Denver Is Much Better Than Washington

(Rep. Daniel Kagan represents Colorado House District 3 – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Having heard throughout the summer how badly Washington is broken, it made me think how much better we do things here in Denver.  Maybe it’s that they have too much humidity up there in the nation’s capital to go with the heat and the combination gently poaches their brains, but, whatever the reason, we are better legislators in the Colorado General Assembly than the United States Congress will ever be.

First, we do converse and socialize across the aisle in Denver, much as I believe used to be the case some forty years ago in Washington.  After Finance Committee hearings I tease Spencer Swalm about his votes, asking how such an obviously intelligent person can be always wrong and telling him that even the law of averages should put him on the correct side occasionally.  He laughs and it’s all in good spirit.  I’ve bowled with Bob Gardner (he’s not that bad), downed a few beers with Mark Waller, plotted taxi de-regulation strategy in his senate office with Ted Harvey and even sat at Elway’s bar one night discussing with a lobbyist, who was trying to kill my bill, why she should change her view.  I did not persuade her of course (she had a board to answer to), but we were amiable and enjoyed our beer-fueled disagreement.

These kinds of interactions, I’m told, no longer occur in Washington.  They should.  If opposing parties socialized together they might argue more respectfully and more than occasionally find common ground.  

Our bills are better in Denver than theirs in Washington.  There, a bill that starts out as, say, an education bill gets all kinds of bells and whistles amended onto it that have nothing to do with education.  Then, what’s an honest congressman to do if he wants more textbooks in the schools, but is much less sure that an additional runway is needed at Ithaca airport.

That doesn’t happen in Denver.  A bill has a title, clearly stating what the bill is about.  If any amendment strays from the title of the bill, if it is in fact not so much an amendment, but an addition on another topic, it will immediately be ruled to have run afoul of the “Single Subject Rule” and will not, therefore, be considered.

Another Washington practice that never happens here is the infuriating leadership habit of just letting a bill sit, sometimes sit for ever, with no hearing, no consideration given until finally the bill just dies, with nary a cry nor even a whimper.  Here in Denver, if a lawmaker goes to the trouble of drafting a bill, it will be heard in a committee of reference and witnesses will be allowed to say why the bill is a good or bad idea.  All ideas are given full consideration.

If Washington would adopt these three simple practices, a little comity among members of opposing parties, sticking to the subject of bills, and giving every bill a fair hearing, maybe Washington’s problems wouldn’t all be solved, but I guarantee you that the town would feel at least a little less broken.

37 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Gray in Mountains says:

    our legislature does not get the opportunity or responsibility to vote on tax measures. They still get whacked when someone tries to legislate social/morality issues which ties things up considerably every session.

    • Libertad says:

      Former governor Ritter and the Democratic legislature raised or created over $400 million in new taxes in 2010.

      Why wont you trust the people to follow your will Gray? prop 104 is set to raise income taxes by 8% or at least that’s the choice your giving to Colorado voters.

      Now here in Denver our property taxes (residential) remain very low, as does our high school graduation rate that is 43.5%.

      How are things up in the mountains?

  2. WitnessProtectionForGeeks says:

    Truly principled. Monumental intelligence.

    He will be the most hurt by redistricting.  Contrary to Dwyer’s view that we can only be concerned by things within our district.  I will be coming out of my safe Denver district to help him.  

    • BlueCat says:

      Our perennial no-hoper CD6 Democratic candidates have always enjoyed support from neighboring safe CD1 volunteers. Gives them something to do and CD6ers especially appreciate the impossible dream spirit of the effort. Without their generosity there would be even less reason for repubs to spend a dime here.

      Bet some safe CD folks have helped Perlmutter in CD7, too.  We are all affected by the proportion of those with whom we are allied in our state and federal legislatures, not just the people of specific districts.  Same holds true where education issues are concerned.  

  3. Automaticftp says:

    is what the Colorado General Assembly generates.  Apparently process is valued over results.

    Sorry, Dan, but in my view the legislature occupies itself with frippery instead of having the guts to risk telling people we need to raise taxes if we want to have a state worth living in.  

    So to claim that you’re “better legislators” is, in my view, just an undeserved  self-congratulatory pat on the back.  How many new jobs are being created?  How are we fixing our disintegrating infrastructure?  What is the plan for upgrading K-12 and higher education?  Etc.  

    • DavidThi808 says:

      Our legislature does accomplish a lot (including a transportation funding bill). But they sure do run away from funding (with the notable exception of Rollie Heath).

      And they sure haven’t done squat to increase jobs (which comes back to that scary funding issue).

      With that said, I do think Kagan is doing a good job and that our state legislature is at least functional.

  4. ProgressiveCowgirl says:

    I had this scheduled with the comment “Kagan: Proof that not all of the really smart ones are too smart to go into politics.” Guess Guvs promoted it first. But yeah — Kagan has got to be the most intelligent guy in Colorado who’s willing to serve in the legislature. One of the few reps about whom I have not one bad thing to say. Kudos, sir.

  5. ColoMod says:

     That you listed here is with rational, intelligent legislators. I would argue that most of the Republican leadership in your chamber is kinda nuts (Mark Waller not included)

    Keep fighting the good fight though Dan!

  6. faux_american says:

    I’ve spent time in both Capitol Hill’s and Denver’s version is much more fun and interesting–not to mention affordable–than the one in Washington, D.C.  

  7. Ralphie says:

    Although I like Representative Kagan, having listened to him during several hearings, I have to suggest that this post was just a “drive-by.”

    Where has he been to answer comments, such as they were?

    I enjoy dialoging with our elected representatives.  However, when they post and then disappear, it’s really no more valuable than a TV commercial.  Except maybe to them, since they didn’t have to pay.

    • DavidThi808 says:

      It was a press release, not a conversation. I like PCG’s rule – no front paging until they’ve answered a couple of questions.

    • Daniel Kagan says:

      Sorry for not having engaged in the dialogue; after reading Ralphie’s post (and DavidThi808’s), I had one of those “Duh” moments.  Of course it’s not right to post and run.  Why didn’t I realize that?  My apologies.

      Also, thanks to those who posted enthusiastic comments.  I’m not sure they’re deserved, but I do appreciate them.

      But onto the merits of the argument.  I respectfully disagree with those who said, in effect, that all this talk of getting things done by getting along (with the opposition) is just that: a bunch of talk, or, as Automaticftp so artfully put it, “Activity without accomplishment”.  I think I’ve accomplished some important things by working with folks who might naturally be thought impossible to win over.  A few examples; in 2010, I proposed a modest clarification of Colorado law, the purpose being to allow developers to promise to include affordable housing when they build new apartment blocks, and to make that promise legally binding.  Legislators had been trying to get this done for nearly ten years, but to no avail, and, true to form, the developers and their allies misunderstood the measure, mistakenly (in my view) viewed it as against their interests and jumped all over me when I introduced the bill. The Chamber of Commerce made its defeat one of their top priorities.  But I persevered and in the end, after endless discussions with opponents, I tweaked the bill, the Chamber dropped its opposition, the developers claimed a massive victory, and the measure passed.  Chalk one up for achievement through cooperation and bipartisanship.

      Another example; kids with private health insurance or on the Children’s Health Plan (“CHP”) who wanted to visit their health clinic at school were being turned away unless they had a $ 30 co-payment in their pocket.  It was illegal for the health clinic to waive that co-payment, so kids were simply going untreated.  I introduced a bill to allow the waiver of the co-payment, which the clinics were perfectly willing to do but were prohibited from doing.  I expected the insurance companies to block any change to the legal requirement that co-payments always be charged, and to allow for no exceptions, even for kids seeking medical help at school.  I also expected that where the insurance companies objected, the Republican caucus would follow, and in the beginning, that’s the way it looked.  But I persistently made the case that dropping barriers to health clinic access would save dollars in the medium term for both hospitals and insurers as kids received treatment before getting sicker, and before needing more expensive treatment.  It would reduce the number of children going to emergency rooms, I argued in addition.  And you know what?  The insurers heard me out, despite past respectful disagreements, and they dropped their opposition.  The bill passed unanimously.

      I know I’m getting long-winded (as I too often do), so I’ll cite just one more example of bipartisanship paying off.  I sponsored a measure in 2009 that effectively imposed state sales tax on cigarettes for the first time in decades.  (Technically, it was the repeal of an exemption rather than the imposition of a new tax, so it was consistent with TABOR.)  The bill passed with not one House Republican voting for it, but it put $ 30 million a year into the state’s coffers and towards the funding of K-12.  As a sweetener in 2009, I’d agreed that the exemption would be repealed for only two years, so this year, with the Republicans now in the majority, the cigarette sales tax was due to expire.  But K-12 needed it more than ever, so it was a matter of persuading someone on the other side of the aisle, as well as all the Democrats, to go along for the sake of reducing K-12 cuts by $ 30 million in FY 2011/12 and on, for as many years as could be agreed.  The Republicans dug in their heels and it seemed like a lost cause for the longest time.  But at the very end of the session, one Republican (Cheri Gerou, God bless ‘er!) relented and the K-12 cut went down by $ 30 million.  I can’t help thinking that it wouldn’t have happened if Rep. Gerou and I had been at each other’s throats these past two years as we sat next to each other on the Finance Committee.

      So that, my more cynical friends, is why I think that a spirit of cooperation and respect can yield results.  I’ve seen it happen in these cases and many others.

      (If you’re still reading, don’t you wish by now that I had indeed simply posted and ran?)

      • DavidThi808 says:

        And I am glad you went into the detail you did. Very strong argument for how it’s not only possible but necessary here to reach across the aisle to get things done.

        With that said, why hasn’t the legislature tried to fix the structural financial mess in our constitution (which is more than just TABOR)? It’s a much harder nut to crack but both sides hate the present system.

        • Daniel Kagan says:

          You ask, DavidThi808, why the legislature hasn’t tried to fix the structural financial mess in our constitution.  Actually, though there’s not that much visible on the surface, strenuous efforts are being made to put Colorado on a sustainable long-term path.  Of course the legislature can’t do it alone.  The important thing is to get everyone on board and in agreement, before embarking on a long-term fix.  It won’t happen unless the business community is behind it, as they were, for example, when Referendum C passed.  Republicans, following the lead, perhaps, of business, have to be behind it too, as does the governor and, of course, the majority of the people of Colorado.  The groundwork for a solution is being laid.  The studies are being done; the econometrics are being calculated; the options are being weighed; the discussions are ongoing.  In the next year or two, I believe they’ll bear fruit.  The important immediate task is to make sure that, as we plan for the foundations to be strengthened, the building itself doesn’t collapse in the meantime.  That’s why the incremental steps we’re taking with regard to health care, rationalizing of the tax structure, preserving, as far as we can, and improving, where possible, our public services, and keeping the state hospitable to job creation — all these are crucial.  It’s delicate and painful and is happening less quickly than anyone would hope.  But we are getting there and I think we’ll look back in a very few years from now and say “Boy, that was rough, but we made it through, and now we’re on a much smoother road which we can see stretching forward into the distance.”

        • Libertad 2.0 says:

          Kagan’s reply has been up for over an hour and you don’t have the common courtesy to respond? What is wrong with you? This is a great example of a practice that should be called out and discouraged.

          • RedGreen says:

            Kagan’s reply has now been up for nearly three hours and the original poster has rudely declined to respond.

            Was David’s question an elaborate “drive-by”? It appears so.

            The Penalty Box exists for anyone who doesn’t reply to a reply quickly.

            And while we’re at it, no diaries should be promoted until the author has replied at least three times, even if there aren’t any actual questions in the thread.

            We need more arbitrary rules and regulations to make this site great again.

  8. nancycronk says:

    I can say there are few legislators like you anywhere, Daniel. You are what people want in politics, even if they don’t know they want it… you actually listen to people and treat them as equals. We need you in Congress after your stint is done in Denver.

    • Automaticftp says:

      OK, he’s a good guy.  I think we need my neighbor (or her husband) down the street in Congress FAR more than Kagan–my neighbor gets up every day, works her tail off to help support her two kids and husband (who also works) and who have completely ignored by Congress.  Either one of them would be far more “representative” of the dying middle class than Kagan.  

      With any due respect, the last thing we need in Congress is another born with a silver spoon in their mouth lawyer in Congress.  

      • Gray in Mountains says:

        but I see nothing above that indicates he is a candidate for Congress. Is he?

      • nancycronk says:

        I didn’t mean he should replace anyone in office now, necessarily. There are few people I respect more than Diana DeGette. People who follow my blogging know she is one of my heroes. I don’t mean specifically replacing her. Daniel is young — late forties, I think. Who knows where his career or anyone else’s will lead within the next twenty years? There is always shuffling going on. Whooda thunk Ken Salazar would be in Washington just a handful of years after being elected Senator?

        And yes, I do think Daniel Kagan could set his sights on anything he wanted to, with the exception of President, since he was not born in this country (unlike our President who was, Libertad and BJ). Daniel is the real deal. Get to know him, and you will see that for yourself.

        I also happen to know that Daniel comes from humble roots. Both parents were Holocaust survivors. Both parents worked their tails off to get a business going, and Daniel helped them with that business. I will let him tell his own story.

        A-clip — I grew up working class myself. Dad worked on the floor in an auto factory while my Mom raised nine kids in relatively tiny house. There were times we didn’t have enough money for new shoes, or for a warm winter coat when the snow started flying. I worry constantly about my family back in Detroit, all of whom are directly or indirectly at the mercy of the auto industry. I have a sister who lost a house, and a brother who has been close many times. I have a clue what you’re talking about.

        Having had many conversations with Daniel in the past few years, I trust he would look after their best interests, as well as my own family’s in CO. I don’t think a person has to be poor or lower middle-class to understand the needs of those who are. Anyone remember Ted Kennedy?

        And no, I have no idea what Daniel’s aspirations are. I was talking off the top of my head. We need more people like him — people who will have a burger or a beer with strangers and ask them what they care about — at all levels of government.

  9. Nicely written diary and good to see you answering questions – keep up the good work, brother

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