Before the start of the current session of the state General Assembly, we wondered whether the Democrats were going to charge head-long with a progressive agenda, or whether they were going to moderate their goals and play to the right.
When we spoke with Senate President John Morse last November, he stated that the Democrats were going to through consensus and "grand bargains":
But the Colorado Springs-area legislator says the Capitol won't be a Democratic playground under his watch. Instead, he says, his party will focus on identifying long-term solutions to issues related to education, environment, health care, civil rights, and jobs and financial security.
"We are going to try to figure out big solutions instead of small bills," he says, adding that the question will be: "Are there grand bargains that we can put together now?"
Republican House Minority Leader Mark Waller, a fellow Colorado Springs legislator, was skeptical. In fact, in November he warned his Democratic colleagues not to over-reach, or else face the wrath of the voters — a sentiment that has been repeated ad nauseum over the past month.
Waller points out that the last time the Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature, they enacted what Republicans coined the "Dirty Dozen," bills that increased state revenues.
"And just like we had a five-seat swing this time, we had a six-seat swing last time," he says. "I certainly don't think that they have a mandate moving forward, by any stretch."
Considering this electoral reality, and the mythic ability of Democratic politicians to instantly abandon progressive goals once elected, many Democratic voters were worried that the 2013 session was going to be a lukewarm, hand-wringing appeasement fest.
As it turns out, it was an unfounded worry.
Here are just some of the highlights:
• Civil unions: Not only did the Democrats press forward successfully with a civil unions bill, they did so with a version of the legislation that stripped language that exempted religious organizations — such as Christian adoption agencies — from recognizing the unions.
• Gun bills: You probably haven't heard about this, but Gov. John Hickenlooper recently signed into law three bills that will tighten the regulations surrounding the ownership and purchase of firearms — despite the outrage of a few (hundred-thousand) Republicans.
• Elections overhaul: This one hasn't even been introduced yet, but already high-profile Republicans, such as Secretary of State Scott Gessler, are blasting it.
Colorado Democrats are planning sweeping changes to how elections are run in the state, to the dismay of Republican leaders who say they've been excluded from crafting a bill that that would allow same-day voter registration and require mailed ballots to every eligible voter.
A bill of more than 100 pages is expected to be introduced this week, likely sparking a big partisan fight over whether the changes benefit one party over the other.
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who oversees elections and has butted heads with Democrats on a range of issues, said the bill was "written in complete secrecy excluding anyone who may have a different point of view. ... What's the motivation behind this? Well, it seems that's what the motivation is, to change the rules of the game in a very one-sided direction."
• Single-payer health care: Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and will now be debated on the floor of the Senate. While this bill wouldn't in itself institute new taxes (TABOR, folks), it would put to the voters a constitutional amendment that would "assess a six percent payroll premium from employers, a three percent payroll premium from employees ... and a nine percent premium on other specified income" in order to pay for statewide health care coverage.
From the resolution:
The concurrent resolution creates a constitutional amendment to establish a Colorado health care cooperative to provide health care through a statewide system. An interim board of directors will be appointed to the cooperative to carry out all responsibilities of the cooperative until the members of the cooperative have elected a permanent board to operate the cooperative. The cooperative is responsible for paying for health care services provided through the cooperative from premiums collected by the department of revenue.
Of course, Republicans are not happy about this, with Sen. Kevin Lundberg calling the bill "Obamacare on steroids." Regardless, voters could have the final say.
• The "arrest all sheriffs" bill: OK, I am a bit leery including this in the column of "liberal victories" for a number of reasons. Most importantly, this doesn't immediately scream "progressive agenda" for most people who would call themselves a progressive. Plus, the reasons that the right has gone apoplectic over this bill are the same reasons they went apeshit over a similar bill introduced two sessions ago by Republican Rep. Mark Barker.
Anyway, the gist of the bill: "The bill gives a special agent, uniform division officer, physical
security technician, physical security specialist, or special officer of the United States secret service limited peace officer authority while working in Colorado."
What does this mean in conspiracy-speak? From World Daily News:
A bill is heading to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk that Republican lawmakers say would give members of the Secret Service broad arrest powers in the state and could provide a framework for federal agents eventually to enforce gun restrictions.
“This is absolutely insane,” Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, said. “In theory if a Secret Service agent is in a county where the sheriff has refused to enforce some of the recent unenforceable gun laws, the agent could arrest an individual if he believes the law has been broken.”
There you have it. That's all I can think of off the top of my head. Feel free to include the Democrats' affronts to the Constitution/reasoned advancement of progressive ideals in the comments.