Democratic lawmakers face musical chairs

Veteran legislators are on their way out
The Colorado Statesman

Democrats will be facing a game of musical chairs next year at the Capitol. Four Democratic lawmakers in the House are up against term limits, and another four are term-limited in the Senate. Others will be leaving the House to pursue runs for the Senate, while some were either squeezed out by reapportionment, or are simply throwing in the towel.

The Colorado Statesman chose a handful of these lawmakers to profile as their prestigious positions come to an end. Many expressed frustrations with partisan politics; others simply felt they had more to accomplish and expressed a desire for additional time. All said they considered the privilege to be an honor, and will miss the Gold Dome with their heart and soul.

Rep. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, served in the House before moving over to the state Senate.

Term-limits mandate the end

Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, has served an impressive 12 years at the Legislature. She hasn’t quite served the full 16 years allotted to members — she stepped up from the House to the upper chamber before her full four House term-limits had set in — but she still managed to accomplish a profound amount of work in her time at the Capitol.

As she looks back, it is her work with health care and social service support systems of which she is most proud. Working to create a hospital provider fee to secure larger federal matching funds tops her list, along with legislation that set into motion the creation of a health care insurance exchange in Colorado that she says, “would be able to function regardless of the federal health care outcome,” which is currently awaiting judgment by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, gets ready to jump down an escape hatch on a United Airlines training plane during his first term at the Legislature. He is not running for reelection after being squeezed out of his original district due to reapportionment.

Support for low-income families through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program is also a talking point for her, and a “big one” because, “There’s a lot of myth around who needs assistance and why… and really that need for assistance is so dependent on so many things that we have no control over, or that the recipient or the consumer or customer has no control over,” according to Boyd.

She says leaving will be “bittersweet,” and she has some frustrations with the process of having to leave the Legislature in the first place. Term limits have affected the Assembly’s “legislative memory,” she laments.
“What memory might exist today is mostly in the hands of staff and lobbyists and I don’t think that’s where the citizens really want the legislative memory to be,” said Boyd.

She also has concerns with Amendment 41, a law passed by voters in 2006 that prohibits lobbyists from giving anything of value to elected officials. Boyd points out that before Amendment 41, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle would attend events and happy hours that forced the officials to get to know each other. Lobbyists usually picked up the tabs. But with that being illegal now, those events have dwindled, and lawmakers aren’t able to socialize as much. Getting to know their legislative colleagues has proven more difficult.

Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, will be retiring from the Legislature rather than run a primary against fellow Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman.

“Legislators really did have much more opportunity to get to know each other as human beings outside of this system, which is by its nature adversarial, and I think a lot more bipartisanship happened then,” said Boyd.
As she gets set to exit the Capitol at the end of this year, Boyd has a 16-month-old grandbaby to keep her busy, but she is also considering work in an executive director role for an unnamed nonprofit.

“I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to do and I’m really ready for the next adventure,” she says.

Squeezed out

Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver, is being forced to retire because of a messy reapportionment process that has tied her into the same Senate district as Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman. Foster never wanted an inter-party fight, and she has always tried to avoid ugly politics, especially in a primary. So, she’s retiring from her long political career, which also included a 10-year stint on the Denver City Council.

Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, poses in front of the state Capitol atop his bicycle during Ride Your Bike to Work Day in 2008.

She points out that she’s older than Steadman — joking that his mother is the same age as she is at 68 years old. So, she said it made more sense for her to back out than Steadman.

“I’ve been very effective in my political career,” she said. “I was very effective on Denver City Council for 10 years, I think I’ve been very effective in my four years here. I bring a sense of experience to this, and so age does matter. On the other hand, it made the decision easier not to run because since there were two of us now in the same area, I decided that it was perhaps the time for me to retire from politics.”

If Foster has any bitterness leaving the Legislature, it’s over lawmakers who vote because of partisanship or ambition and not conviction. “I have no patience for people who are looking forward to their next race. You’re elected for two years or you’re elected for four years, do the best you can.”

She has plans for the future, but they don’t involve politics. She and her husband, Dr. Steven Foster, rabbi emeritus at Temple Emanuel in Denver, plan on writing a book. Foster wouldn’t provide the details, but the couple is experimenting with titles like, “I Sleep With My Senator; I Sleep With My Rabbi,” Foster said with a chuckle.

Travel is on the radar, and consulting work is also on the table “because everyone who retires becomes consultants.” She and her husband would like to consult the clergies of congregations in Jewish and non-Jewish communities on how people can be successful and raise kids who are “superstars.” She points out that her children did quite well, having raised two attorneys and an educator.

As for quitting the Legislature, she’s sorry that she will leave early, but she isn’t bitter. “I’ll just miss having my voice heard,” she said.

Also squeezed out through reapportionment was Rep. Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs, whose House District 61 has now become a part of House District 57, a much more conservative district that he himself acknowledges would be quite difficult if not impossible to overcome.

Wilson proudly calls himself the “nerd” of the Legislature, which he says is quite remarkable considering the General Assembly is filled with a very diverse cast of “characters.”

“I don’t know that that’s only within this building, I’m rather used to that in life,” Wilson said of his quirkiness. “To say you stand out in this crowd is a statement that you have to reach pretty far for because all of the people here stand out. It’s full of characters. I probably come across as a little nerdier and sometimes a little more inquisitive, and in fact I probably come across as very inquisitive, but although I have that reputation I also have a reputation for those questions to have a lot of merit.”

Wilson didn’t have long for his inquisitive mind to penetrate the walls of the Capitol; he’s only served one two-year term in the House. Already he wishes he had more time, but more to the point, Wilson wishes he had additional resources in the first place to accomplish his goals.

“I’m continuously frustrated that I cannot get enough done,” he said. “I feel that I can see so much more that should be done and there’s simply not enough time or resources.”

Environmental issues have topped Wilson’s list, and one of the reasons he faces a tough battle in HD 57 is because the district heavily supports fossil fuels, something Wilson hasn’t exactly championed.

He says he will be supporting Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, who is seeking a term in HD 61.

“It’s not what I intended and it’s not what I desired,” Wilson said of his legislative service being abruptly cut short. “If I had my druthers, I would be continuing to represent the land and the people that I represent now. But I feel that I have worked hard and I’ve represented the interests of my people during the time I’ve been here and I will continue to do that until January.”

Seeking the Senate

Rep. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, also faced a shift as a result of reapportionment. He was drawn into a district that now includes Reps. Max Tyler, D-Golden, and Ken Summers, R-Lakewood. As a result, Kerr decided to seek a seat in Senate District 22 to avoid a primary against Tyler.

Summers is also running to represent SD 22, pitting the two representatives against each other. The two have worked well together over the years, despite coming from different sides of the aisle. They’ve even co-sponsored some bills together, including Senate Bill 23 this year.

“I’ve worked with Ken for six years now. We have a bill signing tomorrow together. We’re friends, we work well together,” Kerr said on Tuesday. “Everyone complains about having to vote for the lesser of two evils — I think this (election) presents people with a good choice.”

Kerr, an avid cyclist, joked that maybe he should challenge Summers to a cycling race to determine the electoral outcome. Summers said he has a bike and has raced Tyler during the last Second Wind Fund Walk/Run/Ride. He says he’s willing to take Kerr up on the challenge. “It would be great if [Kerr] got beat by someone 20 years older,” joked Summers, noting his seniority over his Democratic colleague.

But on a serious note, Kerr says that while he is focused on the Senate race, he’s not hung up on the politics — if things don’t work out, he has a past life to which he would be happy to return.

“I had a great life and great family before coming here to the Capitol and I know I’ll have an even greater life and still have a great family after I’m gone,” he said. “I don’t identify myself with this building. It’s been a wonderful chapter and I hope it continues, but I certainly don’t define myself, and I don’t think other people define me just by my work here.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com