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‘Letters from the war zone’

With the end of the legislative session in early May, I now write new columns monthly rather than the session’s weekly efforts. One constituent thanked me for my “letters from the war zone” and I appreciated his recognizing that my job isn’t an easy one. This past session was especially challenging, and you should know that rather than my glossing over it since it’s finished.

Procedural tactics more like what notoriously happens in Washington, D.C., were especially troublesome and divisive. For the sake of better policymaking, I hope this won’t be repeated again next session. I recently attended a bipartisan meeting of state legislators and more than one commented on how Colorado’s tumultuous session often dominated the news in their states and not in a positive way.

I write this not as a disgruntled someone who wasn’t able to get legislation passed, because I did. But, the climate at the Capitol was the most bitter and discouraging of the seven sessions I’ve experienced. The Senate majority, even bill sponsors, frequently refused to debate or explain a bill’s merits, but instead would wander in and out of the senate chamber, impatient to dispense with the whole exchange-of-ideas precept and just vote as they’d first intended.

Colorado’s strengths, regardless of the political party in control, have been our pragmatism and our openness and keen appreciation of diverse opinions, especially those differences between the Front Range and the Western Slope. We must work to regain and maintain those values or we’ll fall victim to the same pendulum swinging paralysis as Congress.

Shortly after the session ended, I headed to Mozambique as part of a small U.S. faculty team sent to work with members of parliament for a week on legislative strengthening skills. Mozambique was a Portuguese colony on the southeastern coast of Africa until 1975. After gaining independence, Mozambique descended into a bloody civil war for about 15 years.

Following a time of Communist rule, Mozambique is approaching an “emerging democracy,” seeking economic and political stability under a capitalist system. This is the third African government that I’ve had the opportunity to work with and, as in Algeria and South Africa, I come home with a renewed appreciation for the ideals of our longstanding democracy.

It’s apparent, globally, that the United States has its own set of problems, with new national-level controversies surfacing almost daily while I was there. Yet, the more than 200 years that our country has managed to stay one nation draws admiration from many I speak with.

Mozambique’s parliamentary system means the parties have even more control over those appointed by the parties into office and they have less of a tie to their constituents since they aren’t elected directly. But, the country is rich with resources and people determined to rebuild themselves out of a colonial past and civil war.

In particular, China has a strong presence in southern African countries, but there’s a political wariness and desire for self-governance that may protect these relatively new democratic nations from other countries’ resource exploitation at the expense of their own people.

In these legislative strengthening trainings, we describe best practices that we aspire to in our state legislatures. Trying to identify and explain those to others is always a good refresher course for me, too.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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