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Citizens day at the state Legislature 

"It is really partisan here, and we are in the minority." -- State Senator Ron May (R-Colo Springs)

As a member of the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, I recently traveled to Denver to participate in their "Colorado Springs Day at the State Legislature." I am glad I did -- for it got me thinking, and it made me mad.

Except for Governor Bill Owens, who made a surprisingly impassioned plea for both more money and more freedom for Colorado's public schools, the Chamber's day was the worst kind of dog and pony show. One after another conservative Republicans, corporate lobbyists and military spokespeople monotoned about the need to weaken workplace safety regulations, the need for additional tax breaks for business, the need for more military funding, the need to quash efforts to control sprawl, and above all else, the need for the Republicans to retake the state Senate.

There was not a single Democratic or public interest viewpoint presented, let alone debated. Individuals attending the Chamber's day were given a limited and biased orientation about the critical issues actually being debated at our state capitol.

The Chamber's event caused me to reflect on how unhealthy it is for the citizens of Colorado Springs to have a single party control virtually every partisan office. All five of our county commissioners are Republicans. As are all eight of our state representatives and all five of our state senators. Every federal representative is a member of the GOP (our congressman, our two U.S. senators, our president and vice president), as is every single statewide office holder, except for Attorney General Ken Salazar. And a vast majority of these Republicans embrace the hard right ideologies of their party.

Please do not misunderstand me. Some of my best friends are members of the GOP. I've worked for Republicans, both in their electoral campaigns and as a policy analyst and lobbyist. But after having visited Cuba and the Soviet Union, I fully appreciate the benefits of a competitive marketplace, not only for goods and services, but for ideas as well.

It is just not healthy to have our entire political landscape -- in a region of a half-million increasingly diverse people -- be controlled by any single faction. Even such conservative bastions as Salt Lake City regularly elect a few Democrats to Congress, City Council, and their state Legislature. But not here in Colorado Springs -- where no matter how unqualified, disengaged with the public, or extreme a candidate is, so long as they have an "R" after their name, they will get elected and then re-elected.

And what we do right here in Little London impacts our state and nation. For example, if El Paso County voted like Denver County:

The Colorado State House of Representatives would be controlled by moderate Republicans.

The Colorado State Senate would remain controlled by Democrats.

Gail Schoettler would be Governor.

Al Gore would likely have captured Colorado and thus the Presidency.

To help spur a healthy, informed dialogue in our community about what is actually going on statewide, the Independent, along with a host of civic groups, is proud to serve as the media sponsor of "A Citizens' Day at the Legislature," Wednesday, March 14. This non-partisan event will include presentations by both Democrats and Republicans, as well as a host of civic groups working on such topics as health care, school funding, human rights, senior issues and growth management.

We invite you to come with us to Denver on March 14 to learn not only how the Legislature works but also how you can work the Legislature. You'll also learn how regular citizens can get appointed to more than a hundred statewide boards and commissions -- some of which pay upward of $75,000/year, plus expenses.

Space is limited, so register soon.

-John Weiss, Publisher

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