Lawmaking by the book

Local legislator tells how residents can make a difference in Colorado lawmaking

February 3, 2012
By SARA CASTELLANOS Staff Writer
http://www.aurorasentinel.com/article_8cc05664-4e71-11e1-9f27-001871e3ce6c.html

AURORA | Amid increasing feelings of disapproval and distrust in government, state Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, has published a book that aims to demystify the esoteric nature of the state Legislature.

“Take Back Your Government: A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Change,” went on sale for $19.95 at bookstores in mid-January and can be most aptly described as an advocacy textbook designed to enlighten residents about how to participate in the lawmaking process.

The idea for the book was conceived when Carroll first took office in 2005.

“I just thought, you know, it’s amazing what a poor job we do letting people know how to actually impact the process,” she said.

The book, which Carroll spent nine months writing, puts emphasis on the importance of weighing in on the proposals that are making their way through the state Capitol, in any state. Out of about 800 bills that are usually introduced in the Colorado Legislature, only a minuscule number — usually about 20 — get constituent input, she writes in the book. One passage reads: “During my time serving at the Colorado state Capitol, I’ve watched ordinary men and women make and change law for the better in Colorado. I’ve also watched important bills die for lack of public participation and horrible bills pass for lack of public scrutiny.” Lobbyists, special interest groups or politicians pushing a certain agenda usually decide the outcomes of bills that don’t get public input.

“When citizens do get involved they can win on issues regardless of party, regardless of lobbyists, and regardless of special interests,” Carroll said. “I think it’s important for people to know that their participation is absolutely critical for democracy and that it actually matters.”

Carroll is candid in her writing, speaking in layman’s terms about her experiences at the Capitol and what she wishes she would have known before she took office.

“I managed to go through public school, political science for undergrad, law school, and run for office and not know most of what’s in this book,” she said.

Carroll, who was a state Representative before she was elected to the Colorado Senate in 2008, wrote that she had never met her legislators before she ran for office.

“To be honest, it never occurred to me to try,” she wrote. “I didn’t know them and assumed they would only meet with people they already knew or who were more ‘important’ than me … My assumption was that ‘other people’ had those meetings, not people like me. I was wrong.”

In her 200-page book, she encourages residents to meet with the lawmakers who represent them and offers tips on the best ways to effectively contact your legislator. Carroll also provides sample emails and telephone scripts, and the book includes chapters about advocacy for youth under 18 and for busy people. The book is also peppered with vignettes about everyday residents who have helped champion and change laws, as well as people like Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who became lawmakers after seeing problems with laws first-hand.

Carroll said there’s one lesson she hopes readers take away from her book.

“I want them to know that their participation is vital and that it actually matters and it makes a difference in the outcome,” she said. “The big picture is just to let people know it’s not futile.”

Reach reporter Sara Castellanos at 720-449-9036 or sara@aurorasentinel.com.

State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, will be hosting a book signing at the Tattered Cover on East Colfax Avenue at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 10 at 2526 E. Colfax Ave., Denver.

The book can be purchased at bookstores or online at Amazon.com.