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Insights: Special session would appear to be simple - don't count on it

September 30, 2017 Updated: October 1, 2017 at 11:26 am
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Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado speaks during the final day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Thursday, July 28, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Passion in politics is a drug of choice, and drugs and driving never mix well. Hear me out.

From the time Colorado Politics broke the story that a surprise special session was in the works, then 24 hours later when the governor announced it, you could feel this political morning-after taking shape.

The issue is simple: fixing an error in a bill that could cost special districts millions of dollars in marijuana tax revenue, even though the taxes have been collected. Lawmakers made the mistake or at least didn't catch it before it became law. Taxpayers, as usual, are along for the ride, so keep your gas money handy.

Gov. John Hickenlooper saw it coming when he called back all 100 legislators to the Capitol starting Monday.

"This special session will be solely to address this one narrow correction," Hickenlooper said, after signing the executive order for the first special session since 2012, when the sticking point was civil unions for same sex marriage.

This is not that. It's also not the political grenade of the 2006 special session, when Gov, Bill Owens squared off with Democrats over public benefits for undocumented immigrants.

This is not a battleground, or shouldn't be. This is a typo in a manifesto. It shouldn't be a big deal.

But that doesn't even remotely mean it won't be. In fact, it probably will be. While a lawmaker might say out of one side of his mouth that the "Colorado Way" is to work together to solve problems, out of the other they grumble. They undercut. They impugn. They threaten.

Republicans have a lot to feel bitter about when it comes to this governor. They still blame him for not being more hands-on with his fellow Democrats to forge a transportation deal in the last session, without appealing to taxpayers for more money.

The Capitol's GOP members also didn't like it last month when Hickenlooper joined with Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich to draft a national bipartisan health care plan, but he didn't reach out to Republicans in his own statehouse.

If Hickenlooper thinks he'll raise his national profile as the great moderate governor, he'll have statehouse Republicans as weights around his ankles.

Senate Bill 267, the imperfect bipartisan legislation that needs fixing was held up as proof that Republicans and Democrats could work together for the greater good of the state.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, the rancher from Sterling, found common ground with Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman, the lesbian pastor from Denver.

In the House it was bipartisan Beckers, House Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder and Rep. Jon Becker of Fort Morgan.

KC Becker is willing to get this session done and move on, but not without driving a stake into the heart of bipartisanship.

"Leveraging a drafting error no one saw & that has bad effects for ppl is cynical politics that ppl hate," she wrote on Twitter for all the world to see. "Quit it GOP."

Sonnenberg said that the governor's office didn't reach out to him, one of the chief deal-makers on Senate Bill 267, before calling a session and effectively calling out the expensive mistake.

"Calling a special session without an understanding of the game plan, or proper consultation with the legislators involved, is an irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars," Sonnenberg said the night the governor announced his decision.

Republicans are working on amendments and surprises to bring some of their partisan wish list to the stage, two and a half months before the next regular session begins.

But that gets us back to the those taxpayer dollars Sonnenberg mentioned.

He said the session would cost $20,000 a day. In 2012, it cost $23,500 a day. It takes three days to get one bill through both chambers.

That means taxpayers are on the hook to pay between $60,000 and $70,500, at a minimum.

The median household income for a Colorado family is $63,909.

Late last week, the governor's office sought to diffuse that criticism by announcing the special districts would pay the cost of the special session. Still, don't expect everyone to be happy.

Before they could even sign the original bill, a brawl broke out over where the legislation would be signed. Hickenlooper signed it at Fowler High School east of Pueblo. Republicans were "outraged" he wouldn't sign it at one of the rural hospitals that would have benefited, and they said it might hurt his chances of getting their cooperation in the future.

Yeah, it's like that.

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