“So we started this session with Dems saying they were going to take me out,” Republican Sen. Laura Woods said, opening a community meeting in a Westminster strip-mall donut shop. “I was their ticket to getting the majority back in the senate and they really hated not having the majority in the senate this year.”
With hot pink fingernails and toenails to match, Woods is the picture of a put-together suburban summer. But beneath a dark pixie cut, she’s all business.
Woods went from self-employed court reporter to politico by playing an instrumental role in the 2013 gun-control-motivated recall effort against Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak. Hudak ultimately resigned and was replaced by Democratic appointee Sen. Rachel Zenzinger.
Last fall, sensing vulnerability in Jefferson County’s Senate District 19, Woods hacked her way through a tough primary against the GOP establishment favorite, Lang Sias. Many in the party worried Woods was too conservative to win the swing district. She ultimately beat Zenzinger – by fewer than 1,000 votes.
Democrats have been aiming to topple Woods ever since. Her win in November at least temporarily tipped the scale and the Senate swung Republican. But although she won a general election, Woods will have to run again when Hudak’s original term expires in 2016.
“We came in knowing [Dems] were going to work against my bills,” said Woods to her constituents. “They tried to, they said they were going to, and they did.”
Indeed, many of Woods’ early bills were foiled by Democrats. They squashed her attempts to repeal the Colorado Civil Rights Act as it applies to small businesses and to repeal the background check requirement for private gun sales.
Some of her proposals were so libertarian that they earned a few no-votes from moderate Republicans, too. Such was the case for her bill to stop law enforcement from taking suspects’ property – a process called civil forfeiture.
Woods quickly bonded with “liberty-minded” members of the Senate GOP. She joined established leaders in the crusades not just for gun-control repeals but for election integrity and education reform. Ultimately only Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, voted against her own party’s leadership as much as Woods did.
Even so, Woods ultimately sponsored 13 successful bills in her freshman session. Every one of them had at least bipartisan co-sponsorship, as is virtually required for passage in a split-legislature.
Many of the constituents who showed up to the donut shop a week after the session wrapped bought into Woods’ brand back when it was pure gun-control repeals and recalls.
Her supporters are a tough, largely white-male crew, many of whom pitched in on her long-shot campaign last fall. They loathe the status quo, from education to mail balloting, and seem nearly as skeptical of both political parties as they are of big government.
Woods is at ease with this crowd.
Even so, most of their questions for her had to do with bills she wasn’t able to pass.
The Senator’s most-lamented measure was known as “the mom’s bill,” which would have removed Colorado from federal Common Core K-12 education standards by the fall of 2016.
“It’s garbage,” Woods said of the standards. “It’s debunking American exceptionalism. It’s a rewriting of history. They start American history at the Civil War. So we’re not even going to talk about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence.”
Woods vowed to carry the bill again with Marble, but she said the issue would ultimately be driven by elections.
“We’ve got to get more liberty-minded conservatives elected,” she said. “That’s what we have to do to get some real change on education.”
The same, Woods suggested, was more or less true for the the issue that put her in the senate to begin with — the grassroots movement to repeal several 2013 gun control measures, starting with a law that limits magazines to 15 rounds.
Short of winning more majorities, Woods’s constituents were curious about where she stands on a gun control compromise they’d heard had the Republican Party split. Faced with the current political impracticalities of repealing the 15-round magazine ban, should gunnies make a 30-round deal?
The conservative think tank, the Independence Institute, floated the idea last session when word got out that a 30-round compromise might persuade a few key Democrats and even Gov. John Hickenlooper himself to up the limit. Political heavyweight Rocky Mountain Gun Owners quickly rallied its troops against the idea.
“If I was on the farm, I’d say it caused a pissing match between the Independence Institute and the gun-owners groups,” Woods said to laughter. “We’re gonna be split on it if the issue comes back.”
“I shot a 100-round drum one day and it was the funnest thing ever, on a tommy gun. It was a blast,” Woods added. “Gun people realize it’s a slippery slope . You give them a 30-round limit. Why would they stop there? I’m not going to vote for a 30-round limit. I will vote for a full-out repeal.”
“Amen,” said a man in the group.
“I think it’s constitutional, and that’s what I stand by,” said Woods.
“You know what I will vote for?” the man continued. “I will vote for you, for senator.”
“You will?” Woods asked with a smile. “It will cost me some votes. I know some of the gun people will line up with the Independence Institute and think I should vote for less, and I just can’t. It’s gonna be tough.”