Wolf Population Idaho

In this file photo provided by the National Park Service, a wolf is shown in Yellowstone National Park, Wyo., on Nov. 7, 2017. Idaho's wolf population appears to be holding steady despite recent changes by lawmakers that allow expanded methods and seasons for killing wolves, the state’s top wildlife official said on Oct. 6, 2022.

Remember a dozen years ago and the online obsession with FarmVille? In that spirit, this week’s offering concerns a handful of farm animals along with one who feasts on such prey.

Public policy in Colorado is sometimes made in the legislature and other times at the ballot box. Whatever the venue and whomever the deciders, it can turn out for better or worse. Examples of each are plentiful.

Eric Sondermann

Eric Sondermann

Prepare to move quickly as we have a lot of ground to cover. Let’s start with the predator.

In the 2020 election, Colorado voters, in their infinite wisdom, narrowly approved a proposition to “reintroduce” gray wolves to our environs. The quote marks are there advisedly as this particular species of wolves had never graced our state.

If ever there was an example of a complex issue of wildlife management ill-suited to a public plebiscite, this was it. Virtue-seeking voters along the populous Front Range indulged their feel-good instincts in deciding that wolves would fit nicely, thank you, in the hinterlands of Colorado a couple of hundred miles away.

The ranchers and others in those out-of-the-way places had a markedly different view. But they were too few in number to change the outcome. Even as officials wrestle with regulations in advance of the formal reintroduction, one or more wolf packs are already roaming remote Jackson County in addition to other locales. And guess what: They’ve already taken down multiple head of cattle.

So much for the need for government’s fine hand in bringing wolves back to our state. If you seek a primer on the increasing estrangement felt by many in rural Colorado, look to this issue.

Let’s turn now to barnyard animals – chickens, specifically. While it might make for better copy to be critical of the decisions of our elected superiors, legislators got it right in mandating humane conditions for egg-laying hens.

As of the first of this year, Colorado farmers were prohibited from selling eggs or egg products from hens confined in a way that violates minimum standards of decency and livability.

True, many Coloradans are experiencing sticker shock when buying a carton of eggs. Some wit recently exclaimed: “I’m a wealthy man. I opened my refrigerator and found a half-dozen eggs.”

Colorado’s new law certainly contributes to the cost. Even as it is a distinctly lesser factor behind the bird flu outbreak and the widespread, pervasive inflation.

You won’t find me at PETA rallies and I am hardly some animal rights activist. I enjoy a good steak now and then and wear my leather jacket here and there. But it shouldn’t require a high degree of activism to be aware of the conditions imposed on animals who yield our food.

Caged hens spend their entire miserable existence in quarters in which they literally cannot turn around, much less spread their wings. This is nothing short of cruelty. Credit to lawmakers for redressing it even if it adds a few nickels at the grocery checkout.

And now to turkeys, never in short supply when talking politics.

First up under this heading is Colorado’s new Family and Medical Leave Insurance program — FAMLI for an awful government acronym. This, too, was a gift from the Colorado electorate in 2020, sharing that ballot with the wolf reintroduction proposal. That year may not go down as one of particular discernment and glory on the part of voters.

Before angry letters are sent off to my editor, my objection to this program has nothing to do with its worthy intent. Our entire nation could learn a good deal from other advanced countries in prioritizing such family time.

Rather, the argument is with the program’s woefully insufficient funding scheme. Voters were amply warned of funding inadequacies before the vote. But those cautions were no match for the fuzzy appeal of the idea.

Through what is essentially a payroll tax, both employers and employees starting last month are contributing .45% of salary to the fund. Combined, that comes to .9%, a not insignificant sum. The authorities running the program can raise that to 1.2%, if financially required. Most analysts regard that hike as inevitable and soon.

But even that cap may fall well short of keeping the program solvent and meeting its obligations. Think of Colorado PERA and its chronic underfunding and financial crisis. If you like the straits of PERA, you will love what FAMLI has in store.

Another turkey unfolding before our eyes is the current legislative proposal for rent control. A decades-old slogan used to defeat some faulty ballot measure is perfectly applicable here: “The right problem; the wrong solution.”

No one denies the challenge of skyrocketing housing costs. But easy fixes are almost always illusory and rent control is hardly the answer.

It discourages the construction of additional housing supply and distorts the market to penalize those trying to get started. Legislators have the authority to repeal many laws but not the basic economic law of supply and demand.

Let’s wrap this up with a harsh word for a few individual turkeys. Legislators with the arrogance to run for reelection last fall while full well intending to then immediately run for high office in Denver are the target here.

Mayoral candidate and state Sen. Chris Hansen receives a pass, or at least a small asterisk, as his legislative seat was not up for election this past November.

However, within days of her November reelection, State Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez announced her run for an at-large seat on Denver City Council. Anyone really believe she did not have this fully in mind throughout her fall campaign?

State Rep. Alex Valdez announced his mayoral candidacy soon after his reelection, only to then withdraw from the race more recently.

But the grand prize winner is State Rep. Leslie Herod who declared her candidacy for mayor a full two months before her 2022 reelection. In place of judgment, she demonstrates entitlement and disrespect for voters who sent her to do a legislative job.

Gobble, gobble.

Eric Sondermann is a Colorado-based independent political commentator. He writes regularly for Colorado Politics and the Gazette newspapers. Reach him at [email protected]; follow him at @EricSondermann

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