Nil Sine Numine – Colorado’s State Motto
Nothing without Providence.
This is a day of honor, this is a day of celebration. More than 5 million Coloradans have honored 35 state senators and 65 state representatives with their sacred trust. Today we celebrate their liberty, today we celebrate their freedom and to serve here, we swear an oath before God and man to protect their rights.
Nil Sine Numine
We are especially honored to be in these chambers for the first “official day” after phase one of a historical renovation.
Madam Secretary, you and your team are to be commended for driving this project and restoring the opulence of the people’s chamber.
Please join me in welcoming my special guests today; first, and foremost my wife Lisa, with our youngest son Alex.
Also joining us is my father and his wife. They were last here in 2003 for opening day in the House. And with us today is my sister Debra from Philadelphia we have not been together in the same room for nearly 20 years.
I would be remiss if I didn’t express my gratitude for my mom, who battled cancer for decades. An amazing woman with a huge heart and a great sense of humor, her wish was to live long enough to watch her three children graduate from high school, she got her wish. And passed the year after I graduated, she was 42. Please indulge me as I light a candle in honor of her life.
To say she would be proud today is certainly an understatement. But she would not be ecstatic; she was a democrat, a staunch democrat, which I learned after equipping her Volkswagen with a Nixon Now bumper sticker when I was 12.
Please help me thank some folks who answered the call to make today special for all of us…Color Guard, Dr. Selander, music, my food friend Diana Castro and her band.
Special welcome to former President John Andrews.
Colleagues, let me welcome you to the 70th General Assembly for the state of Colorado.
It is official now, the Secretary of State has certified your elections; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court has sworn in our new members.
To our holdovers, of which I am one, welcome back.
To our re-elected members, congratulations and welcome back to you -- especially those who were in very tough elections.
To our newly elected members: Senator Donovan, Senator Neville, Senator Merrifield, Senator Cooke, Senator Woods, Senator Garcia, Senator Martinez Humenik, Senator Holbert, Senator Sonnenberg and Senator Scott. Congratulations to each of you.
To our former colleagues, Senators Herpin, Rivera, Zenzinger and Nicholson, who campaigned valiantly, yet did not prevail, let’s share our appreciation for their service.
There are people here and at home who make it possible for us to do what we do, they support and encourage us, they take care of our home lives in our absence – for some of us, that’s more often than not. They pay our bills, handle the kids, the carpools, the homework, put the trash cans out – for us it’s on Wednesday – right Alex?
We need to thank our family members for all they do.
Thank you for standing and being recognized, it’s truly the least we can do.
As wonderful as days like this are with our loved ones, they can be extremely tough for those who have lost theirs.
Sadly, someone who would have been standing here today is missing, someone who has been with us in this chamber on many opening days, and other significant days as well.
Senator Steadman, none of us have forgotten how tough special days can be for you without Dave. Those who knew him continue to miss his smiling face, gleaming eyes and gentle spirit. We know how much you meant to each other. Would you join me in lighting this 2nd candle to honor the life of Dave Misner.
Colleagues, please join me in thanking Senator Steadman, for continuing in his steadfast service to this state and this body in-spite of such a great loss.
And, finally, I want to extend a special thanks to Senator Ron May, who preceded me in Senate District 10, before somebody moved me to District 12. My being here was his idea, he’s a great mentor, a great legislator and a great friend.
When I graduated from high school in the small town of Whitefish, Montana, our special guest speaker for our commencement came to us all the way from the Vice Principal’s office.
You probably remember yours, like you, I was extremely excited for that special day. Like you probably feel now, I was not that excited about our speaker.
Mr. Lawson, if you happen to hear this, please forgive me. I was young, there were other “activities” planned for that day that we were anxious to attend.
Over the years, I have thought often of his remarks. He told our graduating class to learn from the past, live for the present, and plan for the future.
Simple principles, first, learn from the past, second, live for the present, third, plan for the future.
At 17, I had Lawson’s 2nd principle mastered.
Learning from the past and planning for the future would become lifelong challenges.
These principles seem fitting for us as we prepare for the up-coming sessions of the 70th General Assembly.
Today begins my 20th Session and my 15th year…I believe Senator Hodge, this is true for you as well. – We came in with Senator Jahn in 2001. We have 14 regular sessions and five special sessions behind us.
Today marks the fourth opening day that I have had the honor of addressing this chamber.
On opening day three years ago I shared my hopes that we could heal the political wounds of a divisive reapportionment process. I also stressed that success in this institution is not measured by passing bills, but is based on relationships built on respect, civility and trust.
Two years ago opening day prompted us to reflect on a summer of destruction after more than 4,000 wild fires wreaked havoc in places like Waldo Canyon, Lower North Fork, and Cedar Ridge and thousands of others. Sadly we were also reeling from the gruesome Aurora theater shootings.
Last year, opening day, we reviewed the aftermath of another horrific fire season in Colorado, compounded by flooding of biblical proportion. I also touched on the changes inside this chamber after the historic September recalls.
Opening day was also just one week after commemorating the life of another Colorado high school student, lost to an act of violence in another Colorado school. Many of us attended the Celebration of the life of Claire Davis. Please allow me to light the third candle in Claire’s honor. Please join me in welcoming Claire’s parents, Michael and Desiree.
Year after year Colorado has faced unthinkable challenges. Year after year we have seen common Coloradans turn into uncommon heroes through extraordinary acts of bravery and courage.
We have also seen members of this body work to help restore the lives of those affected by unimaginable devastation and loss.
Even in years without catastrophic events, Colorado has faced significant trials. Our boom and bust economic cycles, term limits, and conflicting constitutional requirements have placed each of us into a political game of twister. “Remember right hand blue, left hand red.” Please tell me I’m not the only one old enough to remember those commercials.
Year after year I have seen this body contort around countless competing interests to get the job done for those who elected us.
I have seen this process bring out the best in each of us when relationships prevail over partisanship.
In addition to what I have seen over 14 years, let me share a little of what I have learned!
My first year, when I was in the Majority…I learned that there weren’t 99 other legislators here just waiting for my great ideas.
That lesson comes when your bills get PI’d by your own party. If you are lucky, it happens before the floor.
I also learned a basic math lesson here. 33, 18 and 1. 33, 18 and 1 and I am not “the one.” 33, 18 and 1; and you are not the one either. Try to learn that as quick as you can, it will spare you much grief. For our guests; this is the number it takes to pass a bill.
14 years, thousands of votes, dozens of legislators, three Governors, 3 Chief Justices, what stands out the most to me is relationships, I mention this every year.
Try to build great relationships here. Think of a great relationship like a great movie. You know one that makes you stop and watch it if you are channel surfing.
Ask my kids, if I flip to Driving Miss Daisy or Shawshank Redemption or We Are Marshall, that TV is mine…I’m gone for the next 90 minutes. Of course my list also includes Caddyshack and Stripes.
The point is everything else stops when you hit one of your favorites. Great relationships are just like that.
People who you will stop everything, to talk to, even if you don’t have time, even if it’s just for a minute. I strive to do this, it drives my staff absolutely crazy and frankly it’s been more challenging than ever lately.
In 14 years, I’ve learned there are countless opportunities here to make a point, and limited opportunities to make a difference.
Our ultimate success will be tied to the latter.
Mr. Lawon’s 2nd Principle: Live for the Present.
Our time here is so brief. There is more to learn than we can imagine, with no end to the learning curve, none. In the year 2000 was the first time I was in the office that I now occupy. I was visiting with Senate President Ray Powers when he told me that he learned something new about this place and this process every day, he had already been here 19 years…19 years.
There is a lot to this, strange phrases; like COW amendments, and move to sever (sounds like a butcher shop), weird actions; like talking to someone at the mic without using their name, anyplace but here that would be rude.
We have four sets of rules, House, Senate, joint rules, plus Mason’s rules.
This place takes the word “multitasking” to a whole new level. You can watch department briefing on spending billions of dollars in less time than it takes you to count the zeros in a billion, all while working on your bill coming up in committee and putting notes together for a town hall your are hosting the next day.
You just have to push yourself, read, ask questions, find people you trust and who know what they are talking about on topics that are foreign to you. You can’t possibly become an expert on every issue, but you will vote on all of them.
Here, living for the present means reading, learning the rules, embracing the process and being committed to serving.
And if you are thinking about your legacy, it won’t be measured by your votes, your bills, your amendments, the legislative awards hanging on the wall.
It will be measured by your word, your commitment, your honor and the quality of relationships you build across these desks, across this aisle, and outside of this chamber.
Mr. Lawson’s Third Principle: Plan for the Future.
This is it! This is why we are here. Why we ran for office.
We all want to be a part of building a better future for Colorado. I trust we share a belief that our work here will contribute to that goal.
To accomplish this we must work together. To accomplish this, the area between these desks needs to become less of an aisle of partisan division and more of a pathway for partnerships.
This needs to be a pathway for partnerships.
Let’s think of ourselves as board members of a $26 billion enterprise, that’s a pretty good sized company.
We each have an equal vote and an equal voice.
In this publicly owned company we make laws, we change statutes. Red books, our efforts, our success, and even our failures will certainly be reflected in them at the end of this session and the end of this term. I hope these statutes will contribute to a better future for our people and our state. One of our first bills is to adopt the revised statutes we changed in 2014. I hope when we adopt the revised statutes of 2015 they will reflect the best that we can do in this institution for the 5.4 million people we serve.
I hope these statutes will reflect our commitment to K-12, improved school performance, better test scores, more parental choice, higher graduation rates and reasonable, sustainable funding increases.
According to a recent report from the Denver Metro EDC -- our schools are moving in the right direction with a gradual increase in graduation rates over the past decade -- we’ve gone from 27th in the nation to 20th.
We are also holding our own as the 9th highest ranked state in 4th grade reading proficiency, as great as that sounds, it needs to improve. This ranking means less than 41% of our students are proficient in reading. Less than 41%.
We have heard that testing is too burdensome and is not increasing knowledge. We know there are too many tests, they cost too much and know “teaching to them” is consuming too much class time and reducing progress. We are committed to reducing this burden, so our teachers can return to teaching!
I want to thank the 1202 Task Force for your countless hours and hard work. We hope to build on this foundation as there is much work ahead of us…and educational excellence must be our shared commitment.
And with our focus on K-12, I hope these statutes will reflect our commitment to Workforce Development opportunities for our Colorado high-school graduates who are not planning to attend college.
The skill levels necessary for competing in a hi- and low-tech global economy demand more from our graduates. We need more focus on training, skills and knowledge in a variety of vocations from surgical technicians, to Constructions Supervisors, Equipment Operators to IT Specialists.
Our latest report from the Colorado Workforce Development Council has provided a wealth of insight in Colorado’s progress in workforce development. The opportunities and obstacles identified in the “Colorado Talent Pipeline Report” published last week provides us with a roadmap for increasing the vital public/private partnerships that are bringing our schools and our employers together for our students.
Empowering our kids to succeed is our greatest responsibility – their success is the ultimate return on our investment.
And, I hope our statutes will reflect the will of the 70th General Assembly to hold ourselves accountable for our own government.
Let’s look in, let’s scrutinize how this 26 billion dollar enterprise functions, how it regulates, how it performs its core duties. Let’s look at one, how we regulate businesses and two how we operate our own business.
First, we do some regulating here and public safety, security, environmental protection, consumer protection are legitimate requirements of a well-governed state.
We are generating over 14,000 pages of new regulations per year -- 14,000 pages. Any regulation that’s beyond our core function just becomes costly and cumbersome…impeding economic development and making us less competitive than other states.
The net effect is less jobs, less economic opportunity, and less state revenues when we need more of all three.
Maybe we should adopt the tactic of the most competitive retailer on the planet. They have a simple slogan, “Roll Back Prices.” They don’t do it to be charitable, they don’t do it to cut into their profits, they do it to be more competitive in the market place.
Rolling back costly, useless regulations will make us more competitive.
Even though much of our state is thriving…if we are not sharpening out competitive edge every place we can. We are losing every place we don’t.
Second, holding ourselves accountable also means looking in and reviewing our business - the business of government.
Our statutes empower every department and every program we have. Colorado state employees are some of the most talented and dedicated men and women in the workforce, but many of our bureaucracies, our systems and our programs are stuck in the stone-age, for some of you, this means the 80’s.
Our trail of failing programs with questionable results and poor accountability is growing longer with every audit. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent, and Coloradans deserve accountability, transparency and results.
This is not the time to read the list of deficiencies…or point fingers…or place blame outside this chamber. We are to blame…Those are our departments, those are our programs. This is our responsibility.
If we are complacent to keep broken bureaucracies, then we are complicit in their failures.
This is the time to act!
I hope the revised statutes of 2015 will reflect a commitment to making our students safer in our public schools.
As parents we worry about our kids being on time for class, having enough lunch money, remembering their homework, or carrying a backpack full of books that’s half their weight. We shouldn’t have to worry about their safety.
As a parent and a policy maker I have been taking their safety for granted.
But the tragic loss of life at schools like Columbine, Platte Canyon, Arapahoe and Doherty prove this issue must be confronted. This body must seek solutions.
I can’t thank the Davis family enough for all of the hard work that you and your team have put into this issue. On behalf of the Senate, I pledge our dedication to finding ways to keep our kids safer in our schools.
Let’s thank them again for joining us today, and partnering with us in this effort.
I hope the statutes of 2015 will reflect a commitment to honor our oath to support and defend our Constitution.
We are about to face one of the best problems we have had in this state, and in this legislature in a long time…it’s called prosperity. After a historic recession, revenue drops and budget shortfalls, Colorado is again estimating revenues that are above our constitutional allowance.
This is not new territory for us. On January 6, 1999 President Ray Powers stood at this very podium and faced the same issue. He said, “Today, our citizens expect this Legislature to return the surplus.” President Powers went on to add his concern that refunds would trigger reductions in capital spending and transportation funding.” Wow, does this sound familiar? Apparently Solomon was right…there’s nothing new under the sun, certainly there is nothing new under the gold dome.
Coloradans were generous with their money under Referendum C and the state has retained nearly $10 billion dollars more than the original TABOR limits since its passage in 2005. In the current fiscal year alone the new cap will allow the state to keep more than $2 billion above the original TABOR limit; we are expecting revenue well beyond this.
There are numerous discussions about how to deal with these funds – the surplus – but frankly these talks are moot. The people of Colorado made that decision for us and more importantly, they made it for themselves. Their Constitution tells us it’s their money, they want it, and we should give it back.
“There are only a few of us that are given the privilege to serve and help shape the future of our state in the Colorado Senate. It is a responsibility we can never take lightly and a privilege none of us will ever forget.” These words were spoken by Minority Leader Mike Feeley concluding his remarks on opening day in 1999.
Colleagues, in 120 days our job here will get done. The school finance act will come together, the budget will pass and we will tackle around 600 bills.
We will leave a reflection of our collective will in these statutes.
Nil Sine Numine, Nothing without providence.
Perhaps our state’s forefathers who claimed this poignant motto were on to something. Their legacy was surely greater than the bills they passed, it was larger than this magnificent building.
They left behind something that would prevail long after their passing and we are still benefitting from their legacy, I hope those who follow us will benefit from ours.