Many New Proposed Laws Clash With Rural Colorado
Dan Williams, Teller County Commissioner
I am a county commissioner in one of Colorado’s 47 rural counties.
Today, 77% of Colorado is still rural or frontier. For those who come to our state it is often the beauty, recreation and freedom these spaces and our lifestyle offer that turns our visitors into residents. There has always been a bifurcation between that space and those who chose to live and work on the front range, but the contrast could not be starker than it is today. This bifurcation is playing out in real time in the 2023 Colorado Legislative Session and has the potential to cause real harm and further divide Colorado. We need a course correction.
This legislative season began with a bolt out of the gates with many and varied ideas, a one size fits all approach, and a get it done now mentality underpinned by a super majority. This reality is neither useful nor respectful, nor will it actually solve the challenges we all face. Local and county governments have experience, live the realities, and will suffer unintended consequences if not brought back into the tent, regardless of party affiliation. Many of our challenges are not partisan but they are very real and require deliberate discourse and experience to help solve them. We need to return to thoughtful and meaningful stakeholder engagement early in the pre-life of a bill, to include opposing views, if we are to solve anything. We need to slow down and stop rushing to failure. We need to really embrace diversity by working with all 64 counties and our many great cities and that starts by listening. We need to work hard to not further divide the Colorado we all call home.
It is estimated that in 2023 there are 5 million people now living on the front range. The cities of Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs and Pueblo along with surrounding communities are faced with a very different reality than the challenges facing rural communities. Yet, these are all Colorado challenges, all equally important, and all deserving the same respect and attention from our legislators.
Today’s challenges are incredibly complex and as a result any solution must have real stakeholder and local leadership involvement if real success is to be achieved. This bifurcation when combined with the current super majority of one party can blind legislators to the difference between passing a bill because you can and passing a bill that will make a difference.
This approach without a course correction will place Colorado in an even more precarious position. Our challenges require careful consideration of any proposal, reaching across the aisle, and listening to and working with local governments and our residents now more than ever.
I have had the privilege to testify either for or against a dozen bills so far in this legislative season. Further, as part of CCI (Colorado Counties Incorporated), along with my peers have helped to shape or take a position on many of the bills introduced with impacts to counties. This session is different than past ones and these are my personal reflections as we pass the half way point.
The large turnover in the legislature has produced incredibly passionate and talented new legislators anxious to make their mark. I have been surprised at the number bills introduced for the first time by first time legislators. I have also been deeply disappointed by how little stakeholder engagement has actually occurred prior to bills being introduced by them. Local and county governments, organizations or communities impacted, or unintended consequences and impacts ignored or unexplored seems to be the norm in 2023. This is a recipe for disaster and the rush to failure needs a course correction.
I have also seen incredibly adept Senators and Representatives who have repeatedly reached across the aisle to garner input, ideas, and support for their bills. I recently met with two legislators who began by saying, “ this is the problem we are trying to fix with this bill” and they listened, took feedback and circled back multiple times. That is how Coloradoans do business and how real impactful legislation that will actually make a difference is made. Those of us in the minority party, many of us in rural communities, are working very hard to reach across the aisle to solve Colorado’s challenges with you and deserve to be heard and your respect. In the cases where we are involved early and often we are seeing legislative success and positive movement towards solving our challenges.
It’s what right looks like.
Where you stand is often where you sit. We are all leaders and decision makers and understand our role in the process and have a deep and abiding respect for our legislative branch and its role in the rule of law. That said, I would ask our legislators to walk a mile in our shoes. We drive for hours to get to Denver, leaving our tasks and duties aside for a day, to get the opportunity to speak for 3 minutes. Often, after much preparation, we are told we only have two minutes. We then watch legislators eat their lunch at the dais, check their email on their phones, take selfies, or actually get up and walk out in the middle of testimony. I have seen this all firsthand this year.
That does not occur at the local and county level and would not be tolerated by our residents. It’s disrespectful at so many levels. I would ask that along with a course correction we also have a return to decorum so we can focus on the challenges that confront us.
So many of the challenges we face today from housing, to energy independence, water, and sprawl, are not partisan. These are Colorado challenges facing use in every corner of the state. If the pandemic taught us anything it showed how easily ripped apart our institutions became. Isolated, divided, and lacking trust we have clawed our way back to public in person processes – now we just need to rediscover the real power of listening, working together, and solving problems in a respectful and effective manner.