2023 Leg Session, Cory Gaines, Politics, Proposition HH, Uncategorized

Gaines: Regular Coloradans getting shut out of legislative process

One of the many things that makes Colorado unique (and a wonderful place to live) are all the opportunities our state Constitution affords for people to be directly involved in the making of laws.  If you have some extra time, and a thirst for some light reading, go look up the Colorado Constitution, Article V, Section 1, and note how much text is given over to the rights of the people in making laws vs. that of legislators.

As part of running my own substack newsletter, I frequently encourage people to get involved with their government, the legislative process especially.  I’m not going to hide the fact that I’m conservative (though registered as unaffiliated after switching over from Libertarian), and want more conservative voices speaking up in blue Colorado, but I do sincerely wish everyone of every political bent to get involved.  The more voices we have in this state, the better in my view.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that we, the ordinary people of this state, are losing our right to be involved.  We’re not losing it by any overt act per se, but rather we are losing it effectively by scheduling, something readily apparent since the passage of the legislation earlier this year that enabled Proposition HH and the current special legislative session.

I have always been a believer in practicing what you preach, and thus I do try my best to be politically involved.  I write emails and I speak up at committee hearings.  Having a full time job and family means I can’t do as much of this as I’d like, but I pick a few bills or issues and focus my time there.  What I am finding more and more, however, is that the people that are speaking up are those I would call the “professional political class”.

If you’ve ever heard a Colorado policymaker discuss stakeholders, that’s one group (oh, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you, despite paying for a lot of this stuff, are not what lawmakers consider a stakeholder).  You’ll also hear local governments, business associations, trade associations, and the like.  I also hear quite often from advocates, people whose job it is to testify at these things.  Oh, and let’s not forget the lobbyists.

What I don’t hear are people like myself.  Ordinary Coloradans who foot the bills and live with the laws.  Let’s stop here and take a quick second to remind ourselves that we bear some of this responsibility.  You should be speaking up and if you’re not, I encourage you to start now.  If you’re stuck on good, feasible ways to do so, watch my newsletter or contact me through same.

All the same, a good chunk of the reason why the professional political class are the only ones at these hearings is that it’s their job.  They have the kind of time to devote to research bills and rules, then quickly turn around and attend the meetings where these measures are debated.  A quick change in hearing times or a sped-up schedule is no problem.  At least for them.

This is especially notable with the hurried special session the legislature started last week.  Despite, as Senate President Steve Fenberg noted in a recent article, some of the draft bills being put out publicly before the session, and despite my best efforts, I could not make the timing work to testify on the single bill I wanted to speak about.  I signed up the morning of the start of the special session to testify and by the time I got the ball rolling, I was told the bill had been sent to the Senate for a vote.  I doubt this would have been different with a different bill.

On top of that, I want you to think back to when the bill that created Proposition HH was passed.  Even some dedicated advocates who have more time than I do were caught flat-footed with the bill being in and out of committee faster than a silver bullet stuck in the butt of a bat out of hell.

Given this, how in the world is an ordinary person supposed to get involved here? What about someone who’s older and who might struggle with the technology to do remote testimony and getting set up to testify?  What about someone who has commitments sufficient that they don’t have time to review draft bills (even with a day’s notice)?  What about someone struggling to keep up with the rapid changes as the bill moves from place to place?

Does our legislature think those voices don’t matter?  Or do they think, to borrow more recent cavalier words from Senator Fenberg, “those are the rules”?  I’d ask you to think over the legislature’s recent actions to weigh an answer to that.

This is not how it should be.  I don’t know about you, but agree or disagree with any one particular policy choice, it is our right to speak up and that right is being effectively removed by rapid timetables.  We need more than just lobbyists, local governments, and activists speaking, especially since ultimately it’s you and I that bear the cost of any particular choice.

Our policymakers should be worried more about quality than quickness.  They should be worried about a broad base of support and including more voices than just the usual crowd buzzing around the Capitol.  They won’t do that without us holding them to it, however.  I urge you to follow my lead:  speak up when and where you have time.  And make sure that this includes writing your state Representative and Senator (and Governor Polis) to tell them to slow down and leave some room for the rest of us to get involved.

Cory Gaines lives in Sterling on Colorado’s Eastern Plains and writes at the Colorado Accountability Project substack.


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