Pre-legislative Overview: Senator-Elect Steve Fenberg

steve fenberg

Steve Fenberg shakes hands with Senator Rollie Heath (D-18) at a Take Back the Senate kickoff event in May 2016.  Fenberg was elected to replace Heath who stepped down due to term limits.  (photos:  The Nation Report)

Senator-Elect Steve Fenberg (D-18) says that he will weigh heavily on the environment and on education.

The Senator-Elect who was elected to represent Senate District 18 will be sworn in along with his colleagues on January 11.  He won the seat in November against challenger M. Peter Spraitz (R), taking over a seat that was formerly held by Senator Rollie Heath (D) who was term-limited.  Senate District 18 covers Allenspark, Boulder, Gold Hill, Hygiene, Jamestown, Nederland, Niwot, Lyons, Ward, and unincorporated western Boulder County.

Of the five bills that legislators are allowed to introduce each session, his will address renewable energy and will be part of the pioneering effort to address renewable energy storage.  He said that renewable energy storage is the missing part of the renewable energy industry and its future.  He will introduce bills protecting voting rights and accessibility, “Even in a state where we have very good, robust, safe and a very accessible system, there’s still a lot of people that aren’t participating.”  Fenberg would like to make sure that Colorado voters are not waiting in lines to vote, a situation that is not unusual closer to Election Day when voter participation spikes, “We need to make sure we’re doing a good job in measuring how long it takes for people to vote, and how long they have to wait in line, and hopefully then we’ll have more data in the future to be able to address what’s causing those issues.”  Gathering the data would come from County Clerk’s offices, and would hopefully contribute to a formula that would prepare voting centers to be efficiently equipped according to proposed voter turnout.

Senator-Elect Fenberg responded to questions posed by The Nation Report:

1. What are your responses to the last election from the presidency down to state ballot measures?  Were you shocked, surprised, disappointed, or maybe all of the above?

All of the above, but a little sad.  Elections have very serious consequences and I think we will learn that lesson more from this election than almost any other in our lifetime.  The President….. Trump-it’s almost hard to say that-the President-Elect Trump hasn’t even taken office yet, and yet the actions that have occurred, and the lack of paying attention to norms that usually go along with that office, are already so surprising and absurd, that I think we have a lot to worry about.  And I don’t think it’s fair to say, “Oh everything’s going to be OK.  It can’t get that bad.  How much impact does the President have on our lives.”  I think there’s some value to that however, I think many of of have the privilege of being able to say that, to say, “Well you know I’m still going to have my same job, I’m still going to go home, I’m still going to have my same car, I’m going to have the same income.  I’ll be able to afford healthcare no matter what or something like that.  Or I’m not an immigrant, so I don’t have to worry about being afraid of police every time I go out into the community.  And so I think we need to recognize that many of us live in so much privilege that this presidency might not impact us the way that it will for so many people.  And I think that makes it our responsibility to fight back even louder and with more courage than we would otherwise because we can afford to do that and I think it’s on us in a lot of ways, people who are able to make sure that nobody is being targeted in a way that our  community generally is not going to stand for.

Frankly I think we’ll be unpacking what happened in this election probably for a long time, but I still think we need to make sure we’re not resting and that we’re not giving up and that we’re doubling down on the values that we have rather than retreating and waiting for four years.

2.  In the last election, did the ballot measures go as you wanted?

Some did.  I was excited that the “death with dignity” ballot measure passed.  I think that’s an important piece of our society to have.  We don’t pay enough attention to how people suffer and how they die at the end of their life.  And  I think it’s something that’s hard to talk about as a society and I’m really proud that we finally passed that after having that conversation for so many years.

I think the increase in the minimum wage obviously is very important, and I’m very happy that that passed.  It’s just the tip of the iceberg.  That’s one structural issue that we can tackle at the ballot box.  And I think there are many others:  affordable housing, and worker’s rights, and paid sick days, and things like that that are part of a larger conversation around making sure the economy works for everybody in Colorado.

I still think it’s absurd that we did not pass Amendment T which was the one that essentially clarified in our constitution that we don’t allow slavery.  You know I think part of the reason of blame there is that it was a confusing ballot measure, and people didn’t totally understand what it was.  And when people are confused, they often vote no.   And I think that’s a result of how ballot measures are required to be written which in a lot of ways was put in place as a way to limit the amount of things that happen at the ballot box.  There are very strict requirements of how a ballot measure has to be written.  On Tabor, no matter what it is, the first sentence has to be, “Do you want you want to increase your taxes by X amount of dollars.  And it’s an aggregate amount of dollars, so it will always sound like a large amount of money.  There are very similar things to how titles are written for other ballot measures are written too.  Basically to not make it in laymen’s terms.  I think that’s part of the reason.

I also think it was a long ballot.  And people get fatigued I think.  I think it’ll be back, and I think it’ll pass now that people have a little bit more of an understanding of what it is.  I think many, I would say that most people didn’t even know it was in the constitution to begin with.   I cannot except that 51% of our state thinks it should be.  I know people who voted against that measure simply because they were confused, not because they want to keep slavery in the constitution.  So I think there maybe needs to be more education around it.  I think people don’t totally understand what is and what is not in our constitution sometimes.  And it gets confusing.  A whole lot about our ballot is confusing.  It just is.  Many of the ballot measure are just long, and the requirement that TABOR has on how they need to be stated.  If it has to do with taxes and sometimes they’re problematic, but I think at the end of the day, Colorado voters don’t think we should be in any way hinting that we would permit or allow slavery in the constitution.  So I think that will eventually be taken out.  Unfortunately it looks like it’ll take a couple of years.

What also crossed my mind was that special interests had in a profit-making interest in keeping it in the constitution because of the prison industrial complex and how they contribute to even the gross national product in all of the products that are made for free in prisons.  I wasn’t aware that a strong campaign existed or didn’t exist.  That went through my mind too, but you think it’s mostly confusion?

I think so, I don’t know of a campaign that was waged against the ballot measure.  I also think there’s still confusion about how it would impact prison labor.  Because at the end of the day I think that that is voluntary for the most part.   It’s not forced labor.  Not to say I agree with the way it is currently in our state.  I think those people should be compensated at a fair rate which they’re not right now.  So it’s not too different from forced labor at the moment even though it’s voluntary.  But I so think there’s some confusion about how the ballot measure would have impacted those programs.

3.  You left New Era [Colorado].  You have years of experience working with new voters, can you talk about what the new generation of voters might expect, and what you hope for them?

I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done at New Era over the last ten years.  It was very difficult to leave, to step down from the organization and move one, but I feel really great about making that decision because of the strong place it’s in.  And I think it’s only going to do even better work in the future.  So I feel great about the organization and its future right now.  The organization will continue to engage young people in meaningful issues that impact their future and engaging them just generally in the process to make sure that they are participating in large numbers to impact and influence the issues that we talked about on a state level.  In terms of what young people generally are looking for moving forward is, I think in some ways, authenticity and an actual understanding of how the world works and how to address those problems.  Young people are not looking to continue a debate around if climate change is happening or not.  That is something that young people have moved past a long time ago, that it’s incredibly frustrating to them, and that we’re not doing enough to solve the problem.  And it’s a crisis.

There’s all kinds of issues like that.  Marriage equality.  That is a done deal.  That is the law of the land and it’s something we should be proud of, and we should celebrate, not continuing having conversations about whether we’re going to roll that back or not.

I think there are some issues like that that young people are almost unanimous on, that we need to move forward and solve these problems together.  I’ve also seen that they want to participate in much higher rates than we’ve seen from previous generations of  young people.  I think that’s very promising because the problems they are going to face and are already facing are huge.  They’re much bigger probably than any other problem than what any other generation has faced in a lot of ways in America.  And so I think it’s going to require their full participation.  So far based on the numbers and the data anecdotally it seems like they’re ready for it.  They ready for that fight.  And I think unfortunately these next four years-whether we get a full four years-we’ll see these next four years with a President Trump, I think is going to be incredibly challenging on the issues and the areas that are so concerning for young people’s future, that my hope, and I believe that it will actually act as a spark that will create more change in the long term.  This is kind of the “kick in the pants” that some of us need.  I remember one of the most meaningful moments in my life was when our country reelected George W.  Bush.  That was a moment when I committed to myself about what the rest of my life was going to look like, not “Oh no.  I guess we gotta wait another four years until we can do anything on any of the issues I care about.”  I hope this is an organizing moment, not for us just in Boulder County, but for an entire generation across the country.

Steve Fenberg congratulates new Boulder City Council members who supported progressive issues and swept the local election in 2013.

Steve Fenberg congratulates new Boulder City Council members who supported progressive issues and swept the local election in 2013.

Senator-Elect Fenberg promises an open-door policy and says that he will prioritize speaking to constituents over lobbyists.

His contact information is:

office:  200 E. Colfax Ave., Room 346, Denver, 80203


office phone:  303-866-4872

cell:  720-244-2062

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