Last Thursday, a group of about 30 people joined Citizens Project and the Independent for a day up in Denver to watch the Colorado Legislature in action. Watching the politicians make laws was much like observing the chaos of daily life inside a fraternity as jovial pals slapped each others' backs, scarfed down corporate freebie,s and generally made each other feel really, really important.
First off, we watched our lawmakers porking down on a free breakfast courtesy of the Colorado Private School Association (just one of hundreds of lobbyists who ply lawmakers with delectable vittles throughout the 120-day session just because they are so dang nice, not because they want anything, mind you).
Then, we went over to the House and Senate galleries. Perched above the hallowed chambers, we observed as the lawmakers fawned over the bottles of 2-liter soda pop, which agricultural lobbyists had left on each of their desks, and wandered about chatting with their colleagues, many of them paying scant attention to the official proceedings going on around them. In the Senate, everyone shared a nice bipartisan guffaw when Sen. Ron Tupa, a Boulder Democrat, began discussing one of his bills and started talking about "motorsickles."
"What the heck is a motorsickle?" Tupa chuckled into the microphone.
After the formal day's hearings, many lawmakers headed into committee meetings to talk about whether their proposed laws are any good, and if so, whether they should proceed to the full House and Senate floors for a vote.
That day, the House committees talked about whether to create a special American flag license plate and whether Enterprise Zones should be expanded to rural parts of the state, enabling companies to get big tax breaks if they relocate there.
Meanwhile, the Senate Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee grappled over the state's butterfat standards while the Senate Education Committee discussed whether to repeal part of the state's Open Records Act. Specifically, the University of Colorado wants to be able to meet in secret to decide who should be offered honorary degrees and get buildings named after them. Now this is an interesting non-quandary. The current chairwoman of the CU Board of Regents, Maureen Ediger, testified that, currently, anyone can nominate someone for an honorary degree from CU, which has campuses in Colorado Springs, Denver and Boulder.
By state law, anyone can go to the honor awards committee meetings and listen to the reasons why CU Regents and other members want to -- or don't want to -- bestow an honorary degree to someone or name a building after him or her. Many of those people who are nominated are also substantial financial contributors to the college. So, Ediger said, even though it has never actually been a problem before, they don't want contributors to potentially be humiliated if the news were to get out that they were nominated, and then rejected.
The Democratic and Republican legislators agreed that would be horrible indeed. Even a lobbyist for the Colorado Press Association (Greg Romberg, who, it should be noted, also happens to serve on the board of Front Range Community College) showed up to say that constricting the Open Records law would be just fine with him. Romberg's support of the proposal led Tupa -- that above-mentioned Boulder Democrat and sponsor of the bill in question -- to quip, "Politicians make strange bedfellows -- I was about to say bedwetters!" What a cut-up!
Anyway, the Senate committee unanimously agreed on an 8-0 vote to change Colorado's Open Records law so large financial contributors to the University of Colorado won't potentially be embarrassed. Why, you wonder, didn't they just instead ask CU to change their rules to avoid potential embarrassing situations with their rich donors instead of asking their pals in the Legislature to change state law to invite secrecy -- however trifling -- in government? Good question. Unfortunately, that idea never came up.
Anyway, after the committees were finished deliberating on these weighty measures, it was time for lunch. A few Democratic governor hopefuls dropped in on our group to deliver stump speeches, as did several GOP lawmakers. Now, many of El Paso County's all-Republican, 13-member conservative delegation would probably have rather gone to the free lunch at Planned Parenthood than stop off to visit their moderate-to-liberal group of Citizens Projectsponsored constituents dining on turkey sandwiches in a church basement a block away from the capitol. But State Sen. Doug Lamborn and Reps. Keith King and Mark Cloer were kind enough to stop by to say hello.
In this era when public servants would rather get a free bottle of soda pop than meet the people they represent, those three Republicans get our accessibility award of the week.