More than 30 Coloradans gathered Saturday morning in Loveland to discuss issues and concerns they had with four state legislators.
The issue of the state budget was the most discussed item of the morning. Other issues that arose were higher education, gay marriage, transportation and a statewide smoking ban.
The discussion was part of the 2005 Republican Listening Tour, which is a way for the citizens of Colorado to express their concerns and give feedback to their respective legislators. The legislators in attendance were Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins and Reps. Bob McCluskey, R-Fort Collins, Jim Welker, R-Loveland and Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud.
The morning started off on a very casual note as each legislator introduced themselves to the audience and discussed the bills they presented in the state Capitol this year.
"When I left the house this morning my wife said remember it's a listening tour, not a talking tour," Lundberg said, receiving laughs and applause from the audience.
Next, Johnson – after apologizing for being late – introduced the issue of the state budget.
"I have spent most of my time in the state legislature working on the bipartisan budget fix," Johnson said. "It has literally taken everyday of my time."
The problem, Johnson told the crowd, is that the state has employed a number of one time measures that have put off the problem for the time being but have done nothing in the long run to solve the issue.
The town meeting was held in the Loveland City Council Chambers. The atmosphere in the room was very laid back as many audience members called the legislators by their first names and thanked them personally for the job they have done for their community at the state Capitol.
While discussing the state budget, Johnson was asked by an audience member what will happen to higher education in the future.
"My staff predicts at the end of the decade higher education will get no state funding and tuition might double or even triple," Johnson said. "That is not a good thing for the students of our state and not a good thing for the economic vitality of our state."
The reason funding is cut from higher education so often is because it is one of the only areas of the budget the legislature has discretion over. The amount of funding that goes to K-12 education or Medicaid is fixed and already decided upon.
"Colleges have a major role, they need to communicate to people what is going on," Lundberg said. "There are thousands of students, CSU alumni and CU alumni who need to stand up and let their voices be heard."
McCluskey stressed that citizens and voters must be involved in what to do with the state budget and higher education.
"Listen to what is being proposed and if you agree with it, it's not enough to sit on the fence," McCluskey said. "You need to actively talk about this, we cannot do it ourselves and it will be decided in the ballot box, not by us."
Soon after, the debate over the budget became heated, as audience members shot back and forth at each other about the budget and the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). In the middle of the argument an audience member stood up and said the crowd has philosophical differences and we should switch back to talking about the legislative session at which point she changed the discussion to the idea of implementing a statewide smoking ban.
"I think it's a local issue and I agree with it on a local level, but a statewide ban I do not agree with it," McCluskey said, adding that he voted for the smoking ban in Fort Collins.
An audience member responded back that he believes the state legislature has a responsibility to protect the health of the citizens of Colorado.
The next issue raised by the audience is one that has become one of the most controversial political issues in recent years: gay marriage.
Lundberg discussed his resolution he has introduced to the state legislature and said it is an attempt to put on the ballot the specific language of what the word "marriage" constitutes in the state of Colorado. Lundberg said he wants to open the discussion in the legislature and let the people of Colorado decide. The resolution states that marriage is between one man and one woman.
"Marriage and family are essential to our culture," Lundberg said. "I am trying to prevent the very concept of marriage from changing."
The matter of gay marriage was widely argued through the crowd. As time winded down and the "listening tour" had to come to an end Lundberg had to wrap up the discussion.
"Family is more fundamental to a culture and civilization than government," Lundberg said. "The point I'm trying to make is: let's put this before the people and let them decide."
With the discussion coming to an end, people started to leave through the chamber doors. Most said goodbye to the legislators, shook their hands and thanked them for the opportunity to talk. Some stood around and talked casually to each other or their legislator.
"I think today went very well," Johnson said. "I did not hear really a lot of rhetoric on either side."
Audience member Troy Peterson from Loveland thought the day was a success.
"I think it's great to have the opportunity, in an intimate setting, to talk to some of the senators and representatives who represent you."