Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prepping Legislators

When I was first elected to the legislature many years ago, Representative Jerry Kopel (D- Denver)gave me and others in my newly elected class some excellent advice. Older members of our caucus gave Jerry the accolade as sort of the uncontested "Dean" of our delegation. "Kopel knows the rules," Dominic Coloroso, (D-Denver) whispered to me as he gave me his worn book of rules. As I read some of the sage advice former legislators are sharing with the newly elected, I did not notice Kopel's common sense and simple advice. So now with his permission which I know he would give, I share it with all, even Republicans.

Jerry suggested that we find pictures of the legislators, all 100 of them from the Speaker on down. Clip out the picture and paste it on a 3 x 5 card. On the other side write in the legislator's name; home town; birth date; wife or husband and children's names; cities and towns within the district; committees assigned; schools attended; and businesses operated. Jerry always said leave space so you can write down things which come up during the session: hobbies, favorite songs, movies or latest book read. At the time I joked that we probably would not have to fill in many books read recently. Everyone has been too busy campaigning, I figured. But I was wrong on that joke. Most legislators were well read. And I was familiar with the principle of flash cards: I encouraged my Latin and Greek students at Regis to do the same for vocabulary practice. "Happy Birthday, Senator!"

I christened my picture cards: "Kopel's Legislative Flash Cards." Jerry suggested we flash them several times a day; when you get up; at lunch time; and when you go to bed. Flash the cards in the morning and flash the cards at night. "Eventually you will remember all the material on the cards and it will impress your colleagues that you cared enough to find out about them and their lives" was what Kopel told us. Dean Kopel would actually give us spot quizzes on which legislator was from where and all the rest. Our caucus developed information envy. And the points of information made for good discussion between heated arguments. The cards lowered blood pressures and made us laugh. Indeed, we shared our humanity with each other in moments of intense partisanship.

And Kopel, as usual, was right. Legislators and their spouses appreciated the human touch that one remembered little facts in their lives. I know one legislative wife appreciated my knowing her family name which I still use as a memory test. I fondly recall Senator Fay DeBerard, (R-Kremmling) a conservative west slope rancher. His wife, Beverly Burford, no relation to Speaker Bob, inspired Jack Kerouac's "Babe" in On the Road. I think it often made the Republican Assignables nervous when I crossed over to their side to sit next to her in the Senate Chamber. I would ask her if she "had seen Jack lately down at Capelli's Bar." That bar is now My Brother's Bar on 15th and Platte in North Denver, famous for Kerouac, Neal Cassidy and others sipping brews there in the Beat days gone by; gone alas like our youth too soon.

And I remember Senator Ralph Cole, (R-Littleton),who was very conservative, but always thoughtful. I once heard him argue a point from the Senate well on an issue, "English parliamentarians lost their heads over this issue. The king, and now the governor, wants to grab more power from us in the legislature," Senator Cole shouted hitting his fist reverberating on the lectern. Ralph and I did not agree on lots, but when we talked about English Parliamentary History, we were the best of friends. Ralph gave his tattered copy of English Constitutional History which has a Latin Magna Carta amongst its well-worn pages. I confess I keep this revered text from Ralph on my bookshelf near my bed for when I can't sleep. I still hear Ralph: "Don't let those parliamentarians die in vain."

Years later I suggested to leadership that we get two constitutional experts from DU or CU law schools to summarize the principles found in the US and Colorado Constitutions for the new and older legislators. They laughed me out of the room, but I still think it is a good idea. I remember one House Majority Leader in all seriousness arguing, "The Constitution really doesn't count for much on second reading." Any one remember who said that? I still believe that the Constitutional legislative teach-in could do much to cut down patently unconstitutional legislation and rhetorical blather on floor debate.

Now today with all the computers and social networks, legislators can put the faces and information on face book. Can you flash face book? But I would use face book as backup for the printed and oral comments written on the regular flash cards.

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