legislature launched its 70th session last month, with Gov. John Hickenlooper calling on lawmakers to collaborate and compromise in crafting bills that have more than a snowball's chance in hell of actually becoming law.
His words are music to the ears of regular citizens who hate partisan politics and grow highly impatient with legislative gridlock. In fact, if this legislative session heats up like a blast furnace the way others have, an exasperated Colorado electorate may well respond by releasing gray wolves into the General Assembly.
Yet it is not only politicians who are guilty of partisanship, but also many of the voters who put them in office. Hot-button issues like guns, gay marriage and abortion inevitably bring out strong feelings in everyone, causing people to dig in their heels and refuse to budge.
Rancorous political dogfights bring to mind the old quote: "Laws are like sausages: It is better not to see them being made." On the other hand, it would certainly be highly instructive for every citizen who claims to loathe partisan politics to spend one full day at the state Capitol observing the proceedings to see just how difficult it can be to turn passionate beliefs into passable bills.
Setting controversial issues aside, what about more mundane matters such as building and maintaining the state's roads and bridges? Surely our elected representatives can at least be expected to agree about such basic responsibilities of government. After all, is there really a Republican or Democratic way to build a road? In a highly charged partisan atmosphere, Democrats will insist that Republican roads are built with the blood, sweat and tears of exploited working men. Republicans will riposte that any Democratic road will be paved with good intentions and little else.
Colorado's most bitter partisan battles pale in comparison to those in times past. Back in 1804, Aaron Burr met his political arch enemy, Alexander Hamilton, on the dueling grounds of Weehawken, N.J., and shot him dead.
In the polarized America preceding the Civil War, Rep. Preston Brooks attacked Sen. Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber, beating him nearly to death with a walking cane for delivering a speech wherein the senator argued passionately for the admission of Kansas as a free state.
Fortunately, such violent legislative antics seem to be a thing of the past. But even if gunfights and beatings no longer mar the political scene, our politicians should be held to a high standard of behavior where they engage in civil discourse, use reason and logic rather than emotion, and create an atmosphere where "compromise" is not a dirty word. They must pass laws that are necessary and enforceable (like Colorado's felony DUI statute) and refrain from enacting legislation requiring everyone to be nice to their in-laws.
One possible solution to partisan deadlock: the use of legislative mediators, neutral third parties who help lawmakers craft bipartisan bills. The Illinois General Assembly used just such an approach to draft legislation involving a contentious telecommunications issue, which was ultimately voted into law with near-unanimous support.
Mediators might well be the right answer for Colorado, or at least are worth a try. That is, if our legislators could even agree on that much.
Teresa Keegan works for the courts in Denver. E-mail her at b161tak@ yandex.com.
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