Eli Stokols
Fox 31
December 26, 2013

DENVER — It was a wild year in Colorado politics.

Having solidified its party’s grip on power after a decade of electoral dominance, Democrats pursued an ambitiously progressive agenda at the Capitol this year.

The blow-back that’s arisen as a result — lawmakers recalled over tougher gun laws, rural voters supporting a movement to secede, the rejection of a proposed income tax hike for education funding by a two-to-one margin — have Republicans newly optimistic about their chances in 2014.

Before we turn the calendar to January, here’s a look back at 13 of the most important and most read stories we covered in 2013.

Jan. 8: Colorado’s first gay House Speaker set for historic transition

When Speaker Frank McNulty hands his gavel to Rep. Mark Ferrandino on Wednesday morning, flashbulbs and a wave of applause are sure to echo throughout the chamber.

The elevation of Colorado’s first gay House Speaker will be a historic moment for a state 20 years after voters made Colorado “the hate state” by approving Amendment Two.

Moreover, the moment will be ripe with symbolism for all of those who watched McNulty last May, presiding over a slim, one-seat House majority, shut down floor proceedings at session’s end after being out-maneuvered in a last-ditch move to avoid an otherwise inevitable vote on Ferrandino’s bill to legalize same-sex civil unions, which had secured enough support to pass.

February 25: Police say man sent death threats to Rep. Rhonda Fields over gun control legislation

Franklin Sain, 42, a Colorado Springs resident, was arrested for allegedly sending harassing voice mails and emails to Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, the sponsor of sponsor of two controversial gun control legislation measures.

“I guarantee there is not enough law enforcement or military to stop an all-out overthrow of this government if you or that n—– president tries to take our guns,” one e-mail dated Feb. 13 reads. “Guarantee we will make World War I and II look like child’s play, many will die. Be prepared.”

Another e-mail expresses hope that someone would “Giffords” both Fields and Rep. Beth McCann, a reference to the 2011 mass shooting that nearly killed Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords.

March 4: Despite day-long outcry, Colorado Democrats approve all seven gun control bills

Hundreds of Coloradans flooded the State Capitol on Monday to make their voices heard on seven Democratic gun proposals, mostly in opposition to the measures.

Those that didn’t formally testify before the two Senate committees hearing the bills made their opposition, felt with their sheer presence — and with the constant volume of their honking horns on the streets that encircle the Capitol, a steady din in the background of these proceedings that lasted from dawn until well past dark.

And those opponents, some of whom drove from as far as Lamar to be here Monday, got a bitter taste of the current political reality — that Democrats, by virtue of winning November’s elections, control each of those Senate committees and, for the most part, the fate of these seven bills.

March 20: Gov. Hickenlooper signs landmark gun control bills into law

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three Democratic gun control proposals into law Wednesday morning, including the controversial ban on high-capacity magazines that has outraged gun owners threatening a recall effort against the governor and ballot measures to reverse the ban.

“I was ambivalent on this to a degree,” Hickenlooper said, noting the inconvenience for law-abiding gun owners. “But in the end, these high-capacity magazines turn killers into killing machines. I think the potential for damage seems to outweigh the inconvenience.”

The package of gun control legislation has put Colorado at the forefront of a polarizing national debate, but Hickenlooper brushed off the notion that the bills were pushed through, and that the White House or New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group was controlling the agenda.

“Lawmakers looked at several bills, and some of them didn’t stand up to the rigorous discussion,” Hickenlooper said, noting that legislation that sought to ban concealed weapons on college campuses was killed.

March 21: Historic House vote sends civil unions bill to governor

Less than a year after a Republican House Majority ran out the clock on civil unions legislation at the end of the legislative session, the new Democratic House Majority Tuesday celebrated the final passage of that bill.

“We should make laws that are just for everyone,” Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said. “This wasn’t a choice. This is who I am. This is who we are. We need to make laws in our society that respect everyone equally.

April 29: In-state tuition for undocumented students becomes law

Inside Metro State University’s Student Success building on the Auraria Campus, a few hundred undocumented students, business leaders, politicians and activists crowded together, craning their necks and hoisting their smart phone cameras for a glimpse of a historic day 13 years in the making.

At 1:41 p.m., Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper picked up the first of nine pens and methodically signed his name to Senate Bill 11, the “ASSET bill”, which will allow around a thousand undocumented Colorado students to receive in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities this fall.

May 22: Hickenlooper grants reprieve to death row inmate Nathan Dunlap

Gov. John Hickenlooper decided Wednesday to grant a reprieve to convicted killer Nathan Dunlap, who was set to be executed in August for killing four people at a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant.

“This weighed on me heavily for a year,” Hickenlooper said in explaining his decision to reporters.  He spoke slowly and deliberately.

“I could not find the justice in making” a decision to allow Dunlap to die, he said.

Hickenlooper said he believes capital punishment is inequitable and added, “If the state has to take responsibility of executing someone, the system must be flawless.”

June 6: Rural Colorado counties want to secede to create ‘Northern Colorado’

A group of county commissioners say they are pursuing a plan to secede from Colorado and create a new state because they feel the Democrat-controlled state legislature is not representing their way of life.

They say the state government has been ignoring values of rural counties when passing recent legislation including gun control measures, expanding oil and gas production and creating new renewable energy standards for rural areas.

“I have never seen a legislative session like this,” Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said. “They ignore us. They don’t listen to us. It started with the gun control bills and came to a head this week with S.B. 252 being signed.”

June 27: Senate passes comprehensive immigration reform bill 68-32

The U.S. Senate Thursday afternoon approved the most significant immigration overhaul in the last 30 years, movin
g President Obama’s top second term priority to the GOP-controlled U.S. House.

Every single Democratic senator, even those facing difficult reelection bids next year, voted in favor of the legislation, crafted by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators that included Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat.

Republicans split, with 32 of them voting against the bill and 14, including Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, both critical members of the Gang of Eight who argued that passing immigration reform is critical to the GOP’s long-term ability to speak to Latino voters, whose overwhelming support of Democrats last year may have cost them a shot at the White House.

Sept. 10: Morse, Giron recalled over support of gun laws

State Senate President John Morse became the first Colorado lawmaker to be recalled by his constituents in the state’s 137-year history around 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

Less than an hour later, Sen. Angela Giron, also facing a recall due to her support of gun control legislation this year, became the second.

“Robert F. Kennedy once said, ‘it is the essence of responsibility to put the public good ahead of personal gain’,” Morse told supporters after conceding defeat. “Our last
[legislative] session was phenomenal, and the next session will be even better.

“The loss of this seat for the next 16 months is purely symbolic.”

Nov. 6: Amendment 66, tax hike for school funding, loses big

Amendment 66, a major overhaul of education financing that would have provided nearly $1 billion in additional revenue for Colorado schools, was resoundingly defeated Tuesday night, as voters were unwilling to approve the two-tiered income tax necessary to fund the reform model.

The proposal would have done away with the current 4.63 percent flat income tax rate, replacing it with a 5 percent rate on income up to $75,000 and a 5.9 percent rate on all income above that.

“Colorado families spoke loud and clear,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado. “We need substantive outcome-driven reforms to the educational system before we ask families and small businesses to foot a major tax bill.”

Nov. 18: Hickenlooper touts ‘tough’ new air quality rules for oil and gas industry

A trio of oil and gas executives stood side by side with environmental activists and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper Monday as the governor announced a set of proposed rules to regulate emissions from the industry to improve air quality across the state.

As FOX31 Denver first reported Sunday night, the new rules, if approved by the state’s Air Quality Control Commission, would make Colorado the first state to regulate emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that’s a big driver of climate change.

“This is a tough rule,” said Ted Brown, the CEO of Noble Energy, one of the biggest operators in Colorado. “But we support it because it’s the right thing to do — for our industry, for Coloradans and for our air.”

Nov. 27: Hudak resigns seat to end recall threat, preserve Democrats’ senate majority

State Sen. Evie Hudak has decided to resign rather than risk facing a recall election that, should she lose, would flip control of the senate to Republicans.

Hudak, D-Westminster, could have been the third Democratic lawmaker to face a recall over a package of gun control bills they helped pass earlier this year.

“Most Coloradans believe that the convenience of high-capacity ammunition magazines is less important than saving lives in tragedies like Sandy Hook, Aurora and Columbine,” Hudak wrote in her resignation letter. “That’s why I sponsored SB 13-197, a bill that takes guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. … By resigning, I am protecting these important new laws.”