In late June 2004, the 32-year-old Carroll was obsessing over an argument she’d had with her live-in boyfriend. She needed to get out of the house, if only for an evening. That’s when she remembered an invitation she’d received to a political fund-raiser at the home of term-limited state legislator Frank Weddig. Despite her father’s political background, Carroll had never immersed herself into party politics. At the shindig, she talked to Weddig and his wife. The Democrat was looking for a strong candidate to fill his seat, and he told Carroll that he thought she was the one to do it. Carroll demurred, saying she wasn’t electable.
Still, she couldn’t stop thinking about it. The original Democratic candidate eventually dropped out of the race, leaving a prime Democrat-friendly state Legislature position open, with no viable option to fill it. Carroll knew the timing was off. The problems with her boyfriend persisted. Her house came with a mortgage that was based on two incomes. She’d need to refinance while simultaneously fund-raising for a political campaign. She was coming into the race late, just four months before Election Day. She signed up anyway.
Carroll won with 55 percent of the vote and showed up at her third-floor Capitol office in January 2005, woefully unprepared. Given the early-year start to Colorado’s legislative session, every workday for the first few months began around 5 a.m., in blackness. For some time, Carroll remained in the dark. Although she arrived to the post expecting to enact social change and impact policy, her initial naïvete made her a poor fit, especially when dealing with the state’s lobbying machine.
The way lobbyists work is something of a tradition. When a bill is being debated on the House floor, lobbyists working for or against the issue typically send a note—similar to an old-time dance card—into the chamber, to the politician they’re attempting to sway. The official leaves the floor and speaks to the lobbyist outside the room, as the law requires. After a week, Carroll started refusing cards. Why would she want to dance while bills were being debated?
Lobbyists complained to the Democratic leadership. Carroll stood firm, saying she was available to talk at any other time, just not during debates. Her choice was so unpopular that about 240 lobbyists rallied against Carroll’s workers’ compensation bill, which would have allowed injured workers to choose their own doctors. To Carroll, it was a commonsense bill; to the medical lobby, it was anathema because of how it chipped away at health-care practitioners’ rights. It failed, as did all of the bills Carroll introduced during her first session. Although two of the three bills she co-sponsored eventually passed, her legislative track record that year was one of the more ineffectual among state Democratic lawmakers.
Carroll returned for her second legislative session in January 2006. Her initial stumbles inspired her to concoct a savvier agenda: Now she would take on the lobbyists by adopting some of their techniques to win support from fellow legislators. She thoroughly researched her colleagues’ positions, enough to find common ground for a bill that would require lobbyists to more openly report who was paying them. Carroll still wouldn’t accept their cards during floor debates. As an April’s Fools Day joke, Republican Representative Greg Brophy put a basket outside her office with a note instructing lobbyists to leave their cards in it. Carroll left the basket there. Her lobbyist bill passed, and Republican Governor Bill Owens signed it into law in June 2006.