Jerry Kopel


Fourteen months in advance may be too early to decide who will win the presidential election in 2000, but I can make two accurate predictions. First, it will take an extraordinary effort, and lots of money for the Democrats to regain the state senate in 2000.

The numbers aren't good. Thanks to term limits, there are five open Democratic seats: Mike Feeley, Bob Martinez, Dorothy Rupert, Gloria Tanner, and Frank Weddig. Term limits aren't just for people who serve eight years. They also capture persons appointed to fill out an unexpired term and who serve half or more of that term.

Dorothy Rupert took the seat of Jana Mendez, Jan. l, 1995. Jana became a Boulder County Commissioner. Gloria Tanner took over for Regis Groff in 1994. Regis joined the Dept. of Corrections. Frank Weddig took over from Steve Ruddick in 1994. Steve became a judge.

The other two Democrats forced by term limits to leave the Senate are Mike Feeley and Bob Martinez. Four of those five seats are safe for Democrats. The Feeley seat isn't.

Feeley first ran in 1992 for the Senate as a sacrificial lamb. Bonnie Allison was the Republican incumbent. When the conservative Republicans dumped her through a primary, Feeley became a viable candidate, and it didn't hurt that Allison supported him. But that is one seat the Republicans are targeting for 2000. There is a long list of potential Republican candidates, and the Democrats' best hope is for the Republicans to knife each other badly enough for a Democrat to win.

On the Republican side, open seats are Tom Blickensderfer, Elsie Lacy, Ray Powers, MaryAnne Tebedo, Dave Wattenberg, and Dottie Wham. Democrats will definitely target the seat held by Wham. The fight for Wham's seat will likely be between Representatives Ken Gordon-D, and Dorothy Gotlieb-R. That could be the most expensive legislative election in 2000 even though Gordon has consistently fought for campaign reform.

The Wattenberg seat might go to a Democrat unless Russ George or Jack Taylor, both of whom are term limited in the House, decide to go for the Senate.

If the Democrats lose the Feeley seat and the Republicans lose the Wham seat, the total is 15 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Even if Democrats keep the Feeley seat, it's 16 to 19.

Running for re-election on the Democratic side will likely be Rob Hernandez, Doug Linkhart, Terry Phillips and Peggy Reeves. The only one who might have trouble is Phillips, but if the Republicans continue to run reactionary conservatives for the Senate in Boulder, Phillips should have no trouble.

On the Republican side, likely to run for election will be John Andrews, who replaced Mike Coffman, and Bryan Sullivant, who replaced Tomy Grampsas. Republicans should keep those seats unless there are bitter primaries.

Three expected to seek re-election are Ken Arnold, Ken Chlouber, and Jim Congrove. All three should be safe, except that Democrat Linda Powers did previously hold the Chlouber seat for one term, and Congrove's seat, formerly held by Republican Al Meiklejohn, might fall to a really high-profile Democratic opponent.

If the Republicans do keep the Senate, the forty consecutive years of control by one party may be one of the longest in the nation's state legislatures (except for the Deep South) for this century.

Over on the House side, anyone who confidently makes predictions 14 months in advance about the final numbers needs a psychiatric evaluation. There are ten open seats, three Democratic and seven Republican. These were held by competent people and some of them are already running for Senate seats.

There should also be ten or more House legislators who are not term-limited but who will decide either to seek a Senate seat, retire, or run for some local office. Meanwhile, don't imagine the eleven term-limited senators will all retire. Former Sen. Don Ament showed the way when he ran for and won a House seat in 1998 (which he then gave up to become Commissioner of Agriculture).

Let there be a long economic downturn, or someone discovers the Republican presidential candidate in bed with a girl scout, and Democrats will win the State House. If it had not been for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Watergate in 1974, the House would have been Republican for 38 consecutive years.

Democrats will likely try the gun issue statewide in 2000 as a means of solidifying wavering votes. But the issue could backfire if the campaign goes beyond moderate reforms acceptable to the public.

Second accurate prediction: Nearly one-third of the House members in 2001 will be persons not presently in the House.

* * *

Congress is "thinking" about reviving the "draft" since military ranks are being depleted by low military pay and a civilian market eager for younger workers. Colorado almost got into the "draft" mode with HB 1376, introduced by Rep. Bill Sinclair, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. David Owen, R-Greeley.

The bill, as summarized by Legislative Council, would have required every male in Colorado between ages 18 and 26 to be registered with the national Selective Service System in order to apply for state employment, a motor vehicle driver's license of any type, or unemployment benefits from the Division of Employment and Training within the Dept. of Labor. According to the fiscal note, 6,171 Colorado males between 18 and 26 received unemployment benefits in 1998.

The bill passed the House 47 to 16, with five Republicans and 11 Democrats voting "no" on April 30th. In the Senate, the bill was assigned to State Affairs, and was killed there on May 3rd. With Congress newly interested in the draft, chances are good HB 1376 will be reintroduced in 2000.

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

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