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Following A Turbulent Year, Colorado Lawmakers Unsure What 2014 Holds

Colorado State GOP
Flickr - Creative Commons
The Colorado Senate chamber, seen in a budget debate in 2011. Members are hoping to put the past in the past and work together, but post-recall shake-ups and an election year could make that difficult.

When Colorado lawmakers return in January, the makeup of the state Senate will be different. Coming off a tumultuous off session with two first-ever recalls and a resignation can do that. The state’s Democrats now have a new Senate President and only a one-seat hold on the majority.

Legislators are unsure of how the shake-up will play out.

“It is good now that we’re settled on who is going to be there during session. It’s good that everything’s over,” said Senator Linda Newell (D- Littleton).

She says the recall elections were disheartening and thinks they’ll absolutely impact the session.

“I think we will see a more hesitant culture. The ambiance of the chamber is going to be very unfortunately dicey,” laments Newell.

In addition to changes on the Democratic side of the aisle, three Republican senators are running for higher offices: Governor and U.S. Senator. Newell says combined with the recalls it adds another layer of stress.

“I’m hoping that means we all just buckle down and say the people have hired us to do our jobs, let’s just get it done,” Newell said.

Saying the recalls will be in the background, another senate Democrat, Pat Steadman of Denver wants to focus on job creation and dealing with the aftermath of devastating wildfires and floods. He notes that “The challenges are the same regardless of three new members.”

“To be successful in this job and this environment you have to have thick skin. There will be people trying to undermine you and criticize you. It’s the nature of the process,” Steadman said.

Across the aisle and in the other chamber, former Speaker of the House Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) believes the recalls will overshadow the entire session.

“I think it’s important for Republicans not to overplay the results of those recalls, but it’s absolutely impossible for Democrats to ignore the results of those recalls and if they do it’ll be at their own peril,” McNulty said.

For conservatives, last session wasn’t pleasant. 2013 saw the passage of stricter gun laws, civil unions, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, same day voter registration and renewable energy standards for electric coops.

“Last session was the absolute worst session,” said Senator Steve King (R- Grand Junction). “It was like waterboarding, it seems like every time I caught my breath we were in the middle of more torture.”

That isn’t a sentiment shared by the Democrats, they’re proud of the work they did. Despite the starkly different take on last session, members of both parties say they hope to put the past in the past and work together.

Given that it’s an election year and the politics in the building, even that could be an uphill challenge.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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