Not all the rules governing the Colorado House and Senate are in the Colorado Legislator's Handbook. And some unwritten rules are detrimental to the minority party, such as the following.
The chant "Mr. Speaker, I move the House resolve itself into the Committee of the Whole" has not been spoken by a member of the House minority party in eleven years.
There may have been isolated instances of service this columnist is not aware of, but Democrats have definitely been shut out from turns as chairman of the committee of the whole (second reading and unlimited debate of bills).
This wasn't always the case. Up through and including Republican Majority Leader Ron Strahle's service, minority party members served as chairman on a general basis. It was so customary that often a minority party member would beg off, or seek to do it on a later date.
That changed with the election of Chris Paulson as Republican majority leader in 1987 and continued through 1997.
Why the change? Minority party members are no more untrustworthy, deceitful, or partisan in 1997 than they were in 1986. Of course that comment is factitious.
Serving as chairman of the committee is both an honor and a responsibility. It is also a good testing ground by giving legislators an opportunity to show ability to preserve order and decorum, recall the names of 63 other legislators (the Speaker typically isn't present), tie a name to a face, and make fast decisions on points of order.
Obviously, if you can't handle chairing the committee of the whole, you have no business running for Speaker, Majority Leader, or Minority Leader.
If any chairman of the committee ever did anything outrageous such as rule a bill passed or failed opposite to a heavy voice vote, the majority leader would simply go to the microphone and move the committee rise and report with leave to sit again, and that legislator would never again be called upon to chair the committee. I did see that happen several times, and each time it was a member of the majority party who had abused his position.
The Senate, fortunately, has been a more mature body. In 1997, while no Democrat chaired the House committee, six Democrats did so in the Senate, and one did it twice. The Democrats were Sens. Mike Feeley-Lakewood, Stan Matsunaka-Loveland, Joan Johnson-Adams County, Ron Hernandez-Denver, and Ed Perlmutter-Golden, who served twice as chairman. There were no dire consequences, and no bill passed or failed through abuse of the process.
With term limits about to dismiss years of legislative experience, especially from the House chambers, the majority party is missing an opportunity to keep the House running smoothly beginning in 1999 by presently sharing the duties of running the committee of the whole.
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(Denver Post columnist Bob Ewegen and I had the same idea: Tell readers how Colorado's original term limits spawned a very unusual and successful candidate. Bob got into print first, on Oct. 13th. This weekly column wasn't scheduled until today.)
Term limits for Colorado politicians were in the original 1876 state constitution, but they only applied to two positions in the executive branch, State Auditor and State Treasurer, under Article 4, Section 21:
"Neither the state treasurer nor the state auditor shall be eligible for re-election as his own immediate successor."
All executive branch offices were two year terms until the 1958 elections and if you can't be "an immediate successor", the other office with the same limitations is an appetizing alternative. In dancing terms, it's called a side-step.
A few Republicans did the side step effectively: Henry Mulnix was state treasurer four times and state auditor twice. Between 1951 and 1959, Earl Ewing was state treasurer twice and state auditor twice. But the prize goes to a Democrat, Homer F. Bedford.
Homer who? You probably have to be at least 45, unless you were a political child prodigy, to remember Homer Bedford who finally left office in January of 1967.
Homer Bedford was born March 16, 1880 in Balltown, MO. and came to Colorado in 1898. President Wilson appointed him postmaster of Platteville from 1914 until 1921. He served five terms (1922-32) as county assessor of Weld County, and then entered state politics.
Beginning in 1933, Homer Bedford was either state auditor or state treasurer until 1967, except for a two year term of 1943 to 1945. Bedford ran for governor in 1942, and was badly beaten by John Vivian, the Republican, losing 149,402 to 193,501.
Homer displayed a mature sense of humor, telling reporters in defeat, "I thought I heard the call of the people, but it turned out to be six or seven of my friends." Homer ran again for state treasurer and won in 1945, opening a new routine of side stepping.
Starting with the 1958 election, executive branch offices changed to four year terms. After January, 1967, the state auditor became an appointed position under control of the state legislature.
Homer Bedford won statewide elections fourteen times; as state treasurer eight times and as state auditor six times. He served 32 years in office, more than anyone else has EVER served in the executive branch.
I do recall his last successful election. Bedford and other Democratic candidates came to a meeting hall in Denver in September or October of 1962. Bedford was a little slow in getting up onto the stage. He looked down on his audience and said "I'm Homer Bedford and I'm 82 years old, and I'm running for state treasurer." That was it, and then, with bowed legs, he slowly shuffled off the stage.
The year 1962 was not a good year for Democrats. Republicans swept the Colorado House and Senate. John Love was elected governor and Peter Dominick as U.S. Senator. Only two Democrats won in the executive branch: Bob Knous as lieutenant governor, and Homer Bedford as state treasurer.
Bedford left office in January, 1967, just a few months short of his 87th birthday. Having gone to the well once to often, he was badly defeated in the November, 1966 election for state treasurer by Republican Mrs. Virginia Blue.
In late January, 1968, Bedford slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk in front of his home (and according to the press story) while picking up his Sunday copy of the Rocky Mountain News. Bedford died at age 88, March 26, 1968 of a brain concussion caused by the fall.
Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel