DENVER – The upcoming state legislative session will feature a whole new cast of lead characters for the Republican Party after its leadership was overhauled in the wake of the November elections.
In the state Senate, the list will be almost completely different from top to bottom after the exit of Senate President Bill Cadman and the resignation of President pro tem Ellen Roberts. Taking over will be Sen. Kevin Grantham of Cañon City, as new president, and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, as president pro tem.
In the House, Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock was chosen to replace the term-limited Brian Delgrosso of Denver as House minority leader.
The session begins Jan. 11.
Republicans do not expect the change to cause significant issues, Grantham said. “There’s always a learning curve that we have to deal with, so we’re getting through that pretty well. Just trying to get things ready for opening day and get our agenda all in order.”
Republican agendaRepublicans hold a one seat majority in the Senate, and Grantham is optimistic Republicans will be able to pass legislation it favors attributable to moderates on his side of the aisle.
“Eighteen is still the magic number and making anything more out of the one seat and only one seat is probably not real fair to what actually goes on,” he said. “The importance of the majority is that you have majority in all the committees and we control the agenda. If something’s going to get to the floor it’s going to pass.”
Grantham said a primary focus will be on construction litigation reform and securing funding for creation and maintenance of transportation infrastructure.
Of course, bills must also make it through the House, where the Democrats hold a 37-28 advantage.
The Republicans also will continue efforts to repeal gun laws from previous sessions as well as those pertaining to regulations from the Department of Public Health and Environment and Environmental Protection Agency that they see as onerous, he said. “A lot of the same things we’ve deemed important over the last few years as far as key bills will still be run.”
For their part, the La Plata County Republican Central Committee supports efforts to streamline building regulations, and committee members are hopeful that bills concerning water issues will get consideration, said Travis Oliger, chairman of the organization’s executive committee.
“If you talk to people in the know around La Plata County, one of our biggest challenges is water,” Oliger said.
Building the benchThe shift of Republicans this session occurs every election cycle, and is something that is generally accounted for by members of the Senate, Roberts said. “Change is the natural progression in both the Senate and the House, and we are always trying to build the bench behind us to encourage leadership from all of the caucus members so when anyone of us leaves it’s not a vacuum.”
While two candidates, Rep. Don Coram and County Commissioner David White, both of Montrose, have stepped forward to replace Roberts, there were some issues with “building the bench” for Senate District 6, which may be partially based on the financial constraints on senators because of the $30,000 annual salary and lack of state-funded, in-district resources, she said.
“When we only have two people who put in for my job that is partly a reflection of the responsibilities and challenges you face in the job,” Roberts said.
Both Grantham and Roberts cited the low salary as a constraint for who could take on the role of public servant on the state level.
Roberts believes it’s difficult for individuals familiar with the everyday problems of Coloradans to take positions, and the low salaries could cause the Legislature to fall short of its goal to be a citizen’s legislature.
“I’ve had people who have asked me about the job, had thought about putting their names into the hat, but once they found out some of that stuff, they were like: ‘I can’t do it, I can’t afford to do it.’ And the concern I have is that someday this could be a job that is held only by retired people or folks who don’t need an income and are wealthy enough,” Roberts said.
A bill was passed during the 2015 session that will raise the salary for state senators and representatives in 2018 to the neighborhood of $38,000, Grantham said.
The increase will not create a large financial incentive for running for office, nor should there be one, he said. “It’s not enough to entice people to come out of a good-paying job in order to serve. You come up here to serve for other reasons besides monetary gain.”
Roberts lists salary and funding available to her among her reasons for resigning her Senate seat.
“It’s a heavy lift for an individual, it’s an incredible honor and responsibility, and it’s one that I loved. But it does literally have costs to it because often you are either raising money to pay for your mileage and you computer and your toner cartridge for your printer or you’re paying for it out of pocket,” she said.
“I’m not looking for sympathy for state legislators, but I kind of want people to understand that this is a labor of love and desire to serve the public,” she said. “And, again, I don’t at all want to take away from the honor and privilege that it is to serve in the state Legislature, but most people don’t realize how little we have to work with both in terms of income and resources, and hopefully we are going to correct that in 2018, but it’s still a stretch.”