Governing

State’s incoming speaker seems to get it

The soon-to-be speaker of Colorado’s House of Representatives, Frank McNulty, said something interesting the other day. It would be great if it turns out to be a heartfelt expression of how he intends to proceed – and even better if he was overheard in Washington.

Asked by TheDenver Post whether the new GOP majority in the state House would repeal the vehicle-registration fee increases enacted by Democratic majorities in 2009, McNulty said that would be difficult in that the Democrats remain in control of both the state Senate and the governor’s office. That, of course, is true enough.

But when pressed about at least trying, presumably to make a political point, the Highlands Ranch Republican said this:

“We’re in the majority now. We have an obligation to govern. Coloradans expect us to do that. Our goal should be to find that common ground. Lobbing grenades from one side of the aisle to the other isn’t the best way to start.”

Good for him. Two questions, though. How many of his fellow legislators might endorse that as a statement of principle? And could he send copies to some folks in Washington?

The incoming speaker of the U.S. House, Republican John Boehner, could benefit from that advice, as could Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. And it could not hurt if President Obama and Nancy Pelosi also read McNulty’s comments

For one thing, there is more to what he said than high-minded rhetoric. The simple fact – as Republicans both in Denver and D.C. are about to find out – is that bomb-throwing and obstructionism are one thing if practiced by the minority party but no way to run a country or a state.

Stopping what can be argued are bad initiatives is one function of what used to be called the loyal opposition. Actually getting something done is what voters expect from the party in charge.

That distinction should be especially stark in Denver. The constitutional requirement to balance the state’s budget eliminates much of the nonsense that goes on at the federal level. As such, McNulty and company will figure out that while railing against the vehicle-registration fees might play well on the stump, actually doing away with them would mean cutting something else. And talk radio notwithstanding, fraud and waste are hard to find in meaningful quantities.

The vehicle-registration fees in question raise an estimated $250 million per year. Based on that revenue, the state has or is planning to issue $700 million in bonds with which it intends to repair more than 100 bridges statewide.

That is not just some bureaucrats’ rice bowls. It represents construction jobs, highway safety, commuters’ convenience and other factors that affect real people just as much as vehicle-registration fees.

Governing, as McNulty essentially acknowledged, is a bit more complicated than campaigning.