Peak & Prairie
October / November 1998
by Sandra Eid, Chapter Legislative Coordinator
This Will Be Our Legislature
Since the major pieces of environmental legislation (Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Superfund) were enacted at the national level, the environmental community tends to focus on the election of candidates to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. However, it is also important to focus on the election of a "greener" state General Assembly.
This year will mark a "sea change" (major transformation) for the Colorado House of Representatives. Of the sixty-five seats to be filled, twenty-three (fully 35%) are open seats; there are no incumbents. With the exception of House District 65 (where current Senator Don Ament is running with no Democratic opponent), twenty- two new legislators will be sworn into the House on January 6, 1999. All of these individuals will arrive as relative "environmental unknowns".
Even more crucial to future legislative decision-making, all three of the House leadership positions will change. There will be a new speaker, majority leader, and minority leader. There will be at least eight new chairmen for the ten committees of reference. All three House members of the Joint Budget Committee will be new to their jobs.
The changes in store for the Colorado Senate are likely to be less dramatic, but still pervasive. Although ten of the seventeen seats to be filled have no incumbents, seven of those seats are being sought by legislators currently serving in the House. An eighth House member, Representative Jeanne Faatz (R), is challenging incumbent Senator Pat Pascoe (D). There will be a new president and majority leader. The minority leader, Senator Mike Feeley, is only midway through his term. There will be at least three new committee chairmen, and one new senator on the Joint Budget Committee.
Each year the information from the Sierra Club environmental scorecards is used to prepare profiles of the Colorado House and Senate. These enable us to see (at a glance) how individual legislators score in relation to each other, and in relation to their own previous performances. The profiles for the four sessions from 1994 through 1997 are remarkably similar. Very few lawmakers had environmental scores of thirty percent or lower.
The 1998 profiles of both the Colorado House and Senate show cause for alarm! Fourteen members of the House (22%) and eight members of the Senate (23%) scored less than thirty percent in a year with relatively few bad environmental bills. There was no state or local government "takings" bill. There was no attempt to expand the vested property rights of developers. There was no direct assault on visibility in wilderness areas--only an indirect assault on prescribed burning. Had any of those issues been introduced, even more legislators would have had extremely low scores.
One bad year does not necessarily signal a trend, but most of the low-scoring legislators will be back in 1999. Six of the House members are seeking reelection, and four are running for seats in the Senate. Five of the senators are only midway through their terms. A sixth is running unopposed. Such a nucleus of strong, anti-environmental sentiment makes the upcoming elections even more important.
Most Coloradans say that they are concerned about the environment, but it is unclear how many take that concern into the voting booth. For those of us who truly want a "greener" General Assembly, there is lots of work to be done before November 3.
THINGS TO DO: