Rookies learn the ropes from legislative leadership

The Colorado Statesman

Leadership made one thing very clear to new lawmakers on Tuesday at a welcome luncheon at the Brown Palace Hotel where they received a briefing on the tone of the legislature: “The battle here… is between the House and the Senate.”

The tongue-in-cheek remark from Senate President-designee John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, came as new legislators were told that there is much more of a bipartisan atmosphere at the Capitol than the general public believes. But while Republicans and Democrats may sing “Kumbaya” together more than they bicker over policy proposals, the war between the House and the Senate wages on, joked Morse.

“Your sense here is the battle is between Republicans and Democrats. It is not. It is between the House and the Senate,” Morse said to a room full of laughter.

House Speaker-designee Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, took the bait, responding, “He is correct. The enemy is not the… Democratic caucus or the Republican caucus. The enemy is the Senate, for everyone.”

House Minority Leader-designee Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, offers advice to new legislators at a luncheon Tuesday at the Brown Palace Hotel.
Photo courtesy of Senate Republicans

Ferrandino then took a jab at a lengthy presentation given by Morse during the luncheon, in which the Senate president-designee told several war stories from his six years in the Senate. Ferrandino quipped, “You see why the Senate takes so long to do any business. They can’t be quick.”

But Sen.-elect Matt Jones, D-Louisville, who will be stepping up from the lower chamber after serving three terms in the House from 1987-1993 and returned to the House in 2011, does not buy into the divisive antics displayed by legislative leaders.

“It’s silly to say that,” he told The Colorado Statesman. “I just think that it’s silly. They’re joking around, but it doesn’t matter. It’s the institution.

And the fact is that both bodies do the best work that they can do for our state.”

A seemingly endless list of new lawmakers will be roaming the halls under the Gold Dome come Jan. 9 after an election in which Democrats regained control of the House and maintained control of the Senate. The House will lean 37-28; the Senate 20-15.

The House will see 27 new lawmakers, as well as Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, who regained House District 33 after losing the seat in 2010 to Republican Don Beezley of Broomfield. There will be 16 new House Democrats — including Primavera — and 12 new House Republicans.

The Senate will see 10 new lawmakers — five Republicans and five Democrats. Four are brand-new to the legislature — two from each party — and six House members are moving to the Senate.

Building relationships

Legislative leaders told the incoming Class of 2013 that despite ideological differences between their two parties, there are many friendships across the aisle. Ferrandino and House Minority Leader-designee Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, spoke of the bond the two have developed working together.

“As much as you might hear from the House side that Rep. Waller and I fight and banter, we actually are really good friends,” said Ferrandino. “And it’s a good example of how legislators should work. We can fight vehemently over legislation, but we can also get a drink and have dinner and be friends and hang out. And my hope is that’s the kind of discourse and tone that we have in the legislature.”

Waller, who at first quipped to the predominantly Democratic incoming class that, “I have a feeling that that’s going to be the last time you all clap for me when you hear me talk this year,” then quickly followed with Ferrandino’s messaging. He pointed out that legislation typically has full bipartisan support 85-90 percent of the time.

“We only disagree on a little bit, and that’s OK, that’s good for the people of the State of Colorado that we do disagree at times. That makes the best policy for the people of the State of Colorado,” said Waller. “But as you’re sitting around this room today, and you’re doing your training, look at your colleagues on the other side of the aisle and know that you’re going to vote with them more than you’re not going to vote with them.”

New legislators also heard about the importance of building relationships to get bills passed. It takes 18 votes in the Senate; 33 votes in the House; and the backing of the governor to turn a bill into law in Colorado. Morse told the freshman lawmakers that they’ll want to immediately begin finding colleagues to support their efforts.

“This is such a relationship business because you need to get 17 friends in the Senate and 33 in the House, and so you’re doing that constantly,” Morse said.

“You’ll be told a million times that ‘your word is your bond,’ because it absolutely is,” he continued. “And it is critical, and you should concern yourself with it every minute of every day. But also learn to be very careful and specific about asking people to do exactly what you need them to do, not just a piece of what you need them to do.”

Senate Majority Leader-designee Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, encouraged new lawmakers to find a mentor to help them to adjust to life inside the Capitol.

“Find a mentor within your party who has been there longer, but also find a mentor of someone who is not in your party,” said Carroll, who served two terms in the House after being elected in 2004, and has since served in the Senate. “I found that was really helpful for me on my way in.”

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, who was re-designated by his caucus for the leadership position on Nov. 8, reminded members of the incoming class that they should take a moment to realize what they have accomplished.

“Reflect for a moment, you’ve accomplished something really quite remarkable, and I encourage you all to take a minute to reflect on that,” he said. “It will quickly become mundane, but it’s really quite remarkable what you’ve done.”

Freshman getting ready to legislate

Several of the freshman lawmakers said they are ready to get to the business of legislating. But they must first get through two more phases of orientation, This week they took part in the second phase at the Capitol. Programs include overviews of service agencies, introductions to Legislative Council staff and other state departments, and lessons on bill drafting and fiscal notes, among others.

Rep.-elect Paul Rosenthal, a Democrat who won House District 9 in Denver, said he is looking forward to learning the legislative process from the inside. Previously he served as a legislative director for the Pendulum Foundation, a local nonprofit working for juvenile justice reform.

“It’s literally the other side of the glass. That is so different,” Rosenthal explained. “And so the feeling is so much better in a way. I’m feeling that I now have so much greater influence on not just the issues that I care about, but also to help an entire agenda for my Democratic caucus.”

Rep.-elect Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, also has experience in politics. He sits on the Commerce City Council and had previously worked at the legislature as an aide during two sessions for Reps. Ed Casso, D-Commerce City, and Crisanta Duran, D-Denver. Moreno will fill the House District 32 seat vacated by Casso.

“That’s good advice on the importance of working together and working across the aisle,” he said after the luncheon. “Even though the Democrats will be in the majority this year, I think it’s still important to reach out and make sure that our Republican colleagues have a voice in legislation as well, and that their bills get a fair hearing.”

Rep.-elect Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, has experience on the political consulting side. He is president and chief executive of Emerson Consulting and Strategies. But he says he is looking forward to learning the legislative side of politics as he represents House District 41. Melton believes there will be a different culture at the legislature next year, and he is excited about jumping in.

“I’ve already reached across … and talked to the Republicans … and we’re all talking about going out and getting drinks, and definitely building those relationships,” he said.

—Peter@coloradostatesman.com