DENVER – State lawmakers limped home from the Capitol this week after a legislative session that got more bruising by the day.
But Gov. John Hickenlooper made it look like a stroll through the park.
The first-year governor shocked the state in February by asking for a $332 million cut to public schools. After that, he never got too involved with the inner workings of the Legislature, unlike his predecessor, Bill Ritter, lawmakers said.
“The governor played this well. He let the legislative process work and was able to coach when he needed to coach,” said Senate President Brandon Shaffer, D-Longmont.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp, R-Littleton, said Hickenlooper demonstrated great political skills.
“He is a jovial, shrewd man. He didn’t allow himself to get caught between the two parties,” Kopp said.
Instead, the sharpest battles happened between Shaffer’s Democratic-controlled Senate and the House, which Republicans reclaimed by a single vote in the 2010 election.
The dynamic prevented controversial legislation from making it through the Legislature and to Hickenlooper’s desk. Fewer bills were introduced and more failed. Just 336 bills passed this year, compared to 458 in 2010.
Hickenlooper intervened for three crucial events – the budget, the drawing of new congressional districts and a last-day drama on payday lending. He succeeded twice.
Lawmakers met in Hickenlooper’s office in April to hash out the state’s first bipartisan budget in 10 years. Republicans claimed victory for securing tax cuts for agriculture and software, while Democrats were satisfied by scaling Hickenlooper’s proposed school cuts back by more than $100 million.
Hickenlooper also convinced Speaker of the House Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, to back down in a game of chicken over payday lending. McNulty’s Republicans attached a bill that payday lenders supported to an annual, must-pass bill that approves all state agency rules.
But the governor couldn’t convince McNulty and Shaffer to agree on a map of new congressional districts. The speaker and Senate president had harsh words for each other after days of intense negotiations with Hickenlooper.
“We didn’t get there. We came very, very close. Literally the last day I thought we were going to get it,” Hickenlooper said.