Ferrandino challenges House members to defy critics and ‘get things done’

DENVER– Seizing momentum on an upbeat first day of the 2012 session of the state legislature, House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, Democrat from Denver, encouraged members to cast aside gloomy predictions of election-year partisan gridlock and work together to pass bills to bolster the Colorado economy and create jobs for citizens across the state.

“Pundits are saying this session will be a partisan brawl,” he said from the House well. “I expect vigorous debate and disagreement. The opinions in this room are as varied as the topography of our state… We can show a skeptical public that the Colorado General Assembly is not the United States Congress… We can be partners not partisans. We can get things done for the people of Colorado.”

It was an historic day, a presidential-election-year session starting just as the presidential primary contests get underway and just as the state and national economy seem to be crawling out of recession. It is also Ferrandino’s first day as minority leader, the first openly gay man to hold a leadership spot in the House. He began his remarks with a knowing gag.

“The Democratic caucus this session is committed to maintaining a laser focus on jobs. Thank you,” he said with authority and then stepped down from the dais to a loud round of applause. It was a mock ending. He then rose again from his seat to finish his speech.

“You won’t do any better than that,” came a celebratory call from the Republican side of the chamber.

Members of the legislature this year will wrangle over contentious issues such as Medicaid reform, the education budget, property tax exemptions for seniors, the right for public employees to collectively bargain and the right for same-sex couples to enter into state-recognized civil union– the last the topic of a bill spearheaded by Ferrandino last year that was killed after gaining much momentum by Republican members of the Judiciary Committee. Yet, as has become clear to Americans watching the Republican presidential primaries unfold, “jobs” remains the political rallying cry here as it does in state capitals coast to coast.

Indeed, campaign politics are sure to play into the work of the state legislature. The question is to what degree. The state endured rancorous reapportionment and redistricting efforts last year and at least three members of the legislature– Democratic Reps Sal Pace and Joe Miklosi and Democratic Senate President Brandon Shaffer– are all running for Congress. Republican Senator Kevin Lundberg is also weighing a congressional run.

Ferrandino, played all of that down. Creating jobs is a bipartisan goal, he said, and one that should take top priority. He pointed to bills on the slate for this session that would encourage venture capital investment, cut red tape for small businesses, bolster entrepreneurial efforts and move research and development more efficiently to the market.

Ferrandino said he was looking forward to partnering with Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty to land much meaningful legislation on the governor’s desk this year.

“I said I wanted to partner with you, Mr Speaker. I never said anything about partnering with the Senate,” he said sarcastically after a delegation of senators wrapped up introductory remarks to the House.

Former Minority Leader Pace interjected.

“To clarify, Mr Speaker, when the minority leader says ‘partner’ in this context, it has nothing to do with civil unions.”

“Thank you for that clarification,” said McNulty, laughing.

Later, closing the day’s work, McNulty told a few straggling staffers and lawmakers that the first day seemed to go well.

“Everything went fine,” he said. “Everything went fine.”

[Image: Members of the Republican caucus cheer on Denver Democrat Mark Ferrandino during his Colorado House opening-day 2012 remarks. “Jobs!”]