Jerry Kopel

Veto-Proof Legislature


By Jerry Kopel

Aug. 3, 2007

The Colorado legislative outcome for 2008 is still speculative, but if the election were held in November 2007, my guess would be a stronger Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate.

I know the Republicans have hired the best, but if, in November, 2008, Dick Wadhams can keep the Republican legislative numbers in the 40's, I'll consider him a genius.

A veto-proof legislature in 2008? In the past 48 elections, it has happened nine times, or 18.7 percent. That's not a number to sneer at, especially since it will have been 24 years since it last occurred.

Presidential elections do play a part in the state election decisions. In 1984, President Reagan was running for his second term against Walter Mondale. The state executive branch wasn't on the ballot (which had become four-year terms). Neither were the U.S. Senators. Four of the six persons elected to Congress were Republicans.

The state Senate had 11 Democrats, the lowest number since eight in 1947, which, as detailed in this column, also saw a Republican veto-proof legislature. The House had 18 Democrats, the lowest number since ten in 1943, which was also a Republican veto-proof legislature.

State Rep. Bob Shoemaker (D) told our 1985 caucus, "let's go down to the clerk and recorder and change our listing to Republican." We didn't have to do that. The Republicans, as Majority Leader Ron Strahle pointed out to me, would split into conservative and moderate on many issues, giving Democrats some power. We did watch super-majorities "lose it" a number of times.

However, the 1985 legislature saw the great purge when the Republicans overrode ten of Gov. Dick Lamm's (D) vetoes in one of the final closing days (and 13-plus line-item vetoes overall). The papers reported Lamm was hunkered down in the mansion, but he told me he went to a movie. In 1986, another 14 vetoes were over-ridden.

Veto-proof Colorado legislatures overwhelmingly came in triplets, Republicans in 1943, 1945, and 1947. Democrats got the prize in 1933, 1935, and 1937. Republicans also cashed in, in 1921 as well as 1985. Democrats became veto-proof in 1913. Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912.

And that year, Democrats won the governorship, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, and attorney general, the three congressional seats, and two U.S. Senate seats (one to fill a vacancy.)

In 1920, Warren Harding (R) was elected president with 404 electoral votes to James Cox's (D) 127. Congress had three state Republicans and one Democrat, Ed Taylor from Denver, who served nearly 32 years in Congress and wasn't there longer because he died in office.

Republicans were elected governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general , and U.S. Senator. The 1920's were "boom" years and Republicans kept control of the House and Senate for all five elections in 1920 through 1928.

In the 1930 election, Republicans lost the House, but kept the Senate. But the depression of the 1930's doomed the Republicans who kept nine state Senate seats in the 1932 election (probably non-elected holdovers from 1930) and eleven House seats.

In the 1934 and 1936 elections, there were six Republican state senators and 15 members of the House. In three elections, 1932, 1934, and 1936, Democrats won all congressional seats, the two U.S. Senators, the governorship, lieutenant governor, attorneys general, and two of three secretary of state, and state treasurer positions.

In the 1938 and 1940 elections, Democrats kept the Senate (probably due in part to hold-overs) but lost the House.

Then came the 1942, 1944, and 1946 elections. In 1942 we elected two U.S. senators, Ed Johnson (D) and to fill a vacancy, Eugene Millikin (R). Republicans won three of four congressional seats, the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, and attorney general. Ditto for 1944 except for Homer Bedford (D) for state treasurer, and four (not three) Republican congressmen.

In 1946, Democrats elected Lee Knous as governor, but Republicans kept the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, and attorney general. One Democrat, John Carroll, was elected to Congress. So Democrat Knous had to deal with a veto-proof Republican legislature.

Of the nine veto-proof legislatures, only Knous and Lamm had to face a veto-proof opposition.

But there is something maybe even more important than having a Democratic legislature veto-proof. It also means putting constitutional amendments on the 2009 and 2010 ballot without needing a vote from the Republican minority.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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