By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
There is an old political maxim that goes something like this: If you are not at the table, you may end up on the menu. This means, when it comes to politics and lawmaking, only those who bother to show up and make their case will have any chance of influencing the outcome of any legislative process.
That is one of our key functions at the Colorado Rural Electric Association. We make sure Colorado’s electric cooperatives are at the table in Denver and Washington, D.C., when it comes to energy policy and other issues that impact the business operations and success of our co-op members. To do this effectively, we enlist the help of our board of directors, our members’ boards, our co-op managers and employees and many others.
We also work with legislators from the time they are candidates, sometimes offering financial support to state legislative candidates through the co-ops’ political action committee, Colorado Advocates for Rural Electrification. CARE, a bipartisan entity, operates independently from CREA with a separate governing board made up of electric co-op directors and employees elected from across the state. (Funding for CARE comes from voluntary donations.)
Every two years, when Colorado has its state House and Senate elections, the CARE board interviews candidates running for the state legislature. With term limits in place in Colorado, there is significant turnover in both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado Senate every election cycle. This year, the CARE committee met with 22 candidates (equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats) to learn a little about them and their reasons for running for office. It was also an opportunity to share who the co-ops are and what their concerns are.
We were extremely impressed with the candidates running for the Colorado General Assembly this year. Without exception, the candidates were smart, articulate and well-versed in the issues they will deal with at the state Capitol. That said, it was also clear that we have work to do to make sure they understand the co-op business model and how state legislative decisions can impact our co-op communities across the state.
Although electric co-ops serve primarily rural parts of the state, the CARE board interviewed many candidates from the Denver metro area to give them some sense of why rural electric co-ops were created and the challenges we face today from burdensome regulations and government overreach. While those future members of the legislature may not have rural interests at the top of their agendas, we hope the information we gave them will provide them with some basic background once the election is over and the lawmaking begins in January.
Several of the candidates we met with expressed common themes from the campaign trail. People are telling them they are tired of the political gridlock in Washington. They are also telling them that they are concerned about the stagnant economy and the price of housing. We made the case for a couple of basic principles that our organization advocated for many years that connect with these themes: local control and affordable electricity.
I believe these new legislators have great potential to be co-op supporters and to understand the concerns we have on a variety of energy issues. We’re hopeful that they will be able to express their individual judgment on bills and not be bound to their caucus’ position for every vote. Many candidates told us they would be independent-minded once elected to the General Assembly, and we hope they follow through on that promise.
There is no doubt that the presidential election this year will reach new lows when it comes to personal attacks and character assassination on both sides. The airwaves will be full of ads alleging that each candidate is a liar and scoundrel. So, it would be easy to conclude that the democratic process doesn’t work and that we are wasting our time by voting and getting involved in the political process.
That cynical outlook is not justified, in my opinion. There are many smart, articulate, caring people running for the Colorado General Assembly who are genuinely committed to addressing a variety of issues that we face in Colorado. We may not always agree with them on an issue, but we appreciate their willingness to get in the ring and fight for their beliefs. We at CREA intend to do the same.