Thursday, March 09, 2006

Drinking Liberally with Morgan Carroll CO-HD36

I don't know if we have the political will to go in, and make the enemies we need to, to solve the problems.

There are Democrats and Republicans and then there is The System.
The parties compete like two children fighting over the leash of a very large dog; no matter who wins, the dog still runs where it pleases.

Morgan Carroll is the Democratic State Representative from Colorado House District 36. It was not at all an easy seat for a Democrat to win. It straddles the federal turf belonging to Tom Tancredo and Bob Beauprez, and takes up the part of Arapahoe County that is home to Raytheon and the Buckly Airforce Base. It is not exactly a hotbed of progressive activism, but Ms. Carroll got the job done and now sits with the majority party in the Colorado General Assembly; holding onto the leash of a very large dog.

After forty years of Republican tinkering, the system is no longer designed for the voters. For every legislator there are eleven lobbyists. Citizens can speak on the bills that arise, but more often than not, nobody does. In a single year a legislator may see 800 bills, most on specialized topics outside of even a well educated person's expertise. Decisions are made based on the information provided by the smiling friendly lobbyists. There are pharmaceutical company lobbyists, oil company lobbyists, mining lobbyists, but few lobbyists for the common voter. Even well intentioned lawmakers have to go with the information they have. Garbage in. Garbage out.

Morgan Carroll is trying to change the process, and while she may be a bit discouraged by what she has seen so far, she seems determined to stick with it and make a Democratic majority mean something worthwhile. I was lucky to have a chance to talk to her at tonight's Drinking Liberally meet up in Denver, where she shared some of her concerns about the state of Colorado politics.

It was refreshing to sit down and talk to a politician whose focus did not seem to be on winning the next election, but who was focused on doing her job well. She didn't use the campaign literature words that make for a pleasant brochure. She used the words you use when it is time to get the job done. I was sometimes frustrated to hear about the unnecessary obstacles being put in her way, but this woman knows kung fu (both literally and figuratively), so I think she is up to the task of removing those barriers.

We talked about her lobby reform bill. It had been drafted before influence peddling had become such a hot issue. Her first version was gutted by members of her own party. It seems that some took the whole concept of reform as an accusation that they were guilty of malfeasance. Some just didn't believe that the six and a half million dollars spent each day by lobbyists was having an influence on their votes. At least one Representative seems to have argued against the bill without reading it, saying that "what we really need is more transparency." The bill is all about transparency, and it has been revived. Carroll saved some parts of it, broke others off into a separate measure, and she is now navigating it through a vote at the end of this week. The big concern at this point is how her colleagues might amend it to death, weakening some parts and perhaps trying to poison it by overreaching and unconstitutional amendments that pull it too far in the other direction.

Exacerbating the problem are forty years of institutional lies that have begun to sound true through repetition. If a bill seeks to help consumers or help workers, then the chorus chants that it will hurt business and workers will get fired. Despite the Democratic Party needing the support of the average voter, the Democrats in office are led to side with the large corporations through the triple pull of lobbyists, fundraising, and a conventional wisdom that tells them over and over that any change in the system is unworkable.

Carroll used Health Care as an example. You can't make the employers pay because they will threaten to move away. You can't make the State pay because of deficits. You can't make the people pay because then you are left with legions of uninsured.

There are only so many options, but they are unwilling to be unpopular. The 'placate everybody and accomplish nothing' approach is ruining our party.

The result is status quo, or terrible laws spoon fed in by the health insurance industry. Did you know that waving a co-pay deductible is illegal in Colorado?

Health care is not the only place with stupid laws. Morgan Carroll shared a few other products of our broken system. With only two opposing votes, they completely deregulated dynamite in Colorado. For now there is still some protection under Federal law, but someone had the bright idea to deprive the state of the ability to bring action if they need to, or to maintain a level of safety in our state if the Federal government decides to loosen their rules. While we were busy deregulating high explosives, one of our Reps called for a regulation in a much more important area. He wants to restore the rule that requires a television and a bar in every limo. Maybe we should just fire them all.

I vote that we keep Morgan. She is doing something about it. She has been instrumental in setting up GRAPEVINE, a grass roots advocacy site to get people involved and aware, and she has been working to wake up the members of her party who seem not to have gotten the message that they were sent to get things done. She knows that many on our side of the aisle are just as driven to take on the hard work of reform as she is, but there are others she would like to awaken.

It is like after the Emancipation Proclamation. After people got their liberty some would not embrace independence after so long without a voice.

The Representative was asked to finish the sentence, "My 1st term will have been successful if...," and she replied, "...if I can force the dialog about these issues. If I can at least get them on the table."

She was asked about immigration, and she felt that while aspects of the issue were just "political messaging" it was at the same time a real issue with real "populist outcry" behind it. She decried the incentives we have created by slowing the process of legal immigration, by ignoring the profiteering of the employers, and by maintaining the economic imbalance between the countries.

After explaining that the problem was essentially Federal, she gave three points from the Democratic platform where the State could have an impact. The first was by pulling State contracts from illegal employers. The second was to enforce stronger wage, overtime, and safety regulations for all workers. And the third was to make it harder to forge state documents, and to crack down on identity theft.

Even though there are things the State could do, she seemed skeptical that there was much that this Governor would do. In a state where 7200 labor complaints were met with zero court action, it is unlikely that any regulations will be enforced.
We could check all Social Security numbers through the Federal Database, but the Republicans balk when they realize that it would require even the slightest burden on the businesses that profit from migrant labor.

The last part I want to mention about Rep. Carroll was her reply to a comment from one of the crowd. She was told that when the Republicans came after her trying to smear her, she had to hit back hard and go down to their level. Morgan replied that there were two kinds of negative. The first involves being amoral or making things up. She had no interest in meeting anyone on that road. But there was another kind of negative, and that was when you were telling the truth and that truth just happens to be negative.

I thought that summed up my impression of her. The entire time she was scrupulously speaking truth. There were times when they were not the happiest truths, but there were also times she spoke with a real joy. I believe she has the political will to solve the problems in front of her, even if that means making some enemies, and with that kind of integrity I know she made a few friends tonight.


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