The men and women who served with Republican Bill Berens in the state House on Friday praised the lawmaker for his devotion to the city of Broomfield and daring to speak his mind to make Colorado a better place.
“Bill Berens was a dapper, friendly soul,” said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, who was chairwoman of the House Local Government Committee when Berens was a member.
“I recall that many of his contributions to our discussions began with ‘When I was mayor of Broomfield, we … ,’ or ‘In Broomfield, we ….’ He was very proud of his city and the role he had played in its progress,” she said. “I’ll miss him at United Power legislative lunches where we would reminisce about ‘the good old days.’ May he rest in peace.”
Berens died Monday at the age of 66 after battling cancer for seven months. His funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Broomfield.
The Broomfield Enterprise and The Denver Post chronicled the life of Berens, a civil engineer who served four terms as Broomfield mayor and one term in the House before being swept out of office in the Democratic tidal wave of 2006.
Berens struggled as a state lawmaker, where he found a different kind of political arena than he had encountered as Broomfield mayor, one where allegiance to party sometimes trumped allegiance to constituents. Some Republicans were critical of Berens when he spoke his mind on issues, particularly the budget, if those arguments happened to match Democratic sentiments.
“Rep. Berens came from local government, just as I did,” said former Rep. Mike May, R-Parker. “In the legislature, Bill knew only one way to govern: find solutions for all citizens, not the just party. He never gave that up, often to the displeasure of leaders in both parties. He came to work every day prepared to fight for the best way forward for the citizens of Colorado.
“I was proud to call him my friend.”
As a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, I wrote about Berens being stripped of his position as the ranking member of the Local Government Committee after he candidly talked about funding needs in the state. The next day he stopped by my Capitol office with a bouquet of flowers to thank me because he received so many calls of support.
“We would tease him and call him Billy Berens,” recalled Republican Cory Gardner, who now is a U.S. senator. “He always had that mischievous grin when we did. He was the first legislator I met when I was appointed and he immediately started lobbying me for what was always a very municipal-oriented approach. I will miss him — he was a kind and gentle man. May he rest in peace.”
Former House Majority Leader Alice Madden, D-Boulder, said Berens had a “unique larger than life persona.”
“No matter what topic we discussed, it always ended on a positive note focused on where we agreed. Usually accompanied by a sidearm, bear hug that left you with a smile,” she said. “My heart goes out to his family and his community for this untimely loss of a wonderful human being.”
Other former House colleagues also weighed in :
David Balmer, R-Centennial, now in the state Senate: “Bill was such a sincere guy with an unselfish heart. He worked hard to pass his bills, but he also invested time helping other legislators shepherd their bills. He was one the best listeners I’ve ever met, and you don’t meet many good listeners at the Capitol.”
Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction: “It is sad to learn about Bill’s passing. He was a moderate and thoughtful, and I worked on several bills with him. He was also from Grand Junction, but a rival high school. He teased me about our poor football teams.”
Rob Witwer, R-Genesee: “Bill was genuine, kind and had a ready smile. He will be missed. ”
My 2005 story from the Rocky:
A rookie lawmaker took a trip to the woodshed Thursday after he publicly discussed a financial report that has become a lightning rod in budget negotiations.
State Rep. Bill Berens was stripped of his status as the ranking Republican on the House Local Government Committee .During the morning’s floor session, Berens thanked three nonpartisan legislative staff members who prepared the report, which estimates the state must spend an additional $1.3 billion annually to meet its operating, construction and transportation needs.
Witnesses said Berens discussed the merits of the report, which some Republicans have dismissed as nothing more than a wish list the state can’t afford.Democrats say the report, released last week, shows the state needs a cash infusion.
Several GOP lawmakers said Berens’ remarks were poorly timed, considering GOP Gov. Bill Owens and Republican lawmakers are battling with Democrats over how to fix the budget crisis.
Rep. Mark Larson, R-Cortez, who has been critical of the state’s handling of its budget problems, said Berens made a “freshman blunder” in not first telling leadership what he was going to do. But Larson said he “applauds” Berens for commissioning the report and seeking information on the state’s long- term financial needs. And Larson said more lawmakers need to be like Berens, asking tough questions instead of just following the party line.
Berens, who served as mayor for seven years, said he asked for the report to help him decide which budget proposal would best help Colorado in the long run. It was Berens’ mayoral experience that got the freshman the plum assignment as the ranking Republican on the Local Government Committee.