"The legislature is the best proof that Colorado is not ready for representative government."
-- Former Colorado House Speaker Ron Strahle
The 62nd Colorado General Assembly is officially underway. Do you know who your representative is?
Here's a clue: If you live in El Paso County, your representative is a Republican who claims to be conservative, usually rigidly so. Beginning in the 1970s, El Paso County began sending lawmakers up to Denver who were considered -- even by their own GOP colleagues from other parts of Colorado -- to be ineffectual, right wing ideologues. Hence the term "House Crazies" came into being, when it came time to describe the extremes toward which some lawmakers could lean.
Of 100 Colorado Senators and Representatives, Colorado Springs' delegation is made up of 13 faithful members of the Grand Old Party. The only one who walks to the beat of a different drummer is Rep. Marcy Morrison, who will retire at the end of this session when her term is complete. In matters of social and fiscal issues, the others range, in varying degrees, from extremely conservative to inflexible. To echo Dorothy Parker, they run the gamut from A to B.
If anything, the reputation of El Paso County's delegation has amplified in recent years. Yet voters continue to send the incumbents back, year after year, until they are forced out by term limits. Often, they will then simply run for another office.
In the past few years, several respected El Paso County conservatives carved out powerful long-term careers in the House and Senate. Then they were forced out because of term limits (including Former House Speaker Chuck Berry and longtime Sen. Jeff Wells in 1998, and Senate President Ray Powers this year).
So why do voters replace them with the kind of Republicans who march far to the right of the average GOP customer? One only has to look at the Colorado Springs City Council for a study in marked contrast. City lawmakers are more moderate and centrist, more closely mirroring the makeup of the community. Teachers, city workers, neighborhood activists, cops and firefighters are more likely to vote in those springtime city elections than in November, when legislators get elected.
November's general election is often just a formality. For the past several years, local Democrats have not put up candidates to run in seats in a heavily Republican districts, which means the lawmakers who won the GOP primary automatically won the election. And, most Republicans automatically won their primaries, because they were not faced with opposition from within their own party either.
The way candidates are selected and win the Republican nomination is a caucus system, still practiced in only two or three other states. The process was traditionally designed to encourage local activists to nominate candidates in small caucus meetings held in the spring during election years. Those candidates who gather enough support -- 30 percent or more -- are placed on the primary election ballot. Those who do not are off the ballot or have to petition on by collecting signatures of support, a time-consuming and expensive effort.
But the reality is, only a tiny percentage of the most active Republicans and Democrats are actually involved in the caucuses -- and for the GOP in recent years that has meant a takeover by Focus on the Family activists and others devoted to extreme right issues. For the Democrats, it often means no candidate at all.
So, people who do not involve themselves for the several months it takes of selecting and supporting political candidates end up with very little say over who their elected representative is at the state capitol.
Since El Paso County's lawmakers -- particularly once they've won office a first time and become incumbents -- do not need to run competitive elections, they don't need much money for campaigning. Yet all of them accept contributions from developers and realtors and a myriad of Political Action Committees, including insurance, telecommunications, tobacco and beer and liquor companies.
As much as big business loves our legislators, by contrast, environmental groups and progressives cannot stand the El Paso County delegation. Every year they receive dismal scores from groups that are fighting to preserve open space, clean up our water, promote mass transit, protect wildlife and cut down on pollution.
Without further ado, these are the people who represent you under the golden dome of the state capitol:
Mark Hillman - District 2
The Covert Kid
Mark Hillman says he's just a farmer, but the ultraconservative senator from the rural eastern El Paso County town of Burlington is scaring the bejeesus out of everyone.
He's well-schooled. He's good-looking. He handles himself well. He's a good Republican right-winger, but no one knows who trained him. He came out of nowhere and is headed straight for a leadership position in the Senate.
Hillman has signed onto posting the ten Commandments in every public school. He's a darling of the National Rifle Association. He's anti-union all the way. He is all for banning abortion. Yet he has managed to not pigeonhole himself, with the exception of one issue: prairie dogs.
Hillman is downright testy about prairie dog huggers, so much so that, last year, he sponsored a bill prohibiting the critters from being relocated from one county to another without approval from the county commissioners. Specifically, liberal Boulder County wanted to relocate its prairie dogs to conservative Baca County. The plan sent Hillman into such a rage that he temporarily forgot his conservative commitment to property rights and stepped in to halt the deal.
That's about the only time that Hillman has lost his well-schooled, conservative cool.
Committees: Vice chairman of Local Government; member of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy; State, Veterans and Military Affairs
Doug Lamborn - District 9
Doug Lamborn is the extremely conservative guy who will just be sitting there quietly while legislation is being debated. And then BAM! Out of the blue, he's all fired up and literally runs down to the microphone and starts screaming. It's almost like the Communists are hiding underneath the bed.
Makes sense. After all, Lamborn, an attorney by trade, was selected to replace Charlie Duke after the latter quit at God's insistence three years ago. When Lamborn was selected by his cohorts as Senate president pro-tem two years ago, he vowed to use his new position of power to push his ultraconservative agenda, including his anti-abortion stance.
Unfortunately for Lamborn, the job offers few opportunities for real persuasion. In reality, Senate president pro-tem means merely filling in when the real president has a cold. Lamborn doesn't get to divert potentially wacky bills to the places where they might get serious consideration.
Mostly, Lamborn's function of power means serving as a good host, like thanking the nice coalition of Western Colorado sheepherders' wives for bringing all those tasty muffins during their visit to the state Capitol.
Of course, Lamborn can still introduce his own pet legislation, and this year, it comes in the form of library tattling. Lamborn's key bill this year would require public libraries to keep records of what books and materials children under age 18 are checking out and, upon request, to inform their parents.
Lamborn is reportedly making a move to get enough support to be elected president of the Senate starting next year. So far, he has but one vote. his own.
Committees: President pro tem; Vice chairman of Finance; member of Appropriations; Legislative Audit; Legislative Council; State, Veterans and Military Affairs
Ray Powers - District 10
The Education President
Ray Powers is a rancher and a businessman with an eighth grade education who has gone further than one might imagine. As Senate president, he's one of the most powerful men in the statehouse, because he gets to decide which bills go to which committees -- the equivalent of a death knell or a nod of life to legislation being introduced in the Senate.
Powers is a very conservative man, but he's not part of the extreme right wing. In fact, they make him very uncomfortable. Still, he says he opposes same-sex marriages. Thrice he has been awarded Taxcutter of the Year by the Colorado Union of Taxpayers.
The senator made a fortune first as a dairy farmer, then in car dealerships. Over the past several decades, Powers has shrewdly and slowly sold the family farm as the city of Colorado Springs has grown, always moving east. Powers Boulevard is named after him. Now, at their spread east of town, Powers and his wife Dorothy are bona fide Republican kingmakers. Nobody laughs at the fact that the most important political fund-raisers in the county are held in the Powers' barn.
Powers has a record opposing gun control and uses part of his campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association to pay for his membership in the organization.
His most passionate issue has been strengthening the death penalty in Colorado. In the 1990s' he sponsored a bill to take death-penalty cases out of the hands of a jury and make a three-judge panel decide the fate of a convicted murderer.
But now Powers is mad, because judges have "only" sentenced two of six men to death. This year, Powers is introducing a bill to force just one judge -- the trial judge -- to decide whether to kill a person convicted of murder. Powers also is willing to support a proposal where nine out of 12 jurors -- rather than a unanimous panel -- agree to the death penalty. To demonstrate how extraordinary this idea is, we should point out that every other state in the country requires a unanimous jury.
Committees: President of the Senate; Vice chairman Legislative Council; Chairman Senate Services
Denver Residence: 303/329-6926
Mary Ellen Epps -- District 11
Mary Ellen Epps is best known for her support of prison chain gangs, her signature Cadillac and the fact that she got away with not having to live in Senate District 11 for a year before getting elected to office.
Epps was a state representative from Fountain, and then she was term-limited from running for that seat last year. So she wanted the seat being vacated by then Sen. Jeff Wells. But she didn't live in that district. No problem. She kept the house she owns and continued to live there. But she filed a change of address form with the post office, switched her drivers license address and said she was renting a room in a modest house owned by a retired deputy sheriff and his wife, who had given her a $300 campaign contribution.
When the Democrats filed a lawsuit, Epps packed the courtroom with important Republican officeholders. The judge promptly decided that Epps' room-rental arrangement was just fine. She got the Senate seat.
According to campaign contribution records, however, the story doesn't end there.
After the election, Epps accepted one bulk contribution of $14,500 from a group called the Colorado Republican Committee Senate Leadership Trust on Dec. 9, 1998. Two weeks later, Epps' campaign records show she used that contribution to pay the attorneys who represented her in the court case.
However, the secretary of state's office reports no filing for the Colorado Republican Committee Senate Leadership Trust, which is a violation of state election law. The address listed for the group is the home of Elsie Lacy, an Aurora Republican senator who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and also chair of the powerful Joint Budget Committee.
Lacy is the treasurer of another political action committee, the Colorado Senate Majority Committee. That PAC has, since organizing in 1995, accepted hefty contributions from longtime Republican activists like the Coors family, former Senate President Tom Norton and El Pomar Chairman and CEO Bill Hybl. In 1996, records show that the group failed to file a campaign finance report detailing contributions and expenditures, which is also a violation of state election law according to Colorado election director Ed Arcuri.
Committees: Chairman Health, Environment, Welfare and Institutions; member Judiciary; Transportation
MaryAnne Tebedo -- 12
MaryAnne Tebedo is a walking quote machine. And whenever she turns around, she's got at least one foot in her mouth.
Of minorities, she has said their culture encourages sexual promiscuity for girls.
Of teen pregnancy, she has said, it "drops off significantly after age 25."
Of women publicly displaying guns, she has said, "it just isn't fashionable."
Of claims by anti-government citizen militia types that the Constitution has been rendered irrelevant by lawmakers such as herself, she has said, "I was just freaked out to hear the Constitution has been suspended."
Tebedo campaigns hard, works and studies hard, and doesn't always get it. She's, as they say, a doctoral thesis of her own. When her grown kids Linda and Kevin got into the anti-government movement in 1995, Tebedo was gung-ho about it and attended a so-called Common Law Grand Jury meeting in Cañon City.
Her latest freakout has been over the injustice of daylight savings time. She thinks it should be lighter all year in Colorado. So she's calling for a voter referendum on whether to keep the state on standard time year-round.
Mostly, she cares about guns, though. Every year she has vowed to introduce bills making carrying concealed weapons easier.
Tebedo is chairman of the Senate committee that last year killed state background checks for gun purchasers. Several months later, a man who would not have passed the state's background check successfully bought a gun and shot dead his three young daughters before turning the piece on himself in the Castle Rock police station parking lot. "You can't blame my committee for the deaths of those three little girls," Tebedo angrily told the press.
Political pundits still relish the Tebedo story of when she was still a state representative. Every year, on the final day of the legislative session, Democrats award their Republican counterparts with "Hummers" awards. Tebedo was presented with a half-deck of cards, ostensibly so she would then deal with a whole deck. She thanked them sweetly.
Tebedo can't run again this year. She reportedly is considering a bid to replace Chuck Brown on the county Board of Commissioners.
Committees: Chairman: State, Veterans and Military Affairs; Member: Finance
Ron May -- District 15
On his personal Web site -- the only one offered by any of El Paso County's entire delegation -- Ron May looks friendly enough. He's even got pictures of his lovely wife Onilla and the grandkids posted, celebrating birthdays and other family occasions.
But apparently, May can be a real bear in the springtime, emerging from legislative hibernation with blood on his paws and dripping from his canines. He encompasses every impression that fair-minded people around the state have of El Paso County's singular ability to be mean and vindictive.
Highways and computers. Computers and highways. That's what the eight-year representative is passionate about on the floor of the House.
Did we mention that May is a computer genius? Long ago, in the 1980s, the good Republican was a member of the Colorado Springs City Council. He still owns a small computer company here. And now that he is up in Denver making laws, he has discovered that there are quite a few other computer and technology "experts" who dare to lurk about the state Capitol. To May, they are mere pretenders. They are jackasses. They are incompetent. They are ignoramuses. They are probably socialists. May is the only one who really knows anything at all about computers or ever has any good ideas about the industry. Thank God we have Ron May and his incredible computer prowess to save the day.
Did we mention, Ron May also likes highways?
Here's a telling story about Ron May: At the end of this legislative session in April, May will be term-limited out. But like so many other lawmakers, he believes that the law designed to restrict politicians from holding office forever didn't mean him. So May plans to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Ray Powers. May's likely Republican opponents will be Colorado for Family Values founder-turned-pro-citizens-militia-activist Kevin Tebedo (MaryAnne's kid) and anti-tax slumlord Douglas Bruce, who is universally loathed by lawmakers. So who's the favorite?
"Kevin Tebedo is not left, he's not right, he's off the planet," said Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley. "Ron May is, shall we say, a known quantity. So there's a lot of people plugging for Doug Bruce."
Committees: Member: Business Affairs and Labor;
Member: Transportation and Energy
William D. 'Bill' Sinclair -- District 16
Master Geezer[/b] [p]Bill Sinclair is one of those nice old Main Street USA gentlemen who believes that it's really great to be a member of that important boys-only club known as the state Legislature. Isn't it great to be old-fashioned and conservative?
When you run into him in the elevator, if you happen to be wearing a skirt, it must mean you're a secretary. Or one of those Western Colorado sheepherders' wives.
Sinclair, a "fund-raising consultant," is not particularly known for his legislation. He's not quoted. He doesn't have "issues." But he sure is liked by the Colorado Restaurant Association. Last week, the lobbying group awarded him with an "Iron Skillet" award for sponsoring a successful bill last year that allows restaurant owners to serve as board members on private clubs that also have liquor licenses. Previously, the dual servitude was outlawed.
Sinclair's bill also lifted the rather distasteful requirement that board members of private clubs had to be fingerprinted at the police station and undergo background checks for past criminal involvement.
Now that's progress.
Committees: Vice chairman: Local Government Member: State, Veterans and Military Affairs
Andy McElhany -- District 17
Everybody's Pal[/b] [p]Only someone who is really mean would suggest that Andy McElhany is in the pocket of developers and the Chamber of Commerce.
Everyone else would say the real-estate broker is a player whose word you could take straight to the bank and earn immediate interest.
McElhany is very conservative but his passion is tax breaks for the rich and for businesses, but not social issues like opposing abortion and same-sex marriages. Since he was first elected in 1994, McElhany has excelled at his lawmaking and statesmanship abilities. He votes with ultra-conservatives all the time. He takes money from the National Rifle Association, and last month, he was the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of the Firearms Coalition of Colorado Springs.
But he's no nutso. McElhany is what some liberals call a straight shooter. The laws that he pushes tend to give favors to big business, like tax breaks for the super-rich and powerful telecommunications industry. This year, he's sponsoring a bill to eliminate a 3 percent sales tax on telephone services.
Colorado businesses also like McElhany, because he (along with Sen. Doug Lamborn) was invaluable in passing a bill last year prohibiting towns and cities across the state from adopting minimal-- or living-wage laws. How's that for supporting local control?
Two years ago, McElhany wanted to be the speaker of the House of Representatives. But he was set back on his heels due to an inside deal that made Russell George of Rifle (a moderate) the speaker and Doug Dean (a right-wing conservative) the majority leader.
This year McElhany plans to run for MaryAnne Tebedo's Senate seat (she can't run again either). He's willing to give it a go, probably, because he's just such a nice guy.
Committees: Chairman: State, Veterans and Military Affairs; Member: Transportation and Energy
Doug Dean -- District 18
Party Animal[/b] [p]The Denver Rocky Mountain News last week identified House Majority Leader Doug Dean as a businessman. That's kind of true. His day job is roofing, although he hasn't been known to actually lay a roof in a long, long time.
When he was first elected in 1994, he went up to the big house in Denver looking a little geeky. He's cleaned up real good since then, and now, despite his modest income, shows up everywhere wearing expensive-looking double-breasted suits, flashing a million-dollar smile and a fake Rolex wristwatch.
When Dean was first elected, it was with the blessing of Focus on the Family, which is reportedly where his wife worked at the time. From the House floor, Dean preached in favor of abstinence-only legislation, claiming that sex outside of marriage is dehumanizing and demeaning. Now, he is considered by his colleagues to be a ladies' man.
When he was first elected, Dean's big claim to fame was his bill to chemically castrate child molesters, a controversial notion that is constitutionally questionable and not proven to be effective.
But chemical castration apparently wasn't the most pressing issue in his district, which encompasses much of northeastern Colorado Springs. Dean, who is quoted often in the Colorado press, is hard bitten by the political bug. He wants desperately to be the next speaker of the House so he has diversified his topics of interest. Now, he likes guns. Dean also reportedly socializes with gun lobbyists, as well as prosthetics lobbyists. Last year, Dean also vocally opposed Denver's photo-radar law, telling the public that they don't have to pay their fines when caught speeding on camera.
Most of all, Dean likes to have a good time. Press reports two years ago detailed an incident when he and several colleagues were imbibing at a Denver watering hole frequented by lawmakers and lobbyists. During the raucous fun, Dean mistook a potted plant for a urinal.
Dean usually misses the deadlines for filing his campaign contribution reports, but he never misses a round of free golf. In fact, he's happy to use campaign contributions to participate in exclusive golf tournaments. Why not? It's not like he's ever had serious campaign opposition. Reports filed with the secretary of state show that last year, he spent $5,300 in campaign contributions for golf tourneys from his campaign coffers. He spent almost $500 in contributions on golf balls alone.
Dean also likes free football tickets, courtesy of Philip Morris, Anheuser Busch and other Republican lobbyists who come a'courting. He likes to take free trips worth thousands of dollars, too, including ones to Rockies' spring training and to health-care conferences at Harvard Medical School.
In addition, Dean spends his campaign contributions freely on himself, reimbursing himself for mileage, computers and meals. All of these expenditures are legal, of course, thanks to a major gray area that doesn't define exactly for what campaign contributions can be used.
Dean got mad last year when all gun legislation was swiftly tabled after the Columbine High School massacre. He publicly took Gov. Bill Owens and other Republicans to task for "caving in" and this year has teamed up with Sen. Tebedo as the House sponsor of a bill that would allow more people to carry concealed weapons.
Dean is, as they say, a politician with a future.
Committees: Majority leader Member: Executive Committee of Legislative Council; Legislative Council
Richard Decker - District 19
The Stranger[/b] [p]Richard Decker is not known for any particular issue. Doesn't say much, doesn't do much. But being a Republican and all, he was elected to replace Mary Ellen Epps after she was term-limited out in 1998. This year, the retired teacher from America's Millennium City -- Fountain (as named by The New York Times) is the primary sponsor of just one bill. And no, it has nothing to do with education. Decker wants to make it a Class 4 felony to possess substances that are used to manufacture methamphetamines and amphetamines.
The felonious substances on Decker's hit list include ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, phenylpropanolamine,and their salts; isomers; and salts of isomers.
Committees: Member: Education; Judiciary
Lynn Hefley -- District 20
A Woman in the House [/b] [p]Lynn Hefley is married to Congressman Joel Hefley, who represents El Paso and Douglas counties and is Colorado's longest serving representative in Washington (and former supporter of term limits). Colorado Gov. Bill Owens recently called her Joel's "better half."
In 1998, Lynn Hefley lobbied to replace Doug Lamborn in the statehouse after Lamborn successfully rallied support to replace Charlie Duke in the state Senate.
Now a full-fledged politician in her own right, Hefley sends out occasional press releases detailing her thoughts on a variety of subjects, which releases she has cleverly titled "A Woman in the House." In one musing last year, she took the media to task for covering a rally in support of same-sex marriage but not covering the fact that a group of homeschoolers were visiting the state Capitol.
But like her husband, who six years ago was named one of the most obscure members of Congress, Lynn Hefley has thus far been fairly inconsequential in the statehouse. She is ardently pro-life, and her legislation usually dies while still in committee, not making it to the House floor for a full vote.
This year, Hefley is sponsoring what promises to be a controversial bill: doing away with teacher tenure. She's also teamed up with Epps with a bill to permit 'at-risk' juveniles and adults to offer video-taped testimony in court trials.
Committees: Member: Health, Environment, Welfare, and Institutions; Judiciary
Keith King - District 21
The Waterbed King
Keith King, owner of the Waterbed Palace store on the north side of town, served a one-term stint on the Cheyenne Mountain School Board in the mid-1990s and was so unpopular he couldn't get re-elected to a second term. So, in 1998, we sent him up to Denver to replace longtime Colorado Speaker of the House Chuck Berry.
There, as a Republican representing the Broadmoor and much of southwest Colorado Springs, King hasn't much overwhelmed people with his intellect. He's apparently got a nice safe seat, but observers on both sides of the aisle report he's not destined for leadership.
Where King excels is his continuing effort to undermine public education. Teachers believe he wants to do them in.
This year, King wants the following:
to authorize the governing body of a charter school, by a two-thirds majority vote, to impose and collect a fee for excess transportation costs from the public school system that approved the charter school.
to permit the governing board of a charter school to perform the same functions and duties as those performed by a board of education or a school district.
to exempt sales tax from scientific, electronics and pharmaceutical companies for materials, they purchase for research purposes.
Committees: Vice-chairman: Finance Member: Education
Marcy Morrison -- District 22
The Rockefeller Republican
Marcy Morrison's battles against what she calls the "rigid right" are well-documented. The four-term Republican is immensely popular among her constituents and is well-liked by her colleagues in Denver. Some go so far as to say that Morrison is the sane member of El Paso County's delegation. Before becoming a legislator, Morrison was a county commissioner for eight years and a school board member for a decade.
In the Legislature, she is known for her commitment to health care. She passed a bill extending insurance benefits for the mentally ill. She generally votes like a good Republican soldier but has worked tirelessly to preserve open space (for someone else's district!) and even supports campaign finance reform.
But her commitment to community service, her pro-choice stance and her moderate approach in Abe Lincoln's GOP doesn't sit well with the extreme-right factions in control -- including Focus on the Family President James Dobson, who lives in her district. And so, for the past six years Morrison has endured vicious primary challenges. She has withstood nasty attacks from party leaders, both locally and at the state level. Two years ago, Morrison faced such a treacherous primary challenge that she decided to petition onto the ballot. This year, she is term-limited from running again. She considered going for MaryAnne Tebedo's vacant spot but, after thinking long and hard, decided it's not worth it.
Committees: Chairman: Health, Environment, Welfare, and Institutions Member: Judiciary; Legal Services
Residence: 719/685-5929[/b] [p]
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