Kopp holds first virtual town hall meeting

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By AJ Vicens

State Sen. Mike Kopp’s first “virtual town hall meeting” went off with only one technological glitch on March 23, but the bigger issue may be ensuring that constituents who don’t agree with Kopp get a chance to weigh in.

Kopp, a South Jeffco Republican, is hosting a series of online town hall meetings in which constituents log onto a website and call a designated phone number to participate. Once logged on, participants can see Kopp sitting in the state Senate chambers and can talk to him on the phone line. Kopp can also post slides or information on the screen.

The March 23 meeting, a discussion of a bill that would grant in-state college tuition to children who are illegal immigrants, experienced just one technological glitch: a section of the screen showing Kopp or his graphics was blacked out, obscuring some of the graphics.

Kopp discussed his opposition to the bill, saying it violates federal law requiring states that grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants to offer the same rate to U.S. citizens from any state. Kopp referred to a 2006 opinion from Attorney General John Suthers to support his position.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, would offer the in-state tuition rate to any student who had attended at least three years of high school in Colorado and graduated, regardless of immigration status. It would not offer the students any College Opportunity Fund money, and the students would have to sign an affidavit saying they would seek citizenship in the U.S.

Gov. Bill Ritter has said he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk. “For me, this is about building a talented and well-educated workforce and strengthening our economy,” Ritter said.

The bill is in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it is expected to stall on a 5-5 vote.

As the meeting went on, it became clear that every person who spoke agreed with Kopp’s opposition to the bill.

“The four people that spoke up made their orientation clearly known,” Kopp said after the meeting. The meeting software allows 15 users, including Kopp, and the meeting was full.

“I really don’t know what the others were thinking. I’m not going to draw any conclusions on how everybody else feels,” Kopp said.

The senator said he “wouldn’t draw anything from that,” other than the fact that a few outspoken people made their views known, and “if somebody felt they were in the minority, they might not speak up.”

So how does Kopp plan to ensure a discussion of varying and sometimes diverging views in future online town hall meetings?

“I think probably the way I’ll do it is structure it such that I do, from the start, make sure people feel they can disagree and specifically ask for other viewpoints,” Kopp said. “This was a learning experience.”

People were invited via e-mail March 19 from a pool of constituent e-mail addresses Kopp has accumulated.

Kopp said one of the problems was that any of the 14 people logged into the meeting could speak at any time. At several points, people were speaking over each other, and dragging the meeting off into tangents not necessarily related to the legislation. In future meetings, he said, he’ll try different moderation methods, like having people submit questions through a chat-box function, and then calling on the questioners one at a time. Kopp plans at least two more meetings, and will add more if there is demand. A noon meeting on March 24 will discuss the economy and the state’s budget shortfall, and a 7 p.m. March 25 meeting will be an open forum.

People should contact Kopp to get invited to a meeting at mike.kopp.sentate@state.co.us, or call his office at 303-866-2638.

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.