Wingnut Pressure Groups: Why Colorado Can’t Have Nice Things

We mentioned this developing story in today’s Get More Smarter roundup, but the crisis over Republican intransigence on a deal to increase revenue for transportation spending in Colorado is getting worse by the minute–recapping the Denver Post’s report today on an “alternative” to the bipartisan deal between the Senate and House leadership from the #2 Republican in the Senate:

Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg calls his effort “supplemental” but the proposal is a clear alternative to the one put forward by Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran.

Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said his draft bill would not increase taxes and would use $100 million in existing state dollars to cover a much smaller $1.3 billion bond, which is only enough to improve small local roads.

“I am going to do a supplemental transportation bill that may reduce the tax increase, may provide for some help if this transportation bill doesn’t pass,” he said Monday in a briefing with reporters in Grantham’s office.

At the same time, conservative activists led by the Independence Institute are pushing an “alternative measure” called “Fix Our Damn Roads,” which directs the state to find money in the existing budget to pay for roads improvements:

On Friday, Jon Caldara, head of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, filed his own ballot measure with the Colorado Legislative Council that calls for $2.5 billion in bonding without the tax increase and without the transit funding. There’s enough money in the existing budget to pay for road improvements, he said, and the legislature needs to stop messing around.

And at the top of the Republican food chain, national conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity is leading opposition under the Gold Dome to the bipartisan roads compromise:

Watching Americans for Prosperity tear into Senate GOP leadership is particularly interesting, since there has been famously little daylight between that group and Senate Republicans ever since former Senate President Bill Cadman credited AFP with the Republican majority after the 2014 elections. The spokesman for Senate Republicans, Sean Paige, is himself a former AFP staffer–and taking fire from his former shop must be an unusual experience.

Both AFP and the Independence Institute are demonstrating a dogmatic unwillingness to compromise on this important issue, placing them well outside even the Republican mainstream–the proof of that being their opposition to a plan negotiated by a Republican Senate President. Both AFP and the Independence Institute have celebrated the “fiscal responsibility” that the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires the state to observe, but still claim there is hundreds of millions of dollars of waste in the budget that can be “reprioritized” to fund road repairs. Obviously, only one of those can be true.

At some point, you just have to understand that these groups are not interested in a constructive outcome. Their proposals can afford to be unworkable because they are not intended to be serious. These “alternatives” only exist to thwart debate on the real deal. It’s fine for outside pressure groups to draw an ideological hard line like this, but that shouldn’t be the final answer from responsible elected government officials. Governing, after all, is all about compromise.

Unfortunately, these groups wield enormous power. And too often, they write the script that Republican lawmakers read.

11 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Pseudonymous says:

    The problem isn't pressure groups.  The problem is legislators (of both parties, certainly) who think that their job is to continue to enjoy the benefits of their tenure in office– whether that's the small amount of power they greedily wield while elected, or the benefits they hope to get from sponsors after they leave.

    If they didn't care about getting re-elected or having a sweet teat to suck on once they left, they could just take the votes that are important and, when the boogeyman comes to threaten them with a primary, they can just say, "Sounds good, let someone else have the heartburn for a while."

    Serve the people you represent, you jackasses.

    • bullshit! says:

      The pressure groups do allow them to pretend they have support for screwing over the people.

    • Carolannie says:

      That "both sides do it" meme is getting a little shopworn, plus it has the side benefit of being incorrect.

      • Pseudonymous says:

        Except it isn't true.  I've seen it firsthand.  Ask your Democratic representative or senator why they're so responsive to the trial lawyers or trade unions, even when they disagree on a particular issue.  If they're honest, they'll tell you that they expressed their disagreement, and then were told they could either come correct or have a well-funded primary opponent.

        • ajb says:

          "if they're honest" = "if they agree with me"

          • Pseudonymous says:

            They don't have to agree with me.  There are situations for many legislators where the policy they think is best is not the one that they're being pressured to accept.  That doesn't mean they don't largely agree with the people applying the pressure– just that they don't agree that particular time.  But the people pushing want what they want, and, very often, they believe that if they can't get it from this legislator, then there's always another from whom they can.

            Also, that I've seen it happen doesn't mean that I disagreed with the pusher.  It means that I knew the pushee wanted to vote differently.

            What I’m saying isn’t particularly controversial, as far as I’m aware. Groups apply this sort of pressure to legislators all the time. I just personally wish that legislators were more willing to lose their position than to adopt one they don’t believe in.

        • JohnInDenver says:


          I admit, I'm not a Colorado native nor do I follow all legislative races every year. But if you've seen it first hand, could you enlighten me where, on the Democratic side of politics, is a well-funded primary campaign for the state legislature? Let alone one that is taking on an incumbent Democrat?

          • Pseudonymous says:

            As you might surmise from my original post, in the handful of cases I have direct knowledge of, the elected took the vote they were asked to, in opposition to the particular position that they'd expressed to me they held.  My assumption is that that's the norm in this situation.

            Perhaps this situation will present a good test of that assumption.  Always happy to be shown to be wrong.

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