Aurora Victim’s Parents Face Bankruptcy After Suing Online Ammo Dealers, Vow To Change Colorado Law

Aurora shooting victim Jessica Ghawi.

Aurora shooting victim Jessica Ghawi.

Back in May, we took note of a particularly troubling development in the aftermath of the 2012 mass shootings at the Century Theater in Aurora. The parents of Jessica Ghawi, one of the theatergoers killed when James Holmes opened fire in a packed movie theater on July 20, 2012, are facing dire financial straits after their lawsuit against online ammunition and body armor dealers who sold Holmes items used in the Aurora shooting was dismissed.

Under a Colorado law passed as a Republican “backlash” against stricter gun control measures following the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, House Bill 00-1208, requires the immediate dismissal of any lawsuit brought against firearm or ammunition dealers, and further requires (using the term shall as opposed to may) that the judge order the plaintiffs in that lawsuit to pay the gun dealer’s legal fees. The problem in this case is that the suit filed by Lonnie and Sandy Phillips was not frivolous, investigating legitimate questions of liability arising from the online sale of ammunition and other dangerous products. Critically, the suit also sought no monetary damages–just a change in business practices by online gun and ammunition dealers.

Following another shooting incident at a theater in Louisiana last week, the Phillipses appeared on MSNBC’s News Nation with Tamron Hall, and disclosed that they now face bankruptcy over the $200,000 judgment against them. For all the publicity surrounding the Aurora shooting and trial underway now, the plight of the Phillips family has received very little press attention, and Hall expressed shock at learning the details of their case:

The main argument from supporters of the gun dealers seeking money from the Phillips family is that they were given legal assistance by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. They assert that the Brady Center should pay the gun dealers, since obviously it would not be very good press for said gun dealers to start seizing assets of the parents of someone their products were involved in killing. At the end of the segment, Sandy Phillips addresses this question with Tamron Hall directly, asking “would you be willing to pay one penny to the people who helped murder your daughter?”

Because further appeals of the judgment dismissing their lawsuit would only expose them to further liability, the Phillipses say they are dropping their appeal to seek a legislative remedy. Repealing Colorado House Bill 00-1208, or at least modifying its punitive “shall award” language to allow for the possibility of a legitimate case against gun dealers at some point in the future, could perhaps be called a happy ending.

With the obvious caveat that there are no happy endings to this tragic story.

Mosquitoes, Beetles & Global Warming – Climate Change and Colorado’s Great Outdoors

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado, summertime. The living is easy…  

Sure we have some of the best winter recreation in the world, and Color Sunday drives and hunting season make fall the busiest part of the season for many Colorado communities. But there is something about a Rocky Mountain summer that is hard to beat. 

The wet May and early, heavy monsoons much of the state has been getting since, have brought forth wildflowers that many say are the most outrageous, rainbow array seen in years.  Truly a display of Colorado pride. 

All the moisture, and warm weather between, has also led to another fact in this year’s backcountry – there are lots of mosquitoes out there.  And mosquitoes are not just an annoyance, but bring public health warnings.  In Colorado, for the West Nile Virus, which is likely to become an even larger problem under climate change.

Invasive species aren’t just species — they can also be pathogens. Such is the case with the West Nile virus. 

As Science Magazine (Online) reports:

The higher temperatures, humidity and rainfall associated with climate change have intensified outbreaks of West Nile virus infections across the United States in recent years, according to a study published this week.

…Warmer weather helps spread West Nile virus because it extends the length of the mosquito season, said Vicki Kramer, chief of the vector-borne disease section at the California Department of Public Health.

Higher temperatures also let mosquitoes reach biting age sooner and speed multiplication of the virus within insects, said Kramer.  Thus in a warmer climate not only are there more biting mosquitoes, but those mosquitoes carry more copies of the West Nile virus, making them more likely to infect their human targets.

“It takes a while for the disease to build up,” says Kramer.  “That’s why we see more cases in August than in June.”

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Caption This Photo: “Dr. Chaps” Flings BS (Literally)

This weekend, GOP Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt participated in the El Paso County Republican Party Cowpie Throwing Contest at the El Paso County Fair. Unfortunately, El Paso County’s most (in)famous state representative did not win this prestigious competition, reportedly on account of his chunk of manure disintegrating in mid-flight–but his mere participation was enough to give the world a truly memorable image.

chapsflingsbs

Fling it, “Dr. Chaps.” Fling that cowpie to the sky.

Colowyo Carping Conceals Credible Climate Concerns

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports, a much-anticipated confrontation between backers of a northwest Colorado coal mine and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell this weekend didn’t go off with quite the bang expected:

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reassured northwest Colorado officials and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., that the U.S. Department of the Interior will complete work on a study needed to keep open the Colowyo coal mine.

“We believe the best way to deliver certainty to the Colowyo mine and the people who work there is to fix the deficiencies,” Jewell told more than a dozen county commissioners, city councilors and others at the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge on Friday night. “I’m confident we’ll do it within the 120-day deadline.”

A Sept. 6 deadline looms for an Interior Department agency, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, to complete work evaluating the mine’s contribution to global warming.

The study was required by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, in a case in which an environmental organization, WildEarth Guardians, challenged the agency’s approval of the mine, which employs 220 people from Moffat and Rio Blanco counties

“We feel we are ground zero for your department,” said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid.

Ever since a federal judge ordered the Department of the Interior to complete a required environmental assessment of the effects of expanded coal mining at two mines near Craig that supply a major coal-fired plant there, ruling that Interior failed to follow environmental analysis procedures under the National Environmental Policy Act, local politicos and energy-industry benefactors have been irate about the possibility that a judge could overrule the expansions retroactively, jeopardizing several hundred mining jobs.

The potential loss of 220 jobs at the Colowyo mine in northwest Colorado amounts to the equivalent of 50,000 jobs in Denver, he said.

Dirk Kempthorne, George W. Bush.

Dirk Kempthorne, George W. Bush.

We’re not sure what kind of wacky math Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid is using there, but let’s take a look at the actual ruling from Judge R. Brooke Jackson that’s causing all this supposed uncertainty:

The Court declares that [Office of Surface Mining] violated NEPA by failing to notify the public of and involve the public in the preparation of the Colowyo and Trapper EAs and by failing to notify the public once the EAs had been completed and the [Findings of No Significant Impact] had been issued. OSM also violated NEPA by failing to take a hard look at the direct and indirect effects of the increased mining operations before determining that there would be no significant impact on the environment. The Secretary of the Interior violated NEPA by approving both of these mining plan modifications in spite of these defects.

There’s a big piece of the story of these mine expansion approvals and the subsequent lawsuit against them that’s missing from most news reports: the expansions environmentalists sued over were approved in 2007 by George W. Bush-era Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. Incidentally, this was the same year that Kempthorne was awarded the “Rubber Dodo Award” for the distinction of having protected the fewest endangered species of any Interior Secretary in American history. Like his predecessor Gale Norton of Colorado, Kempthorne and the Interior Department under Bush were repeatedly criticized, and eventually sued, for disregarding crucial environmental considerations when making decisions about energy development.

Such as whether or not expanding coal mines in western Colorado would hurt the environment? Suddenly this story starts to make a very different kind of sense, and the politicos demanding the process be appealed and/or short-circuited don’t look so altruistic.

Since the ruling in May, energy industry mouthpieces have been shrieking at the top of their lungs about the possibility of a few hundred coal mine jobs being lost if the Colowyo and Trapper mines were to close, demanding President Barack Obama’s Interior Department appeal this ruling that the previous administration’s Interior Department broke the law. For reasons that appear quite sensible with all the facts in view, Obama’s Interior Department declined to do so, and is instead working to properly complete the required assessment in accordance with NEPA. Coal industry supporters have tried to make this about the environmental group that filed suit, even trying to organize a boycott of companies that support the group in question like New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins.

Well folks, if you can think past the wall of contrived weeping and gnashing of teeth, it looks like a very legitimate concern is being raised here–and a court ruling that agrees does not mean it’s time to boycott one of Colorado’s best breweries. The environmentalists involved with the suit say they don’t want the mines shut down, at least not tomorrow–they want the environmental assessment that approved their expansion to be conducted in accordance with the law. And that’s what the Interior Department says it wants, too. According to Secretary Jewell, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

So…shut up and let it happen.

Think Frackapalooza Is Over? Think Again

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

The AP’s Dan Elliot updates the state of play on the always-controversial issue of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” near Colorado’s populated areas. After a compromise last year that ended the threat of a ballot measure increasing setbacks for drilling from existing development, a task force convened that issued limited recommendations for improving local control over drilling in February. The drilling industry was very happy with the limited scope of the task force’s recommendations, but conservation activists and local communities–including northern Front Range cities that already had passed bans and moratoria on fracking–felt betrayed.

In 2016, it looks like they may well get another shot:

“I think the fossil fuels industry won,” said Karen Dike, a member of Coloradans Against Fracking.

Fracking is a pressing issue in Colorado, the nation’s No. 7 energy-producing state. Along the urban Front Range, expanding suburbs and booming oilfields are running into each other, and drilling rigs sometimes show up near public schools. Several municipal attempts to ban fracking have failed, and the industry warns that local control would stifle energy development.

Dike and others won’t say whether they plan to put measures that would restrict fracking on the 2016 ballot, but they don’t rule it out…

[Rep Jared] Polis said fracking could be on the 2016 ballot if state officials don’t further regulate the industry. He stopped short of saying whether he would organize the effort, but he wants lawmakers and regulators to adopt three proposals that weren’t formally recommended by the task force.

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis became involved in the state-level debate over fracking after a drilling company illegally sited a well too close to structures on Weld County land owned by the wealthy congressman. After his own experience, which resulted in a hefty fine against the offending driller, Polis came out in support of two specific ballot measures: a general “bill of rights” empowering local communities to regulate land uses within their boundaries, and a measure increasing setbacks for drilling from existing development to 2,000 feet. The failure of the task force he helped broker via the threat of a well-funded ballot measure reportedly did anger Polis, but so did the unreasonable reaction of anti-fracking activists who bitterly denounced his good-faith attempts to forge a compromise.

Today, it’s true that some of the pressure on this debate has dissipated as energy prices have plummeted during OPEC’s anti-fracking price war. The drilling industry, just last year very bullish about its future growth, has seen new drilling projects slow dramatically, and hiring postings turn into layoffs. The reduced pressure from less demand for new drilling creates a situation where the industry claims victimhood indiscriminately, blaming “fractivists” for industry downturns that have nothing to do with their efforts.

Both the industry and the far left wing of environmentalists would prefer the debate be about a wholesale ban on fracking statewide. The industry uses the simplistic arguments surrounding a ban to divide the opposition, while the far left…well, they’re just not realistic about what can be achieved in a major energy producing state like Colorado. Certainly there is a problem with all-or-nothing argumentation on both sides of this debate, but we continue to believe that what the energy industry fears most are reasonable, targeted proposals to mandate better protection of residential communities.

The reason is simple: they could actually pass.

One would let local governments impose stricter rules than the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, charged with regulating drilling statewide. Another would change the commission’s role from facilitating oil and gas development to simply regulating it. The third would set up a panel to resolve disputes between energy companies and local governments or property owners before they land in court.

None of these proposals fit the industry’s alarmist predictions of what would happen if Colorado “banned fracking.” If the industry and surrogates are able to continue to define the debate in those black-and-white terms, they’ll win. If pragmatic-minded conservationists can keep focused on proposals that would genuinely help protect communities while avoiding the industry’s semantic games, they could accomplish something that would have much more of an impact on our state’s health and environment in the long run.

We’ll just have to wait and see who’s smarter about it.

Proposed BLM Rule Could Recoup Billions for U.S. Taxpayers, Help Avert Climate Catastrophe

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Like a number of communities in Colorado, the valley where I live has been engaged in an effort to constrain oil and gas development to keep it out of our water supplies, our favorite recreational areas, our towns, farms and communities. 

This effort has been met with mixed success.  We banded together to stop an ill-advised Bureau of Land Management lease sale, deferring it twice.  We compelled the BLM to consider a community-based alternative as it revises its very stale 1980s era land use plan, and local conservation groups have successfully challenged some other projects—sending them back for a time to the drawing board. 

But more than 80,000 acres of public lands are leased in the upper reaches of the North Fork, many private lands are already under industry control, and Texas billionaires with privately held gas companies have their sights on acquiring more.

When Halliburton rolled a fracking convoy up the valley last week, to do the completion work on some wells on private lands and blocking traffic for a mile on our narrow two-lane road, the Paonia Message Board on Facebook erupted. 

Meanwhile, as small communities like my own face off against the world’s richest industry, each year in Colorado approximately 8.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas is wasted from oil and gas development on public lands, often vented raw or flared at the source.

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Rep. Klingenschmitt: Homosexuals “Want To Rule You”

Colorado’s most famous (or infamous) sitting member of the state legislature, GOP Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, uploaded a new episode of his Pray in Jesus’ Name Youtube “ministry” program today. Since taking office in January and for some time before, Klingenschmitt’s broadcasts have done a great deal to putrefy the Republican brand in Colorado, as well as make him a national symbol of the general intolerance and cluelessness of the contemporary religious right. Klingenschmitt was even punished by fellow Republicans after he claimed the horrific attack on a pregnant woman in Longmont last March was “God’s curse upon America,” though he was quietly reinstated to the committee assignment he lost just a couple of weeks later.

In today’s episode (clip posted above), Rep. Klingenschmitt launched into an unusually forceful tirade about the rights of gays and lesbians to participate in society, and what that means for “the Christian audience.” Transcribed:

KLINGENSCHMITT: And there has been this branding, this idea that oh, you know homosexual marriage and that movement is all about love. No. There’s a spirit of lust inside some people who are confused about their sexuality and they just lust, and they crave flesh, and it’s not selfless sacrifice or loving your neighbor, you can do that. A man can visit another man in the hospital and show them genuine compassion without lusting for them sexually. So it’s not the same as love.

It’s also not about equality. Oh, they say, oh, we just want equal rights. You already have the equal right to marry someone of the opposite sex. Everyone in this country already had for decades, for generations, the right to marry somebody of the opposite sex if they want to. And just because you don’t sexually prefer, doesn’t mean that you have now a legal right to marry someone of the same sex. That’s not a right, because rights come from God.

Finally, it is, if it’s not about love, it’s not about equality, what is it about? It’s about power. And, and when they push their agenda for the right to reeducate your children in their image, for the right to, uh, recruit or adopt, because they can’t have their own children they want the right to remake society in their own image, and force you to either shut up or shut down. And that’s why they’re trying to pass these ordnances against bakers and photographers and florists, to force you the Christian audience, or force Christian universities to endorse their sin or lose your tax exempt status as we talked about in the previous story. This is about power. They want to rule you. And we need to stand up against that and we need to disobey.

So, there’s plenty to ping the outrage meter with here–but if we had to pick, we’d say that somewhere between declaring that gays don’t experience “the same thing as love” and how they want to “recruit or adopt” the children of straight America, “Dr. Chaps” is burying the needle. Again.

We’ll ask again: how is it not news every time an incumbent Republican lawmaker says these things? He shouldn’t draw a pass in the media on account of frequency. We shouldn’t assume he’s offending his fellow Republicans too. He should be called out loudly, by friend and foe, every time.

Shouldn’t he?

Janet Buckner To Succeed Late Husband In Colorado House

The late Rep. John Buckner and Janet Buckner.

The late Rep. John Buckner and Janet Buckner.

As noted by the Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels:

Soon after Rep. John Buckner died, friends talked about his widow, Janet Buckner, taking his seat in the Colorado House. On Wednesday, she made it official.

Janet Buckner is seeking to be appointed to fill the vacancy in House District 40, which her husband has represented since 2013. The vacancy committee will meet on June 25.

From Janet Buckner’s statement yesterday:

“We are so thankful for the outpouring of love and support over the last few weeks – from John’s family, friends, colleagues, former students, and the community as a whole. Your support has meant so much to our family during this difficult time.

“My husband John was a true public servant. He spent his entire life helping others – his passion for policies that advance education and equity for all people guided his every decision. As his wife and life partner for 45 years, I know how deeply he cared about these issues, and how hard he worked every day to improve the lives of people in our community.

“House District 40 has lost an unparalleled leader and advocate, and I am committed to carrying on John’s legacy of making sure every child has access to a quality education and the opportunity to succeed. I am dedicated to honoring my husband and fulfilling the trust that the people of Aurora have put in him to work on their behalf. John and I moved to Aurora in 1975 — we raised our family here, and became part of the community. I hope to continue to give back to our community in Aurora and to have the honor of serving House District 40 at the legislature.”

Bartels reports that although some other Democrats had expressed preliminary interest in being appointed to HD-40, everyone was on hold to see what Mrs. Buckner would decide. Now that she has decided to seek Rep. John Buckner’s House seat, we expect she’ll encounter little or no opposition. HD-40 is best described as a safe-ish Democratic seat, taken by Buckner in 2012 from former Rep. Cindy Acree. In 2014, Rep. Bucker held the seat against Republican JulieMarie Shepherd by about two thousand votes, a larger margin than the total votes cast for the Libertarian also running there.

All told, a happy ending to a sad story from the end of this year’s legislative session.

The “Church,” Climate Change, and the Decline of the Bees

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The Pope is getting all the news today on Climate, having clarified – the faithful are told to believe—that God is not OK with trashing the earth, and that we need to do something about that.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”

But as Francis has his eyes on all Creation – the World writ large – the sometimes mysterious working of the world in detail are where most of the stuff gets done.  Like pollination.  This week is, after all, also National Pollinators Week

Birds, and bees and others among the panoply of species populating our planet are not just buzzing around your sugary drink, or swooping hotdogs off your picnic table.  They too are doing the Lord’s bidding, in small but crucial ways.  Like keeping three-quarters of the world’s plants alive. 

Most people know by now that bees are in decline and that this is a major problem – for the obvious reasons, because we also like food.  Some important food crops, like corn, are wind pollinated.  But most rely on pollinators

And it is not just the bees that in in trouble. Bees and other pollinators are on decline for a number of reasons.  And across the spectrum, pollinators are suffering: bees, bats, birds and butterflies– all face numerous threats that put survival of many individual species in jeopardy. The National Wildlife Federation notes in an online article:

In addition to butterflies, the NAS report provides evidence of decline in three other pollinator groups: hummingbirds, bats and—especially—bumblebees. A 2008 report from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, a nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon, paints an even bleaker picture of the familiar, fuzzy insects’ fate. Compiling data from more than three dozen scientists and “citizen monitors” across the country, the report concludes that populations of three formerly common species—the rusty-patched, yellowbanded and western bumblebee—have dropped drastically over the past decade. A fourth species, Franklin’s bumblebee (restricted to coastal Oregon and Northern California), has only been seen once in the past several years.

Exacerbating many of these threats is a single issue: Climate Change.  And climate disruption is having other impacts on pollinators that in turn in time are likely to change overall ecology

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#COleg 2015: Women Stepped Up

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

As we looked over this year’s Legislative Scorecard, we noticed a trend; women voted in favor of conservation more frequently than men did. We crunched the numbers, and they confirmed this hypothesis; Colorado’s female legislators voted to preserve our air, land, water, and quality of life significantly more than their male counterparts. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Men in the Colorado Senate scored 42.6% on our issues as a group, while female senators scored an impressive 67.5%
  • In the House, women voted in favor of conservation 66.9% of the time, compared to 51.4% of the time for men.

This certainly doesn’t mean that men are categorically poor environmental stewards or that male legislators don’t care about the environment. Our 2015 Legislator of the Year, Matt Jones, boasts an impressive 100% lifetime pro-conservation voting record. Not only that, he has consistently backed up his votes by sponsoring proactive bills and testifying against ones that threaten Colorado’s air, land, water, and quality of life.

However, the fact remains that women’s commitment to conservation is a well-established pattern on both the state and federal level. According to a collaborative report from the League of Conservation Voters and Rachel’s Network, women in both chambers of Congress have consistently been stronger advocates for the environment than men have.

In general, women tend to vote in favor of the environment, whether they are in the legislature or at the ballot box, which reflects how problematic it is that our gender representation is so lopsided. Colorado historically ranked first in the nation in electing women. That declined after the 2014 midterms though we still lead among many other states. Nationwide, women account for only 23 percent of state legislators and 17 percent of Congress, making the U.S. 73rd in the world for gender parity in elected offices. Electing more women would be a step in the right direction not just for equality in the U.S., but for protecting our communities for future generations.

Former Head of Colo. GOP SuperPAC Gets Two-Year Jail Sentence

We all know that campaign finance laws in the United States are about as airtight as a cardboard submarine. But for the first time that we can recall, somebody is going to jail for violating campaign finance regulations — and that somebody is directly connected to the Colorado Republican Party.

Republican operative Tyler Harber was the ED of a Colorado GOP SuperPac in 2014.

Republican operative Tyler Harber was the ED of a Colorado GOP SuperPac in 2014.

As the Associated Press reports:

A Republican political operative was sentenced to two years in prison Friday after becoming the first person convicted of illegally coordinating campaign contributions between a super PAC and a congressional campaign.

Tyler Harber, 34, of Alexandria apologized at his sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court. He said he knew what he was doing was wrong, but he did it anyway because of his desire to win elections and his belief that the law banning such coordination is routinely ignored in the political world…

…Richard Pilger, director of the Justice Department’s Election Crimes branch, said a stiff sentence was needed as a deterrent because the crime itself is so difficult to detect that fear of a lengthy prison sentence may be one of the only ways to keep political operatives in line.

If the name Tyler Harber sounds familiar to you, it should. Harber’s name began to surface earlier this year in the context of the State Republican Party’s March election for State Chairman. Harber and his political firm, Harden Global, worked closely with former State Republican Chair Ryan Call in recent years; Call lost his bid for re-election to Steve House partially because of this dubious connection, which was once part of a plan touted as Call’s “brain child.”

Colorado media outlets largely ignored this story, for some reason, until they were criticized by the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review in February:

Ryan Call, Steve House.

Ryan Call (left) and current Colorado GOP Chairman Steve House.

Here’s why this matters. In Citizens United and other cases in recent years, the US Supreme Court has relaxed many of the rules surrounding campaign finance, with the result that outside groups like super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts to help or oppose a candidate. One of the remaining restrictions is that outside groups and official candidate campaigns can’t coordinate their efforts—but politicos have found novel ways to get around that rule. And the Federal Elections Commission, which is in charge of regulating such behavior, is gridlocked along partisan lines and hasn’t been able to agree on how to respond.

So, the fact that federal prosecutors have decided to get involved, and that they actually busted someone, is a fairly big deal.

At the same time, campaign finance can be arcane stuff, and the congressional campaign in question was in Viriginia. In many states, the news likely didn’t find a spot in the local, or even national, sections of the daily newspaper. 

But in Colorado, it should have. Tyler Harber, the man at the center of this story, was the person tapped last year by the state Republican Party to head up an independent expenditure committee—akin to a super PAC, though the party doesn’t use that term—with ties to the state GOP last year. [Pols emphasis]

Back in February, Call compared Harber’s misdeeds to getting a traffic ticket…an analogy that seems particularly absurd now that Harber is looking at 2 years in jail. It will be interesting to see if charges of illegal coordination begin to make their way through the ranks of the Colorado GOP, or if Harber was able to fall on the grenade entirely.

This is a big win for Colorado Ethics Watch, among others, but also for American voters in general. Campaign finance laws absolutely need to be improved; we’re moving in the right direction, at least, by actually enforcing the existing laws.

Beer Wars: Coal, Water, Smelt, and the Great Beer Boycott of 2015

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Forget about buying New Belgium Craft Beer in Craig, Colorado. Most of the liquor stores, and some of the bars, just aren’t selling it anymore. The boycott is a reaction to New Belgium’s support of the work of the Wild Earth Guardians (WEG). WEG has successfully promoted an environmental lawsuit halting expansion of the ColoWyo coal mine in Moffat County near Craig, and some local coal miners fear that their livelihoods will be sacrificed for an environmental cause or an endangered species. In an article in the Craig Daily Press, Lori Gillam, an owner of Stockmen’s Liquor store, said, “We pulled those beers because their support of WildEarth Guardians… who said their ultimate goal is to shut down coal mines. Craig is a coal mine town.”

These fears are being relentlessly inflamed in the right wing blogosphere, and on right wing talk radio. On June 9 and 10, Ken Clark’s Freedom 360 show was all about the so-called “War on Coal” in Craig, Colorado. 

New Belgian Beers on Tap

New Belgium Beers on tap, from National Journal article by Matt Berman. Photo by Quan Ha

 

  

“They’re coming after Colorado!,” Ken Clark breathlessly reported at 8:39 minutes into his 6/9/15 Freedom 560 show. From 5:23 to 8:20, Clark made the following statements about Wild Earth Guardians:

  “These are the same folks that created all this havoc in California. [They] .. are the whack jobs that shut down all of the irrigation to these farmlands in order to protect that smelt, that fish. . . They pretty much killed California and their farm production.  Fresno County – the unemployment rate’s 47%. These are the same guys. . . .They have set their sights on Colorado. They are coming here.  And now they’re coming after us.” 

 

Factually, Clark is just plain wrong here, although he wisely left wiggle room by saying that his “friend told him so”, and he plans to “check it out”. Fresno’s unemployment rate in 2014 was 11%, not 47%. California is obviously suffering from drought, and farmers, tourists, developers, businesses, and wildlife are all struggling and negotiating for the use of the same diminishing pool of potable water. The only reference to environmental regulations and fish in the Fresno Bee article was the mention of how water is being kept in Lake Shasta to keep  salmon and trout alive. 

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Get More Smarter on Monday (June 8)

Get More SmarterThis doesn’t seem very fast to us. 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…

► Senator Michael Bennet (D-Denver) is pushing for a major overhaul of campaign finance reform. We all know that campaign finance laws are pretty useless at the moment — hell, GOP Presidential contender Jeb Bush has been openly breaking the law for months.

► The Veterans Administration is promoting a new plan to help pay for completion of the Aurora VA Hospital. A three-week extension on funding construction is set to expire this week.

► The deadline for Gov. John Hickenlooper to veto legislation from the 2015 Colorado Assembly came and went on Friday with no new vetoes. Hickenlooper vetoed three bills from the prior session: two red-light camera restriction bills, and nonsense legislation that would have allowed predatory lenders to drastically increase interest rates. Good on ya, Gov.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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BREAKING: Hickenlooper VETOES Interest Rate Hike Bill

FRIDAY UPDATE: More coverage in today’s Denver Post and Grand Junction Sentinel.

—–

UPDATE #3: The Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela:

“While we certainly see the benefits of offering the loan and credit products that are considered in this legislation, it has not been clearly demonstrated that access to such loans is under threat,” Hickenlooper said in his veto letter.

The governor “was particularly struck” by testimony provided by the Attorney General’s office during a legislative committee hearing. That testimony included an analysis that indicated that changes to interest rate structures would not make these loans more available.

The bill sought to raise the maximum amount of interest charged for supervised loans from 21 to 36 percent for loans up to $3,000. Interest charges would spike from 15 to 21 percent on loans that carry balances of $3,000 to $5,000.

“These changes would result in a 200 percent increase in the loan amount allowed in the 36 percent interest rate tier and a two-thirds increase in the 21 percent interest rate tier,” Hickenlooper said. [Pols emphasis]

And the Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus:

Consumer-interest groups rejoiced on Thursday after Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed legislation that they feared would have hurt low-income individuals applying for small loans…

“Prior to approving any increase in the allowable amount of interest charged, we believe it is necessary to more fully explore and substantiate the claim that a change in the law is necessary for these products to be accessible,” Hickenlooper wrote in his veto explanation. “Colorado’s consumers deserve this clarity as they will ultimately carry the expense that would result from this legislation.”

The governor also pointed out that the legislation moved quickly through the legislative process. It was introduced as one of the last bills of the legislative session – which ended May 6 – and sat on the calendar for only a week before it cleared both chambers. [Pols emphasis]

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UPDATE #2: From the Bell Policy Center, who led the underdog opposition to House Bill 15-1390 from progressive nonprofit groups:

Today Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have increased loan costs for low- and moderate-income Coloradans. The Bell led more than a dozen organizations in asking the governor to veto this bill, Allowable Finance Charge for Certain Consumer Credit Transactions (House Bill 15-1390). We greatly appreciate the governor’s action to protect Colorado consumers.

HB15-1390, which was hurried through in the last week of the 120-day legislative session, would have increased the costs of an average $6,000 loan by 38.1 percent, according to the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The bill would have cost Coloradans more than $25 million in additional interest charges, according to a Center for Responsible Lending analysis of the two largest lenders in Colorado…

The governor’s veto represents a huge victory for hardworking Coloradans. This bill would have dramatically increased the revenues of very profitable lenders at the expense of families struggling to make ends meet. To learn more about why this bill was bad for Colorado, check out our fact sheet.

As the governor’s veto said, any additional conversations about this issue will need to include all stakeholders. If those conversations happen, the Bell will be closely involved and will do our best to ensure that all voices are included.

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UPDATE: Gov. John Hickenlooper has released a letter explaining his veto of House Bill 15-1390. You can read it in its entirety here, and here’s an excerpt:

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From a statement by ProgressNow Colorado, one of the groups who opposed this bill:

“House Bill 1390 was bad policy, introduced at the last possible minute to stifle debate, and written specifically to allow big lenders to hike interest rates on consumers who can least afford it,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. “Increasing the total cost of a personal loan by almost 40% is not the way to help Colorado families get their finances in order. This legislation was sold to lawmakers in both parties based on misleading arguments and threats by big lending corporations that don’t stand up to scrutiny.”

“At a time when Colorado’s middle class families are just beginning to recover from the recent recession–a recession brought on in part by irresponsible predatory lending practices–the last thing they need is a 36% interest rate to borrow money,” said Runyon-Harms. “The truth is, personal lenders issued hundreds of millions of dollars worth of these loans in Colorado last year, and the subprime lending industry’s profits are skyrocketing nationwide. They don’t need to hike up interest rates on borrowers who can least afford it to ‘stay in business.’”

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loanshark2We’ve just received word that Gov. John Hickenlooper will veto House Bill 15-1390 today, a hotly controversial bill to allow large interest rate hikes on subprime personal loans that passed in the final days of this year’s legislative session. Hickenlooper’s veto comes after an urgent campaign by a few progressive and consumer groups led by the Bell Policy Center against the legislation, after it passed with dismaying speed out of the Democratic-controlled House with most Democrats voting in favor. In the Senate, most Democrats opposed the legislation after advocates were able to sound the alarm.

As for the many Democrats who voted for this bill, the Democratic House leadership who allowed it to be introduced at the end of the session, and Democratic lobbyists who convinced them it would be okay? They’ve all got egg on their faces, and may well draw heat for their actions at upcoming town hall meetings from their constituents.

And you know what, folks? They should. This was truly a low point for Colorado legislative Democrats, a significant breach of faith with their base voters–and there should be a price paid to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

We’ll update shortly with statements and coverage–a big victory for scrappy nonprofit groups, over both Republicans and backsliding Democrats in the General Assembly. And also a good day for Gov. Hickenlooper, who showed real independence from the corporate interests he is often criticized for being beholden to.

Sometimes the good guys actually do win. And that’s pretty cool.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (June 4)

Get More SmarterAfter a seven-day layoff, the NBA Finals finally kick off tonight. 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…

► Let’s investigate! Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner want the Government Accountability Office to open an investigation into what went wrong with the still-under-construction Aurora VA Hospital (even though the GAO has already done this). Maybe they should ask Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) to investigate something; after all, Coffman is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee.

► State Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) is considering a run for U.S. Senate (or Congress), but the more she talks, the more problems she creates for herself.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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