Get More Smarter on Friday (May 29)

Get More SmarterLet’s just repeat Memorial Day weekend once more, eh? It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► State Rep. John Buckner (D-Aurora) has died at the age of 67 after dealing with a respiratory illness. Buckner took a leave from the legislature in late April because of health concerns.

► Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee has some explaining to do in the wake of the resignation of Communications Director Lisa Pinto (as first reported at Jeffco Pols). Pinto was hired by McMinimee despite the fact that she was largely unqualified for the job — aside from being a right-wing crony, of course. 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

BREAKING: Lisa Pinto Resigns From Jeffco Schools

FRIDAY UPDATE #2: Porter’s story now updated:

“We’re considering what our options are moving forward,” [Jeffco Schools superintendent Dan McMinimee] said…

Pinto oversaw the contract of public relations firm Novitas Communications to replace several staff positions left vacant in a department traditionally filled with district employees. The move drew criticism in the politically charged district, particularly from supporters of the Jefferson County Education Association.

—–

Former Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

Former Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, Jefferson County Communications Officer Lisa Pinto.

FRIDAY UPDATE: Gabrielle Porter at the High Timber Times confirms today, but still no official statement as of 10:00AM Friday morning:

Jeffco Public Schools chief communications officer Lisa Pinto has submitted a letter of resignation and will be stepping down from her position effective June 19, according to a district staff member.

Pinto was hired on at a salary of $126,678 in January by schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

We’ll update as soon as we receive more information. We assume a statement is being drafted and spell-checked now.

——

That’s the word from multiple sources Thursday afternoon–embattled Jefferson County Schools Chief Communications Officer Lisa Pinto is resigning from her position, following months of disastrous press for the conservative board majority, revelations about alleged discrepancies in her resume that emerged during the candidate search for her position, and most recently an investigation into alleged bullying of a minor student during a public board meeting.

We’ll update with details once available, stand by.

State Rep. John Buckner Dies

Rep. John Buckner (D-Aurora).

Rep. John Buckner (D-Aurora).

As the Aurora Sentinel reports, allow us to add our condolences to Rep. John Buckner’s family and many friends:

Mr. Buckner, who represented Colorado House District 40 in southern Aurora, announced in late April that he was taking sudden leave from the General Assembly for the remainder of the legislative session to address health concerns.

In the state House, Mr. Buckner was chairman of the House Education Committee, where he was a proponent of streamlining Colorado student assessments.

“What a lovely, smart, accomplished man,” said state Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, on Twitter after hearing word of Buckner’s death. “He will be sorely missed at (the General Assembly)…”

“He was a great statesman and was a voice of clarity and conviction on educational policy,” said state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “The world has lost a tireless advocate for kids, families, justice and equal rights.”

The Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels:

Earlier this year, the Aurora Democrat came down with a virus that impacted his respiratory problems. But he was expected to recover, which he referred to when he wrote a letter to fellow members of the House telling them he would be absent: “While I am sure some of you are relieved to get a break from me, don’t think for a moment that you’ve run me off!”

…Among those who mourned Buckner’s passing was former state Sen. Nancy Spence, a Centennial Republican. She has always credited “Mr. Buckner” for helping her son Greg graduate from Smoky Hill. He now is a director on “Game of Thrones.”

Friday Open Thread

“I am sorry to think that you do not get a man’s most effective criticism until you provoke him. Severe truth is expressed with some bitterness.”

–Henry David Thoreau

Koch –funded “Nonprofit” Stomps Down Hard on Health Care Initiative

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

You’ve probably never heard of Initiative 20….unless you listen to right wing talk radio, or hang out on right wing websites. Then, you might believe that Initiative 20 is a Communist plot to ration your health care, run all private insurors out of Colorado, take away your Medicaid, and generally make your life miserable.

Colorado Care? Yes!

Initiative 20, the ColoradoCareYes plan, is the beginning of the end of the Federal Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) in Colorado, and Koch-funded attack groups are trying to stop it before it begins.

Republicans, after having tried to repeal the ACA 54 times, (but still having no plan to replace it) should be rejoicing that a coalition of nonprofits in Colorado, inspired by Senator Irene Aguilar, M.D, is promoting an alternative to the ACA.  I mean really…the end of mandates? The end of Obama’s name on your health care plan? No price discrimination against rural consumers? No deductibles? It’s a Tea Party dream!

In the original ACA legislation is an “innovation” provision, article 1332, which allows states to opt out of the ACA, if they can prove that their own programs have as good or better outcomes for consumers. The ColoradoCare plan as written would be simpler, more fair, and less expensive than the ACA.

Instead of rejoicing that Democrats are accomplishing their goal of replacing the ACA, however, Republican operatives and organizations quickly stomped on the rollout of Initiative 20 with a Koch-brothers funded website, and talk radio diatribes about how the ColoradoCareYES Initiative must be stopped.

Some background information: (more…)

Durango Herald Hammers Ellen Roberts’ “Kabuki”

Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango has had a tough time this year as she tries to navigate the tricky landscape of apiring to higher office as a female Republican with a “moderate” public image. We’ve discussed a number of instances this year in which Roberts was either forced to move to or willingly positioned herself on the far right of policy debates at the Capitol–from the disastrous “Anti-Vaxxer Bill of Rights” legislation that stoked a nationwide controversy over low vaccination rates, to her more recent support for a so-called “fetal homicide” bill that reproductive rights advocates believed was a segue into another “Personhood” abortion ban.

Today, Roberts’ hometown paper The Durango Herald weighs in strongly on the latter issue–and while not completely sparing Planned Parenthood and other groups from criticism, the paper’s editorial board makes clear they aren’t buying Roberts’ excuses for backing “Personhood” either:

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, has mounted a spirited and eloquent defense of her support for Senate Bill 268 – called “Concerning offenses against an unborn child” – in the recently concluded legislative session. Lawmakers should be able to explain their positions, and Roberts is good at it…

What she does not explain, however, is that SB 268 was a completely unnecessary piece of political theater. [Pols emphasis] Its language seems carefully tuned to spark controversy, and its stated goal could probably have been achieved without dancing through the minefields of the abortion wars.

…[T]he Legislature could have crafted a tightly written bill that would have increased penalties for such violent acts without employing any of the red-flag words that surround discussion of reproduction. It could have made “terminating a woman’s pregnancy without her permission” punishable by life in prison without any mention of abortion-war catchphrases.

Instead, SB 268 turned entirely on hot-button words. It defined a “person … as a human being and includes an unborn child at every stage of gestation from conception until live birth.”

In fairness, the Herald does accuse Planned Parenthood of “rising to the bait,” citing the fact that the bill was killed in committee as evidence that it “was never a serious threat to reproductive freedom.” But the harshest criticism in this editorial is definitely reserved for Sen. Roberts:

Courting the anti-abortion right while simultaneously touting a pro-choice record is not compromise, but Kabuki. [Pols emphasis]

Ouch.

As we said before, Ellen Roberts is in a very difficult position. Many of the things that might have made her a more viable general election candidate, like her past support for some reproductive choice measures, make it much harder for her to win a Republican primary. But her only means of placating the Republican base is to take positions that negate those “moderate” credentials, robbing her of her principle advantage.

Would it have been better for Roberts to have stuck to her former position, and not lurched right to make herself more appealing to the Republican base? Faced with winning an interim battle but losing the war today, we think so. Unfortunately, she’s already made the opposite choice, and her votes can’t be uncast.

Coffman does little to promote immigration reform besides create the appearance of support for it

(Try to Google “What is Mike Coffman’s position on immigration reform?” — Promoted by Colorado Pols)

coffmanpushup

In response to my post yesterday urging reporters to spotlight Mike Coffman’s weak advocacy for immigration reform, Coffman’s spokesman Tyler Sandberg told me via Twitter that “Google is Your Friend,” and directed me to an instance when Coffman said he was “deeply disappointed” with House opposition to a resolution allowing young immigrants to gain citizenship via military service.

Google is my friend, and it confirms my larger point that Coffman does little to promote immigration reform besides create the appearance of seriousness without the much substance at all.

Coffman has expressed disappointment, yes, and I regret writing that he didn’t use the word, but he hasn’t seriously challenged Boehner, who’s arguably been the biggest obstacle to immigration reform in the country.

Where was Coffman’s disappointment when the Senate’s bipartisan immigration legislation, with Marco Rubio’s name on it, died in the House. Coffman didn’t even support a vote on the bipartisan and comprehensive bill, despite Coffman’s public statements in favor of comprehensive immigration reform.

(more…)

Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 28)

Get More SmarterIs this week still happening? It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The ugliness just doesn’t stop when it comes to the right-wing Jefferson County School Board. Here’s video of School Board President Ken Witt refusing to allow a student to speak about LGBT rights at a public board meeting.

The EPA has finalized a new clean water rule intended to help crack down on polluters.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

Ambush in the Public Interest

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

votersbelieveliesIn an online Denver Post op-ed yesterday, I urged reporters to seek out and interview hiding politicians. I gave some recent Colorado examples, like Rep. Mike Coffman hiding from reporters after he said he wasn’t sure Obama was an American.

On Twitter, former CU regent Tom Lucero, a Republican, told me I left out instances of Democrats hiding from reporters, but he won’t provide me with any examples, saying he doesn’t want to do my “job.”

Too bad, because I’d like to see his examples, and I’m sure they exist. But I couldn’t think of many in recent memory (I mentioned Udall)–and my piece focused on Colorado reporting.

In any case, I wish Lucero would work with me, because if journalists did this more often, it would benefit all of us.

The ambush interview shouldn’t be relegated to showboaters like Bill O’Reilly and consumer reporters, like (mostly) the investigative units at 9News and channel 7.

In my piece, I quoted Eli Stokols, who told the Columbia Journalism Review in March that among Colorado reporters, “There seems to be a reluctance to hold people accountable for policy positions.”

I wrote in The Post:

What’s not to like about that suggestion, regardless of where you sit on the partisan spectrum? But how to do it?

One simple way is to not let public officials hide out and avoid answering questions. Journalists should track them down and force them to respond.

For example, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton is under fire for telling conservative radio-host Mike Rosen he did not support a proposed law to bolster Colorado’s public pension program when, in fact, he did support the legislation.

What are other examples from any politician in Colorado?

Even More Ugly Jeffco School Board Footage


Ken Witt.

Ken Witt.

Amid fresh negative press coverage for the conservative Jefferson County school board majority, we were forwarded another clip of video from this month’s regular board meeting–in which the subject of board member Julie Williams’ Facebook posting of a hate group’s protest against the LGBT Day of Silence event the previous month loomed large, but was never acknowledged by the conservative members of the board.

Sources who have regularly attended Jefferson County school board meetings since the takeover of the board by right-wing candidates two years ago stress that they have never seen such a toxic environment as currently exists in these meetings. It’s often the case that school board politics become rather contentious, but not like this we’re told. Perhaps the best evidence of how far out of control the situation has gotten was the highly questionable public disparagement of a 17-year-old student by board chairman Ken Witt during this month’s board meeting, an incident now the subject of an outside investigation to determine whether laws or district policies prohibiting bullying were violated.

In the five-minute video clip you see above, a Jeffco student who earlier participated in a silent protest against Williams attempted to speak as the representative of a group of students. It’s the policy for Jeffco school board meetings that groups of speakers during the public comment periods are allotted extra time to speak. Witt apparently found a discrepancy in the list of students who had signed up as a member of this particular group, and ruled that the student in question could only speak for two minutes. Outgoing board member Lesley Dahlkemper immediately objects to Witt’s limiting of the student’s time to speak, and the room erupts in boos. The student gives an abbreviated version of his speech, only to be very rudely cut off by Witt once again as his already-chopped time expired.

All told, this probably isn’t as serious an incident as Witt’s later name-naming attack on a minor student who merely “favorited” a few Tweets. But having watched it along with all the rest of the Jeffco school board’s history since 2013, it’s illustrative of the kind of openly belligerent treatment that parents, teachers, and even students routinely experience at the hands of this board majority.

And folks, it is really not okay.

Thursday Open Thread

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

–George Bernard Shaw

Nebraska Officially Abolishes the Death Penalty

Breaking news from Lincoln, Nebraska, as the New York Times (and everybody else) reports:

Nebraska on Wednesday became the first conservative state in more than 40 years to abolish the death penalty, with lawmakers defying their Republican governor, Pete Ricketts, a staunch supporter of capital punishment who had lobbied vigorously against banning it.

By a 30 to 19 vote that cut across party lines, the Legislature overrode the governor’s veto on Tuesday of a bill repealing the state’s death penalty law. The measure garnered just enough votes to overcome the veto…

…Though it formally considers itself nonpartisan, the Nebraska Legislature is dominated by Republicans. Republican legislators who have voted in favor of abolition said they believed the death penalty was inefficient, expensive and out of place with their party’s values. Other lawmakers cited religious or moral reasons for their support of the death penalty ban. Eighteen states and Washington, D.C., have banned the death penalty.

Wow. So, there you go.

#COLEG Efforts To Sell Public Lands: Nonsense

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 4.19.56 PM

Why We Saw Public Land Seizure This Year 

Public land seizure has been making headlines in Colorado and across the West for years now, and lots of us aren’t quite sure what to make of it. This confusion is understandable; the logic behind the movement is not particularly coherent and there are a lot of different influences at play. Terms and names are often dropped, and their relationship to one another is not always clear — what or who is ALEC? What is ALC? What does this have to do with Cliven Bundy?

And last but not least, how exactly would this idea work?

We intend to clear all this up for you.

What is public land seizure?

Short answer: Nonsense.

Long answer: Public land seizure is essentially the idea that land currently managed by national agencies should be owned by the state. The legal validity, financial prudence, and feasibility of this argument have all been debunked several times over, and yet it persists. It stems from ideological values that resemble those of Cliven Bundy, the law-breaking Nevada rancher who made headlines last year for engaging in an armed standoff with BLM officials because he didn’t want to pay grazing fees. His basis for this was simply that he doesn’t believe that the American government is legitimate.

We’ve seen this before — in the “Sagebrush Rebellion” of the late 1970s and early 1980s, ranchers rebelled against the federal government because of grazing fees that they felt were too high, despite the fact that they are usually a fraction of the average private leasing cost.

If this reasoning seems bizarre, that’s because it is. The real reason for these efforts is not a principled stand against federal overreach, it’s a thinly veiled push to privatize and profit off our land, mostly through extractive industries.

Yeah, but there must be some grounds on which people are arguing for it.

Short answer: Not really.

(more…)

Pro-Gun Columbine “Backlash” Snares Aurora Shooting Victims

Aurora shooting victim Jessica Ghawi.

Aurora shooting victim Jessica Ghawi.

Huffington Post’s Gabriel Arana took note of a story on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show late last week that we’re surprised hasn’t received more local coverage, and we didn’t want it to escape mention. The parents of one of the victims of the 2012 Aurora theater mass shooting, a case currently being tried in an Arapahoe County court, sued online gun dealers who sold the alleged perpetrator of that crime some of the ammunition and other items used in the massacre.

But a law passed in 2000 by the GOP-controlled Colorado General Assembly and signed into law by GOP Gov. Bill Owens turned Sandy and Lonnie Phillips’ pursuit of justice for shooting victim Jessica Ghawi into a nightmare:

Maddow opened her show with heart-rending footage of the Aurora trial. She highlighted the testimony of Brenton Lowak, whose friend Jessica Ghawi — a 24-year-old aspiring sports reporter — died in the shooting.

Here’s the part that set off the Outrage-O-Meter: Jessica’s parents have been ordered by a judge in Colorado to pay $220,000 to the gun retailers who sold Holmes his weapon.

The parents unsuccessfully sued the retailers whose products were used in the Aurora shooting. Colorado state law requires that plaintiffs who sue the manufacturers or dealers of gun products pay the companies’ legal fees if they lose.

“That’s not a typo,” Maddow said, adding, “The mother and father of the victim who died in the Aurora mass shooting have just been ordered to pay a quarter-million dollars to the gun retailers who sold the bullets that were used in the Aurora mass shooting — the parents of the girl who was killed.”

A Reuters blog post by attorney Alison Frankel explains what happened here:

In 2014, Ghawi’s mother and stepfather, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, sued the companies that supplied Holmes with ammunition and body armor. The suit named Lucky Gunner, which operates as BulkAmmo.com and sold Holmes more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition; The Sportsman’s Guide, which sold him a 100-round magazine and 700 rounds; BTP Arms, which supplied two canisters of tear gas; and Bullet Proof Body Armor.

The Phillipses’ suit faced long odds. Both the U.S. and Colorado (along with many other states) have laws shielding guns and ammo dealers from liability to shooting victims in most circumstances. (They may be responsible, for instance, if they’ve sold a defective product or violated gun sale regulations.) The federal law, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, has been subjected to many challenges, including allegations that it violates the constitutional separation of powers doctrine because it impinges on states’ lawmaking powers and the constitutional due process rights of shooting victims with common-law claims. According to the Justice Department, those constitutional challenges have all failed.

But the Phillipses and their lawyers at Arnold & Porter argued their case was different because the dealers sold weaponry to Holmes over the Internet, without ever seeing his face or assessing his state of mind. That made the dealers negligent, the Phillipses said, despite their protections under state and federal law. [Pols emphasis] “A crazed, homicidal killer should not be able to amass a military arsenal, without showing his face or answering a single question, with the simple click of a mouse,” the Brady Center gun control advocacy group said in a statement announcing the Phillipses’ suit, in which Brady Center lawyers are also involved. “If businesses choose to sell military-grade equipment online, they must screen purchasers to prevent arming people like James Holmes.”

Unfortunately for the Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, in 2000, the Colorado legislature passed House Bill 00-1208. This legislation was part of the intense debates over gun safety that took place in the aftermath of the Columbine High School mass shooting in April of 1999. Most Colorado residents only remember the constitutional ballot measure, Amendment 22, which closed the so-called “gun show loophole” that allowed guns to be sold at shows without a background check. But House Bill 00-1208 was part of a backlash against greater gun control, mostly backed by Republican legislators. Similar legislation was passed at the federal level in 2005. Here’s what House Bill 00-1208 says:

(more…)