Lowering the Temperature
The start of every new year in Colorado means the start of another session of the Colorado General Assembly. This year, the second regular session of the 74th General Assembly will convene on January 10, and, given the 120-day limit established in the Colorado Constitution, it will adjourn on or before May 8.
The 2024 legislative session will mark the 40th year that I have been involved with Colorado’s legislative process. After graduating law school in the spring of 1984, I moved to Colorado to take a job as a staff attorney in what was then called the Legislative Drafting Office, one of the nonpartisan staff agencies that support the work of the Colorado legislature. Now called the Office of Legislative Legal Services, this agency drafts the hundreds of pieces of legislation — and thousands of amendments — that are considered each year by the legislative body.
After working for the legislature for a few years, I went into private law practice and continued to do work involving ballot initiatives and other legislative matters. For the last 27 years, I have represented the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops at the legislature, either as CREA’s general counsel or executive director. I have testified on various pieces of legislation in many different committees on dozens of occasions and worked with hundreds of legislators in both houses and on all sides of the political spectrum. I have enjoyed this work tremendously, and I have a deep reverence for our representative democracy that manifests itself through our legislative process.
So, it concerns me when I witness what has been going on in our legislature for the last several years. This is not a criticism of any individual legislator or political party, and it’s not a criticism of any policy that the legislature has adopted. No. My concern is for what I consider to be a basic lack of good faith and common courtesy that is pervasive at our legislature, an unwillingness to think about or consider a different point of view or to work to compromise in a way that respects multiple points of view. I understand that elections have consequences and that parties in the majority have the right to focus on their legislative agenda. But that does not mean that the views of the minority party, and the millions of Coloradans it represents, should be ignored or discounted.
Of course, another plague on our legislature is the prevalence of social media and the many platforms for expression that too often lend themselves to showboating and the airing of petty grievances. To be honest, I think it would be great if all legislators would choose not to post on X. (I guess those are no longer “tweets”?) There are very few issues that lend themselves to effective debate in spurts of 280 characters.
It used to be that I would look at our dysfunctional U.S. Congress and be grateful that my work involves the state legislative process where bills are heard in committee, votes are taken, and some semblance of legislative order prevails. This is still largely true in Colorado, although in too many cases the fate of bills is predetermined. Committee hearings are largely exercises in “checking the box” with no true opportunity for debate or discussion. It has become the norm in recent years for witnesses in committee hearings to be limited to two or three minutes of testimony, hardly enough time to explain positions on complicated pieces of legislation.
There is no doubt in my mind that this difficult legislative environment has caused many folks who considered running for the legislature to change their minds. It has also caused at least two new legislators to resign; this is a huge loss for the body and a sign that things must change. Thankfully, the leaders of both parties in both houses recently met to discuss how to address the lack of civility at the state Capitol; hopefully, this is the start of a bipartisan effort to quash the theatrics and focus on the work of legislating to benefit all Coloradans.
Despite these challenges, CREA will continue to work every day to represent the interests of Colorado’s electric co-ops and the consumer-members they serve. We will continue to do our part in 2024 to promote the civil exchange of ideas and to support the efforts of legislative leadership to lower the temperature under the Gold Dome.
Kent Singer is the executive director of CREA and offers a statewide perspective on issues affecting electric cooperatives. CREA is the trade association for 21 Colorado electric distribution co-ops and one power supply co-op.