New year, new Senate President Leroy Garcia.
The Pueblo Democrat struck an uncharacteristically liberal tone during his opening day remarks Wednesday as Colorado’s 2020 legislative session got underway at the Capitol.
While the address was thin on policy specifics, Garcia delved into issues like socioeconomic class disparities and money in politics. He also spent a great deal of time rebuking Republicans for their 2019 tactics and attempted recalls of Democratic lawmakers over the summer.
Many in his 19-member caucus were surprised at the progressive message sent by the second-year president typically known for being a more moderate Democrat, but grateful that he represented their broad goals well.
“To those set on continuing their commitment to gridlock, let me say: Your efforts have been, and will continue to be, a fruitless endeavor,” said Garcia, who was the target of a failed recall effort last year.
Here’s a transcript of Garcia’s speech — lightly edited for length — with annotations from The Colorado Sun highlighting what’s important and explaining what it all means.
I would like to acknowledge a remarkable woman, our friend and colleague Senator Lois Court, who sadly is not with us today due to a recent medical illness.
After 11 years of public service, we are heartbroken by her resignation and absence, but know that her work and dedication will live on. Senator Court, thank you for the years of meaningful work in our state. Your dedication and genuine passion for all of the people of Colorado serves as an inspiring example for all of us.
Court announced on Monday that she will be resigning from the legislature on Jan. 16 after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder. She was absent on Wednesday’s opening day and is not expected to return to the Capitol before she steps down.
Court received a standing ovation during Garcia’s remarks. Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, also addressed her in his opening speech, saying: “My family and I will continue to pray for your healing and full recovery. God Bless you, friend.”
Today marks the day we open the second regular session of the 72nd General Assembly –– continuing our work to protect Colorado’s natural beauty, improve health care and restore the economic dignity of hard-working Coloradans everywhere.
We know this work is not always easy. It takes unwavering personal commitment, a persistent reverence for the people’s will, as well as endless amounts of objectivity, diplomacy and grit. But, more than that, it requires deep compassion. Compassion for the single mother who works two jobs and can barely cover the cost of childcare.
Compassion for the union worker who has been betrayed by careless corporate greed. Compassion for our children and the climate we are giving them.
And compassion for the college student whose father was diagnosed with cancer and quits school to help their family avoid bankruptcy.
These are the experiences of people we serve. Except for them, it isn’t just words on a page. It is the reality they live with every single day.
Yet the truth is, compassion is not enough. They need results. They need us to not just talk about the problems, but present real solutions for the struggles they face.
The American Dream that once felt like a hopeful promise is becoming more and more difficult to achieve.
And Coloradans find it harder to get ahead while the super rich write their own rules and endlessly profit off the backs of the hard-working people. They sow division, buy elections and rig the system in their favor.
Garcia says he brought up money in politics because he hears it day in and day out in the community. But he said he wasn’t talking about any particular politician or powerful person. “It’s no one specific, but rather just a reference for us to be cautious,” he said.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a fellow Democrat, is a wealthy politician. He spent more than $23 million on his 2018 election to lead the state, leading to accusations that he “bought” the election.
Garcia says he was not referring to Polis in this part of his opening address. “Good question, though,” he said.
And in a time of deep national division, we here in Colorado face a very important choice:
Will we continue to join together and fight for every Coloradan, putting people before profit and personal gain? Or will we fall into destructive political infighting and attempts at obstruction like that of Washington, D.C.?
This is a dig at Senate Republicans, who in 2019 used delay tactics — asking for long bills to be read at length and stopping lawmaking for hours — to force Democrats to the negotiating table. Democrats in the chamber were furious but ultimately came out on the losing end of a lawsuit from Republicans challenging Garcia’s use of multiple computers to speed-read legislation and avoid the delays.
Garcia is challenging the lawsuit’s outcome in the Colorado Court of Appeals. His legal defense has cost taxpayers more than $31,000 already.
Republicans have clearly not forgotten the turmoil either. Holbert addressed the delay tactics in his opening day remarks.
“While it is understandable that members of the majority might feel frustration toward the tenacity with which the minority approached debate last session, it was nonetheless disappointing to hear those principled efforts described as ‘children throwing temper tantrums,’” Holbert said. “No, we are all adults here. Motions are not personal, required procedure is not tantrum and votes are not attacks.”
Democrats say they are confident Republicans will ask for bills to be read at length again this session in protest of bills.
I believe we will follow in Colorado’s rich tradition of coming together to solve this state’s pressing challenges.
Holbert signaled during his speech that Republicans will work with Democrats and avoid or stop using delay tactics if Democrats hear them out.
“The opportunity for (Senate Democrats) to ask, ‘What do you want?’ That question can be the magic words that open a not-so-secret door to success. Our responsibility in the minority is to be able to answer that question if and when asked,” Holbert said.
Growing up in southern Colorado, I watched my parents and neighbors work tirelessly for a better life. They believed in the American Dream as I still do today.
But watching my community face heartache after heartache, from ballooning health care costs, to an economic recession that tore through the very foundation of our town, it has been difficult at times to remain confident.
But what always gave me hope was the way our community banded together. The way they looked out for each other. The way they never gave up.
Even after the housing market crash, record-high unemployment and other struggles, our community remains hopeful and determined, always finding a way to persevere.
But that is not just the story of Pueblo, that’s the story of Colorado. Countless communities are struggling, while wealthy insiders continue to hoard power and blatantly bend political agendas for their own benefit.
While at the same time, people refuse to give up and continue to pursue meaningful change.
This. This is what makes our country, and our state, great.
It is this spirit that makes me proud to be a Coloradan and what inspired me to serve my country as a United States Marine in Iraq in 2003. Because at our core, our common and collective purpose stands unparalleled in the world.
Garcia says he spent so much of his speech focusing on Pueblo because he thinks his hometown can be a good example for all of Colorado. “When you look at the spirit, the grit, the tenacity, the willingness to come together, diversity — that’s Colorado’s story. I just happen to live in Pueblo and have experienced it,” he said.
This section, however, sounded more like a campaign speech than an opening day address. It was short on specific policy proposals and instead focused on broad strokes and uplifting messages, some of them overtly partisan.
Garcia has long been rumored to be a potential candidate in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton. He has ruled out running for the position in 2020, but has expressed interest in the job. His statehouse term is up in 2022.
Beyond race, class or gender, we believe in justice, opportunity and the pursuit of happiness.
It is these ideals that we sought to serve last session and that we will continue to serve, no matter who or what seeks to divide us.
Let me be clear: There has been a brazen effort to not only divide this chamber, but dismantle it, from Washington-style political antics, to pointless attempts to upend the will of the voters.
Garcia was one of five Democrats state lawmakers targeted with an attempted recall after the 2018 legislative session. Four were unsuccessful, and the fifth ended when the the target, former Greeley Rep. Rochelle Galindo, resigned. Gov. Polis was also targeted with a recall effort, which fell short.
While Garcia has harped on the fact that he wants the 2020 legislative session to be as bipartisan as possible, he’s also made it clear he hasn’t forgotten the 2019 turmoil or the attempted recalls.
To those set on continuing their commitment to gridlock, let me say: Your efforts have been, and will continue to be, a fruitless endeavor.
This is a forceful message from Garcia, who is typically reserved. It’s also a clear message heading into an election year where Democrats in the Senate will be fighting to keep their two-vote majority.
We, the Colorado Senate, are called upon to find common ground. To come to the table and offer solutions. To join the conversation and debate policy based on its merits rather than party origin.
It is our duty to give Coloradans our all. Sitting on the sidelines, and using hate and fear to undermine honest efforts, is an unacceptable standard.
We are better than that. But more importantly, Colorado deserves better. We must be a part of the solution and work together for the common good.
Thankfully, despite last year’s attempt to derail progress, we did find collaborators in this body and passed significant legislation, 96% of which had bipartisan support. In 2019, we successfully put forth bills to lower the cost of prescription drugs, reduce insurance premiums and empower communities to negotiate directly with providers.
Garcia in this part of his speech was referencing The Colorado Sun’s reporting over the summer showing that the 2019 lawmaking term was, despite the partisan fighting, bipartisan in many ways.
Holbert referenced The Sun’s analysis as well on this front, but instead to point out how Democrats in the legislature maybe too often vote as a bloc.
“It showed that the most bipartisan member of the Senate minority, he who had the 16th fewest ‘no’ votes on third reading, actually demonstrated greater independence in his voting record than did all 19 members of the majority caucus combined,” Holbert said.
That member? Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican who sides with Democrats on many issues.
We invested in the next generation by funding full-day kindergarten and worked to address the student debt crisis. We successfully fought for fairness and opportunity by passing Equal Pay for Equal Work, as well as legislation that helps Coloradans afford to live in the place that they call home.
But that’s not enough.
So many of our communities are still struggling. Far too many Coloradans still face exorbitant health care costs, often being forced to choose between financial stability and getting the health care that they desperately need.
No one should be burdened with that choice.
Colorado pays some of the highest hospital prices in the nation, while ranking second for the highest hospital profits. So while families are paying upwards of 80% more for health care, CEO salaries are at an all-time high.
That is why we must continue to find new and innovative solutions for our health care needs. Because going backwards is not an option, and remaining stagnant certainly isn’t one either.
We are committed to increasing competition and driving down insurance costs, with legislation that promotes innovation and addresses the widening affordability gap.
One of Democrats’ biggest 2020 fights in the Colorado Capitol will be over the public health insurance option they are proposing. Hospitals and insurance companies are lining up in opposition.
It’s notable here that Garcia didn’t talk specifically about the public option anywhere in his speech. Instead, he used broad-stroke language to talk about the need for changes in health care.
We are also committed to insisting on corporate transparency around prescription drugs and health care billing, protecting Coloradans from unchecked corporate price gouging and allowing communities to hold providers accountable.
But health care isn’t the only thing keeping Coloradans up at night. Our growing climate challenges weigh heavy on the minds of residents, especially our young people, who will undoubtedly bear the brunt of this burden.
From floods, to fires, to endless drought, everyone across our state has felt the effects of a changing environment.
Our recreational industry has suffered, our farmers face financial ruin and our vulnerable communities are continuously jeopardized by extreme temperatures.
We are at a critical crossroads in our planet’s history. And as Coloradans, we can take meaningful steps toward a more sustainable future.
This is a prime of example of Garcia choosing not to bring up specific policies in his opening day remarks. It’s not clear how he intends to accomplish his goal of moving “toward a more sustainable future.” Other leaders have typically used these addresses to lay out detailed goals.
We are committed to leading the charge with innovative solutions that protect Colorado’s natural resources and the people who rely on them.
Because we refuse to abandon the workers who have served our state for generations, powering our homes, supporting our businesses and driving our economy.
In this way, we must prioritize a just transition while in pursuit of environmental stewardship.
That’s why this year, we will be working toward solutions that invigorate our economy, and provide new, high-paying jobs in the community. Because sustainability and economic growth are not at odds with one another, but rather inseparable partners if we hope for a prosperous future.
In my hometown of Pueblo, we have seen an amazing example of this.
On the verge of a plant closure from rising utility costs, our local steel mill partnered with energy providers to build the largest solar array in our state’s history, supplying an unprecedented amount of renewable energy while guaranteeing hundreds of jobs remain in our community.
Garcia here is referencing an agreement reached by the steel company EVRAZ, which operates a mill in Pueblo, and Xcel Energy.
These kinds of partnerships are the keys to our state’s future.
Because, as solar and wind jobs continue to be the fastest growing in the nation, it is critical that we here in Colorado work to not only harness this economic growth, but lead in the charge.
Beyond creating new job opportunities, we will also be working on dramatically improving our air and water quality in the state, by implementing harsher penalties for negligence and irresponsibility.
It’s unclear exactly what these harsher penalties will look like, but expect this to be a centerpiece of Democrats’ environmental agenda in 2020. House Speaker KC Becker also said Democrats will seek to add more people to the state’s air quality monitoring workforce.
Because Coloradans are tired of people recklessly polluting the water we drink and the air we breathe without consequence. Coloradans are also tired of the skyrocketing cost of living, and the flat wages that we have had for years.
Forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, too many people are trapped in a crippling cycle of poverty with little opportunity for relief.
It is time that we attack the root of the problem and address predatory practices that keep our people in debt, limit their power as workers and take them from their families during times of need.
It’s not exactly clear what Garcia was talking about here, but Democrats are expected to tackle issues in 2020 including bail reform. They will also look to reform other criminal justice policies that keep people in poverty.
We need to defend our residents from these injustices and ensure that they are afforded the protections every Coloradan deserves.
This means an opportunity for affordable higher education, stable housing, and paid family leave. It also means access to quality teachers, job training and a seamless transportation system.
After the public health insurance option, Democrats’ efforts to pass legislation on a paid family and parental leave program is expected to be one of the biggest fights of the 2020 legislative session. The business community and Republicans will fight back against this proposal vehemently. In 2019, more than 200 lobbyists worked in opposition to this bill alone.
The real test for the legislation will be in the Senate because of Democrats’ slim majority there.
Because the American Dream shouldn’t require a VIP ticket. But rather, only be limited by a person’s willingness to work hard and persist in hope. So today, let us renew our commitment to the people of Colorado.
Garcia focused many of his opening day remarks on socioeconomic class disparities, a new subject area for him. In many ways, this follows the national conversation being propagated by Democratic presidential candidates like U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachussetes, and Bernie Sanders, of Vermont.
“New session, new Leroy,” said state Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Commerce City Democrat.
Let us honor the voice they spoke with when they put us at the helm. Because, despite all of the dysfunction in Washington, despite all of the inequalities and the discrimination rampant in our society, and despite the booming economy that doesn’t seem to benefit everyone, the people of this state are remarkably hopeful and passionate.
They will not accept political gamesmanship in the place of true governing. They will not accept platitudes in the place of action. And they will not accept corruption in any way, shape, or form.
Because they chose progress over protecting the status quo, and they expect us to deliver.
That means putting self-serving agendas aside, and coming to the table in order to make meaningful change happen. So let us join together on behalf of all Coloradans. Remember what unites us.
Garcia notably didn’t bring up school safety or gun control during his opening day speech. Both are priorities for Democrats in the 2020 legislative session.
On gun control, Garcia was among just a few Democratic lawmakers in 2019 who voted against passage of the so-called red flag gun law, which allows judges to order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others. He instead called for a Colorado solution and said recently that he thinks mental health deserves more focus.
“There’s a lot of important issues that we are going to talk about,” he said after his speech on Wednesday. “We’re going to look at every policy based on the policy’s merit.”
We are called to serve with honor and integrity, measure and resolve, vision and leadership. And we, who have had the privilege of the people’s trust, will act with nothing less.
God’s blessing be with you and this great state we call home as we embark on this journey together.
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