(Denver Post, Apr. 28) Watch closely as the legislature enters its final ten days of the 2013 session. This year is shaping up as a game-changer for the way Coloradans govern ourselves and seek the common good.
Over the decades, we’ve seen a Republican-led House and Senate confronting a Democratic governor, and vice versa. We’ve seen the House and Senate controlled by opposite parties. We’ve seen the GOP in complete control, as they were briefly under Gov. Bill Owens, and the Dems in complete control, as they are now under Gov. John Hickenlooper.
But never in my 40 years here have we seen so aggressive an ideological agenda rammed through by one party – and with a nasty kicker in the form of rigged election rules that could lock in the dominant party’s gains for a generation. That’s what I mean by game-changer.
House Speaker Mark Ferrandino and Senate President John Morse, with Hickenlooper riding along, have done nothing wrong. Democrats got the car keys when voters turned over five House seats last November, and their leaders wasted no time in steering leftward and mashing the accelerator. Fair enough.
It’s been a joyride for the Obamian progressives. The result for Colorado working families, however, may be a hollow feeling like that bumper sticker you’ve seen: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.” After this year’s liberal legislative rout, we’ll all be diminished as citizens – because bigger, bossier government is on the way.
Majority Dems in both chambers are decent people with good intentions. Most are sensible enough to see the joke in saying you’re from the government and you’re here to help me. Yet they’re also utopian enough to think that in their own case, it’s really true. So from a leftist viewpoint, no doubt their 2013 agenda looked noble. But not when viewed from the right.
For all of us who believe that citizens’ possibilities are nearly unlimited when government is limited, the future that Morse, Ferrandino, and Hickenlooper envision is a very different Colorado than we’ve known – a Colorado where opportunity and liberty are narrowed.
Look at what this legislature has done with the bills that have already passed, or that are likely to pass before adjournment on May 8. They’ve impaired job-creators and employers to the advantage of unions and trial lawyers. They’ve obstructed oil and gas production and raised the cost of electricity with draconian green mandates. Economic growth will be the worse for it.
They’ve infringed the constitutional right of self-defense with unenforceable universal background checks and pointless ammunition restrictions. The emotional outlet of passing such laws won’t prevent the next Aurora massacre – but it may embolden the next Tsarnaev brothers.
There’s more. The legislature has signaled “Come on in” to border-jumpers and visa-jumpers with subsidized college tuitions and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants. If this is the rule of law, Chris Christie is a ballerina.
They’ve doubled down on a dysfunctional Medicaid program – unsatisfactory for patients and providers alike – by expanding it with megabucks of borrowed federal money; the same money Dick Lamm recently called “economic cocaine” in these pages. And that money will soon taper off, sticking Coloradans with the tab; the same Coloradans this legislature hopes will raise school taxes by a billion dollars.
The diabolically clever topper is something called House Bill 1303. It mandates fraud-friendly same-day voter registration. Upon its passage (effective even this fall), presto – Democrats will have tilted the electoral playing field permanently their way. Republican chances for regaining power and repealing any of this stuff will fade.
When progressives in 1913 passed the income tax, currency manipulation by the Fed, and new election rules for senators, they gave us a very different America. Progressives’ legislative rout in 2013 will give us a very different Colorado. Brace yourself.
('76 Contributor) Filed Friday, May 6: Redistricting of Colorado’s seven Congressional districts is entering its final weekend, at least for the regular Colorado legislative session. Absent agreement or a special session called by the Governor, the lines will drawn by the Courts.
Editor: David Kerber is a new contributor. He is an attorney, a Greenwood Village councilman, and former chairman of the Arapahoe County Republican Party. The clarity and common sense of his analysis on this complex issue is not diminished by the passage of a week and the non-passage (as he foresaw) of any redistricting bill prior to legislative adjournment on May 11. Kerber's most brilliant point - obvious, yet too seldom noted - is in his next to last paragraph, which diagnoses the disease of over-government as the real reason that struggles over congressional district lines have become so intense.
The purpose of Congressional redistricting is, of course, to provide as equal representation on a numerical basis in the US House of Representatives, the peoples House. This issue is difficult when a new congressional district is added or when one is lost, the latter, a scenario that Colorado has never had to face.
Colorado Republicans took the tact of keeping the same Congressional boundaries and adjusting them for shifts of population within the state focusing on communities of interest. The Democrats threw the prior map out and drafted districts on a clean slate with the hope of creating as many competitive districts as possible. The resultant Democratic map unified such diverse editorial boards as the Boulder Daily Camera, the Colorado Springs Gazette and the Pueblo Chieftain in condemning the plan. The initial map combined Boulder with Grand Junction and Parker with Durango.
Responding to universal scorn, the Democrats issued second map last Wednesday which although better still created a western horseshoe shaped district which included Boulder and Douglas Counties and radically altered the 5th Congressional District, The Democrat map would change Congressional districts for 1 million Coloradoans.
Just last year, the Democrats passed a bill to give criteria for a court should the legislature fail in its duty to create these districts. Mandatory considerations were the US Constitutional requirement for equal numerical representation such that the districts must be constructed to be within one numerical soul of each other. (The fact that such required mathematical exactitude is based on the Census that we all can agree is not perfect along with the usual deaths, births and movement of our citizenry since the census is a puzzling.) The mandatory criterion is to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Then neutral factors that may be considered are: (1) the preservation of Political subdivisions; (2) The preservations of communities of interest including ethnic, cultural, economic, trade area geographic and demographic factors; (3) The compactness of each congressional district; and (4) minimization of disruption of prior district lines. HB 10-1048.
There is no reference to creating competitive districts. In fact, a Democrat bill which would have included competitive districts as a factor was defeated in the Democrat controlled legislature. Nevertheless, the Democrat philosophy of competitive Districts is what is keeping a compromise from being reached.
The thought that competitive districts can be created is a utopian illusion. As mentioned above, the population is constantly shifting, and a good voter registration campaign or purging the voter rolls of those who have moved or are deceased would ruin the Democrats’ carefully crafted competitive district proposals.
The drawing of Congressional District lines has always been a political act, and the Courts have universally determined that it has no jurisdiction to challenge the wisdom of any legislatively drawn districts. The abuse of the legislative process is practice known as, gerrymandering, and has been used by both parties to create as many safe districts for their members as they can by drawing perverse boundaries the sole purpose of which is to gain political advantage. Each party condemns the practice, but engages in it so frequently, that each side expects that the other is engaging in it even if one party or the other tries to draw the lines in a non partisan manner.
The reality is that there is no trust that anyone will draw the lines fairly. There is a presumption of bad faith and if one can only examine the lines with sophisticated mathematical models; it will reveal the assumed cheating that the participants agree must exist. One answer is that those who draw the lines should not have access to voter registration numbers, but no one trusts that the participants won’t access the data surreptitiously and therefore cheat. We are back to the same problem that no one trusts anyone.
However, the real problem is not one of drawing lines or criteria but that it makes so much of a difference. The federal government now has control over our roads, the air we breath, the water we drink, what our children are taught, us what kind of lights we use in our houses, the technology for how our toilets are flushed and a large hand taking money out of our bank accounts. Whoever controls Congress controls these decisions and therefore controls us. We have given our far too much of a say over our lives to those who are selected in a much too flawed process.
To allow redistricting to go to a judge, single unelected individual, who has neither the time nor expertise to make these decisions, would truly be a failure of our legislative bodies. In Court, the parties would gather hundreds of thousands of dollars to present their legal cases only to achieve what would most assuredly be a flawed result. This is money that could be spent publicly or privately for K-12, higher education, health care, or a hand up for our neighbors who are going through tough times. Until we can reclaim control of our lives from our government, I would hope our legislators suspend their natural suspicion and cynicism and come to a resolution.
(Centennial Fellow) Gerrymandering - the conspicuous, irregular manipulating of electoral district boundaries to advantage one political party or candidate - is widely considered a distasteful, if not downright corrupt, practice.
Through gerrymandering, incumbent politicians seek to choose their voters rather than vice versa, packing their legislative or congressional districts with enough like-minded constituents to make re-election almost effortless.
Rather than conform to statutory or geographic boundaries (county lines, city limits, mountain ranges, watersheds), gerrymandering eviscerates those boundaries for the purpose of achieving a specific result on Election Day.
A certain amount of boundary manipulation is inevitable in order to achieve population equality. However, as we've seen with the proposed congressional maps drawn by Colorado Democrats, political manipulation is standard operating procedure and historic communities of interest are sacrificed:
· Western Slope residents needlessly are split between two districts - one that stretches to Boulder, another that borders Kansas and meanders from Pueblo, along the outskirts of Colorado Springs and, most egregiously, into several Denver metro counties.
· Likewise, the vote of rural Eastern Plains voters is diluted by boundaries that split those counties roughly along Interstate 70.
· The Democrat stronghold of Denver remains whole, while the Republican fortress in El Paso County is divided.
· Except for Denver, each of the eight most populous counties in the state are divided among multiple districts. (Drawing a map that leaves five of those counties whole is so easy a third-grader could do it.)
Diluted voting strength is a particularly sensitive issue for rural voters because their communities, for the most part, aren't growing as rapidly as the Front Range.
Census data sets the target population for each of Colorado's seven congressional districts at 717,022. Denver metro area counties total almost 2.8 million - nearly enough for four districts. Add El Paso, Pueblo, Larimer and Weld counties and the Front Range accounts for 4.1 million or just shy of six districts.
That leaves just 901,144 in non-metro counties. Western Slope, San Luis Valley and mountain counties tally 659,986, while the Eastern Plains and Arkansas Valley populations number 241,158 people.
Splitting rural voters into two districts is unavoidable. Splitting them into three just to diminish their voting strength is unnecessary and gratuitously insulting.
In recent redistricting cycles, Democrats have endorsed the phony cause of creating politically competitive districts.
However, drawing boundaries for the primary purpose of creating competitive districts is gerrymandering, too. Just as maps drawn to favor Democrats or Republicans arbitrarily divide voters to manipulate election results, maps drawn to achieve "competitiveness" do the same.
Competitive districts are a ruse. Each party wants to tilt these competitive districts to be certain their party has an edge. Even if a truly "toss up" district could be crafted for the 2012 election, that same district will predictably favor one party or the other after an election or two. (Consider Congressional District 7, the crown jewel of competitiveness when it was created in 2002: Republican Bob Beauprez won by 126 votes and was re-elected in 2004. By 2010, Democrat Ed Perlmutter won re-election by almost 22,000 votes against a strong opponent in a watershed Republican year.)
If creating competitive districts is truly the goal, then no boundaries should be sacred. Slice and dice the state into seven districts, each of which could be won either party. That's statistically possible given that Colorado voters are so evenly divided.
We all know that won't happen. Incumbents in Congress don't want to work that hard election after election and neither do all the "wannabe" Congressmen or Congresswomen now serving in the state legislature.
So, it's time for legislators to stop hiding behind ulterior motives and instead to draw sensible districts that respect Colorado's geographic, historic and socio-economic interests. Even with that as a starting point, political horse-trading and gamesmanship will necessarily figure into the process.
After all, it's impossible to take the politics out of an inherently political exercise.
Mark Hillman was a state senator during Colorado's last redistricting battle, spanning the legislative sessions of 2001, 2002, and 2003, along with two trips through the courts. He is now the Republican national committeeman for Colorado and a Centennial Institute Fellow.
(Centennial Fellow) As Republican majorities take the reins of power both in Congress and in the Colorado House of Representatives, they carry the lofty expectations of their supporters alongside the inconvenient reality that Democrats still control half of the legislative branch plus the executive.
Practically speaking, Republicans can do only so much, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are powerless. Here’s what a good strategy for the next two years might look like:
First, kill bad bills. There’s truth in the maxim, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” Legislation that empowers bureaucrats or creates new opportunities for litigation simply cannot be “fixed,” so kill it.
Taxpayers will breathe a sigh of relief if they know that certain bills are dead on arrival. This should include tax increases, new mandates that require businesses and families to spend after-tax dollars on things bureaucrats or lobbyists think we supposedly need.
Republicans should also see to it that the wish lists of labor unions, trial lawyers and nanny-statists aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
Next, govern effectively. Republicans will be expected to work with Democrats. That’s fine, up to a point, but that must be a two-way street.
Since neither party can get everything it wants, Republicans should repeatedly establish the principles of fiscally-responsible, taxpayer-friendly, market-oriented, pro-growth governance in every debate. Get government out of the way and unleash the productivity and creativity of the people. Let Democrats continue to make the tired argument that politicians and bureaucrats are smarter than the rest of us.
At every opportunity, voters should see the contrast between pro-growth, pro-freedom policies and the bankrupt liberal agenda.
In Congress, Republicans have a chance to regain their credibility as the party of limited government, balanced budgets, and economic growth. They dare not squander this opportunity.
By requiring every piece of legislation to explain how it falls within Congress’s constitutional authority, Republicans have already instituted a rule that, if adhered to, could cause a seismic shift in the political culture. Remember when Nancy Pelosi, asked where the Constitution gives Congress authority to implement ObamaCare, responded incredulously, “Are you serious?”
Yes, Nancy, we are serious.
Spending bills must originate in the U.S. House, so Republicans can restore sanity to runaway spending which soared from $24,000 per household prior to the recession to $36,000 under the Obama budgets. Congress should require that unspent “stimulus” funds be returned and committed to deficit reduction.
Finally, Congress can use its oversight authority to expose arrogant bureaucrats who would choke off access to domestic oil and gas supplies, impose costly regulations on energy production, and tax or regulate the internet.
At the State Capitol, all bills to raise revenue must originate in the House, according to the state constitution. Nothing that emits even a whiff of tax increase should leave the State Capitol without the constitutionally-required vote of the people. And after more than $1 billion in surreptitious in tax and fee increases over the past four years, voters are in no mood.
Republican legislators should lay down a few markers: no more “fees” that simply raise money for general government purposes, no more mandates that require consumers to buy insurance coverage they don’t want or cannot afford, and no more regulations that increase the cost of energy to consumers.
Above all else, elected Republicans must remember: “Don’t go native.”
Last November, many people with different ideas and priorities voted Republican because they were sick of Democrats spending money they didn’t have, growing government into a ubiquitous burden, piling debt on our children and grandchildren, and raising taxes with impunity.
The halls of government are full of lobbyists and bureaucrats who advocate for more government spending, more regulation and more limits on personal freedom.
Republicans’ mission is to put taxpayers back in charge by making government serve the people – reversing the liberal inclination to make people serve government.
Mark Hillman served as Colorado senate majority leader and state treasurer. He is now Colorado's Republican national committeeman, and a Centennial Institute Fellow. To read more or comment, go to www.MarkHillman.com.
(Denver Post, Jan. 9) “Yesterday, upon the stair, I met a man who wasn’t there. He wasn’t there again today. I wish, I wish he’d go away.” The little poem from a century ago should haunt Colorado’s new governor and legislature as they climb the Capitol steps and set to work this week.
John Hickenlooper is shrewdly adding Republicans as well as fellow Democrats to his cabinet, but no one has been appointed from the Tea Party. Speaker Frank McNulty, reclaiming a GOP majority for the first time since 2004, will preside over a House of 33 R’s, 32 D’s, and no T’s. Senate President Brandon Shaffer enjoys an opposite and more comfortable margin of 20 D’s, 15 R’s, and again, zero T’s.
So what? This is our state’s two-party system in the same seesaw of power we’ve known since 1876 – politics as usual. These are politically unusual times, however. The men and women who aren’t there under the gold dome in 2011, but whom our elected leaders can’t afford to ignore, are the Tea Party insurgents of the past two years.
Fewer than half of Colorado’s eligible voters turned out last November. The half that stayed home were not all Tea Partiers, of course. T’s came out in large numbers to help Republicans take the state House, unseat two Democrats from Congress, and support Tom Tancredo or Dan Maes for governor. Yet the fact remains that as campaigning now gives way to governing, T’s have no formal seat at the table. So it’s insiders beware.
The late Bill Buckley allowed LBJ only about a week in office before announcing in his magazine: “National Review’s patience with the Johnson administration is exhausted.” The Tea Party, a movement of hard-working Americans fed up with over-spending and over-government, is THAT impatient with politicians of both parties. You can imagine them sending Valentines such as these to the power-brokers at 200 E. Colfax:
“Dear Gov. Hickenlooper: No doubt you’re a good guy to have a beer with, though the motor scooter is a bit effete. But for now, forget the image stuff, park your presidential ambitions, and get the economy roaring again. Go after the unions and the spenders like you were Chris Christie. We’re dying out here. Love, Adams County.”
“Dear President Shaffer: What’s with you proposing to make it harder for us to change the state constitution? The constitution belongs to us, not to you and the other suits. Try reading it on opening day, the way Congress did. Then try again on fixing PERA, before it bankrupts the state. Respectful but steamed, Grand Junction.”
“Dear Speaker McNulty: You must have been quoted wrong about not repealing Ritter’s car tax, that outrageous affront to TABOR. When one of your members said the revenue is needed, you woodshedded him, right? Can a couple hundred of us come see you in the Old Supreme Court some afternoon? Patriotically, Pueblo.”
“Dear Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp: Please fire up your caucus to fight harder than last year against the Obama transformation agenda on things like energy and health care. The GOP is Colorado’s best hope of not turning into California or Greece, but if you don’t show us more, a bunch of us are outta here. Worried in Widefield.”
“Dear House Minority Leader Sal Pace: Ouch, a few dozen votes in the Ramirez race and you could have been Speaker. For 2012, instead of lurching left with labor, why not become a fiscal hawk, a Dick Lamm-style Democrat? We can be had. Available in Arvada.”
Government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem. So said Reagan 30 years ago this month, and the Tea Party believes it is even truer today. If Colorado’s bipartisan establishment doesn’t pay heed, it will pay dearly.
(Centennial Fellow) Four years ago, Colorado voters decided to trust Democrats with complete control of state government - the governor's mansion and large majorities in the legislature.
As voters consider their choices for 2010, they might be surprised by how little governing Democrats have trusted voters in those four years.
Since 2007, Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrat legislature have increased property taxes by more than $160 million a year, raised vehicle license "fees" by $250 million, instituted new hospital patient "fees" that will cost $600 million, and imposed some $180 million in new sales and use taxes.
All told, Ritter and the legislature have managed to increase the cost of taxes and fees by $1.19 billion and, miraculously, not once triggered Colorado's constitutional requirement that taxes can be raised only by a vote of the people.
In 2007, Democrats changed the school finance act to force most school districts to collect more property tax revenues, thereby reducing what the state spends on K-12 education. Previously, even many Democrats acknowledged that such a change must be presented to the voters.
This time, however, Democrats commandeered the political will to pass such a law and constructed a legal argument which, although rejected by a lower court, ultimately prevailed in the Colorado Supreme Court. As a result, Coloradans will pay an extra $160 million for property taxes this year alone - and more than $1 billion over six years.
Thus emboldened, the 2009 legislature smashed another of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights' (TABOR) prohibitions by eliminating the general fund spending limit without a public vote. Although Colorado Revised Statutes specifically referred to this provision as a "limitation" on the general fund, Democrats and their attorneys argued that it was instead an "allocation strategy" and, therefore, not subject to TABOR's prohibition against weakening spending limits without a public vote.
In its ruling on the 2007 property tax hike, the supreme court also signaled lawmakers that other taxes could be raised, under the guise of eliminating tax exemptions, so long as they didn't exceed TABOR revenue limit.To Democrats, suddenly everything that wasn't already taxed was merely "exempted" and a target to be taxed. So in the middle of a recession, they raised taxes on Colorado families and businesses by $180 million over two years.
However, the greatest deception is the onslaught of taxes masquerading as fees. Generally, taxes - which, according to the constitution, can't be raised without voter approval - are collected broadly and can be spent for any purpose. Fees, however, were generally understood to cover the cost of a regulatory function or of administration (e.g., licensing or registration) for which the fee is assessed.
Democrats made no pretense that the largest of their fee increases merely cover administrative expenses. Ritter suggested that the primary criterion necessary for a tax to be considered a fee is a "direct relationship" between the payer of the fee and a government activity funded by the fee.
Under this construction, it seems obvious that a new "fee" on gasoline could be imposed without a public vote so long as revenues are dedicated exclusively to highway construction or repair.
The most egregious fee - a $600 million tax on hospital services - is assessed on "outpatient and inpatient services" and ultimately paid by patients or their insurers, who receive no direct benefit in return. Ironically, Democrats dubbed this legislation, the "Health Care Affordability Act."
Together these two fees when fully implemented are projected to raise a combined $850 million a year. With fees of this magnitude, voters may never again be asked to approve a genuine tax.
Democrat candidate for governor John Hickenlooper recently said, "I think if you put issues before the public, they'll decide if it's a worthwhile investment."
That's not the way Democrats have governed for the past four years. So why should Colorado voters trust Democrats when Democrats clearly don't trust voters?
('76 Contributor) Four members of the Colorado General Assembly, two from each party and each house, reflected on the recently completed 2010 session before a crowded room at this month's Issue Monday forum, hosted by the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University. Democrat State Senator Betty Boyd, first to speak, announced that she was pleased with the legislative session’s results. The legislature fulfilled its one requirement, balancing Colorado’s budget by cutting spending in K-12 education and closing holes in tax revenue. Colorado’s government also created jobs by increasing the renewable energy standard to 30% by 2020, passing a clean jobs bill, and giving more flexibility, though cash, to institutions of higher education. The Medicaid efficiencies act fought Medicaid fraud, a healthcare transparency act allowed individuals to learn more about healthcare, and the government increased general equity by instituting gender fairness in insurance rates and campaign finance reform.After this positive general picture, Democrat Representative Mark Ferrandino promised a more specific discussion. He praised bipartisan criminal justice sentencing reform, and mentioned the fact that Colorado’s prison population is decreasing. He discussed two bills that he sponsored, the 21st century SMART government act, an attempt to maximize the performance of tax dollars, and the cap on pay-day lenders. He explained that Colorado’s budget breaks down to three major sections. Colorado spends 53% of its budget on education, 35% of it on Healthcare, and 15% on Criminal Justice. Last year, the budget fell short by 200 billion dollars, while many cuts to K-12 education, Medicaid provider rates, senior property tax exemptions, operating expenses and the number of state employees promise better returns for next year.Republican State Senator Josh Penry (pictured below) continued the positive note by praising his fellows as good legislators, but he brought a sobering perspective on the state session. Mentioning that these times present great changes and challenges, he explained the reforms to PERA(the Public Employees Retirement Association). Currently, the association operates on a 30 billion dollar unfunded liability. The association lacks resources, and the reform proposal did not gain unanimous support. Nevertheless, this session of the Colorado Congress cut benefits to existing retirees, cutting the unfunded liability in half, but failing to eliminate it. Penry also lamented the session’s lack of leadership on the budget, explaining how the Democrat majority raised taxes, repealing many exemptions, most notably the sales tax exemption on energy. Even businesses that supported tax increases in the past opposed this unprecedented increase. Penry ended on a negative note, explaining that many “cuts” merely shifted the finances of the government, and the general fund increased by 6 %.
Last, but certainly not least, Republican State Representative Amy Stephens (pictured below) continued this negative litany, to the delight of the crowd. According to Rep. Stephens, businesses described this session as the most hostile to business in Colorado history. Businesses have been “paying their fair share,” in the tax increases for the past four years. Nevertheless this session of Congress produced some successes, notably legislation against medical marijuana, cuts to PERA, flexibility in higher education, and accountability in the evaluation of teachers. Even so, she agreed with Senator Penry that the number of state employees increased to over 2,000. Many ridiculous bills that should not have been entertained passed. Stephens noted that jobs are the key to fixing the economy, and that pressure on industry will only increase unemployment. She attacked the session’s energy policy, which gave the green economy breaks, while attacking oil and gas. Raising energy quotas, she warned, will put people out of work. Socialism, for all its good intentions, only makes things worse, Rep. Stephens concluded.
Betty Boyd responded to this negative view noting that the session effected only 12 of 100 existing tax credits, and that oil and gas, in addition to green energy, gained a boost from the session. Only coal lost. She also praised Colorado’s Medicaid program as the leanest in the country, noting that 70% of its clientele are children, while 70% of its funds support the elderly. Candidates opened the question and answer session with the education reform bill. While Rep. Ferrandino stressed the importance of evaluating teachers and principals, Sen. Boyd argued that students need to have some “skin” in the CSAP game, an incentive to do well. Senator Penry brought up the question of tenure, stating that the government should be able to boot an underperforming teacher at will, but admitting that this bill, which involves a time limit of 1000 days, is a sizeable achievement. Centennial Institute moderator John Andrews noted that two bills passed by dividing the opposing party. The Republicans backed the teacher tenure bill, and the democrats supported the coal bill. Penry noted the large amount of shale finds flooding the gas market, and Rep. Stephens declared that this bill did not represent Obama’s mandates, but a compromise that supported states’ rights. Amy Stephens voiced her concern for one bill in particular, which would provide transparency on the origins of gifts, grants and donations which fund the state government. She noted that, if early childhood education was founded by Focus on the Family, many complaints would arise, and that citizens should be concerned about the businesses that fund the government.Mike Fallon, candidate for U.S. Representative of Colorado’s First District, voiced his concern that cutting the reimbursement to Medicaid drives people from primary care into the hospital. As a doctor, he noted that, as costs for private insurance increase, thanks to Medicaid cuts, citizens opt out of insurance, visiting the Emergency Room for basic care. This shift decreases the cost that the government has to pay for healthcare, while increasing its cost to the consumer and the market. Mark Ferrandino responded by stating that we need higher reimbursement cuts, rather than rate cuts. In short, the government should not fully reimburse doctors for caring for Medicaid patients. This did not address Fallon’s complaint, and voiced the very practice that Fallon complained against.Finally, John Andrews called on each of the statesmen to explain why their party should be in charge in 2010. Amy Stephens argued that the budget crisis calls for true leadership, and that Republicans serve business, which will boost the economy. Mark Ferrandino mentioned that the last six years of democratic control saw investment in transportation and infrastructure, that Colorado’s unemployment rate of 8 % falls short of the national 10%, and that the economy has turned around, with more people entering the market. Josh Penry argued that every democrat is running on past tax increases which hurt the energy market, making Colorado, which once possessed the best oil and gas environment, the worst environment for such energy sources. In contrast, Betty Boyd argued that the democrats created jobs, and that the economy is turning around. She explains that, when a party is in power, it has to govern, which is more difficult than complaining about the mistakes of the other party.Although these four legislators participated in the same session of the Colorado General Assembly, all have taken a different view of the events that occurred. Some disagree on basic facts, such as whether or not the budget had been balanced. Other disagreements, while agreeing on the facts, such as which bills passed or failed to pass, arise from contrasting ideas on what helps the economy. The Democrats Betty Boyd and Mark Ferrandino pointed to government jobs and praised the session for producing more employment opportunities. The Republicans Amy Stephens and Josh Penry noted the displeasure of businesses that will have to pay higher taxes in the future to cover up for government irresponsibility. The continuing economic crisis seems to indicate which side is in the right.
Given the difficult, courageous, and ultimately successful legislative battle they just waged, the supporters of Colorado’s landmark teacher tenure reform bill –SB-191- should not be denied a brief moment of celebration over an initiative that is already winning high praise across the nation. Nonetheless in the cold light of morning they must surely be aware that the greatest obstacles to the implementation of this potentially transformational law yet lie ahead. They should also be under no illusions about the skill and tenacity which teacher unions will exhibit in their continuing opposition to SB-191. Similarly they should be aware of the sad fate of other past reform initiatives that began with much fanfare but ended in failure. As with all complex and far-reaching legislation “The Devil is in the Details” for SB-191. As it begins the journey from Governor’s signature to statewide implementation in 2013-14 SB-191 will move from the bright spotlight of media attention and public awareness to the less illuminated precincts of an intricate process of recommendations by the governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness defining “what is an effective teacher”, review and approval of same by the State Board of Education and the Legislature, and pilot programs in several school districts in 2012-13. At each stage of this process SB-191 will be susceptible to “improvements” and at each stage union influence will be anything but absent. Another major obstacle is the matter of who will pay for this reform. Without question the lure of millions of federal dollars attached to the Race To The Top program (RTTT) was a substantial motivator for cash strapped Colorado to pass SB-191. Visions of the six hundred million dollars divided between Delaware and Tennessee in the first round of funding understandably weighed heavily with legislators completing a season of brutal budget cuts and anticipating even more severe cuts next year. While SB-191 will certainly burnish Colorado’s reform credentials, future RTTT funding is no slam dunk. It should be remembered that a major reason cited by the U.S. Dept. of Education in its’ awards to Delaware and Tennessee was those states had near 100% pledges of support from their local teacher unions.
As the Washington Post pointed out in an article entitled “In Race to the Top, It Helps to Wear the Union Label” several other reform friendly states- including Colorado- were marked down precisely because they lacked such pledges. Very instructive is the recent experience of Florida where the legislature passed a sweeping teacher quality bill which included merit pay and the phasing out of tenure. The President of the Florida Teachers Union (FEA) bluntly warned that the State’s application for round two RTTT dollars was doomed if that bill became law. Soon thereafter Republican Governor Charlie Crist vetoed the bill giving as one of his reasons that he didn’t want to jeopardize Florida’s chances for RTTT funding.
Among those testifying against SB-191 was the President of the National Education Association. In the NEA’s view they may have lost a battle in Colorado, but they know they will get another turn at bat in Washington where political appointees will set the rules, select the reviewers, name winners, and allocate dollars in all future rounds of RTTT funding. In this context one is reminded of the words of the legendary teacher union leader Albert Shanker when his opposition to teacher reform was criticized as “not thinking about the kids.” Said Shanker with brutal candor, “I’ll start worrying about the kids when kids start paying dues to the union.” In the end however those legislators who voted for SB-191, particularly those Democrats who courageously crossed the aisle at considerable risk to themselves, did not do so for the money, or political advantage, or because this was a perfect piece of legislation. Rather they acted because it was a reasonable address to one of the greatest deficiencies plaguing American public education- the lack of effective mechanisms of teacher assessment which strike a decent balance between the rights of educators and the needs of children. In doing so they manifested something we used to call civic virtue. For this they deserve not just our praise, but more importantly our strong support as they seek to shepherd this still fragile initiative forward to successful realization.
Centennial Fellow William Moloney was Colorado Education Commissioner, 1997-2007. His columns have appeared in the Wall St. Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Baltimore Sun.
(CCU Student) This past semester, I had the privilege of interning at the Colorado House of Representatives under Representative Steven King from Grand Junction Colorado. I hope someday to serve in public office myself, and when the opportunity arrived it seemed like a great chance for me to learn more about what is happening politically at the state level. I learned a lot about the political process when interning at the state capitol about procedure and how hectic even a local politicians schedule could be. The greatest asset for me was not necessarily learning about the ins and outs of the political system however. As a follower of Christ I had a difficult time reconciling how seemingly self-serving a profession in politics is with my faith. Yet having spent time at the State Capitol, I have personally witnessed how much of an impact a solid Christian politician can potentially have on his/her constituency. A great benefit of working in the state house during the session is you have an acute awareness of what your states major issues are and how our elected Representatives intend to fix these problems. I had the chance to help my representative research issues ranging from motorcycles, land rights, pay day loans, medical marijuana, and much more. The internship really showed me how interested this job could be with this wide variety of issues. The job was rewarding in the way that I genuinely felt I was learning about something new every day. I also came to respect the time our honest legislatures put in for us. Representative Steven King for example woke up at 4AM to get to the statehouse at 8:30AM from his home in Grand Junction. He sacrifices time with his family to stay from Monday morning until Friday afternoon in Grand Junction while occasionally running back and forth from his hometown just for a dinner, caucus, or family event. Seeing someone like Representative King helped me get past my greatest apprehension in getting involved in the political arena. Ever since I was twelve years old, I have felt an internal longing to serve in public office. At this point in my life I feel like that’s the path God wants me to be walking right now. Despite this, I have always had an apprehension to how self serving the profession seems. You cannot go an extended period of time without hearing about some politician using their power in a corrupt fashion to obtain personal gains. It can also seem like the political system is a giant deadlock where a Christian would be able to serve God best elsewhere. These politicians however have the power to get things moving in our system. I have seen some representative respond to constituents who are desperate because the government keeps stone walling them on their healthcare, licensing, education, ect. and these people who have nowhere else to go end up calling their elected representatives. These representatives can help things get moving with just a simple phone call or can have their office research the best methods of obtaining say an expensive surgery when they cannot afford health insurance make to much to be put on Medicaid. Even if a public servant gets nothing done at the legislative level, they can do some much for their community in their position if they put their minds to it. My desire to serve in public office has actually been enhanced because of what our Representatives have the potential to do behind closed doors. Like many professions, it is what you make of it. You can easily use the position for personal gain and privilege if that is the desire of your heart. However, if you truly have the desire to expand the kingdom of God from this position of power, the possibilities can be limitless. The bottom line is that I learned that you can do so much for God’s kingdom from these positions. However power corrupts and that is why politicians need to have a God centered approach when engaging in political activities otherwise it will become self serving. It satisfying to see that serving in public office can be one of the greatest ways to serve a community by using their office to flat our serve people’s needs. I can honestly now enter this profession with a clear conscience which is something that I could not have necessarily said before this internship. That to me is invaluable.
(Denver Post, May 16) Wind velocity abated in Colorado last week when the legislature adjourned for 2010. Noxious air masses continue moving across the state, however, flattening better judgment. Hang onto your hat and your wallet.
“Cleaner air and cheaper energy” was the slogan when voters mandated wind and other renewable sources for 10 percent of the state’s electric generation with Amendment 37 in 2004. Democratic legislators liked the idea so much that they upped the mandate to 20 percent in 2007 and boosted it this year to 30 percent.
One small problem: neither half of the slogan is true. You know what’s already happened to your rates from Xcel. Will costs level off with more reliance on renewables? Not according to the Energy Information Administration, which says in the coming decade wind will cost about 75 percent more than natural gas, 50 percent more than coal, and 25 percent more than nuclear. And solar will be twice the cost of wind.
But pollution is a different story, right? Surely a silently whirring wind turbine (never mind the bird fatalities) is better for air quality than a plant burning fossil fuels and belching carbon. You’d think so, but you’d be wrong.
During the years 2006-2009 here in metro Denver (designated a non-attainment area for special monitoring of our air pollution by the EPA), forcing wind into the electric-generation mix actually resulted in HIGHER emission levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide, the principal components of ozone and smog – as well as higher emission levels of CO2, widely feared as a greenhouse gas. Oops.
Two obvious questions follow: How so? And says who? The “how” is a consequence of wind power’s intermittent reliability (online only about a third of the time), which requires coal-fired plants to cycle on and off more frequently and burn much dirtier as a result. The “who” is a consultancy called BENTEK [sic, all caps] Energy, based in Evergreen and nationally respected for such research as the wind study I’m citing.
“How Less Became More: Wind, Power, and Unintended Consequences in the Colorado Energy Market” is their report, commissioned by Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States and available at www.ipams.org. The methodology looks solid to this layman, though potential bias stemming from the study’s natural-gas sponsorship was fairly noted in the industry press after its April 19 release.
To cross-check the research, sponsors are seeking peer review from such institutions as MIT, Stanford, and the Colorado School of Mines. On the other hand, as a savvy oilman reminded me, “those guys are all on big federal grants for green research,” so their scientific impartiality can’t be taken for granted either. After East Anglia and Climategate, peer review isn’t what it was.
“How Less Became More” takes a sensible tone emphasizing tradeoffs instead of silver bullets or gotcha points. It recommends that electric utilities can avoid the wind-related emissions spikes by shifting generation from coal plants to natural gas as soon as possible. And this takes on national significance amid the current discussion of a federal mandate for renewables.
The trouble with mandates is that they beget more mandates, which beget more still. The meddling worsens and liberty weakens. So this year’s misbegotten generation conversion bill, HB 1365, sweetening the deal for Xcel at the expense of electric consumers for a speedy switch from coal to gas, was far from the clean green winner that some of my Republican friends believed. More mischief will follow.
Conservatives, so-called, who attempt to engineer kilowatts and particulates, forfeit credibility in criticizing liberals who attempt to engineer health care. Legislators trying to micromanage an industry will never get it right. Never. They’re delusional, like the Indiana House years ago when it decreed the value of Pi.
Markets yes, mandates no. Amendment 37 was backwards from the start.