Caution: Legislators at work

(Andrews in Denver Post, April 15) Knowing I had been a state senator, a friend recently asked me to update her on this year’s session of “the Colorado Congress.” I gently suggested she start by thinking of it as the Colorado General Assembly, since the only Congress is the one in Washington, DC. Civic illiteracy about our state legislature is common, alas. Most people couldn’t name their own legislator to save their lives, let alone tell you we have a 35-member Senate and a 65-member House that meet for 120 days each year – let alone spout bill numbers such as HB-1355 on health or SB-61 on schools (and hundreds of others).

This may not be bad. Economists talk of rational ignorance, meaning that we don’t bother informing ourselves if the hassle of finding out appears to exceed the benefit of knowing. Good old American self-reliance leads a lot of folks to conclude they have more important things to think about than what the government types are up to – although that has begun to change under the left-liberal push to politicize every aspect of our lives.

But the risk of rational ignorance, where the General Assembly is concerned, is that those representatives and senators with their avalanche of ambitious bills might be monkeying with your liberty, your prosperity, and your values, while you are innocently paying attention to things like earning a living and raising a family.

If shrugging off the legislature was ever a safe bet, it no longer is. Voters in 2004 and 2006 terminated legislative and executive control by my fellow Republicans, for whom government solutions are not the first choice. They handed control to Sen. Fitz-Gerald, Rep. Romanoff, Gov. Ritter, and the Democrats, for whom government solutions ARE the first choice. While the change may have been warranted, it heightened the hazards of political inattention. With a driver who favors the gas pedal replacing one who favored the brake, passengers want to be more alert.

So this week do yourself a favor and get up to speed on what the politicians have in store for our pocketbooks and way of life during their final 20 days before adjourning. Tomorrow is Tax Day, and Thursday is Patriots’ Day. State reps and senators are finally facing many of the tough issues they procrastinated (like any of us) during the first 100 days. It’s now or never if you want to protect yourself from what they might do to you, or avail yourself of what they might do for you.

Taxing and spending, regulating and litigating, subsidizing and penalizing, prohibiting and mandating: such is the busywork of any legislature in any year, sometimes beneficially but often not. That’s certainly true in blue Colorado in these hyperpolitical times, with Dems now holding all three branches of state government. (Yes, they’ve also got the state Supreme Court by 5-2). I don’t say this is harmful, I just say it bears watching.

The 2007 session has already set the stage for numerous local tax increases, and Ritter wants to hike your property tax as a finale. Bills are pending that would raise energy prices, housing prices, and health insurance prices. Owning a gun for self-defense, condom lessons for kids, what a family is and who may adopt, honoring our troops and flag: these contentious matters await decision as well. Hadn’t you better weigh in, pro or con?

A tin ear for the sweet sound of democracy was displayed of late by certain legislators in both parties. The whining from Reps. Borodkin, Stafford, and Merrifield, along with Sen. Windels, about public input and inquiry as much as told Coloradans to pipe down and butt out. Bad show, but citizens should ignore it and press on. All 100 members of the Colorado Congress – oops, General Assembly – work for us, remember.