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January 21, 2005

Republicans Stiffen Their Spines

To the extent that ideas, rather than money, helped the Democrats win the legislative elections last fall, it was on the mantra of being able to get things done. So while they may think Republican obstructionism might help them in '06, they still have to deal with a Republican governor right now. Owens won't sign a bill that most of his caucus opposes. They need a bipartisan deal.

The missing piece so far has been Amendment 23. While a lot of us had resigned ourselves to waiting for next year, when then Republicans' hand would be weaker, the House Republicans, led by Mr. Stengel, have put that on the table this year.

This week, both sides agree, negotiators added something else: a plan to ask voters in 2006 to tweak Amendment 23, which mandates state spending hikes on education regardless of the economic situation. Discussions centered on delaying some of that mandated spending in times of recession.


Peter Groff, the Senate president pro tem, said Democrats need the governor's support and that "we're trying to figure out a way to be as bipartisan as we can." Romanoff called the party-line claim "absurd."

Groff said Senate Democrats were still considering proposed changes to Amendment 23, which he said Republicans raised "not even 48 hours ago."

Groff's got a good reputation, and one certainly understands what he means by this. But the Republicans have been linking these two issues for well over a year.

There's a complicated political calculus here. The TABOR changes would get voted on this year, while Amendment 23 would wait until the '06 vote. Do the Democrats back the changes, or just the referendum, and then count on the teachers' unions to paint the Republicans as anti-reading?

Democrats could send a TABOR change on to the voters without the Governor's signature. He's talking about a competing ballot initiative, but Owens doesn't have a great record when it comes to referendum votes. Still, the Democrats are obviously eager to avoid looking like they're railroading things through. Stengel has made it harder for them to do that.

Also, the Democratic House leadership is younger and less-experienced than in the Senate. But the margin in the Senate is only one vote. The Dems there have a trickier balancing act, and Stengel may be playing off their situation against the eagerness of House Democrats to reach a deal.

So right now, both sides have great incentives to reach a deal, while also saving enough ammunition to paint the other side as instransigent if things fall apart.

Posted by joshuasharf at January 21, 2005 07:38 AM | TrackBack

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