Colorado state senators make nice on opening day

DENVER — Opening day in the Colorado Senate was about comity and comedy. There were lots of jokes about House Speaker Mark Ferrandino’s new beard. Nobody likes it. There were jokes about the sad lot of lawmaker spouses. There were jokes about politics. As she handed the gavel over to new Senate President Morgan Carroll, President Pro-Tem Lucia Guzman said she was the victim of a “power grab.”

Senator Carroll, a Democrat from Aurora, replaced John Morse, one of the casualties of the lawmaker recall movement spawned by gun-control legislation passed by Democrats last year. Carroll is the second woman president of the Senate. Her election went off with out a hitch and with bipartisan support.

Senate minority leader Bill Cadman, Republican from Colorado Springs, congratulated the Colorado Senate on its progressive stance towards women in leadership.

“We are here to work to create good-paying jobs, so that families can pay the bills, have a roof over their head, can afford daycare, send their kids to college or trade school, and enjoy economic security in their retirement,” Carroll said in her opening day speech (read the full text here). “Our job is to pave the way so that Coloradans have the freedom to succeed. I have every reason to believe we can and will work together to accomplish that end.”

Carroll called for unity, in the chamber where Democrats lost two seats to recalls over the summer and now hold the majority by a single seat. She is placing priority on education policy this session and she introduced the topic by speaking of her own career in a mother-daughter law firm and about the crucial role education and financial aid played in her life.

“College tuition and fees have gone up more than 600 percent since 1985 — more than gas, medical or energy inflation,” she said. A bill to reduce college costs is in the works.

Education is tied to jobs, she said. She plugged a job-creation bill, which she broke down quite succinctly:

[blockquote]This session you will see legislation and investment to advance: Rural Access to High-Speed Internet; Workforce Development; Job Growth incentives; IT and Hospitality Career Pathways; Assistance for small businesses to better compete for contracts; Expanded Investment in Advanced Industries; Increased Investment for the Colorado Careers Act; Bi-Partisan Reductions in the Business Personal Property Tax that still protect local government share.[/blockquote]

Building an educated work force doesn’t begin with college, Carroll said.

“Colorado has the fifth-most expensive childcare in the U.S.” she said. “Day care is now actually higher than the average cost of in-state tuition at a Colorado four-year college.”

Carroll promised the Senate will work to pass tax credits for childcare but said more innovative models — companies, for example, that provide child care in house — may be called for from the private sector.

She tread lightly in speaking about the last legislative session. Carroll mentioned gun policy just one time, and then, only to dismiss it as an overplayed topic.

“Last session was a busy and productive session and much of what we actually worked on was eclipsed by marijuana and guns in the major headlines,” she said, adding that 95 percent of the legislation passed last session with bipartisan support.

The end of her speech was all about defying expectations… together:

[blockquote]People expect us to be self-serving, let’s instead be public-serving… People expect us to fight and bicker, let’s skip the shouting matches and instead problem-solve … People expect us to put politics over policy, let’s instead put good public policy over politics… People expect us to stall, delay and obstruct, let’s instead move at a deliberate, thoughtful pace with timely results that serve the people of Colorado… People expect us to put special interests over their interests, let’s become instead show through renewed outreach and listening how their ideas become our priorities…[/blockquote]

In his speech, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman also talked about getting along this year (read the full text here), but his speech came with a sharper edge. He talked about respect, referencing the cries of “disrespect” that filled the chamber and airwaves during the gun debates.

“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedoms of others,” he quoted Nelson Mandela.

“Predicting and preventing the kind of tragedies we experienced is a noble idea but a nearly impossible quest,” said Cadman, referring not just to mass shootings but also to the fires and floods which devastated Colorado this year. “Disasters and acts of violence are virtually beyond our control.”

That was the subtle reference. The not-so-subtle reference came later, as Cadman discussed the recent shifts in the chamber.

“So now we have three brand new senators,” he said. “I had a front row seat while you were each sworn in, but let me take this opportunity in front of our entire body to welcome and congratulate each of you. Senator Herpin, Senator Rivera, and Senator Zenzinger. You can tell who’s new here, they are still smiling, because none of their bills have been to State Affairs, yet.” It was a reference to the Democrat’s “kill committee,” where bills were sent to die. “I would be remiss if I didn’t ask for everyone here to join me in thanking your predecessors, President Morse and Senators Giron and Hudak for their service.”

Cadman went on to assert that while he didn’t want to talk about “what happened,” meaning the recalls, he did want to talk about why it happened. The reason is that there were too many Democrats in the Senate last session and not enough Republicans. Democrats held the majority by five seats. He said the divisiveness that resulted was a “formula issue,” which produced policy that made Coloradans angry.

“… that formula produced a hyper-partisan toxin that affected this entire institution, those who serve here and all who visited here,” said Cadman. “We started looking like Congress.”

Then he took a rhetorical step back, acknowledging that the numbers had changed, before he pivoted back to Carroll’s central theme: Let’s all play nice.

“Are we willing to learn from history or are we destined to repeat it?” he asked. “What would the outcomes be if we replaced the division sign with an addition sign?”