Hickenlooper hopes for a less bruising legislative session

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper kicked off the 2014 legislative session Thursday with a speech that acknowledged the turbulent year the state is leaving behind.

The governor is now asking for bipartisan cooperation on a variety of issues moving forward.

Hickenlooper touched on everything from last year’s natural disasters like floods and wildfires to violence that included the murder of corrections chief Tom Clements and a high school shooting that left one student dead.

What Hickenlooper conspicuously did not mention were the controversial new gun laws that were more responsible than anything else for the divisive political climate last year. The gun laws — which limit the size of ammunition magazines and require universal background checks — led to the first-ever recall elections against state legislators, helped fuel a secession movement among some rural counties and led several gun parts manufacturers to make plans to leave the state.

Instead, Hickenlooper focused on Colorado’s job-creation record — Colorado is the fourth fastest job-growth state in the country — and announced plans to continue the trend. The state’s economic progress in the face of numerous difficulties illuminates the need for legislators to act more like public servants than politicians, Hickenlooper said.

“The state of Colorado has not only endured (its difficulties), it has thrived,” he said. “The state of our state is strong. … Colorado has always been a good place to find what you’re made of.”

“Every season of 2013 presented another unthinkable test,” he said. “Despite all of it, we didn’t let that define us.”

Hickenlooper outlined his priorities for 2014, including increasing spending on K-12 pupils and putting more money toward higher education in an effort to cap tuition increases at six percent. He also wants to grow the state’s reserve funds to 6.5 percent of the general fund — a 1.5 percent increase — calling the reserve money critical to responding to disasters when the federal government’s hands are tied.

He the reserve fund was critical to the state’s response to devastating floods in September, which hit while the federal government was shut down. The money enabled the state to repair highways faster than many expected, and Hickenlooper praised the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee for making the reserves a priority.

“D.C. should be looking at our JBC to see how collaboration gets done,” he said in one of a few swipes at Washington politics.

But he said another major priority was returning the state legislature to a state of decorum, noting that “you don’t need a poll” to know that most constituents hold a dim view of politicians.

“My ask is that you try to ignore divisive politics,” he said, adding that it was all the more critical entering an election year. Hickenlooper and many other state politicians face re-election this year.

Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, but hold only a one-vote majority in the state Senate.

The day before Hickenlooper’s speech, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman echoed the governor’s call for bipartisanship.

“There are 35 of us here,” he said. “We get elected in Districts. But everything we do, every vote we cast, every dollar we spend affects the entire state — 5.3 million people. And for their sake, we need to keep focused on our shared values and find common goals. Our challenges continue year after year.”

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