Democracy makes for a long, tiring slog

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There’s an episode of “The Simpsons” where Homer ends up wandering through a desert in the middle of a hot-chile-pepper-induced hallucination.

Homer, confused by his surroundings and the seemingly endless landscape around him, comes across a tortoise that’s leaving a message behind it in the sand as it walks that reads: Follow the tortoise.

Homer does so, before becoming frustrated by the tortoise’s tortoise-like pace. He then gives the reptile a gentle kick in its rear in hopes of getting it to move faster.

“Get moving you stupid ...,” Homer says. “When I’m kicking you that means hurry up!”

Homer ends up losing his patience and boots the tortoise across the desert.

As a reporter who covers the Colorado General Assembly every day, I can relate to Homer’s anguish.

This year’s legislative session may be winding down, but as each day passes, it just feels like I’m following a slow-moving tortoise clumsily through the sand. The days go on forever. And sometimes, in the middle of an eight-hour hearing, I get into one of those Homer-like moods where I just wanna kick the proverbial tortoise across Denver’s Colfax Avenue and scream, “Hurry up!”

It’s been controversial bill after controversial bill this session. And debate over each one of them seems to go on and on and on ....

And when one bill is finally put to bed after several hours of debate, there’s another one right behind it to take its place. It’s like throwing a single starfish back into the ocean after hundreds of others have washed up on the shore. But I guess I do take some solace in knowing that my exhaustion is not unique. Lawmakers are feeling the pain, too. And they’re doing their best to get through the long days.

“I’m still trying to figure out if I came just in time or at a horribly wrong time,” quipped freshman Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City. “The jury is still out on that one.”

Moreno said he barely has time to check in with his loved ones anymore.

“I get phone calls from my family saying, ‘Hey, we haven’t seen you in a couple of weeks. Just wondering if everything is OK,’” he said. “That’s funny because I live a block away from my parents.”

Seasoned lawmakers like Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, a former House majority leader, said the key to getting through this marathon-like session is working out whenever she can, gobbling antioxidants, and avoiding unnecessary nights out on the town.

“Some people, they’re out every night, and they can get up and go to work every day,” she said. “And I marvel and just go, ‘OK, more props to you.’ That’s not me. You learn over time how to pace yourself, (and understand) what you can and can’t do.”

The daily grind affects people differently. For instance, freshman Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton said he “feels good” right now, but admits to having gained about 15 pounds since the start of the session. Meanwhile, Rep. Brittany Pettersen, a freshman Democrat from Lakewood, made it sound like the long days are no big deal.

“I’m surprised to hear that it’s not usually like this,” she said, adding that, compared to her previous jobs in politics, “this is the most time off I’ve ever had in my life.”

Another thing I’ve noticed during my conversations with lawmakers about the jammed calendar is that Democrats’ moods seems to be a heck of a lot better than Republicans.

The Dems are in charge, and their brutal bill schedule of controversial gun-control, education and elections legislation is leaving Republicans tired and frustrated.

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock, of Democrats’ efforts of non-stop legislative action. “There’s so many important bills being crammed through a single session. I just don’t get the point. I mean, it’s not very smart. It ends up (that) we’re not passing very good laws. It’s all about a particular party’s agenda, rather than the people’s work.”

Stephens shares in Murray’s angst.

“I have never seen such an overreach,” she said. “We’re talking wholesale changes. Not just one or two, we’re talking bill after bill (of 50- to 100-page legislation). It’s no wonder we’re exhausted.

“It’s really poor management of the calendar.”

Hand it to Stephens, though. Because she was honest when I asked her if her party would do the same thing, if the roles were reversed.

“You bet,” she said. “If we had all three chambers, I’d be undoing all this (stuff). He who wins gets to decide the rules. Having been the majority leader, I get it.”

So, do Democrats believe that their work will be rewarded in 2014?

“You may not agree with everything we’re doing, but you can’t say we’re not doing anything,” Moreno said. “These are the types of policies and laws that the people of Colorado have been waiting for, for a long time.”

I fully expect that the remaining days of the session are going to be long and that there’s going to be more than a few times when I’ll want to pull a Homer and find a tortoise to kick around.

But, I suppose this year’s session is just an example of democracy in action.

As Homer might say, “Lousy, stupid democracy.”

Vic Vela is the legislative reporter for Colorado Community Media. He can be reached at vvela@ourcoloradonews.com. Also, follow Vic’s legislative updates on Twitter: @VicVela1.

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