As the Colorado legislative season comes to a close, the pressing question — as it is in most years — is exactly how much has been accomplished, or to put it another way, how much hasn’t been. 

Sometimes the answer isn’t as obvious as you’d think.

The one thing we definitely learned this year is that a solid-blue Colorado doesn’t necessarily translate into a solidly progressive Colorado. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Whatever you hear from the shrinking state Republican Party, Colorado is not California. It’s also not Massachusetts or Vermont. 

In changing from a solid red state to solid blue over the past two decades — with an all-too-brief purple interregnum — Colorado is, in fact, the Democratic flagship in the region. But anyone who studies one-party rule, the kind they have in democracies anyway, knows that the factions within the ruling party inevitably become more pronounced. Urban vs. suburban vs. rural. Progressive vs. moderate. And on and on.

So, in that light, what has the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature — certainly the most Democratic in modern Colorado history — accomplished?

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As I write this on Friday morning, we don’t yet know the fate of several critical bills that would help in finding an answer. And, in fact, we may not know the fate of a few bills much before the legislature closes down Monday at 11:59 p.m.

But whatever happens to those bills, the real answer is this: The heavily Democratic legislature has accomplished basically whatever Jared Polis — the Democratic governor who won re-election last year by 19 points, which is a lot even against a disastrous candidate like Heidi Ganahl — wanted it to accomplish. 

Polis is a faction unto himself. He wants liberal but not too liberal. Progressive but not too progressive. A little controversial, maybe, but not all that controversial. Strengthening abortion rights works. Assault weapon bans, not so much.

I’m old enough to remember when Polis first ran for governor and was routinely accused of being, yes, a radical socialist. It turns out that Polis is about as radical as, um, John Hickenlooper.

Yes, the Democratic legislature has passed a handful of gun bills, all of them backed by Polis and all of them backed, according to the polls, by a majority of Coloradans. The package of bills, all signed into law, is significant and could help make some actual headway in battling the plague of gun violence. 

But the gun bill Polis didn’t want — the one that most progressives did — was a ban on assault-style weapons, those used most often in the mass murders that are all too familiar in Colorado. Democratic leadership wouldn’t take Polis on, and so the bill died in committee, even though mpdt legislators may well have supported it. 

Polis himself supported a national ban when he served in the U.S. House, but says now a ban doesn’t work if you can buy an assault-style weapon simply by crossing a state border. That sounds like a valid point unless you think about it. Couldn’t you make the same argument when it comes to stiffening background checks? 

Do you think it’s a coincidence that assault-style-weapon bans are, well, extremely controversial? Polis didn’t back the bill even when it had been so weakened that it no longer really qualified as a ban.

As you may have heard, there is a bill still under consideration that would protect homeowners from the shock of property-tax increases, which, in some cases, will have grown by more than 50%. That’s a bill that should be popular. The increase is the result of Coloradans voting down the problematic Gallagher Amendment, which put limits on property tax growth, and even more to the inevitable consequence of the insane housing market.

In this bill, the money that municipalities would lose from decreased property tax revenues would be made up by using money set aside for TABOR refunds. That sounds like a good plan, and those who say it’s another example of the government taking people’s money conveniently leave out the point that those very same people would have to vote on the program and approve it.

But I’ll bet you know who gets left out of this argument.  Yes, renters, who make up around a third of Colorado households. Several bills that were introduced specifically to relieve the burden on renters, who have also seen their costs climb dramatically, went nowhere, including one that would allow cities to experiment with rent control. These bills just happened not to have Polis’ support.

Instead, we’ve been told, if given reduced property tax assessments, some landlords would pass on the savings to renters. I laugh every time I hear this latest twist on trickle-downing. In the years I rented, I never once had a landlord tell me my rent would go down because of a tax break, or, as far as that goes, for any other reason. 

You can see the trend here. Yes, it’s an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. But, more to the point, it’s an overwhelmingly Polis-influenced Democratic legislature.

Polis’ biggest fight has involved his land-use bill, which would take much zoning power away from cities and transfer it to the state in order to help address the affordable-housing crisis in Colorado. There is a need for more housing density, particularly in transit zones. There’s a need for ADUs, better known as granny flats. There is a need for someone to explain what upzoning means. 

The battle has cities arguing, though, for local control and against state preemption and questioning the logic that a one-size-fits-all policy would work equally well for, say, Denver and Grand Junction.

As far I’m concerned, you get no argument if you say the state and its cities have failed when it comes to affordable housing and to NIMBYism and to gentrification. There’s an argument that someone needs to step in and that it’s about time a governor took this on.

But for many cities, even those that might agree that the state needs to play a role, details matter.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is one who has asked that the state use incentives to get cities on board instead of bringing even more bureaucracy — and likely more litigation — to zoning-board issues. And if you’re looking for a progressive take, just check with the Denver City Council, which is also very much opposed to the Polis-backed bill. It should have been clear to Polis that Democratic-run cities might strenuously object to this bill and call on their allies in the legislature to back them.

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If you’ve been following it, you know the House passed a bill, the Senate watered it down and then passed a rather different bill, the House took the bill back and added some of the things that the Senate had removed and, as of this writing, it’s back to the Senate, and if the senators make changes, it’s back to the House, and meanwhile the clock is ticking. 

If this bill doesn’t get passed in some form, there’s a reasonable chance that Polis — and I apologize in advance to legislators and those reporters who cover them if I’ve jinxed anything — could call for a special session.

That’s the power governors have. Which is one more reason why I’d bet Polis gets his way.

Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.

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Mike Littwin

Special to The Colorado Sun Email: Twitter: @mike_littwin