DENVER — Traditionally, opening day speeches from leaders on both sides of the political divide in the Colorado Legislature are full of short-kept promises to be bipartisan, but the addresses delivered Wednesday for this year’s session were littered with partisan jabs.
That’s partly because of highly political skirmishes that took place during last year’s session, particularly over such measures as a major overhauling of the way oil and gas drilling is regulated, taking guns away from those deemed to be too mentally ill to possess them, and deciding how the state should allocate its Electoral College votes for president.
It also comes in an election year, when Democrats hope to retain their majority in the statehouse and knock down a U.S. president they don’t much care for, while GOP lawmakers aim to do the opposite.
“Nationally, this year may go down as one of the most bitter and divisive our nation has ever been through,” House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, said in her opening-day speech. “Obstructionism, corruption and partisan logjams have driven Washington from bad to worse. And while I remain hopeful that a change will soon come in D.C., I invite you to join me in taking matters into our own hands to prove once again that government can still work for the people.”
While Becker highlighted advancing programs that Democrats love, such as family and medical leave, the GOP leader in the House, Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, talked about pro-life issues, more transportation funding and how President Donald Trump’s tax cuts benefited the state and nation.
Neville didn’t credit past and present state leaders for how well Colorado’s economy is doing, but the president instead.
“Republicans understand that governments can’t create prosperity, it can only create conditions that enable the imagination and hard work of Americans to be rewarded,” Neville said. “Thanks to President Trump, those conditions exist.”
Neville went on to warn that “a large and money-hungry state government” easily can undo all that with bad policy decisions.
“When a government demands more in taxes, whether those taxes are called fees, workers have less to share with their children,” he added. “So in a state like California, a state held hostage to public sector unions and a progressive ideology, there are big problems. We do not want that in Colorado. We do not want to be eastern California.”
Meanwhile, Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said he didn’t want to see Republicans repeat last year’s attempts to delay the legislative process. Primarily out of frustration over the advancement of several measures they didn’t like, GOP lawmakers routinely called for bills to be read at length, something that’s rarely done, but something that took a lot of time.
They did that, those GOP lawmakers said, in order to send a loud message to Democrats who control the Legislature that they believed some of the measures they were pushing were being rushed through the process, and without any attempt at reaching compromises.
At the same time that was going on, there were numerous efforts outside the Capitol to recall Democratic lawmakers because of those measures, including Garcia and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
Those attempts all fell flat.
“There has been a brazen effort to not only divide this chamber, but dismantle it from Washington-style political antics to pointless attempts to upend the will of the voters,” Garcia said. “To those set on continuing their commitment to gridlock, let me say your efforts have been and will continue to be a fruitless endeavor. Sitting on the sidelines and using hate or fear to undermine honest efforts is an unacceptable standard.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, said he doesn’t view the parliamentary tactics his party used last year to be unacceptable, but a necessary part of the process.
Holbert also took issue with what Democrats were calling them at that time: childish.
“Mr. President, while it is understandable that members of the majority might feel frustration towards the tenacity which the minority approached the debate last session, it was nonetheless disappointing to hear those principled efforts described as, quote, children throwing temper tantrums,” he said. “No. We are all adults here. Motions are not personal. Required procedure is not tantrums. And votes are not attacks.”
Not only did Holbert defend those tactics, but he also made clear they could be used again this session if necessary.
“Mr. President, we in the minority will indeed take the Constitution of the United States, the Colorado Constitution, statutes and legislative rules at their literal meaning,” he said. “We will utilize our knowledge of those documents to effectively and diligently communicate the positions that our constituents sent us here to defend, and we will use the few tools afforded to us as the minority.”