BY FREDA MIKLIN
On April 5, business lobbyist Micki Hackenberger, who has been covering the general assembly for 24 years, had the unenviable task of telling Arapahoe County Republicans meeting at Maggiano’s DTC that the last time their party “had a place at the political legislative table” was 2017, when they had a U.S. Senator and held three statewide offices, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, along with a majority in the state Senate, compared to today, when they hold no statewide offices or control either chamber of the legislature.
Hackenberger continued, “In 2020, in the wake of Trump’s presidency, Colorado conservatives lost all the power in the legislature. 2022 was a bitter, divisive election. Republicans were hoping to claw back some of that power after redistricting, but after the polls closed on election night, it was literally a wasteland. Republicans lost seats that should never have been lost, (even) in El Paso County, the most conservative county in the world.” Right up until the votes were counted, she said, “Even Democrats expected the GOP to take control of the state Senate.”
She quoted former Republican State Rep. Colin Larson, who was scheduled to assume a leadership role in the legislature before he lost his bid for re-election in 2022, as having said, about that election, “This was an extinction-level event for Republicans. The asteroid ended the reign of the dinosaur and the dinosaur was the Republican Party.”
Asked later what the asteroid was, Hackenberger said, “In Colorado, the Republicans were doing very well. Biden wasn’t doing well. The economy was struggling. They had a good message. Then along came Roe vs. Wade.” Even though Colorado had already dealt with this issue, the Democrats, who had a lot more money, “pounded and pounded on that message that, ‘They’re taking away your right; Republicans are taking away something you have access to.’ It was so much more powerful than we ever anticipated.”
With Democrats controlling the state House 46-19 and the state Senate 23-12, Hackenberger pointed out, “The only thing (Republicans) have is the power of their voice and the ability to debate.” Still, state government is hardly as one-sided as the numbers would indicate. One need only to flip on The Colorado Channel (165 on Comcast/Xfinity) and watch the legislature in session to see, what Hackenberger describes as, “A lot of bills…that you never hear about…are bipartisan…that move through.”
Hackenberg reported that current voter registration in our state is 46% unaffiliated, with Democratic registration numbering just over 1,000,000 voters and Republicans coming in at just over 932,000. She believes, “Colorado is a blue, Democrat, progressive state, by today’s standards.”
Compared to the two chambers of the general assembly, “Governor Polis is the most conservative,” Hackenberger said, describing him as, “a social liberal (with) a little bit of a libertarian streak,” adding that he, “always wants to lower taxes (and is) pro-choice in education.” She continued, “He realizes you can’t shut oil and gas down overnight, or even in five years,” adding, “When businesses have to negotiate something in this legislative environment, it’s very wise to try to get the governor’s office engaged.”
Another challenge Hackenberger sees for the GOP is that the general assembly has evolved into a body with a significant number of legislators who are under 30 years old and whose “sole work experience was being somebody’s legislative aide or working on a campaign.” She believes these legislators often have little understanding of or respect for the deliberative process and are focused on their own agendas.
It doesn’t help that, “Republicans have an image problem. They (younger people) think we are all white, old, and heartless,” Hackenberger told the group. “But,” she said, “The Democrats are struggling, as well, because moderate Democrats who are trying to do the right thing are being trolled by the liberal left.”
An unusual bill Hackenberger talked about was HB23-1190 Affordable Housing Right of First Refusal, that, “Creates a right of first refusal of a local government to match an acceptable offer for the sale of a residential (multifamily) property or mixed-use multifamily property, subject to the local government’s commitment to using the property as long-term affordable housing.” It would also allow the local government to assign its rights under this bill, “to the state, to any political subdivisions, to any housing authority in the state, or the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority,” if those entities commit to using the property for long-term affordable housing. HB23-1190 has passed the full state House and the state Senate Committee on Local Government & Housing. It is now being considered on the floor of the state Senate.