Democrats’ legislative extravagance 
exceeded liberals’ wildest dreams

When the gavel came down on the 2013 edition of the Colorado Legislature, the Twitter and Facebook feeds lit up with the kind of self-exultant cheers from liberals that you’d expect in a year when they won wholesale victories for an aggressive progressive agenda.

In the Chinese calendar, 2013 is the year of the snake. In Colorado, it is the year of the unabashed liberal.

Like the chocolate-slathered fat kid in “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” the party in power in Denver crammed down as many empty calories as it possibly could. It was hard not to be embarrassed for Democrats.

The business community, which was under siege, wire-to-wire, for the 120 days, responded very differently than progressives when the session ended. There was no celebration, except for the fact that the whole circus was over. Business leaders in this state are seriously peeved.

Some context on the state’s business community is important. I am referring to the state’s chambers of commerce, economic development boards, regional business groups and a daisy chain of trade associations and non-profits that advocate on behalf of businesses in the state.

While there are important differences in tone and substance among groups, in general, the state’s business community tends to be an exceedingly accommodating lot. These are groups that have historically advocated for things like Referendum C, former Gov. Bill Ritter’s car tax and state implementation of Obamacare via health care exchanges.

The business community in Colorado is centrist, collaborative and non-confrontational in the extreme. Right-wing ideologues, they are not.

When I was in leadership in the Senate, the often-passive approach adopted by these groups used to drive me crazy. “Are you ever going to fight?” I would frequently ask.

The answer was usually, “No.”

But this year, the answer is yes. Fighting mad, the business community is, because the Democratic over-reach has been so ravenous.

Numerous state and national publications have commented on Colorado’s aggressive lurch to the left, focusing mostly on the cascade of “culture war” bills that have filled agendas and headlines. Gun bans, driver’s licenses for all, death penalty for none, election monkey-wrenching are the efforts that have drawn most of the attention of commentators.

Just this week, in a profile of Gov. John Hickenlooper, The New Yorker observed how aggressive Colorado’s leftward tack has been.

“Hickenlooper began his tenure as a sensible centrist. But, instead of emphasizing the issues on which he campaigned – budget reform and economic development — he has found himself addressing a range of liberal social issues: gun control, civil unions and a new law legalizing marijuana. A top aide summed up Hickenlooper’s ?rst two years as ‘guns, gays and grass.’ He has learned the same lesson in Colorado that Obama learned in Washington: sooner or later, a politician has to choose sides.”

Out of the headlines, there has been an equally aggressive push by the trial lawyers, labor unions and environmentalists to fundamentally shift Colorado’s business climate in ways that are good for the suers and the stoppers and bad for the risk takers and job makers.

And as with the culture wars, the left is winning the economic wars far more often than not.

Earlier this week, the head of the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, the largest association of small businesses in Colorado, roared with fury when Hickenlooper signed legislation opening small-businesses to a new class of litigation damages in lawsuits brought by disgruntled employees. “Gov. Hickenlooper really wants us to believe he is sympathetic to small business,” the head of NFIB said. “Sorry Governor, we judge by results.”

In an editorial Thursday, The Daily Sentinel urged Hickenlooper to “wield his veto pen” on a bill that would coerce small, rural electricity providers into Ritter’s Rube Goldberg, New Energy Economy scheme. Buzz from the Capitol is that he will sign that bill, too.

This year, liberals and Democrats got more than they could have imagined, even in their wildest dreams. In Colorado, 2013 was the year of the liberal, and boy-howdy did they seize it.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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