For Colorado lawmakers: ‘People who live in glass houses shouldn’t bowl’

(Photo/The Brit_2, Flickr)

(Photo/The Brit_2, Flickr)

There once was a man named Chuck Henning — a staple in the Colorado Legislature. He was a historian, an author, a TV reporter and, for a year in 1992, a Republican representative from Englewood. He was also a bon vivant, a collector of political quotes that captured the essence — and sometimes the absurdity — of democracy in action.

And so, on the opening day of the regular session of Colorado’s 67th General Assembly, here’s a toast to the memory of Henning — with the hopes that our lawmakers will live up to his so-very-quotable standards. Or, as Dan Quayle might say, “It’s a question of whether we’re going forward into the future, or past to the back.”

Henning, for those who have come along later, was a longtime observer of Colorado’s Legislature in action — before the advent Internet and House TV. He collected quotes he heard and quotes that were passed along to him by pals who knew his proclivity for recording the utterances of politicians and pundits.

Henning died unexpectedly of a heart attack on May 28, 1997, when he was 67. But not before his collection of quotes, “Wit and Wisdom of Politics,” was published by Golden-based Fulcrum Publishing in 1996.

The book contains some of the greatest quotes around — on subjects ranging from political apathy to zeal and everything in between — from orators throughout history, from Herb Caen to H.L Mencken, from Morris Udall to Margaret Thatcher, from Ma Ferguson to Hunter S. Thompson.

And while he was alive, Henning had no problem quote-feeding off others. As he once paraphrased Will Rogers, “I never met a quotation book I didn’t like.” Which likely means Henning would have happily approved of my dusting off some of his great quotes from “Wit and Wisdom of Politics,” and sharing them here.

One gut-buster is his section on “Legislators in Action” — many of them priceless quotes from Colorado’s past esteemed politicians. As Henning pointed out, some of the best quotes come when lawmakers are engaged in the process of lawmaking — which, as we know thanks to yet another famously quoted analogy, is often like watching sausages being made.

“Legislators often find themselves operating in a daffy world of malaprops, misstatements and mixed metaphors, where words don’t quite come out as intended,” Henning wrote.

Henning provided a wealth of examples, though he opted not to identify the speakers in that particular section of his book. However, by reading his list, we can without doubt assign one of the famous utterances to former Colorado Springs state Sen. MaryAnne Tebedo, who once claimed, “I don’t know whether we need a bill on teen pregnancy because statistics show teen pregnancy drops off significantly after age 25.”

Alas, Henning was exceedingly discreet about other public utterances made in chambers and committees. And so, if you, dear reader, can match the malaprops to its rightful owner, please do so in the comments section below. Here are a few of the more masterful phrases, uttered from the hallowed floors of Colorado’s House of Representatives and Senate over the years:

“It’s time to grab the bull by the tail and look it in the eye.”

“You’ve got to stop milking that dead horse.”

“I rise to be heard because I can’t stand sitting down.”

“There are too many noses under the camel’s tent.”

“My colleague is listening with a forked ear.”

“Before I give you the benefits of my remarks, I’d like to know what we’re talking about.”

“When I started talking I was for the bill, but the longer I talk the more I know I’m against it.”

“I can’t believe we’re going to let a majority of the people decide what’s best for their state.”

“I think we need to debate the issues of mental disturbances and that sort of thing. I can give some insight on that.”

“I’m in favor of any kind of activity between two condescending adults.”

“If it weren’t for the Rural Electric Associations we farmers would still be watching television by candlelight.”

“We’re going to consider a bill on low-flow toilets. You’ll certainly want to sit in on that one.”

“We’re not up for election this year, so it seems we could do what’s right.”

“This is a good health care bill. Take it from someone who survived a terminal heart attack.”

“People who live in glass houses shouldn’t bowl.”

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Cara Degette

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