Outgoing lawmakers transition into ‘civilian’ life

The Colorado Statesman

For outgoing lawmakers who lost elections in 2012, the transition from public to civilian life is both sudden and uncertain. But five legislators interviewed by The Colorado Statesman say they are anticipating life outside the Gold Dome as they prepare their personal and business lives for a new chapter.

Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora, isn’t quite ready to put down advocacy in the public sector. Acree — who lost to Aurora Democrat John Buckner 43 percent to 57 percent in Arapahoe County’s House District 40 — said that she will continue to focus on health care reform, especially considering a flood of legislation expected in the upcoming session that begins Jan. 9.

Acree lost as part of a Democratic surge this past fall, in which Democrats regained control of the House and maintained control of the Senate. But Acree believes she can still work on important public issues, while being able to say what she wants without fear of political pressure.

Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora

“I think people should be happy for me, because I can say what I please, and I don’t have to worry about the political ramifications,” she said.

Democrats will push for expanded Medicaid, sustainability for the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange, updated mental health programs, and could ask voters to approve a universal health care system. Acree is encouraging a free market solution.

“I will be lobbying as a private citizen — Congress and our state legislators — to consider giving a tax deduction for health care premiums, period, right off the top,” she said. “Let’s empower people to buy their own insurance.”

Acree said she never supported the Health Benefit Exchange, which is currently being developed to offer consumers an online marketplace to compare and purchase insurance. She believes that a second House committee to deal with health legislation in the upcoming session will serve to advance the exchange. House Speaker-designee Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said he is establishing the new Public Health Care and Human Services Committee to address government-funded health insurance. The Health Insurance and Environment Committee will continue to tackle private health care.

“I didn’t support the health care exchanges when I was at the Capitol, and I do not support it now as a small business owner,” declared Acree. “I think it’s going to be devastating.”

She says she is not bitter about her loss to Buckner, noting that she knocked on close to 6,500 doors in her district, and believes that she had 3 percent of the Democratic vote. But Acree added that her party did not anticipate a shift in the unaffiliated vote, and that reapportionment placed her in a more competitive district that will continue to make it hard for Republicans.

“We’re going to have some policy decisions that are going to be devastating to middle income families and seniors. And on the back of that, in two years, I may reassess where I’m at and where I might be most effective,” said Acree.

“But I’m certainly not going to give up the fight, because I’ve got kids that are graduating high school and that are just starting families,” she continued. “We’ve got to make sure that our kids stay in Colorado and don’t leave the state to look for opportunity elsewhere.”

Rep. Robert Ramirez

Unlike Acree, Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westminster, is a bit more upset about his loss to Arvada Democratic Rep.-elect Tracy Kraft-Tharp. He lost 43 percent to 51 percent in House District 29.

Ramirez suggests that he was the most targeted Republican this past election cycle, and he also blames reapportionment for placing him in a more competitive district.

Rep. Robert Ramirez, R-Westmnister

“The whole target was simply about one thing and one thing only,” stated Ramirez. “I was the deciding vote that flipped the House to Republican two years ago, and [Democrats] can’t handle that.”

He does not believe any of his votes affected the outcome of the election, even when it came to a controversial measure to provide reduced tuition to undocumented students. Ramirez, who is Latino, had been pressured to support the bill, but he voted against it, helping to defeat the legislation.

“I stand by my vote,” asserted Ramirez. “I also stand by the work I did to try and do it. They politicized it. I said universities should be able to do this on their own, and I was right…”

“They used it for politics,” he continued. “I said what needed to be said and did what needed to be done, and I don’t really care what they say, because I know the truth.”

Ramirez is currently working as a warehouse manager in the Denver area, and he does not know whether he has a future in politics.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to do as far as politics in the future,” he said. “Right now I’ve got a job. I’m working. And until I decide to do something further, right now it’s up in the air.”

Rep. Mark Barker

Rep. Mark Barker, R-Colorado Springs, also does not know whether he has a future in politics following his loss to Colorado Springs Democrat Tony Exum. He was defeated 38 percent to 55 percent in House District 17.
For now, Barker is back at his law firm, Radabaugh Barker and Callison. He says it is too early to be considering politics, and he is frustrated that Democrats did a better job getting out the vote than he did.

Rep. Mark Barker, R-Colorado Springs

“It’s pretty obvious what happened,” explained Barker. “They spent more time on registering people within the district than we did, and the numbers were upside down as a result.”

The attorney and former Colorado Springs police officer does not believe that Republican opposition to same-sex civil unions legislation last year contributed to dooming his race. Political observers have said that when Republican leadership blocked a full vote in the House on the measure — which had the votes to pass — public approval shifted to Democrats. But Barker sees it otherwise.

“The fact is that people that were registered Democrats were going to vote… the way they were going to vote, and the reverse is also true,” surmised Barker. “I think it was just the numbers were in their favor as far as registration. There weren’t any big surprises as far as the numbers were concerned.”

Barker, however, is disappointed that he will not be able to finish his work at the legislature. He said he wanted to address safety concerns around driving while under the influence of marijuana, and also weigh in on budgetary spending.

“It’s interesting work, and it’s valuable work,” he said. “It’s just the way things go in politics.”

Rep. Marsha Looper

Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan, has a bit of a different story to tell. She was unseated by one of her own, Monument Republican Rep. Amy Stephens. Looper lost 40 percent to 60 percent in the divisive June primary.
Reapportionment threw the two lawmakers into House District 19 together, resulting in a primary in which both legislators competed for conservative votes.

Rep. Marsha Looper, R-Calhan

Looper has since recovered, returning to her real estate work with Keller Williams Realty in Colorado Springs.
“I am loving it,” she said of her life away from the Capitol. “I love real estate; I love everything about real estate. I’m helping people’s dreams come true to get into their homes. And so I’m a blessed woman.”

Looper said the best part about being away from the legislature is that she can now spend time with her family. She said it wasn’t difficult to hang up her legislative badge.

“It was not tough to get over,” stated Looper. “I think we both ran really tough, hard races, and at the end of the day, Rep. Stephens pulled it out. I wish her all the luck and the best in the world.”

That said, Looper acknowledges that she is still addicted to politics. She says she discusses public issues at her office all the time, and will continue to be active with the Republican Party.

“I believe my role as an elected official — which is a very honorable role and I really appreciate it — I believe I need to take a little vacation from it for the time being,” said Looper. “I hope to continue to work with some policymakers on some legislation supporting our military and military families… and I look forward to seeing what the General Assembly comes out with in the coming year.”

Rep. Larry Liston

Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs, also lost a primary. The financial consultant served House District 16 since 2005. When reapportionment created an open seat in Senate District 10, the term-limited Liston decided to run. But nonprofit executive Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, defeated him, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Rep. Larry Liston, R-Colorado Springs

The veteran lawmaker remains upset with his loss, scrambling to determine where to turn next in life. Liston is currently going back to school at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs to receive a master’s degree in public administration.

“In a perfect world, I’d be glad to continue my career, but that didn’t work out…” explained Liston. “I miss my colleagues — both sides of the aisle — and the interaction and the debate and being able to weigh in on the issues. But I’m still going to watch with an interested eye… I hope I don’t just fade away into the sunset.”

Having been an ardent supporter of gun rights, Liston is concerned that he will be away from the legislature as it debates gun control this year. But he is also disappointed that he won’t be voting on civil unions, education and health care issues.

That said, he has no immediate plans to get back into public office.

“It’s not like I’m going to run for U.S. senator, or governor, so they can take a sigh of relief that Larry Liston won’t be running against [Gov. John] Hickenlooper, or [U.S. Sen.] Michael Bennet,” Liston chuckled. “It’d be their worst nightmare. Or maybe their best nightmare?”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com