Sunday, July 12, 2009

Manipulating government

OK, so I hadn't really intended to turn this into a government blog, but Sunday's Denver Post contained a letter to the editor so relevant that I just felt compelled to comment on it. In a letter captioned "Conspiring to manipulate government?", Neil Powers of Colorado Springs laments a "dysfunctional legislative system" that permits various special interest groups to "educate" our legislators to their way of thinking.

In his letter, he goes on to say: "In theory, these legislators work for us, the citizens of Colorado. Unfortunately, this theory has become very polluted by the reality of paid lobbyists, heavy campaign contributions, and people representing organizations that produce agendas, scorecards and 'education' efforts." From where I sit, this problem is even worse than Mr. Powers describes. Over the past couple of years, the Colorado legislature has passed a cornucopia of legislation promoting renewable energy... some good, some bad, and some of little consequence. In every case, the legislators carrying this legislation are informed or "educated" by a variety of special interests each with their own agenda (yes, even the most altruistic-sounding environmental group is in reality a special interest lobby with its own economic agenda). And, unfortunately, even the sum of all the special interests that may participate in this process does not equate to the public interest.

As a paid state employee and subject matter expert in this field, one would think that these legislators would seek out the expertise that exists within its Staff, but sadly such is not the case. In fact, the system is so dysfunctional that, not only is our expertise not sought (presumably because it might conflict with the agenda of the favored lobbyist), but we are actually prohibited from offering it or suggesting improvements. What the legislature often ends up with is a compromise among competing special interests that appeases each of them but is still not in the public interest.

So, Mr. Powers, your observation is dead on. In my case, I know it to be true of some of the renewable energy legislation that was passed in the 2009 legislative session. I'm sure it extends to other fields as well.

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