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Publish Date: 10/20/2006

A tale of two parties
Democrats, GOP battle for control of state Legislature

DENVER — If Republicans regain control of both houses of the Legislature in November, “we could continue our work to improve education through school choice,” says Colorado Springs lawmaker Andy McElhany.

McElhany, who’s now the Senate minority leader, said this week that

restoring GOP majorities in the Senate and the House would also result in a budget emphasis on “funding for transportation

infrastructure and additional funding for higher ed.”

But Denver Democrat Ken Gordon, the current Senate majority leader, warned that a GOP return to legislative dominance could mean a less moderate approach to state policy-making.

“I think in Colorado right now, the Republican leadership comes from the far-right part of the party,” Gordon said, “the part that is concerned about ideological issues like guns, abortion, homosexuality.”

Said Gordon: “I think the leadership in the Democratic Party is much closer to the center of the political spectrum. We’re concerned about education, health care, transportation, jobs.”

In 2004, Democrats won control of both houses for the first time in more than 40 years, winding up with 18 of the 35 Senate seats and 35 of the 65 House seats.

Democrats are trying to preserve majority status this year, but Republicans are trying to recapture control of at least one legislative chamber, if not both.

The outcome of the battle for Senate control will be close, McElhany predicted, “like most elections these days are.”

Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, and House Minority Leader Mike May, R-Parker, each professed partisan confidence about which of their parties would end up with the most House seats for the coming two years.

When asked what Coloradans might expect if House control shifts back to the GOP, Madden said: “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Madden said she’s hoping for “a trifecta,” with voters choosing Democrat Bill Ritter to be their next governor as well as keeping Democrats in power in the Legislature.

Republican warnings that Colorado’s political sky will fall if that happens “are not based in reality,” Madden said.

Under Democratic leadership, she said, people will “continue to see a moderate approach” to solving the state’s problems and carrying out policies that “move the state forward.”

Madden said Democrats “are committed to rebuilding our infrastructure and making sure businesses have the tools they need to be able to pay good wages and afford health care for their employees.”

May said House Republicans “will continue to push — assuming we’re in the majority, which we will be — for small government and low taxes,” as well as a new set of GOP ideas for addressing health-care costs.

Legislative dynamics will depend on whether voters choose Republican Bob Beauprez or Democrat Ritter to be governor, May said.

“We’ll be at the table no matter who wins the governor’s race,” May said, but “it’s much easier if you set the table.”

Madden said that if Republicans regain control of the House or Senate or both, “I think Bill Ritter would probably have to veto a lot of bills.”

May, however, said that if Democrats keep legislative control, “our ability to set the agenda is lost.”

May added, though, if that happens, “we’re not just going to fold up and go hide in a corner. We will have to be louder and smarter on what’s important” to Republican lawmakers’ constituents.

McElhany warned that if Democrats stay in the legislative majorities, “I think that you’ll continue to see growth in the areas of the budget where 85 percent of our spending goes today, which is welfare and K-12 education, at the expense of higher ed and transportation infrastructure.”

With continued Democratic control, McElhany predicted, “you will see legislation giving unfair advantages to unions and trial lawyers. You will see extreme environmental legislation.”

But Gordon said Democrats have demonstrated, by negotiating compromises with Republican Gov. Bill Owens and moderate GOP lawmakers, that they can work “from the center” on crafting measures such as last year’s budget-stabilizing Referendum C.

“The Republicans didn’t want to work with us” when the GOP was in power, Gordon charged. But “we worked with them” after the 2004 elections, “so at this stage I feel that Colorado is better served by having Democrats in control in the Legislature.”

Balance of power

DENVER — All 65 seats in the Legislature’s House of Representatives — 35 filled by Democrats and 30 held by Republicans — are up for election this year.

Republicans need to make a net gain of three seats to gain majority control of the House for the coming two years. Democrats can afford a net loss of no more than two seats to retain their control.

Democratic candidates for 10 of those House seats and Republicans seeking two of the others are running unopposed.

In the Senate, where Democrats now have an 18-17 majority, 18 of 35 seats are up for election.

Voters will select senators for eight of the 18 seats currently in the Democratic column — although two Democratic incumbents are running unopposed — as well as pick winners in this year’s contests for 10 of the 17 Senate seats now held by Republicans.

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at jfryar@times-call.com.

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