News flash: Legislative actions 
are often influenced by politics

“War has rules, mud wrestling has rules — politics has no rules.” — Ross Perot

I am shocked, shocked, I tell you.

You must be too.

Apparently, politics is being committed at the state Capitol, where the annual legislative session is now under way. 

Republicans in the Colorado Senate are also outraged and amazed, according to news reports last week, including the story by Charles Ashby in Sunday’s Daily Sentinel. 

Senate Republicans held a news conference in Denver midweek to complain that their bills were not being given a fair hearing and were being consigned to a “kill” committee. Earlier last week, they wrongly complained that one bill was being purposely delayed past a legislative deadline for introduction and scheduling, a mistake they later admitted.

Oh, the horror!

That Senate committee, the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, is indeed the committee where bad, and sometimes good, legislation is sent to an early demise. There’s a similar committee in the state House of Representatives.

A few things come to mind in digesting this startling turn of events.

As Ashby reported, the Senate’s committee, commonly known as the State Affairs Committee, was established for just that purpose about three decades ago — back when Republicans were in control, and they apparently knew how to spell M-A-J-O-R-I-T-Y.

As in the GOP majority a few short years ago, when then-House Speaker Frank McNulty sent legislation that would have allowed civil unions to the House “kill” committee.

Then the worm turned. Legislative Republicans had to turn to their dictionaries for the spelling of M-I-N-O-R-I-T-Y and what was a “bad” idea on civil unions morphed into Colorado law in the 2013 session.

I’m certain there are many other examples, from both sides of the aisle on the use of these two kill committees. 

Before local GOP activists get too worked up about all this, they may want to check in with a couple of former lawmakers. Maybe former legislative leaders Tim Foster and Josh Penry would help clarify the history and purpose and perhaps their own use of the kill committees. If memory serves, former state Sen. Tillie Bishop once served on the committee that minority GOP leaders in the Senate were complaining about last week.

Too often, today’s political reporting is little more than a “he said, she said” rehash of charges from one side or another about wrongs, both real and imagined. We’re lucky to have a few reporters left, the Sentinel’s Ashby and Joe Hanel of the Durango Herald among them, who dig a little deeper to provide context when the skirmishes make headlines.

In addition to the history of the Senate’s kill committee, Ashby’s story also pointed out that bills assigned to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee so far this session total 19. That’s too many, according to GOP Sen. Kevin Lundberg. He thinks Democrats should be more accommodating, since they now have just a one-vote majority.

The last time there was a similarly slim majority, Ashby pointed out, was back in 2004, when Republicans were in control of the Senate. That session, GOP leaders sent 22 bills by Democrats to their demise in the committee.

I’d insert a quote on hypocrisy here, but readers will get the point without one.

This may not be the sort of textbook civics proclaimed in the classroom. It is the kind of reality-based politics that permeates decision-making processes at all levels of government. It’s a byproduct of our elective process, where sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.

It’s been more than a few years since I attempted to influence the Legislature — either as an officer of county and municipal government associations or as a registered lobbyist. But some things endure the passage of time.

The fact that politics, petty and practical and sometimes profound, is a factor in legislative outcomes will always be one of them and should come as no surprise, whichever political party is temporarily pulling the strings.

If anything proves that, it is the whining from supposedly surprised and conveniently outraged Senate GOP leaders last week.

 

Jim Spehar is very happy to be watching the Colorado Legislature from afar. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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