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Brandon Shaffer: Sinai, Stanford, Navy, Senate President

Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer and his wife Jessicca with children Madison and Dylan.EVERY evening before he heads home, Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer completely clears his office desk. Some papers get filed. Others he stacks in the “to do” bin.

It’s a habit that started nearly 20 years ago while serving in the Navy. He also obsessively clears his desk on the Senate floor.

“It can pile up, but the same rule applies,” Shaffer, (D-Longmont) says.

His proclivity toward neatness and order has endeared him to his Senate peers and ultimately contributed to their decision to elect him president. He also endures a lot of teasing because of it.

“He is very persnickety about neatness and order,” says Senate Majority Leader John Morse (D-Colorado Springs).


“That order has a huge benefit as president of the Senate. We need the buses to run on time.”


That order also translates to a thoughtful decision process, says his good friend, Brendan McGuire, who worked with Shaffer during Boulder’s Get Out The Vote initiative in 2001.

“Whether it’s Brandon Shaffer the person or Senate president — no matter which hat he’s wearing — it’s always a good conversation,” McGuire says.

“He’s always very thoughtful, and it’s always good advice. If there’s an issue, he wants to gather all the information and gather all the view points. He’s a very decisive person.”

That thoughtfulness led Shaffer, 39, an attorney who represents Senate District 17, to a decision to cut back on the number of bills he sponsors — noting that in 2007 he sponsored more than 40 bills — and to focus more on managing the Senate, including counseling the 34 other state senators on strategy and policy.

As president he also works closely with the Senate majority leader to assign bills to committees, manage the legislative calendar and to communicate Senate activities to the public.

Shaffer was first elected state senator in 2004 and was re-elected in 2008. The following year he was elected Senate President following the resignation of then Senate President Peter Groff.

GROWING up in Denver, Shaffer’s family belonged to Temple Sinai. While attending Stanford University on a Navy ROTC scholarship, he was also a member of AEPi, the Jewish fraternity.

“Being Jewish has always been part of my identity,” says Shaffer, whose children attend a Hebrew school organized by parents in Longmont.

At Stanford, Shaffer majored in political science and participated in the Stanford-in-government program, which included working as an intern for Colorado Gov. Roy Romer.

After college, he was commissioned to active duty in the US Navy, with most of the time spent serving aboard the USS Hewitt in Japan.

In Japan he met his wife, Jessicca Clark; they have two children, Dylan, 9, and Madison, 6.

After leaving the navy he attended law school at CU-Boulder, and he graduated in 2001.

OF his work in the Colorado Senate, he’s most proud of his involvement in the bipartisan effort to reform Colorado’s Public Employees Retirement Association, commonly known as PERA. To achieve his goals, he worked with former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry (R-Grand Junction) to craft a bipartisan proposition that stabilized the PERA fund, which had been on a path to insolvency within 25 years, he says.

“We’re the only state in the nation who has been able to get this done,” Shaffer says. “The Colorado retirement fund is in better shape than in any other state in the nation.”

He’s also proud to have sponsored Senate Bill 08-244, which for the first time required insurance companies to cover autism treatments for children.
It was a tough battle he says, with insurance companies hiring lobbyists to try to defeat it.

Although the original bill was a lifetime benefit, he was finally able to pass a bill which covered children until their 19th birthdays.

“Parents and children came to me with tears in their eyes to say, ‘thank you,’ Shaffer says. “It was the right thing to do.”

His passion is to bring full-day kindergarten to Colorado residents at no cost, a goal that so far has become one of his biggest disappointments in the Senate.

Last year, he worked to pass SB10-131, High Quality Full Day Kindergarten Incentives, a $30 million bill to allow Colorado school districts to provide full-day kindergarten for every child, but the bill died.

So far he’s only been able to pass SB 05-088, which requires Colorado’s public schools to offer a half day of kindergarten, but doesn’t require that children attend.

The bill protects existing half-day programs from being cut. He added that most schools now offer full-day kindergarten programs, but parents who choose that option pay for the other half day.

CHALLENGES will continue this legislative session with inevitable budget cuts during the present economy, he says. The Colorado constitution mandates balancing the budget every year, and a $1 billion shortfall is projected into 2011.

“Somehow we got to get to a balanced budget,” he says. “Everything is on the table. It becomes a real challenge.”

To put it into perspective Shaffer adds that Colorado’s 2010 General Fund budget is $6.6 billion, approximately the same amount allocated in 2001. Since then, 700,000 more residents, including 70,000 more K-12 students moved to the state. Compared to 2001, 150,000 more people now receive Medicaid and 2,500 more prisoners are housed in Colorado jails.

“While our general fund budget has remained the same the last nine years, the need for services has grown significantly,” Shaffer says. “That’s the challenge we face for 2011.”

One of those inevitable cuts is K-12 education, which is 42% of Colorado’s overall budget. But Shaffer also says that education needs to be the top priority, and to that end he plans to introduce legislation that creates the “Prioritize Education First Fund,” where all savings found through the State Department’s recovery audits will be channeled into educational funding, primarily K-12.

The Senate will also be looking at boosting financial aid to middle-class families of college students, to bridge the gap until the economy rebounds.

As far as the Republicans gaining control of the House in 2011, Shaffer, who writes about bipartisanship in his blog, is not worried.

“The more things change, the more they remain the same,” he says.

“There are always political challenges to getting things through no matter the composition of the legislative chambers. We’ll need to work hard, be willing to compromise on proposals and negotiate our bills through the process. In many ways we have the opportunity to be more bipartisan than in the past.”

Redistricting, a constitutional requirement every decade, will also be tackled in 2011 by a bipartisan joint select committee.

Shaffer isn’t talking about what he’ll do after he finishes his second consecutive term in 2012. State senators are limited to two consecutive terms.

“I’m just focusing on this next legislative session,” he says. “It’s going to be a tough one.”

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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