Junie Joseph’s vote is needed on Capitol Hill, but two seats might be too much

The House District 10 election got off to an inauspicious start. Long after the primary and just over a month before names were finalized to appear on the general election ballot, the incumbent State Rep. Edie Hooton pulled out of the race.

As we noted in August, Hooton’s decision to step down has limited Boulder voters’ choices. Instead of a heated, spirited primary where voters got to choose a candidate — and, given Boulder’s political landscape, the eventual winner — the Boulder County Democratic Party chose a candidate from among the few nominees who threw their hat in the ring.

The BoCo Dems ultimately chose Boulder City Council member Junie Joseph, and Joseph, as expected, won the general election in a landslide.

That should be the end of the story. An elected official steps down at an inconvenient time, and another – equally qualified, competent and experienced – comes forward to represent our district.

Instead, the drama of House District 10 continues.

After his victory, Joseph declared his intention to resign from his seat on the city council after the last meeting of the year on December 15. But earlier this month she backtracked and decided to sit in both seats next year. (Assuming she does not seek re-election, her term on the board ends at the end of 2023.)

“My constituents elected me to both positions, and I owe it to them that their voices and preferences are reflected on both City Council and the Capitol,” Joseph explained in an email. “It is clear that legislators often serve effectively in more than one capacity. In the end, what matters most is that a legislator does a good job representing their constituents.

We couldn’t agree more. The most important thing for any elected representative is to represent their constituents to the best of their abilities. This is why we are worried.

Serving in the state legislature is demanding. Rep. Hooton cited the consuming nature of the job as the reason for her withdrawal from her re-election race. The legislative session may only last from January to May, but the work of a representative does not only end in the summer. Phone calls, emails and meetings with constituents and stakeholders continue throughout the year.

The municipal council is also taxed. After all, it was only earlier this year that board members moved their meetings to Thursday because they didn’t have enough time to read all the necessary documents and prepare properly before Tuesday’s meetings. In fact, former members have said the job can take up to 30 hours a week.

Yet these two jobs are technically part time. And both encourage members to have outside jobs. Boulder city council members receive a paltry sum, about $12,500 a year, and beginning in 2023, state legislators will receive a salary of $43,977.

This arrangement is designed around the principle that our elected leaders should not be career politicians. Instead, our legislative bodies are meant to be filled with citizen-legislators who are, first and foremost, members of our community. In this theoretical construction, a political position is meant to be more an act of service than a career.

(Whether or not this principle is more grounded in reality, and whom it ends up excluding from political service, are vital matters for another day.)

By taking on two (theoretically) part-time roles, Joseph effectively becomes a full-time politician. This, of course, is not new, and Joseph cited several legislators who served on Capitol Hill while retaining seats elsewhere, including on the school board, water board, and hospital board.

To us, however, a council is different from the Boulder City Council. Our advice is unique. The hours are long, the responsibility is great, and the demands of the public are enormous – and rightly so.

Which brings us back to our main concern: the workload of both jobs and the detrimental trade-offs that can arise. Many of us have juggled two part-time jobs and seen the work required for one detract from the other. It’s not a question of ability or experience or commitment, just hours in the day.

Boulder City Council meets on Thursdays. The same is true for several committees of the Legislative Assembly. Joseph will serve as vice-chair of the finance committee, but this will be her only role on the committee. Of course, not all representatives take on multiple roles on the committee, but many do. Could she have had more committee assignments without the time conflict?

There is no doubt that Joseph will be able to serve in both roles. It will be able to carry out the duties and responsibilities set out in the charters and rules that guide the council and the Legislative Assembly. But will dividing her time between two very demanding government bodies – where she will represent similar but ultimately different constituencies – really result in the best outcome for everyone?

“I just want to say that we live here as a community together, and I try to do my best to serve the people of Boulder and to fulfill my obligations on both fronts,” Joseph said. “I am not the first lawmaker to hold more than one elected office, but I am the first to face this level of scrutiny. I just hope to have the same opportunity as those before me to devote all my energy to the people I serve.

Joseph also pointed out that there are no rules against what she does, and if we are really troubled by lawmakers duplicating things, we should change the rules. So let’s change the rules. Let’s have tough conversations like these about representation and citizen-legislators so we can keep trying to shape our government to serve us best.

For now, however, let us remember that Joseph was a unique and indispensable voice on the Boulder City Council. And, going forward, such a voice is needed on Capitol Hill. It is therefore in all of our interests that it succeeds. And we hope it will. Boulder needs and deserves successful elected officials. But we also hope that his pioneering work will continue to open doors for more diverse voices to follow in his footsteps so that our lawmakers don’t have to duplicate the work.

— Gary Garrison for the Editorial Board

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