Every election cycle brings odd twists and turns that keep political junkies like me glued to the news: it’s why some call this the “political silly season.” But campaign season “silliness” is no laughing matter if something is said or done in the heat of a campaign that later comes back to haunt Colorado in the form of disastrous public policy decisions.
That’s why I wasn’t laughing after last week’s surprise endorsement of Proposition 112 by House Majority Leader KC Becker, even though the ballot measure will kill jobs, devastate Colorado’s economy and drain state and local coffers (leading to potentially drastic cuts in government services) if it wins voter approval.
Becker isn’t just any lawmaker: she’s Majority Leader in the Democrat-controlled House, giving her larger-than-normal influence and a responsibility to wield that power with greater care. Her endorsement of this potentially destructive measure doesn’t indicate to me that she takes that leadership responsibility seriously.
Becker represents the Reality-Free Zone of Boulder. As such, she probably feels obligated to pander to political extremists by saying and doing things aimed at shoring-up her liberal voter base. But the true test of political leadership – of statesmanship — is setting aside local or fringe politics when the broader interests of the state are at stake. And there’s no good that can come, either for her district or for the state at large, if her endorsement helps this disastrous measure cross the goal line in November.
Proposition 112 is the latest attempt by anti-fossil fuel activists to cripple the state’s oil and gas industry and put more than 200,000 Coloradans out of work. It was written as a “setback measure,” rather than a ban, because polling shows that Coloradans will not knowingly vote to eliminate one of our state’s top three economic drivers.
The 2,500-foot buffer zone around drilling operations that 112 imposes may not sound like a big deal, but that’s a half a mile in distance, on all sides, which adds up to more than 94 percent of non-federal lands that will become off-limits. Carve-out big enough “setbacks” and it’s a de facto ban. That’s what this is, packaged in a dishonest effort to hoodwink the public.
Prop 112 also will rob Coloradans of $7 to $9 billion in local tax revenue – dollars that fund local schools, roads, housing and other government services. According to one study, more than 82 percent of all oil and gas tax revenue goes directly to the communities where production occurs. How does Becker propose dealing with this potential loss of revenue?
This isn’t just about energy companies and workers. Virtually everyone benefits, directly or indirectly, from a strong energy economy. If you’re a lawyer, teacher, insurance agent or car salesperson, the loss of this energy sector “multiplier effect” will be felt across Colorado’s economy.
Becker’s endorsement of a measure doesn’t just put the state’s economy and budget a risk: it’s also the worst kind of hypocrisy. I don’t mean it’s hypocritical because Becker drives a car, and uses oil and gas products each day in the normal course of her life (which she does). It’s also hypocritical because, contrary to her recent claims, Becker regularly — *gasp* — deals with oil and gas lobbyists during the legislative session. Legislation passed last year to overhaul the statutory pooling requirements came about at Becker’s request, for example, and industry worked diligently with her caucus members to get the bill passed.
Though she may not share this with her constituents, or her radical Green Lobby pals, Becker’s dirty little secret is that she’s more of a friend to industry than she lets on. For instance, she’s scheduled to be a headline presenter on October 2 at the Heikkinen Energy Conference in Denver, an annual event that gives Wall Street investment banks advice on how best to invest in oil and gas companies in Colorado.
What? KC, say it ain’t so! In fact, she’s so cozy with those particular oil and gas interests that this is her second year to present. That doesn’t seem to square with her support for a measure that could kill thousands of energy jobs, in a bow to environmental extremists.
Call it hypocrisy, or maybe she’s just being “strategic.” Becker probably suspects that Prop 112 will fail, once voters become informed on the issue, and her backing of a doomed measure gives her a low-risk way to please radicals in Boulder and across the state. That is the only explanation for this move, since no public servant, who actually had the best interests of Coloradans at heart, would endorse a measure that dooms the state economy the way this one does.
Doing that goes beyond just hypocrisy, and surely represents the height of political irresponsibility.
Ray Scott is a Republican State Senator representing Senate District 7 on Colorado’s Western Slope.