We are pleased to have Representative Terrance Carroll (D-Denver) with us today for another Q&A to close out our week of Carrolls.
Rep. Carroll was elected to his first full term in 2004 after being appointed to finish the term of Peter Groff in 2003 when Groff left the House to finish the term of Penfield Tate (whew!). Rep. Carroll is the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and made headlines in the 2005 legislative session with his sponsorship of the Parental Leave Act.
Rep. Carroll has graciously agreed to check in throughout the day to answer your questions. We ask only that you are respectful in your questions and comments; you don't have to agree with Rep. Carroll, but you can certainly disagree in a respectful manner.
If you have a question, click on the COMMENTS link under the post and ask away. If you wish to discuss something said in the Q&A in-depth, please use the Thursday Open Thread post above for that discussion. We would like to reserve the COMMENTS section of this post for questions and answers only.
With that out of the way, on with the show...
Q&A With Representative Terrance Carroll (D-Denver)
1. How do you feel about how the Democrats finished the session?
I feel we finished the session well. The last few days were rather hectic with the rush to finish the session early. That made for some very long days. The entire session was a learning experience for the House Democrats because we had not been in power for about thirty years. There were many who expected us to fall flat on our faces, but I believe generally we defied expectations and governed well.
2. What surprised you about being in the majority?
As a committee chair, I was initially surprised by the amount of work required if you want to chair a good committee. It was not simply about reading the bills beforehand. As committee chair, I tried my best to minimize surprises in committee and to make the committee work as efficiently as possible. Since GAVEL, committee chairs do not have the power of the pocket veto so the most important tools at the chair's disposal is the ability to influence committee members before the hearing; controlling debate in committee; influencing legislation before it arrives in committee; control of the committee calendar; and knowledge of the rules.
3. What do you think the Republicans did right and wrong in their first time in the minority in years?
I will start with the good. The Republicans found a message early (tagging us as anti-business) and stuck with it throughout the entire session. I don't believe it was a legitimate attack, but they stayed message focus. Initially, I thought the election of Joe Stengel as minority leader was an excellent choice. Prior to this session, Joe had a reputation has a moderate, reasonable, and pragmatic voice on the Republican side. In fact, I served on the Judiciary committee with Joe for two-years and count him as a friend.
However, his role as minority leader required him to be an attack dog and sometimes he went over-the-top and appeared to seem unreasonable. I believe this was a mistake. The Republican far-right continued to spend too much time focusing on narrow social issues. At times, the Republicans risked appearing obstructionist. For example, at the beginning of the session they spent precious time arguing against a change to House rules so that student could lead the Pledge of Allegiance prior to the beginning of each legislative day.
4. Your most publicized battle was over the Parental Leave Act, which was ultimately killed in the House. What happened to it? Will you try it again?
The Parental Leave Act is a case study in how, at times, mass hysteria rules the Capitol. By the time the Parental Leave made its way over from the Senate the anti-business mantra had taken root in the House. The business lobby used Democratic fears of being labeled as anti-business to create an aura that this bill would effectively kill business in Colorado. In fact, one business lobbyist said my bill would stall Colorado's economic recovery. This is an example of the hysteria surrounding the opposition to this bill. The idea that one bill, which would only give parents 15 hours off per year to attend parent-teacher conferences could stall Colorado's economic recovery is absolutely incredulous and without merit. Yet, some found it persuasive.
Interestingly, the some arguments were used against the Family Medical Leave Act in Congress in 1993. However, any independent and honest assessment of FMLA's impact has shown it to have had a positive impact on business. The legislature had an opportunity to actually show itself to be family friendly in a meaningful way that impacts the every day lives' of families, but passed on that opportunity. I have not decided if I will introduce the Parental Leave Act next year.
5. Democrats seem to be making a conscious effort to be seen as more pro-business, which critics would say comes at the expense of other ideals? Do you agree with this shift?
I reject the false dichotomy that you can't be pro-business and pro-consumer (pro-family, pro-worker, etc.) at the same time. This whole dichotomy is the result of a political dynamic which wrongly tries to pit business, employers, and consumers against each other. The real debate should be about creating an economic environment in Colorado which benefits all of us. I think that we can accomplish this by ensuring that our regulatory environment is not unduly burdensome. Consumers also need to be protected against the worst instincts of some businesses as they seek to expand their profit margin. Democrats, like Mayor Hickenlooper, have shown that this pro-business versus anti-business dichotomy is false.
The problem with the pro-business versus anti-business dichotomy for the Democrats is that we ceded some ground on the messaging battleground early on and struggled to regain footing. Taken as a whole the group of proposals labeled as anti-business were reasonable, measured, and sensible. It just makes good sense to allow parents time to invest in the lives of their children. There was never a reasonable or fact-based argument against Morgan Carroll's workers' compensation bill. The business lobby saw any legislation which they perceived as increasing regulation as anti-business and recited that line and avoided debating the issues on their substance.
6. You also sponsored legislation (which was killed) that would allow the state to seize the vehicle of a person driving with a suspended license for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. What was your rationale behind that bill, and why did it fail?
This bill was an attempt to increase the consequences for repeat drunk drivers. Unfortunately, the method we choose raised some constitutional concerns and represented a momentary lapse of judgment on my behalf. After more thought, I decided to kill the bill myself. The State still needs to address the problem of repeat drunk drivers. I will be looking at some options for next year to stiffen penalties for repeat drunk drivers.
7. What other bills did you either sponsor or take a particularly strong stand behind?
I was most involved in issues related to criminal justice, civil justice, and homeland security. I was intimately involved in legislation to add hate crimes to Colorado's criminal codes. I am an ardent supporter of charter schools. I was the House sponsor of a bill that will standardize how high school graduation rates are calculated. I was very involved in most of the sex offender registry legislation this year. I tend to also be very involved in any legislation that has implication impacting the separation of church and state. Since my arrival at the Capitol, I have been quite involved in tort reform debates.
8. 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?
The Democrats will go into the 2006 session more confident than we were this year. We have a year under our belts and have shown that we can lead and govern effectively. So far for next year I am focusing on specialized health and business courts. I also want to do some work on the use of performance enhancing drugs by youth athletes.
9. You were outspoken in regards to the recently announced Republican initiative to require a certain percentage of school budgets to go to the classroom. What is your opposition to this initiative plan, and how would you change it?
This proposal is completely disingenuous for the Republicans to even contemplate. The Republicans had control of the legislature for the past 30 years and never showed any inclination to assist classroom teachers. In fact, they went out of their way to oppose reasonable and pragmatic legislation which would have improved the quality of our children's educational experience. For example, they opposed efforts to decrease classroom size, increase the availability of before and after school programs, and to assist schools with purchasing new textbooks.
The proposal also takes flexibility away from local school districts to make funding decisions in the best interests of their school districts. Even more incredulous is that under this proposal coaches are counted as academic personnel and school counselors are not. The proposal also ignores the complexity of many or our urban and rural school districts charged with educating some of our most educationally challenged students. These students require support services that assist them with becoming academically successful but are not covered by the Republican proposal.
10. What's next for you in the 2006 election cycle and beyond?
I am not telling.
11. You just graduated from DU law school and are preparing to take the bar exam. Who has a worse reputation: politicians or lawyers?
I refuse to answer on grounds that it may incriminate me!
Do you have a question for Rep. Carroll? Click on the COMMENTS link and ask away...