BREAKING: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies

UPDATE #4: President Obama makes simple, clear, impossible-to-argue statement on Scalia vacancy:

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UPDATE #3: As the Washington Post reports, Scalia’s death may strengthen the conservative ideological case for Ted Cruz as the GOP nominee for President.

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UPDATE #2: The passing of Justice Scalia could very well ensure that President Obama’s Climate Plan will move forward. From New York magazine:

The immediate and easily foreseeable impact is staggering. Last week, the Supreme Court issued a stay delaying the implementation of Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The stay indicated that a majority of the justices foresee a reasonably high likelihood that they would ultimately strike down Obama’s plan, which could jeopardize the Paris climate agreement and leave greenhouse gasses unchecked. Without Scalia on the Court, the odds of this drop to virtually zero. The challenge is set to be decided by a D.C. Circuit panel composed of a majority of Democratic appointees, which will almost certainly uphold the regulations. If the plan is upheld, it would require a majority of the Court to strike it down. With the Court now tied 4-4, such a ruling now seems nearly impossible.

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UPDATE: Politico has more on the broader political implications of Scalia’s death:

Scalia, widely regarded as the intellectual leader of the court’s conservative wing, was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1986…

…Obama is expected to face fierce — if not insurmountable — resistance in the Senate to any nominee that he might put forth, especially given the heightened political conversation around the presidential election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has power to prevent confirmation of any nominee, made clear within hours of the first reports of Scalia’s death that Obama should not try to make a nomination before he leaves office next January.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new President,” McConnell said.

That’s a pretty weak excuse, Senator. The American people don’t have a say in the selection of Supreme Court justices, which is exactly what our Founding Fathers intended.

So, uh, what happens if when Senate Republicans refuse to act and allow the Supreme Court to move forward?

Scalia’s death leaves the court split, 4-4, between Democratic and Republican-appointed justices. That could result in a deadlock on contentious cases before the court, including disputes over Obama’s executive actions on immigration, state laws restricting access to abortion and whether public-sector workers can be required to pay representation fees to unions.

In situations where the court is evenly split, the lower court ruling being appealed is upheld but no precedent is set for future cases. The court could put or keep stays in place in some cases until a new justice allows it to reach a majority opinion.

In other words: Chaos!

It’s bad enough that the current Republican Congress has been historically worthless in terms of actual governing. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to spread this impotence to the Supreme Court, too?

The next time McConnell or any of his GOP Senate colleagues start talking about the importance of “following the Constitution,” go ahead and stick a finger in each ear while softly humming to yourself.

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scalia

Stand by for updates, multiple news outlets confirming that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died suddenly at age 79.

Weekend Open Thread

“Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”

–Potter Stewart

Yes, Those DOA Abortion Bills Matter

2016-02-11 13.13.01A press release from NARAL Pro Choice Colorado on the death yesterday of two anti-abortion bills in the Colorado House, one a so-called “fetal homicide” bill with no exceptions to prevent the prosecution of women, and a second bill that simply made abortion a felony in Colorado with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest:

Today, physicians and reproductive health activists spoke out against and defeated yet more attempts to ban abortion and put politicians in between women and their doctors in Colorado. Two dangerous, anti-women’s health bills failed in House committees. The first bill, HB 1007, would create fetal personhood. The second, HB 1113, would ban abortion and criminalize doctors who provide vital care for Colorado women. The goal of both bills was clear – to attack access to abortion in Colorado and interfere in the doctor-patient relationship…

According to Dr. Aaron Lazowicz, a Denver Ob-Gyn who testified against HB 1007, the fetal personhood bill, “I recently cared for a woman who had previously undergone surgical sterilization after having two children and several years later presented to my emergency department with an ectopic pregnancy that had ruptured inside of her. She was actively bleeding and had to be rushed to the operating room so that we could take out the ectopic pregnancy to stop the bleeding.

She and her husband had made the decision together that two children was enough for them, but unfortunately no surgical procedure can work perfectly 100% of the time. If House bill 1007 were to pass, this woman and I would be faced with the real risk of criminal prosecution for trying to save her life due to ambiguous terminology used in this bill. My patients expect the best and most appropriate treatment from me and this bill would interfere with my ability to serve their needs.”

…According to Dr. Emily Schneider, a practicing Denver Ob-Gyn who testified against HB 1113, which would make abortion a felony in Colorado and criminalize doctors, “I have treated a wide array of patients in my practice. Every woman is different, and every situation is different. As a physician, I have to be able to use my best medical judgment based on the individual needs of the patient…[t]hese are not hypothetical horror stories. These are the real-life, private medical decisions faced by and made by physicians and their patients every day. This bill will ultimately hurt my patients, as well as women across Colorado.”

Rep. Kit Roupe (R-Hiding).

Rep. Kit Roupe (R-In Hiding).

After hours of debate in two House committees, both anti-abortion bills debated yesterday were killed. In the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee, the discomfort from some Republicans over these bills was especially evident. Rep. Kit Roupe, in a tight race for one of the most competitive seats in El Paso County, was excused from voting. Another Republican, Rep. Dan Thurlow, bucked fellow Republicans once again by voting against the bill even though there were enough Democratic votes to kill it without his help.

The lack of any press coverage of yesterday’s long hearings seems to reflect a collective judgment that these bills destined for death are not worthy of coverage. With fewer reporters covering bigger beats than ever today, it’s a judgment you can see reporters making without prejudice.

It’s also totally wrong.

The truth is, abortion rights are in serious peril in many states. Recent restrictions on abortion in Texas, as one example, have dramatically reduced access to abortion in that state with severe consequences for Texas women. But despite the hundreds of abortion restrictions that have been successfully passed across the nation in recent years, Republicans in Colorado have somehow managed to make work a schizophrenic campaign of attacking abortion rights on a more or less continuous basis–then claiming that it doesn’t matter at election time because “abortion rights are not in danger.” If Democrats try to make an issue of Republican attempts to restrict abortion rights in Colorado, Republicans complain about Democrats being “obsessed with social issues.”

As the local media downplays the ongoing Republican attempts to restrict and even totally ban abortion in Colorado, a grave disservice is being done to Colorado voters. The reason why Republicans cannot restrict abortion rights in Colorado is simple: in Colorado, they do not have control. The problem is, every election risks a change of power that could easily result in Texas-style abortion restrictions, or worse, being passed and signed into law in Colorado. In 2014, GOP gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez openly promised as much, even declaring IUDs to be “abortifacients.”

Bottom line: these DOA abortion restriction bills are not “meaningless.” They are a warning–of bad things that are happening right now in other states, and are never more than one election away in Colorado.

The media ignores them not at their peril, but all of ours.

Get More Smarter on Friday (Feb. 12)

Get More SmarterHappy Birthday, Uncle Abe; you don’t look a day over 207. 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…

► Last night seven Republican candidates for U.S. Senate in Colorado took part in a debate at the University of Denver. Tomorrow night, six GOP Presidential candidates will debate in South Carolina.

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore can’t seem to make it onto the main Republican debate stage no matter how many GOP candidates drop out of the race. As Politico reports, Saturday night’s debate in South Carolina will feature 6 Republican candidates…none of them named Jim Gilmore. Perhaps Gilmore should consider running for U.S. Senate in Colorado instead.

 

► The Colorado Independent reports on the latest development in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s  plan to use money from the so-called “Hospital Provider Fee” to pay for necessary services in Colorado:

At issue is whether it would be constitutional to reclassify a billion dollar hospital program so money generated from it will not push general fund revenue over mandated limits under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and many Democrats in the legislature want a program called the hospital provider fee redesignated so there’s more money in the budget to fund roads, education and other programs.

In a legal review released today by former attorneys for past governors Bill Ritter, a Democrat, and Bill Owens, a Republican, they say the Hickenlooper plan would be “legally sound and fiscally responsible.”

Hickenlooper’s office continues to wait for an opinion from Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who appears to be dragging her feet on the issue for political reasons.

 

► Democratic Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders faced off in another debate last night. Politico presents five takeaways from the debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Washington Post called the debate a clear victory for Clinton.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Not So Fast There, “Party of No”

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word "NO."

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word “NO.”

As the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reports, the debate over reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee in a way that doesn’t subject it to the arbitrary limits imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), thus avoiding still more painful budget sacrifices, took an interesting twist yesterday. You’ll recall that the session began last month with the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate hardening its position against reclassifying the hospital provider fee as an “enterprise” under TABOR, resting their predisposed stonewalling on an opinion from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services.

Well, as Hutchins reports, that opinion isn’t the final word by a long shot:

As Coloradans wait for an opinion from Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman over what’s become the biggest political debate in Colorado, two former executive branch lawyers are weighing in with their own conclusion.

At issue is whether it would be constitutional to reclassify a billion dollar hospital program so money generated from it will not push general fund revenue over mandated limits under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and many Democrats in the legislature want a program called the hospital provider fee redesignated so there’s more money in the budget to fund roads, education and other programs.

In a legal review released today by former attorneys for past governors Bill Ritter, a Democrat, and Bill Owens, a Republican, they say the Hickenlooper plan would be “legally sound and fiscally responsible.”

The opinion from OLLS that Cadman made a flamboyant display of at the beginning of the session was not binding. No one is impugning the motives of the General Assembly’s nonpartisan legal staff, but the fact is that they are sometimes demonstrated wrong in terms of how these questions actually play out in litigation. As the Denver Business Journal reports, this bipartisan legal opinion disagreeing with OLLS’s conclusion carries no less weight in the real world:

Trey Rogers and Jon Anderson — who served as legal counsels for former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and former Republican Gov. Bill Owens, respectively — wrote that the OLLS was incorrect in its conclusions about the ability to categorize the money as an enterprise fund. The provider-fee fund would offer the service of helping hospitals defray the cost of providing care to patients and should not be considered as general revenue that can be used, like other pots in the general fund, for any service the state offers, Anderson said.

“Our courts have said that statutes enacted by the General Assembly enjoy a strong presumption of constitutionality and will not be overturned unless the statute is unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt,” Rogers added. “It is hard to imagine a court would find a provider fee enterprise to be unconstitutional beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In addition, former Attorney General John Suthers, now the Republican mayor of Colorado Springs, agrees that reclassifying the hospital fee revenue is legally workable:

“The way hospital provider fees are accounted in the state budget has created a serious problem,” Suthers said in a statement. “If this situation is not addressed soon, important state programs will be cut that negatively impact Colorado Springs and every other local community in Colorado. Transportation funding, in particular, will continue to suffer. Based on my experience, I believe that some form of a hospital provider enterprise could be designed to be constitutional under state law.” [Pols emphasis]

By sanctifying a nonbinding OLLS opinion that just happens to match with their political goals, Senate Republicans are trying to use the hospital provider fee situation as leverage to force cuts elsewhere–consistent with the party line this year that “entitlements,” in particular the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, are choking out various other priorities like roads and K-12 education. But as our friend Jason Salzman has explored in able writeups this week, that’s a false argument–Medicaid is not busting the budget.

The threat here is the arbitrary limit imposed by TABOR. Period.

The short version of all of this is that Senate Republicans are playing political games, in pursuit of their unwavering goal of cutting “the size of government”–reducing government, as right-wing anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist so famously said, to a size where you can “drown it in a bathtub.” A realistic assessment of need is not what is driving their agenda, but an ideological conviction that government is “too large.” Just as we’ve seen in Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback’s ideological slashing of public revenues, the end stage of this agenda has no regard whatsoever for the damage done to critical functions of government we all rely on.

If cooler heads are to prevail, thus preventing millions in cuts that don’t have to happen, it’s Cadman, or at least someone in his one-seat conservative majority who must relent. If he doesn’t, it’s going to hurt things that people actually do care about. That’s not something we’d recommend in an election year, but it would be better for everyone–including Senate Republicans–to not inflict the pain to begin with.

Colorado Polsters Pick New Hampshire

UPDATE: After winning the Iowa prediction contest, “flatiron” damn-near did it again in New Hampshire. We agree with “Phoenix Rising” on this one, however, and declare “vanbarbee” to be the champeen of our New Hampshire contest.

Congratulations, “vanbarbee.” Email us with your mailing address (alva@coloradopols.com), and the Jim Gilmore button will soon be yours to cherish.

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Ken Buck Replaces Brophy with Former AFP Lobbyist

Hide your watermelons, kids: Brophy is back in Colorado.

Hide your watermelons, kids: Greg Brophy is back in Colorado.

Yesterday we came across a short entry from Legistorm.com that caught our attention because of the name that was not included in the story. Take a look:

A longtime staff member for retired Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Col.) has returned — again — to the Hill from a prolonged hiatus.

MacArthur “Mac” Zimmerman is the new chief of staff for Rep. Ken Buck (R-Col.) following a seven-year absence from Congress…

…Zimmerman waited until 2014 to return to politics, this time as a lobbyist for Americans for Prosperity.

The story includes an interesting summation of Zimmerman’s strange political ride since his former boss, Rep. Tom Tancredo, retired from CD-6 in 2007. Not mentioned in the Legistorm article, however, is why Rep. Ken Buck was looking for a new Chief of Staff in the first place.

Former State Sen. Greg Brophy had an unsuccessful run for Governor in 2014, but he ended the year on a high note when the newly-elected Buck chose him to run his congressional office in Washington D.C. Brophy had served as Buck’s Chief of Staff ever since…until a few weeks ago when Buck let him know that he would be resigning. There was no press release from Buck’s office, and we apparently missed this late Friday Denver Post blog entry from Mark Matthews in which Brophy declines to talk about his next professional role (if one exists).

We don’t know why Buck made a change at the top of his staff, though it is certainly noteworthy that his new COS, Mac Zimmerman, had been working for the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity. Buck has risen quickly in the Koch world, as we noted late last year when he was a featured speaker at a big Koch fundraising event in New York.

As for Brophy, we don’t know what he’s doing now…other than auditioning to be a “silencer lobbyist.” Trophy re-tweeted this message on Wednesday:

Once Again, Mike Coffman a Top Democratic Target

Rep. Mike Coffman (R), Sen. Morgan Carroll (D).

Rep. Mike Coffman (R), Sen. Morgan Carroll (D).

A press release from Morgan Carroll’s campaign announced her not-surprising-but-still-noteworthy selection for help as part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s coveted Red to Blue campaign:

“Morgan Carroll is a third generation Coloradan, a fighter, and a proven advocate for hardworking families,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan. “From lowering healthcare costs, to supporting small businesses, to securing affordable housing for Service members and their families, Morgan takes on the tough fights and delivers. We’re confident in the campaign she has built and look forward to her leadership in Congress on building an economy that works for everyone and keeping Americans safe.”

“This is a truly grassroots campaign and I’m humbled by the widespread support that we’ve received,” said Morgan Carroll. “I am running to ensure that hardworking families have the freedom to succeed, find good paying jobs, have access to affordable child care, feel secure about their retirement savings and find relief from overwhelming college debt.”

The DCCC’s Red to Blue program highlights top Democratic campaigns across the country, and offers them financial, communications, grassroots, and strategic support. The program will introduce Democratic supporters to new, competitive candidates in order to help expand the fundraising base for these campaigns.

Politico’s Lauren French has more on the DCCC’s Red to Blue program for this year:

It includes districts represented by some of the most vulnerable House GOP lawmakers, including Reps. Daniel Webster of Florida, Bruce Poliquin of Maine and Mia Love of Utah. Democrats are hoping to elect former Orlando police chief Val Demings, Maine politician Emily Cain and attorney Doug Owens in those seats, respectively…

“House Democrats are on offense and will pick up seats in 2016, and these effective, hardworking and diverse candidates are the foundation of our success this year,” said DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján, a New Mexico Democrat…

Being added to the Red to Blue program can be a financial boon to candidates in tight races. National donors traditionally use to the list to decide how to direct funding to lesser known candidates. It also helps solidify which seats Democrats think they’ll have the best chance of capturing during elections, establishing an early benchmark for the cycle. [Pols emphasis]

The DCCC rates the Colorado CD-6 race at #2 on their list of their top pickup opportunities, just behind California’s CD-24 race to replace an outgoing Democratic representative in a competitive district. It’s not the first time a challenger to Rep. Mike Coffman has made the Red to Blue list, but for a range of reasons this year is widely expected to be the toughest fight of Coffman’s long political career.

In short, this race is on the radar every year, but especially this year.

Mike Coffman Loves Him Some Testicles

Rep. Mike Coffman

Rep. Mike Coffman

Say what you will, but the headline above is 100% accurate.

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) was recently interviewed by Alex Gangitano for Roll Call as part of a feature the newspaper calls “Take Five” — a quick Q&A with a Member of Congress featuring questions that aren’t intended to be hard hitting journalism. This actually happened:

QWhat is your favorite local Colorado food?

A: Rocky Mountain oysters, usually at a bar. It’s something we do back home; it’s kind of hard to explain. [Editor’s note: Rocky Mountain oysters are fried bull, pig or sheep testicles.]

Coffman isn’t really known for his sense of humor — in fact, it’s not clear that he actually has a sense of humor — and that’s what makes this answer even weirder. Coffman is the cliche robotic politician who is trying way too hard to pretend that he has a personality of his own.

Rocky Mountain Oysters are accurately called a “novelty dish” by Wikipedia, and while you can find them occasionally at restaurants in Colorado, they’re not really a Colorado food item (fried testicles are more commonly called “prairie oysters” in Canada or “prairie fries” in Texas).

More importantly, nobody actually eats Rocky Mountain Oysters on a regular basis. If you ever catch someone saying, “Boy, I could really go for a plate of fried testicles,” you can reasonably assume that you are the first person to have heard this sentence spoken out loud.

Which brings us to this clip from the 1988 movie Funny Farm, in which the character played by Chevy Chase unwittingly scarfs down plate after plate of “lamb fries.” Mike Coffman would have you believe that he does this on the regular:

Christie, Fiorina Both Drop Presidential Bids

Carly Fiorina (right), with Rep. Gordon "Dr. Chaps" Klingenschmitt.

Carly Fiorina (right), with Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had been banking on a strong performance in New Hampshire to jump-start his sinking Presidential hopes; instead, he finished with 7.4% of the vote and announced this morning that he was dropping out of the GOP race for President.

Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina performed even worse than Christie in New Hampshire, netting a meager 4.1% of the vote, and this afternoon she also announced her withdrawal from the Presidential race.

Fun fact: If you combine their vote totals, Christie and Fiorina finished with 11.5% of the total vote in New Hampshire. That’s not good, but it’s still better than the 10.6% that fifth-place finisher Marco “Roboto” Rubio received.

Repeal Obamacare! Oh, Wait a Minute…

obamacaresThe AP has a great story up today via the Fort Collins Coloradoan on the dramatic drop in the number of uninsured Americans following passage of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Much to the chagrin of local Republicans bent on repealing President Barack Obama’s signature accomplishment, Colorado is at the top of the list of success stories:

GOP presidential candidates are vowing to repeal “Obamacare,” while offering hardly any detail on how they’d replace it without millions losing coverage.

Politically, the eight states with statistically significant coverage gains in the National Health Interview Survey are a mix of red, blue and purple. They are Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, and New York. Five have GOP governors.

As a whole, the nation had an uninsured rate of 9.1 percent during the first nine months of 2015, according to the survey, an ongoing research project by a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The uninsured rate was 14.4 percent in 2013, before the law’s big coverage expansion…

That poses a dilemma for Republican presidential candidates. Indeed, a recent blueprint from a group of conservative policy experts for replacing the health law said Republicans will need some kind of “grandfathering exemption” to avoid disrupting the lives of people who have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act. [Pols emphasis]

What we’re seeing here is exactly what Republicans who opposed the passage of Obamacare in 2009-10 were most afraid of–not that they could admit being afraid of it, but was always the bottom line lurking beneath their shrill and desperate arguments against passage. After passage, the fear of what’s happening today drove the GOP campaign to repeal the law before it could take full effect, instilling Republican opponents of the law with a profound sense of urgency to stop it, and rationalizing all of the outlandish claims of harm the law was inflicting on Americans.

They were afraid because they knew that Obamacare would work. That it would make health coverage affordable for millions of Americans, absorb those millions into a less selective risk pool, and put in place a system that will hurt millions of people to take away. The fact is, Obamacare is not a “government takeover of health care”–the plan has its origins largely in conservative designs for health care reform, a mandate to obtain coverage and assistance for those who can’t afford it.

It hasn’t happened yet, but there remains a strong possibility that the success of Obamacare will do lasting political damage to Republicans who so bitterly opposed it. What’s missing right now, frankly, may be a successful repeal effort, or at least one with an appreciable chance of success. Up until now, Republican threats against Obamacare have been threats against an abstraction, a monster they could define for the public. But increasingly, the public can see with their own eyes that Obamacare is helping people. They know someone who is getting coverage cheaper, or for the first time. Or, like millions of Americans, they are themselves directly benefiting.

And folks, there is no going back. Too many would suffer, for no other reason than to help the GOP win a six-year-old political struggle that has lost its ability to frighten–except maybe to frighten those who could now lose what they have gained.

The war on Obamacare is over. It’s time for the politicians to catch up with that reality.