Freshman year: Sky-Hi Daily News reporter spends the day with Randy Baumgardner, newly elected Colorado District 57 representative
February 26, 2009
Rep. Randy Baumgardners coat was on, then hours later was off, then on again as he readied to speak in the House chamber of the 67th Colorado State Assembly.Tuesday had already shaped up to be a particularly heavy day for the Republican freshman from Hot Sulphur Springs. Bills had been fired off, one after another, in auctioneer tongue, requiring quick responses of aye or nay from a key pad at the representatives desk. Baumgardner said it moves so fast, hes started keeping track of why he voted certain ways, admitting occasionally one can hit the wrong button during a five-second vote. GOP minority leaders paced back and forth on the floor, pumping themselves up for at-the-mic battles about spending. Before noon, House Republicans had lost the vote on a bill that would borrow $240 million from cash funds to augment lagging general-fund revenues for fiscal year 2008-2009. Faced with a $227 million budget shortfall, the minority beat up the 66th Assembly for failing to save and for spending unwisely. The bill, SB 208, was adopted anyway 37 aye votes to 28 nay votes.Baumgardner, the newly elected rancher from outside of Hot Sulphur Springs, also voted nay, fearing the effects of raiding cash funds such as potential losses to the states ag Brand Inspection Board, a division that protects the livestock industry from loss by theft, illegal butchering or straying of livestock. Theres nothing to backfill that, he said of the states cash funds. We fought hard to keep that money in there. You pick your battles down here the cash fund thing we need to stand up to.The GOP House Minoritys next big challenge later that afternoon would be Senate Bill 108, a transportation bill dubbed FASTER (Funding Advancement for Surface Development and Economic Recovery) that would raise money for road and bridge projects by increasing vehicle registration and car rental fees.On Tuesday, the debate was boiling on both sides of the assembly and distinctly on each side of the aisle. Baumgardners colleagues were visibly charged like players prior to a football game. They were ready to influence votes. Baumgardner himself swept from representative to representative on the floor, plotting strategy, discussing amendments, asking questions.In agreement with his colleagues, soon, hed take his turn at the mic and mention how road tolling details in the 77-page draft bill conflicted with property rights, a subject foremost on his list of priorities alongside West Slope water protection, tourism, oil and gas leases and clean coal generation.Despite strong efforts against it, the minority was defeated. SB 108 passed second reading in the House where representatives debated until 7:30 that night, then passed third reading with amendments on Thursday, trucking the transportation bill off to the Senate for its fate. Theres a lot of people out there that cant afford these fee increases right now, Baumgardner said. Theres a lot of concern whether this FASTER is smarter or not.Baumgardner opposed the extras such as bike trails, parks and open space included in a bill intended to focus on highway and bridges.The bill proposes to bring at least $200 million next year to the states transportation system. But among a long list of reasons Baumgardner disagrees with the bill, in spite of his recognition that something needs to be done to address the states roads and bridges, the former CDOT employee disagrees with the bills timing when transportation money is promised to the state through the recent stimulus package. Still learning the ropesIndiana native and a self-proclaimed timid public speaker, Baumgardner said hes still learning the ropes of his new post, getting used to the long hours of legislative work and speeches in front of House legislators. The day before, he said, hed never left the House chamber, eating lunch and dinner at his desk as representatives raced to get second readings done by a Wednesday deadline.In spite of his freshman status, hes sponsored several bills so far and has been the co-lead sponsor on about five others. One he got passed from the House is a bill assessing fines to those who fail to pay liens while going after construction loans, and another, now in Senate committee, involves a reduction in time required for oil and gas valuations. His biggest losses so far, he said, was an effort to streamline approval requirements for clean-coal generation projects, and a bill that would help funnel federal mineral lease revenues more directly to the communities where those resources are found, many of which are in his district of Moffat, Rio Blanco, Garfield, Routt, Jackson and Grand counties. Both bills, HB1098 and HB1051, died in House committee.Admittedly passionate about those bills, he was disappointed, he said. But hes learned.The thing you have to realize is down here you carry the bills, you dont marry the bills, he said.On the bright side, his clean coal bill started a conversation on the subject, he added. The clean coal bill I ran that got killed, the Governor jumped on board with this clean-coal issue, said weve got to start looking at clean coal in our state. One victory the legislator is proud of is his and State Sen. Al Whites (former District 57 representative) success in saving the Rifle Correctional Facility from being shut down during budget review. Baumgardner had written a letter to the Governor outlining the importance of that facility in his district. Due to his and Whites work, he said, the Governor has since taken it off the chopping block.From rancher to representativeOnce reprimanded for wearing his cowboy hat into the House chamber, Baumgardner still manages to wear a piece of the Colorado West with black cowboy boots accompanying his suits. The new job is taking some getting used to, he said. It doesnt help that his name is similar to two others in the House; Rep. Bob Gardner and Rep. Cory Gardner are often confused with Baumgardner when heard from the chamber over the loud speaker that reaches into his office. And the piles of reading never stop. Theres so much information coming at you all the time, but you adapt to it, he said.One book sitting on his desk was the daunting Colorado Revised Statutes dry at times for the bonafied cowboy.But his veteran aid Cheryl Palm, to whom Baumgardner sometimes refers as his Chief of Staff, said hes never afraid to seek help from people who have the answers. At the Capitol, scores of attorneys are at the ready willing to help elected reps with difficult legalese, they said. Hes making friendsAt lunchtime Tuesday, Baumgardner was invited to lunch by Rep. Scott Tipton of southwest Colorado. Having time to dine out for lunch was a seldom luxury, Baumgardner said, with days usually filled in education and transportation & enery committee meetings and in the chamber. In a very crowded restaurant filled with legislators, Tipton, his aid and Baumgardner crawled into the last available booth. SB 108 commanded conversation over sandwiches and burgers.But on their way in, Tipton, also a freshman legislator, noted that Baumgardner had some friends in the room, particularly a few Democrats.After food was delivered, he mentioned it, commending Baumgardner.The people in your district can be very proud of your representative, he said. Without hesitation he has reached across the aisle, and just knowing Randy its not about politics, its about people being able to build those personal relationships because with good reports, its a lot more likely you get listened to.During caucuses in his district, Baumgardner heard he was destined to become the common-sense person of the party.His ranching background and family of six seem to keep him grounded on Capitol Hill. But time away is sometimes difficult, he said, such as when his wife Lori called about a calf being born prematurely, or when his 4-year-old son Matthew questions every night when Dad calls from his rental unit in Aurora, When are you coming home, Daddy?But he hasnt forgotten why he asked for the job.It is an honor just to come down and represent the people, he said. – Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.