Who’s standing up for us?

May 032007
Authors: Seth Anthony

Almost seven months ago, we took to the polls to elect not just a new governor and a new Congress, but members of the state legislature – a body that has authority over CSU’s budget, our graduation requirements, our tuition rates and our financial aid. While we may not be able to choose who sits in the university president’s office or who’s on CSU’s board of trustees, our votes can have a tremendous impact on our education.

So as the legislative session and the semester wind down, it’s a good time to ask: Who has come through for students? Two names stand out among the crowd of Fort Collins legislators: Sen. Steve Johnson and Rep. John Kefalas.

Sen. Steve Johnson, a veteran legislator and a Republican, sits on the Joint Budget Committee, which allocates billions of dollars in state funds, including university budgets. That put him – and one of his interns, ASCSU Legislative Affairs Director Luke Ragland – in the right place at the right time to derail the massive increase in undergraduate tuition bills that university lobbyists tried to sneak through in March.

Without Johnson’s efforts in the legislature, undergraduates might have been facing a 40 percent increase on next semester’s tuition bills. He quite literally went to the mat for students, going so far as to call for a new vote on the House floor, and, wading into the midst of a close and contentious issue, whipping up support from his colleagues in the legislature. Johnson’s efforts on our behalf mean that CSU will now have to go through a more transparent process when seeking to raise tuition – a process where students are fully involved.

The other major kudos of the legislative session goes to first-term Rep. John Kefalas, a Democrat. Over a period of several months, Kefalas worked with CSU’s Graduate Student Council to change state law surrounding graduate student health insurance requirements, setting in motion steps towards more affordable health care options and increased benefits. It’ll take time, but eventually, this will benefit not just graduate students but undergraduates who choose to buy into the university’s health care plan. Even after his legislation was signed, Kefalas has stayed in involved with this process, eager to make sure that CSU keeps its promises to students.

Rep. Kefalas should also be commended for his commitment to openness, as demonstrated in his regular public meetings. At least once a month, he’s been in the community, talking – and more importantly, listening – to citizens. He’s made himself accessible and actively reaches out to a broad range of his constituents – a trait that’s all too rare among our representatives. And Kefalas has made frequent appearances on campus, something that can’t be said of any other local legislator.

What about the rest of our legislative delegation? Rep. Randy Fischer, D-Fort Collins, has sponsored several measures at the request of university administrators, but he hasn’t yet built bridges to the student population. That’s unfortunate, since CSU’s campus sits inside his district. Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, continued his track record of proposing legislation that goes nowhere – all of the bills he’s introduced as prime sponsor have died in committee. And Sen. Bob Bacon, D-Fort Collins, despite having built a reputation as an education supporter, was the chief sponsor of CSU’s sneaky tuition hike, which earns him a failing mark for the term.

It’s easy to criticize our representatives, but it’s rare to see them praised when they do something right – especially when doing the right thing doesn’t strictly follow party lines. As students, we should let Sen. Johnson and Rep. Kefalas know that their work on our behalf is deeply appreciated, and that it won’t be forgotten.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry Ph.D. student. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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