Colorado legislature is a microcosm of the state’s politics. It has some of the state’s most thoughtful and articulate leaders and some of its most extreme.
The state legislature was run by a Republican rural and Front Range suburban coalition for forty years from the 1960s. Democrats, early in this century, were able to wrestle control with money and very smart campaigns. Twice in the last decade they have controlled both houses and in 2013 they pushed through major elements of the Democratic agenda on gay, Hispanic and labor rights, renewable energy mandates and gun regulations.
With their leadership and agenda challenged (their senate leader was recalled), they lowered their profile in 2014, but still lost the Senate by one vote. They held the House.
In 2015, the split legislature and the Republican 2014 election victories have produced a much more restrained environment. Governor John Hickenlooper, who won a close re-election, appears to be starting the year cautiously.
Some legislative issues:
- Tax refunds – Will likely refund money this year, but Democrats not happy and issue will be around as long as surplus. “I think in this session the odds are zero,” Ciruli said. “It is just sort of inconceivable that the Republican Party would go for a TABOR override.”
- Fracking – Top issue. Regardless of legislative activity, 2016 initiative likely. “This looks like a very, very difficult political compromise. More than likely no statutory changes could pass,” Ciruli said. “From their point of view there is more than enough regulation already.”
- Marijuana – Public divided, not happy with state regulations. “The doomsday scenarios did not turn out,” Ciruli said, referring to predictions of a spike in consumption by both adults and minors. “Much of their motivation is to restrict access to what is a very lucrative business,” Ciruli said, adding that pot isn’t unique in this regard for Colorado. “Trying to restrict access is exactly what cartels do. You see it in gaming in this state. You see the current gaming industry always trying to keep out any additional gaming. You see it in liquor.” “We need to be very happy with what we’ve created because changing it is extremely difficult,” Ciruli cautions of the battle over who will be allowed to grow and sell cannabis.
- Housing – Construction defects major issue for developers, trial lawyers and Republicans. “The Republican party is very unhappy with it. It hurts the development community and I think they argue, contributes to these high prices and the shortage of housing,” Ciruli said. “But the Democrats are sensitive to that, too. They also receive a lot of benefit and support from various developers in their counties and communities. They also have high housing prices and they have housing shortages.” “No doubt things will cool off as developers begin to build into this good economy, but it takes time,” Ciruli said.
- Water – California and Texas have plans and are making investments. Colorado overdue. “There’s a sense that Colorado’s sort of running out of time, that the downstream states are getting ahead of it in terms of using what water is available,” Ciruli said. “I think the pressure is building for Colorado to make some decisions.”
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