Don’t make a big stink — think pink

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By Greg Romberg

During the first couple months of this year’s legislative session, I supported a bill on which the opponents didn’t feel at all constrained by either the truth or any kind of ethical behavior. And while my policy not to write about things I work on will spare you the details, it reminded me of a learning experience I had early in my career.

I was 27 years old and had the joint responsibilities of being director of the Colorado Office of Regulatory Reform and legislative liaison of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. My boss was Wellington Webb, who was a member of Gov. Richard Lamm’s Cabinet. We were advocating a bill that was part of Lamm’s legislative agenda that was opposed by one of the industries we regulated.
Wellington called me into his office and told me that one of our budget staffers had provided information to our opponents’ lobbyist behind our backs. It was a silly way to do business, as everything we had was available to anyone under open records laws. Wellington told me that it was my job to reprimand the staffer (which was pretty strange, as he was older than my father and I’d known his son in college) for not following the policy of releasing records openly. He also told me it was important that I let the lobbyist who’d gotten the records know that I knew he had them and that I didn’t care. He said it was up to me to figure out how.
The next day, I saw the lobbyist outside the House of Representatives. I leaned up against the House chambers next to him and said, “Did our folks get you everything you needed?”
“What?” he sputtered.
“I just wanted to make sure you got everything you asked for,” I said. “We’re a public agency, and we work for you. Anything you want, just ask me any time.”
He told me he didn’t need anything and rushed away, obviously embarrassed that he’d been caught. The lobbyist was an older man who had lived through the McCarthy era, and after our conversation he told other lobbyists I was a Communist. He’d gotten crosswise with another lobbyist named Joan Ringel earlier in the week and called her a Communist, too.
As luck would have it, the day he called me a Communist, new letterhead was delivered to my office. The state print shop always ran a few pages of the new stationary onto plain paper to ensure it was properly positioned before using the state’s watermarked paper. The plain-paper copies of my stationary that came with the new order just happened to be pink. When I received it, I couldn’t help myself. I penned the following note onto that pink paper:
“Dear Pat, I just wanted to reiterate that I’m happy to get you any additional information you might need. Also, wonder if when things slow down if you might have time to join Joan Ringel and me for lunch at the Little Russian Tea Room? Best wishes, Greg”
The bill passed, and the governor conducted a formal signing ceremony for it. We invited our opponent to attend. He declined.

Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, Laurie, and three daughters.