Who captains Colorado’s government?

With the power divided, steering could be struggle

DENVER – So who is really in charge of the state government?

No one person, really. Running the state is more of a group effort, and the members of that group aren’t always the closest of allies.

Colorado is about to see new leaders at almost all the top positions at the Capitol. Gov. John Hickenlooper has his inauguration Tuesday, and Republicans, with the start of the legislative session Wednesday, will take power in the state House thanks to their new 33-32 majority.

With the new crew on board, here is a look at who really steers the ship of state.

Gov. John Hickenlooper

The governor is the face of the state, but his influence is often measured by how well he works behind the scenes with the Legislature. The Legislature can change the governor’s budget or make him uncomfortable by giving him controversial bills to sign or veto. So Hickenlooper’s challenge will be to stop problems in the Legislature before they land on his desk – and the front page.

Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch

As the first Republican speaker since 2003, McNulty will be the face of both the House of Representatives and the Republican Party in Colorado. He presides over the House, but his true influence comes from the power to assign bills to committees of his choosing, ensuring either smooth sailing for his favorite bills or a hasty death for the ones he opposes.

House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, R-Monument

A former Focus on the Family executive, Stephens is known as a passionate advocate for Republican causes. Now, she gets to control the House calendar, deciding when bills will be brought to the floor for debate.

House Minority Leader Sal Pace, D-Pueblo

This Fort Lewis College graduate is a self-described “scrappy fighter,” but he’s also a personal friend of McNulty. As minority leader, it’s his job to organize the opposition to the GOP agenda. Pace is a possible challenger to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton for the Western Slope’s seat in Congress in 2012.

Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont

Shaffer and the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, John Morse of Colorado Springs, are the only holdovers from the Legislature’s leadership team in 2010. Shaffer is an advocate for well-funded public schools. Like McNulty, Shaffer has the power to assign bills to the committees of his choosing. He and McNulty could stand in the way of each other’s agendas.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton

Kopp ascended to Republican leadership in the Senate with the backing of conservatives, who now dominate the Senate GOP caucus. But with 15 members to the Democrats’ 20, Kopp and his troops can seldom do more than delay the Democratic agenda in the Senate.

The Joint Budget Committee

The six-person group traditionally has been the Legislature’s most powerful committee, thanks to its ability to write the state budget and the determination of its members to stick together when shepherding the budget through the House and Senate.

This year, the JBC is evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans for the first time since 2002, and conservative Republican members could test the panel’s solidarity and effectiveness.

jhanel@durango herald.com

Shaffer Enlarge photo

Shaffer

Stephens Enlarge photo

Stephens

McNulty Enlarge photo

McNulty