The Silly Season

April 28, 2002

by John K. Bates

Towards the end of each NASCAR Winston Cup season begins what is called the “silly season.” During this time, when the Cup championship has either been decided or has been narrowed to two or thre challengers, “also-ran” racers find themselves clamoring for sponsorships and rides. Deals are made and broken, drivers added and removed, and crews changed. It’s a diversion for fans, and in many cases is much more entertaining than what is happening on the track.

Like NASCAR, politics has its own silly seasons. For the federal government, the silly season would have to be the presidential election cycle. Where else can the nation witness the spectacle of suit-wearing rich boys putting on overalls and pretending to care a whit about the concerns of farmers, ranchers, and other “little guys?” Or watch as a politician sincerely backtracks on issues he (or she) championed vociferously just a few years before? Every four years, this season overtakes otherwise reasonable people and turns them into hypocritical blowhards. It is amusing enough as it is; if these same people weren’t trying to fleece us for everything we have, it would be downright hilarious.

State governments are not immune to silly seasons. Here in Colorado, it usually coincides with the time the General Assembly (the state legislature) is in session. This year is no exception. From the usual tax and spend-a-thons to gun control to the hugely important issue of high school bowling, there is much silliness going on in the corridors of power in Denver.

Let’s start by acknowledging some good. It looks like Colorado is finally beginning to overcome Columbine and finish the concealed-carry gun bill started three years ago. In 1999, the Assembly was this close to passing this most sensible law before media hatred of guns in the wake of Columbine put the kibosh on it. Now it is about out of the House and has enough support in the Democrat-controlled state Senate to look like a sure thing. It’s three years too late and it still has too many meaningless, politically driven restrictions. But there are few measures a state governing body can take that will promote the safety of its citizens better than concealed carry. Research has shown quite persuasively that “shall issue” laws curb violent crime more than background checks and other nanny-state programs. It’s about time Colorado got with the program.

Another good item will be passed to the voters as a referendum. Colorado voters this fall will have the option to shorten the annual legislative session from 120 days to 90 days. Lobbyists, the media and of course the legislators will be sure to tell us this is a bad idea. But since for the most part government takes from the people while giving very little in return, the less time they are able to do so the better off the citizenry will be. If nothing else, they have less time to raise our taxes. Look for this measure to pass overwhelmingly.

With the good comes the bad: From attempts to increase school funding (despite a massive funding increase approved last year) to ever-popular meddling in business affairs (“fair pay” and anti-gay employment discrimination are this year’s prominent issues), there is no shortage of ways for our caring legislators to improve how we conduct our lives or spend our money. The previously noted boondoggle known as Colorado’s Ocean Journey will get some help, and the state may decide it needs to get into the health insurance business. It is small wonder that no matter whether times are good or bad, our taxes never decrease. Give politicians enough time and enough of our money and there is no limit to how creative they will be with it.

And yes, there is silliness - and lots of it - in the General Assembly. There is the Colorado mineral declaration, where rhodocrosite - a red crystal that no one has ever heard of except a group of high school students with too much time on their hands - has now been declared the official mineral in a state rich in history of mining gold, silver, molybdenum, and a host of other minerals people have actually heard of. Indeed, its very obscurity is what made rhodocrosite appealing, as its champions wanted to find something “unique.” One has to wonder what is next on the list; sign me up when they start discussing something important, like the state beer.

More silliness comes from the prison-funding bill. Part of the proposed $13.8 million spending legislation would allow prisoners to work as telemarketers. Imagine this phone call interrupting your dinner: “Hello, this is Steve from Canon City. Would you like to save money on your long distance bill today? You can become a prisoner here and make lots of calls for free!” The impetus behind the bill is supposedly to teach inmates a good work ethic. One would think that breaking rocks in the prison yard, picking up trash from the highways and working in the prison laundry all accomplish this goal just fine.

But the king of the silly season has to go to the bill that would make bowling - yes, bowling - a high school sport. Representative Debbie Stafford’s bill is based upon the “discovery” that colleges have bowling programs and therefore have bowling scholarships, many of which go unfilled due to either lack of interest of lack of knowledge. Stafford’s bowling bill would rectify this by making bowling a certified high school sport, complete with matches, tournaments and state champions.

In an era where synchronized swimming and sweeping ice with a broom can earn Olympic medals, perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to include bowling as a sanctioned high school sport. And it certainly could be popular, especially with the boys who will love Friday night beer frames at the local lanes. But Ms. Stafford’s bill points out exactly why the initiative to shorten the legislative session makes perfect sense. For the state government to have nothing better to do than to bring in (I am not making this up) “bowling experts” to debate the merits of increasing the sports’ exposure shows it has much too much time on its hands. Better for the legislators to go home or to go back to whatever tavern sparks these silly ideas. And while they are at it, leave some of the tax money on the table for us to keep.


John K. Bates is a part-time freelance writer who works in the energy engineering field and lives in the Denver, Colorado area. He enjoys many outdoor pursuits and the company of his family of three cats. His columns can also be seen on

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