Paul Weissmann, ex-bartender turned majority leader, on becoming House Dems' chief of staff

In a state where a onetime brewpub owner, Democrat John Hickenlooper, was just elected governor, it makes sense that a onetime bartender, Paul Weissmann, would be named the House Dems' chief of staff.

Weissmann, the former House majority leader, is term-limited, so he couldn't run for reelection in November. Still, he concedes that he thought over the chief-of-staff gig before accepting it.

"When they threw it out there, I didn't just jump on it," concedes Weissman, who currently manages the Blue Parrot restaurant in Louisville. But after hashing over the job description, he continues, "I thought it would work -- because, basically, I get to do everything as before except vote."

More reasons the fit felt right: "I have a relationship with House Republicans, I have a relationship with the Senate, I have a pretty good relationship with the folks the governor has selected so far."

The balance of power in the House shifted on November 2, with Republicans winning a one-vote majority. This slender margin of power "really forces everyone to work together better," Weissman believes. "Not that they've worked terrible before, but it really forces them to work together, and that's a good thing."

Nationally, of course, the Republican rise seems likely to spur less cooperation, not more, with both parties concentrating on pleasing their base rather than compromising. But Weissman hopes for better in Colorado. Why?

"We're different here, quite frankly," he says. "Part of it is that we see each other all the time, and they really don't. There, they're giving five-minute speeches to themselves on the floor, but here, we know each other, we work together, and everything is done publicly by committees. Amendments and the like are done with debate and discussion, and that's not always the case in Washington, D.C. And here, the members have an opportunity to do more of the work. Back in D.C., the staff does it. So I think that creates a whole different set of dynamics.

"The other piece is, in Colorado, you may have half a dozen things that are partisan in a year," he continues. "This year, it may be a little different, with redistricting and reapportionment. But most of the stuff we work on is very nonpartisan."

In his new position, Weissman won't be counting votes, but he'll handling plenty of other chores required of him as an elected official -- and he thinks his background as a bartender and restaurant manager will help. In those jobs, after all, "you learn to treat people well. Otherwise, you're sunk. And you learn to be honest with folks. Otherwise, you're sunk. And those things really do carry over."

And if the Colorado legislature starts providing better service, voters of every description should benefit.

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