Guest opinion: Unlikely leadership emerges in Legislature
In this year’s closing weeks of the General Assembly, we found the face of real leadership emerge in the most unlikely form. It was a team of legislators that came together seeking to solve some of the state’s most vexing problems. They weren’t a group that sought this role nor the attention that accompanied it.
Rather it was a role that they felt compelled to take on because of a true concern about the consequences to our state if they failed to act. If you asked them why they took on this challenge, they would probably tell you that it was simply about doing the right thing.
They were an odd mix of individuals, something like the old television show, the “Mod Squad.” That old show brought together three very diverse young individuals from different walks of life in a police series (with the catchphrase “one white, one black, one blonde”).
While no one would confuse this legislative group with that stylish, young group from that former TV show, there is a certain commonality between the two. Like the Mod Squad, this group is dissimilar in many ways with different political philosophies, backgrounds and legislative districts, but they did share a common sense of purpose and genuine concern for the serious challenges facing our hospitals, schools and transportation system.
The leader of this unlikely group appeared to be Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a conservative Republican farmer from Sterling. Behind his boyish looks and jovial manner lies a great political mind that helped to assemble many of the pieces in this complex puzzle. His partner in the Senate was Democratic Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, an ordained minister from Denver, whose gracious manner and friendliness belie a keen intelligence and understanding of the Legislature that has enabled her to steer some of the most difficult issues through it over the years.
On the House side there was the youngest member of the team, House Democratic Majority Leader KC Becker. She is an attorney from Boulder, representing one of the more liberal areas of the state, who possesses a great understanding of public policy and politics. The last member of this unlikely group was Rep. Jon Becker, another conservative Republican from rural Northeast Colorado, who is a businessman and part-time professor. While being one of the newer members of the Legislature, he is respected for being bright, knowledgeable and engaging, which has enabled him to gain bipartisan support on a number of his bills.
This unlikely group helped to negotiate probably one of the most broad and sweeping measures coming through the Legislature in many years dealing with some of the most intransigent and challenging issues facing the state.
SB 267 includes a blend of elements that reflect the principles of both parties. In regard to Republicans, the measure has provisions aimed at smaller government (having state agencies look at a 2 percent reduction in the next year), a business personal property tax break for small businesses, an increase in Medicaid co-pays, and a reduction in the overall spending cap.
On the Democratic side of the ledger, a primary focus was having the funds from the Hospital Provider Fee, constituting $670 million, be reclassified as an enterprise fund and remove them from calculations of any spending cap. That will allow the state to retain funds in the future for various programs and needs such as education, health and social services, and others.
Of common importance to both groups though was an overriding desire to ensure that our hospitals not face cuts or possible closures that would have occurred without this legislation, provide more money for rural school districts and dedicate almost $2 billion to roadways in mostly rural areas. What may be more amazing about SB 267 is that all of this is being accomplished without a major tax increase, but rather some innovative funding concepts.
The breadth of the measure and the various groups involved in the process was truly amazing. This measure made “herding cats” (or in the case of Sen. Sonnenberg, “doggies”) look easy. Despite numerous setbacks and points in the process when many claimed the measure was dead, this little band of warriors kept the bill going.
The negotiations on SB 267 were difficult not only between the different parties but also keeping members of their own parties on board. There was little to gain from their thankless job and a lot of criticism along the way. Many in and out of the Legislature viewed it as a fool’s errand that was doomed to failure. Rather than listen to the naysayers, the group forged ahead, despite setbacks that sometimes occurred daily. Their determination and persistence were key to getting this important measure passed.
While there are and will continue to be critics on both sides of the aisle, the fact that a bipartisan solution of this nature occurred in this highly charged political environment, is in itself astonishing. Measures like SB 267 are important in helping to restore our faith in government and the ability of our Legislature to address the critical issues facing our state. It also helps to remind us that there are still many fine elected officials who choose to take risks and boldly lead on important issues.
Many thanks to our own version of the Mod Squad for their efforts on SB 267, which has done much more for our state than merely addressing the issues within it.
Greg Fulton is president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents more than 600 companies directly involved or affiliated with trucking in Colorado.
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