House Minority Leader Patrick Neville

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville addresses the Colorado House of Representatives for the Opening Day of the 2018 Colorado Legislature on Jan. 10, 2018.

The Colorado General Assembly began its 2019 session Friday. Here is the text of the opening-day speech by House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, as prepared for delivery.

On a day like this, it’s right to be thankful:   Thankful for our state and nation, thankful for our families and loved ones, thankful for God’s Providence in bringing us here to represent the people of Colorado.

I welcome you and congratulate you on your hard-earned electoral victories.

Madam Speaker and I disagree on many issues, but I have always appreciated her candor and respect for this place and the work we do here. I look forward to working with you, Madam Speaker.

Perhaps this is the place to comment on our politics more broadly.

Some people in our country don’t want us to talk, debate, or build relationships. They invoke labels like “racist”, or, “un-American” and the like to shut down conversations. This is the trend in American politics and society.

But Professor Jonathan Haidt has said this trend, this reversion to tribes and safe spaces, can be overcome with conversations and relationships; that is, with good-old American civil discourse.

To “be tolerant” means to put up with, and to listen to, people we disagree with. Many people in this room wore the uniform of our country to preserve our fundamental right to free speech and debate – a right the law and constitution clearly afford to disagreeable, and even ‘intolerant’, people. We should shun and shame those who would try to deny us this most basic right, because in the end such people want to make conversation, comity and relationships in this place impossible.

In my experience, we’ve generally been very good at civility in the Colorado General Assembly. Anyone who’s read the annual “Digest of Bills” will see that almost every bill that’s become law in the past two years has had bipartisan support. Yet now, with a Democrat governor and senate, the House majority no longer needs bipartisan support – but history and wisdom suggest Coloradans will benefit from it.

Some might assume that the main job of the minority party is to obstruct the majority – but that’s not my view.

Let me explain. We are committed to the principles of smaller government and free enterprise. These commitments don’t spring from our loyalty to an old book or bumper sticker. They come from our observations about how individuals, governments, and markets have functioned best throughout human history. They are people-centered because they work for people.

Our commitment to smaller government comes from the realization that people make mistakes. People are fallible; people can be tempted. That’s true whether they are educated or ambitious, or both – or neither. We don’t want to give those in government too much power to interfere with our lives because they’re as prone to mistakes and temptation as the rest of us.

As to our commitment to free enterprise, well, that comes from our experience as a nation. In 230 years we have become the most powerful and prosperous country on earth. Neither the microwave oven, nor the iPhone, nor the light bulb was conceived by a government bureaucracy or a top-down approach to the economy. Instead, these and hundreds of other important inventions originated in the imagination of Americans who were free to dream and build.

Because our economic system provides opportunities for creators and visionaries while taking into account a realistic view of human nature, it offers a better life for moms and dads, for leaders and laborers, for the Daughters of the Revolution and the sons of immigrants. Our success hasn’t come by having a large government, but by having large freedoms that enable individuals to pursue their dreams and happiness.

The latest Colorado economic forecast was delivered to our office recently. Like last year, we have ONE BILLION DOLLARS more than anticipated. That’s but one feature of the economic revival that’s come via our Party’s leadership in Washington, but there are others:

    Unemployment is at an all-time low, especially and including the minority community

    The economy’s added 4.8 million jobs since November 2016

    Small business and consumer optimism remain near their all-time highs

    The GDP reflects strong and sustained growth

You see, when Americans are free from unnecessary regulations and over-taxation, they prosper; we want a government that provides security and justice, but mostly, we want to be left alone in our “pursuit of happiness”.

Here at the Capitol, when Republicans find policies that are consistent with the lessons of history, we advocate for them; when public policy ignores these realities, we oppose it because we want policy that works for people; we want a better life and a better future for everyone.

For example, if the Majority insists on passing an expensive and involuntary family leave program that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, one that is ripe for abuse and damaging to business, we’ll oppose it because we know, and history teaches, that such a program will cost more than planned and be less efficient than planned, even as it makes Colorado less affordable for single moms, working families, and young people joining the workforce.

Similarly, this past November Coloradans said “no” to increased regulation of the oil and gas industry, and no wonder:

    We already have effective safeguards in place

    We already enjoy lots of industry/agency cooperation

    And people understand the critical role played by industry in providing jobs, healthcare, and a future for them and their families,

    Taxes paid by this well-regulated industry fund teachers, troopers, and transportation.

Increased regulation would not only contradict voters’ expressed will, it would also make Colorado less affordable, and thus hurt everyone – that’s why we’ll oppose it, should it be proposed.

The Denver Post recently published the results of a poll they’d conducted with millennials. Being a millennial myself, I was interested in what they had to say. The gist of the story was this: young professionals in Colorado are waiting to have children because they can’t afford them; the same holds true for their dream of owning a home.

Single moms, working women and families in general groan under the burden of health care costs. Some of these costs are artificial because people are forced to buy coverage they neither need nor want, while others struggle with a system that lacks transparency and competition. We must develop and insist on creative market-based solutions that will work as opposed to big government ones that won’t. We must insure transparent pricing, more consumer choice, and voluntary participation. It’s not fair or compassionate when people are hurt by politicians who promise progress but deliver price increases.

Similarly, investing in transportation, that is, in roads and bridges, will improve our quality of life: it will cut down on commute times, make living outside cities more accessible and affordable, and it can be done by spending money we already have. Ninety-seven per cent (97%) of commuters use our roads and bridges, and that’s where we should invest our transportation dollars. There’s no reason a significant portion of our budget can’t be spent on transportation, especially at a time when our coffers are overflowing. Coloradans told us this past November they don’t want taxes raised to pay for the transportation projects we already have money for.

On a related note, Coloradans can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars more for the vehicles they use to work, take children to school, and vacation – but new environmental regulations will raise the price of both old and new cars. As surely as day follows night, these regulations will raise prices even as they do little to improve our environment.

The drip, drip, drip of paying for basic needs is draining Coloradans of the optimism and hope that should be natural for residents of this great state. It causes others to leave, and yet others to delay having children. The bills we debate this session will directly impact Colorado’s affordability, and if history teaches us anything, it teaches that government programs bring with them the very expensive baggage of unintended consequences.

Sadly, this baggage is relevant to the debate about “injection sites”. Some well-intentioned people would have you believe this is a compassionate approach to a complicated problem. Fact is, the causes of opioid addiction often are complicated. Yet Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has pointed out that such sites violate federal law, and more importantly, they create serious safety risks for workers and neighborhoods, even as they ‘normalize’ self-destructive behavior. So-called safe injection sites are not the answer. Asking the taxpayer to foot the bill to continue addiction is a bad idea. Subsidizing the slow-motion suicide of our citizens is wrong. We can and must do better.

When it comes to Education, the founders of our state thought it so important that they required it to be publicly funded. Over the past several years, we’ve funded a lot. But when you spend or invest money, it’s only fair to expect some return. We’ve made a great financial investment, but we’re not getting a great return, especially in the minority community. According to the Department of Education,

•    Local school districts receive on average slightly more than $15,000 per child per year.

•    An average class of 23 students costs taxpayers about $345,000 per year.

•    If those students began first grade together, taxpayers would have invested $4,140,000 in them by high school graduation.

•    Yet according to the Department of Education’s own data, twenty-one percent (21%) of those students won’t graduate, and nearly 40% of those that do are unprepared to take a freshman class in college and must instead take remedial courses in math and English.

•    Minority 4th grade student math success doesn’t reach 19% – that is, over 80% don’t meet expectations.

•    79% of African-American and 71% of Hispanic high school graduates need remediation before starting college.

•    In a room where the likeness of Barney Ford is featured, we should demand better.

•    Yet with far less money, a more diverse student population and far fewer resources, charter schools do better.

•    In the past 8 years (2010-2017), Colorado student enrollment has increased 7%, the number of teachers employed has increased 10% – but the number of principals and assistant principals has gone up 24%

What can we do?

•    Get rid of costly state rules that force schools to hire administrators instead of teachers

•    Ask schools to refocus their efforts on academics and job training, and don’t ask them to do so many other things

•    Encourage districts to offer better pay for great teachers

•    Make it easier to remove bad teachers

•    Offer more educational choices for students and parents. In every other market – be it cellphones, cable TV, or automobiles – competition and consumer choice result in better products and more value for money. The same can happen in education.

•    Children deserve hope, but our status quo system robs them of it.

The time has come for us to have an open mind to new approaches to education because it is obvious that what we’ve been doing isn’t working.

We will work with Democrats on any bill that offers real hope for educational success.

Before Colorado was a state, it was a frontier, and that frontier spirit produced a constitution that mandated education spending; that same constitution made the right of gun ownership and self-defense explicit. Nevertheless, when killers use guns, some people advocate curtailing those rights. The fact is, since 1993, our national population has increased 27%, the number of firearms in the country has increased 56% yet the number of gun homicides per 100,000 has been nearly cut in half, from 7 to 3.6. New laws designed to prevent the mentally ill from acquiring firearms are so badly written and open to abuse that they are more likely to rob the innocent of the ability to defend themselves than to prevent the mentally ill from killing. While we are prepared to look closely at such bills, we are not willing to leave the innocent defenseless so we might feel good about ourselves.

The Second Amendment and other Constitutional rights define this nation and our state. We have the right to free speech, the right to freely exercise our religion, but above all we have the right to life. Without it, “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” are empty slogans. Americans are increasingly ‘pro-life’, in no small measure because of inventions like the sonogram that enables us to view the development of unborn babies. That’s where I first saw my three daughters, and many of you here have had the same experience. I pray this enlightened attitude makes its way to the Capitol.

In conclusion, we have choices to make:

•    Will we expand state government at the expense of the average citizen or look for ways to lower the cost of doing business in Colorado to make Colorado more affordable?

•    Will we plant fiscal bombs into the budget in the form of costly new programs, burdening us and our children for decades or develop more free enterprise oriented solutions?

•    The bigger government approach doesn’t work. It creates more inequality, more dependence, and more social division, and if you doubt me on this, just look to the west where California now has the highest rate of poverty in the nation. Look to Illinois, which is on the verge of bankruptcy.

I look forward to working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make Colorado more affordable for working families and individuals, more hospitable for businesses, and more respectful and tolerant of the constitutional rights and liberties of all our citizens.

Thank you and God bless.

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