Wednesday Open Thread

"Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense."

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

PPP: Udall, Hickenlooper 44%, Gardner, Beauprez 43%

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

Today's release from Public Policy Polling reaffirms the present dead heat in Colorado's U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper clinging to statistically insignificant leads over their Republican challengers:

PPP's new Colorado poll finds the exact same numbers in the races for both Governor and the Senate- Democratic incumbents John Hickenlooper and Mark Udall are clinging to 44/43 leads over their challengers Bob Beauprez and Cory Gardner respectively.

In the Governor's race this represents a significant tightening over the last four months. In March we had found Hickenlooper leading Beauprez 48/38. Since that time though Hickenlooper's approval rating has dropped a net 10 points, from 48/41 then to now 43/46. And Beauprez's net favorability has improved 14 points from 20/33 then to now 31/30. That movement's come largely among Republicans- he's gone from 33/22 to 57/12 within his own party as it's unified in the wake of last month's primary.

The closeness in the Senate race is nothing new though. Our last four polls have found Udall with leads of 2, 2, 4, and now 1 point. This is shaping up as yet another key Senate contest this year where the early blitz of negative advertising has left both candidates unpopular. Udall has an upside down approval rating at 36/47, but Gardner's not a whole lot more well liked with 34% of voters rating him favorably to 39% who have a negative opinion.

beauprezdemsfear​Read the poll's full results here.

These numbers confirm a trend we've seen in other recent polling: a swift closure of the gubernatorial race as GOP nominee Bob Beauprez consolidates post-primary support and Hickenlooper recovers from a tough few weeks in the press, while the U.S. Senate race remains extremely tight with little movement in the last few weeks. We continue to foresee trouble for Beauprez as the press examines his far-right record, which hasn't happened even as Hickenlooper has faced what will likely be the worst press of the campaign stemming from his disastrous appearance in front of hostile county sheriffs. The same lies ahead for Cory Gardner, though it's arguable that Beauprez will prove easier to marginalize due to the sheer extremity of Beauprez's past statements–not to mention Gardner's slick deceptiveness.

Looking down the ticket, undeniably troubling indicators for Colorado Democrats–demonstrating the significant challenge ahead for them this year after years of political dominance. Many voters are undecided, but Republican candidates for Treasurer, Attorney General, and Secretary of State all hold leads well outside this poll's margin of error. Republicans also hold a 45-38% advantage in the poll's generic legislative ballot. Even if trends in the top-ticket races stabilize in favor of the Democratic candidates as we expect, Democrats need to recover downballot to avoid a divided state government in 2015–potentially much more divided than was the case in 2011-12, when the GOP held a one-seat House majority.

Can Democrats get it done? Absolutely–the record shows that the polls consistently underestimate Democrats in this state, as they did in 2010 when the "Republican wave" broke on the Rocky Mountains.

But anyone on either side who feels confident today is a fool.

Dueling Obamacare Rulings Likely Headed to Supreme Court

As Fox 31 reports:

Two appeals courts reached differing decisions on Obamacare subsidies Tuesday, meaning a likely Supreme Court case on the key component of the health care law.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against the subsidies, while a similar panel of the 4th Circuit down the road in Richmond, Virginia unanimously backed the Obama administration.

The opposing rulings mean the next stop for the issue will almost certainly be the nation’s highest court in a case that represents the best hopes of the 2010 law’s conservative foes to undermine it.

The rulings do not affect the Colorado health insurance exchange, said Connect for Health Colorado spokesman Ben Davis, because the Colorado exchange is run independently.

These cases bring up an interesting political dilemma for Republicans. A Supreme Court ruling on subsidies could significantly weaken the Affordable Care Act's health coverage mandate, which would be the kind of victory that outspoken critics of Obamacare have been clambering to see. However…

New data shows that the number of uninsured Americans has dropped to its lowest level since 2008. While Americans still aren't in love with Obamacare overall, poll numbers have been slowly shifting in favor of the law — especially if you are one of the millions of newly-insured Americans:

According to the latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, about 45 percent of Americans still have an unfavorable view of the law (down from 50 percent in January). However, according to the Commonwealth Fund, 58 percent of Americans newly enrolled in Medicaid or private insurance say that they are better off now than they were before the law. Among the newly insured, 78 percent are satisfied to very satisfied with their coverage, including 74 percent of those who identify themselves as Republicans. Sixty percent of the newly covered have already started to use their new insurance, and most enrollees said they could get an appointment within two weeks.

If the Supreme Court rules unfavorably for the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will boast loudly of their efforts to defeat Obamacare…and millions of Americans will want quick answers for what they are supposed to do now. Republicans have no clear alternative for Obamacare, which would leave them with a narrative consisting of little more than, "Hey, we broke it!" How that wins Republicans the Presidency in 2016 — or any other elections, for that matter — is not a question we could even pretend to be able to answer.

Suthers Same-Sex Marriage Obsession Will Prove Costly to Republicans

John Suthers, Don Quick.

Attorney General John Suthers (left) is making things easier for Democrat Don Quick to win in November.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers continues his obsession with trying to stop county clerks from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite repeated court rulings that strike down bans on same-sex marriage.

On Monday, Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz decided to stop issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples after dealing with what his office called "legal threats" from Suthers. Said Ortiz in a statement:

"I stand by the initial decision I made and still believe that an individual's constitutional rights outweigh a law that discriminates against American citizens. As the Attorney General has admitted it is only a matter of time before Marriage Equality is validated by the Supreme Court of the United States. In light of the Attorney General's threat of litigation, and the Colorado Supreme Court's recent order, I have decided to avoid adding to the Attorney General's already heavy sum of wasteful litigation in this matter. Pueblo County will wait for further clarification on the constitutionality of a clearly unconstitutional law."

We continue to be perplexed by Suthers' strange obsession with defending a ban that courts have repeatedly ruled to be unconstitutional. Suthers has been rumored to be looking at running for Mayor of Colorado Springs in 2015, so perhaps he views his defense of a same-sex marriage ban as something that may help him with a highly-conservative Colorado Springs electorate. But the writing is on the wall here — and has been for a long time — and support for marriage equality among the broader electorate is rising as well. The term-limited Suthers may not have any real interest in being on the same side as public opinion, but that's not a problem that Republican Attorney General candidate Cynthia Coffman can just ignore.

As chief deputy in the Attorney General's office, Coffman may feel compelled to stand behind her boss on this issue, but voters won't be impressed. Coffman has penned OP-EDs supporting Suthers and his dogged defense of an obviously-doomed law, but the debate has opened up a huge opportunity for Democrat Don Quick to differentiate himself with voters. As Quick wrote in his own recent OP-ED:

Recently in this paper, Cynthia Coffman, the chief deputy attorney general and my opponent in November's election for Colorado attorney general, attempted to defend her position of continuing the defense of Colorado's ban on same-sex marriage. Coffman implied that the reason her office is still defending Colorado's ban is that the Attorney General's Office is required to defend all Colorado laws, even if there are grave doubts about their constitutionality. That's not true, and Ms. Coffman knows it…

…The attorney general's job is to be a champion of Coloradans' rights, not to search for an excuse to deny them. Coffman and her office were not forced to obstruct gay and lesbian Coloradans' fundamental rights, they chose to. If elected attorney general, I'll make a different choice.

In a busy election season with several high-profile races on the ballot, the race for Attorney General might have become an afterthought has Suthers not blown the contest open. Quick and other Democrats may benefit significantly at the polls as a result.

Aurora Shooting Victim’s Dad Calls Out Mike Coffman

Rep. Mike Coffman.

Rep. Mike Coffman.

​Yesterday marked the second anniversary of the mass shooting at the Century Theater in Aurora, in which 12 people were killed and some 70 injured after a gunman burst into the theater and began shooting indiscriminately. Since that time, the debate over gun policy has raged in Colorado and across the nation, with both sides honoring the victims of gun violence while disagreeing about the solution.

But apparently, as this statement we received from the father of a victim of the Aurora shootings says, some politicians can't even be bothered to commemorate this tragic event only two years later. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex Sullivan died in the Aurora theater shooting, has this to say about Aurora's representative in Congressman Mike Coffman:

One day before the two-year anniversary of the Aurora theater shooting – in which 12 people were killed and 58 were wounded – Representative Mike Coffman came back to Aurora to hold meetings with constituents.  But Rep. Coffman has not yet taken action to honor the victims of the Aurora shooting and keep guns out of dangerous hands. Tom Sullivan, the father of Aurora victim Alex Sullivan, released the following statement:

"Two years ago my son Alex was killed.  He wasn't in the wrong place at the wrong time – he was at the movies to celebrate his birthday.

"I'm disappointed to see Rep. Coffman come back to Aurora the day before the anniversary, but not honor the tragedy with action.  He has not yet supported federal legislation that would do what we've already done here in Colorado – close the loophole that allows criminals and other dangerous people to buy guns without a background check.  We know this solution works because since the law went into effect last year, dangerous people are already being blocked from buying guns. 

"I hope Rep. Coffman does the right thing and honors the victims of that horrible tragedy with action in Washington, not more partisan excuses."

According to Coffman's Facebook page, he attended the Dragon Boat Festival at Sloan's Lake in west Denver on Saturday, as well as constituent meetings at MLK Library in Aurora. But in addition to Sullivan's point about Coffman having taken no action in Washington on gun safety as Aurora's representative, we can't find anything from Coffman acknowledging the 2nd anniversary of the Aurora shooting at all. There were several events this weekend, including a tree-planting event at Aurora's new Hope Park attended by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, and Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan–but Coffman wasn't listed as a guest. We haven't seen anything on Coffman's campaign or congressional websites, campaign or official Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, or anywhere else to indicate he commemorated the shooting anniversary in any way.

If Coffman did do anything to observe the most tragic event suffered by his district in many, many years, he apparently didn't want anybody to know about it. And we don't have a good explanation for that.

WSJ: Gardner Pinned By “Personhood”

Rep. Cory Gardner (R).

Rep. Cory Gardner (R).

An excellent story from the Wall Street Journal's Beth Reinhard today explains in depth to a national audience the ongoing problem faced by GOP U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner we've been talking about for months–his halfway flip-flop away from longstanding prior support for the "Personhood" abortion ban initiatives that have failed repeatedly on the Colorado statewide ballot. In addition, Gardner faces growing questions about his continued sponsorship of the federal Life at Conception Act, which contains matching language from the Personhood abortion bans that would also outlaw common forms of birth control. Today's WSJ story is behind a paywall, so here's a teaser–go subscribe, or find a friend with a subscription to read the whole thing:

Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat in Colorado, is trying to move away from the thorny issue of "personhood."

His problem is that neither his foes on the left nor some friends on the right will let him.

Shortly after entering the race against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall in February, Mr. Gardner disavowed his past support for the idea at the heart of the personhood movement, which is to give a fertilized egg the same rights as a person, thereby outlawing abortion and some forms of birth control. In backing away, he even called for the sale of birth control over the counter…

"Cory Gardner is a big disappointment, since he was firmly on our side, and now he's throwing that away for greater political aspirations," said Jennifer Mason, a spokeswoman for Personhood USA, the lead sponsor of the ballot question. [Pols emphasis]

Mr. Gardner has said he changed his mind because Colorado voters twice rejected constitutional amendments on the issue, in 2008 and 2010. He also said he hadn't realized that access to birth control could have been affected. Mr. Gardner is listed as a co-sponsor of a House bill that says life begins at conception.

As we discussed last Wednesday, Gardner's continued sponsorship of the federal Life at Conception Act, while claiming to have disavowed Colorado's Personhood abortion bans, creates a major conflict. Both the Personhood abortion ban amendments and the Life at Conception Act contain the same language about human life beginning "at the moment of fertilization." This language is what would have the consequence, either intended or not, of outlawing so-called "abortifacient" forms of birth control. Denver Post reporter Mark Matthews asked Gardner's campaign about this apparent contradiction, and was told by Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano that the federal abortion ban bill would make "no change to contraception laws as Senator Udall falsely alleges."

But that's not true. It's the same language. At some point, this false distinction is going to burn Gardner's campaign yet again.

In the meantime, as the WSJ makes clear, Gardner still has a big problem. Even the most GOP-friendly polling in this race shows that this issue has already given Gardner's opponent Sen. Mark Udall a commanding lead with women voters. On the other side, the pro-life right wing is equally upset with Gardner's "pandering" to the left by backing off of what was previously a no-compromise stand against abortion under any circumstances.

Bottom line: there's a very simple reason why Gardner and his campaign affects exasperation with having to answer questions about banning abortion over and over, wondering aloud why reporters can't come up with "something else to talk about."

Like Ken Buck before him, this could be the issue that sinks Cory Gardner.

Monday Open Thread

"The world is a looking glass and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face."

–William Makepeace Thackeray

Making a Joke of the IRS “Scandal”

WCSLogo

As reported by the UK Daily Mail's U.S. political editor David Martsoko from the Western Conservative Summit this weekend in Denver–apparently, Centennial Institute director and WCS organizer John Andrews has found a slick way around his group's pesky 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity status, which ordinarily would not allow the WCS to talk about political candidates and the upcoming 2014 elections:

'Sirloin' and 'tofu' have become code words for 'Republican' and 'Democrat' in Colorado, and a former right-wing state legislator assigned liberals the role of pressed bean curd during a conservative convention in Denver.

John Andrews, president of the Colorado state Senate until 2005 and now Director of the Centennial Institute – an affiliate of Colorado Christian College – told a crowd estimated at 3,000 that speakers at the three-day session would not be permitted to talk about candidates, parties or elections…

'You have probably noticed that as we brought out Bob Beauprez and Cory Gardner, that something was missing,' he said. 'Something was not said about them or by them about how they're spending 2014.'

'I can give you the reason why in two words: Lois Lerner.'

'…So let's just make this agreement … If you form a mental association between "Republican" and "sirloin," and between "Democrat" and "tofu," and I was to say to you that every time I whiff Bob Beauprez or Cory Gardner it makes me wanna eat more sirloin and less tofu, you would know what I was talking about, right?' [Pols emphasis]

Note how Andrews invoked Lois Lerner, the former IRS official vilified by the right as part of the scandal over conservative-leaning groups "singled out" for scrutiny of their tax-exempt status applications. The truth of that story is not nearly so simple, or in the end controversial–many left-leaning organizations faced the same level of scrutiny as conservative ones. Nonetheless, it's become a part of the vast body of anti-Obama mythology accepted on faith by the conservative base today.

But never mind all that, because John Andrews just made a joke of the whole thing! It's tough to imagine a better way to justify IRS scrutiny than to start your 501(c)(3) "nonprofit" convention by explaining the event's partisan political code language. Might the IRS decide that's too ridiculous a pretense to ignore? Would Andrews still claim he's being persecuted if the IRS asks for a little clarification?

Hopefully. And probably.

Everybody And Their Mother Comes Out Against Local Control

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

As the Denver Post's Mark Jaffe reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper's press conference yesterday kicking off the opposition campaign against two local control ballot measures championed by Rep. Jared Polis left no confusion about where the governor stands–as if there ever was any.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday said two ballot measures aimed at giving local governments more control over oil and gas drilling would damage the state's economy and must be defeated…

"It is clear these initiatives will kill jobs and damage our state's economy," Hickenlooper said. "These measures risk thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, and millions of dollars in tax revenue."

…Hickenlooper said Initiative 88 is the opposite of local control, for it sets a "arbitrary limit" across the state with no room to adjust it locally.

As for Initiative 89, Hickenlooper questioned whether local governments would have "the sophistication" to enforce it.

Via Gannett's Raju Chebium, Rep. Polis responds:

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis said one measure he wants to include on the state's November ballot would give local governments the power to approve or reject fracking operations without fear of reprisal from the oil and gas industry. Another measure would allow residents to decide how far fracking wells should be from their homes and businesses.

Fracking may be appropriate far from residential neighborhoods and in rural and industrial areas, but communities must have the ultimate say over whether the wells can sprout up nearby, he said.

"It's perfectly reasonable for residents to feel that it shouldn't be in residential neighborhoods. That should be up to them if they want it," Polis said. "If Loveland residents want fracking, they should be able to have it. If Fort Collins residents don't, they shouldn't be sued." [Pols emphasis]

Our understanding is that despite the swift closing of ranks against these initiatives on the part of Democratic insiders, Rep. Polis remains fully committed to passing them. The fact is, whatever fear has been put into establishment Democrats about consequences from running these initiatives, Polis can defensibly argue he is simply representing his district–where three cities have already passed moratoria, and in the case of Lafayette an outright ban, on hydraulic fracturing. That's a point getting lost as Democrats across the state–Mark Udall, Andrew Romanoff, Ed Perlmutter, and many others–fall in line behind Hickenlooper in opposition to these ballot measures, and the chattering class groupthink ramps up against them.

One of the most popular arguments against these initiatives aimed at Democrats is the assumption "certainty" that they will hurt Democratic electoral prospects this November, either directly or indirectly from the resources expended in the fight. We continue to see a plausible scenario wherein Democrats benefit from these initiatives by stoking turnout, even as individual Democratic candidates give themselves cover by opposing them. Today, as Democrats disappoint conservationists with their stand against local control, they still know Democrats are closer to their position than Republicans will ever be. While these initiatives might be setting up 2015 for a divisive blue-on-blue fight over the issue, that doesn't mean the damage will be felt at the polls this year.

And it wouldn't be the first time the voters proved bolder than the leaders.

Democrats Call Out Beauprez’s “47% Moment”

A press release from Colorado Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio this morning:

"Clearly Congressman Beauprez thinks he's better than Colorado's seniors, veterans, firefighters, students and hard-working families in our great state," Palacio said. "Instead of apologizing for his ridiculous and derisive comments, Congressman Beauprez stood by his remarks claiming that half of the population are freeloaders who are "perfectly happy" that someone else is paying the bill," said Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio.

There are lots of politically self-destructive on-record moments for Bob Beauprez awaiting publicity, and although we've discussed a few of them in this space, the majority of that material has not been seen by Colorado voters. Democrats are right to zero in on Beauprez's "47% speech" early, given the similarity of his remarks to those made by Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign. For Romney, this was a gaffe from which his campaign arguably never recovered, and in hindsight was probably his fatal mistake. It's just too easy, as Colorado Democrats show in this video, to alienate such politicians from ordinary voters by explaining how, whether they realize it or not, they are either part of that 47% or know someone who is.

Once that sinks in, it's easy to make the case that Beauprez–like Romney–doesn't have their best interests at heart.

Friday Open Thread

"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones."

–John Maynard Keynes

Steve King Running Out of Timecards to Punch

State Sen. Steve King (R), man of many time cards.

State Sen. Steve King (R), man of many time cards.

Republican State Sen. Steve King officially withdrew from the race for Mesa County Sheriff on Tuesday, a decision that had become largely unavoidable and may end up being just the beginning of a larger investigation. As the Denver Post reports, King has yet to explain how he was able to juggle three different government jobs at the same time:

The investigation now includes timecards for his work as acting coordinator of campus security and training at Colorado Mesa University from July 2012 to December 2013.

Timecards show King worked as many as 194 hours a month at the university while also working as a Republican state senator and working part-time at the sheriff's office. He had been an investigator for the sheriff's office before he was elected to political office as a representative for District 54 in 2006 and then as a senator for District 7 in 2010.

While those of you outside of the Grand Junction area may not be particularly interested in who becomes the next Mesa County Sheriff, King's sloppy shenanigans may yet ensnare more public officials. For years officials at Colorado Mesa University (formerly Mesa State University) have been suspected of providing a safe landing spot — or a place to cool their heels until the next campaign — for Republicans such John Marshall, Bob Beauprez's campaign manager in 2006, as well as various family members and friends of former State Sen. Josh Penry.

It's telling that the editorial board of the Grand Junction Sentinel didn't mince words in saying good riddance to King:

That’s not even taking into account an ongoing criminal investigation by a special prosecutor. The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s office is looking at whether King committed any crimes while he was employed by three different publicly funded entities: the state Legislature, the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado Mesa University. The Sentinel’s examination of King’s timecards and claims for reimbursement paints a troubling picture, to say the least…

…With the criminal investigation hanging over his head, it’s doubtful King will ever hold another government job. But that’s the least of his worries. We’re just glad he’s dropped his bid to be our next sheriff.

We've no doubt that King's time-card shuffle was making a lot of Republicans nervous as it drew more attention to the practice of hiring so many "at-will" positions at Colorado Mesa University. King's withdrawal from the sheriff's race may end this particular line of questioning, but his candidacy in general may have opened a few doors that were intended to remain closed.