The first year of a governor’s term and a new House and Senate majority is full of anticipation: What does the new governor think about the issues that face the state?
While Gov.-elect Jared Polis has well-known positions on health care, renewable energy, cannabis and climate change, what he thinks about dozens of issues that come up in a traditional legislative session is still something of a question mark for many lawmakers.
Colorado Politics asked around to find out who will be among the power players in the 2019 session, and beyond.
The incoming Senate president, Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, and Speaker of the House KC Becker of Boulder are already in talks with Polis about his agenda for 2019. A handful of lawmakers are likely to be part of “Team Polis,” furthering his legislative agenda.
Among them is Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder, a co-founder with Polis of New Era Colorado, a civic engagement nonprofit, in 2006. Fenberg and Polis align on a number of issues, most notably renewable energy and fracking.
Fenberg supports increasing the state’s renewable energy standard for power from 30 percent to at least 50 percent by 2030, and granting local governments control over fracking regulations, the Legislature’s likely answer to Proposition 112, the failed November ballot measure that attempted to increase setbacks for oil and drilling activities.
“It’s imperative that we give more control to local communities to regulate fracking within their boundaries,” Fenberg said last year. “Allowing private industry to take what they will without regard for a local community is against the ideals we stand for as Americans.”
Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver is another New Era Colorado co-founder. Herod spearheaded a successful Denver ballot measure campaign in 2018 to set up a quarter-cent-per-dollar sales tax that will provide community-based mental health and substance abuse treatment. In addition to her interest in mental health, Herod is also the incoming chair of the House Finance Committee, which looks at bills affecting state revenue, among its tasks.
Rep. Jonathan Singer of Longmont is a major go-to lawmaker on cannabis. Polis’ attention to legal cannabis began in Congress, as a founding member of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. Polis has also sponsored measures on cannabis, such as one that would regulate marijuana like alcohol, similar to Colorado’s Amendment 64.
Polis’ 2018 gubernatorial campaign included a full-time organizer devoted to the cannabis industry. The industry responded in kind, hosting fundraisers for Polis, such as one in July 2017 that drew a Who’s Who of 250 cannabis industry leaders.
Singer and Rep. Dan Pabon (who was term-limited in 2018) have carried numerous bills that set up the regulatory structure for the state’s marijuana industry and addressed some of the issues that have surfaced since then, including where people could smoke legally, after a 2018 measure permitting pot “tasting rooms” was vetoed by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The governor this year also vetoed a bill that would allow children on the autism spectrum to use cannabis, and a third measure that would have allowed public corporations to invest in cannabis businesses. Polis issued a rare criticism of Hickenlooper for all three vetoes, and you can expect to see all three issues surface again in 2019.
On the Republican side, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker has also become a strong, albeit reluctant, supporter of marijuana and could be an ally among his caucus, which includes Sen. Don Coram of Montrose, who is now a hemp producer. A Coram bill in 2018, signed by the governor, designated industrial hemp as an agricultural product, months ahead of the legalization of hemp by Congress in the farm bill.
Sen. Angela Williams of Denver is taking the helm of the Senate Business Affairs Committee, and business leaders are hoping her previous business-friendly approach continues with a Democratic majority in 2019.
Peggi O’Keefe is the executive director of the Colorado Gaming Association, which doesn’t hesitate to put in the big bucks when necessary (as in 2014’s ballot measure on racetrack betting, which the industry spent millions to defeat).
Watch for a major bill on sports gambling in the 2019 session, following the U.S. Supreme Court decision last May that struck down a 1992 federal law that banned commercial sports gambling. House Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver is the favorite to be the measure’s sponsor. O’Keefe has been supportive of a bill in 2019, one that will likely head to the voters later in the year.
Lisa Kaufmann has been named Polis’ chief of staff, and is expected to be the architect of his 2019 legislative agenda. Kaufman is another co-founder of New Era Colorado, and has been with Polis since he announced his first run for Congress in 2007. She has served as his political director and campaign manager ever since, and chaired his gubernatorial campaign.