Republican lawmakers face musical chairs

Veteran legislators are on their way out
The Colorado Statesman

The Grand Old Party in Colorado is becoming the Grand “New” Party with an expected changing of the guard next year in both the House and Senate. Term limits and reapportionment have affected Republicans in far-reaching ways.

The process could swing the balance of power in both chambers, but regardless, it has resulted in a shakeup that will see several veteran Republicans leaving the Legislature either because they have been forced out by newly reconfigured legislative districts or because of term limits. Four Republicans in the House are term-limited, and two in the Senate are coming up against mandated limitations on how long they can stay in office. Still others are being squeezed out or are seeking Senate seats due to reapportionment or personal decisions.

After reapportionment, Sen. Keith King was drawn into the Senate district of Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and he’s not willing to put the Republican Party through a messy primary.

The Colorado Statesman has chosen a handful of these lawmakers to profile as they plan for the next chapter in their lives, or perhaps stay involved in the political process by running for seats in the upper chamber. No matter whom The Statesman interviewed, one theme for the GOP became very clear: the times are changing, and as a result, there is still much work to be done. The passing of the torch to eager conservative minds could be fast approaching.

Term limits mandate the end

Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs, is term-limited in the House, and his Senate district is in mid-term, so he’s leaving at the end of the session with no immediate plans to run for a Senate seat when the time comes in 2014.

Looking back at his time spent under the Gold Dome, Massey has many accomplishments to point to, including his tireless work on education — he serves as chairman of the House Education Committee — as well as his work seeking incentives for attracting the film industry to Colorado. Oddly enough, Massey started with the issue during his first term in the House in 2005. Now that he has almost come full circle, he’s been able to push through the incentives during his last term in office.

Rep. Tom Massey’s work on medical marijuana legislation is representative of his work in general — bipartisan and with purpose.

You wouldn’t think it just knowing him, but some of his proudest work is on marijuana — well, medical marijuana. Massey was instrumental in crafting legislation that has become the framework for a regulated legal medical marijuana industry in the Centennial State. His legislation has become a model for other states to follow as they grapple with the burgeoning industry.

“What I’m particularly proud of is that we created a model. Whether you agree or disagree with the tenets, it was a constitutional amendment and we created a model that now other states are looking at to replicate,” said Massey. “That’s something to be proud of. Anytime you craft legislation that other states think is something they want to replicate, you’ve done something good.”

His work on medical marijuana legislation is representative of his work in general — bipartisan and with purpose. His approach to issues has at times put him at odds with his own party, but that’s rarely stopped him. This year, Massey intends on supporting a bill that would provide reduced tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, a measure passionately opposed by most conservatives.

“In eight years down here, I’ve never gone down to the well and spoken against another member’s bill,” explains Massey. “Whether it’s an R [Republican] or a D [Democrat] or whatever. I’ll speak for, but I won’t speak against. I fully believe that those of us, whenever you carry a bill, you’re carrying it either for a constituency or because you have a belief in it, and I’m not going to dash anyone’s belief. If I don’t believe in it, I have the ability to push the red button [‘No’ vote.]”

Massey decries the political gridlock and posturing that takes place inside the Capitol, and encourages incoming lawmakers to change the direction and climate.

Rep. Keith Swerdfeger says he realized that the battle wasn’t worth fighting in his new district.

“One of my concerns is that we’re headed towards a direction [Washington,] D.C. is in, where we start to reach some of that partisan gridlock, and that’s particularly true in an election year, which is a shame,” he said. “Despite the fact that we’ve had a lot of politics, we’ve also done a lot of good policy in my years here. I hope that we can refrain from the partisan gridlock and work on best practices.”

Squeezed out

Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, would remain at the Capitol — if he could. After reapportionment, King was drawn into the Senate district of Sen. Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, and he’s not willing to put the Republican Party through a messy primary. He points out that the party is already facing a bitter battle between Reps. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, and Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, and he didn’t have the desire to go through a similar reapportionment-related war in the Senate.

That being said, King is not pleased with how things played out. “I wasn’t ready to quit, the Democrats on reapportionment can be vindictive,” he quietly said with a dash of fire in his eyes.

“What’s the most disappointing thing to me is that I don’t come up here to make political statements, I come up here to make good legislation, and to try and impact good things for kids,” King continued. “So, when they targeted Cadman and myself, I don’t know why. I should have the legitimate opportunity to have the people of Colorado Springs decide… there was absolutely zero reason to draw Cadman and me into the same district.”

He believes that had he run, he would have been very competitive. But after weighing the decision, he realized that being a lawmaker was really his fourth career, having worked in education, real estate and business at the Waterbed Palace in Colorado Springs.

These days, King is focused on Colorado Springs Early College; a charter school that is currently expanding from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins with future plans to expand to Douglas County. The program is unique in that high school students earn an associates degree.

His passion for education drove King to work tirelessly for charter school reform and innovation legislation, inspiring him to work across the aisle to convince Democrats to take up the cause. He worked closely with former House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, and former Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver, to craft legislation giving charter schools the ability to innovate beyond the rules and regulations at the time.

In his 12 years at the Legislature, King has passed more than 80 bills, a testament to his bipartisan approach. He served as House Majority Leader, nearly becoming Speaker had the elections gone the Republicans’ way in 2004. He said one of the reasons he’s not challenging Cadman is because the Senate Minority Leader has expressed an interest in becoming Senate president, something in which King has no interest. “I was majority leader and I had a shot of being Speaker and I spent my whole time every day for six months trying to raise money,” explained King.

With two grandchildren born just last week — King referred to it as a “twofer” that “amended his family” — he has no qualms with taking a break from legislative duties. He would, however, have preferred to finish out his full term.

He says what has helped him stay positive as a lawmaker has been his desire to focus on policy, not politics.

“Some people come down here for ego, and it’s really important. To some people the process and the notoriety is more important than the policy,” he said. “To me, I’ve tried to make policy my hallmark, as opposed to coming down here to carry bills that just make political statements. I’ve come down here to pass legislation that changes how people perceive things and to find ways to work with people on both sides of the aisle.”

Rep. Keith Swerdfeger, R-Pueblo West, has also been affected by reapportionment, and he too is hanging up his legislative credentials. Placed into House District 46, a very Democratic district, Swerdfeger realized that the battle wasn’t worth fighting. He says his experience as a businessman taught him which battles are worth fighting.

“Being a contractor, being in business for 43 years, you learn how to choose your battles, and also we understand in betting that you win some contests and you lose some contests,” he said. “So, I think surviving in the contracting business, you can’t be bitter, you just move forward, because if you waste all your time looking back behind you and trying to figure out how mad I am, you can’t accomplish anything going forward.”

He says his heavy construction business is growing, and his son could use the help in managing it, so while he would have served in the Legislature longer, Swerdfeger says leaving to focus on his business isn’t such a bad thing.

“Probably the biggest reason, I think, was having a discussion with my son on the family business. We’ve started to grow and expand again, working in eight states, and we’re probably going to double or triple payroll, or the number of employees, I should say,” Swerdfeger explained. “So, in that discussion we decided that he needs more help in managing the company, and I’m currently far away from home.”

Having focused on hydroelectric and water issues during his one term in office, Swerdfeger says he’s going to miss the legislative work, but he plans on staying in the public policy arena once he leaves.

“It’s always kind of fun to help create jobs and help the economy,” he said.

Seeking the Senate

Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood, has also been dinged by reapportionment, but he’s not giving up the fight. Summers, who was drawn into the same House district as Reps. Max Tyler, D-Golden, and Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, is now challenging Kerr in the newly-drawn Senate District 22. Kerr decided not to run a primary against Tyler in the House.

Summers jokes that he doesn’t yet have a dartboard with a photo of Kerr on it, pointing out that he and Kerr have actually found significant common ground over the years and even sponsored several pieces of legislation together.

“We’ll see what happens as far as the campaign — the issue is outside the control of candidates, and I think between Rep. Kerr and myself we have a high degree of respect for each other,” said Summers. “From my perspective I think our goal is going to be to try to stick to the issues and try to show how we’re different and hopefully make a compelling case to the voters that we connect with to choose us, choose me.”

“I really think this is all Rep. Andy Kerr’s fault,” Summers joked. “Last session he said something to Speaker [Frank] McNulty about it. He said, ‘You know, Ken and I are going to run against each other for the Senate.’ I said, ‘We’re not in the same Senate district.’ But we ended up being in the same district,” Summers acknowledged. “He realized Sen. [Betty] Boyd is term-limited, and this is before the whole reapportionment thing.”

Summers said it wasn’t practical to run in the newly redrawn House district, noting that he no longer shares common interests with many of its residents. There is a large Hispanic voting bloc currently residing in the district, and given Summers’ opposition to reduced tuition rates for undocumented immigrants as well as his passion for requiring photo identification in order to vote, he probably wouldn’t fit in very well. He likely could have put up a good fight, though.

“The reality is, I believe that the hardworking minority families of Lakewood, they’re people that value family, faith and hard work, and the opportunity to move forward in life. And the values that they hold, I hold the same values,” he said.

Peter@coloradostatesman.com