|Legislators and reporters gather around
Speaker McNulty late last night to
ask about bringing the chamber
out of recess.
So at around 9:30PM last night, Democrats moved to consider the bill on the House floor. Republican Speaker McNulty immediately moved the chamber into recess, preventing the consideration of any further legislative business. Despite lobbying by Governor Hickenlooper and Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, McNulty kept the chamber in recess, effectively killing not only the civil unions bill but another 30 or so bills that were awaiting a floor vote. Spectators booed the Speaker, and the gallery was cleared after one shouted "I hope you all f-ing die!"
So, yeah, this is what legislative hardball looks like. And this is one of the down sides of investing a lot of power in a single chamber leader. There are plenty of advantages, of course -- a leaderless chamber would probably pass almost no legislation, and there's no guarantee that anything that passed would come close to reflecting public opinion. And strong leaders allow parties to be responsible; that is, they can better deliver on what they promise in their platforms and in campaigns. But here we see the costs: one strong leader can prevent a vote on a bill that would otherwise pass and become law, even one with strong public support. (Notably, in a chamber with even stronger legislative leaders, this bill might have never even made it to the floor. Colorado's GAVEL amendment guarantees that any bill that passes committee come to the floor.)
This is quickly becoming a rallying point for liberal activists in the state. Nonetheless, one might consider things from the Speaker's perspective: should he have allowed a vote on which he knew his side would lose? One is surely tempted to say yes, sure, that's democracy! But let's imagine a counterfactual for a second. Let's say that you were the Speaker and a bill was coming before you that would, I don't know, reinstate slavery, and you knew it would pass if it got a vote. Would you allow the vote in the name of democracy? Or would you use (even abuse) your powers as Speaker to prevent something evil from occurring?
I'm certainly not likening civil unions to slavery. I'm just suggesting that when a leader is invested with agenda controlling powers, it's hard not to use them when the stakes are high.