Colorado’s Legislative TV Debut Impresses

It is too soon to pronounce Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff a TV star. But it is not too soon to pronounce his leadership in televising his body’s legislative sessions visionary.Colorado Open House, the state’s legislature’s new television show, debuted Monday with moving speeches about the civil rights movement on Martin Luther King Day. Romanoff later said the timing was coincidental. But it could not have been more compelling.

While most House business is of the watching-paint-dry variety, the emotions shown by Democrats and Republicans Monday gave the public a reason to watch — and more importantly — to tune in again.

Romanoff’s recollections of visiting the Little Rock, Ark., high school where federal troops had to escort African-Americans to enter were especially moving.

Meanwhile, few discernible technical glitches messed up opening day. And there were some pleasant surprises for those of us who tested the new system remotely, watching from home on Internet-connected computers at or TV sets tuned to Comcast Cable channel 165.

Sitting in a control room a floor above the House floor, director Deb Lastowka manipulated the televised images among four remote-control cameras and the feed from a mounted projector.

Viewers went from wide-angle scenes of the entire chamber to tight shots of speakers at the podium and to some pre-set shots of the Speaker’s gavel and a fancy chandelier that hangs above the chamber. The only real problem was back-lighting from a pair of un-curtained windows on either side of the dais that caused some speakers’ faces to disappear in darkness at certain points.

Lastowka will try to block the light from the windows. Otherwise, she was satisfied as she showed me the control panel after the inaugural broadcast.

“(Producer) Laura (Graves) and I work for D Productions that runs non-profit public access television,” Lastowka said.

Behind her, a bank of monitors glowed with a variety of images from the House chamber. What looked like a remote control joy stick to control cameras sat on the table.

“We studied two dozen states that have this,” Romanoff said of the TV system’s design.

Among the bells and whistles is a “Did You Know?” segment designed by Graves. It includes interesting tidbits of Colorado civics that air when the House is not in session, along with nuts-and-bolts information, such as daily calendars of bill readings and committee hearings.

Did you know, for instance, that the current state flag was adopted in 1911?

There are plenty of other minutiae available, as well as the ability to watch government in action – or inaction, as the case may be.

No, newly sworn Rep. Doug Bruce didn’t kick any newspaper photographers on the House floor as he did last week.

Still, all in all, the first day of what legislators billed “Colorado Open House” TV gave Coloradans unprecedented access that turned out to be what Romanoff promised in a Sunday news release.

“No one’s likely to confuse us with ‘Entertainment Tonight,'” Mr. Speaker said. “This is more like ‘Education Today.'”

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Jim Spencer

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