Tons of newsprint, mailers, increasing numbers of electronic ads on TV and website banners inundate us hourly with pleas and admonitions to vote for this or that candidate to improve our lives or stave off catastrophe. When the dust finally settles November 9, the day after the General Election, what then?
Let us start at the top with the Administration. Assuming Governor Polis remains in office, his Cabinet—the heads of the state agencies such as Department of Natural Resources, CDPHE, Revenue, etc. will likely remain in place although each post-election cycle brings a handful of retirements and resignations. Within the agencies themselves, the professional staff has experienced ongoing turnover e as individuals decide to move into the private sector or move up to federal positions. CDPHE, for example, has seen significant change as administrators and division heads have moved around, such as Tricia Oeth being named as Director of Environmental Health and Protection, a post formerly held by Shaun McGrath. Meanwhile, Nicole Rowan was named as Water Quality Control Division Director. And, of course, within the Air Pollution Control Division, newly hired staff are coming on board constantly in response to expanding directives regarding climate and air quality regulation.
What about the General Assembly—with 82 of 100 seats up for election in newly drawn districts, what does the November election mean? Of course, the election will first determine which party controls the legislature—Democrat or Republican.
Leadership elections will determine the presiding officers (Senate President, Speaker of the House) and the Majority and Minority Leaders for the caucus of each party. Internal Votes are taken within each caucus when legislators first meet following the election, with a formal vote taken when the legislature convenes. While the Senate President and House Speaker assign bills to committees, the Majority Leaders determine scheduling of the bills as they reach the floor after committee passage, thus having a great deal of control on a bill’s fate. When Senate President Leroy Garcia resigned in 2022 to accept a federal position, Sen. Steve Fenberg was selected by his caucus to assume the Senate Presidency. It is likely he will remain in that position going into 2023. One the House side, Speaker Alec Garnett and Majority Leader Daneya Esgar are both term-limited, so members will select a new Speaker and Majority Leader to direct legislative efforts, with several members vying for leadership positions. Leadership within the Minority caucus has been controversial in recent years, so these internal post-election votes will determine whether to elect new leadership. Lobbyists are prohibited by legislative rules from interfering or influencing leadership elections.
Committee Appointments. Legislative committees are where the action is. In late November or shortly thereafter, the House Speaker and the Senate President appoint committee chairs, vice chairs, and members of the Majority caucus to the committees of reference which consider bills assigned to them, hold hearings, and determine whether the bills move forward or die. Minority Leaders appoint members of the minority caucus to committees. The number of committee members reflects the proportion of each party in the respective chamber. When the majority/minority ratio is close, a committee may have 7 majority members and 6 minority members. If the majority holds a larger margin, a 7-4 split may occur. The Speaker and President determine the number of committee members and the relative proportions. The selection of the chair and vice chair of each committee is critical to an efficient process as well as the conduct of fair hearings. If a chair does not move things along, while simultaneously allowing public input, committee hearings may drag into early morning hours. In 2022, some hearings went as late as 4 a.m. This leads to staff burn-out and poor policy-making.
Committee appointments are based in part on members expertise and experience in certain fields (e.g., water, agriculture, law) and balancing of viewpoints, but the appointment process must also consider the scheduling conflicts that members encounter. At any given time, there may be six separate committees, in addition to the Joint Budget Committee, meeting to consider bills. Thus, even though a member might have expertise and interest in both law and agriculture, if those committees meet at the same time the member can serve on only one of the committees.
Each committee has non-partisan research and legal staff assigned to assist it. It is common for these staff members to spend their entire careers at the legislature, developing expertise in certain areas such as health care legislation or natural resources, while others move from the legislative staff to the state agencies (which have more regular hours). A handful have even become lobbyists. Although these staff members work for the legislature, their assistance (at the direction of legislators) in coordinating with lobbyists on drafting of bills is invaluable.
Newly elected legislators return for orientation on November 17-18 with two additional sessions in December and January prior to convening on January 9. CMA has scheduled its annual legislative reception on January 12, inviting all legislators to meet with members of the mining industry. Whatever happens on November 8, CMA is ready to move forward and work with our new General Assembly!