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Insert Comma • A Portfolio of Leigh E. Rich
Four decades of ‘pent-up’ issues

Jobs, education, health care top Dems’ list

By Leigh E. Rich

Even after wandering the legislative desert for 40-plus years, “the truth is we don’t have the luxury of picking an agenda. It picked us,” House Speaker-elect Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, told reporters on Wednesday at the Colorado Press Association’s annual Legislative Forum.

Romanoff was joined at the Denver Press Club event by incoming Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Groff, D-Denver; Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman, R-Burlington; House Minority Leader Joe Stengel, R-Littleton; Gov. Bill Owens; Denver Post political analyst Fred Brown; and The Colorado Statesman’s very own Jerry Kopel.

While Colorado’s teetering budget topped the discussion among legislators and reporters alike, the Legislature’s new leaders also spoke to other “big ticket” issues such as job growth, health care, education, transportation and water.

The governor also reassured Coloradans that “I love the job I have … and I don’t really want any other opportunity,” and he admitted he’ll “be in a little different role these next two years” now that the Democrats have taken over both the House and the Senate. It is the first time in more than four decades that the Blue Team has manned the Statehouse helm.

Owens poked a playful stick in the Dems’ direction, noting that “after 40 years, they have some pent-up issues to deal with.”

While there was a strong bipartisan zeal to the day, Groff and Romanoff promised the Democrats will leave their mark.

“There has been a lot of talk about how we have gotten the majority,” Groff said, before putting in his two cents: “Our caucus, I think, represents Colorado’s true voice.”

And the coming session, Groff poked the stick back at the GOP, will not be about whether homosexuals can marry, whether the Ten Commandments may be posted in government buildings, or whether there are more or less conservatives on college campuses. Instead, “we will bring a new set of values to the Legislature” that will emphasize “a paycheck for every family, a book for every child, and a bed for every patient.”

Romanoff echoed Groff’s sentiments. “We will pursue good public policy” rather than partisanship, he said, stating that the legislative process has been “poisoned in recent years by an excess of partisanship and an absence of statesmanship. … We intend to change the climate of the state Legislature.”

According to Romanoff, this will entail considering bills on their merits, enabling citizens to testify, allowing the minority to take the lead on second readings, and evaluating legislative staff on job performance, rather than party affiliation.

Calling the election “a great disappointment,” Stengel counseled the new majority that “leadership is not easy. It’s going to take a lot more than sound bites,” and said he is “anxiously awaiting to see” the Democrats’ agenda in black and white.

Stengel did pledge, however, that he and Hillman, who are both term-limited, are committed to working toward bipartisan solutions.

“We’re free agents. We’re mavericks this session.”

Taking in all of the GOP’s advice, Romanoff promised the governor with a wink and a smile: “We’re trying to pace ourselves here.”

On the issues …

Job Growth

“Restoring Colorado’s leadership in job growth” is a top priority, Romanoff said, citing statistics that the state has fallen from second in the nation to 49th in this area since 2001.

And though Colorado still has favorable tax and regulatory systems, Romanoff said, businesses also want a skilled workforce and a modern transportation system. “Our human and physical infrastructures are in real danger.”

Hillman emphasized that despite offshoring and job outsourcing, “in Colorado … we are ignoring the elephant in the room—the business personal property tax.”

With plans on both sides to eliminate this tax, both Hillman and Romanoff called the tax “nonsensical” and “silly.”

Health Care

Health care is “even more daunting,” the speaker-elect added and, according to Groff, the Legislature will consider potential solutions such as preferred drug lists, drug purchasing pools, health savings accounts, and easier ways for small businesses to insure employees.

Money raised from Amendment 35’s increased tobacco tax will help close “dangerous disparities” in health care that exist throughout the state, Groff said, but it cannot be relied on to resolve the entire crisis.

While acknowledging that the state has a responsibility to provide a health care safety net, Hillman also spoke to the promise of competition in the private market—stating that premiums have increased by less as free-market competition has risen.

“The jury is still out on the final numbers,” he said, but he remains optimistic. “We need to continue down that road.”


In favor of a “cradle to college” approach, Groff noted that “Colorado still lags behind the nation in per-pupil funding.”

But with Amendment 23 on the books, he’s more worried about higher education.

“We must stop that hemorrhaging now” that places the fate of Colorado’s universities and colleges in jeopardy.

Access to preschool programs is also important, Groff said, particularly in areas of the state where it’s most needed.


Though it’s no longer making headlines, water remains a looming issue, Stengel warned, with reservoirs still at 50 percent capacity.

Colorado has “a long-term problem with water,” he said. “We can’t conserve our way out of a drought.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, December 17). Four decades of ‘pent-up’ issues: Big ticket issues—job growth, health care, education, water—offer challenge. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 8.

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