End of session brings trip to Algeria

We ended the 2009 legislative session a month ago and I moved back home soon after.

I couldn’t get Denver to recede fast enough in my rear view mirror this year. It was a difficult session, partly because of the tough economic times, but also because a number of bills of significant impact passed that I didn’t agree were a good idea for our state or my district.

I’m hearing from a number of you who are unhappy about the increase in vehicle registration fees that is going into effect right now. My advice is to check your registration paperwork and don’t be late. For many, the worst part of the bill is the stiff and unforgiving penalties, if you’re late paying your registration fees. Please don’t blame the county clerks or their staff as they are just following the new law. I was a no vote on the bill for a number of reasons, so I’d prefer that you don’t blame me either, but better me than them.

Since being home, I’m back to attending meetings around the district like the workshop on conservation easements, healthcare for kids, a visit to an award-winning tree farm in Vallecito, the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs’ visit to Towaoc and the annual Bear Dance, a youth forum and the celebration of the merger of San Juan Basin Technical College and Pueblo Community College. It’s great to be home and to see everyone again.

May was also a great month filled with meaningful displays of support for our veterans and soldiers. I was in Montrose for their ceremonies related to the Vietnam Veterans’ Moving Wall memorial. The two Memorial Day events in Durango were celebrated with nice turnouts and good weather.

Another highlight that was especially moving for me was attending the Wounded Warriors Project’s opening ceremonies in Pagosa Springs. The Wounded Warriors Project invites communities to host severely disabled U.S. soldiers who have served in the Middle East for a week of lodging, meals and activities to welcome these soldiers home and demonstrate our appreciation for their service and sacrifices and that they are not alone. The Project helps with the transportation and organization of the week; what are needed are communities willing to step up as hosts. Pagosa Springs did an awesome job with this and I’d encourage anyone thinking of this to contact Autumn at the Pagosa Springs Chamber of Commerce.

A surprising and exciting development for me arose in mid-May when I received a call inviting me to join, as faculty, a U.S. team of four state legislators to head to Algeria in June to present a three-day workshop to members of the Algerian parliament and their staff. The project is part of a grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and our charge is to share our legislative and constituent experience with our international counterparts to promote legislative strengthening on an international level.

Algeria, on the coast of northwest Africa and extending south into the Sahara Desert, went through a bloody revolution in the 1960’s as it separated from the colonial rule of France. It also went through a terribly violent period in the 1990s, but has seen a significant reduction in terrorism in recent years.

I asked the trip organizers at National Conference of State Legislatures how I got invited to join the much more illustrious group of legislators going and was told that my work on setting up the Colorado Youth Advisory Council and my interest in representative democracy had brought me to their attention. I’ve been asked to lead a part of the workshop focused on engaging youth and the general public in the democratic process. I’m thrilled to be going and am trying to learn as much as I can about Algeria, its government, culture and people in preparation for the trip. I’ll let you know how it goes!