Jerry Kopel

By Jerry Kopel


This column is for the 23 House Republican and Democrat legislators who are in their first term. Actually that should be 21, since Rep. John Salazar is presently running for a congressional seat and Rep. Paul Weissmann served one term in the Senate. And of the 21, four were appointed to fill vacancies. The 21 is nearly one third of the House membership.

There is an old adage: When I came into the House, at first I thought "what am I doing here?", but three weeks later I thought "what are all those other people doing here?" Forget it, that is just crap.

Many legislators are smarter than you are, and some are not. If you were one of those elected in November, 2002, you have four solid months of experience. You now recognize the goofballs who are there mainly for fun and who may disappear the second time around. Like lions on the prowl, each party always concentrates on the weakest links in the other party. But sometimes those weak links are wiped out in a primary.

You also now recognize the smart legislators, the ones who know some of the answers or who specialize in just several categories.

You have separated them from the phonies who think they have all the answers but actually, and factually don't.

The smartest ones have power, regardless of political affiliation. You wait to see how they vote on non-partisan complicated issues and you follow their lead.

The second year in the legislature is the hardest. Legislators who are going to lose their seats often do so the second time around. So you are probably even more worried about voting the "wrong" way on the issues. Relax and vote the way you really feel. Constituents would rather have honesty than lap dogs.

It's also important not to get pegged as the water carrier for any particular lobby interests. It may get you some campaign money, but it also damages your credibility on non-special interest issues.

All politics is local. As a legislator, especially in the second year, you do your best work pretending to be on the city council or county commission. If you want to receive the admiration of an entire block of houses, do local politics. Get light poles put up, or get driveways fixed so that water doesn't accumulate at the bottom of the driveway. Get alleys cleaned. You can think of other successful tasks. The word will get around and you have an almost solid block of supporters.

If you haven't put out a newsletter by mail or e-mail, get busy. Make sure voters in the other party get it. Don't make it a propaganda piece for yourself or your party. Give some REAL information. People want to know what they cannot glean from newspapers, radio or TV.

Ask some of the legislators who continue to win in evenly divided districts how they do it. If you are in a district with homes close to each other, you are going to go door-to-door. But don't greet the homeowners (and you may not see more than one in three) with your "issues". Ask how you can be of help to THEM. Some do need help but never would have thought to ask a legislator.

Talk about their problems. The literature you leave behind will be read and you may even get some questions on your e-mail or phone later on.

Do I have any credibility in making these suggestions? Eleven wins and two losses. Four wins out of five in a district that was re-apportioned for a Republican candidate, with some of the heaviest Republican precincts in the state of Colorado. Three victories over incumbents.

Maybe it is just January, but your potential opponent is likely to be working hard already. Sometimes, Democrat or Republican sweeps can carry you to success, but don't count on it. The best person to help you win is the one you see each day in the mirror.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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