Jerry Kopel


Can we predict some future Colorado elections by reviewing the past? Or are past preferences just a coincidence?

In the past 42 years (1957 through 1998) every ELECTED Colorado governor has been a practicing lawyer: Steve McNichols, John Love, Dick Lamm, Roy Romer. (Lt. Gov. John Vanderhoof ascended to governor for more than a year when Love joined the Nixon cabinet.) Three of the four attorney-governors served in the Colorado legislature.

If either Gail Schoettler, Tom Norton, or Bill Owens becomes governor in 1998, the attorney string will be broken. On the other hand, if Rep. Chuck Berry (R) or Sen. Mike Feeley (D) wins the office, the record will grow beyond 42 years.

Attorneys have not been as successful in running the legislature as they have been in the executive branch. The last lawyer legislator to preside over the Senate was Lt. Gov. Bob Knous (1963-66), and he wasn't elected by senators to that position. The state constitution gave him that office as it did for Lt. Gov. Mark Hogan from 1967 through 1970.

For the past 32 years (1967 through 1998) every Senate President has NOT been an attorney. If Sen. Dottie Wham (R) becomes Senate President in 1999, the 32 year string will stretch further. During the same 32 years in the Colorado House, lawyers have served as Speaker only ten years (Ron Strahle, 1977-78) and Chuck Berry (1991-98).

Of course lawyers have a respectable number of years as majority leaders in both the House and Senate during that same 32 year period. From 1967 through 1998, lawyers have been Senate majority leader 19 years and House majority leader 18 years. Reason for an odd number (19) in the Senate is that a tie vote between attorney Ralph Cole and banker Dan Noble was settled by Cole being majority leader one year and Noble the next year.

Lawyer legislators tend to break fairly even on political lines, 12 to 8 in favor of Republicans in 1987 and 11 to 9 in 1997. But a major difference from 1987 is in chairmanships of Senate and House Judiciary. In 1987 Ralph Cole (R) and David Bath (R) were in charge. But in 1997, non-attorneys Dottie Wham (R) and Jeanne Adkins (R) have headed those committees for a number of years.

Lawyer-legislator numbers in Colorado have more or less settled in at 20, contrary to a national trend of declining percentages. If you go back ten years to 1987, there were also 20, and five of the 1987 lawyer-legislators are still members: Jeff Wells (R), Chuck Berry (R), Dick Mutzebaugh (R), Gil Romero (D), and Bill Thiebaut (D).

Of course not every lawyer who runs for the legislature expects to be elected. Governing Magazine several years ago ran a delightful quote from a law school dean in the rural south who was lecturing his students:

"When you finish law school, go back to your home towns and make yourselves visible. Eat lunch everyday on the benches outside the courthouse. Run for the legislature and pray like hell you get beat."

* * *

Were there fewer bills in the 1997 legislature than in 1996? Yes, but no thanks to the House Republicans. The House and Senate Democrats and the Senate Republicans did introduce fewer bills.

To get an accurate picture, eliminate the major appropriation and supplemental appropriations measures. Those switch back between the House and Senate each year and create an artificial high. They are always going to be introduced regardless of who is in the majority.

There are 24 House Democrats, the same number as in 1996. Last year they introduced 100 bills, slightly more than four per legislator. In 1997, they introduced 93 bills, slightly fewer than four per member. The 41 House Republicans (also 41 in 1996) introduced 256 bills in 1996 and 264 bills in 1997. This year, House Republicans averaged nearly 6.5 bills per member. The House went from 356 bills in 1996 to 357 in 1997.

In the Senate, the Democrats had 15 members in 1997 and 16 in 1996. They introduced 93 bills in 1996 (nearly 6 per member) and 82 bills in 1997 (5.5 per member). Republicans had one more member in 1997, but instead of ADDING more bills they had fewer bills, 140 in 1996 (7.4 per member) and 133 in 1997 (6.6 per member). The Senate had 233 bills in 1996 and 215 in 1997.

Leaving out appropriation bills and bills recalled by sponsors before action, total bills for 1997 was 572. Other numbers of bills the past five years were 593 in 1993, a decline to 569 in 1994, a slight rise to 572 in 1995 and a large increase to 589 in 1996.

This year saw a higher number of late bills, those bills introduced in either the House or Senate after the deadline which require signatures of two of the three leaders in that body. Again, the biggest culprits were the 41 House Republicans who definitely did not believe in sharing late bill status with the 24 Democrats.

Final total: Republicans 47, Democrats, 0. That was ten MORE late bills this year than in 1996. Twenty-four of the 41 Republicans had late bills.

The Senate ended with 40 late bills, one fewer than in 1996. Final total was Republicans 34, Democrats, 6. Sixteen Senate Republicans and three Senate Democrats had late bills. Heaviest late bill user was Sen. Dick Mutzebaugh (R) with five, followed by Sens. Tom Norton (R) and Dave Wattenberg (R) with four each. No one in the House had four late bills.

If the legislature worked long hours the last three days of the session, you know who to blame. "Late" bills keep the legislature working "late" every time.


Jerry Kopel write a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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