Colorado Cooperation

Having written a story for Governing's February issue on coalition politics in Colorado -- and having touted Colorado all year as a state that offers ...
by | January 29, 2006

Having written a story for Governing's February issue on coalition politics in Colorado -- and having touted Colorado all year as a state that offers clues to the future of national politics -- I admit to a rooting interest in seeing the coalitions there last a while.

In November, Democrats, business leaders and the Republican governor, Bill Owens, got together and drove passage of a ballot measure suspending the state's rigid spending limits, and allowing some new investment in roads, K-12 schools, and higher education. Whether you agreed with them or not, it was an amazing demonstration of bipartisan cooperation.

But now the legislature is back in session, and the members have to decide how to use the $4 billion or so that the ballot measure will free up. There have been plenty of warnings that the days of harmony will soon be over. And there are some signs of discord already.

Owens wants to tilt the spending toward roads; the Democrats who run the legislature want to tilt toward schools. That argument is getting a little unpleasant. And the Republican House leader (who had opposed the ballot measure) opened the session last week with an angrily partisan speech denouncing the Democrats as irresponsible spendthrifts.

So I was beginning to wonder if I hadn't declared an outbreak of civility a bit prematurely.

But then I came across a little news item announcing that 24 of the first-term legislators -- 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans -- have started a new caucus aimed specifically at keeping the spirit of 2005 alive in 2006. Fred Brown, the Denver Post political writer, did a column on it last Sunday. "The voting populace is so tired of partisan bickering," one of the Republicans said to Brown. "The whole concept is to build trust," one of the Democrats told him.

It's not clear what this particular venture toward bipartisanship will actually accomplish. But just the fact that it exists gives me a little reassurance about having gone out on a limb with my story. Civility hasn't taken permanent root in Colorado by any means. But it's alive there. That's something worth telling people.

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