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Disrespecting democracy

Throughout the recent legislative session, which, thankfully, ended before midnight Wednesday, our state legislators showed remarkable contempt for the people of Colorado.

Consider that the Legislature and Gov. Bill Owens have had the gall to put the current budget crisis squarely and solely on the backs of the voters of Colorado, without owning up to their own, very substantial shortcomings.

Certainly the voters share responsibility for passing the tax-limiting Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment. But irresponsible, permanent tax cuts approved by Republicans and Democrats in 1999 and 2000 have robbed the state treasury of hundreds of millions of very needed dollars.



Some economists put that figure at more than $400 million just in this very tough budget year. The Legislature and Gov. Owens bought into the idea that our new high-tech economy could boom forever.

And the Legislature went hook, line and sinker for the governor’s 1999 assertion that “when the national slowdown comes, our landing should be a little softer.” They couldn’t have been more wrong.



Our elected officials began the session by attacking the voter-approved Amendment 23, passed by the voters on the statewide ballot just two years ago, which guarantees funds for K-12 education in Colorado.

They cried that the electorate was irresponsible for voting for such a measure that funds education. But nowhere did they mention their 20-plus years of profound neglect of the public education system that left Colorado next to dead last among the states in terms of education funding or that their own inaction finally led voters to take matters into their own hands.

As the session wrapped up, legislators attempted to do serious damage to the tough new campaign finance law that two-thirds of Colorado voters approved just six short months ago.

That law, Amendment 27, incredibly, represents the second incarnation of a law passed by the people in 1996, which was gutted by the Legislature in 2000.

But this disrespect for us, which by now we have grown all too accustomed to, is surpassed by action by the Republican leaders.

With only two and a half days remaining in the legislative session, Republican leadership introduced a measure to redraw the congressional boundaries in the state of Colorado to create a safe, Republican-controlled congressional district for newly elected U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez of the new 7th District.

The district was the only truly competitive district in the 2002 elections.

The introduction of this bill shows the Republican leadership’s complete and utter disrespect for democracy and will leave the people of Colorado questioning the integrity and sense of fairness of legislative leadership.

The bill ultimately passed, as the Democrats, who at long last finally showed some signs of life, at one point walked out in protest, refusing to even participate in such a sham.

Throughout this legislative session, politicians blamed the voters for their very own shortcomings.

On many occasions, I’ve heard politicians at our statehouse wonder why so many citizens don’t participate in the political process.

Well, the answer is so obvious, only those in the Senate and House chambers could have missed it. The people stay away from the polls in droves because those who are elected to represent them make a mockery of our democracy.

They balance the budget on the backs of those who are most vulnerable, while doling out welfare to wealthy individuals, corporations and other special interests.

They promote policies that leave our schools miserably underfunded and our youth with few options, while devoting ever more money to prisons. They work to overturn an amendment on campaign reform that garnered more votes than any elected official in the state.

Then, those same self-interested, self-important legislators, who have railed against the voters and the initiative process because it doesn’t allow for adequate deliberation and discussion, introduce a bill in the final moments of the legislative session that would redraw the political districts to consolidate their power in the state.

Then, wonder of wonders, they limit discussion on that bill.

Those who are behind this effort, and those who voted for it, should apologize to the people of Colorado. And, they should be ashamed of themselves. The people certainly are.

_________________

Jon Goldin-Dubois is the director of state policy and initiatives for Common Cause, a national nonprofit organization working to make government more open, honest and accountable to the people.


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