2021 Leg Session, Columnists, Gold Dome, Jon Caldara, Politics

Caldara: Legislature set to grow Colorado’s political class

The design of our republican form of government is unique, made to prevent a ruling class. This was particularly true in Colorado. Was.

We want the person who represents us at the State Capitol to actually be one of us, deal with the same day-to-day issues and challenges as us. That’s the whole point of a citizen government.

Legislators, and those who work for them, are regular people who give a portion of their time to public service, but it’s not their full-time gig.

It’s why our limited legislative session starts in the dead of winter, allowing legislators, many of whom were farmers and ranchers, to get home in time for their real work of spring planting and calving.

In 1988, we voters of Colorado doubled down on this idea of a part-time legislature by reducing the legislative session to 120 calendar days. It was sold to us that those 120 calendar days meant consecutive days.

But using the excuse of COVID, our progressive state Supreme Court ruled calendar days don’t need to be consecutive. The legislature can spread them out all year if they wanted.

Try that with your loan company. “Yes, I know the contract says I need to pay you in 30 calendar days, but I hear that doesn’t mean consecutive, so I’ll pay you, eh, whenever.”

It’s further proof that our growing Colorado ruling class, like that in D.C., gets to live by a different set of rules.

Now the race to build a full-time, year-round class of “professional” legislators and staff is in high gear. The next step is to unionize legislative staffers and give them full government employee benefits.

Traditionally staffers are mostly paid interns and often just volunteers who work part time during the limited session helping state legislators with paperwork and constituent communications, a great way to understand the inner workings of state government and gain experience.

Unlike Washington, D.C., Colorado legislators don’t have a cadre of paid office staff. Usually two legislators share a part-time staffer just as they share tight offices.

Don’t get too comfy. Your real job is back home and don’t forget it.

Colorado Democrats use more paid staff time than their Republican counterparts. Last year Republican senate staffers put in an average of 14.7 hours per week and Democrat staffers put in 19.

Whether R or D it’s pretty clear these mostly young adults don’t even put in half time, and that’s for only a 120-day maximum.

Quick math. Since the legislature takes off weekends, the Capitol folks work only 86 days max. And even the Democrat staffers don’t work half-time during those 86 days. So, at most half of 86 is 43 full workdays.

Yet, Senate Bill 244 would give part-time aides access to full government-employee benefits like health-care coverage and Colorado’s sumptuous public retirement pension, PERA.

So why are the progressives pushing this? Well first to build a professional, year-round political class a la Washington, D.C., and California.

State representatives and their aides who make their main income in the private sector are going to look at Colorado’s rush to socialism differently than people who get their gravy from taxpayer spending.

The other reason is raw political campaigning hardball — getting us to pay for a politician’s re-election victory.

Most aides and paid staffers are picked from a legislator’s campaign crew. So, when they’re not working those 43 days a year as an aid for that guy they worked to get elected, they can be working to get him re-elected.

SB-244 will not only be the single largest increase in personnel cost in the history for our part-time, citizen legislature, it will be a colossal in-kind campaign contribution to incumbents.

Their campaign workers will now have benefits and a lucrative public pension, all at taxpayer expense. Not bad for working only 43 days for government and the rest of the other 365 days campaigning.

If this insult to citizen government passes, the legislature has an ethical duty to amend it with a Colorado version of the federal Hatch Act to prohibit civil servants, including staffers, from engaging in political activity like campaigning.

If our progressive courts, legislature and governor are going to create a D.C.-style political class in Colorado, then we need the D.C.-style protection to prevent government employees from getting paid by taxpayers to campaign.

Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.

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