When former lawmaker Jack Taylor died last month of coronavirus, tributes poured in for the Steamboat Springs Republican who fought for the Western Slope.
He earned fans on both sides of the aisle when he served in the House and the Senate, ending a 16-year career in 2008. Taylor died April 22 at the age of 84.
He was known to wear his Navy whites on Military Appreciation Day and oh, how he cut a dashing figure.
“He was so handsome when he dressed in his uniform,’’ former lobbyist Ann Terry gushed on Facebook.
But the remark that really caught my eye came from Sen. Nancy Todd, an Aurora Democrat.
“I remember the fun days — before amendment 41 — when we went over to the western slope to better understand the TRUE picture for a tour of mines, bipartisan golfing & dinner with Jack & Al White, & other legislators to WELCOME & educate us!!”
Let me repeat Todd’s line: “I remember the fun days — before amendment 41.”
No matter what you think about Democrat Jared Polis’ performance since he became governor in 2019, he should always be linked to the ballot measure he financed and put on the ballot in 2006. It sounded too good to pass up, ethics in government, and Coloradans approved it without reading the fine print.
The measure in part limits the gifts elected officials and government staffers can receive, and it created the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission to offer advice and guidance on ethics issues and review complaints about possible violations.
The commission has stayed in the news because of ethics complaints filed against John Hickenlooper regarding travel issues while he served as governor. Hickenlooper, who was term-limited after 2018, is now running for the U.S. Senate.
Last November the commission issued a 31-page investigative report, which prompted an editorial in The Denver Post that had me screaming:
“Almost exactly a year ago, we wrote that the two men who filed an error-filled ethics complaint against former Gov. John Hickenlooper deserved rebuke for filing an official document with huge factual errors — and while that’s still true, there’s more to the story,” The Post wrote.
“Some of the less sensational accusations from former Speaker of the Colorado House Frank McNulty and state Sen. John Cooke were true or partially true and do raise important questions about how the state’s ban on elected officials accepting gifts should be interpreted and enforced.”
Now comes the kicker: “The results should prove instructive to Gov. Jared Polis going forward.”
The editorial failed to mention Amendment 41 was Polis’ baby.
Due to the coronavirus crisis, Hickenlooper's hearing, first scheduled for March and then April, is now scheduled for June.
I covered the Amendment 41 campaign for the Rocky Mountain News.
In principle, it was a good concept. Why should a lobbyist be able to buy a lawmaker a trip to the Masters Tournament or a vacation to Mexico? And some lawmakers milked the system, saying they hadn’t made up their mind on a bill, perhaps they could discuss the merits again over another steak dinner at one of Colorado’s premier restaurants.
But the proposal Polis submitted did far more than that. Critics said Amendment 41 went beyond worthwhile reform, in part because its scope was so wide, and its gift-giving ban was so broad.
Former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown blistered the measure in an op-ed piece during the campaign.
“It's a good thing to promote ethics in government, and there are several existing provisions in state statute and the operating policies of governmental entities that do just that,” he said. “Amendment 41 would take the already clearly defined concept of ethics in government in a bizarre, murky direction.”
But oppose an ethics measure? It might as well have been called “kittens and puppies.” And so Colorado, a relatively clean state (hey, I moved here from New Mexico), passed the measure. Lobbyists couldn’t even buy a lawmaker a cup of coffee. And elected officials and most state and local government employees, their spouses and children, initially couldn’t accept a gift valued at more than $50. Now that’s up to $65.
After it passed I snagged an interview with Polis, who then served on the state Board of Education, and asked him about criticisms of the ballot measure.
“Given what you know now, knowing there were language problems with Amendment 41, would you support it again?” I asked.
“Amendment 41 was poorly worded. And I deeply regret that, and that its poor wording gave the lobbyists a chance to spread fear,” Polis replied, later adding, “Amendment 41 is poorly worded, but it's not awfully worded.”
Phew. What a relief.
I covered Hickenlooper’s first trip to the Ethics Commission, in 2014. He was accused of violating Amendment 41 by allowing the Democratic Governors Association to pick up expenses for him and some staffers at a policy conference in Aspen in 2013. His office said exemptions in the law allowed the association to cover the expenses.
By then I was working for The Denver Post, and I broke the story that Geoff Blue, the attorney for the conservative group that filed the ethics complaint, had done exactly what the governor was accused of doing.
Before Blue went into private practice, he worked for Republican Attorney General John Suthers and accompanied Suthers on trips for which the Republican Attorneys General Association covered some expenses.
The complaint against Hickenlooper was dismissed. Who knows what will happen this time.
In the meantime, the ethics commission is taking up groundbreaking issues such as whether Denver District Attorney Beth McCann can accept a snowboard she won at a raffle. Is this really what voters intended? Maybe that’s what Hank Brown meant by bizarre and murky.
I find it interesting that a lawmaker as respected as Nancy Todd, a former teacher and now the Senate president pro tem, took aim at Amendment 41 during her praise of Jack Taylor. Yes, lobbyists ponied up money to defray costs of those Western Slope golf outings but the idea that someone like Nancy Todd — or Jack Taylor — could be bought for dinner and drinks? Please.
One of my favorite stories about Taylor came from funnyman Eric Bergman, a former state staffer who now works at Colorado Counties Inc. He said whenever he saw Taylor dressed in his Navy whites he wanted to clap his hands and say, “Way to go, Paula, way to go.”
You have to be a fan of “An Officer and a Gentleman” to get why his remark was so hilarious.
But now that comment is all the more fitting because Jack Taylor truly was an officer and a gentleman. And someone who never needed Amendment 41 to do the right thing.