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South Jeffco Republican elected GOP caucus chair

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By AJ Vicens

South Jeffco Republican Mike Kopp said last week that his election to chair the state Senate’s GOP caucus will directly and indirectly benefit his constituents.

“I will have an opportunity, a more formal opportunity, to have influence in the Republican caucus, and, hopefully, even though we’re in minority status right now, that influence will have a broader reach ee into the Senate,” Kopp said.

As chair of the GOP caucus, Kopp will have a significant amount of input into the party’s agenda in the Senate, through chairing bimonthly caucus meetings and mustering other Republicans’ support on various agenda items.

“It has to be good for the state, too, because that’s our charge,” Kopp said. “But ee obviously I’m going to be working with an eye toward legislation that benefits my constituents and the state at large.”

Kopp said a prime example of his constituents benefiting will come early in next year’s legislative session, when he and Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Evergreen, will advance a series of wildfire-related bills in the House and Senate.

“From his position of leadership, Sen. Kopp will be in a position to advocate issues that are vital to our community: wildfire preparedness, transportation infrastructure, pro-business policies and property rights,” Witwer said last week, adding that Kopp has a “quiet and effective” style of leadership that “gets results.”

Kopp’s leadership will be put to the test early in the upcoming session as Republicans try to advance what Kopp describes as an aggressive agenda, with big plans for K-12 and higher education, immigration reform and transportation.

“A lot of these are issues we anticipate getting Democrat support on ee some will be more difficult to attract Democrat support,” Kopp said.

Descriptions of the agenda items revealed so far — available at www.ColoradoSenateNews.com — offer a glimpse of how the Republicans want to address issues if they can get the Democratic majority on board.

On education, the Republicans want to raise curriculum standards by requiring four years of math and English, three years of science and social studies, two years of world languages, and one year of physical education, health, and visual, performing and applied arts.

The GOP also wants to require a high school proficiency exam starting in 10th grade and each year after that, along with requiring students to demonstrate English proficiency in order to graduate.

Republicans also want to offer Colorado parents tuition assistance for special-needs children, private or public.

On higher education, Kopp stressed the need for more accountability from the state’s colleges and universities.

“Our formula for higher education funding in this state ee does not substantively link fee for service with performance,” Kopp said.

He said there are statutes that outline performance standards, “but there’s no teeth to those; they’re not connected. The funding and the accountability operate in separate silos, and so the bill that I’m carrying puts those in the same silo. We’re going to connect performance with your funding.”

Kopp said there are also tough proposals on immigration reform and transportation.

Immigration is an issue where Kopp says his party has not been responding to constituents.

“Nationally, our party has been really weak on the issue,” Kopp said. “A lot of my constituents are frustrated and fed up with that.”

Kopp described a “very real tension” between loyalty to party versus loyalty to constituents.

“(It’s) always a tension, without a doubt, because we put on our Republican hats, but as individual legislators, our first order is to serve the people that elected us,” Kopp said.

He said that, in his new leadership role, he’ll try to deal with the conflict between loyalty to party versus loyalty to constituents by “not (letting) 800-pound gorillas stand in the room.”

“Clear the air, shoot for transparency and authenticity in your conversation, then you can build trust even when you have to disagree,” Kopp said.

With just a year in state politics, the question has come up as to what Kopp’s goals are politically — whether he wants to keep climbing the political ladder.

“I want to be a good senator,” Kopp said. “I want to ee move the agenda forward on wildfire, immigration and transportation.”

Kopp said some people approached him about running for the seat that will be vacated when U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of the 6th Congressional District doesn’t run for re-election, but “it’s just not on my radar screen.”

He wouldn’t rule out a future run for a national political seat, however.

Kopp was elected to the state Senate last fall, and was sworn in this January. He replaced Kiki Traylor, who served a year after longtime Sen. Norma Anderson left the seat. Kopp defeated Traylor and Justin Everett for the seat.

He said that future roles in politics will likely take care of themselves.

“I think if you do a good job, you’ll find a way to advance or be advanced,” Kopp said. “That tends to take care of itself if you’re doing a good job.”

Contact AJ Vicens at: aj@evergreenco.com.