Shaffer Says No to Congress, Yes to Colorado

Democrats in Colorado’s arch-conservative fourth congressional district are lining up to take on embattled Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave. In a supreme twist of irony, the 2008 race could be shaping up to foreshadow last year’s GOP primary bloodbath where former state Senator Doug Lamborn sprang victorious with a dismal 27 percent of the vote against five challengers to succeed former U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley.

In a surprise move this week, state Senator Brandon Shaffer opted off the congressional campaign carnival ride after testing the proverbial waters and leaking an encouraging poll just weeks earlier. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he has set his sights any lower.In a statement announcing his decision to forego the bid for higher office, Shaffer said “People in the Fourth deserve better representation in Congress than they are getting from Marilyn Musgrave. But, for now, my focus is on finishing the work I went to the state senate to accomplish.”

Fellow legislator Rep. Rob Witwer (R-Golden) had kind words for Shaffer with whom he has co-sponsored several bills.

“It was so easy working with him. Brandon is a very effective bill sponsor. He’s thoughtful and works on good policy. Any chance I have to carry a bill with him, I will,” said Witwer who was surprised to learn that Shaffer had called off his exploratory congressional campaign.

Even with Witwer’s previous support, the Longmont lawmaker will have his hands full with what are expected to be two of the most contentious policy issues in the next legislative session – health care and K-12 education.

Shaffer was the primary sponsor of the 208 Commission [PDF] on health care, so named for the bill number it was assigned to legislatively establish the group to explore state health care reform.

Four proposals have been culled from 31 submitted by local health care organizations for review by the Commission to address coverage options for the 770,000 Coloradans who do not have health insurance. The Colorado General Assembly will then consider legislative remedies based on the Commission’s recommendations which are expected on November 30. Insurance, physicians, and health care lobbyists are already in full force advocating for their respective interests as are consumer groups that are pushing for universal health care.

Negotiating those competing interests will keep Shaffer busy.

“I certainly intend to be in the thick of things again next year as we consider the Commission’s various proposals, said Shaffer. “Ultimately, I think the conversation we have around the Commission’s work will cause the 2008 session to be focused on health care reform.”

Like no other issue, the partisan rancor over public education in the last session is sure to be repeated.

However, Shaffer is working with Sen. Peter Groff to create an innovative incentive program to encourage college students to become public school teachers that he hopes will enjoy support from his Repulican colleagues. He’s modeling the prospective bill on his experience in the Navy ROTC that paid for his college education with the expectation of four years of active duty military service in return.

“We haven’t worked the details out, but we both agree in concept that the state needs to do a better job of encouraging talented graduates coming out of our colleges to become teachers in our public schools,” Shaffer explained.

“We’ve discussed trying to model a state teacher recruiting program after the federal ROTC scholarship program. It would establish a similar scholarship program for college students willing to teach after graduation. Basically, the state would pay for four years of college at an in-state institution in return for a four year commitment to teach at a public school. Obviously, this is still in the concept stage, but I think it’s an exciting idea.”

Shaffer will stand for re-election in Senate District 17 in November 2008, precluding a primary challenge. He remains open to the possibility of running for Congress in 2010. “It just wasn’t my time,” he said.