Jerry Kopel


All politics are local — really, really local

This column is for legislators who got into office without wearing out a pair of shoes. Some of you reached the Statehouse through Republican or Democratic vacancy committee votes. Some have never had a convention battle, or a primary, or an opposition party candidate in the November election. It’s also for the candidates who are waiting to take you on.

The 2010 election will be like the 2006 election, with no presidential race. The entire state executive branch is up, as well as congressional seats. And, this time, there’s an election for the United States Senate.

What have you been doing to keep your name known to the voters in your legislative district? Are you active in nonpartisan community groups? Do you send out e-mails on various radioactive issues in the Legislature?

I’m sure there is one thing you have not done, and that you’re not expecting to do when you knock on doors to talk to the voters. You intend to open the conversation by discussing what is wrong or right at the state Legislature.

But even though you are running for the Legislature, the homeowner, assuming he or she is still employed or voluntarily retired, is actually more interested in his or her home and neighborhood than in anything going on at the State Capitol.

“Is there anything I can do for you? Is the garbage pickup going well? Do they come each week on the same day? How about the streetlights? Still inadequate?

“How about police service? Have they been coming back when needed? Are streets being cleaned? Are potholes being filled? When you call a city office for assistance, are they courteous and prompt to assist? When a new cover of tar is added to your street, do they make sure it doesn’t block water moving down your driveway to the gutters?”

It’s true that you’re running for the Legislature. But you can do well by sounding like you’re running for the City Council. After that opening, let them ask you about any state, city or national issues. Let the homeowner know you will tell the city or county management about the concerns you discovered. Then do it, and send a copy of your correspondence to the homeowner. Be sure to praise the officials for their future positive action in the letters.

If the officials do act, everyone on the block will know, and, hopefully, the homeowner will let you know your intervention helped. Or else you can follow up to see if intervention worked. Almost any plight is solvable, and a thank you to the official makes the next complaint even easier to handle.

When I did this, my positive vote in that block was always greater than it should have been based on the political affiliation of the voters. One Republican legislator serving with me showed me an opposition document that found I was getting more Republican votes on a percentage basis that any other Democrat running in that district.

You have not knocked on doors before? Don’t be disappointed to get responses at only one-third of the homes. Just keep going back, depending on how much time you have, and try to reach as many voters as you can.

I always left a note pad at each home as well as a printed list of phone numbers to call to reach city or county officials.

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One certain issue in 2010 is whether the dispensing of medical marijuana should be regulated as an occupation and reviewed by the Department of Regulatory Agencies research staff. I have not yet seen this debated or considered. You can find the Sunrise review language at CRS 24-34-104.1.
It begins:

“... regulation should be imposed on an occupation or profession only when necessary for the protection of the public interest ... establishing a system for review prior to enacting laws ...will determine the least restrictive regulatory alternative consistent with the public interest.”

The dispenser should explain in writing the groups involved, the reason why regulation is necessary, the benefit to the public, the kind of regulation needed and the cost.

It is possible for DORA to immediately begin the research and have it available for the 2010 session. DORA could review it if it determines the unregulated occupation “poses an immediate threat to public health, safety or welfare.”

The findings that could come from DORA might include:

• Letting local jurisdictions determine whether a dispensary violates local zoning laws;

• Refusing to allow convicted felons to operate dispensaries;

• Forbidding consumption of marijuana at the dispensary;

• Requiring dispensary employees to attend educational lectures regarding the consumption of and potential bad effects that could occur based on the strength of the plant being sold, dosage provided and ingestion method;

• Requiring examination and follow-up consultations by a medical professional;

• Requiring dispensaries to have liability insurance.

On the other hand, the Legislature could pass a bill exempting medical marijuana from legislative DORA review under the Sunrise process.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.