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Q&A with Frank McNulty | Reliving the House GOP’s shining moment

Author: Dan Njegomir - April 16, 2018 - Updated: April 26, 2018

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Then-Colorado Speaker of the House Frank McNulty meets with schoolkids in the House gallery in 2011. (Photo courtesy Colorado House Majority Office.)

Colorado Republicans enjoyed a bright, shining moment following the 2010 statewide election, winning control of the Colorado House of Representatives — the proverbial “peoples” chamber in the legislature — and handing the gavel to then-state Rep. Frank McNulty.

Well shy of 40 years old at the time and known as a politically astute up-and-comer at the Capitol, the gregarious and collegial attorney from Highlands Ranch became the 56th speaker of the House.

Just one election later, it was all over for the GOP; the Democrats retook the House in 2012 and have kept it since. McNulty, who easily had won re-election in his own heavily Republican district, served out his last term in the minority, once again.

What lessons can be gleaned from that double-reversal in political fortunes? McNulty, now a political strategist, has a lot of perspective to offer on the subject, and he shares it in today’s Q&A.

Colorado Politics: You were the last Republican to serve as Colorado House speaker, presiding over a GOP takeover that, for one term, interrupted established Democratic rule in the lower chamber. What was it about 2010 that enabled the Republicans to flip the House, and what conditions would be needed to stage a repeat performance?

Frank McNulty: We had a strong team of leaders, a Republican Party that was unified enough, and an unpopular president from the other party (Barack Obama) whose approval rating was upside-down and favorables in the low 40’s.

Colorado voters understood that we offered real leadership to balance the endless menagerie of freedom-killing laws and regulations coming from a Washington, D.C., controlled by establishment Democrats and a state Capitol under one-party rule.

Our message of freedom and opportunity resonated with a public still struggling with the passage of Obamacare and other programs that stifled opportunity and crushed individual responsibility.  We had a statewide plan and we executed it effectively.

The landscape is so different now, it is impossible to say what conditions would be needed for a repeat. Even in 2010, social media was not as pervasive as it is today.  Legislative districts were more fairly drawn, and both sides of the aisle had an opportunity to share their best message with voters on relatively even ground.

 


Frank McNulty

  • Founder and principal of Square State Strategy Group, a political consulting and lobbying firm based in Denver.
  • Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives, 2010-2012. Republican state representative in the House from Highlands Ranch, 2006-2014.
  • Worked in the administration of Republican former Gov. Bill Owens as a legislative liaison and assistant director for water in the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.
  • Holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado Boulder and a law degree from the University of Denver.

 

CP: You also served in the last Republican administration to hold the Governor’s Office, under Bill Owens. That, too, seemed like a disruption of long-standing Democratic rule in Colorado’s executive branch; Owens remains Colorado’s only GOP governor to have served since the 1970s.

Owens also was widely regarded as a master politician who knew how to work with both parties and wide-ranging stakeholders on a host of issues. And, of course, he was great at handling the press.

Do you think anyone in the state Republican Party today — in the current governor’s race or otherwise — could rise to that same standard? What do you think of the current crop of GOP gubernatorial contenders in general? Is there someone in the pack who really could win the general — regardless of which Democrat gets the nomination?

(Note: McNulty was interviewed before the April 14 state party assemblies winnowed the list of candidates.)

McNulty: It’s always difficult to compare current hopefuls to a woman or man who has successfully served in public office.

It’s also tough to compare anyone today to Gov. Owens, who left office with an approval rating in the low 60’s.  Compare that to Gov. (John) Hickenlooper’s approval rating in the low 50’s as measured late last year.  That’s certainly respectable, but Hick’s popularity is not close to where Owens’ popularity was at this point in his final term.

Of our current candidates, (state Treasurer Walker) Stapleton and (businessman Doug) Robinson are best suited to win a primary and go on to win a general election.  Attorney General (Cynthia) Coffman could be competitive in a general election, but her policy views are largely out of step with the Republicans she’s courting for primary ballot access.

CP: Handicap the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls.

McNulty: Cary Kennedy has a strong grassroots following.  Michael Johnston has strong appeal to moderates and unaffiliateds, and Jared Polis has a devastating policy record and a bagful of his own money.

Both Kennedy and Johnston have done well fund-raising and will be competitive.  It comes down to the types of Democrats who show up to vote in June.  There is a major shift underway in the Democratic Party away from the center-left to the far left.  If that plays out, it’s grassroots against grass tops.  Kennedy against Polis.

CP: What are the three most frustrating public policy issues facing Colorado today, and what if anything do you think can be done about them?

McNulty: Out-of-control growth in entitlement programs is putting the squeeze on important state spending priorities like K-12 education, higher education, and relieving congestion and improving safety on Colorado’s road and bridges.  Medicaid expansion must be rolled back and the federal government must allow Colorado flexibility to tailor our own social safety net to meet the needs of Coloradans most in need.

Colorado’s roads are in poor shape.  During my first years in the legislature, the Democrats stripped the minimal funding provided to improve roads and bridges, leaving the gas tax as the only remaining alternative.  We need to fix our roads.  To do so, funding needed expansion and repairs must be a state budget priority and not an afterthought only when budget times are good.

Marijuana. Marijuana. Marijuana.  Anyone who tells you recreational marijuana has been good for our state is either making a boatload of money off of it, or has their head in the sand.  The very real social and financial costs of recreational marijuana continue to negatively affect families, support services, homeless shelters, communities, and employers.  We need to quantify those costs and hold the marijuana industry responsible for what it’s doing to our beautiful state.

The Republican Party cannot, and should not, try to be everything to everyone.  It is not a populist party, but rather a party based on conservative values.

CP: What’s the biggest handicap facing Colorado Republicans in wooing the state’s largest registered voting bloc, unaffiliateds?

McNulty: Colorado has changed, is changing, and will continue to change.

We must realize that we cannot do things like we’ve always done them and expect to be successful. The Republican Party cannot, and should not, try to be everything to everyone.  It is not a populist party, but rather a party based on conservative values.  Life, opportunity, strong families and individual responsibility.

Let’s look to share these values through men and women who are positive and optimistic, and who believe in the future of our state and our nation.

CP: What’s your greatest regret from your time at the helm of the House? The accomplishment of which your most proud?

McNulty: Still bummed that I wasn’t able to bring the Joint Budget Committee back into the Capitol building with the rest of us.

There’s much for which our majority can be proud.  So many policy measures that we passed that improved the condition of our state.  We defended TABOR.  We passed a budget out of the House in 2012 by a vote of 64-1 (Sen. Chris) Holbert still reminds me that he was the only vote against!  We were able to hold strong positions defending life and encouraging Colorado families.  We cut state payrolls two years in a row while adding what we could to fund K-12 education.  We ended the severance tax drain that was punishing rural Colorado and we started to pay back state cash funds that had been raided under years of Democratic control. We pushed to accomplish state budgeting in ways that were accountable and transparent.  No gimmicks, no smoke and mirrors.

I am proud of the small part I offered in the historical renovation of the Colorado House of Representatives.  I will always be honored to have served in the People’s House.  I am proud that the condition of the chamber now reflects the honor and responsibility bestowed on each and every one of those 65 House members from across Colorado — elected to serve us, the people of Colorado.

CP: You’re a relatively young man at 45. Do you ever see yourself making another run for elective office?

McNulty: They say that having young kids when you’re older makes you feel young.  That’s a lie.  Having a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old at the age of 45 only makes you feel one thing — tired.

I thank God each and every day for the life he has offered me.  Shannon and I are blessed to know the joy and fulfillment that only he can provide.  Now is our time to focus on the two little blessings he has shared with us.  We are, and we’re having a blast!

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is a blogger and opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.