the Size of the Legislature
Nov. 28, 2006
By Jerry Kopel
How many persons in Colorado should each member of the House and Senate
In the 1876 constitution, Article 5, Section 46 stated: "The senate shall
consist of 26 and the house of representatives 49 members, which number
shall not be increased until the year of our Lord 1890, after which time,
the general assembly may increase the number of senators and
representatives as near as may be, to the present proportion in each
house, provided that the aggregate numbers of senators and representatives
shall never exceed one hundred."
In 1901 we had 65 House members and 35 Senate members. Our breakdown was
closer to a multi-party parliament than to normal state portions. In the
Senate, there were 19 Democrats, two Republicans, seven Silver
Republicans, six Populists, and one Single Tax.
In the House , there were 37 Democrats, seven Republicans, eight Silver
Republicans, and 13 Populists. (But that is not the issue.)
In 1901, the Colorado population was 539,700 and it doubled by 1940. A 65
member House and 35 member Senate was not out of line with the population
In 1980 we had 2.9 million residents, one representative for 45,000
persons and one senator for 83,000 persons. In 2010 we will have five
million residents and one representative for 77,000 persons and one
senator for 144,000 persons.
In thirty years (1980-2010) we will have made each representative serve
close to the number of persons served by a senator in 1980. Should the
legislature begin to consider an increase in the 100 member General
Assembly while there is still time to go to the electorate in 2008?
Are we an average size legislature? Not according to "The Decline of
Representative Democracy". by Alan Rosenthal. Pages 73 and 74 provide you
with total numbers for each state. Forty-one states have more House
members than Colorado. Forgetting New Hampshire with its ridiculous 400
House members, there are 30 states with 100 or more members of the House,,
some in states that are smaller in population than Colorado.
With a hundred member House, there would be a population per legislator
close to what we had in 1980, one representative for 50,000 persons. In
the Senate there are 28 states with more senators than Colorado. There are
many with fewer residents. With a fifty member senate there would be one
senator for 100,000 residents. To avoid "ties" there could be a 49 member
Senate and a 99 member House.
One of the pleasures of a smaller constituency is the ability to meet
face-to-face. E-mail is useful, but it is not a human shaking hands with
another human., The number who show up at local meetings usually only
produce the "activists".
There are so many who vote but know a legislator only by name and pro and
con literature. Going door to door to meet voters may, by 2010, if not
already, mean meeting only a minority of constituents.
It's doubtful that the legislature would pass a referendum to place the
issue of an increase in legislative size on the ballot, since more
legislators mean dilution of power for those presently in office.
Opponents would raise the issue of major costs in adding additional space
on the House and Senate floors. But eliminating the lobbyists "standing
room" directly behind the Senate and House would probably allow eight to
12 more House seats and four to five more Senate seats. That is not a
large increase, but it would be a start.
I recognize this is an "out-of-the-box" suggestion, but should Colorado
has have a 1901 legislative body in 2012?
If anyone, including legislators consider an increase useful, they should
check on how states with more legislators and less population than
Colorado are operating.
An increase in numbers might be worth an initiative for 2008.
If not, the issue may have to wait until 2020 when the next federal census
is taken. A reapportion commission is provided for in the state
constitution. Except to the extent some commission members are selected
from the legislature, the legislature does not decide the district
If we wait until 2020 to add more legislators, there will be six million
persons living in Colorado. If we don't increase the number of members,
each of the 35 senators will serve 171,000 persons and each of the 65
House members will serve 92,000 persons.
* * *
Bob Ewegen, Lynn Bartels, Patti Calhoun, Mike Littwin, "NO". You were
All of the journalists above listed the 1958 election as the time when
Democrats controlled the Colorado House, the Senate, and the governorship.
I'm sure all Democrats who served in the 1957 and 1958 legislative
sessions would be angry. (At least the ones still alive.)
The 1956 election was the turning point. Democrats picked up six seats in
the Senate for a total of 21 to 14, and nine seats in the House for a
total of 38 to 27. Steve McNichols (D) was elected governor.
Now there was one glitch. The lieutenant governor ran separately from the
governor and Franks Hayes Sr. (R) defeated Sen. Sam Taylor (D).
The constitution at that time gave the lieutenant governor two tasks in
Article 4, Section 13 and 14: Sit as governor when the governor was absent
from the state, and be president of the Senate with the right to vote if
the senate was equally divided on a vote. When the lieutenant governor
was absent, the Senate Speaker Pro Tem assumed the role of senate
I believe the rule book gave the lieutenant governor the duty to also
assign bills to various committees.
Frank Hayes Sr., was a "gentleman of the old school". He recognized the
political realities and did nothing while sitting for an absent governor
that would upset the legislature or the governor. Peter Culig Jr., a very
long term Democratic legislator from Pueblo was Senate Speaker Pro Tem.,
and when Hays Sr. was absent , he presided over the Senate.
If Hays Sr. actually assigned a bill to a committee that the Senate
Democrats did not want it to go to, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader
would simply have that committee reassign the bill to the proper
In the House, Charles Conklin (D) was speaker.
Hays Sr. served two years as lieutenant governor, replaced for the
1959-1962 sessions by Bob Knous (D). Hays Sr. went on to become a notable
and likeable lobbyist, a model of decorum in that position as well as
while lieutenant governor.
(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House, serving a larger
population each term.)