For state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, the 2013 legislative session — his first in the Senate and third in the minority party — began with a rebuff.
The Hot Sulphur Springs Republican approached Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and asked to help out on what became known as the ASSET bill, a measure that allowed undocumented students who graduate from Colorado high schools to qualify for in-state college tuition rates. His offer was declined.
“I was basically told, ‘We don’t need your vote. We don’t need your help. We’ll pass it without you,’” he said. “That pretty much set the tone for the entire session.”
Baumgardner, who was elected in 2012 to Senate District 8 representing Summit County and a portion of northwestern Colorado, has thus far sent only three of the 16 measures he sponsored this session to the governor. Several of his proposals were shot down, others are stalled in the House.
He blames the opposing party, saying Democrats are steamrolling the GOP, without even keeping up the appearance of playing ball.
“This is the most egregious, overbearing, worst year I’ve spent here,” said Baumgardner, who is in his fifth session at the Capitol including two terms as a state representative. “As far as any of the major issues, there was no working together.”
Democratic party leaders say there were a large number of successful bills this session that had bipartisan support. Democrats worked with Baumgardner to pass legislation creating a “Protect Our Rivers” license plate. But Baumgardner classifies items like that as “fuzzy” and “feel good.” On the controversial issues, he said, there was no attempt to partner with the GOP.
Certainly, it’s been a year of Democratic wins. The majority was able to push through a number of high-profile issues, including civil unions, in-state tuition and far-reaching gun-control legislation, including a 15-round limit on high-capacity magazines.
But Democrats insist they did reach across the aisle on hot-button issues and met with an unresponsive minority.
“There have been contentious issues this session where there has not been common ground between parties,” Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, stated in an email to the Summit Daily. “But even in cases such as the gun-safety legislation, the Democrats accepted several Republican amendments and ideas, but in the end Republicans still did not support those bills. The minority has the luxury of not governing and walking away — this is not an option for the majority party.”
For Baumgardner, it was a session marked by frustration and disappointment, particularly after a bill he’d enthusiastically introduced in January died in the Senate Committee on State, Veterans and Military Affairs barely a month later. He said the idea, to allow methane gas captured from coal mines to be converted to renewable energy, was co-opted in a measure led by Democrats later in the session.
“I wish we could find some common ground to where we could actually work on this stuff,” Baumgardner said. “There are going to be certain things the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are never going to agree on, but I think we can come closer if either side is willing to work a little bit to make this state a better place.”
Summit County has a Democratic representative in the state House. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, by comparison hasn’t lost a single bill and so far has been able to pass eight of the 18 bills and resolutions she introduced this session, several of them, she says with bipartisan support.
“We have gotten a lot done this year,” she said. “We’ve tried really hard behind the scenes to collaborate and find consensus.”
She pointed to her School Finance Reform Act, the first sweeping changes to the state’s education funding system in two decades, as an example. Hamner said she worked with members of the GOP to design amendments to the plan that garnered Republican support, though the bill itself did not.
Lawmakers are set to wrap up work at the Capitol for the year on May 8.
“As far as any of the major issues, there was no working together.” — Sen. Randy Baumgardner on working with Democratic colleagues in the Legislature