“Overreach” is Overwrought. Give it a Rest.

There are 65 members of the Colorado House of Representatives, and 35 members of the Colorado State Senate. The Colorado legislature as a whole is a representative body, with each Senator representing about 143,691 constituents, and each House member standing for 77,372 Coloradans.

The Colorado Constitution outlines the makeup and duties of the state legislature, but it is a guarantee in the United States Constitution that every state shall have a republican form of government (with representatives elected by the people), rather than a direct democracy governed by the citizens.

Even Dawson doesn't cry this much.

Even Dawson didn’t cry as much as Colorado Republicans in 2013

Why the brief history lesson? As the legislature closes out its 2013 session, Republicans and some political pundits are busy accusing Colorado Democrats of "overreaching" for passing a lot of progressive pieces of legislation, yet they seem to forget that this "republican form of government" is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Members of the Colorado legislature are elected by popular vote, the purpose of which is to see that the majority of Colorado citizens are not overruled by the minority. It is a logical extension of the process that the minority may not be happy with the results of an elected body chosen by the majority.

To put it bluntly, that's kind of the point. The system is working as designed.

But don't tell that to Colorado Republicans. Take this recent press release from the Colorado House Republicans titled: "ICYMI: Democrats continue to run up the score."

The posting from the House GOP quotes liberally from an April 28th story in the Denver Post, though they notably failed to quote the sillier parts of the story about a "marathon legislative session":

Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch raced to the microphone and, in a thundering voice, accused Democrats of "doing a touchdown dance at the expense of the minority." [Pols emphasis]

…Republicans have accused Democrats of "overreaching," waging war on rural Colorado and introducing bills to reward unions and trial lawyers while harming businesses.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, disagrees.

"Overreaching? No," he said. "I think we've been listening to the people of Colorado and they've told us, 'We put you in charge and we want you to get something done.' "

Hey McNulty, ask Carly Simon if this is about you.

Hey McNulty, ask Carly Simon if this is about you.

Pabon is absolutely right here, and we've made the same argument before in this space. But before we get to that, let's examine how Republicans are so upset at the Democrats for continually beating them in elections that they think the 2013 legislative session is actually about them. To quote Carly Simon (no, seriously):

You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you

You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you

Don't you? Don't You? Don't You?

There are many, many reasons why Republicans have never come close to regaining control of the state legislature since their surprise ouster in 2004, and their reaction to being steamrolled in 2013 is just another number on the list. Democrats are pushing ahead with progressive issues because Republicans don't do anything but get in the way. They don't offer reasonable amendments or attempt to debate in good faith — they just try to gum up the works and play procedural games. Anyone who has heard Republican Rep. Bob Gardner's version of a filibuster can understand what we mean here; Gardner just talks comically slow for as long as he can, his only goal to try to bore people into submission. Yet Republicans are annoyed when Democrats try to move things along and actually, you know, do their job?

Republicans call this "overreaching," and take it as a personal affront. But it's not about them, and it never was. It's about Democrats understanding that Colorado voters want them to lead; voters gave McNulty and the GOP a narrow majority in the House in 2010, and they promptly yanked it back from them two years later when it became clear that Republicans still have no intention of actually legislating.

Voters are tired of Republicans who can't figure out if they should still hate gay people. They're sick of Republicans who compare abortion to the Holocaust while everyone else is worried about schools and the economy. They're fed up with Republicans who persist with their ridiculous "Personhood" policy ideas that keep…getting…rejected…again…and again. "Personhood" isn't even about the issue anymore — it's a symbol of Republicans refusing to listen to even the most loudly shouted opinions of voters.

The simple truth of the 2013 session is this: Democrats were given a significant mandate from voters in 2012, and they are putting it to use. Some would say it is long overdue, and perhaps they learned their lesson from Congressional Democrats who did next to nothing with their 2008 mandate and then lost the House of Representatives in 2010. In fact, a closer look at the election results from the past decade tells a story that makes you wonder why Democrats waited so long to push harder on their agenda in the first place…

In 2004, Democrats won control of both the State House and Senate for the first time in 44 years. We've written plenty in this space about what happened in 2004 and why it continues to plague Republicans, and the numbers are clear. Forget the whole Purple-Blue-Red State arguments, which are more about national political trends. Here in Colorado, voters have been pretty clear about what they want since that historic 2004 election:

2012 37-28 (D) 19-16 (D)
2010 33-32 (R) 20-15 (D)
2008 38-27 (D) 21-14 (D)
2006 39-26 (D) 20-15 (D)
2004 35-30 (D) 18-17 (D)

Those results tell this story on their own, but now consider that Democrats have carried the race for Governor by an average of 16 points in the previous two elections, and Republicans have virtually no hope of reversing that trend in 2014:

John Hickenlooper: 51%
Dan Maes: 11%
(*Tancredo, ACP: 36%)
2006 Bill Ritter: 57% Bob Beauprez: 40%

*Former Republican Tom Tancredo ran for Governor as the candidate of the American Constitution Party (ACP).

Now, consider the other top-of-the-ticket races in Colorado in the last decade: U.S. Senate. Only once, in the 2010 Tea Party wave year, did Republicans really come close to defeating the Democratic candidate. Sen. Mark Udall's 2008 race may be the closest of his career at this rate, since he doesn't even have an opponent for 2014.

2010 Michael Bennet: 48% Ken Buck: 46%
2008 Mark Udall: 53% Bob Schaffer: 43%
2004 Ken Salazar: 51% Pete Coors: 47%

In order to make a serious argument that Democrats have "overreached" during the 2013 session, you must first make one of two arguments:

  1. The Constitutional guarantee to a representative state government has somehow been misinterpreted or improperly applied; or
  2. Democrats do not have anything close to a mandate as prescribed by voters in recent elections.

The first argument is obviously more complicated and less appealing for any side to make (particularly a Republican Party that trots out the Constitution at every opportunity, warranted or not). That leaves us with the second argument, which is only plausible to approach if you completely ignore those "fact" thingies.

Let's just consider the last decade of results in the state legislature. Since 2004, Democrats have averaged an 8-seat advantage in the House and a 4-seat advantage in the Senate. If we apply those numbers to the total constituents in each legislative seat, the population figures tell an interesting story for our constitutionally-guaranteed representative government. Since 2004, Legislative Democrats on average have represented 56% of the population (based on the number of constituents allocated per district in the 2010 census). The difference works out to 1.2 million constituents. 

In other words, when you add up the number of constituents that Democrats in the legislature have been elected to represent, you get an average of 1.2 million more constituents than Republicans can claim to represent (note that this number is not 1.2 individual Coloradans, because overlapping Senate and House districts mean that some people will be represented by both parties).

So the next time you hear a Republican or a political pundit griping that Democrats have "overreached" in the 2013 legislative session, ignore the hyperbole and look at the reality of Colorado's recent electoral history. Democrats have represented, on average, 1.2 million more constituents in the past decade than have Republicans. You could call that a mandate. We'll just call it "obvious." Colorado voters have consistently put Democrats in charge in the legislature by wide margins, and they expect them to do their jobs.

They expect them to represent the majority of Coloradans.



23 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Reminder: when we're in the minority, we as Democrats complain about being steamrolled – that the majority isn't listening to us.

    I personally think that the State Legislature has always been pretty good about keeping an open mind and at least trying to hear all sides when considering bills. Not perfect, mind you, but good.

    Republicans are complaining here because they weren't able to stop things that Democrats did, but I don't think their constituents were actually hurt by the civil unions bill, or the immigrant college tuition bill… More that they weren't able to stop some of these very positive bills from going through.

    • DavidThi808 says:

      I agree. This is standard Kabuki Theater. The minority party is anguished about the excessive actions of the majority. And they do their best to play it up for the press. And the majority party insists that everyone in Colorado supports what they did.

      • So not to get defensive or anything – okay, maybe – but tell me what Democrats did (or tried to do) anything underhanded (like the midnight gerrymander) or detrimental (like limiting gay rights) this year…

        To the contrary the voting modernization bill was supported by Republican clerks, and there were popular civil rights issues addressed this year in favor of rights and not restrictions.

        There is a reason Democrats have remained in the majority since 2004: voters haven't seen anything from them worth kicking them out. Contrast that to the Republicans back on that fateful election year, when Democrats led a successful campaign ridiculing Republicans for their inattention to actually governing and instead concentrating on gays, guns, abortion and illegals.

  2. ClubTwitty says:

    Just you wait until the Silent Majority wakes up the Sleeping Giant, ColoradoPols.

  3. Craig says:

    I think your numbers on 1.2 million more represented are bogus.  A better comparison is total votes for Dems vs. total voted for "Republicans."

    As for the rest, well, the Republicans can always put measures on the ballot to overturn those horrible liberal democrat measures.  But, they won't.  Because they don't want to get their asses kicked by the vast majority of voters in this state.  Remember, like they got kicked on Personhood, twice, on right-to-work, on marijuana (twice), on abortion (a number of times), on school vouchers (twice) on gun control, on a whole host of other issues.  Please put civil unions on the ballot.  Same with the rest of the stuff this year.  But they won't because they know the public likes all this stuff, overwhelmingly, and that they will be proven to be the paper tigers that they are and they will really fade into oblivion as they continue their slow fateful slide to the right.  You'll keep getting rid of Republicans who have a brain and actually care about Colorado and think about their votes (as few of those are there are left).

    I dare you all.  Put every one of the things that the Democrats have pushed too far on the ballot.  I dare you.  Please, pretty please.  Screw you.  You just want to run your mouths.


  4. ArapaGOP says:

    SenatorBrophySenatorBrophy ‏@SenatorBrophy17m

    2013 #coleg session over. Will be remembered as most extreme and overreaching in history. #Hicked

  5. Duke Cox says:

    How Wall Street Defanged Dodd-Frank

    Battalions of regulatory lawyers burrowed deep in the federal bureaucracy to foil reform.




    I heard a young man on fresh air talking about Eugene Scalia, who is one of the "generals" fighting implementation of reform in the derivatives market, by obstructing implementation of Dodd-Frank. Riveting, it was.

    The reporter was Gary Rivlin. The link is to his article in the Nation magazine. You don't want to miss this…


    • Technically, a Republican government is simply one in which the people are somehow involved via appointed or elected officials (rather than by a nobility).

      To expand, a Democracy is one where the people directly participate in government decisions. (See: Athens). Technically, we are probably a Democratic Republic – our people directly elect representatives, who then participate in day-to-day government decisions.

      The the Guvs' point: as a Republican government, we have elected our representatives, and a more fairly drawn map of our electoral divisions would be hard to come by. These people, charged with making our state government's decisions, each carry the weight of the people who elected them behind them.

      Both popularly and by representation, Colorado voted for a Democratic party leadership last year, and by all polling that I've seen, they've done a good job of representing the interests of the people of the state this year.

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