Jerry Kopel

Expanding the Size of the Legislature 

Nov. 28, 2006

By Jerry Kopel

How many persons in Colorado should each member of the House and Senate represent?

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 being represented.

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 boundaries.

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 wrong.

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 president.

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 committee.

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.)

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