Monday, January 5, 2009

He's still my speaker

Later this month, Coloradoans will lose one of the finest public servants in the State's history. Current State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D-Denver), who is term-limited, will pass on the gavel to his Rep. Terrance Carroll (D-Denver). Democrats owe a lot to the out-going Speaker. He assumed leadership of the chamber with a relatively slim 7-seat majority - he is handing it off with a much healthier 11-seat advantage for the Democrats.

I had the honor to serve the Speaker as the Historian of the House during the first two years of his tenure. In that role, I was in a position to observe every single minute of debate on the House floor, and got to witness first hand as the Speaker moved Referendum C through the legislative process in 2005. It was that policy debate that inspired me to attend graduate school.

There are far too many fond memories of the Speaker to recount on here today, but I will share a few of them.The Speaker had very sensitive hearing. While Speakers before him had always allowed the members to speak at will during introductions and announcements in the morning, he demanded that the members take all conversations outside or sit quietly at their desks. This did not sit well with everyone, especially the Representatives - of both parties - he called out by name to shush.

I was caught up in all of this. You see, I have the annoying habit of clicking my pens. One day during Third Reading, I was clicking away when I heard the Speaker call me over. "What an honor," I thought. He handed me a note. No doubt some important message to deliver or fact to look up. Wrong. I opened the note and saw that the Speaker had scribbled if I could please stop clicking my pen.

He was less discrete about asking the members to be quiet. He wen about that by gaveling like a mad-man and looking over the chamber until people understood what he meant. Unfortunately for the Front Desk staff, we always had our back to the Speaker and the first time he gave out one of his famous gavelings, it caught us all by surprise. So much so that Marilyn, our Chief Clerk fell off her chair. As she was scrambling to pick herself, and her chair, up, the Speaker scolded the Members, "See what you made me do to Marilyn."

At this point, Marilyn was bright red and the entire chamber had erupted in laughter.
On another occasion, he gaveled, then said, "I just had to get it out of my system." That prompted Rep. Al White (R-Winter Park) to come to the podium and remark, "Mr. Speaker, with that gavel, you got it out of my system."

After a bill that would have authorized the Colorado DMV to issue Denver Broncos license plates passed with a 52-12 margin, the Speaker announced the result as such, "With 52 aye votes and 12 Raider fans, the bill is passed."

The Speaker was also good at taking jokes. In 2005, the Speaker got an especially awful haircut. Rep. Pommer (D-Boulder) got a picture of the Speaker with the new do and had a transparency made to display on the amendment board, which, incidentally, I was in charge of. The day the Speaker revealed his new haircut was, tragically for him, the same day the House was slated to debate a new bill regulating hair dressers and barbers. Rep. Pommer hatched a scheme with me. He said he would come to the microphone to make a statement in support of the bill, but ask for a technical amendment at which point I would display the picture of the Speaker.

The stunt was an enormous success. The Speaker was in the back of the room for the stunt and I could see him laughing it off. Rep. Pommer got some cracks in with the picture on the screen. He said that the Speaker's barber had a 2-for-1 special on that fateful day, but since the Speaker was on his own he had decided to get both haircuts himself.
My favorite memory of Speaker Romanoff, however, was one day after Session had ended. My carpool friends and I were stranded because our ride had incurred a flat. We had no recourse and were hoping somebody would drive from Ft. Collins to come pick us up. As we were walking into the Capitol to go use the phones, we ran into the Speaker. He asked us what we were still doing at work. We told him our ordeal and he said, "Well, you know, I have AAA. Let me call and see if they'll come take care of you."

They would, but there was a catch: the Speaker would have to stick around to sign the paperwork. So, the Speaker waited with us, three guys fresh out of college, for an hour in the Capitol cafeteria until our car was set to go. And he never complained. He asked us questions, told us stories, and was as pleasant as could be.

He even let us in on a little secret: he had a date that night that he was really nervous about. He called the lucky girl right there in front of us to let her know that he was going to be a little late. I could not believe my ears. The Speaker of the House had taken the time to help us out on a night that he had a hot date.This last week, the Speaker could have been appointed to the US Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO). Governor Ritter chose not to appoint him, I think, to the detriment of all Coloradoans. The State is much better off because of Andrew Romanoff, that's why he'll always be my Speaker.

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