Repub­li­can bloc and the “no” votes they cast against Se­nate Pres­i­dent Cad­man C ex­pose a di­vide that threat­ens the party

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By John Frank

This week, when Colorado law­mak­ers re­turn for the 2016 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, much of the at­ten­tion will fo­cus on the par­ti­san grid­lock be­tween the Repub­li­can-led Se­nate and the Demo­cratic-con­trolled House.

A less-no­ticed dy­namic, poised to det­o­nate in the elec­tion-year term, is a con­ser­va­tive split among Repub­li­cans in the Se­nate. The di­vide threat­ens the party’s ef­forts to present a uni­fied front.

The vast ma­jor­ity of the Se­nate votes against leg­is­la­tion in the 2015 ses­sion came from Repub­li­cans, rather than Democrats, ac­cord­ing to a Den­ver Post anal­y­sis us­ing data from the non­par­ti­san bill-track­ing ser­vice Colorado Capi­tol Watch.

The Post’s find­ings point to a re­ver­sal of the typ­i­cal vot­ing pat­tern, par­tic­u­larly given that the ma­jor­ity party de­ter­mines which leg­is­la­tion ad­vances to the floor and of­ten kills mea­sures it op­poses in com­mit­tee.

“Repub­li­cans have splat­tered all over the place,” said Paula Noo­nan, a prin­ci­pal at Colorado Capi­tol Watch and a for­mer Demo­cratic school board mem­ber.

Eight con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors — es­sen­tially a Colorado ver­sion of the con­gres­sional “Free­dom

Cau­cus” — led the protest that split Repub­li­cans on is­sues re­lated to taxes and spend­ing, regulation and so­cial is­sues.

The bills that drew op­po­si­tion from half or more of the 18-mem­ber GOP cau­cus in­cluded mea­sures to ex­pand a tax credit for his­toric build­ings, con­tinue the regulation of el­e­va­tor me­chan­ics, spend more on a school lunch pro­gram for needy stu­dents and ex­pand govern­ment-paid treat­ment for chil­dren with autism.

The law­mak­ers ar­gued that th­ese mea­sures and dozens of other bills ad­vanced un­der Se­nate Pres­i­dent Bill Cad­man, a Repub­li­can from Colorado Springs, were not con­ser­va­tive enough.

“I think a lot of the no votes were … this ex­pan­sion of govern­ment into the lives of peo­ple,” said Sen. Tim Neville, a Lit­tle­ton Repub­li­can run­ning for the U.S. Se­nate, and one of the eight law­mak­ers. “Also, I think there’s a frus­tra­tion we are see­ing with govern­ment ac­tu­ally get­ting in­volved in pick­ing win­ners and losers — that’s a prob­lem.”

The vot­ing pat­tern re­flects the ide­o­log­i­cal di­vide in the na­tional Repub­li­can Party, most ob­vi­ous in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial con­test, and show­cases the ten­sions that will in­flu­ence which bills win ap­proval when the leg­is­la­ture con­venes Wed­nes­day.

The top is­sues this ses­sion in­clude a state bud­get short­fall, money for roads, po­ten­tial spend­ing cuts to education and a lack of af­ford­able hous­ing.

With GOP lead­ers in both cham­bers term-lim­ited af­ter this year, the up­com­ing ses­sion will open the door to rank-and-file Repub­li­can law­mak­ers to set the party’s di­rec­tion for the fu­ture.

Se­nate, House con­trast

In the Se­nate, Repub­li­cans united on six out of ev­ery 10 bills sent to the gov­er­nor in 2015, but typ­i­cally half the leg­is­la­tion each ses­sion is non­con­tro­ver­sial, mak­ing the GOP frac­tures even more prom­i­nent.

Given the party’s nar­row 18-17 ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, the dis­sen­sion forced Cad­man to rely on sup­port from Demo­cratic law­mak­ers to pass about 40 per­cent of the 367 bills that won ap­proval in both cham­bers, The Post’s anal­y­sis found.

“This doesn’t mean that Cad­man is a closet Demo­crat,” said Noo­nan, who has re­viewed the leg­isla­tive data, “but that the Democrats have moved right and con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans have moved righter.”

The party dis­ci­pline in the House, de­spite its own fac­tions, pro­vides a stark con­trast to the Se­nate.

Democrats, who hold a 34-31 ma­jor­ity in the cham­ber, voted in uni­son on 85 per­cent of the bills sent to the gov­er­nor.

Only once did a ma­jor­ity of the Demo­cratic cau­cus vote against a bill that went to the gov­er­nor — a mea­sure to limit red-light traf­fic cam­eras.

What fur­ther high­lights the dis­tance be­tween the House and Se­nate is the vote dif­fer­en­tial that sep­a­rates each cham­ber’s leader and the party mem­ber who most of­ten broke ranks.

In the House, Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst voted against four bills. Den­ver Demo­crat Dan Pabon, the speaker pro tem, cast the most “no” votes at 11.

In the Se­nate, Cad­man voted against seven bills. Fort Collins Repub­li­can Vicki Mar­ble voted “no” 92 times.

“The lack of party dis­ci­pline on pol­icy for Repub­li­cans is not a new thing and some­thing they pride them­selves in,” said Mike Beasley, a vet­eran lob­by­ist and for­mer leg­isla­tive li­ai­son for Repub­li­can Gov. Bill Owens. “On the Demo­cratic side, dis­ci­pline helped them turn Colorado pur­ple. Democrats run a very tight shop.”

Se­nate Pres­i­dent pro tem Ellen Roberts, R-Du­rango, put it more suc­cinctly: “We do our dis­agree­ments in pub­lic more than Democrats do.”

Re­calls “House Cra­zies”

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is draw­ing com­par­isons to the 1970s, when fire­brand con­ser­va­tive Tom Tan­credo helped lead the “House Cra­zies” in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. And leg­isla­tive veter­ans sug­gest the in­creas­ing polarization of the state’s political cli­mate is to blame.

“I think we were less di­vided back in my time,” said Norma An­der­son, a 19-year law­maker who led the GOP cau­cus in the House and Se­nate be­fore re­tir­ing in 2005. She said the cur­rent Repub­li­cans vot­ing against the party lead­er­ship rep­re­sent the “ul­tra­right.”

Even com­pared to 2014, when Democrats held power in the Se­nate, the present pos­ture rep­re­sents a shift for Repub­li­cans. As the mi­nor­ity party, the GOP voted to­gether more of­ten, about 80 per­cent of the time on con­tested bills.

In an in­ter­view, Cad­man played down any con­cerns about in­ter­nal fric­tion in the cur­rent GOP ma­jor­ity, say­ing the vote pat­terns show that “rep­re­sen­ta­tive govern­ment works.”

On the ques­tion of whether the bills brought to the floor matched con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples, Cad­man replied: “You know, I’m pretty con­ser­va­tive.”

The eight Repub­li­cans who most of­ten op­posed Cad­man’s po­si­tion in­clude three mem­bers of the cau­cus lead­er­ship team and three other com­mit­tee chair­men.

Of the group, four — Mar­ble, Neville, Jerry Sonnenberg of Ster­ling and Randy Baum­gard­ner of Hot Sul­phur Springs — voted against Cad­man’s po­si­tion at least one out of ev­ery five times, the anal­y­sis showed.

Other Repub­li­cans joined the op­po­si­tion on var­i­ous bills, and the law­mak­ers as­serted that there is no for­mal con­ser­va­tive cau­cus within the GOP ranks.

But the eight Repub­li­cans are listed as the top rank­ing law­mak­ers on the score­card from the or­ga­ni­za­tion Prin­ci­ples of Lib­erty, which grades votes based on a range of lib­er­tar­ian-aligned val­ues.

Cad­man, who re­ceived an F on the re­port, said Repub­li­cans who op­posed the bills “maybe should have ex­erted a lit­tle more in­flu­ence be­fore they got to the floor.”

“In­de­pen­dent thinker”

Most of the eight law­mak­ers rep­re­sent strong Repub­li­can dis­tricts, where ide­o­log­i­cal ex­tremes of­ten tri­umph.

The two ex­cep­tions are Neville and Sen. Laura Woods, R-Ar­vada, who faces a tough re-elec­tion bid this year. Both sug­gested their vot­ing records re­flected their dis­tricts and their val­ues.

“If you’ve looked at my vot­ing record at all, what you will know is I’m an in­de­pen­dent thinker,” said Woods, whose district is evenly split be­tween the par­ties and in­de­pen­dents. The val­ues that guide her votes, she said, are lib­erty, smaller govern­ment, per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity and fis­cal re­straint.

“I bucked my lead­er­ship, I bucked the party, I bucked the cau­cus … if it didn’t line up with my prin­ci­ples or my district,” she said.

Repub­li­can lead­ers in both cham­bers tout their open-ended sys­tem and crit­i­cize Democrats for march­ing in lock step. The crit­ics re­call when the House speaker stared down a few Demo­cratic law­mak­ers to pres­sure them to change their vote on a pro­ce­dural mo­tion to de­lay a vote on a bill to reg­u­late pow­dered al­co­hol.

But Hullinghorst, D-Boul­der, sug­gested the co­he­sion gives the party a clear mes­sage and vi­sion to take to vot­ers in an elec­tion year.

“We work re­ally hard on our agenda, and we are on the same page on a lot of things,” she said. “We are in­de­pen­dent thinkers. But … to do the things we re­ally want to get done, we know we have to be uni­fied.”

The Den­ver Post

per­cent of to­tal “no” votes against se­nate pres­i­dent

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.