UPDATE: The Denver Post weighs in with a blistering editorial today, slamming Sens. Greg Brophy and Kevin Grantham for playing politics while the Black Forest burns:
With several uncontrolled wildfires burning up and down the Front Range, you'd think elected officials would find a better time to play politics — particularly when their arguments are easily snuffed.
But that's not the case for at least two GOP lawmakers who are using devastating blazes near Cañon City and Monument as an excuse to attack Gov. John Hickenlooper because the state doesn't have a firefighting air force…
Rather than engaging in political finger-pointing as fire season heats up, we suggest lawmakers instead direct their thoughts and prayers to those whose properties and safety are threatened and the well-being of the first responders called into duty. [Pols emphasis]
Needless to say, we agree. And we're relieved to see the Post standing up to it.
This week's heat wave on the Front Range has resulted a new round of devastating wildfires in many areas of the state. This morning, attention is especially focused on a residential area northeast of Colorado Springs known as the Black Forest, where many homes burned yesterday and a large mandatory evacuation is now in place. The Colorado Springs Gazette reports from the scene:
The Black Forest fire incinerated at least 60 El Paso County homes in a matter of hours on Tuesday, and a top-level federal firefighting team and military aircraft are expected to arrive Wednesday to battle the uncontained blaze.
The fire, which had burned up to 8,000 acres and run about eight miles from Peregrine Way to east of Meridian Road by late Tuesday, showed no sign of relenting and the evacuation zone continued to expand. Wednesday's weather, with only slightly lower temperatures and winds predicted, isn't expected to help.
The Denver Post confirmed last night via the area's Rep. Doug Lamborn that military air tankers based at Petersen Air Force Base would attack the fire today. As our readers know, the scarcity of large federal air tankers in recent years has been a source of controversy in Western states. Earlier this month, Sen. Mark Udall hailed the end of a protest filed by an air tanker contractor that threatened to ground the fleet during fire season. New, large passenger jet tankers are expected to be used this year, a long-needed modernization of the federal air tanker fleet.
Obviously, our thoughts are with the victims of this tragedy, and those threatened by either the Black Forest Fire or any of the others burning in the state.
With that said, we must now bring to your attention something rather disgusting.
These are Tweets sent yesterday afternoon from two GOP Colorado Senators, Greg Brophy and Kevin Grantham, just after the Black Forest Fire exploded and the entire Front Range watched a massive smoke plume form over the area. Sens. Grantham and Brophy are attempting to blame Gov. John Hickenlooper for "not funding" Senate Bill 13-245, which was signed into law to create a Colorado Firefighting Air Corps. House Republicans celebrated the signing of the bill last week in a press release:
Today, the Governor signed state Rep. Bob Gardner’s Senate Bill 245 to create the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps and help the state respond faster to the threat of wildfire. State Sens. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, sponsored the measure in the Senate.
“The cost of being unprepared for wildfires is exorbitant. This measure will save us resources and lives,” said Gardner. “We simply cannot afford to see a repeat of last summer.”
Now, there is a wrinkle: the bill passed, but without the significant money needed to actually fund the purchase of air tankers for a Colorado Firefighting Air Corps. For now, it's a paper-based force, in the planning stages.
And here's the bottom line: even if Senate Bill 245 had been passed with the $17 million in funding attached, there would still be no Colorado Firefighting Air Corps to fight the Black Forest Fire. There's just no way that the infrastructure required to support this operation could have actually been up and running one week after being signed into law. There's no way the tankers would be bought yet, pilots trained, any of it. And yet here are these Senators essentially telling people whose homes are in ashes that it's all Gov. Hickenlooper's fault?
How is this not an outrage?
We assume our readers understand enough about how legislative appropriations work to already know this is a false attack, but as the Durango Herald's Joe Hanel reported back in April when the bill was debated:
“I’m sorry it’s become an indictment of the governor. We control the purse strings in this building,” [Pols emphasis] said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The committee passed the bill 7-0 Friday morning, but it voted 4-3 against spending $17.5 million to obtain an air tanker fleet.
Obviously, possible gubernatorial candidate Sen. Brophy doesn't have much to gain by vilifying the Senate Appropriations Committee. So in addition to grossly misleading people about this bill in a moment of tragedy, Brophy is disingenuously laying the blame on his most convenient political target.
There was a time, not so long ago, when we would have declared this kind of falsehood-based politicization of tragedy impacting fellow Coloradans a plainly unacceptable breach of decency. And we would not have been alone in that–editorial boards used to call out this kind of despicable behavior from public officials.
After everything we've been through this year, so many low points that nobody in our local press has bothered to correct or even challenge, we can't say that this kind of thing is even unusual anymore.