2015 Opening Day Speech

Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst

January 7, 2015

Members, guests, fellow Coloradans — good morning, and welcome to the first day of the first regular session of the Seventieth Colorado General Assembly.

It is one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life to stand before you as your speaker.

You have placed a heavy responsibility on my shoulders, and I promise to use my office to guide the House of Representatives in the direction of building a Colorado that provides real economic and personal security to all of the people of Colorado, not just the wealthy or well-connected.

We have many distinguished guests with us this morning. Please hold your applause while I introduce each group.

Please join me in welcoming former Governor Richard Lamm.

We have five former speakers — Ruben Valdez, Doug Dean, Frank  McNulty, Mark Ferrandino and the first woman speaker, Lola Spradley.

Former majority leaders Alice Madden and Paul Weissmann, and former minority leader Sal Pace.

Former representatives Mike Cerbo, Dennis  Gallagher — now Denver city auditor –, Dan Grossman, Claire Levy, Karen Middleton and Todd Saliman.

The county commissioners of Boulder County — former representative Deb Gardner, Cindy Domenico and Elise Jones.

I am blessed with many other good friends who are here today in the gallery and on the floor. I want to thank you all for your support and for being here with me today.

But of all these honored guests, there are three for whom I am most grateful:

Our daughter, Lara Lee, who’s here with her husband, Paul Hammer.    A mother cannot have a more devoted daughter. Lara volunteered as my aide during my early years in the legislature and continues to help me manage my life.

Paul, whom I regard as fully my son, has been a great source of support. Thank you.

And finally – and most of all — my dear husband, Robert, who has remained a constant source of love and counsel for what will be, this August, 50 years of marriage.

I extend cordial greetings to each and every one of my colleagues in this chamber. And to our wonderful staff, without whom we could not function. Thank you for your support and help.

We all have a lot of work to do.

Majority Leader Duran and Minority Leader DelGrosso, congratulations on being selected to lead your caucuses. I am confident that your considerable experience and skills will serve this body well.  And I will ask you to use all your powers of persuasion to forge bipartisan policy that will move our state forward.

To you who are returning members, welcome back. And I give a hearty welcome to our many new members. Nearly one in three of us has taken the oath of office for the first time today.

Thank you for your willingness to endure the rigors of the campaign so you can spend long hours away from your families performing this critical public service.

Your financial adviser may think you’re crazy, but your dedication and service to our state are an inspiration to all.  It can’t be calculated in dollars, but this job is worth it.

In this General Assembly, we have what’s called a split legislature, with Democrats holding the majority in the House and Republicans holding the majority in the Senate.

There are those who say a split legislature will place many challenges in our path.

I prefer to regard these as opportunities to work together for all of our constituents.

We have the opportunity to work across the aisle in the House, with our friends in the Senate, and with Governor Hickenlooper to develop bipartisan legislation that will make Colorado stronger.

I see my job as helping to coordinate our efforts — to channel our energy — to bring forward the best ideas from wherever they come — and turn them into public policy that helps all Coloradans.

We all want every Coloradan to have a fair shot at the American Dream.

Members, as we renew our work to move Colorado forward, I want to call to your attention the splendid renovations to our surroundings.

Since we last met, we’ve completed the refurbishing of our gold dome and reopened it to visitors.

This chamber has also undergone a marvelous restoration.

The shutters have been removed from these windows,  allowing Colorado’s natural light to help us find the path forward.

There are sunshine laws, and there is plain old sunshine.  Both are plentiful in Colorado — and I like it that way.

You may have noticed that we have also removed the oil painting that used to hang behind me and, once again, placed a clock over the podium. This will remind us that, when it comes to delivering legislation to move our state forward, time is of the essence.

I thank all the contractors and state employees whose painstaking work has produced such beautiful results. I also thank Speaker McNulty, who got this whole project started over a broken radiator, and Speaker Ferrandino, who made sure the project stayed on track.

And, of course, to our chief clerk, Marilyn Eddins, who has spent countless hours watching over the restoration, and will spend countless hours more until it is complete, please join me in offering our very special thanks.

Members, I know you will join me in honoring the elegance of our surroundings and the importance of our duties by upholding a high standard of decorum throughout this legislative session.

Chief Clerk Eddins assures me that the removal of the acoustic tiles that obscured these beautifully restored walls will not make this chamber any noisier. But we all know we can be a fairly rowdy bunch at times.

I love it, because interaction and debate among legislators are essential ingredients of our republican form of government.

But when the side conversations threaten to drown out those at the microphone, I will not hesitate to use the biggest noisemaker in this room – my gavel.

The work we do here for the people of Colorado is so important it deserves our undivided attention.

Let me emphasize – we are here to serve the people. Our new members will find that we are often besieged by lobbyists. Their advocacy plays a valuable role here. But we must never forget whom we really serve – the people of the state of Colorado.

We invoke “the people of Colorado” all the time in the Capitol, but the phrase can be fairly abstract. I want to take a minute to look at who “the people” of this state really are.

The median Colorado household with children includes two adults and two kids, living on $59,000 a year. Adults in the household have a high school diploma and an average of two years of college education.

These families – our families – would like to be able to save enough to help put our kids through college and be secure in our retirement.  But our housing costs eat up a third of our take-home pay. Sometimes we struggle to pay the mortgage or the car loan. When the car breaks down, or the hot water heater goes out, it’s a budget crisis.

Heaven forbid that one of the wage-earners suffers a disabling injury or a long-term illness, or that such a misfortune strikes a child, forcing a parent to make the agonizing choice between staying on the job to provide needed income, or staying at home to provide needed care.

Our middle-class Colorado families are standing uncomfortably close to the edge of a cliff, only one emergency away from sliding right back to where we were in the depths of the Great Recession.

Whether it’s the teacher from Lakewood, the farmer from Brush, the small business owner on Main Street in Grand Junction or the single mom working two minimum-wage jobs — when we talk about serving “the people of Colorado,” these are the people we must have in mind.

We are Colorado’s middle class and those who strive to join it, including thousands who were in the middle class until the Great Recession knocked them over the cliff, and who are now struggling to climb back up.

“The people” are not an abstraction to me.

When I was a child, my mother would tell me how, during the Great Depression, she survived on catfish caught by my grandmother while my grandfather, a bricklayer, was out looking for work.

It was catfish and cornbread, day after day.

When I was growing up, Mom never, ever, ate fish or served it in our home.

Her family lost their home, which my grandfather helped build. My father’s family lost their farm.

I have been to the edge of the cliff myself. I will never forget the mix of hope and desperation, arriving in a new city, with a new husband, looking for a new job, with pretty much nothing but the clothes on our backs and exactly fifty cents in our pockets.

These are memories from a long time ago. But members, today — in 2015 — too many of us are still over the cliff. And far too many are peering over the edge.

Our state’s unemployment rate is 4.1 percent, and we’re one of the top states for job creation and entrepreneurial activity. These are statistics we can be proud of.

But our work is not over. The stats offer no solace to the people who make up that 4.1 percent, nor to the larger number of hard-working Coloradans who are stuck in part-time jobs, or jobs that do not pay livable wages to support their families.

In many communities in this state, the jobless rate is still in the double digits.

Far too many families are still over the cliff.

There is a ladder that reaches the top of the cliff, but for too many Coloradans, the American Dream is still a rung or two away.

No one else can climb the ladder for them.

But I firmly believe our duty as legislators is to hold that ladder steady.

As speaker I will do everything in my power to advance policies that will secure and strengthen “the people of Colorado,” tomorrow and for generations to come.

Members, I am asking you today to support legislation that will help make sure our economic recovery is felt by all Coloradans, in all four corners of our magnificent state.

That means investing in job training and workforce development to put qualified Coloradans into the high-skill jobs that our state’s economy is now producing.

Our dedication to Colorado’s middle class also means supporting the biggest and best economic development program of all — providing our students with an excellent public education and an affordable college education.

We were led in the Pledge of Allegiance today by the student council of Heatherwood Elementary School, not far from my home outside Boulder.  And students from the University of Colorado sang a beautiful rendition of our national anthem. For these and all Colorado students, I am asking you to increase our investment in the most indispensable ingredient of our state’s future — the next generation of Coloradans.

A middle-class-first strategy also means standing up for small businesses, because they will create most of the new jobs.

Robert and I have owned a paint store and an oilfield services company, and I know the burdens facing small business. I’m asking you in this session to support legislation that will help Colorado’s small businesses and entrepreneurs.

To bring more women and children into the middle class, we must also be committed to ensuring that women earn equal pay for equal work.

As the second woman speaker in state history, and the first from my party, I am asking you to support policies that will reach out to hundreds of thousands of low-wage Colorado workers, most of them women, offering them a path toward freedom from endless debt and the ability to save for a rainy day, for retirement and for their children’s future.

Our investment in the people also requires protecting our clean air and clean water and our unspoiled open spaces.

The health of our people and our economy depends on a healthy environment. I ask us all to keep working together to preserve our world-renowned Colorado quality of life – by continuing our commitment to renewable energy and by giving special consideration to the upcoming recommendations of the governor’s bipartisan oil and gas task force.

We also support our quality of life when we support the roads and mass transit systems that make our commutes more commutable.  We need to find ways, within our budget, to build an infrastructure that supports sustainable growth, a vibrant tourism industry and the jobs of the future.

We must also address the concerns sparked by recent confrontations between the police and residents — both locally and nationally. During this session, members of this body will be working toward responsible ways to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. This is an issue of public safety, fairness, civil rights and the very values that make us Coloradans,  that make us Americans.

It is also time to take a comprehensive look at our options to overcome one of the biggest barriers to expanding the middle class — Colorado’s shortage of good, affordable housing.  We have a number of members working on this issue. And my door is always open to those who have solutions to Colorado’s housing crunch that are data-driven and protect consumers’ rights.

Members, in everything we do in the Seventieth General Assembly, our bottom line must be fighting for the middle class and all those who work hard to join it.

  • If our policymaking addresses the concerns and aspirations of regular Coloradans –
  • If we test every bill and every vote by asking, “will this make life better for the greatest possible number of our fellow Coloradans?” —
  • If we make it our goal to raise up the broad middle –

then we as legislators are honoring our obligation to all the people of Colorado.

Because when the middle class grows and thrives, all of Colorado benefits.

Our state is not composed of abstract numbers or purely economic interests, but of real people, and of their hopes and fears and dreams.   Our job, members, is to build a better Colorado – a Colorado where we and our children can follow our dreams – even if we start with pretty much the clothes on our backs and fifty cents in our pockets.

I’m eager to get started.  I know you are too. Thank you.