Session preview: Colorado’s (limited) bipartisanship


Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper sees another rough session ahead (Brennan Linsley/AP)

After one of the more divisive years in Colorado history, marked by two recalls that ousted Democratic state senators and efforts by some northern counties to secede from the state, legislators on both sides of the aisle are taking pains to show voters they can work together after all.

That’s the spirit with which legislators will take up proposals to fund Colorado’s K-12 education system, just a few months after voters rejected a $950 million tax increase to fund state schools. Legislators are likely to pull the most popular parts out of the failed school initiative, including a financial transparency Web site and a new way to count student attendance, into a new package.

“So far, no state’s ever had total transparency on how their tax dollars are spent to every school,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) told us in a recent interview.

The legislature is also likely to appropriate money for communities still recovering from deadly floods and fires that swept the Rocky Mountains last year. Flooding destroyed nearly a thousand homes and cut off several small mountain communities for days, while fires cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

But that’s where the feel-good bipartisanship ends. State Republicans, in the minority in both chambers, will push to repeal some of the gun control legislation the Democratic majority passed last year.

Those efforts aren’t likely to advance as long as Democrats are in control, but gun issues proved a potent political weapon for Republicans in the two recall elections. With Democrats maintaining a narrow 18-17 edge in the Senate, gun rights will likely serve as a foundation for the GOP’s electoral push later this year.

Here’s the Denver Post’s take on the two ways the legislative session, which kicks off tomorrow, could play out:

• Nothing could be as caustic as last year, when lawmakers endured 20-hour days fighting over gun control, new election rules and a renewable energy mandate for rural co-ops.

• It’s going to be even worse than last year as lawmakers rehash those issues and try to figure out how to finance education with the failure of Amendment 66, all while gearing up for the November election.

“I tell people it will be either/or depending on the issue — only I add some cuss words,” said longtime lobbyist Mike Beasley.

Hickenlooper’s take: “It’s an election year,” he told the Denver Post. “I mean, I’m not blind.”

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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