A LOOK BACK | Environmental group cited as mayoral election ploy | News

Thirty-five years ago this week: Denver mayoral candidate Don Bain called Denver’s new environmental coalition “a deceptive and transparent attempt to provide the mayor with another endorsement.”

The DEC was led by Tim Atkeson, who was also the chair of Mayor Federico Peña’s task force on environmental affairs, and was formed following a meeting of the mayor’s task force where it was noted that the TFEA members showed little support for Peña.

Following its formation, the DEC sent a letter and questionnaire to all mayoral candidates. Atkeson said The Colorado Statesman that the questionnaire was “intended to provide the fledgling group with information that will allow them to support a candidate for mayor.”

TFEA members told reporters that Atkeson had asked them to volunteer to respond to a recent letter from the Sierra Club that criticized Peña’s position on the Two Forks dam project, but only Tony Massaro, director of Denver Environmental Affairs, had volunteered to do so.

“The current mayor is a master at manipulating the media,” Bain’s strategic coordinator Bill Kenyon said. “And this so-called objective group is clearly a sham intended to provide an endorsement for the mayor.”

Kenyon also noted that long-established environmental groups were critical of Peña and his policies and that the new task force was far from objective.

Kenyon said Peña used similar tactics to gain media support, as was the case when the mayor was forced to pay for a highly controversial poll regarding airport changes, after heavy criticism that the poll was nothing more than a campaign tool.

“Don Bain will not respond to the [DEC] environmental questionnaire,” Kenyon said bluntly.

Twenty-five years ago: Colorado Senate Minority Leader Mike Feeley, D-Lakewood, gubernatorial candidate, shocked members of both parties when he called for a “major overhaul of the operation of the Colorado legislature.”

Feeley’s announcement was timed to coincide with the 1997 Budget Bill in the General Assembly (the Long Bill). Feeley derided the method by which the six members of the Joint Budget Committee set priorities for the state budget, giving those few members far more power than other members of the General Assembly.

“Right now, only six people really know and understand what’s in Colorado’s $9 million budget,” Feeley said. “The other 94 members of the legislature have only one week to review the proposed budget, suggest changes to meet the needs of their constituents and hope for the best. It is not a representative government.

Feeley argued for a very different plan; abolish the JBC and ensure that the legislature plans state finances only in odd-numbered years.

“Another benefit,” Feeley pointed out, “would be that the odd-year budget session could be reduced to 60 days from the current 120, since lawmakers would only be working on state finances. Sessions in even years would remain at 120 days and lawmakers could introduce bills on any subject, as they do now. Hopefully only half the number of frivolous bills would be introduced.

An enormous amount of time and money has been wasted every year, Feeley argued, on passing unnecessary bills like “the designation of a state fish or the official square dance.” Oregon and Texas, he said, have been very successful in meeting every two years.

Feeley said he proposed the plan because of the loss of expertise and institutional memory when veteran lawmakers ran into constitutional term limits.

“The lack of experience of many junior legislators,” he said, “would make them increasingly dependent on unelected staff and, even worse, lobbyists. Under my plan, all lawmakers would be required to scrutinize the budget in depth and would have 60 days every two years, instead of one week per year, to do so.

RAchael Wright is the author of the Captain Savva Mystery series, with degrees in political science and history from the University of Colorado Mesa, and a contributing editor to Colorado Politics and The Gazette.

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