Welcome to the third and final installment of the Peak's First Annual Legislative Awards. Last week we announced the Losers and Sister-Kissers of the 120 day legislative session, and now we present our final category: The Winners.
This designation is for those politicians and political entities we felt came out on the other side of the legislative pass with more in hand than they entered it.
1. Cory Gardner / Scott Tipton: Our top winners weren't even in Colorado for most of the legislative session, but the impact of it affected them in the greatest way. The first reelect for freshman Congressmen is generally the hardest, and Gardner and Tipton watched their most likely opponents douse themselves in gasoline before even announcing their Congressional bids.
Gardner's likely opponent, Brandon Shaffer, made the top of our loser's list partly for his abysmal record on creating jobs in Colorado but mostly for ruining his chances at winning the 4th Congressional District before even filing the paperwork. He's angered the Eastern Plains, showed little leadership on the big issues and exposed himself as a me-first kind of politician. Put that together and it spells "feckless challenger campaign." Shaffer is planning on running anyway, but we predict he'll end up like Stan Matsunaka, another Democrat Senate President who tested his wares in the 4th CD and failed badly, twice.
Tipton's potential challenger, Sal "The Fist" Pace, also made a mess of his coming Congressional campaign. Pace made our loser's list because no matter what map the courts choose, Pace will have to explain to his district why he let his party slice and dice the West Slope in order to further the Congressional ambitions of a Northern Colorado Democrat. He also has a little explaining to do over his remarks regarding his threats of violence against those opposed to the union boss agenda. It looks like Tipton's challenger will be limping his way up to the starting line.
All Tipton and Gardner have to do now is light the match and watch their opponents' campaigns go up in flames.
2. Speaker McNulty: For a Speaker with a razor-thin one seat majority in the lower house, and a large Democrat majority in the upper chamber, McNulty pulled off an impressive first session. He certainly didn't pass, or block, everything we would have liked, but under the circumstances he achieved quite a bit. And even though he allowed a few bills that were certain to cause conservative consternation (see: exchanges, healthcare) the majority of the legislation that passed his House was good, pro-jobs conservative policy.
Most importantly, McNulty was able to get rid of a triplet of Ritter's despised Dirty Dozen tax increases, and was almost successful at pinching off the Amazon tax, but a bitter Brandon Shaffer killed the bill in spite on the last day of the legislative session. On the budget, McNulty and Hickenlooper rode across the finish line together, creating the first reasonable state budget in years. While Shaffer attacked Hick's proposed budget, McNulty took the opportunity to extend his hand across the bipartisan divide and accomplish something meaningful.
There also was a surprising lack of defections on major legislation in his caucus. With a one-seat majority there is no room for error, as Republicans found out during a vote that failed due to one missing member who was stuck in traffic. The Republican caucus in the lower house represents a wide variety of regional interests and political persuasions, yet McNulty kept his troops in line and focused on the real enemy: liberal legislation.
In the most political of all legislation that the General Assembly faced this year, redistricting, McNulty came out clearly on top politically. From Lynn Bartels:
But Republicans clearly won in the court of public opinion, with Coloradans howling over Democrats' ideas of pairing Grand Junction with Boulder, or El Paso County with the Arkansas Valley.
Frank gets the credit for the successful public relations strategy around redistricting, as he kept his team focused on clear, concise messaging aimed at painting the Democrat maps as tools for Democrat legislators' future ambitions at the expense of destroying rural representation. Just about every editorial board in the state came out against the Democrats' map, including the Boulder Daily Camera, home paper of the Democrat Chairman of the Kumbaya Committee, Rollie Heath. His messaging also aided the top winners of the legislative session by effectively putting Shaffer and Pace on the defensive about campaigns they haven't even announced yet.
McNulty didn't win every debate, but he controlled the tempo and tenor of the debate more than any other person under the Dome. As Ronald Reagan famously said in his farewell speech, "all in all, not bad, not bad at all."
3. Complete Colorado: While we here at the Peak only recently arrived on the political blogosphere this year, Complete Colorado has been carrying the conservative flag since 2008, aiming to ensure important news stories are heard that otherwise might be ignored by the liberal mainstream media. Campaigns and Elections magazine called Complete Colorado "a daily must-read of anyone interested in politics." Thankfully, liberals have nothing on the web in Colorado that can begin to compete with Complete.
Complete's roundup of all things Colorado is by far the best summation of the news cycle available on the web. With Complete's success, even the Denver Post is following suit, with Curtis Hubbard producing a great morning list of political stories across the state. And lists of links are not the only thing they are following Complete on.
Under the leadership of award winning investigative journalist, Todd Shepherd, Complete has done their own digging and broke some interesting stories, including the story that former Congressman John Salazar used taxpayer dollars to give his staff a final payday payback. The Post covered it afterwards, though they forgot to credit Complete for breaking the story.
We are very thankful that Complete Colorado is around and here to stay.
4. Henry Sobanet: Hick's budget chief, who had the same gig under Governor Owens, has had a long and sometimes rocky road with conservatives in Colorado after his support for Referendum C. His and Hick's budget this year fully restored our faith in Sobanet. We gave him props back in February when the Guv's budget was released and we feel he deserves a second round of applause now.
When Hickenlooper released his budget, the Democrats were left scrambling to come up with talking points to attack the Republican response. All of the sudden Democrats were unable to accuse Republicans of hating children for supporting cuts to government spending, because the nominal leader of their own party had laid down the gauntlet so starkly. Sobanet's leadership on spending helped redefine the budget debate in conservative's favor in a major way.
Like Hickenlooper, we continue to have high hopes for Sobanet, who hopefully will continue to guide Hick towards his pro-business leanings, and away from the liberal hackery that's come to define Senate Democrats.
5. Pat Steadman: Denver Senator Pat Steadman proved to be Republican's favorite Democrat this year. While we disagree with Steadman on a great deal of policy we have found him to be an honest broker and reputable leader.
Senator Steadman had the unlucky job of sitting on the ethics committee charged with untangling John Morse's year-long per diem party. While the committee was ultimately unable to move forward on the investigation over some technicalities, we were impressed with Steadman's dealings on the committee. You could tell he was torn between his party loyalty and his interest in giving the complaint a fair look.
It is very telling that Steadman made this list, despite being a raving liberal. He is not some centrist Senator who we're praising because he votes for the conservative option on many bills, but because he's held himself to a higher standard as a statesman. If only he could have been the one to negotiate redistricting, we might actually have a map at this point.
6. Eli Stokols: Losing Adam Schrager from 9NEWS to Wisconsin created a gaping hole in TV journalism, one that many observers thought would be impossible to fill. In this last legislative session Eli Stokols of FOX31 filled that void well, providing Fox's viewers with a thoughtful and interesting look into the sometimes excruciatingly boring proceedings. His coverage generally gave both sides of the argument a fair shake, something conservatives should value highly where they can find it in the mainstream media.
We also owe a special, belated tip of the hat to Stokols for his bang-up piece on the strange living arrangements of Senator John Morse last year. The (unexplained) painting of a half naked man and Morse's description of his bedroom as "The Passion Pit" to Stokols have kept us laughing ever since. We look forward to more episodes of "Capitol Cribs."
Stokols' Twitter account has also been well used, providing real-time coverage of rallies, press conferences and hearings. Other winners and losers lists have covered how Twitter was #WINNING this year, and we agree. Stokols Twitter account and his articles proved he's not such a bad writer, for a TV guy anyway.