Linda Newell set to premiere behind-the-scenes film about legislative process
Author: Ernest Luning - March 3, 2017 - Updated: March 4, 2017
You can take the lawmaker out of the Capitol, the old saying goes, but you can’t take the Capitol out of the lawmaker.
Maybe that isn’t precisely how the old saying goes, but it describes former state Sen. Linda Newell’s path since the Littleton Democrat faced term limits last year.
As her eight-year legislative career neared its end, Newell returned to her roots — she worked in the theater and produced television shows in California years ago — while still at the Capitol, producing a short documentary film that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the legislative process during the General Assembly’s 2016 session.
“The Last Bill, A Senator’s Story” premieres Saturday, March 18, at the Alamo Drafthouse Littleton in the Aspen Grove shopping center. Fortuitously, Newell notes, the movie theater is within the boundaries of Newell’s old Senate District 26. Tickets to the two scheduled showings — at 12:15 p.m. and 2 p.m. — went on sale Friday, March 3. Newell and members of her production team will answer questions after each showing.
In addition to getting viewers acquainted with how the Legislature operates, the documentary traces the fate of two bills Newell sponsored in her last session.
The first bill, to create a suicide prevention plan, co-sponsored with state Sen. Beth Martinez-Humenik, R-Thornton, and state Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The second bill, to make it a crime to represent a pet as a service animal, co-sponsored with then-state Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Greenwood Village, however, was torpedoed by Republicans in the Senate Judiciary committee after passing unanimously out of the House. Kagan was locked in a tight race against Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty for Newell’s open Senate seat, and it’s a good bet Republican legislators didn’t want to give him a win.
But in the kind of twist no one could have scripted, Newell and Kagan’s legislation was resurrected in another bill, this time sponsored by state Sens. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, and Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, and state Rep. Yeulin Willett, R-Grand Junction, and then-state Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield. It was signed into law by the governor. While Newell and Kagan signed on as co-sponsors, the popular legislation didn’t carry their names.
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, and Newell’s daughters, Kate and Brittany Newell, all figure prominently in the production.
“I miss being there,” Newell told The Colorado Statesman this week. “It’s such a unique opportunity and when you love it, like I did, there’s nothing like it. On the other hand, with my documentary project, it’s like I’m still there — because it’s about the Legislature, and it’s about educating people for civic engagement.”
In a trailer for the film released this week, Newell sums up her time as a legislator.
“In some of the work I’ve been able to do, I’ve been so proud I’ve been able to save — literally, able to save lives,” she says. “Every day I could make a vote was for the future of women in the state of Colorado, of our environment and helping those that are less advantaged than we are. It’s my job to help people ease their pain, if I can in a legislative way. But also, I owe it to my family to make sure we’re doing everything we can.”
In the same scene, an off-screen interviewer asks her if she’d do it again.
“Yes, I would do it again,” she responds. “On the other hand, I think I would do it a little bit differently, but I would definitely do it again.”
Newell told The Statesman she wouldn’t change how she approached “policy and process externally” but would handle things differently internally.
“I really was a workaholic,” she said. “I really did work not just during the session but in the interims. I found out that it seemed like I was working harder than I needed to, working harder than some of my colleagues, because I was on so many interim committees every year.” After pausing for a moment, she added, “I think I would learn to say ‘no’ better.”
Newell, who produced the documentary in collaboration with the Colorado Film School and Indie Denver Media Productions, said it’s timed at just over 26 minutes because that’s the ideal length for public television broadcasts. She says the production team plans to transform the footage — perhaps adding more graphics — into a shorter version tailored for students and pair it with a curriculum guide.
In the long run, Newell and her associates want to produce a series of documentaries taking viewers behind the scenes throughout government, including in the executive and judicial branches.
She says she’s confident there’s an audience for the documentaries.
“Over the last few months,” she said, “I’ve gotten so many questions about how government works — how to get in touch with legislators, how to track their voting records. People want to know how to become more civically involved.”
The film is directed by Aaron Koehler and edited by Matt Baxter; Brittany Newell is the associate producer, and Gary Weir composed music for the documentary.
Tickets to the premiere showing are $15, and special VIP tickets with access to a Hollywood-style red carpet are $30. Sponsorships are also available.