Winners and Losers of the 2017 Colorado legislative session

THE WINNERS

Rural Colorado

After years of debate, a crisis over funding for rural hospitals and Medicaid recipients brought Republicans to the bargaining table to fix a small but important glitch that could have cost Colorado hundreds of millions of dollars. Thanks to a bipartisan compromise brokered by House Majority Leader KC Becker and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman that took most of the session to hammer out, rural hospitals are safe.


House Speaker Crisanta Duran (D)

2017 needed a leader who knew how to negotiate with the other side effectively, and Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran was more than up to the challenge. Colorado’s first Latina House Speaker successfully navigated through numerous thorny issues that had plagued the General Assembly for years, from construction defects to the rural hospitals and transportation. And she stopped dozens of terrible bills from the GOP-controlled Senate from becoming law.


Senators Don Coram and Larry Crowder (R)

An outbreak of bipartisan good faith and cooperation this year helped lawmakers accomplish more than expected from a divided legislature. Rural Republican Senators like Don Coram of Montrose and Larry Crowder of Alamosa pushed back against right-wing ideologues and special interests, and proved instrumental in getting key bipartisan agreements through the Colorado Senate. More like this, please.


First-time homeowners

Thanks to the dedication of patient negotiators like Rep. Alec Garnett, a deal was forged on the issue of construction defects in condo construction that might solve yet another issue Colorado has wrestled with for years. Bad proposals from developer lobbyists sought to take away homeowner rights to sue over defects in construction. Rep. Garnett kept all parties at the table until a deal that protected homeowners while alleviating industry concerns was hammered out.


Everyone with lungs

Lawmakers have tried for several years to pass a law outlawing “rolling coal,” or modifying a diesel truck to spew giant clouds of toxic smoke on purpose. Democratic Rep. Joann Ginal teamed up with GOP Sen. Don Coram to try again this year—and after their first bill died, the second try made it through.


Sen. Kerry Donovan and Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D)

Colorado’s Western Slope is so fortunate to have two of the very best representing them at the state capitol: Sen. Kerry Donovan, who helped fight for public lands and rural broadband, and Rep. Barbara McLachlan, who worked tirelessly this year on addressing the critical shortage of teachers in our state.


Senator Leroy Garcia (D)

Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo continued to be Pueblo’s champion in the Colorado legislature. In 2017, Sen. Garcia worked on expanding passenger rail service along the Front Range—an important issue as Pueblo works hard to bring Amtrak service to the city. Sen. Garcia bucked his party occasionally, questioning fee hikes on hunters and fishermen. Garcia remains a great representative for all the people of Pueblo.


Connect for Health Colorado

With uncertainty in Washington about the future of health care reform and polls showing public opposition to dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, Colorado Republicans plowed ahead with an ill-advised attempt to repeal the Connect for Health Colorado insurance marketplace. Running into a buzzsaw of opposition, Republicans were forced to postpone the bill repeatedly until finally killing it at the end of the session—great news for thousands of Coloradans who depend on the marketplace for their health coverage.


Far-right obstructionists

It was a successful legislative session, but many important issues were left unaddressed—mostly because of intense pressure from far-right advocacy groups like the out-of-state-billionaire-backed Americans for Prosperity. Because of their endless attacks on any attempt to raise revenue, or find legitimate fixes to our budget mess, Colorado won’t even get the chance to vote this year to improve our state’s outdated transportation system. The far right won that battle, but the rest of Colorado lost.


Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)

After years of obstruction under former Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman, a ray of hope emerged from the less combative, more thoughtful style of leadership shown by Kevin Grantham in 2017. While by no means perfect, Grantham’s willingness to engage across the aisle with Speaker Duran produced several of the session’s biggest wins. Grantham also fought bravely against Americans for Prosperity and intransigent lawmakers in his own party for a deal on transportation funds, but was not successful in persuading his caucus to go along.


 

THE LOSERS

Business and transportation lobbies

In 2016, business interests spent lavish amounts of money to elect Republican members of the Colorado General Assembly. In return, Republicans shot down one of the business community’s most important priorities: a deal to fund transportation infrastructure. A healthy business climate is more than just low taxes, and “pro-business” lawmakers do more than just say no.


Working families and needy Coloradans

Although the legislature hammered out some tough compromises this year, some of the battles won were not necessary to fight at all—and many good bills died because of the one-seat right-wing control of the Colorado Senate. The deal to save rural hospitals included painful fee increases on the poorest Medicaid patients at the insistence of Republican lawmakers. Another bill to provide family medical leave died in the Senate after receiving overwhelming public support and passing the Colorado House.


Senator Tim Neville (R)

State Sen. Tim Neville’s run for the U.S. Senate last year fell flat, and Neville set himself up poorly for a difficult re-election in 2018 after sponsoring some of the worst legislation to be introduced in Colorado this year. Tim Neville supported legislation to ban abortion, weaken common-sense gun safety laws, and even to make it easier for unvaccinated children to attend Colorado public schools.


Representative Phil Covarrubias (R)

During debate on legislation to oppose unconstitutional roundups and other actions by the Trump administration, freshman Rep. Phil Covarrubias made national headlines when he defended the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Covarrubias later apologized, but the incident once again tarnished Colorado’s reputation on a civil rights issue of national importance.


Senator Beth Humenik (R)

Sen. Beth Humenik of Adams County represents a closely-divided swing suburban district, but in 2017 she caved to the extremists in her caucus pushing legislation to support the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. At the same time, Humenik crossed her own party on a number of key votes—ensuring she lost friends on both sides of the aisle. Bewilderingly, Sen. Humenik voted against the much lauded and bipartisan Hospital Provider Fee deal, essentially printing mail pieces for her opponents in the 2018 election.


Representative Dave Williams (R)

In 2016, Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt repeatedly brought shame on the state of Colorado with his bizarre, hateful diatribes. Unfortunately, Klingenschmitt’s successor in House District 15 Rep. Dave Williams, is, if anything even worse. Williams sponsored some of the worst anti-immigrant legislation of the year—bills that would make Donald Trump himself blush. Williams, who represents Colorado Springs, even tried to insert an amendment into the budget concerning fetal tissue—the same false charge that provoked the tragic mass shooting at Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood clinic.


LGBT and West Slope Coloradans

Just before the session ended, the Colorado Senate killed the re-appointment of the chair of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on a party-line vote. This highly unusual move threw a highly qualified LGBT representative and the Commission’s only representative from the Western Slope off the body that oversees workplace discrimination complaints.


Firestone, Colorado

After a massive explosion caused by disused oil and gas flowlines near a Firestone home killed two people, Republicans in the state legislature filibustered and killed a bill to require such lines be mapped and the data made public—including Firestone’s own representative in the Colorado House, Rep. Lori Saine. Even after tragedy, oil and gas profits come first to the industry’s political supporters.


Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)

Both a winner and a loser in 2017, Senate President Kevin Grantham’s fiery speech to his caucus in favor of legislation to put a tax question on the ballot to fund transportation projects will be remembered as a great moment of bipartisan cooperation. Unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of out-of-state attack groups like Americans for Prosperity, Grantham’s words fell on deaf ears. Colorado needs more than ideological rhetoric to solve our long-term challenges, and Grantham knows it—but he can’t do anything about it.


Petition forgery artists

After a scandal rocked the Republican U.S. Senate primary in 2016 when ProgressNow Colorado uncovered forged petitions submitted by Jon Keyser, the legislature passed a law this year requiring that ballot petition signatures be verified by the Secretary of State’s office before a candidate qualifies for the ballot. It won’t help Keyser, who moved out of Colorado after the petition fraud scandal wrecked his campaign—but it closes a loophole that may have been exploited by unscrupulous campaigns for years.