Keep rolling with the punches

There was an abrupt and snowy end to last week at the Legislature with a heavy spring snowstorm hitting the Denver area. We were dismissed at noon on Thursday and were told that we wouldn’t be meeting at all on Friday.

I don’t think the weather would have caused nearly as much havoc in the mountain areas of the state, but we’re better equipped to deal with snow. Despite the mess it caused, the snow is very welcome because the moisture is badly needed everywhere.

We continue to hear a lot of bills debated, some coming over from the Senate and some new ones still being introduced. As we work through the bills piled up for us to consider, the joint budget committee is working on next year’s budget proposal. They are also working on a proposal to cut the additional $200 million that still needs to come out of this year’s budget, which closes at the end of June. This is on top of the $600 million we’ve already cut out of this year’s budget.

The introduction of the budget bill has been delayed by at least a week as they try to evaluate and incorporate the new economic forecast information into next year’s figures. As you may remember, the forecast predicts a longer time for Colorado to dig out of the recession and identified how quickly the recession negatively impacted the job market.

The Legislature is being tested this year to define what are the core functions of state government. Because the district I represent is very diverse in its views, there isn’t a readily available consensus for me to refer to. There are a lot of factors for me to weigh when coming to the decisions on how to vote on the bills, especially those impacting the state’s budget, either directly or indirectly. I’ve been spending time considering what’s in our state’s constitution because that is the will of the people as expressed in Colorado, historically, and also recently with the amendments that have been passed.

The stress of the session is wearing on people and the constituent contacts are growing more testy with people concerned with the many contentious topics being addressed at the Legislature this year. It’s good to have the input, though, and I want to encourage people to keep getting in touch, even if we don’t always agree on the same course to take.

It’s interesting to watch how this year’s pressure cooker affects the legislators, including myself. Given the emotional and sometimes hostile responses over votes cast which some constituents or fellow legislators don’t agree with, I see how politicians can become somewhat hardened or isolated over time. It appears that the trick is to roll with the punches and not take things too personally, while still keeping an open mind and your personal integrity intact. A sense of humility and humor helps, too.

Much of my long days during the session are spent in committee hearings or on the floor of the House, so my legislative aides, who are college students, are the first ones to try to answer constituent e-mails and calls. They’re getting a real education in the legislative process. They are also seeing how people who live in the same geographic area may dramatically differ in their viewpoints. They will be writing the next column in my place to share their perspectives on their experience at the Capitol this session. So, next week, you’ll be hearing from my legislative aides, Dross and Sal, and I’ll be back in two weeks.