Jerry Kopel


Hey there.... you with the stars in your eyes. This column is for the men and women who are making their first attempt at becoming Colorado legislators. If you know any of the above who aren't yet readers of the Statesman, you might want to clip this article to give to them after Tuesday, Nov. 8th.


There really is no high that is exactly comparable with this one for first-timers. You sat in your campaign headquarters or at the political party office watching results brought in by campaign workers.

When it became clear late in the evening that you had won, you made a little speech thanking everyone for all their efforts. Then you went home, still full of adrenalin, but also enormously tired. When you wake up Wednesday, there are some matters to attend to, before beginning your "short" vacation.

1. If you haven't been preparing letters to those who helped you get elected, you have a lot of letters to write. Each one deserves a PERSONAL letter. The worst thing you could do is stick names on a stack of copies and if that is what you were planning, you are better off doing nothing at all.

Your workers are going to appreciate those personal letters. After all, you are now an "important" person. Your letter will be kept and you have retained the foundation for the NEXT election.

2. If you really want to serve the full eight years permitted under term limits, now is exactly the time to start preparing. Get a list of the committeepeople in the "other" party in your district and write to each of them.

Be careful how you phrase the letter. Don't use campaign stationery, don't be condescending, smug, or insulting. You want to let them know you will represent everyone in the district and if they have concerns on issues, or if they need any assistance, you will be available to help. Be sure to include them in any mailings concerning what you are doing in the legislature.

You are not going to "convert" any of these committeepeople, but you are going to let them see you as an individual, rather than as a symbol; you are going to soften their attitude towards you. As a consequence,in future campaigns the push on behalf of your political opponent may be half-hearted.

3. Start the learning process. If you have not attended law school, the tools of your new trade may seem quite foreign. As soon as you get back from the short vacation needed to wind down, get over to the capitol building.

Go to the Legal Services office at the basement level (the right side as you enter from l4th Avenue) and pick up your set of Colorado Revised Statutes, (CRS) and the 1994 Session Laws.(You might call first, 866-2045)

Legislative Council (866-3521), also in the basement area (to the right as you enter from Colfax Avenue) will be mailing you by Monday, Nov. 14th " The Legislative Process" ,and "Legislative Directory" 1994 versions. The Rule Book, which contains the rules for the House and Senate will be handed out Nov. 28th unless you pick it up in advance.

The orientation books should be read first. Then glance at the Session Laws so you can see the final shape of bills when they become laws, and then the Rule Book for a taste of parliamentary procedure.

Now turn to Volume 1B of the Colorado Revised Statutes. In the early part of this volume is an introduction to CRS written by the late Jim Wilson. It appears on pages ix through xix. These pages explain words used in drafting bills and how to refer to various portions of a statute.

Volume 1B is also the volume that discusses legislative functions, including some of the statutory committees. An important part of this volume begins at page 287. Here you will find rules of construction and definitions of words....a sort of guide to the "mysteries" of statutes.

Be sure to look at the supplement in the back part of your Volume 1 B, which contains revisions, since 1 B was last printed in 1980 and all revisions since then are contained in the soft-back supplement.

4. Take your time. Don't be overwhelmed by all this material. It will take a good part of your first year before you will be comfortable with all the concepts. All you are doing at this point is picking up a fuzzy outline. Of course, if you have a background in city council or as county commissioner, it will be an easier integration.

There will be an orientation for new legislators directed by Legislative Council, Nov. 28th through Dec. 2d. Unfortunately, there will be a great deal of information thrown at you in a concentrated period of time, and not everyone can absorb at the same pace. That's why an early start in reading is important. Those who are familiar with the legislative process will gain the most.

5. Newly found friends. It's amazing how popular you have now become. The mail and phone congratulations will start as soon as the election results are known. If you are human, you will find this "going to your head."

The really-effective paid lobbyists work at their job all year and, unless you have pulled an amazing upset, they had already handicapped the possibilities and responded with appropriate financing. Lobbying begins immediately, if not earlier.

If you are able to keep a sense of perspective, there is nothing lost by accepting tickets to plays, or a day on the ski slopes, unless of course, your opponent in the next election can use it against you.

On the other hand, lobbyists can be the fountain of excellent information on specific issues, as long as you remember they are being paid to achieve a specific goal. Always try to obtain information from both sides of a lobbied issue.

Lobbyists often discuss legislators (just as legislators discuss lobbyists) and word will get around if you are an easy sell, or if your word can or cannot be trusted. The solution is to never commit unless you are absolutely certain what you will be voting on, and once you commit and have given your word....keep it.

There will be more helpful hints in future columns as well as a column on what to do if you lost on Nov. 8th either as an incumbent or on first try.



Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator and thirteen legislative campaigns.

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