The Colorado General Assembly opened its 2019 session Friday with Democrats in charge in both chambers and Republicans talking about compromise and standing firm.
In the House of Representatives, newly appointed Speaker KC Becker laid out Colorado’s economy, climate change, transportation and education as top priorities for House Democrats.
Becker outlined her goals just minutes after she was elected as Colorado’s fourth female House speaker.
Representatives must take a bipartisan approach to solving the state’s substantial issues, Becker said.
Reaching across the aisle isn’t mandatory since Democrats hold a comfortable majority in the House. Even so, Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, said Democrats aren’t looking to “just bulldoze our way through” the 120-day legislative session.
“But at the same time, elections have consequences,” Esgar said. And the November midterms elected Democrats across the state and set the expectations of Coloradans, which she said she hopes House Republicans will recognize.
Some of those Republicans say they’re wary Democrats will force their agenda on Republicans, rather than seek bipartisan solutions.
“It didn’t sound very collaborative,” Fountain Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf said of Becker’s address. “But I’m hoping I’m wrong.”
Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, who will continue as the House minority leader, said Republicans are willing to reach across the aisle this year, but there are areas where they’ll push back.
“People make mistakes. People are fallible. People can be tempted,” Neville said. “We don’t want to give those in government too much power to interfere with our lives because they’re just as prone to mistakes as the rest of us.”
During her address, Becker first focused on the economy. “We’ve gone from a deep recession to a thriving state,” Becker said. “But the advantages of Colorado’s growth and economic prosperity of the last five or six years haven’t been felt by every corner of our state.”
Many Colorado families save money for years to get ahead but to no avail, Becker said.
“That means we need to give them the tools they need to get ahead,” she said.
Some of those tools include paid family leave and equal pay for women and minorities, she said. That also means bridging the gap between urban and rural portions of the state, reducing the cost of health care and providing the opportunity for more high-paying jobs in the state.
Landgraf said she supports paid family leave, but only using a free-market approach that doesn’t place undue financial burdens on employers.
Neville said Republicans would not support an “expensive and involuntary program.”
“We’ll oppose it because we know, and history teaches, that such a program will cost more than planned and be less efficient than planned,” he said. “Even as it makes Colorado less affordable for single moms, working families and young people joining the workforce.”
Another step to addressing the economy, Becker said, is to provide more affordable housing.
“That means we need to invest state dollars in our affordable housing trust fund,” Becker said. “It is my hope and the hope of many in this chamber that we work together to problem solve and expand opportunity.”
In the Senate, the chamber’s incoming president, Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, started out his opening-day speech with a shout-out to those in his hometown who could not be at the Capitol to see his swearing-in as the state’s first Hispanic Senate president.
Garcia, in his remarks, called for unity and an end to the “gamesmanship” and partisan fighting that he said have marked the Senate for the past four years.
At just 10 minutes, the speech was succinct and light on specifics on Senate Democrats’ agenda.
He spoke about the value of hard work, service and honor, lessons he learned as a Marine and hope to bring to the Senate leadership.
“We understood we had a collective mission and have each other’s back,” he said, adding that a spirit of collaboration needs to come back to the Capitol.
“We’ve allowed political parties to divide us,” he said. “Our state deserves better. Our constituents expect more from us. Unlike Washington, D.C., this Senate must bring new energy.”
Republican Minority Leader Chris Holbert’s speech Friday was three times the length of Garcia’s remarks.
Holbert launched into what his caucus will try to do in 2019, and that means holding the majority accountable for the “increasing number of dollars we take” in taxes
“People have said ‘no’ to higher taxation until we provide better return for their taxes,” he said, a reference to November’s failed statewide ballot measures that would have raised taxes for transportation and schools.
“We have the voice but not the votes,” he said, which gives the Senate Republicans a “unique opportunity to demonstrate effective leadership.”
He asked Garcia to be the guardian against overreach, a nod to the 2013 session when two Democratic senators were recalled over gun control legislation.
Holbert also spoke against some of the measures expected from Senate Democrats, such as a bill requiring employees to pay into a fund for paid time off for family or other emergencies, and against safe injection sites for drugs.
Holbert said Senate Republicans’ priorities include a bill to put $336 million into roads and bridges.