Feud partial product of party rivalries

Frank McNulty

Brandon Shaffer

DENVER—Senate presidents and House speakers in the Colorado Legislature traditionally don’t get along.

But Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont, and House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, really don’t get along, and the two men repeatedly made that clear during the 2011 legislative session that ended last week.

Beyond being leaders of two chambers that often compete over which is the more deliberative body, the two men don’t share the same political party. As a result, they disagree on just about everything.

A tiff between the two started early in the 120-day session, when McNulty wanted the state’s annual budget to be based on lower revenue estimates. Shaffer didn’t, saying there would be no way to lessen the $332 million cut that K-12 education was then facing.

After weeks of bickering over such issues as creating a $100 million rainy-day fund and offering more tax credits to businesses, the two finally came to an agreement on the $18 billion spending plan.

The Shaffer-McNulty feud heated up again when the GOP-led House and the Democrat-controlled Senate couldn’t come to terms on congressional redistricting. They spent hours in closed-doors negotiations with Gov. John Hickenlooper, both looking more haggard with each passing day that agreement wasn’t reached.

When the effort finally failed, McNulty blamed Shaffer, saying the president was insisting on a map that would make it easier for him to run for Congress.

Shaffer wouldn’t respond, shaking his head in denial but refusing to criticize McNulty by name.

“No person should be so beholden to their own political interest, their own political ambition, that they’re willing to sacrifice the legislative obligation in drawing a map,” McNulty charged.

“Just because the Republicans are saying how it is, doesn’t mean that’s how it is,” Shaffer countered. “When they didn’t get their way, the only thing they could resort to is blame somebody else for not capitulating to their demands.”

The final argument came in the last three days of the session, when McNulty orchestrated an attempt to hijack a routine regulation bill in order to revive a measure that Shaffer had killed. The measure would allow payday lenders to keep more of the fees they charge. The attempt drew in the governor, who threatened a special session if the issue wasn’t resolved.

McNulty backed down.

Hickenlooper said despite the feuding between the two, he believes, deep down, they actually like each other.

“I’m not sure they would agree with this, but I think there’s a friendship there under the surface somewhere,” the governor said. “In a funny way, I see them as different sides of the same coin. If we stood back and really squint our eyes and looked at them, we’d see they have a lot more in common.”

The two will have a chance to mend fences in July when they will attend a Uniform Laws Commission conference in Vail.

“It will be an opportunity for us to spend some quality time together,” Shaffer quipped.

“I think we’re planning on having separate rooms,” McNulty added.


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