03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Morgan Carroll Interview

I got the chance to interview Senator Morgan Carroll yesterday. How someone can be that positive & energetic after years in the sausage factory is amazing. And in the unusual (unique?) category, her entire discussion was about increasing participation in the legislative process by citizens without a word about Morgan Carroll. Not even a word about her specific legislation. Nothing about her at all until I started asking her some questions that drove the conversation that way.

So the first 20 minutes or so were about participation - and how legislation is poorer for a lack of any participation by the voters. The average bill gets zero comments from citizen. Most of the rest get one. Now granted, some of the legislation is a snore-fest but still, this is not participatory democracy.

Now, citizens don't participate but the lobbyists sure do. This was a real eye-opener to her when she first started in the legislature. She at first was wondering who are all these people and why are they affecting my legislation. Morgan sees this problem not as one of the individual lobbyists, but a system where the legislators are term limited, but the lobbyists are not. Where a legislator makes 35K/year while a lobbyists makes 35K/mo. Where the legislators have little to no staff while the lobbyists have substantial staff. It's a very lopsided power structure.

And her list went on. One biggie is the legislators are having to work through 800 bills while a lobbyist is focused on 8. That difference in mind share is a tremendous advantage. You also have the lobbyists funding campaigns, controlling many endorsements, etc. In many cases all of the substantial research on a bill comes from the lobbyists because they're the only ones with the staff to perform the research. This even reaches the extent where lobbyists will write a bill and then look for a legislator to introduce it.

To counter this she wants to see the legislature do a better job of reaching out to people, letting them know what is going on, letting them how they can testify on each bill. Morgan says she has seen votes flip when citizens, even a few, show up and testify on a bill. Constituents have a lot of potential power, but rarely exercise it.

The lobbyists are there on each bill, but plain old constituents, rarely seen. Yet the voters have a lot more influence that the lobbyists when they choose to exercise it. Senator Carroll's biggest example of this is the eminent domain where the lobbyists (all from the developer & construction industry) said that eminent domain was fine with everyone. But there were a number of voters who showed up opposed to eminent domain - and they got the bill flipped to restrict when it can be used.

She also talked about how critical it is for legislators to read every bill. She's one of the few in the legislature who does this (in Hawaii I think my mom is the only one who reads each bill in full). But for the others, just taking the summation, in many cases they are voting the opposite of how they would vote if the understood the details. (Part of this is getting legislators to actually read the legislation. But equally important is getting voters to look at it as then you have other eyes reading the legislation in full.)

Morgan said this is why she does not leave the floor to talk to lobbyists, because when the amendments are brought up you need to be on the floor reading the amendments and figuring out what that does to the legislation. She is worried that people will be upset with her for this practice - I told her on the contrary, the voters respect her for this and wish the other legislators would follow the same practice. (If you appreciate the fact that she doesn't leave the floor for lobbyists, please shoot her a fast note at

{next 30 minutes off the record - and hence no recording} We got into a discussion about new ways to bring about citizen participation on legislation. Morgan is very open to trying to make effective use of the web and a lot of this could have a significant impact on what legislation is passed and how it is amended. I don't want Republicans, and lobbyists (but I repeat myself), seeing what is coming. So we'll have to wait and see during this upcoming session if the Democratic legislators implement these ideas - and if so how effective it is.

{back on the record} - I asked Ms. Carroll if she will be running for Governor in 4 years. She said that she would like to be governor someday but there is still a lot of legislation she wants to get passed and that can better be done in the Senate. She talked through the pros & cons and how she weighs it out so I think she is sincere in saying that she is not presently planning on running. But my guess is come 2013 she will face the decision of "now" or wait 8 more years - and will go for now (2014).

As to how good a governor she would be? If I had to pick today who I wanted taking over after Ritter's second term - I would easily pick Morgan. She is independent, smart, thinks for herself, fights for all of us, and wants to take Colorado into the future as a state that invests in its people. Equally important, she also has an incredibly positive high-energy personality that is perfect for the leader of a state.

First published at Morgan Carroll Interview.