One of my tasks while working as a staffer for Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet was to see if I could help military folks and veterans deal with the bureaucratic challenges they faced with the VA and other military and vet organizations. I remember one woman who found herself with zero income following the death of her military husband. It seems the DOD was very efficient in terminating his military pay upon his passing, but the VA pension she was then entitled to receive took 11 months to kick in, and then only with a senator’s office pestering them. She had gotten to the point of taking out payday loans to buy food. Clearly that is not right, and the VA has worked vary hard in recent months to make things better.
Other staffers in the office helped folks with their Social Security problems, immigration issues, and every other type of problem that can confront a citizen. When the problem was a state matter, we referred the caller to the Governor’s Citizen Advocate Office, or for local matters we’d find the phone number of the mayor and/or correct city office. Unfortunately, we were not always successful, and we’d find ourselves frustrated and helpless. The safety net simply had too many holes in it. All too often, because we were the last hope of a struggling taxpayer, we’d find the individual in a true crisis with little or no wiggle room left in their personal lives.
I thought of these people recently when I read the CBS News story that surveyed Americans and shockingly reported that nearly 40% of Americans would struggle to cover an unexpected $400 expense. I read that story the same day I saw a story in Colorado Politics describing how a little law passed and signed by the governor that increased the rights and protections of those living in mobile homes in a number of ways, including extending the time it takes to evict a mobile home resident from 48 hours to 30 days.
I know an elderly person in a mobile home, and she would be impacted by both these matters: she could hardly shoulder a $400 surprise and she lives a quiet but close-to-the-edge life in a mobile home community wherein she owns her trailer but rents the lot upon which it sits. It is because of people like her that I applaud the Colorado legislature and the governor for the new law. There is very little political capital to be gained by such legislation — the people impacted are about the least likely to make major (and noticed) campaign contributions. So, the passage of this type of law shows that, on both sides of the aisle, there are good and kind people doing their best for their constituents. Colorado state Sen. Pete Lee is another that comes to mind for such legislation, notably his hard work on restorative justice — a subject that impacts a few people profoundly but is not likely to generate a great deal of publicity.
Those at the lower levels of the socio-economic spectrum are all too often ignored and forgotten. They don’t have much political pull and as a result you don’t see much done for them. That is why this new law, that will only impact a small number of folks, is an important indication that in Colorado’s legislature, there are advocates for the folks most in need.
The late Illinois U.S. Senator Paul Simon (not the singer, the one with bow ties) once remarked that fundraising was so important that when he had a moment to return a few phone calls, and when confronted with a list of calls, some from major donors, and some from people who never donated, well, as Sen. Simon put it, who do you think he called back first? The donors of course. That is why efforts like this new law and like restorative justice are both good for Colorado and frankly, are also a good indication of a certainly flawed, but truly caring state government.
The mobile home law is the canary in the coal mine — if such a bill can become law, it suggests that our state legislature is not in gridlock, like our federal Congress is, and that suggests a legislature that has its ears open, and not just to the rich, but also the regular folks, and most importantly, even to those most in need. In a time of great criticism of the government, in this at least, we can take some pride.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.