We're happy to have Democratic State Representative Morgan Carroll with us today to answer your questions. Carroll just finished her freshman legislative session as a newly elected representative from Aurora, and she was at the center of several high-profile bills -- from HOA reform to workers' compensation.
Ms. Carroll has graciously agreed to take time out of her day to answer your questions, so please be respectful in your questions and comments. You don't have to agree with her, but you can certainly disagree in a respectful manner.
If you'd like to ask a question, do it in the COMMENTS section below. If you'd like to discuss something Ms. Carroll said, or if you want to talk about other topics, save that for the Tuesday Open Thread above. Please reserve the COMMENTS section below for questions only.
And with that, click below to read our 11 Questions with Rep. Morgan Carroll. And make sure to check back on Thursday, when Representative Terrance Carroll will be answering your questions.
1. How do you feel about how the Democrats finished the session?
I feel good about the fact that we were able to achieve a bipartisan solution to Colorado’s Budget crisis under the leadership of Romanoff-Fitzgerald-Owens. I feel like we still need to do more for higher education, economic development, and meaningful insurance reform. K-12 education finished strong (on funding, though obviously not on our drop-out problem). Medicaid coverage improved, particularly with pre-natal care. Capitol construction / maintenance funding improved. Seniors are still overdue for reform / restoration of senior property tax exemption. Democrats did fairly well, particularly in light of the fact that we had little notice or preparation for switching into the majority party and the leadership that goes with it. Yet, I think we can do better next year.
2. What surprised you about your freshman experience in the legislature?
I was surprised by how few people read their bills. I was (naively) surprised by how many extraneous factors went into decisions and votes (other than public policy). I was surprised by the degree of legislative dependence on the lobby corps for information. I was surprised by how many “facts” we received which were carelessly wrong. I was surprised to find more bi-partisan cooperation than I expected. I was surprised that legislators didn’t think, draft and write their own bills but instead typically “carry” them for various interests. I was surprised by the lack of “pre-coordination” of bills. I was (pleasantly) surprised that I grew to like and respect as many colleagues on the other side of the aisle, as I do on my own.
3. What do you think the Republicans did right and wrong?
It seemed at times like the Republicans spent more of their session preparing tactically for how to take back the majority in the next election, watching us, tallying our votes, preparing future campaign ideas and holding prayer sessions at the capitol than they did focusing on general public policy. However, to their credit, they (as did we) ran mostly moderate, common sense legislation that passed with bipartisan support. I think there were some moments of unnecessary rancor in order to expose fangs and perhaps boost morale for the minority party. Republicans are reputed to have tighter party discipline, but I think at times, harsh chastising of independent-minded Republicans risks back-firing. Overall, I think most of them worked fairly well with us and many have truly earned my respect.
4. You received a lot of publicity early in the session for a bill that would change rules for homeowners associations, which ultimately made it all the way to the governor. Why was this an issue that served as the basis for one of your first pieces of legislation?
The purchase of a home is the single most significant investment most people will ever make. Homeowners should neither be trapped, surprised, abused or required to waive constitutional speech and political rights in order to buy a home. I chose this issue because the protection of property rights was one of the core values upon which this country was founded. Further, it became apparent when walking my district that there was an alarming frequency of outright abuse of power and abuse of homeowners in some associations. I had no intention of pursuing HOA reform, but probably one out of every four people I met had some concern or complaint about their HOA – and some of these problems were egregious. It became very clear that people’s basic property rights were often being trampled with the unchecked growth and power of HOAs, and we could either sit back and watch those rights further erode under the fiefdoms of some abusive HOAs, or we could ensure basic due process and transparency. HOAs are quasi-governmental in powers (seizure, foreclosure, levy assessments, fines, change character and use of property, voting) but did not have the corresponding accountability that goes with that. HOHOddI am a strong supporter of accountable power, due process rights, informed consent and transparency.
5. You sponsored two workers compensation bills that were strongly supported by labor unions that ultimately failed. What happened with those bills?
I want to clarify that I did not carry any of my comp reform bills for labor or for anyone else. Colorado has one of the most draconian workers comp systems for employees in the Union. If one simply gave pure license to the insurance industry to write their own comp laws they would look a lot like Colorado’s – oh wait…
HB 1112 on WC would have converted scheduled (extremity) permanent impairment ratings into whole person impairment ratings when the work injury was so severe as to preclude a worker from ever returning back to usual work. The schedule ratings in Colorado can come in with absurd results where amputees are often compensated less than people with back sprains because of the math formulas involved. Of course the insurance industry opposed it, but I PI’d it because my bills were bringing in such a heavy response from the lobby I was afraid there was a risk I would lose them all…and if I had to prioritize I could think of no more basic right than allowing a patient to have some say and choice in their medical treatment…
On worker’s choice of doctor (HB 1018), I was out-lobbied. The lobby lobbied the lobby, the legislature, the fiscal note analysts, etc. The message was nothing short of apocalyptic doom if we let a patient have any say so over their own body in their own medical treatment in workers compensation. Misinformation spread like a cancer. There is no patient’s lobby. Both Republicans and Democrats get hurt on the job. Both prefer to either pick their own docs or at least be able to escape if they are being subjected to substandard medical care. This never should have been a partisan issue. Patient choice is the law in 37 other states (many of them “red”, many of them passed with the support of the business community). The lobbyists for the business community tried to (explicitly or implicitly) threaten support for budget reform if we did not marry their agenda. Despite the 250 lobbyists registering on the bill, it almost passed. And some of the strange procedural history of the bill was my refusal to let this bill or this issue die quickly or quietly under the weight of the lobby.
I sat down with some 25 different stake-holders, listened to their concerns, and made amendments to the bill to address each and every remotely bona fide concern. Each lobbyist I worked with went on to continue their opposition no matter what the content of the bill was. Furthermore, it was difficult to finding very many who had even read the Workers Compensation Act we were amending or were familiar with the Medical Treatment Guidelines or the Fee Schedule.
The bill had two trips to Business committee, three amended fiscal notes (none with a fiscal cost by the way), passed on second reading, died on an amendment to the committee of the whole report due to a mistaken vote.
6. Democrats seem to be making a conscious effort to be seen as more pro-business, with some of your bills at the forefront of the discussion. Critics would say that shift comes at the expense of other ideals. What is your take?
Responsible corporate citizenship is not anti-business. Democrats are pro-business. I, like so many others of both parties, own a business, have a background in retail management, have employees, make payroll, pay taxes, pay health insurance, pay WC insurance, pay business property tax. The state’s entire economic engine would obviously shut down without it. But I also think it’s a bit of a vapid slogan to rely on labels (pro-business / anti-business) as a substitute for analysis. Nonetheless, I do think bills did die under the fear or threat of this label.
I think it would serve us well to remember that the business community is NOT like some uniform Borg. Studies in economics, marketing, and management will show that there are clearly several different ideas and theories about how to stimulate job growth, retain and grow strong stock value, increase productivity, decrease turn-over, maximize profit, reduce shrink, and become more efficient. Allowing a small subset of business lobbyists to define the entire business climate in the state would be a mistake.
The narrow business lobby version of “bad for business” means anything that requires them to do or be accountable for anything. It measures short-term cost instead of long-term yield or value. It measures all worth on short-term ledgers and none by way of human capital. Some of the most successful Fortune 500 business have realized that they can profit more by paying a decent living wage, providing vacation and sick leave, investing in training and professional development than they can by simply exploit ting their work force and throwing them away when sick, dead or injured, perfecting tax evasion, and side-stepping safety or environmental concerns. Responsible corporate citizenship is not anti-business.
7. At the end of the session, The Rocky Mountain News wrote that you “frustrated lobbyists (read: potential campaign donors) by not mingling as much as they'd like.” The general criticism deals with the charge that you do not respond to lobbyists in the same manner as most legislators. How do you respond to those comments?
TRUE: I do not accept cards from lobbyist while I am voting on the floor. Period. It is distracting. I know this has been to the great consternation of lobbyists (and my own party) because it is inconvenient to talk to me another time or another place. It’s not a personal attack on them. I am not trying to declare war. It’s just my own comfort level. Votes are missed on 2nd reading because people are out talking to lobbyists. And while sometimes dry and less than elucidating, key points can be missed in debate. I don’t feel comfortable multi-tasking the act of voting on one piece of legislation while someone is trying to give me a self-interested pitch on some unrelated bill.
RUMOR: That I am inaccessible and refuse to talk to lobbyists. Not true. I will talk to anyone who wants to talk to me (even lobbyists) any other hour or location of the day – just not lobbyists while voting on the floor. My home, cell, capitol and work numbers are everywhere. I can be reached in person, by text, email, or phone. Most don’t, however. My approach is resented because it is different.
THE THREAT: If a legislator does not take their cards during votes, they can expect to be the subject or orchestrating rumor mills, threats regarding funding and campaign finance, and black-listing ability to pass future bills. I guess we’ll see.
TRUE: Most of the lobbyists are very smart and hard-working. Some lobbyists are very professional and know their subject matter and are careful to be accurate in the “facts” or information presented. Some are not. It’s not that I think I know better. It’s that I feel I have a duty to be a critical, independent thinker and not just accept whatever a lobbyist tells me as the gospel truth.
8. You finished the session with a reputation for being firmly on the left side of the Democratic Party. As a freshman legislator, what did you learn in terms of balancing your ideals with trying to find compromises in order to get things done?
It’s a fair question, but I find that frustrating. Maybe I don’t understand what “left” is…
Is thinking a patient should have a right to have a voice in their own treatment, “left”? (HB 1018)
Is a bipartisan bill providing financial assistance to Guard and Reserves experiencing financial hardship as a result of deployment “left”? (SB 52)
Is creating a homeowners bill of rights to protect property rights, due process and the constitution “left”? (SB 100)
Is making the insurance industry place by the same rules as every other individual and business “left”? Is removing special interest legislation mandating secrecy for the insurance industry in our Court system “left”? (HB 1094)
Is thinking an amputee might require higher compensation than someone with a back sprain “left”? (HB 1112)
Is working to create the ability to de-clutter our State Constitution “left”? (HCR 1001)
Likewise, I broke ranks with my own party on several bills where my Libertarian leanings prevented me from supporting the AWOL ban bill, the seatbelt bills, the smoking ban, and criminalizing the sale of cold medicine.
I guess if that’s left, then I’m “left.” If anything, I think the fact that I am out-spoken and rather intense can sometimes be confused with “left”. I look at problems and solutions and I’m not proprietary or ashamed to support good Republican ideas when I see it or defeat bad Democratic ideas when I see it. We just aren’t that binary.
I have definitely had to learn to compromise. I think I still have a lot more to learn.
9. What will be different when Democrats approach the 2006 legislative session? What are you already thinking about in terms of your own legislation for the next session?
Most importantly, I hope we approach the next session with Ref. C passed and the ability to bring our state out of the Dark Ages. I think we will approach the 2006 session better prepared, more coordinated on platform issues. I am considering from some of the following:
Notice to patients impacted by Colorado’s Government Immunity
Insurance Reform: Better Consumer Protections in Price, Practice and Product
Insurance Reform: Workers’ Choice of Doctor
Constitutional Clean-Up: Defining Single Subject Rational Unity
Restoration of Senior Personal Property Tax Exemption
Repeal or roll-back of Business Personal Property Tax
REPEAL of Current Law Making it a CRIME for medical facilities to waive co-pays or deductibles
Return to No-Fault (Modified) Auto Insurance
10. You were rumored to have had interest in running for congress in CD-7. What’s next for you in the 2006 election cycle and beyond?
I will be running for re-election in HD 36 in 2006. Beyond? I’m not sure. I still have a lot to learn. I have made certain promises to myself before running for office. If or when I get too cynical to care about doing the right thing, it’s time for me to step down. If I ever care more about getting re-elected than doing the right thing, it’s time for me to step down. For now, I love what I am doing.
11. What is it with the last name Carroll (you and Terrance Carroll) that makes it easier to get elected to the state legislature?
I was elected on the coat tails of the more Honorable Terrance Carroll. You may not know that Rep. Mike Cerbo is also a Carroll. His mom is a Carroll and therefore there are 3 of us. Yeah, I think everyone in the legislature should change his or her last name to Carroll.
The Carrolls (O’Cairbhall) were one of the 15 ruling native clans of Ireland and held out against the Viking invasions, the Anglo-Norman invasion, and were the second to the last family to finally fall under British occupation. The Carrolls were ordered to convert and swear loyalty to the Crown or else die or leave. Some died. Some left. Some stayed and continued fighting for independence. Daniel Carroll fought in American Revolution and was signer to the Declaration of Independence. Charles Carroll (his grandson) went on to be signer to the U.S. Constitution for State of Maryland. My dad, John S. Carroll, served in the Colorado House (Adams County) for ten years. I think it’s a recessive genetic defect, or something.