A legislative guide that purports to enlighten Colorado voters about the environmental record of their state lawmakers has just been released for the 15th year in a row, and enlighten it does—though not in the way its authors intended.
The 2013 Colorado Legislative Conservation Scorecard, compiled by the environmental group Conservation Colorado, ranks the members of the General Assembly on how closely they hewed to the group’s greener-than-thou policy agenda. As the Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels duly noted in her report this week on the scorecard, its findings surprise no one: Democrats got the highest scores and Republicans the lowest.
It is of course an all-too-familiar tactic in state and national politics: A dogmatic, special-interest group stakes out unyielding positions on its pet issues and tallies the votes for and against select pieces of legislation. Then, it does the math, dresses it all up in a slick brochure and peddles it to the media in hopes that some news organization will vest it with a little more than its deserved grain of salt. With any luck, it’ll be a slow news day, and the “findings” will get some ink. Maybe even some air time.
If anything, the 47 Democrats in both chambers (out of a total 57 legislative Democrats) who scored an unblemished, 100 percent environmental record by the lights of Conservation Colorado should raise grave concerns among the public. After all, their grade was based on unflinching support for extreme-green legislation that stands to raise Colorado’s cost of living and trash its economy—while achieving no actual additional protection for the environment.
Scorecard criteria included the controversial Senate Bill 252, signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. It imposes a new mandate on nonprofit rural electric cooperatives to derive a lot more of their power from costly renewable energy sources like wind and solar. That translates to a guaranteed, substantial electricity rate hike for Colorado’s farmers and ranchers as well as other rural residents, businesses, school districts and local governments. Another measure on which lawmakers were graded was House Bill 1269, which fortunately didn’t make it out of the legislature. Among its other provisions, 1269 sought to purge the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission of its only three members representing the energy industry—because, hey, what do theyknow about drilling? Despite its noble verbiage, the bill’s real aim wasn’t to prevent conflicts of interest; indeed, there was no attempt to diminish the influence of the green lobby. The true motive was to smother energy exploration. Never mind that energy development has been Colorado’s most dynamic economic sector on the heels of a devastating recession; never mind that it is helping serve national interests, as well, by reducing U.S. dependency on foreign energy sources.
Now, look at the lawmakers who scored 50 percent or lower, including all 43 legislative Republicans and even one Democrat. Arguably, they were the ones who actually were open to compromise and balancing competing interests in their approach to environmental policy. On SB 252, for example, many dissenting legislators pointed out how rural ratepayers already labor under a renewable-energy mandate; they just couldn’t see piling on with a more zelous and expensive standard. Similarly, their opposition to packing the oil and gas commission with environmentalists was as much as anything an effort to maintain diverse viewpoints on the panel.
And if that isn’t indication enough that the lowest performers on Conservation Colorado’s report card just might be the most attuned to the broad interests of their constituents, consider this: Two lawmakers who scored 100 percent—Democratic Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Democratic Sen. Angela Giron, of Pueblo—will be the first two Colorado lawmakers ever to face recall elections. Morse, who was the prime sponsor of SB 252, and Giron incensed constituents with their support for gun control and other policies.
Morse hails from an overwhelmingly Republican community while Giron’s is heavily Democratic. Both now will face the music after recall organizers turned in far more than enough signatures earlier this month to trigger a recall election.
Could their good standing with Conservation Colorado turn out to be the kiss of death?
Still, you’ve got to give the environmental lobby credit for getting the media to bite the hook. As predictable as the scorecard’s findings may be, it nevertheless landed a 500-word story in Colorado’s largest newspaper. Not bad for a nothing-burger. Contrast that with the much longer-standing legislative report card that is issued annually by the fiscally conservative Colorado Union of Taxpayers— and is ignored annually by most mainstream media.
Even if outfits like Conservation Colorado, along with the lawmakers they laud, are out of step with state voters, they sure seem to have some pull with the likes of the Denver Post.
Former Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor Sean Paige is currently acting Colorado state director of Americans for Prosperity. This op-ed originally appeared at MonkeyWrenchingAmerica.com.