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Politics and Government

Despite partisan rhetoric at the Colorado Capitol, just 4.4% of bills this year passed along purely party lines

The analysis, the second such study conducted by The Colorado Sun in three years, once again indicates more bipartisanship in the Colorado General Assembly than might be expected

The Colorado State Capitol is seen from the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)
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A record 504 bills introduced in the Colorado legislature became law this year, and 94% of them had at least one Republican vote.

And half of the 39 Republicans in the state House and Senate voted for 58% of those bills, according to a Colorado Sun analysis. 

That’s despite a third year of Democratic rule at the Colorado Capitol and GOP complaints that the majority party and Democratic Gov. Jared Polis are enacting policies that are too liberal and unfair to businesses and taxpayers.

The Sun analyzed final third-reading votes on the 504 bills that became law, omitting the four bills vetoed by Polis and the 114 measures that died in committees or never received a final vote on one of the chamber floors.

The analysis, the second such study conducted by The Sun in three years, once again indicates more bipartisanship in the General Assembly than might be expected given the partisan rhetoric that sometimes dominates the building.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Only 22 bills this year — or 4.4% — passed on pure party-line votes with all Democrats voting in support and all Republicans voting in opposition. Another 10 measures passed with no GOP support and some Democrats voting “no,” too.

Five bills had some Democratic objectors, but no Republican opposition.

In fact, 13 of the 24 House Republicans voted “yes” on bills during third reading 50% of the time or more. All of the 15 Senate Republicans voted “yes” on legislation 58% of the time or more.

But there were definitely partisan exceptions. For instance, all 39 Republicans voted against six bills aimed at increasing regulations on firearms

Republicans also unanimously opposed bills:

  • To allow districts to pay school board members
  • To restrict the use of disposable plastics
  • Paying for diapers for parents in emergency situations
  • Prohibiting Native American mascots at public schools

Little Democratic dissent in the Senate

A majority of Senate Republicans supported 69% of the bills that became law on third reading, according to The Sun’s analysis. 

Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Monument Republican, cast the most “no” third-reading votes in the chamber this year of any state senator at 205. 

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“My perspective is pretty clear and has been since I came into elected office,” he said. “I’ve always tacked to the idea that people, when left alone to be free and pursue opportunities, do a better job of fostering a rich, robust, diverse, healthy, vibrant society and economy. Far more so than government.”

Lundeen said he’s concerned about the growth of government — “for the seven years that I’ve served in the legislature, the state budget has grown faster than the real Colorado economy” — and that his votes reflect an effort to stop what he sees as an unhealthy expansion of the state’s power.

Still, accounting for absences on 11 votes, Lundeen voted “yes” 58% of the time.

Meanwhile, Sen. Faith Winter, a Westminster Democrat, voted “yes” 100% on all the final 504 third-reading votes taken in the Senate this year along with Sen. James Coleman, D-Denver, and Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs. 

Winter said she works “really hard with my colleagues to do amendments versus voting ‘no’” on bills. 

“I trust the work of my colleagues — to do good stakeholding and to listen to constituents and put constituents hopes and dreams into reality,” she said.

Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, cast the most “no” votes on final reading of any Democrat in the Senate, at six. She was the only member of her party in the chamber to reject House Bill 1232, Democrats’ measure requiring private insurance companies to offer a state-regulated health insurance plan. The legislation had no GOP support. 

Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, cast his sole negative vote on a bill aiming to combat climate change.

Sen. Kevin Priola, a Republican from Henderson, cast the most “yes” third-reading votes of any GOP senator, at 441. He’s considered a moderate, which has sometimes led fellow conservatives to criticize him for working too frequently with Democrats.

Priola was the only Republican “yes” vote in the legislature on Senate Bill 260, Democrats’ massive transportation fee and spending bill. And he was the lone GOP vote on all but six of the 28 bills that passed with a single Republican “yes.” 

“First and foremost, I try to vote my district,” he said. “I have to give the Democrats credit. I think they’ve been fairly careful in what they’ve passed, what they’ve proposed.”

Priola added: “You can’t just say ‘no’ to say ‘no.’”   

First year GOP Sen. Cleave Simpson, of Alamosa, cast the second most yes votes of any Republican in the Senate this year, at 400.

11 House Republicans voted “no” more than “yes”

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Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, D-Denver, was among six House Democrats who didn’t cast any “no” votes on third reading this year and voted on all 504 measures. Another 10 House members voted “yes” 100% of the time, but missed some votes. 

Like Winter, the state senator from Westminster, Gonzales-Gutierrez said she frequently works with her colleagues to have her concerns addressed so she can vote “yes” on their bills.

“If there is a bill that maybe I’m not 100% there (on), I talk to the sponsors to bring up my concerns and possible ways to address them,” she said. 

Gonzales-Gutierrez pointed to a measure to place new regulations on the purchase of medical marijuana concentrates. She was worried that a research provision in the measure would lead lawmakers to try to enact crimes around cannabis possession. She brought up her anxieties to the measure’s sponsors and a clause was added prohibiting that from happening.

“That was a bill that was hard,” she said. “That was a difficult bill for me.”

Democratic Rep. Adrienne Benavidez, of Adams County, cast 23 “no” votes, the most of any Democrat this year, followed by 12 each from Reps. Tom Sullivan, of Aurora, and Don Valdez, of La Jara. 

Valdez said he stands by his voting record and that he tries to take rural Colorado into account when deciding whether to support bills.

“I ask: ‘Is this good legislation for rural Colorado and, specifically, my district?’” Valdez said.

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House Speaker Alec Garnett, D-Denver, cast his lone “no” vote of the 2021 session against a bill levying penalties for people who retaliate against politicians. 

On the other end of the spectrum was Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican who cast 310 “no” votes on third reading. His 141 “yes” votes on third reading this year were the fewest of any lawmaker in either chamber.

“I think it’s fantastic,” he said when asked about his voting record. “I’m a Republican. I come at policy and representing my constituency differently from the majority.”

Williams said the GOP should be rejecting as many bills as possible to show voters an alternative path forward for Colorado. He was among 11 House Republicans who voted “no” this year on third reading more than they voted “yes.”

“To those Republicans in the minority who vote a little bit more with the Democrats, I gotta say: that’s not why the people elected us,” Williams said. “They elected us to put forward a contrasting vision and a contrasting ideology. If I were to vote more often than not with the majority, then what’s the reason for voters to change the makeup of the legislature?”

That being said, Williams said there are areas where both parties can work together. Three measures he was a prime sponsor of — and which had bipartisan support — were signed into law. 

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Two of Williams’ bills were voted down. Another one, House BIll 1092, was passed by the legislature but vetoed by the governor. 

McKean cast 298 “yes” votes on third reading and 202 “no” votes, making him one of the GOP House members more willing to advance legislation this year.

“I would say my votes are representative of what I think is best for my constituents,” he said. 

McKean said he tried to work across the aisle where possible, such as on the budget. He was the only House Republican to initially advance the measure, but later rejected it after an amendment he pushed for was stripped from the bill. 

“There were some bridges that were just too far,” he said. “You saw how vigorously we defended things like market-based solutions to health care, a rational approach to prescription drug pricing as opposed to a top down government approach.”

Rep. Colin Larson, R-Ken Caryl, cast the most third-reading “yes” votes among House Republicans at 303. Close behind him was Rep. Richard Holtorf, an Akron Republican and perennial thorn in the side of statehouse Democrats, as well as Rep. ​​Marc Catlin, of Montrose, who each voted “yes” 301 times. 

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