Jerry Kopel

Where is the power base in the Colorado legislature?


From 1901 through 2000, the state legislature has been Republican.


From 1901 through 2000, Republicans have controlled the Senate 70 years to 30 years for Democrats. In the House the breakdown is 68 years for Republicans and 32 years for Democrats.


Republicans have controlled both the House and Senate at the same time 48 years, compared to 22 years for the Democrats. Republican control of the House has been uninterrupted from 1977 through 2000, a 24 year period, and in the Senate for 38 years, from 1963 through 2000.


The Democratic power base has always been Denver. When I entered the legislature in 1965, there were 18 Denver legislators in the House and 9 in the Senate. Nineteen of the 27 were Democrats.


But Denver was unable to grow. Why? Because in 1974 it was denied its special status in annexing adjoining land. Up until that time, the Colorado Supreme Court had treated the City and County of Denver as a city for purposes of annexation. That meant the only persons who would vote on the annexation were the qualified voters in the area to be annexed. But if a county tried to annex land in another county, the entire county from which the land was to be taken had the right to vote on allowing it to happen.


In 1974, the state adopted the Poundstone Amendment to the state constitution. It required Denver to be treated as a county for purposes of annexation, thus freezing its expansion. As a result, in 1999, there are 10 House members and 5 Senators from Denver. Only two of the 15 are Republicans. That's because state population growth required larger Denver districts. That swamped the Republicans living in southeast Denver.


Denver will grow slightly before the 2000 census is completed. There is vacant land now available at the closed Lowry Airbase and the closed Stapleton Airport plus the land annexed from Adams county which lies between Denver and the Denver International Airport. That annexation by Denver was approved by the voters of Adams County.


But when the state is reapportioned again in 2002 based on the 2000 census, Denver will lose more seats. Denver's population will be slightly over one-half million and the state's population will be about 4 million three hundred thousand. Denver should have 8 House seats and 4 Senate seats. The suburbs and El Paso county and the Western Slope will gain seats.


A recent article in the Denver Post claimed that forty percent of registered voters in Colorado live in Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas and Jefferson counties. That's a 62 percent increase since 1984. Those counties, along with Denver, are considered the Denver Metropolitan area. In the same period, from 1984 to 1998, Denver's share of registered voters dropped from 18 percent to 10 percent.


Rural and Western Slope interests are now represented by 20 percent of the legislature. There are seven state senators and thirteen House members in that category.


Since 1975, the legislative power base, thanks to the Poundstone Amendment, has shifted to Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe counties. They presently have 21 House seats and 12 Senate seats. Some of those 12 Senate seats include portions of non-suburban Colorado. El Paso County in southern Colorado, a strong conservative base, has eight House seats and four Senate seats.


If rural and Western Slope legislators combine with legislators who don't represent the Denver metropolitan area, they still only have 29 House seats and 15 senate seats.


However, look at Republican leadership over the past 22 years. In the House the Speakers have been Bob Burford, Bev Bledsoe, and Chuck Berry. The new Speaker is Russ George. None of them came from the Denver metropolitan area. In the Senate, it was Fred Anderson, Ted Strickland and Tom Norton as presidents of the Senate. Only Strickland was from the Denver metropolitan area. And now it is Ray Powers from Colorado Springs.


In the House, there have been seven majority leaders. Only two came from the Denver metropolitan area. In the Senate there have been four majority leaders. While two came from the Denver metropolitan area, they only served three of the 22 years.


So, where is the power base?


If it is by legislative party, it is Republican.


If it is by citizen voting strength, it is Denver and the five  suburban counties which together have 50 percent of the state's registered voters.


If it is by a cohesive legislative group interested in issues such as gaining water rights and better transportation, it is the five suburban counties.


If it is by legislative leadership, it is the rural areas combined with counties that are not part of the Denver metropolitan area.

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