Denver — State legislators are used to being courted, cajoled, and pressured. But last week some Colorado politicians found themselves facing a type of lobbyist they have seldom, if ever, encountered before: elementary schoolchildren.
The youngsters were in the state capitol to fight for a specific bill that would designate a dinosaur as the state's official fossil. The students, all from the McElwain Elementary School in the Denver suburb of Thornton, employed the tactics of adult lobbyists. They hosted key legislators to lunch in their school cafeteria and testified at a committee hearing. They have also been successful in sparking considerable media attention in their crusade, which has made them much more difficult to ignore than last year when their bill was killed by a pocket veto in the House after winning approval in the Senate.
The dinosaur so dear to the youngsters' hearts is the stegosaurus, a lumbering inhabitant of the area in the Jurassic Period over 135 million years ago. The stegosaurus was an armored dinosaur that reached a length of about 20 feet and whose most distinctive feature was two staggered rows of triangular, bony plates on its back. It is one of Hollywood's favorite dinosaurs. Denver's Museum of Natural History contains one of only six complete stegosaurus skeletons in the world.
Students testified to the importance of fossils to the state before the legislators, several of whom considered this bill little more than a nuisance item. For instance, fourth-grader Robbie Daniels argued that these dinosaurs helped give Colorado its valuable deposits of oil shale. While not convincing all the members, the 60 youthful lobbyists left the capitol Monday smiling after the bill was voted out of the same committee where it was killed last year.
However, the students have learned enough about politics to realize that they've only won the first battle. The bill still must be moved to the House floor by the Rules Committee. Only after this is done will the entire House have a chance to debate and vote on the stegosaurus bill.