Newest legislators hope to quickly straighten learning curve

Rep.-elect Ray Scott packs a suitcase in the bedroom of his Orchard Mesa home before heading to Denver for the new legislative session. He will represent District 54. “I don’t mind admitting that I’ve got a heck of a lot to learn,” Scott says.

Rep.-elect Ray Scott already knows he’ll make mistakes in the statehouse. Every freshman lawmaker does.

But the Grand Junction Republican who will be sworn into office when the Colorado Legislature convenes the 2011 session Wednesday already knows what he’ll do when that happens: Laugh it off and move on.

“The procedures are what are tough to learn, and I don’t mind admitting that I’ve got a heck of a lot to learn,” Scott said. “I’ll get it, though. We’ve been warned about all kinds of things. But like leadership told us, every one of us are going to mess up, so don’t take it personal.”

The Western Slope will see two of its state representatives move into the Senate next week, and it will have four new legislators representing the region in the Colorado House. All have their own expectations when they get there, but all say they don’t expect to change the world, just their small sections of it.

“We need to go in and address that size of government. That’s what I’m looking at,” said Rep.-elect Don Coram, R-Montrose. “Beyond that, I just want to represent my district.”

Like Scott, Coram said he has struggled with learning legislative procedures, even questioning a few of them. For example, when a bill gets final approval in the House or Senate, the procedure allows any representative or senator to tack their name onto it. Called co-sponsoring a measure, it’s a way to take credit for a bill without having to do any actual work on it.

“That’s bull, really,” Coram said. “I think that’s a goofy rule. The place is a little overstructured. It could be done a little less formal and be just as effective. Still, I’m reading and reading and rereading the rules.”

Coram said he wants to learn those rules as best he can because he knows that without a clear understanding of them, other lawmakers could run roughshod over his measures.

Jean White, who was appointed to Senate District 8 to replace her husband, longtime legislator Al White, after he accepted a position as head of the Colorado Tourism Office under Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper, already knows the rules fairly well.

That’s because she has been at her husband’s side the entire 10 years he has been in office, even serving as his legislative assistant for part of that time. As a result, the only adjustment she expects to deal with is nestling into the cushy chairs on the floor of the Senate where her husband used to sit. As a visitor, she was restricted to sitting on the benches lining the chamber.

“It’ll be a little bit different than what I’m used to because I’ve always been an observer and never voted,” she said. “But that’s about the only difference. I’ve paid attention and know what’s going on, so that gives me an advantage. I know the process.”

White was selected for one of the two committees she requested: Senate Business Affairs, Labor & Technology. She also wanted to be named to the Senate Agriculture Committee because of the rural nature of her northwest Colorado district, but her other panel instead will be the Senate Health & Human Services Committee.

Regardless, she said she will be able to focus on the issues she wants: tourism and small business.

“That new director is definitely passionate about tourism, and I support it, too,” she said, referring to her husband. “Tourism obviously is a critical issue, and I’m really pleased with the new director. I think he’ll handle it well.

“But my focus is on small business. I want to do what I can to help businesses succeed, and I’ll do everything I can in that. It’s the road to economic recovery.”

The only new Democrat joining the Legislature this year from the region is Rep.-elect Roger Wilson, D-Glenwood Springs. Wilson said he is confident he understands the rules enough to get by, at least at first, and he hopes he can do what he needs to, even though he’s a member of the minority party in the Colorado House.

Beyond that, the freshman is feeling a bit anxious about the session and hopes to settle into it soon enough.

“The experience of training was described as a firehose, and I fully expect that sense to continue,” Wilson said. “However, one of the things you get when you’ve had some experience in life with various jobs and positions is you become better at managing your priorities and getting things done.”

Though Sens.-elect Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, have served in the House for a number of years, they are considered freshmen when it comes to the Senate.

They’re leaving a chamber where the Republicans just took control by a narrow 33–32 margin. As a result, they remain in the minority when they enter the upper chamber, where Democrats have a 20–15 advantage.


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