2018 Colo. legislature: Winners and losers from the session
Author: Marianne Goodland - May 14, 2018 - Updated: May 31, 2018
The good, the bad and the ugly: Last week, Colorado Politics told you what legislation got done and didn’t get done at the Capitol during the 2018 General Assembly session, which ended May 9. Now, we take a look at the lawmakers who were winners and losers during the four-month-long session.
House Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver and Assistant Minority Leader Cole Wist of Centennial: For the second year in a row, these two lawmakers on opposite sides of the aisle took on some of the toughest issues in the session. This year, that included the year’s most controversial bill — the “red flag” bill that would have allowed confiscation of guns from people ruled a danger — and another that had privacy advocates up in arms, a measure that would have allowed remote, electronic notarization of legal documents.on electronic notaries.
While both of those bills failed, the two lawmakers also played huge roles, albeit in different ways, on the expulsion of Rep. Steve Lebsock over harassment allegations. Republican Wist wasn’t the first among his caucus to tell the House he would vote to expel (that was Rep. Larry Liston), but his strong statement started a floodgate that led 16 Republicans to side with the 36 “yes” votes from Democrats. Without those 16 Republicans and Wist saying “I believe the victims,” Lebsock would still be in his seat.
Democrat Garnett’s role was no less dramatic. He revealed during the expulsion debate that he’d been wearing a bulletproof vest out of concerns over Lebsock’s erratic behavior. Rep. Matt Gray made the same admission moments later.
Wist also gets kudos for being the go-to lawmaker on other hot topics, such as:
- A bill that sets up mental health services for those taken into custody on a 72-hour hold, something of a companion piece to the red flag bill.
- A measure forcing the Department of Corrections to disclose the prison location of an out-of-state inmate (aka the James Holmes/Aurora theater shooting case).
- And a bill strengthening consumer data privacy.
All of those bills have headed to the governor or have already been signed.
House Majority Leader KC Becker: A workhorse behind the scenes.
Continuing her success from 2017 (on the hospital provider fee), Becker took on two of the biggest issues in 2018: Reform of the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) pension fund and rural broadband.
The PERA bill went down to the wire, and in the end, more than half the Democratic caucus voted against the compromise, including Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran. But Becker had the votes to get it back to the Senate, where it passed on a slightly wider margin.
Rep. Skinny Winkler: The first Republican to represent the Adams County House seat formerly held by expelled lawmaker Steve Lebsock, even if it’s only for the last 42 days of the 2018 session.
His chances of keeping the seat in November aren’t especially good, given that the Democratic-leaning district hasn’t elected a Republican in more than 30 years. But Winkler also has some serious Piano Man chops, which he demonstrated on the last two days of the session.
Sens. John Cooke/Rachel Zenzinger: Were it not for their efforts, it’s a good bet that Senate Bill 1, which will allow the state to bond for almost $3 billion for transportation, would have been relegated to the pile of top priority bills that don’t make it through the session.
Rep. Faith Winter: Who started the whole #MeToo movement at the Capitol, a stand that could propel her into the Senate in November.
The Westminster Democrat also sponsored both top-priority bills for the House and Senate in 2018: Senate Bill 1, a transportation funding package, which passed; and House Bill 1001, a measure that would have created a medical leave fund, although that went quickly by the wayside as soon as it hit the Senate.
Sen. Chris Holbert: The Parker Republican’s decision to hold the resolution vote on April 2 effectively ended the 42-day Senate Democrats’ daily speeches over the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Randy Baumgardner.
Another round of reports later in April found Baumgardner had sexually harassed non-partisan staff, but Democrats never mounted another substantive effort to boot out the Hot Sulphur Springs Republican.
Ten day before the session ended, Senate President Kevin Gratham, R-Canon City, removed Baumgardner from every summer interim committee, plus from the year-round Capital Development Committee that he chaired, effectively ensuring Baumgarnder won’t be around the Capitol much, if any, before the November election.
Rep. Jon Becker: Viewed as one of the smartest in the House Republican caucus, he decided to forego a fourth term in favor of making sure he would be home for his sons’ final years in high school.
Don’t be surprised if the Fort Morgan Republican comes back later. Becker’s never been one to seek the limelight, but has been highly effective on issues such as medical care in rural areas, concurrent enrollment, deregulation, and there’s that hospital provider fee bill he co-sponsored last year.
House Democrats Black Caucus: The coalition of Reps. Janet Buckner, James Coleman, Tony Exum, Leslie Herod, Dominique Jackson and Jovan Melton showed they are a force to be reckoned with in 2018.
Herod saw 20 bills passed and sent to the governor. As assistant House whip, Melton made sure his six caucus members could make a difference, including on measures that could pass or fail without their support.
Buckner’s tearful recounting of her life during Martin Luther King Jr. Day went viral, but she also succeeded in getting a rural teacher bill that was on the brink of failure to the governor’s desk.
And the caucus as a whole secured $7.1 million in changes to the state budget, with the biggest prize securing funding for the state’s civil rights agency.
Calendar management: Darn little of it this year, given the number of major bills (think SB 1 transportation, PERA and civil rights reauthorization) that all went down to the last 24 hours of the session.
With a week to go, there were still more than 200 bills that hadn’t been through final action, which warned of late nights and, more concerning, lack of time to properly vet some of the major bills — one example being Senate Bill 243, the beer bill that turned into a mess before it finally found the sweet spot in the session’s remaining hours.
But calendar management is not just about how fast or slow the calendar moves; it’s also about the number of bills. This year’s 721 bills (not including resolutions) was the most since 2004, although it falls short of the modern-day record in 2003 of 738 bills.
The House and Senate exercised little restraint in the number of bills this year. The Senate had 280, following last year’s 306; the House introduced 441, last year it was 375 (part of the difference is in which chamber is responsible for the budget).
Lawmakers are allegedly limited to introducing five bills each, but that 721, with 100 lawmakers, indicates the rule is pretty much ignored by leadership and legislators alike.
The House showed the least restraint, pushing out 50 bills after the April 12 deadline. The Senate wasn’t much better, with 38 bills originating after April 12.
Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran: Her decision to put Lebsock in charge of a committee after she knew he had been accused of sexually harassing a fellow lawmaker was seen by some as poor judgment.
She has long been viewed as having bright political future, but in the wake of her poor handling of #MeToo, may have lost some momentum. And the strained relationship with her majority leader didn’t help.
Senate President Kevin Grantham: For trying to draw in Denver DA Beth McCann by calling on her to investigate sexual harassment claims in the legislature, to which she said in essence, “Take care of your own house,” when she told Grantham that the state Constitution “gives the General Assembly authority to establish rules governing the conduct of its members.”
Sen. Randy Baumgardner: When an investigative report to the legislature, quoted by news organizations statewide, alleges your nickname at the Capitol is “boob grabber,” it can’t be a good session.
Former Rep. Steve Lebsock: On top of being the first lawmaker to be expelled from the legislature in more than a century over sexual harassment allegations, Lebsock in late April tweeted that he was toasting President Donald Trump at a Trump-branded hotel in Las Vegas. It made his abandonment of the Democratic Party complete.
Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik: In a tight contest with Winter for the November election, her losing moment was voting against Baumgardner’s expulsion. That vote gives Winter and every other Democratic organization out there a tailor-made ad to use against Martinez Humenik in the general election.
Martinez Humenik won the swing district in 2014 Republican wave year by just 896 votes out of more than 50,000 cast. She could have sought permission from Senate Republican leadership to vote for the expulsion, given that the caucus had at least a half-dozen votes to give away, a not-so-unusual practice both parties employ when dealing with political hot potatoes. Voting against would have lessened one of Winter’s most powerful arguments.
Senate Democrats: It seemed that all the passion Senate Democrats had for the Baumgardner expulsion fight was spent by the time the resolution came up on April 2.
The one-sided debate was flat and uninspiring. Few, if any, Senate Democrats that night used the most powerful line that House Democrats wielded like a cudgel: “I believe the victims.”
Sen. Daniel Kagan: The decision by Martinez Humenik to file a complaint against him for using the women’s bathroom was just plain silly, but so was Kagan’s repeatedly using that bathroom after being told to stop doing it.
Sen. Vicki Marble: She is the first sitting state senator to be convicted of an ethics violation by the state’s ethics commission, although that decision is now under review and won’t be resolved for at least another month.
Rep. Don Valdez: Figure out where you live, please.
Some of his constituents seem to think he doesn’t live in his San Luis Valley district anymore or with any regularity.
He didn’t help matters any with his behavior at the House District 62 assembly in April when he went around the room telling delegates to vote down a motion that would have led to a discussion of the residency issue.