Over the last couple of weeks we have provided some critical, and snarky, analysis (here & here) on 5280 Magazine's "Power Issue" that listed what they deemed were the 50 most powerful people in Denver. Today we offer up our own take on the power players of the Capitol, looking at who's up, who's down and the intramural dynamics to watch out for when the legislative session kicks off tomorrow morning.
As power is an ephemeral thing, we don't think it's helpful to look at it from a list. Instead, here is a take on some politicians' stocks that are waxing and waning heading into what is sure to be a bruising and brutally partisan session:
1. Where in the world is John Hickenlooper? Governor Chickenlooper has developed a reputation for hiding on the big issues. It's not just us saying that anymore — it's leaders (& journalists) from left to right taking to the pages of The Denver Post and TV stations across the state to air their complaints about Governor "To Be Determined." As the most powerful pol in the state, when he does bother to state an opinion on a subject it will have heavy sway. The question that all Capitol watchers are asking is: when will he feel it's worth his political capital to wade in?
2. Frank McNulty v Brandon Shaffer: As the leaders of the two chambers, McNulty and Shaffer will spent the next four months constantly battling each other. But as McNulty doesn't have his own Congressional campaign to worry about, as Shaffer does, he'll likely have the upper hand in these skirmishes. Both men will try to pick off members of the opposing party to get their bills through, but as there will be more House Democrats in perilous positions than Senate Republicans, McNulty begins the session in a stronger position. Adding to McNulty's advantage is the fact that he hasn't compared being opposed politically to being raped. That usually helps in the realm of public opinion.
3. Looper v Stephens: We'd be remiss not to mention what will surely be one of the more hard fought primaries of 2012. Forced into the same district by a vindictive, and some may say misogynistic, reapportionment process, Representative Marsha Looper and House Majority Leader Amy Stephens will do electoral battle throughout the session, starting with precinct caucuses on February 7. Both have passionate supporters and key strengths in their campaigns, meaning this race isn't guaranteed to go either way. But it will make a difference in the session.
1. House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino: The newly crowned House Minority Leader starts the session with a rising stock. That won't last long if he employs the same type of budget analysis that led him to state that the Democrats' Medicaid expansion bill in 2009 wouldn't cost "very much dollars," but his rise to the top of the lower house heap earns him a spot on the rising stock list. He's also not known as a particularly savvy political mind or strategist, which could see his caucus boxed in by his far more shrewd counterpart, Speaker McNulty. We'll probably have a good sense of things in the first couple of weeks.
2. Speaker Frank McNulty: Speaker McNulty will probably set the tone and tenor of the session far more than any other legislator down at the Capitol. As Speaker he would already hold large sway under the Gold Dome, but considering his chief counterparts are Ferrandino and Brandon Shaffer, both far cries from the likes of operators like Andrew Romanoff, McNulty's power is likely to become heightened. Already he has helped orchestrate a smooth transition after reapportionment, helping head off virtually all incumbent-on-incumbent primaries. That sway in his own caucus means he'll probably be more effective at keeping his members in line than Speaker Boehner in DC.
3. Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman: Like Ferrandino, Cadman just ascended to Senate Minority Leader and this session will be a proving ground for his leadership abilities. As a back-slapping, jovial kind of guy, Cadman just might be able to sway some Democrats to his side on key bills. With his counterpart, Senate President Brandon Shaffer, stuck in a rape reference controversy in the first week of session, he'll have the added advantage of a clean start.
4. Senator Michael Johnston: With Brandon Shaffer already making an utter buffoon of himself, in addition to his own kamikaze mission of a Congressional campaign, the Democrats' Senate caucus will have to rely even more heavily on rising star Johnston to do fundraising. Additionally, with SB191, the major education reform effort co-sponsored by Johnston, set to take effect, Johnston will have some heavy policy lifting to do, as well as bridge building with bitter teachers unions over the bill's passage in 2010.
5. Retiring Legislators: From Jon Becker to Keith King, the Capitol is losing some heavy hitters after this coming session. While we are sad to see them go, it will also free them up to swing for the fences. Senator King will likely work on his signature issue — education — and help shepherd through key reform bills that will further bolster his legacy as a true education "KINGpin" — to steal a Spot headline from Lynn Bartels. For Jon Becker, it means he won’t have to sweat the small stuff on JBC and Appropriations, leaving him free to become a stronger hand in budget negotiations.
1. Brandon Shaffer: One of the weaker Colorado Senate Presidents of the modern era, Shaffer was never going to be a hot commodity. Add to that the fact that his own party screwed him on redistricting, leaving him in an unwinnable Congressional race, and his own self-inflicted wounds, and what's left is a state Senator with no future political career and a short temper to boot. His ability to hold onto the top spot in the upper chamber says more about the weakness of his own caucus than anything resembling prowess on his own part. If he thought having his online school audit move blocked felt like rape, he's in for a rude awakening this session.
2. Sal Pace: Stepping down as House Minority Leader to spend more time on a likely losing Congressional race, Pace's stock has already slid under the Golden Dome. When the session starts tomorrow, it'll mark the first time he'll face all of his colleagues at the Capitol since we at Colorado Peak Politics exposed his extensive and embarrassing criminal record. We fully expect a few folks to take the piss out of him about it. Of the three legislative Democrats running for Congress, Pace has the biggest target on his back. Due to that, there won't be a vote or a floor speech unnoticed by his opposition. Lacking a reputation for anything approaching eloquence, that is not likely to work in his favor.
3. Tom Massey: Winning Colorado Pols' Politician of the Year award was not a plus in Massey's column. It's kind of like Sean Penn calling you his favorite politician — not company you want to be associated with as a Republican legislator. While we don't expect he'll pull a Debbie Stafford and switch parties, Massey will probably frustrate conservatives looking for his vote on sensible bills to streamline government. But since he's term limited and not running for another office in 2012, that liberal love won't do him much good, other than anger his fellow Republican legislators.
4. Dirty Dozen Legislators: Compass Colorado released a list of Dirty Dozen Job Killers a few weeks ago, highlighting the job-killing record of twelve legislators who have voted for billions in tax and fee increases, along with automatic pay raises for bureaucrats and other left-wing bills. Many of these politicians are likely to see tough re-election battles, meaning they'll have to tiptoe carefully throughout the session. With Compass Colorado able to educate their constituents on their lame brained economic ideas mere hours after casting votes for higher taxes, this bunch will have much to worry about in the coming year. Some, like Senators Newell and Hudak, have already let their freak flags fly suggesting support for increasing the hated gas tax. Others will probably be more careful in how they vote. The pressure on them will then be balancing supporting their party's initiatives without ensuring their own electoral defeat.