The Indy 500: Our guys at the Capitol

Colorado Independent statehouse reporters John Herrick (r) and Alex Burness (l) on the last day of the 2019 legislative session on May 3, 2019. (Photo by Mark Castillo)
Colorado Independent statehouse reporters John Herrick (r) and Alex Burness (l) on the last day of the 2019 legislative session on May 3, 2019. (Photo by Mark Castillo)

A kind of giddiness overcomes reporters in the last hours of a state legislative session. It’s an end-is-near phenomenon, the same kind of anticipation and early-onset nostalgia that hits high school seniors in the springtime. Can’t wait to get out of here, but, oh, we had some fun, didn’t we? Which is why, when Alex Burness sent us a message late Thursday calling the basement press room at the Capitol “the little dungeon,” he added that it is also “our home. And we love it.”

The press room, for the record, is a hot, cubicled, poorly lit place in which Alex and fellow Indy reporter John Herrick have for the past four months shared a desk littered with paper and business cards and Advil and minty gum.

When we hired Johnny from the Vermont Digger a few years ago, his editor there raved that “he knows how to read a bill,” which is no small thing (especially given that one of our sources at the Statehouse estimates that only about 20 percent of lawmakers read bills in their entirety, relying on their most studious counterparts to do so). Johnny can not only read a bill, but also decipher a fiscal note and dig into a budget. His attention to the fine print came through in his tracking of measures related to climate change and overcrowded prisons. It also has come through in his series of illuminating interviews with the folks Gov. Jared Polis has put on his cabinet.

If Johnny is the policy mind on our little team at the Capitol, Alex is the political mind.

Alex came to us last spring from the Boulder Daily Camera. He had never covered the state legislature, but we knew his gift for observing the ebb and flow of power would make him a natural. His analyses of how and why the bill to abolish the death penalty failed and of how Senate President Leroy Garcia chose to use his position explained important dynamics between lawmakers that other outlets missed. Alex is the kind of reporter who expects transparency from public officials. So when Polis failed to answer even softball questions at a news conference Friday, we saw and shared his frustration.

Our guys at the Capitol are two of the nicest people and most dogged reporters you’ll ever meet. They’re also good sports for working long hours, responding to our demanding edits with stronger stories, and every day wearing sports coats and ties, as is still the custom under the Gold Dome.

At their best over the past four months, Johnny and Alex were able to connect what happens in this building to the lives of people who don’t walk its halls or mill in its lobbies. In doing so, both of them carried out the mission of The Independent: to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories go unheard, shine light on the relationships between people, power and policy, and hold public officials to account.

We love these guys and are grateful for their excellent work.