• State Sen. Lois Tochtrop and her husband, Paul, ride horses at Evening Star Farms in Arvada. She has taken a variety of positions while in the legislature,

    State Sen. Lois Tochtrop and her husband, Paul, ride horses at Evening Star Farms in Arvada. She has taken a variety of positions while in the legislature, voting with conservatives on gun rights but with liberals on issues such as labor. (Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post)

    Sen. Lois Tochtrop has always been a bit of a maverick, siding with Republicans when fighting smoking bans and gun-control measures but backing her fellow Democrats on labor issues.

    The Adams County lawmaker’s independent streak could be one of the more memorable story lines of the 2014 session. It will be her last year because of term limits, she has nothing to lose and nothing to prove, and Senate Democrats hold only a one-seat majority.

    “I’ve always been very much of an advocate for issues that I believe in, especially that pertain to my district. I never forgot the people who brought me to the dance,” Tochtrop said. “This will be my 16th session. I’m not going to be any different than what I have been for the past 15 sessions.”

    That’s what Republicans are counting on.

    In the 2013 session — epic for its nastiness — Tochtrop voted with Republicans against a renewable-energy mandate for rural electric associations, although a decade earlier she co-sponsored the legislation that kicked off the mandates. She opposed the majority of gun bills her Democratic colleagues introduced.

    “I feel like all these gun bills have done — to quote the last words in the movie ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ — is to awaken a sleeping giant,” she said at the time.

    Fast forward

    Sens. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, and Matt Jones, D-Louisville, in March confer during debate on a bill to limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, which

    Sens. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, and Matt Jones, D-Louisville, in March confer during debate on a bill to limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, which Tochtrop opposed, bucking fellow Democrats. The controversial measure passed and was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. (Karl Gehring, Denver Post file)

    Two Senate Democrats were recalled in September for their gun votes and replaced with Republicans, while a third lawmaker resigned in November rather than go through a recall and lose the seat to a Republican. Senate Democrats, who enjoyed a 20-15 majority at the start of the year, end it with only an 18-17 edge.

    That’s why “Truckstop,” as some Capitol lawmakers and lobbyists have fondly nicknamed Tochtrop, could play a pivotal role in the legislative session that begins Jan. 8.

    Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman is looking forward to it.

    “They call her ‘Truckstop,’ ” the Colorado Springs Republican said. “We affectionately refer to her as ‘Backstop’ on many of the extreme measures.”

    Working across aisle

    Tochtrop, a registered nurse, was elected to the House in 1998, the same year the first wave of lawmakers were forced out of office because of term limits. Republicans were in charge, but Tochtrop said she got things done because she worked across the aisle.

    Her district included Federal Heights, a blue-collar town with more than its share of trailer parks, and she was quick to defend mobile-home issues. An avid motorcyclist until a bad knee stopped her from riding her Harley, she also pushed for rights for bikers. (Before becoming a lawmaker, Tochtrop showed up at the Capitol dressed from head to toe in leather to fight a mandatory motorcycle helmet measure.)

    After a vote on a bill involving recycled-tire fees, Tochtrop took some teasing about the issues she advocates for.

    “Someone has to watch out for the working poor, and I’m proud to do it,” she said.

    Tochtrop was the House sponsor of a 2002 bill that allowed sheriffs to issue permits for concealed handguns. Her measure died, but she voted for a similar measure that passed the following year.

    In 2004, Democrats won control of the House and Senate, a feat that hadn’t happened since 1960. And Tochtrop that December won a vacancy committee election to take the seat of Sen. Alice Nichol, who resigned because she was elected county commissioner.

    Tochtrop won the vacancy in a 54-52 vote over her House colleague Rep. Val Vigil, D-Thornton, who also wanted to succeed Nichol. Two years later, Tochtrop went on to handily beat Vigil in the Democratic primary for the seat.

    Vigil, now the mayor pro tem of Thornton, is no fan.

    He said Tochtrop attacked him on the campaign trail for carrying a bill that granted in-state tuition to students who are undocumented immigrants, even though it would have helped people in the district.

    “She’s not loyal to her party,” he said. “She’s not loyal to her district. She’s loyal to herself.”

    Tochtrop voted against subsequent tuition measures until this session, when she supported a bill similar to Vigil’s that was signed into law.

    Of Vigil’s comments, she said, “He can say what he wants.”

    Former Senate President John Morse disagreed with Vigil’s assessment even though he and Tochtrop have split on various issues over the years. Morse, of Colorado Springs, and Sen. Angela Giron, of Pueblo, were recalled for their support for gun legislation.

    “Lois is loyal to basic Democratic values, especially labor,” Morse said. “Her father died when she was young, and her father’s union ensured she had a path to go to nursing school. Democratic values are the core of who she is.”

    Former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, a Republican who counted on Tochtrop’s vote in 2009 to help kill a bill repealing the death penalty, remains a fan.

    “Lois,” he said, “has bigger rocks than 99 percent of the men’s room occupants down there.”


    Tochtrop started the 2013 session peeved at her own party, and her frustration continued to grow. She expected to be re-elected assistant majority leader by the caucus, but lost. She hadn’t even known until the morning of the election that she had opposition.

    “I was dumbfounded,” Tochtrop said. “I was blindsided for whatever reason.”

    Then came the Democratic package of gun bills. Tochtrop was upset her bill to restrict online training for concealed-weapons permits was included in the package, which she viewed as overreaching. She was particularly concerned about Morse’s proposal making manufacturers and sellers of assault-style weapons liable for the crimes committed with the gun.

    And like her GOP colleagues, Tochtrop was appalled that all seven gun bills were scheduled to be heard in a single day, which resulted in hundreds of people not being able to testify.

    “It created so much animosity because people felt their voices were not being heard,” she said.

    Tochtrop had also groused about Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, during the last session, but when the time came to replace Morse as president, it was Tochtrop who nominated Carroll for the powerful post.

    Tochtrop said the caucus knew she preferred the job go to a fellow Adams County Democrat, Sen. Mary Hodge, but Hodge didn’t have the votes.

    “I just thought if I made the nomination for Morgan, it might heal some of the rifts in the caucus,” Tochtrop said.

    That, Democrats say, is an indication Tochtrop is able to put grievances aside. They believe Republicans, who have reservations about Carroll’s nomination, might be overly optimistic about Backstop’s votes the upcoming session.

    Carroll said she fully expects Tochtrop to continue voting her district, but she is grateful that her colleague has “taken a strong leadership role in uniting the caucus.”

    Tochtrop, who turns 72 in January, has often said that when her Senate career is over, she’ll quietly ride off into the sunset on her horse, Rusty. It might end up being a gallop.

    Lynn Bartels: 303-954-5327, lbartels@denverpost.com or twitter.com/lynn_bartels

    2014 Colorado Legislature

    Opens: 10 a.m. Jan. 8

    Ends: must end by midnight May 7

    Senate: 18 Democrats, 17 Republicans

    House: 37 Democrats, 28 Republicans

    Governor: Democrat John Hickenlooper

    Sen. Lois Tochtrop

    Born: 1942 in St. Louis

    Family: Husband of 52 years, Paul, three children, six grandchildren

    Politics: Democrat

    Residence: Thornton

    Occupation: nurse

    Read more: “Truckstop” or “Backstop”: Colorado senator pivotal in 2014 session – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_24774264/truckstop-or-backstop-colorado-senator-pivotal-2014-session#ixzz2otIvNGEe 
    Read The Denver Post’s Terms of Use of its content: http://www.denverpost.com/termsofuse
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    Posted by Dana West @ 11:48 am for 2nd Amendment, Adams County Politics, Candidates, Colorado politics, Denver area politics, Elections, Issues |

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