The temptations and traps of using the gold dome as a megaphone

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Being a Republican legislator running for a major statewide office this year is a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because it helps to have a public platform from which to reach for something higher; a curse because lawmaking involves something resembling work, like sticking around for debates in the chamber, and being stuck in tedious committee meetings when you want to be out campaigning.

You also have to cast votes, and they can be tricky. What may look good on your record for the primary election may backfire in the general, if you get that far.

Then there are the five bills you are allowed to sponsor. They might as well be geared more towards your political future than public policy, since the Democratic majority in both chambers isn’t going to let anything that might help your campaign get to the governor’s desk.

The legislative candidates running for U.S. senator or governor are all Republicans, of course, since no Democrat is going to challenge incumbent Sen. Mark Udall or Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The most interesting and reasonable bill introduced so far by a statewide candidate is already dead. It was by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, a candidate for governor. His Senate Bill 40 would have allowed out-of-state insurance companies to offer Colorado consumers health benefit plans that have been approved in another state, so long as the companies were authorized to do business here, priced the policies the same as in other states and allowed the Colorado insurance commissioner and courts to have jurisdiction over policy disputes.

It promoted one of the many positive alternatives put forth by Republicans to coercive Obamacare. But it was assigned to the State Affairs Committee, which did what it was created to do and killed it a week after introduction. Offering less expensive health plans to Coloradans is not something the Democrats favor.

Brophy is also sponsoring a bill that would require the Colorado Supreme Court to rule on a death penalty case within three years of the filing of an appeal notice. That might sound good to death penalty advocates but the judicial branch doesn’t take kindly to deadlines and the bill has no chance.

Brophy’s rivals for the GOP gubernatorial nomination — Secretary of State Scott Gessler, former state Sen. Mike Kopp and former congressman Tom Tancredo — have plenty of positions and policies to defend or promote but don’t have to worry about this year’s votes or bills.

Among the candidates for U.S. senator, state Sen. Owen Hill is sponsoring the bills most obviously designed to appeal — make that pander — to voters.

His Senate Bill 85 would require a 1 percent reduction in the state budget for the coming fiscal year. An admirable but no-chance goal. The Joint Budget Committee will set the budget to be voted on and Hill’s fellow Republicans are often just as much in favor of hiking spending when the economy permits as Democrats. But the bill may play with convention delegates.

Even more cynical is Hill’s Senate Bill 44, which would enable some seniors to get tax breaks on their vehicles similar to the ones some get on their homes.

Coloradans who’ve lived in the state five years or more and are 65 or older would pay a flat registration fee of $34.10 and a specific ownership tax of $15.90 instead of the regular fee and tax, which of course would be juch higher, depending on the age and value of the vehicle. No means testing would be required; the rich as well as the poor could avail themselves of this remarkable deal.

The state already grants seniors who’ve owned their own homes for 10 years or more a 50 percent break on the taxes owed on the first $200,000 of their home’s actual value. Again, no means test is applied, and the break isn’t given to seniors who might have recently downsized or just moved into the state. It is so politically skewed so that even TABOR author Douglas Bruce has opposed it. The law is suspended during years when the budget is especially tight, but it was resurrected last year with the support of both Republicans and Democrats.

Hill’s bill was assigned to State Affairs but it wouldn’t survive no matter where it was sent.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, has offered Senate Bill 75, a much more modest automobile tax bill. It would eliminate motor vehicle registration fees and allow a specific ownership tax of just $1, but it would apply only to military personnel outside of the United States for a full year. He is also promoting a special EMS plate for those who donate to the Emergency Medical Services Association of Colorado.

Rep. Amy Stephens, Republican Senate candidate from Monument, is sponsoring House Bill 1043, which would make many changes to the voting rights act pushed through last year. No point in detailing them; it was assigned to State Affairs. She would also criminalize the posting of nude photographs of persons under 18 by those intent on getting revenge or causing “emotional distress.”

Stephens, who is skipping the caucus-assembly process in favor of getting on the ballot by petition, is also sticking her thumb in the eye of some conservative Republicans by sponsoring House Bill 1115, which would establish a subsidized Medicaid expansion pilot program for up to 2,000 adults. She drew flak last year from sponsoring the state’s health insurance exchanges, which conservatives see as too much compromise with Obamacare.

Longtime Rocky Mountain News political columnist Peter Blake now writes Thursdays for CompleteColorado.com. Contact him at pblake0705@comcast.net You may re-publish his work at no charge and without further permission; please give full credit to Peter Blake and www.CompleteColorado.com

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