One from each side of the aisle volunteered to help us get a glimpse into the inner workings of the Capitol during the legislative session.


We met Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp in her new "office" at the Capitol inside of one of many cubicle farms affectionately known as "bullpens."

The Democrat from Arvada shares a dingy cubicle with her aide.

Almost immediately, the bubbly Kraft-Tharp points to a curious piece of d├ęcor near her desk.

Two window shutters hang on the drab grey wall. Between the shutters is a poster print of the Denver City and County building, the view from someone else's office on the West side of the Capitol.

"We didn't have windows in here so we made a window," explained Kraft-Tharp. "Which shows what kind of legislator that I will be, that I hope to be, is that we will make it work. We will make the situation work."

In another bullpen, Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff has a similar space for an office.

"I'm good. We can fit two people in here," Navarro-Ratzlaff said. The cubicle helps inspire to work her way up the ranks.


Navarro-Ratzlaff is a Republican who will make a weekly journey to the Capitol from Pueblo.

It's not her first foray into government. She used to serve on the Las Animas city council. This is different.

"I don't know that you can compare," Navarro-Ratzlaff said. "Las Animas is a little town. Everybody knows everybody."

For Kraft-Tharp, the magnitude of the office started to sink in when she got a congratulatory phone call from the Gov. John Hickenlooper and Lt. Gov Joe Garcia.

Thinking back on it, she gets a beaming expression.

The Capitol building has a way of making people feel small. Each lawmaker is only one percent of the total legislature, but each lawmaker has a lot of people behind them.

A House district contains more than 75,000 people-roughly the size of a sold-out crowd at a Bronco's game.

"It puts a little bit of pressure on your shoulders to make sure that you're making the right decision," Navarro-Ratzlaff said.

Pressure is also applied to lawmakers' shoulders from other sources like legislative leadership or lobbyists.

Speaking on day three of the 2013 session, our freshmen legislators are already getting plenty of visits from lobbyists.

"It's okay," Kraft-Tharp said. "I was an issue advocate, or lobbyist, for a couple of small mental health organizations, so not all lobbyists are greedy or shady."

Lobbyists have a role to play, adds Kraft-Tharp. They can help lawmakers understand an industry or issue, even if from a biased perspective.


Each Colorado lawmaker gets to propose five bills. The deadline to propose the first three came before the session began.

Navarro-Ratzlaff is trying again on a proposal that died last year to require new bills to be evaluated for their impact on small businesses. She also has a bill to revise appointments to the state's Bingo Board at the request of the Secretary of State's office.

She's proud to have former House Speaker Frank McNulty supporting her other bill, which would allow kids who don't speak English at home to take ELL (English Language Learners) classes for up to five years.

"The program is only funded for two years," Navarro-Ratzlaff explained. "That means that the child has two years to learn English as a second language. I can't learn a second language in two years and I wouldn't expect a child to do that either."

Kraft-Tharp admits her bill to better track healthcare claims isn't as sexy.

"But very important," she adds. "Because how are we going to know where to go on healthcare if we don't know where our money is going?"

She also has a bill aimed at running the state's health department more efficiently and another that deals with the relationship between mental health providers and patients.

Both lawmakers are bursting with optimism for their first slate of bills.

"I'm going to say they're all going to pass," predicts Navarro-Ratzlaff, laughing.

Kraft-Tharp isn't worried about her bills, either.

"My bills will be fine," Kraft-Tharp said.

Those are famous last words in the Capitol building. All bills get a hearing, but nearly half of them die in a typical year.

We'll check back in with our two freshmen throughout the 2013 session to see how they manage.