Twenty-four years ago there were 37 Republicans and 28 Democrats in the Colorado House of Representative. The session, which began Jan. 2d, would not end until May 22d. As legislators got deeper into business and closer to the end of the 1974 session, the normal sounds of talk and laughter on the Republican side became muted. Democrats became more confident and relaxed, gazing with traces of pity at their Republican brothers and sisters.
Certainly Democrats were concerned about the damage being done to our national institutions and worried about how it would affect future presidents. But thanks to Presidential misbehavior, and the willingness of President Nixon to "tough it out" despite damage to his political party, the 1974 state elections, after eight years of wandering in the wilderness, were going to be easy.
The Colorado vote in November 1974 would have almost nothing to do with accomplishments or lack of the same by the legislature or the state executive branch. It was going to be punishment for national excesses by the President and his cohorts, and local Democrats and Republicans knew it.
From January through May and in the months after, the Watergate controversy and charges of obstruction of justice were in the papers each day. Impeachment hearings began in Congress May 9, 1974. Richard Nixon resigned on August 9th and Jerry Ford was sworn in as president.
On Sept. 8th, Ford issued an unconditional pardon to Nixon, and for many analysts, that gave Democrats nationally the major gains that followed in November: Congress was veto-proof for Democrats. The U.S. Senate was close to veto-proof.
The World Almanac of 1975 reported on other changes:
In Colorado, Democrats won all executive branch races except for Sect. of State Mary Estill Buchanan. Three of the five in Congress were Democrats. Both U.S. Senators were Democrats. The Colorado legislature, especially the House, was filled with new faces.
In the Colorado House, 18 Republicans were gone. Tilman Bishop went to the Senate. Of the other 17, one ran for the senate and lost. One incumbent, Bud Edmunds, lost running as an independent.
Five other House Republican incumbents were defeated. Another, Austin Moore, won his primary, but was not in the general election. John Fuhr ran for lieutenant governor and lost to Ted Strickland in the primary. Frank Southworth ran for Congress and lost to Pat Schroeder. Seven other incumbents chose not to seek re-election.
Republicans kept 19 incumbents and added seven new members. Democrats had 19 incumbents (18 plus Wayne Knox who had been out for two years) and 20 new members, so it was 39 Democrats and 26 Republicans. Of the ten Democrat incumbents from 1974 who did not serve in 1975, all but one, Hiram McNeil, were involved in other elections.
Two, Dick Lamm and Tom Farley, ran in primaries for governor and Lamm won. John Carroll ran for the U.S. House and lost. Tony Mullen ran for secretary of state and lost. Dennis Gallagher and Eldon Cooper went to the state senate. Betty Benavidez lost in a senate primary. Hub Safran, who originally had decided not to seek re-election, changed his mind, defeated his primary opponent already in the race, and then lost to Sam Zakhem. T. John Baer, after a nasty divorce, lost to Bob Burford.
Over in the Senate, Democrats were also feeling good, even though they only had 13 of the 35 votes. Despite help from Watergate, they only managed to add three seats to reach 16. They couldn't reach 18 because two Democrat senators, Al Ruland and Maurice Parker were put into the same districts as Republican incumbents Dan Noble and Kenneth Kinnie. Ruland lost to Noble by 748 votes. Parker lost by 1,500 votes to Kinnie.
Seventeen Republican senators from 1974 were there in 1975, joined by House member Bishop and new member Bill Hughes. Two Republican incumbents, Roseanne Ball and Bill Garnsey, were defeated by Barbara Holme and Jim Kadlecek. Bill Hughes had defeated incumbent George Jackson in a primary, and Harry Locke, who had won his primary, did not run in the general election. George Enstrom did not seek re-election.
Democrats had six senators from 1974, plus former incumbent Arch Decker who had run for Congress in 1972, plus Elden Cooper and Dennis Gallagher moving over from the House. Regis Groff was installed in George Brown's seat when Brown was elected lieutenant governor. But for experience, Democrats had nine to 18 for the Republicans. For the Republican majority, it was business as usual.
Experience and lack of experience helped shape the assembly. For Republicans, 37 of their 45 seats were filled by experienced legislators. For Democrats, only 28 of their 55 seats were filled by experienced legislators. Senate Republicans sensed they only needed to wait out the storm, pass what legislation was needed to keep government working, and their party would bounce back in 1976. They were right.
Senate Minority Leader Ray Kogovsek spent time after the 1976 legislature ended measuring the quarters of the majority leaders, preparing for new rugs and drapes. To win a majority, Democrats needed to win eight seats and the Republicans needed to win eleven seats. The Republicans won their eleven and majority control, 18 to 17.
In the House, Democrats lost nine seats and majority control. Two were seasoned veterans, myself and David Gaon. Five were first termers, Bill Flannery, Steve Lyon, Steve Hogan, Pat Burrows, and David Sprague. Firt termer Nancy Flett ran for the senate and lost, and veteran Roy Wells did not seek re-election. Both seats went to Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Richard Plock of Denver rubbed salt into the wounds as he spoke about the first term House Democrats of 1974 to the Rocky Mountain News "Now we have washed many of those Watergate accidents away."
The 1998 Colorado election won't resemble 1974. Republicans start with control of the legislature, four of six congressional seats, two senators, and three of the four executive branch positions. They don't have too much room to expand.
Democrats had hoped that good economic news would result in significant Colorado election gains. It might still happen. Watergate and impeachment proceedings in 1974 were combined with 12.2 percent inflation. When Nixon resigned, 80 percent of persons answering a Gallup poll that month considered the bad economy the most pressing problem for the country. So WHO will "pay" if the national economy turns sour?
And nothing good ever lasts. Remember 1984? Ten years after Watergate? Of the 100 legislators in Colorado, only 29 were seated in the General Assembly in 1985 as Democrats.
Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.
Copyright 2015 Jerry Kopel & David Kopel