Journal-Advocate (Sterling)

Democrats to govern Colorado with ‘generation­al’ majorities

issues. Democratic officials have spent the last several months focusing on defending the gains made over the past decade. Now they have to decide how to use them.

- By Nick Coltrain and Seth Klamann Medianews Group

In their first meeting as a caucus, Colorado’s incoming Senate Democrats found themselves with a problem: The largest Senate committee room didn’t have enough space on the dais for all their members.

Democrats in the state House of Representa­tives would face the same issue hours later Thursday. Instead of a predicted red wave lapping at the edges of Democrats’ control of Colorado’s government, last week’s election reinforced the party’s standing and positioned it to hold a “generation­al” majority, as Senate President Steve Fenberg termed it.

“It’s pretty cool for Democrats that the biggest problem is that there’s not enough chairs in the biggest committee room in the building,” outgoing Speaker Alec Garnett said.

But these new Democratic majorities arrive at a tenuous economic moment, with a tighter budget and familiar cost-of-living and affordabil­ity

Democrats see larger majorities, tighter budget

As they elected their Senate and House leaders Thursday, Democrats frequently invoked a metaphor of family: They can be big, they can love each other, and they can fight on occasion — without it ripping the family apart.

“I grew up in a family of nine children, and we had one bathroom,” state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, the chair of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, said. “So, while we all loved each other very much, things can get tense. And I would say that’s probably the future we’re looking at.”

The budget appears to be an immediate pressure point for a caucus eager to make good on campaign pledges. Gov. Jared Polis warned in early November that it might not be a flush year for new programs, especially as inflation eats away at spending power and economists warn of a possible recession.

“This is back to a kind of normal Colorado,” Polis said while presenting his budget proposal to lawmakers on Tuesday. “There’s not a lot of money pending for new programs. Yes, we can fund education strongly, but we want to sustain it. It’s going to be a challenge to do that.”

Newly elected House Speaker Julie Mccluskie said there were still plenty of meaty issues for legislator­s to tackle, from housing affordabil­ity to the cost of living, but lawmakers are “heading into a very different fiscal environmen­t from what we’ve seen the last couple of years,” when pandemic-era federal money flooded the state budget.

Polis warned legislator­s in early November that his budget proposal doesn’t come with much wiggle room for new programs. Sen. Jeff Bridges noted that the legislatur­e, not Polis, will ultimately write and pass the budget. But the chamber shouldn’t expect a bonanza.

“JBC members are going to go from Santa Claus to the Grinch,” Bridges said.

State Rep. Monica Duran, the newly elected majority leader of the House — where Democrats hold 46 of the chamber’s 65 seats — acknowledg­ed there will be work to make sure the members meet their individual goals and those of the caucus as a whole. Some of those goals are still being figured out, she said, noting that there are 46 voices at her caucus’ table.

“We want to make sure that we are well organized, ready to be able to figure what our direction’s going to be, what our passions are, what’s the work we want to get done,” Duran said.

“We’re going to be aggressive on that agenda.” Democrats look to set their priorities

Late last legislativ­e session, House Republican­s found leverage over certain Democratic priorities because big bills were bumping into the constituti­onally mandated end of the session. They launched into filibuster­s to force changes to — or essentiall­y kill — bills they didn’t like.

Some House Republican­s, with fewer than a third of the seats in the chamber, have already likened their position to the legend of the doomed Spartans facing an overwhelmi­ng enemy — — including leveraging the calendar again. Rep. Richard Holtorf, the Republican’s new whip, pledged to filibuster Democrats into exhaustion this session.

But Duran looked at the size of her caucus and sees Coloradans laying out their expectatio­ns for Democrats to deliver on their priorities.

“(Voters) want us to really uphold our values,” Duran said, naming support for working families, public education and gun safety among them. “That’s what that expectatio­n is, and that’s what they want. And they spoke loud and clear.”

Fenberg, who’s returning as Senate president with a stronger majority around him, characteri­zed the win as voters “rewarding us for being competent leaders and governing responsibi­lity.”

Financing will be a natural pinch point on some programs, he said, but voters also delivered Democrats majorities on the promise they would address things like the affordabil­ity of child care, education and health care, crime and air quality. And “we’re going to be aggressive on that agenda, for sure,” he said.

“Being in the majority means you have to govern, and when you govern that means you’re problem solving,” Fenberg said, emphasizin­g that he hopes to do that with his Republican colleagues. “We don’t have the luxury of throwing bombs at the other side.”

 ?? AARON ONTIVEROZ — THE DENVER POST ?? Gov. Jared Polis takes the stage after defeating republican challenger Heidi Ganahl at the Art Hotel in Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
AARON ONTIVEROZ — THE DENVER POST Gov. Jared Polis takes the stage after defeating republican challenger Heidi Ganahl at the Art Hotel in Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

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