Lamenting the politics of the power play

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By Rob Witwer

In the waning hours of the legislative session earlier this month, leadership in the Colorado House of Representatives used procedural delaying tactics to kill a civil-unions bill that otherwise had the votes to pass. In a special session less than a week later, the same bill was assigned to a different committee, resulting in it being killed a second time — again, when it had the votes to pass the whole House.

 For the record, I support civil-unions legislation, because to me it’s a freedom issue. But wherever you stand on the matter, the politics of the power play should trouble you.
 And lest Democrats claim the moral high ground, let me remind them that their party used a similar power play last December in the legislative reapportionment process. I know, because they did it to me.
As a member of the constitutionally mandated Reapportionment Commission, I was allowed to submit proposed maps redrawing the state’s legislative districts. Well, at least in theory that was the case. That was before the Democrats on the commission decided to make a power play to prevent me (and every Republican on the commission) from even introducing a map, much less having an actual vote on it. And then they used procedural tricks to run out the clock, killing any hope of bipartisan compromise.
Sound familiar?
Welcome to the politics of the power play.  It goes like this: If you can ram it down your opponent’s throat, you do. No compromise, no conversation, no give-and-take. Budgets, legislative map-drawing, controversial (and uncontroversial) legislation — no matter. Both parties do it, and with more frequency than ever before.
Term limits are partly to blame. So are the overheated scream-fest of partisan political blogs, TV and radio opinion shows, and pseudo-factual “documentary” films. There’s no reward for elected officials who try to work cooperatively toward solutions. In fact, those people are punished by their own parties. The most significant qualification to win a primary these days seems to be this: Which of you hates the other party more? And which of you will do whatever it takes to win?
Is this any way to run a state, or a country?
We were Americans before we were Republicans or Democrats. But lately, we sure aren’t acting like it.

Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book, “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”