Colorado PERA’s Recent Use of Political Influence to Break Pension Contracts.

Fellow ColoradoPols readers, this morning, a post relating to the use of political influence by supporters of the 2010 Colorado PERA pension contract breach appeared on ColoradoPols.com.  The post suggests that proponents of the pension contract breach might attempt to politically influence the Colorado Supreme Court prior to the court's consideration of claims in the PERA pension lawsuit, Justus v. State.  In approximately six weeks, the Colorado Supreme Court will hear oral arguments relating to the 2010 Colorado PERA pension contract breach.

(For readers new to this topic, in 2010, the Colorado Legislature enacted a bill, SB10-001, that retroactively eliminated Colorado PERA pension COLA benefits for which current PERA retirees had exchanged decades of labor and pension contributions.  The idea that the Colorado Legislature would grant private sector insurance companies similar authority to ignore contracted COLA benefits on annuities they have sold is of course, absurd.)

Given that our very identity as Coloradans rests on the rule of law in our state, the integrity of our Colorado courts, and the sanctity of our Colorado Constitution, I respectfully request that ColoradoPols.com promote my response below.

Here is the April 20, 2014 post on ColoradPols.com:

"The SecurePera.com (proponents of the PERA pension contract breach bill, SB10-001) has sent out a mass email announcing a teleconference next month, and the retiree lawsuit is one of the topics.  I suspect they'll encourage SB10-001 supporters to make their presence felt during the oral argument phase of the lawsuit on June 4 (during oral arguments before the Colorado Supreme Court.)

The spectacle of seeing some misguided (or intimidated) retirees supporting the breach of their own pension contracts is surely a dream come true to such uber right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers, and John Arnold, infamous for his role in the massive Enron fraud.

It wouldn't surprise me if a certain retired school principal, who is also both a SecurePera supporter and PERA ambassador, tries to rally a contingent of SB10-001 supporters.  This goes along with my supposition that a handful of high-end retirees (such as school principals) with 30 plus years of service make up the bulk of the retired SB10-1 supporters.  A 2% annual increase on a $100K plus benefit works for them."

Here is my response to the April 20, 2014 ColoradoPols post:

First, we do not know with certainty that the supporters of the 2010 PERA contract breach will attempt, or have actually contemplated, any sort of political demonstration (or political presence) during Colorado Supreme Court oral arguments in the case Justus v. State on June 4, 2014.

However, the proponents of the Colorado PERA pension contract breach did indeed use political maneuvering, and the force of purchased lobbying influence, to achieve their desired outcome before the Colorado General Assembly in 2010.  What arrogance they had in 2009/2010 to assume that the property of others can be casually taken in Colorado, that one board of Colorado state government is somehow exempt from the strictures of the Colorado Constitution, that government debts can legally be shifted onto elderly pensioners.

Colorado PERA pension administrators, and Colorado PERA Board members CAN indeed buy lobbying muscle at the General Assembly with our PERA trust fund dollars.  But, Colorado PERA administrators and Board members CANNOT buy influence at the Colorado Supreme Court.

Perhaps the group of PERA contract breach advocates will try to "make their presence felt" in the Colorado Supreme Court Chambers, but such a step would be misguided.

Colorado PERA's Board and their hired lobbyists used politics to push the COLA-taking bill, SB10-001 through the legislative process in 2010.  Ultimately, 27 lobbyists reported positions in support of SB10-001 to the Colorado Secretary of State.

From Chalkbeat.org in 2009:

"PERA is 'obviously gearing up for some heavy-duty lobbying,' one observer noted.  The agency has hired two lobbyists from the firm Colorado Communique, Collon Kennedy and Steve Adams, former president of the Colorado AFL-CIO.

The pension system also has hired Mary Alice Mandarich, a well-connected Democratic lobbyist who formerly was chief of staff for Senate Democrats and who worked on campaigns for former Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, former Gov. Roy Romer and gubernatorial candidate Gail Schoettler.

Coalition members have their own lobbyists, and the well-staffed higher education lobby is sure to be involved in this issue as well."

http://co.chalkbeat.org/2009/10/22/pera-woes-loom-large-for-education/

But, the Colorado PERA retiree COLA lawsuit, Justus v. State, does not address a political question.  It addresses a legal question.  Can Colorado public pension contracts be abrogated in order to minimize taxation in the state with the lowest per capita state taxation in the nation?  The Colorado Supreme Court is confronted by a legal question.  Can the court ignore our foundational document to achieve a desired political outcome?

The Colorado Court of Appeals has found that the Colorado Constitution is beyond the reach of purchased lobbying muscle at the Colorado Legislature.  I sincerely hope that all Colorado courts will continue to defend the Colorado Constitution and public pension contractual rights.

I believe that the Colorado Supreme Court must proceed with extreme caution to prevent all political considerations from infecting litigation of the case, Justus v. State.

I recognize that one current (and in my view, quite talented) member of the Colorado Supreme Court has previously represented Colorado PERA for the Colorado Attorney General's Office (I expect that she will not participate in this case.)

I recognize that another current Colorado Supreme Court justice did not participate in the court's earlier action in this case.

I recognize that a third (newly appointed) member of the Colorado Supreme Court has previously worked at a firm that has represented Colorado PERA for many years, and was a colleague (and a shareholder at the firm while PERA was a client) of the long-time party lawyer who represented Colorado PERA in the current lawsuit, Justus v. State.

http://coloradopols.com/diary/51026/congratulations-to-our-new-colorado-supreme-court-justice

Finally, I recognize that in 2009, the Colorado PERA Board of Trustees hired a former Colorado Supreme Court Justice to draft a legal memorandum that would support PERA pension contract breach.  For some reason, the Colorado PERA Board sought out this former Colorado Supreme Court Justice (who is not a specialist in public pension law) rather than seeking out an attorney who has spent a lifetime in a public pension legal practice.

Why did the PERA Board seek out this former Colorado Supreme Court Justice, whose practice does not specialize in public pension litigation?  Why seek out this former Colorado Supreme Court Justice in lieu of an attorney with decades of experience in public pension litigation, such as Cindy Birley, a proponent of the PROSPECTIVE pension reform bill, SB12-149 adopted by Colorado Legislature in 2012?

http://coloradopols.com/diary/39652/colorados-statutory-double-standard-on-public-pension-contracts

In 2009, the PERA Board hired this judicially connected (and accomplished) former Colorado Supreme Court Justice to create a legal rationale by which the Board and their union collaborators might seize assets that belong to PERA pensioners.  It is incomprehensible that this former Supreme Court Justice chose, at the end of an impressive legal career, to be part of a scheme to break public employee contracts.

See this article:

http://coloradopols.com/diary/39311/jean-dubofsky-one-of-a-dwindling-breed-of-unabashed-liberals

When the Colorado PERA Board hired former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Dubofsky to create a PERA contract breach rationale did they disclose to her the fact that PERA's own representatives identified the PERA COLA benefit as a contractual PERA liability at the inception of the "automatic" PERA COLA benefit?  That is, did PERA fully inform their hired attorney?  If so, why have PERA's current attorneys shifted from their original "actuarial necessity" legal defense strategy espoused after receipt of the Dubofsky COLA-taking product, to their current "DeWitt-based" legal strategy?  Why are they now ignoring the Dubofsky memorandum?  For that matter, why are they ignoring the legal writings of their own current Executive Director and former General Counsel Greg Smith on the contractual nature of PERA pension benefits?

March 24, 1993 (1:32 PM – 2:28 PM)

Rob Gray, Director of Government Relations, Colorado PERA testifying to the Legislature's House Finance Committee in regard to the "automatic" PERA COLA benefit under consideration [in House Bill 93-1324]: “The PERA Board does support this bill.”  “We felt like it is something that is good pension policy . . . that it makes sense . . . THAT IT IS MAKING PERMANENT CHANGES, and also that it does help employers which is one of the goals of the bill.”  Rob Gray states that the proposed COLA "adds predictability for current and future retirees, people looking at leaving might look at this and say now I know how my future increases are going to be determined . . .”.  Rob Gray characterizes the "automatic" PERA COLA benefit as a Colorado PERA liability: “when a change in benefits is added, like this bill, it extends out the period for paying off that unfunded liability.” If you listen to the recording of this meeting, you will also hear a member of the House Finance Committee refer to the Colorado PERA COLA provision under consideration as a pension benefit that is “guaranteed,” “now and in the future.”  [Note that the contracted PERA COLA benefit adopted by the committee was in later years improved by the Colorado General Assembly to flat 3.5 percent level, constitutionally permissible as this "improvement" did not impair PERA pension contracts.])

In 2012, the Colorado Legislature adopted PROSPECTIVE, legal pension reform for Colorado county governments (administrative arms of the state.)  The bill, SB12-149, allows Colorado county governments to alter THE RATE OF FUTURE ACCRUAL of pension benefits in order to shore up county pension trust funds.  The Colorado Legislature is perfectly capable of adopting similar legislation that will apply to Colorado PERA, shoring up the PERA Trust Fund without retrospectively impairing existing PERA pension contracts.

Why was such PROSPECTIVE pension reform legislation not adopted for the Colorado PERA pension system in 2010?  This PROSPECTIVE pension reform legislation was not adopted in 2010, because it was not the POLITICAL PREFERENCE of PERA pension administrators and board members, hired PERA lobbyists, union lobbyists, some conservatives who were happy with any PERA pension cut, as well as corporate lobbyists glad to jump on the PERA contract breach bandwagon.

For all of these reasons, I expect that the Colorado Supreme Court will closely adhere to established Colorado public pension jurisprudence in this case, Justus v. State.

15 Years Ago Today: Columbine

columbinememorial

The Denver Post's Allison Noon:

Sunday marks the 15th year since the shooting at Columbine High School in which 12 students and a teacher were killed.

Indigo columbine flowers were in bloom around the bases of 13 stone markers at the permanent Columbine Memorial in Littleton's Clement Park on Saturday, when about 50 people honored the victims with a remembrance program.

Colorado Ceasefire Capitol Fund organized the program at the park amphitheater ahead of the anniversary that falls this year on Easter Sunday. The program included speeches from family members of two Columbine shooting victims and two victims of the Aurora theater shooting.

CBS4:

“We are part of an unwanted family. None of us asked to be part of this family, family of survivors of mass tragedy,” said [Coni] Sanders.

Unfortunately, that family is growing.

Tom Sullivan lost his son in the Aurora theater shootings.

“Thank you for the courage you have all had since that day. It has certainly strengthened me in my private moments,” said Sullivan.

Sandy Phillips lost her daughter.

“Their lives meant something. Not just to their families, but to the communities that they lived in,” said Phillips.

100 Years Ago Today: Ludlow

ludlowmonumentPhoto courtesy United Mine Workers of America

100 years ago today, a gunfight broke out between members of the Colorado National Guard and striking coal miners employed by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company near Trinidad, Colorado. During the fighting in and around a tent encampment of striking miners, eleven children and two women were killed when the tent above a pit they were taking shelter from the fighting in was set on fire. This event became known as the Ludlow Massacre, and shocked the nation into a greater awareness of the poor working conditions and exploitative "company town" economic predation faced by coal miners.

This event is being widely commemorated on its 100th anniversary today, and we'll update with coverage.

The “War On Women” Won’t End With Flip-Flops

GOP Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.

GOP Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman.

An insightful story published yesterday evening at the Wall Street Journal takes a look at an emerging dominant theme in the biggest federal races in Colorado this election year–a desperate attempt by veteran Republican politicians to jettison their longstanding "anti-woman" baggage:

Wary of being on the losing side of the gender gap, Republican candidates are working to repel Democratic efforts to portray GOP policy on abortion, equal-pay laws and other matters as harmful to women.

In Colorado, Reps. Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman withdrew their support last month for "personhood" proposals that could limit access to birth control. In Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell hosted his first "women's symposium" last month…

Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway said Republicans are responding with mixed success to Democratic attacks that they are out of touch with women. She added, "Still, Republicans are doing a much better job by calling out Democrats for trying to divert attention from their chief liability, Obamacare."

…Democrats have criticized Messrs. Gardner and Coffman for backing statewide initiatives in 2010 and 2012 that would have treated a fetus like a person, outlawing most abortions and possibly some forms of birth control. Asked about the changes in position, staffers for the lawmakers said they recognized that voters had twice rejected "personhood" referenda. Mr. Gardner, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, called the possible limits on birth control "not right."

Ever since Rep. Cory Gardner made the obviously calculated decision to abandon his prior public support for the "Personhood" abortion ban initiatives, late on a Friday afternoon in unsuccessful hopes of minimizing the press coverage, there's been a lot of debate about what the best strategy is for Gardner–followed up swiftly by fellow GOP Rep. Mike Coffman–to extricate themselves from their records of very consistent support for banning abortion, even in cases where most voters would never stay with them like rape and incest victims.

The problem is, such debate presupposes it's possible to do that.

Gardner and Coffman have a big problem claiming legitimate "evolution" on these issues, since in both cases they have taken place against the backdrop of a changing constituency now repelled by their former position. In Coffman's case, redistricting has transformed his formerly ultra-safe Republican seat into one of the most competitive districts in America. As for Gardner, his longstanding proud support for "Personhood" and other total abortion bans was perfectly acceptable in his safe Republican seat, but as a U.S. Senate candidate, his support for "Personhood" is potentially lethal.

Once you think past the offered excuses for Gardner and Coffman's flip-flops, it becomes objectively clear, regardless of where you stand on the issue, that they switched positions to save their political hides. In Coffman's case, the length of his "evolution" has been protracted by his unexpectedly narrow win in 2012 over an underdog opponent, after Democrats failed to capitalize on redistricting with a top-tier challenger. But Coffman's switch is no less obviously political in nature than Gardner's–and both can be easily discredited as a result with the very same voters they hoped to mollify.

And that brings us to the point, what we consider to be a very important point that needs to sink in with Republicans, Democrats, and journalists: contrived flip-flopping just doesn't work. It didn't work for Mitt "Etch-a-Sketch" Romney, and it's not working for Gardner or Coffman. It's not working because it's demonstrably fake. In this space, we have consistently argued for nearly a decade that the best hope for Republicans is to start fielding more moderate candidates–ones that don't automatically disqualify themselves with positions on wedge issues that horrify women and independent voters. But they need to genuinely be moderate candidates on these issues, not holdovers from a previous generation trying to fake their way out from under their own liabilities.

Does that mean Republicans have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years like Moses, until all of the "Personhood"-saddled anti-choice Republican politicians are dead or out to pasture?

You know, folks, we don't make the rules. But maybe so.

Weekend Open Thread

"I am neither bitter nor cynical but I do wish there was less immaturity in political thinking."

–Franklin D. Roosevelt

Editor did right thing to post Coffman info but decision to pull original article was wrong

Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett wrote a blog post yesterday titled, “No Facts Hidden From Coffman Story.”

The most effective way to convince us that no facts were hidden would be for Plunkett to explain his thinking as well as re-publish the entire Coffman article, which Plunkett removed from The Post’s website Tuesday night. The article, which offered new information about Coffman’s abortion stance, is readily available on the web anyway.

But in two blog posts, yesterday’s and in one the day before, Plunkett has instead been offering up key facts from the article, and to Plunkett’s credit, all the new information contained in Kurtis Lee’s original article is now living on The Post’s website. That’s good.

What’s still inexplicable, is Plunkett’s logic in spiking the article in the first place.

In trying again yesterday to explain his decision to remove the article, which was newsworthy for eight big, fat reasons, Plunkett wrote:

When I discovered near our print deadline that Coffman had been on the record for months with some of the same information we gained in a recent interview, I had to act quickly.

It’s true, Coffman supported an anti-abortion House bill, allowing for abortion-for-rape-and-incest, even though he’s opposed this exception throughout his career.

And at the same time Coffman continued to be on record (for years) in support of the personhood amendment, which bans abortion-for-rape-and-incest. He didn’t un-endorse personhood when he decided to support the House bill.

Given the totality of Coffman’s anti-abortion record, you’d still conclude that Coffman was opposed to abortion-for-rape-and-incest, even though you found out he voted for the House bill.

That is, until Post reporter Kurtis Lee asked Coffman about it on Saturday and wrote his deleted article, which was headlined: “Mike Coffman adjusts abortion stance in cases of rape and incest.”

In his blog post Wednesday, Plunkett suggested The Post might “write a different story,” based on the Coffman interview.

That’s a good idea, particularly if the article would go deeper into Coffman’s thinking about abortion, getting into why such a passionate anti-abortion advocate could have such a serious change of heart, as well as explaining what Coffman’s abortion position is now.

What do Teacher Union Leaders Get in Return for Supporting Breach of PERA Pension Contracts? Unnecessarily Stingy K-12 Funding.

Rhode Island Court: "Upon retirement, under Rhode Island law, COLAs and pension benefits are one and the same, providing retirees with a vested interest in the benefits which may not be altered retroactively."

Just as politics was in the driver's seat in 2009/2010 during the Colorado PERA pension contract breach (SB10-001), politics was in the driver's seat in Rhode Island during the 2011 Rhode Island pension contract breach attempt.

In Rhode Island, State Treasurer Gina Raimondo hoped to ride the pension contract breach she championed all the way to the Rhode Island Governor's mansion.

(Note that unlike Colorado's public sector unions, public sector unions in Rhode Island sued the state over their Legislature's attempted pension COLA-taking.)

Colorado public sector unions sold their soul in 2009/2010 by going along with an attempt to let Colorado state and local government employers off the hook for their contractual obligations to pay accrued PERA pension benefits.  Colorado teacher union officials let PERA-affiliated employers off the hook for their failure to pay annual PERA pension bills for a decade, for their failure to make PERA actuarially required contributions (ARC), identified by PERA's own actuaries.

Colorado public sector union leaders agreed with (or initiated?) the attempted PERA pension contract breach in SB10-001.  What thanks have union-represented Colorado teachers received for supporting breach of PERA pension contracts in 2010?  Here is their answer:  Minimal state legislative support for restoration of K-12 funding as the Colorado economy continues to improve, unnecessarily minimal buy down of the K-12 "negative-factor" by the Colorado Legislature.

Here's what union-represented teachers agreed to in 2010: teacher union leaders agreed to the attempt to shift state and local government financial obligations onto the backs of "fully-vested" PERA retirees, breaking written, statutory PERA contracts.  For many, since this backroom deal tarnished the spirit of the U.S. Labor Movement itself, and took money from the state's elderly to keep taxes low in our state, the deal was hard to swallow.

So, how have teachers been repaid?  In return, in 2014, the State Legislature is providing minimal support for K-12 education going forward, and with lots of strings attached to the proposed miserly funding effort.  Such a deal!!

What Colorado politician has the stones to stand up and publicly state the obvious?  TABOR is crushing our state.  TABOR does not sanction breach of state contracts!

A few days ago a Rhode Island court confirmed the contractual nature of public pension COLA benefits in Rhode Island.  Here is media coverage of the Rhode Island court decision, from Plansponsor.com:

"In its opinion, the court rejected the state’s argument that no contractual relationship existed between it and the plaintiffs at the time the pension reform was enacted.  The court noted that under Rhode Island law, retirees are provided benefits and cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) which may not be altered retroactively."

"The court found that in exchange for the offer, the retirees had fully performed their duties as public-sector employees for the required number of years and had already retired before the reform was enacted.  'Plaintiffs’ pension benefits constitute part of their compensation for the services which they have already rendered to the State,' the opinion says."

http://www.plansponsor.com/RI_Retirees_Pension_Reform_Challenge_Moved_Forward.aspx

More press coverage:

"In her ruling, Taft-Carter found that there is 'an implied in-fact contract' between the state and the public employees challenging the pension overhaul."

http://ripr.org/post/taft-carter-rejects-state-motion-dismiss-pension-lawsuit

"In deciding Wednesday to reject the state’s 2012 motion to dismiss the case, Taft-Carter noted that the plaintiffs had served the public and contributed the required amount toward their pensions."

http://www.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/content/20140416-judge-denies-motion-to-dismiss-lawsuit-over-r.i.-pension-overhaul.ece

Link to the recent Rhode Island court's opinion on a motion to dismiss:

http://www.courts.ri.gov/Courts/SuperiorCourt/DecisionsOrders/decisions/12-3166.pdf

Excerpts from the Rhode Island court opinion:

"The General Assembly, in November 2011, enacted the RIRSA, which overhauled the public pension system.  Specifically, the legislation reduced the pension benefits, including the COLA, for retired employees."

"It also provides that no annual COLAs will be paid to retired teachers and state employees until the retirement system is eighty percent funded, which is not estimated to occur for about sixteen years."

(Note that the union plaintiffs in Rhode Island are also defending rights to "partially-vested" pension contracts until an 80 percent pension funding ratio is reached, unlike Colorado where "fully-vested" pension contracts were targeted in 2010 until a ridiculous and unnecessary 100 percent pension funding ratio is achieved.)

Court decision:

"This Court denied Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on September 13, 2011, holding that the plaintiffs had a unilateral implied-in-fact contractual right arising from their partial performance by working at least ten years."

"Plaintiffs urge the Court to follow its analysis in Pension I, wherein this Court found that vested employees possessed implied-in-fact contract rights to their pension benefits."

"It is well-settled, however, that these doctrines may not be used by government simply 'as a means to escape from contracts that it subsequently concluded were unwise.'”

"Specifically, 'a statute is itself treated as a contract when the language and circumstances evince a legislative intent to create private rights of a contractual nature enforceable against the State.'”

"Accordingly, this Court will consider whether the State made an offer to the Plaintiffs, whether the Plaintiffs accepted the offer, and whether the offer and acceptance were supported by consideration and a valid contract."

"There is no doubt, however, that in Rhode Island pensions are not gratuities of the State."

(As we have seen, the Colorado Constitution prohibits the payment of gratuities.  If a PERA pension COLA benefit is a gratuity, it is unconstitutional.)

"Indeed, the only difference between deferred compensation and contract theories is the time at which pension rights vest."

"Upon retirement, under Rhode Island law, COLAs and pension benefits are one and the same, providing retirees with a vested interest in the benefits which may not be altered retroactively."

"Courts have long accepted the importance of pension benefits as a 'term and condition of public employment.'"

"Here, Plaintiffs accepted the State’s offer of pension benefits by beginning their employment with the State and continued their service for the required time."

"Through Plaintiffs’ faithful service, the State had already received the full benefits it expected from creating the ERSRI.  Plaintiffs’ pension benefits constitute part of their compensation for the services which they have already rendered to the State."

"Because there has been a bargained-for exchange, supported by consideration, this Court finds that there is an enforceable implied-in-fact contract between Plaintiffs and the State."

"Furthermore, our Supreme Court’s jurisprudence supports a finding that Plaintiffs possess protected contractual rights in receiving a pension and a COLA."

"Here, having retired, the Plaintiffs have fully performed.  A valid contract exists between Plaintiffs and the State, entitling Plaintiffs to their pension benefits."

Visit saveperacola.com, defend the Colorado Constitution, defend public employee contracts.  Colorado is better than breach of contract.

GOP American Crossroads Poll Shows Udall Up By 2 Points

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

The conservative Daily Caller reports on a new poll conducted for Republican-aligned SuperPAC American Crossroads on the Colorado U.S. Senate race:

Incumbent Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall has a slim lead over his challenger, Republican Rep. Cory Gardner, according to a new poll from American Crossroads.

Forty-five percent of those polled said they would vote for Udall, compared to 43 percent for Gardner. Twelve percent of respondents aren’t sure who they will vote for.

Udall’s lead is well within the poll’s 4.35 percent margin of error, meaning that the contest remains a dead heat.

In terms of favorability, voters’ opinion of Udall is almost evenly split, with 41 percent saying they have a favorable opinion of him to 42 percent unfavorable.

Their opinion of Gardner, however, is more clearly divided, with 38 percent unfavorable to 30 percent favorable. But 32 percent aren’t sure.

Here's the memo from Harper Polling.

This conservative leaning poll has a fairly high margin of error at 4.35%, and uses automated methodology that we really don't think is as accurate as live interviews. Despite these caveats, it's interesting that a month of high-volume attacks on incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall do not appear to have moved the needle against him at all–Udall still polls narrowly ahead of challenger Cory Gardner. We'll want to see more polling to establish that clearly, but as a Republican strategist, you can't look at unchanged polls after shoveling money into attack ads against Udall over "Obamacare" for a month and feel good about it. If that's right, Americans for Prosperity and friends just wasted a pile of Koch Brothers money.

Don’t Even Study Fracking? Really?

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

​The Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports on passage yesterday of House Bill 14-1297, a bill to study the health impacts of hydraulic fracture drilling ("fracking") in certain affected Front Range counties:

The Colorado House approved a controversial bill Thursday that some Republicans believe is designed to give opponents of hydraulic fracturing fodder to ban the practice in the state…

The measure, HB1297, cleared the House on a 38-27 vote. It calls for a study of the health and “quality of life” impacts of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells.

Although the bill, which heads to the Senate for more debate, confines that study to six Front Range counties around the Denver metropolitan area, it is seen by some Republicans as a plan by Democrats to slant it to be anti-fracking.

Interestingly, a single Republican legislator did vote in favor of this bill yesterday, outgoing Rep. Jared Wright of Fruita. We've been hard on Wright over the scandals that nearly cost him election in the first place and appear to have now ended his brief legislative career–not to mention leaving a loaded gun unattended in a Capitol committee hearing room–but we'll be damned if Wright doesn't make perfectly good sense regarding this bill.

“We want to know that we’re not just blindly going forward with technology. That we do it the right way,” Wright said. “I believe it can be done the right way, and frankly, I don’t have a doubt that it is being done the right way. I think the results of this study will be that our operators are doing their jobs and doing it in the careful way that we ask them.”

Rep. Wright tells Ashby that while he shares traditional GOP skepticism about government studies, he has "read this bill in-depth and I feel like it’s well laid-out, and I think it’s certainly the intention that it’s done the right way." Obviously, if Wright is right, Republicans and their energy industry benefactors have nothing to fear from an objective study of the health effects of fracking in Colorado. It will reinforce the argument they make about the safety of the practice. And if Wright is wrong, and fracking is not being done "the right way"…what responsible lawmaker would argue against finding that out?

We ask rhetorically, since 27 Colorado Republicans voted against this bill yesterday.

Friday Open Thread

"People will tell you anything but what they do is always the truth."

–P. J. O'Rourke

Chuck Plunkett and the First Rule of Holes

Chuck Plunkett holes

Chuck Plunkett hopes to escape this hole by digging furiously.

Denver Post Politics Editor Chuck Plunkett has obviously never heard about the number one rule of holes: STOP DIGGING!

Yesterday we followed a rather bizarre decision by Plunkett to remove a story posted to the newspaper's political blog "The Spot." Plunkett took down a story Tuesday night about Republican Congressman Mike Coffman written by reporter Kurtis Lee (you can read about that original post here) that had appeared earlier in the day. Plunkett then offered up a rambling blog post of his own in an effort to explain his decision…which made absolutely no sense.

Well, on Thursday afternoon, Plunkett doubled-down on his own defense with an even more confusion explanation of his other explanation. Only in this explanation, Plunkett concludes with a convincing argument for why the story should have never been removed in the first place (which was clearly not his intention, but, whatever). Here's the lede of Plunkett's post this afternoon, titled, "No Facts Hidden from Mike Coffman Story."

On Wednesday I published a post on this site that meant to explain why a story about Mike Coffman’s views on personhood and abortion was taken off The Denver Post’s online edition the night before.

A day later I see that some are suggesting that the story has somehow been suppressed.

I submit that this is not accurate.

My blog post on Wednesday was written and published to provide the central facts that had been in the story that I had taken down. I provided these facts in the context that I felt the story lacked.

We'd like to give Plunkett the benefit of the doubt here, but it speaks volumes about his decision when he feels compelled to write two separate blog posts about why he pulled a story after it appeared online — and then titles it, "No Facts Hidden." This is sort of like a little kid standing over a mess on the floor saying, "I didn't do it" even before you had a chance to ask.

(more…)

Faced With Catholic/GOP Uprising, Dems Kill Pro-Choice Bill

Protesters against SB-175 Tuesday. Photo credit: Peter Zelasko, Catholic News Agency

Protesters against SB-175 Tuesday. Photo credit: Peter Zelasko, Catholic News Agency

The Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports on drama yesterday in the Colorado Senate over Senate Bill 14-175, the Reproductive Health Freedom Act. After several days of intense controversy, what was once an important bill for at least some Democrats to close out this year's legislative session is now dead–and the finger-pointing is well underway:

Rather than battle Republicans over a proposal they stressed would help protect reproductive rights, Senate Democrats on Wednesday spiked the legislation — a move that drew applause from some religious groups packed into the chamber's gallery who strongly opposed it…

All Senate Republicans, alongside the Archdiocese of Denver, denounced the legislation as "overreaching" and "ambiguous," saying the measure was not needed.

"It's a solution in search of a problem," said Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs. "There is no one, no evidence, that has said there's a denial of things like contraception to women in Colorado."

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, who sponsored the measure, said he carried it because constituents expressed at town halls and forums concerns over efforts in other states to make it more difficult for women to seek guidance on abortions and receive common forms of contraception.

From Senate President Morgan Carroll's statement after Senate Bill 175 was killed:

We were optimistic that the Republicans would come on board with a proposal that would ensure all women are able to make private and personal reproductive health decisions with freedom from government interference. But we are disappointed that we were unable to get bi-partisan support to acknowledge and uphold the values of the majority of Coloradans.
 
With 21 days left in the legislative session and 269 bills still pending, having a GOP filibuster would bring D.C. style dysfunction to Colorado.  We have made our point and in the interest of getting the remaining work done, on education, jobs, higher education affordability and childcare, we laid the bill over. 
 
We will continue to fight against attacks on women and their private healthcare decisions and uphold the values of Colorado women and families.

On the other side, here's the story as told by the Catholic News Agency:

Amid growing protests led in large part by the Catholic Church, the Colorado Senate on April 16 killed a controversial bill that could have banned all pro-life laws in the state…

Originally introduced March 31, the controversial bill – S.B. 175 – only gained wide publicity last week. It sought to ban all new pro-life laws and regulations, including requirements for pre-abortion ultrasounds and restrictions on the RU-486 abortion drug.

With the bill now dead, there are reporters and Republicans who say this was a "quixotic effort"–but clearly the bill's religious opponents didn't agree while they massed crowds at the Capitol to oppose it. Proponents point to new restrictions on abortion being passed around the nation, as well as other so-called "pre-emptive" bills, like a bill signed in Oklahoma just this week that pre-emptively bans future minimum wage increases and paid sick day laws, to justify both the intent and functional precedent for the Reproductive Health Freedom Act.

It's our understanding and has been reported, though victorious Republicans deny it today, that threats were leveled by the Senate Minority to bring the entire chamber to a halt for the rest of the legislative session if Senate Bill 175 passed–which could have endangered dozens of important bills. The fact is, Democrats are on solid ground, given the polling on the abortion issue and the overwhelming defeat of abortion ban initiatives in Colorado, pushing a bill to affirmatively protect reproductive choice rights. For that reason alone, predictions that the defeat of Senate Bill 175 has major ramifications seem overblown–certainly not to the degree that Republicans harmed themselves by killing the popular civil unions bill two years ago. In the eyes of voters, questions about efficacy and timing aside, Democrats were on the right side of the issue.

If anything? If you have to take on the Catholic Church, Holy Week might not be the best timing…