DENVER — The 2013 legislative session opened Wednesday not just with policy statements and goals, but also with a number of personal stories, both of triumph and tragedy.
In the state Senate, the newly-anointed President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, did not identify specific policy issues they plan to tackle. Instead, the two spoke of Coloradans they said stand out as heroes, as examples for lawmakers to follow.
Morse told a lengthy tale of a horrific Colorado Springs car crash he was called to as a paramedic in 1979. A truck had hit the driver’s side of a Chevy Camaro, and despite his crew’s best efforts, the paramedic team was not able to save the Camaro driver’s life.
Still, the team members knew they gave it their best efforts, and knew that they sometimes had to accept failure, Morse said.
“In the Senate, there’s very little we can do alone. But together, there’s very little we can’t do,” Morse told his fellow legislators. “Let’s be open to accomplishing goals we can’t even envision yet.”
Cadman named several people from 2012 tragedies across the state who did more than could be expected. Cadman pointed to a four-man team from Colorado Springs Utilities that braved flames at a building in the Mountain Shadows neighborhood during the Waldo Canyon fire. After being pushed back three times by the fierce fire, the determined team got through and succeeded in restoring power to a pump station at a water storage tank so firefighters could get water pressure.
“Reflecting on their lives really should help us keep this place in perspective. We need to try to emulate the selfless characteristics of these heroes we serve,” Cadman said.
In the House of Representatives, Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, and Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, both spoke of the need to bolster Colorado educational programs, but laid out distinctly different hopes for the session.
Ferrandino concentrated on gun control, government health care expansion, the state budget and civil rights for illegal immigrants and homosexuals. When he mentioned the much-anticipated bill to create civil unions for gay couples, he ironically quoted a typically Republican hero, author Ayn Rand.
“The political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppressive majorities,” Ferrandino said, and declared that “all committed couples deserve equal protection under the law.”
Waller spoke of the economy, energy and reforming government spending. The best thing the Legislature can do, he said, is empower Coloradans to succeed of their own accord.
“The people we represent want to see us create opportunity because they know, just as I do, that opportunity is both an open door and a light at the end of the tunnel,” Waller said.
All four legislative leaders were conspicuously silent on the new constitutional mandate that they enact rules for retail sales of recreational marijuana.
The Department of Revenue must begin accepting retail sales applications Oct. 1 and begin issuing business licenses by Jan. 1, 2014. The Legislature must write regulations for the industry before then.
Rookie senator Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, said opening day was a exciting. It was a thrill for him, he said, to sit on the Senate floor with his wife and four children, and listen to both Cadman’s and Morse’s stories.
“It’s not about us. It’s about an idea,” Hill said (who, incidentally, lost a Senate race to Morse in 2010). He said it was appropriate that a number of first responders had been guests on the Senate floor when the Senate convened, so lawmakers could honor “those who put their lives on the line.”
Another new lawmaker, Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, was less thrilled with the first day.
“There weren’t any surprises. I hope the agenda of cooperation will outweigh the differences on certain issues,” Exum said. “We know where the Democrats stand, and we know where the Republicans stand. I just hope we can find some common ground.”
Colorado Springs Republican Janak Joshi began his second term in office on Wednesday, and sounded doubtful that the annual starting theme of bipartisanship will last.
“We’ll just have to see how much that actually materializes,” said Joshi. “We’re much more about individual liberty, and the other side has always been about government control.”
Another veteran of the Capitol, Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, also was less than enthusiastic. Grantham, who represents a large chunk of El Paso County, said Cadman’s and Morse’s speeches were “typical.”
The two were able to strike “the right tone,” Grantham said, but added, “There’s always that undercurrent that there will be some highly-charged partisan issues coming our way.”
Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said it was unusual that Morse and Cadman took a pass on policy positions in favor of individual tales, but added that he hadn’t had “any great expectation” for opening day.