Even with their new one-seat majority in the State Senate, Republicans couldn’t figure out a way to get rid of common-sense gun safety measures passed by Democrats in 2013. The far right Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and other gun groups failed again to pack the Capitol with supporters when their legislation was being debated. Democrats also turned back misguided efforts by Republicans to weaken immunization requirements (Colorado sits at the bottom of the list of states in terms of childhood vaccination rates), and a bizarre attempt to get rid of regulation of small daycare providers. What could go wrong?
House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D)
Faced with far-right shenanigans when dealing with the conservative controlled Senate, Colorado Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst did an excellent job of leading the House after taking over from the term-limited Mark Ferrandino. In contrast to the scheming partisanship and hot-headed rhetoric from Senate President Bill Cadman, Speaker Hullinghorst proved again that politics doesn’t have to be bitter and angry.
The “Neville Nutters”–Sen. Tim Neville (R) and Rep. Patrick Neville (R)
Senator Tim Neville is the patriarch of the legislature’s new ruling conservative dynasty, which includes his sons, Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Douglas County), and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners’ lobbyist Joe Neville; as well as sister-in-law Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board. The so-called “Neville Nutters” took center stage in 2015, starting with their controversial anti-vaccination “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and ending with a surprise bill to create a slew of new unwanted regulations on abortions. Tim Neville may prefer dealing with fellow men in the legislature (he actually said so this year), and won’t be accused of getting much done in 2015. But by the end of this year’s session, it was clear that the Nevilles are in charge of the Republican caucus in the General Assembly, pulling them even farther to the right.
Gov. John Hickenlooper (D)
With his 2014 re-election behind him, Hickenlooper took a more active role in legislative politics than he did in his first term as Governor–and the results are good news overall. Hickenlooper used the bully pulpit of the office (along with former Governors Bill Owens and Roy Romer) to take a moderate position on school testing reductions. His leadership has been strong on making Colorado’s reformed marijuana laws work, and Hick’s voice is growing louder–and bolder–on the issue of TABOR reform and Colorado’s budgetary handcuffs. We hope Hickenlooper’s more active role will expand into an area where we haven’t seen as much progress since he took office: better protecting Colorado communities from the harmful side effects of oil and gas drilling.
Rep. Dan Thurlow (R)
Rep. Dan Thurlow, a freshman Grand Junction Republican, may pay a heavy political price for voting his conscience instead of caving to the far right this year. Thurlow could face a primary in 2016 after a session in which he cast a number of votes against his caucus–but in favor of common sense–on issues ranging from gun safety to basic discrimination protections for all Coloradans. But for every Coloradan who values government that works over partisan gridlock, Rep. Thurlow is a breath of fresh air. We can only hope the voters in his safe Republican district agree.
Rep. Daniel Kagan (D)
Fresh off his second competitive election victory in a row, Kagan continued to be a strong voice for K-12 education and was well received as Chair of the House Judiciary Committee–all while getting ready for another big election battle in 2016 when he runs for the competitive Senate District 26 seat in Arapahoe County. In 2015, Kagan was a workhorse in the legislature as well as a great communicator to his constituents and the media, and he was deeply involved in the important policy discussions in his caucus: including law enforcement reform and supporting women in the workplace.
An impressive class of freshman Democrats in the General Assembly wasted little time in making their mark. Reps. Faith Winter and Jessie Danielson doggedly pursued issues such as equal pay for women and long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), finding new, creative ways to keep key issues alive after initial defeats in the Senate. Sen. Kerry Donovan of the Western Slope emerged as a critical voice for rural Coloradans. A split legislature is never an easy place to make meaningful change, but freshman legislators with fresh perspectives and an interest in getting things done still managed to make a difference this year.
Legislative Press Corps
The news industry has been on the decline for years, and the legislative/politics beat has been hit particularly hard over the last 12 months alone. But high-profile departures from longtime political journalists such as Eli Stokols and Joe Hanel were softened by the emergence of talented reporters such as John Frank (Denver Post), Megan Schrader (Colorado Springs Gazette), Peter Marcus (Durango Herald), Kristen Wyatt and Ivan Moreno at the AP, along with increasingly detailed coverage from television reporters such as Brandon Rittiman at 9NEWS. And, of course, the deans of Colorado political journalism, Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post and Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Sentinel.
The far right repeatedly stymied common sense legislative efforts intended to benefit everyday Coloradans. There are more than 600,000 Coloradans who earn less than $12 per hour in full-time jobs, but efforts to increase the minimum wage were stopped at every turn–which will cost all of us as taxpayers continue to foot the bill for health care and other basic services that companies don’t provide for employees. The GOP also mothballed a program to address equal pay for equal work; refused to fully support the Office of Consumer Council, which advocates on behalf of utility ratepayers; tried repeatedly to weaken federal control of public lands despite outcries from sportsmen, and declined funding to continue a long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) program despite its success and national recognition. If you weren’t a member of one of the high-profile right-wing interest groups that bend the ears of Republican lawmakers, you didn’t have a chance with conservatives in Colorado this year.
Republicans began the year with a one-seat majority in the State Senate, the first time in a decade that they presided over the upper chamber of the legislature. Before you could say “February,” GOP Senate leaders such as President Bill Cadman, Kevin Lundberg, and Vicki Marble had already driven their caucus straight into a brick wall. They proved completely inept at governing–proposing legislation that would eliminate taxes or fees without bothering to also include a solution of their own. They introduced terrible bills at the worst possible moment to influence public opinion, and they killed successful programs without any real explanation as to why. Republicans got what they wanted in winning the Senate majority in 2014; they quickly proved that they had no idea what to do with it.
Senate “President” Bill Cadman (R)
After more than a decade in the state legislature (and years of running his own political consulting business), Sen. Bill Cadman finally made it to the legislative pinnacle when his caucus selected him as Senate President for 2015. After Cadman gave his first speech as President, everything went downhill from there. In fact, it is not even clear that Cadman is more than a puppet for Sen. Tim Neville at this point. In the last week of the session, Cadman approved “late bill status” for an abortion restriction bill that was so ridiculous it failed to make it out of a “friendly” Senate committee. This decision came on the heels of Cadman’s disastrous handling of another abortion-related bill, SB-268, during which he walked fellow Republicans off the political cliff when they were forced to take a vote on a “Personhood” bill like those overwhelmingly rejected by Colorado voters.
The Executive Director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO), Dudley Brown is a force to be reckoned with in GOP politics. Republicans may owe their Senate majority to RMGO after everything he did in 2014, and Brown would be the first to agree; he made no secret of his belief that this GOP Majority was his and his alone in 2015. Despite this, Brown made absolutely zero headway in his efforts to roll back gun safety measures enacted by Democrats in 2013 and was utterly ineffective at rallying his troops throughout the session. Brown persuaded enough Republican lawmakers to reject anything besides total repeal of the magazine limit law, creating a very public rift within the GOP. Brown may revel in his perceived power today, but for fellow Republicans interested in actually accomplishing something, he’s a disaster.
The Independence Institute and Jon Caldara
There might have been a time when the “libertarian” Independence Institute and its leader, Jon Caldara, exerted real influence over Republican politics in this state. But now, Caldara is leading a doomed effort to push “Douglas County-style” politics on the Jefferson County School Board and losing a highly public battle with the Neville family and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Once a conservative powerhouse, Caldara’s recent string of defeats will serve only to further diminish whatever influence they might have had left.
Southwestern Colorado was not well represented in 2015. Perhaps eyeing a bid for higher office, Sen. Ellen Roberts repeatedly sided with the far right this year, praising the ill-fated attempt to pass last-minute abortion restrictions, and getting taken to the woodshed by her local newspaper for signing on to the “Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights”. “Ellen Roberts should know better,” wrote the Durango Herald back in February. As a result, Roberts ended up being swallowed whole by the far-right machine. As for Rep. J. Paul Brown, his clamoring against assistance for Colorado’s neediest families rang hollow when it was revealed that he was the recipient of thousands of dollars in farm subsidies–direct cash payments from the government to keep his sheep herding business afloat. In both cases, the voters of southwest Colorado got burned by their representatives this year.
Sen. Laura Woods (R)
It’s no real surprise that Sen. Laura Woods had a difficult time during her first legislative session. You might say that she lived up to expectations – expectations that she would make a number of absurd statements while standing in support of several high-profile bills. Her voting record itself is a veritable lottery ticket for future opponents, from her support of a measure to overturn workplace discrimination laws to her ardent backing of the anti-vaccine movement. There is some evidence that Republicans may already be looking for someone to take Woods out in a primary because her record has been so abysmal that the GOP will have trouble holding SD-19 in 2016.
Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt (R)
The antics of Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt this year have been disastrous for the Republican brand, and perhaps even worse, no lawmaker was in the news as often as Klingenschmitt over the past couple of months. Klingenschmitt spewed enough ridiculous, embarrassing statements to make the craziest right-winger blush and even temporarily lose a key committee assignment at the Capitol–but in the process, he raised his name ID in Colorado Springs enough to make him a candidate for Senate District 12 in 2016. Don’t like what he’s doing, hapless Republican voter? Maybe you’re possessed by demons too!
Colorado has the lowest childhood immunization rate for this very preventable disease that should have gone the way of the Dodo Bird by now. Senate Republicans went to the mat to support the fringe “anti-vaxxer” movement, but House Democrats finally held them back. Meanwhile, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration took steps to make it harder for unvaccinated kids to infect your kids. Sorry, measles, but you lose.