes (Gallagher amendment) and un-restricting property taxes (the 2020 repeal) by a simplistic "all or nothing"popular vote. And I don't know if they have equivalent strength home-rule legislation.
So, here's my question — given the Colorado situation and constraints, what sort of "serious housing reforms" ought to have emerged?