The circus and the sideshows that promise to occupy state lawmakers

“The Legislature is a circus that is dominated by its sideshows.” — former Colorado House Speaker Ron Strahle, R-Fort Collins.

It might have been appropriate to use the old cliché that we should all lock our doors because lawmakers are going back to work. Somehow, that seemed too easy the day before Colorado legislators begin their 2012 work in Denver.

But, as Daily Sentinel political reporter Charles Ashby outlined on Monday’s front page, there’ll be no shortage of issues (and sideshows) to occupy the attention of Reps. Laura Bradford and Ray Scott, and Sen. Steve King and their House and Senate colleagues of both parties from the time they convene tomorrow morning to the end of their session in early May.

Important issues start and end with the budget, a spending plan that might benefit some from the beginnings of an upswing in Colorado’s economy but is still likely to cause a fair amount of pain. Subsets of the budget discussion include impacts to education and transportation funding, issues that have potentially negative impacts on all of Colorado for another financial cycle and are of particular concern in rural areas.

Unfortunately, the circus and its sideshows may dominate much of the session. As Ashby outlined, 2012 being an election year will cause plenty of problems. One example came yesterday, before the session even started, when the Republican Study Committee convened its own extra-curricular budget hearing, inviting conservatives to outline their budget priorities.

Nothing like drawing a line in the sand before either the governor or the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee weigh in on spending.

Democrats and Republicans are posturing over whether property tax exemptions for seniors or other program dollars, including education, should be reinstated. Battle lines are being drawn between incumbents forced into the same legislative districts when lines were redrawn.

While no statewide offices are up for grabs this year, presidential politics will certainly color the legislative back and forth. Every bit of pawing and snorting will eat up limited debate time in the 120-day session, leaving incrementally less time for serious problem solving.

“Divisive, contentious, downright cold,” were the descriptors Ashby used to open his examination of the upcoming legislative session. He’s likely not too far off the mark.

Another piece in the Sentinel last week, about Tillie Bishop’s decision not to seek re-election to the University of Colorado Board of Regents, highlights another reason for concern about the upcoming legislative session and its potential impacts on western Colorado and Mesa County in particular.

Like anyone who’s served in public office, I have a special appreciation for those who accept the responsibility to act on behalf of the rest of us. That includes King, Scott and Bradford. However, it’s safe to say our current legislators lack the clout of Bishop and many past lawmakers when it comes to solving statewide problems or protecting our parochial interests.

Tillie’s tracks are deep, as evidenced by such accomplishments as being one of the founders of Great Outdoors Colorado, his leadership and understanding regarding education funding and, perhaps just as important, his willingness to work on a bipartisan basis to get things done.

Other local lawmakers with similar accomplishments and attitudes during their time in Denver included folks like the late Jim Robb, Dan Prinster, former House Majority Leader Tim Foster, Paul Brown, Matt Smith, and former Joint Budget Committee members Ron Teck, Bernie Buescher and Gayle Berry.

Let’s just say that our current lawmakers have a way to go before any of them demonstrate the kind of leadership that their predecessors exhibited. It’s also interesting to note that most, if not all, of those former legislators would have a tough time getting nominated or elected in the current political climate here in Happy Valley.

That’s too bad, especially in a session where various sideshows may dominate the circus.

“Where there is not leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”  — Harry S. Truman.


Jim Spehar hopes for the best from the 2012 session of the Colorado Legislature, but that means he’ll also be surprised. Your thoughts are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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Jim - You’re exactly right. Compared to many who have represented us in the past, our current crop of legislators (King, Scott, Bradford) are lightweights at best. I don’t expect anything of substance or significance to come from them (especially King) in the upcoming session. But then, they’re Republicans, so what else can you expect?

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