Democratic control of Legislature 
may not be to governor’s advantage

Lost in the fallout of the national election is news here in Colorado that all three elected branches of state government are now in the hands of the Democrats.

Since 2006 Democrats have controlled the governor’s mansion, and they’ve held the Senate since 2004. Republicans maintained control of the state House of Representatives by only a single vote this last session.

After November’s results, Democrats wrested control of the House back to their side of the aisle with a multi-vote majority. Other than wage earners, business owners and Republican legislators, another person probably not too crazy about this situation is Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The governor has managed to maintain a positive image with the voting public by not becoming substantially engaged in anything controversial. He has avoided many of these issues by having a divided Legislature that blocked most controversial legislation from ever crossing his desk.

This is no longer going to be the case. And, given his habit of walking quickly around the corner when Statehouse Democrats were trying to get him to burn up political capital, this will probably make him fairly uncomfortable.

Anyone who has heard the governor speak, especially here in western Colorado, knows that other than a somewhat acceptable attitude on fracking regulations, there’s usually not much substance to his talks. The last time he was in town he spent a great deal of his time explaining why he didn’t wear a tie when he’s in western Colorado. Democrats must enjoy having this kind of tiger in office, especially if they’re fighting mandatory tie legislation.

Still, it’s enormously helpful to either party to have control of the governor’s mansion, because one can get quite a bit done through the appointment process for Cabinet-level and administrative agency positions. And don’t forget about judicial appointments.

There’s nothing like having a popular governor push legislation that’s a little scary for moderate members of one’s own party, but that hasn’t occurred much with the current occupant of the governor’s mansion.

That situation may be reversed next year because much of what’s going to come out of the Democratic-controlled Legislature is going to be hot potatoes.

One of the first things unquestionably is going to be a gay marriage or strong civil union bill. The prior handling of this issue is probably as much to blame for Republican losses as their candidate choices.

Last session, a bill addressing this issue was poorly handled in the Republican-controlled House and essentially filibustered from coming to the floor. It was a politically foolish tactic that gave plenty of ammunition for proponents of civil unions to use against vulnerable legislators and to energize advocates who swore to pick off vulnerable Republicans in some recently redrawn districts.

What will be introduced in the Legislature come January is likely to be an even stronger version of such a bill that will make its way through the General Assembly and land, white- hot, on a reluctant governor’s desk.

This will probably be followed by something to do with local control of natural gas fracking and surely something from the education unions.

There’s also little doubt we’ll see efforts to increase revenue through more “fees,” after many of them were done away with in the last session.

At some point, someone on the Republican side is going to have to challenge these fees as actually being taxes for the purpose of the state’s TABOR Amendment, which will necessitate an opinion from the Colorado Supreme Court. The court, I realize, has not been particularly friendly to the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. But without a bright-line ruling, the endless affixing of fees will practically erase the distinction between them and taxes.

And don’t forget, there is still a lawsuit in the dock that a federal judge has allowed to continue, asserting that TABOR is unconstitutional because it denies the Legislature’s ability to raise taxes and thus, in the thinking of the lawsuit’s advocates, denies the state’s populace of a “republican form of government.” This appears to some to be the prime directive for government. Precedent seems completely against this theory but we’ve seen some funny things this year, so this bears watching as well.

The governor may have said he wanted more Democrats in the Statehouse but with these kinds of issues, I’m not so sure.

Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong.


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