We like to spread out our end-of-year retrospectives so that 2012 gets a little reflection time. It is with that in mind that we present the awards for Colorado’s Top Politico (and Worst Politico for 2011, as well a look at who had a good and bad year in the last full year of human existence.
Read on, er, readers…
COLORADO’S TOP POLITICO, 2011: Rep. Tom Massey (R-Poncha Springs)
For possessing the political and policy chomps to do what made sense while most of his Republican colleagues cowered indecisively in fear of the Tea Party, Rep. Massey is our Colorado Politician of the Year for 2011.
The Poncha Springs Republican took on a stronger leadership role in 2011 and almost singlehandedly helped salvage whatever is left of the GOP “brand” in the state legislature. As Chair of the House Education Committee, Massey received bipartisan kudos for his efforts to protect $67 million for public education while other Republican figureheads blathered on uselessly about how much they cared about our schools. Massey correctly understands the difference between what you believe and what you can reasonably accomplish, but that doesn’t mean he shies away from voicing his opinion; he told the Pueblo Chieftain that funding education should be a priority over preserving the Senior Homestead Extension, a refreshingly blunt position compared to colleagues who complain about everything but make decisions about nothing.
Massey’s moderate conservatism likely hasn’t endeared him to right-wing Republicans, but much like former Republican Rep. Don Marostica, Massey legitimately seems interested in legislating as opposed to just tossing grenades from January through May. If Republicans had more elected officials like Massey, they’d be much better positioned to win future statewide races than they are today.
Honorable Mention: House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver). When Rep. Sal Pace stepped down as the Democrats’ leader in November in order to focus on his Congressional run, Ferrandino was unanimously elected as the new House Minority Leader. If Democrats can re-take the House in 2012 – a distinct possibility given favorable reapportionment numbers – Ferrandino will likely become Colorado’s first openly gay Speaker of the House.
COLORADO’S WORST POLITICO, 2011: Secretary of State Scott Gessler
It’s quite possible that this “award” could end up being permanently named for Gessler, who isn’t likely to be much less of a disaster in 2012 than he was in 2011. Gessler has been WTF-awful since he was first elected in November 2010, using what has historically been a benign position to cause all sorts of unnecessary problems all across the state. Just how has Gessler erred? Let us count the ways:
Unilaterally (and illegally) attempting to change a variety of campaign finance rules. Nonpartisan officials wasted little time rejected Gessler’s efforts, and the Colorado legislature will have to clean up his mess in January.
Telling Congress and anyone else who would listen that Colorado has a huge problem with illegal immigrants casting ballots, despite literally no evidence to support his claims. Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner, a Republican, notable asked what the hell Gessler was talking about. Gessler later claimed that his charges were not intended to be factual, despite, you know, telling Congress all about it.
Making wildly-irresponsible claims of voter fraud that he still has yet to back up. On the few times he has been directly challenged on his assertions, Gessler just shrugs and says things like “I don’t know, it might be fraud. http://www.coloradopols.com/sh…
Gessler sued the City of Denver in a blatant attempt to reduce voter turnout because he didn’t like so many mail ballots being delivered. Pueblo County eventually joined the lawsuit on behalf of Denver (Pueblo County’s Attorney said that Gessler’s interpretation of the law was just “plain wrong”) and numerous other counties ignored Gessler’s declarations in favor of actually trying to encourage Democracy.
Infamously agreeing to take part in a fundraiser for the Larimer County Republican Party to help them pay off debts incurred for campaign finance violations that are the purview of the Secretary of State’s office. Gessler’s help included agreeing to sit in a dunk tank, a plan that organizers eventually abandoned after a slew of negative press. What made this ethical lapse even more disgusting was that Gessler had earlier decided to ignore what could (and should) have been hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines incurred by the Larimer GOP in 2010.
Lobbying the Colorado legislature to give him authority to purge the Colorado voter rolls as he sees fit. Legislators told him to get bent.
Publicly stating that he is in office to further the conservative viewpoint, which came as news to voters who thought they had elected him to oversee elections and business filings in Colorado.
Whining that his new job as Secretary of State didn’t pay enough ($68,500?) and asking if he could moonlight for his old law firm. Even fellow Republican Attorney General John Suthers couldn’t figure out a way that Gessler could possibly justify a clearly conflicting second job.
Dishonorable Mention: Speaker of the House Frank McNulty. Whether it was helping to completely bungle reapportionment for Republicans or doing little to fulfill Tea Party promises, McNulty proved incapable of leading the GOP caucus in the State House. His problems with The Homestead Exemption and public school funding are a prime example of how he’s stuck between reality and rabid conservatism with no game plan for finding a way out in 2012. McNulty will have a hard time keeping his one-seat majority in the House, and even if he does, he can probably expect a challenge for the Speaker’s role.
2011 WAS A GOOD YEAR FOR…Democratic election law attorneys. Democrats ran embarrassing circles around Republicans at every step of the reapportionment and redistricting process. The GOP legal strategy of relying on an argument of “minimal disruption” was incredibly foolish, sure, but the Democrats did an excellent job of keeping Republicans stuck in their logic corner. Both reapportionment and redistricting created advantages for Democrats overall, which will be incredibly important over the next 10 years.
Republican Congressman Cory Gardner. The freshman congressman had his bumps in 2011 (such as his ill-explained support of the Ryan Plan), but the year couldn’t have ended much better for Gardner. While redistricting made re-election tougher for fellow Republicans Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton, adjustments to the boundaries of CD-4 did nothing to prevent Gardner from what should be a relatively easy re-election in 2012.
Governor John Hickenlooper. While Democrats have been less than thrilled with Hickenlooper’s first year as CEO of Colorado, he finished 2011 as the most popular governor in the country and was getting national press as a potential Presidential candidate in 2016. His term as governor won’t be all sunshine and rainbows, but the former Denver Mayor had a pretty stress-free 2011.
2011 WAS A TERRIBLE YEAR FOR…Republican Congressman Mike Coffman. His congressional district lines moved so much that they are now as unrecognizable as a botched plastic surgery patient. Coffman went from representing a safe Republican seat in 2010 to what will be one of the most competitive races in the country in 2012. That would be enough to make 2011 a bad year for any politician, but Coffman had numerous other problems that will only be exacerbated by his new district makeup. He may have said more controversial (and unnecessarily-so) statements in 2011 than any other Colorado politico, from calling Social Security “A Ponzi Scheme” and famously criticizing the Peace Corps to his weird efforts to repeal parts of the Voting Rights Act and his ideas for essentially destroying Medicare. Coffman alienated so many different constituencies in 2011 that perhaps he’s almost (almost) better off with an entirely new set of voters.
And lest we forget, the icing on the cake for Coffman’s 2011: He agreed to become Colorado Chair of the Presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, making the announcement right as Perry’s campaign was cratering.
Incumbent legislators. The Holidays were a mixed bag for a dozen incumbent legislators who were drawn into districts with fellow incumbents of the same party, leaving them with the choice of a difficult primary or walking away from their seat altogether. Many legislators chose the latter, but there will be a couple of heated battles in 2012 as a result of reapportionment.
Rich Coolidge, Spokesman for Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Coolidge held on to his job in the SOS office after also serving under Democrat Bernie Buescher. We used to think well of Coolidge, who was helpful and humorous during the 2010 election season, but in 2011 he tossed all credibility out the window. He flat out refuses to respond to critics, no doubt at the wishes of his boss; while this may help him keep his current job, it won’t do much to help his future employment opportunities.