sausage making

There’s an aphorism we like to throw around in state government circles: It’s how the sausage gets made.

That’s partly because it’s a grind, partly because it’s full of pork and partly because a slaughterhouse also is a necessary unpleasantry. Like government mystery meat, the phrase itself has sketchy origins.

The quote about government, usually attributed wrongly to Otto von Bismarck, goes, "Laws are like sausages. It's best not to see them being made.”

Bismarck was the chancellor of the German empire from 1871 to 1890, who fought socialism by introducing pensions and health insurance. 

The wisdom is a little older: On March 29, 1869, poet and politician John Godfrey Saxe told The Daily Cleveland Herald, “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.”

The late Jimmy Dean said it better than either one of them: “Sausage is a great deal like life. You get out of it about what you put into it.”

He also said, “Wake up like a tight pair of pants: ready to rip,” so you couldn't forget he was from Texas.

Making sausage gets a bad rap because of politics, not the other way around. People soured on the process, so the end result hardly has a chance.

When lawmakers return to Denver on Jan. 13, they could do away with the bills and debates that aren't going anywhere.

That won't happen. How do you tell a legislator not to fight for their district, even if it's a lost cause, snapping the reins on a runaway majority?

Majorities, however, represent the will of the voters, the linchpin between democracy and freedom. We can't continue on this path of tearing down our democracy in the name of never-ending campaigns.

In Florida, I covered a county commissioner, Byrd Mapoles, a conservative AM radio host in an overwhelmingly Republican County. Byrd used to say, “If the majority wants to burn down the courthouse, I’ll bring the matches.” That was in 1992. The minority these days is louder, because majorities tend to forget we're a two-party system.

It’s time to streamline the process, at least.

There are days and days early in a normal session when the lawmakers gavel in, gavel out, and not much happens. The 120-day legislative session, you figure out once you're in it, could be something shorter.

Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, has never gotten serious support for his money-saving proposal to shorten the session.

Most states meet for either 90 or 120 days, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Mexico meets for 30 days in odd-numbered years and 60 in even. Four states convene every other year.

It's not like Colorado hasn't experimented before.

We were one of a handful of states that extended their legislative sessions in the early 1960s, when it went from 120 days to 160.

By 1988, Coloradans had figured out that more government was not better government and passed Amendment 3 to roll it back to 120.

In 2017, Lundeen ran Senate Concurrent Resolution 1001 to put a measure on the ballot to let voters decide again. The question would have proposed meeting 90 days in even-numbered years and 60 days in odd. 

If voters had gotten the chance to say yes, the legislature would write and vote on a budget only in even-numbered years. Instead, the bill was assigned to the House "kill committee," where legislation the majority doesn't like is sent to die, which it did, six Democrats to three Republicans.

Each lawmaker would have been limited to two bills and two resolutions per session. Now they can introduce five, but that's more a guide than a rule, since permission to introduce more is generous.

In 2019, the legislature heard 52 resolutions, including Equal Pay Day, Missing Persons Day, Single Parents Day and an official request for the federal government to do a better job labeling American meat. I question why we need so many official statements and whether they're anything more than Mardi Gras candy politicians toss to their constituents as the parade goes by.

And that's just it. Much of this pomp and circumstance is a stage production taxpayers are underwriting, whether they care to watch or not.

How much?

In 2017, legislative analysis said the cost of a special session would cost taxpayers $25,400 a day for 100 lawmakers and staff to reconvene under the gold dome. That's almost enough to buy a 2019 Subaru Outback off Craigslist every single day. 

Some days it's worth it, some days are worth a Dodge Dynasty.

Members who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol can collect up to $171 a day to cover travel, room and board. Those who live closer than 50 miles get $45 a day anytime they're in Denver on government business. That's not gouging. That's hardly enough to cover food and gas.

Talk ain't cheap when 100 elected officials and the staff to maintain them come to town. Legislative analysts shortening the session the way the ballot question proposed would have saved the state at least $555,000 in odd-numbered years and $277,025 in even. A lighter workload would amount to about five fewer full-time jobs.

That's some mighty expensive sausage, any way you slice it.

Joey Bunch: "Money runs out before the compassion ever does under the golden dome of the state Capitol in Denver. It's probably that way in your household budget. That’s evident looking at an entirely worthy piece of legislation passed by the state Senate on March 10, bound for the governor's desk."

Joey Bunch: "The question is still out on whether any new bills will be introduced or old ones considered, but legislative leaders as of now are invoking a rule that makes education and state government budgets the priorities, but otherwise they will 'only address mission-critical responsibilities.'"

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