Get More Smarter on Thursday (Feb. 19)

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Don't answer your phone before 3:00 pm (EST) today; the Denver Nuggets can't trade you if they can't find you, right? 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…

► Colorado Republicans continue to take their cue from Washington D.C. in using the state budget process to muddle legislation that they don't have the votes to actually defeat. As John Frank of the Denver Post explains, funding for necessary public safety issues is now being held hostage by Senate Republicans:

The party-line Senate vote against a bill that won unanimous approval in the House puts in jeopardy more than $2 million for the Colorado Department of Public Safety and escalates a political tension at the General Assembly that is drawing comparisons to a gridlocked Washington.

► Legislation to allow Coloradans to carry a concealed weapon without a permit gained approval in the State Senate yesterday. Senator Vicki "Lost" Marble, the sponsor of SB-032, needs some better talking points, which is clear after reading this story by Kristen Wyatt of the Associated Press:

The requirements, passed in 2003, also bar concealed-carry permits to anyone who “chronically and habitually uses alcoholic beverages to the extent that the applicant’s normal facilities are impaired.”

“I think it’s insulting to the people of Colorado,” said Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins and sponsor of the bill.

In related news, Marble is a lock to receive the endorsement of the fictitious group "Alcoholics with Guns."

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

Senate GOP Plays Budget Games…With Concealed Weapons?

Concealed handgun.

Concealed handgun.

The Denver Post's John Frank reports on an escalating budget battle in the Republican-controlled Colorado Senate revealing some very interesting ulterior motives:

In what critics call a "high-stakes game of chicken," Republican lawmakers Wednesday rejected a spending bill that included money to reduce wait times for background checks for concealed-handgun permits — a move that also threatens funds for child abuse cases and testing evidence collected in rape and drunken-driving investigations.

The party-line Senate vote against a bill that won unanimous approval in the House puts in jeopardy more than $2 million for the Colorado Department of Public Safety and escalates a political tension at the General Assembly that is drawing comparisons to a gridlocked Washington.

"It amounts to government shutdown of one department on things that are very critical to public safety," said Senate Democratic leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora, referring to the Senate vote that may kill the bill.

Tensions have been escalated over normally routine appropriations bills this year after Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee led by Sen. Kent Lambert used the committee's power to cut off funding for a program to license undocumented drivers. As we discussed a few weeks ago, using the JBC to curtail funding for a program that isn't repealed legislatively results in major problems, and is considered an abuse of of the JBC's power. In the case of the driver license program, it means month-long delays for appointments will now stretch into next year, and only a single driver license office in Denver will be able to handle these applications–resulting in a more or less nonfunctional program that nonetheless remains on the books.

Of course, Republicans are fine with the driver license program for undocumented immigrants not working.

And that's the point to keep in mind as the Post's John Frank continues:

The public safety spending dispute focuses on an amendment that House Democrats added to the bill giving Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration the authority to spend $370,000 to hire eight technicians to reduce the wait time for concealed-carry background checks.

The provision is tucked into a larger spending bill that includes $300,000 for the state's toxicology lab, $100,000 for child abuse investigations and $20,000 for law enforcement training on cold-case homicides and missing-persons cases, lawmakers said.

Republican lawmakers oppose the required background checks [Pols emphasis] and don't believe the estimates from Hickenlooper's administration about a backlog.

This morning, Senate Republicans gave final passage to a bill that would eliminate background checks and gun safety training required to obtain a concealed weapons permit in Colorado. A total of five states have eliminated permit requirements for concealed weapons, and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners-controlled Colorado Senate wants Colorado to be the sixth. The bill has basically zero chance of passing the Democratic-controlled House, however, let alone being signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper. With legislation to repeal the gun safety bills passed in 2013 already headed for defeat, the idea that a bill to dramatically weaken gun laws could pass is simply not realistic.

So what's the next best option? Starve the Colorado Bureau of Investigations of funds to do the job! It's true that this will inconvenience the very same gun owners Republicans say they're looking out for, but who do you think they're going to blame? Certainly not Republicans.

The bigger problem is that by rejecting this spending bill, Republicans are playing games with the entire state Department of Public Safety. Much like the way budget games are played in Washington D.C. these days, large priorities are being held hostage to satisfy niche interests: in his case, the most extreme wing of the gun lobby. Ultimately, a concealed weapons permitting process that bogs down due to insufficient resources plays into the gun lobby's argument that permits should be eliminated–making it a worthwhile long-term goal to counterintuitively stand against properly funding CCW permits today.

It seems like this whole strategy depends on the press not reporting the details of what's happening here, which unfortunatety for Senate Republicans, John Frank has done admirably in this front-page story. We believe it's very unlikely that the voting public will look kindly on Republicans risking funding for things like child abuse investigations in order to strike a blow, however circuitous, against concealed weapons permits.

Which means that as long as the lights stay on and Democrats stand firm, this isn't going to end well for the Senate GOP.

Thursday Open Thread

"Remorse sleeps during prosperity but awakes bitter consciousness during adversity."

–Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Amy Stephens Spins The Revolving Door

Former Rep. Amy Stephens (R).

Former Rep. Amy Stephens (R).

The Denver Business Journal's Mark Harden reports that recently term-limited Rep. Amy Stephens is taking a new job with the prestigious law firm of McKenna, Long and Aldridge–but not as a lawyer, since she has no law degree. Stephens will be heading up the firm's Colorado government affairs office:

Amy Stephens, a former majority leader of the Colorado House of Representatives, has joined the Denver office of law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP as managing director of its Colorado government affairs practice.

Stephens, a Republican, left the Legislature after the 2014 session because of term-limit rules. She served eight years in the House and was elected majority leader in 2010…

From the firm's release yesterday, a description of the office Stephens will be heading up:

The Colorado Government Affairs team develops and implements successful legal, legislative, regulatory, and public policy strategies to assist clients at the state and local levels. Our experience and knowledge extends across such fields as legislation, environmental compliance, health care, pharmaceuticals, transportation, labor, economic development, housing, real estate, energy, racing and wagering, not-for-profits, state procurement, government contracts, post-secondary education and compliance with state and federal ethics, lobbying, and election law. The Colorado team has represented a wide range of clients in front of the executive and legislative branches of Colorado state government, including state regulatory agencies, as well as matters involving county and city government and special districts.

In short, Stephens is heading up the firm's Colorado lobbying office.

Now, because this is one of the nation's most prominent political law firms, we're going to assume that they have devised some kind of clever sleight-of-hand by which newly-minted head lobbyist Amy Stephens is not, you know, a "lobbyist" in the most formal sense? Because under Colorado's Amendment 41, the ethics in government constitutional amendment passed in 2006, departing legislators are not allowed to lobby their colleagues for two years after leaving office–what's known as the "revolving door" provision. Back in 2010, GOP Senate candidate Jane Norton relied on a similarly thin distinction to claim she was "never a lobbyist," after Norton served as the head of another firm's Office of State Government Relations. Which was also known as "the lobbying arm of the organization," but for Norton, merely being the boss of lobbyists didn't count.

Will the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission be so generous? That remains to be seen.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (Feb. 18)

Get More Smarter

Um, sorry to interrupt, but you have something on your forehead. 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…

► Republicans in the State Senate gave initial approval to Sen. Vicki "Lost" Marble's bill (SB15-032) to eliminate the permitting process for anyone who wants to carry a concealed weapon. Said Sen. Lucia Guzman (D-Denver), "The permitting process allows us to know that Coloradans carrying loaded firearms have shot a gun before, are trained, aren’t domestic violence offenders, don’t have a criminal record, or aren’t drunk drivers." Colorado is currently one of 46 states that require a permit for concealed carry.  

► Former Sen. Mark Udall will see work on one of his pet issues finally come to fruition this week. President Obama plans to designate Brown's Canyon as a National Monument.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

Mad Mike Coffman Still Mad That Someone Dare Challenge Him

Coffman Hillman Wedgie

This about sums up what Mike Coffman did to Mark Hillman in 2005-06.

Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) made national news last week after he picked a fight with Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald during testimony in front of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Mad Mike's antics were called out by the hometown Aurora Sentinel, saying "blasting the incoming secretary 6 months into his job and turning the argument into a petty political platform is bunk."

If the Sentinel thought Mad Mike's actions last week were "bunk," we can only imagine the response to Coffman's fundraising email yesterday. Coffman's campaign brazenly keeps the story alive and tries to make McDonald look like the bad guy while encouraging donors to give money to his campaign. Before we delve into that fundraising email, however, let's return to the scene of the crime to recap the order of events from last Thursday:

Rep. Coffman: This is a department mired in beaurocratic incompetence and corruption. And I've gotta tell you, I think the pubic relations is great today. But there's no substance. There is…no…substance…

Sec. McDonald: I'm highly offended by your comments, Mr. Coffman…

Rep. Coffman: [Holds up a hand and says, "Let me finish..."] I fundamentally believe, that as unfortunate as it is, that at the end of the day — at the end of this President's term — that you will not have made a difference in changing the culture of this organization [Pols emphasis]…by virtue of the fact that you continue to gloss over its problems.

Sec. McDonald: I am offended by your comment. Actually, I've been here 6 months. You've been here longer than I have. If there's a problem in Denver, I think you own it more than I do.

(Click here to see the video or read the rest of the transcript)

As you can plainly see above, Mad Mike picked this fight by telling the VA Secretary that he "will not have made a difference" in changing the culture at the VA. McDonald was a guest on "Meet the Press" over the weekend, where he declined to swipe at Coffman, while Mad Mike's campaign was busy trying to spin this spat into dollars. The message coming out of Coffman's campaign continues to be that Mad Mike is a military veteran and therefore you can't attack him for anything, ever.

This doesn't make sense for a lot of reasons, including the fact that McDonald himself is a former Army Ranger, but the message also illustrates Coffman's erratic nature and his willingness to step on anybody in order to get ahead politically. Ironically enough, Coffman's fundraising plea only exaggerates that point by playing off the McDonald line, "I've run a large company, sir. What have you done?" Take a look at this section from a fundraising email sent by Coffman's Congressional campaign and signed by "Mort Marks, WWII Veteran."

What has Mike Coffman done? 

Besides being the only Member of Congress to serve in both Iraq wars, Mike has been a national leader on veterans issues, fighting to fix the broken VA long before the national media woke up to the VA's troubles.

He has served our nation in uniform, even resigning the Treasurer's office to serve in Iraq in 2005 [Pols emphasis], and he has continued that fight back home for the men and women who have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedom.

To hear Secretary McDonald ask Mike Coffman "What have you done?" is enough to make my blood boil.

[INSERT SOUND OF BRAKES SQUEALING]

Hold on, there — are you sure that you want to bring up 2005? Do you really want to use this as an example of "What Mike Coffman Has Done"?

See, Mike Coffman did not exactly "resign the Treasurer's office" to serve in Iraq. Mad Mike took a leave of absence from his job as State Treasurer and continued that job when he returned to Colorado in March 2006 (Team Coffman called it "an unpaid military leave of absence" in Aug. 2005 while seeking to make it clear that Coffman would run for Secretary of State in 2006). Senate Minority Leader Mark Hillman was appointed "Acting State Treasurer," but he had to resign from the State Senate in order to accept the post. This sequence of events also moved Greg Brophy into Hillman's Senate seat and saw a GOP vacancy committee select Cory Gardner to replace Brophy in the State House.

When Coffman returned to Colorado in March 2006, Acting Treasurer Hillman was forced to resign (though Coffman hired Hillman for a part-time job in the Treasurer's office. Yay!). More importantly, Hillman could no longer campaign for his own term as State Treasurer with the benefit of being the current office holder. Many Republicans still believe that Coffman's re-appearing act probably cost Hillman the Treasurer's race in 2006 (Democrat Cary Kennedy was elected instead). For his part, Coffman went on to defeat Democrat Ken Gordon for Secretary of State; two years later, Coffman resigned as SOS after winning his current Congressional seat in CD-6.

Volunteering to serve in Iraq is certainly laudable, but as we said before, being a military veteran does not give Coffman carte blanche to be an asshole. There is no honor in Coffman's bullying treatment of VA Secretary McDonald, but Mad Mike just makes things worse by using his political stunt to raise money while also stretching the truth about "resigning" as State Treasurer in order to serve in Iraq. The only person who ever seems to benefit from Mad Mike's hot temper is the Congressman himself.

Browns Canyon: Colorado’s Newest National Monument

UPDATE: Warm if somewhat qualified words from Sen. Cory Gardner, recognizing the role of his predecessor in today's news:

Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) called Browns Canyon a "national treasure with a long history of bipartisan support in Colorado."

"Senator Udall in particular was a champion of this beautiful site, and his legacy of protecting Colorado's landscapes is to be commended," Gardner said. "This monument will stand in lasting tribute to his public service. My preference is always to work through the legislative process, and in the coming days I will be introducing legislation to ensure that Colorado's state and local interests have a seat at the table in discussions about Browns Canyon."

—–

Browns Canyon.

Browns Canyon.

As the Denver Post's Mark Matthews reports, President Barack Obama is set to make former Sen. Mark Udall a belatedly happy man:

President Barack Obama this week plans to name Browns Canyon, in central Colorado, a national monument, a designation that adds a new layer of federal protection to the popular spot for whitewater rafting…

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and then-U.S. Sen. Mark Udall tried to pass legislation that would have preserved a similar area near Salida, but the bill failed to advance through Congress.

It's President Obama's second national monument declaration for Colorado, the first being Chimney Rock in September of 2012. Preservation of Browns Canyon was a long-sought goal of former Sen. Udall, but staunchly opposed by local GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn and perennially stillborn as legislation in a Republican-controlled Congress. When Obama declared Chimney Rock a national monument in 2012, local Rep. Scott Tipton managed to at least offer lukewarm praise for the decision. But this time, Lamborn and fellow arch-conservative Rep. Ken Buck are more or less foaming at the mouth:

"My message to the president is cut it out. He is not king. No more acting like King Barack. That is not how we do things in the U.S.," Buck said in a statement.

Lamborn struck a similar tone.

"I am outraged," he said in a statement. "This is a top-down, big-government land grab by the president that disenfranchises the concerned citizens in the Browns Canyon region."

Got that? The Antiquities Act has been on the books for more than a century, but it's "not how we do things in the U.S." Glenn Beck bluster aside, tourism-focused businesses from Buena Vista to Salida are delighted by this move, which they've sought for years to protect this popular destination and raise its profile. And they had no delusions of getting this designation from Congress.

We encourage you to raft the new Browns Canyon National Monument! We've done it and it's a blast.

Columbia Journalism Review Slams Local Media For Ignoring SuperPAC Coordination Guilty Plea Story

UPDATE: Finally, some local coverage–The Durango Herald's Peter Marcus reports this evening:

Tyler Harber, 34, pled guilty on Feb. 12 to coordinated federal election contributions and to making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding the case. Sentencing is scheduled for June 5. He faces a maximum of sentence of five years in prison for each count.

Harber served as executive director of the Colorado Republican Party’s recently-formed Super PAC, or independent expenditure committee, until the party terminated its contract with Harber shortly after the November election.

“We all sometimes make mistakes and put our faith in folks who perhaps we shouldn’t,” said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, who appointed Harber.

Call described the decision to end the contract with Harber as a desire by the party to simply head in another direction….

And to think, last August this thing was Ryan Call's "brain child." 

—–

Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call.

Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call.

We wrote last week about a guilty plea in a Virginia federal court by one Tyler Harber, a Republican campaign consultant, to charges of illegal coordination between a congressional campaign he worked for and a "SuperPAC" he helped create that received hundreds of thousands of dollars to attack his campaign's opponent. Harber's SuperPAC coordination guilty plea is of particular interest to Colorado political observers, as Harber is a friend of Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call–and a key consultant for the Colorado Republican Party's own "uncoordinated" SuperPAC.

But as Corey Hutchins of the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review reports, local media didn't think any of this merited news coverage. From his story, titled "Colorado journalists miss local angle in super PAC case":

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]

Last year, the Colorado Republican Party was forced to defend the creation of the Colorado CORE independent expenditure committee from a lawsuit by Colorado Ethics Watch, who argued sensibly that "a political committee cannot be ‘independent’ and controlled by a political party at the same time." A judge later ruled that the party could set up an "independent" expenditure committee, since the Colorado Republican Party's internal rules appeared to safeguard against such coordination. From that decision:

CEW…argues that the IEC coordinates with CRP because Chairman Call and other agents and representatives of CRP will be soliciting contributions to the IEC, but offers no evidence in support of this allegation. CEW admits that the IEC’s Standing Rules require that, beyond the initial appointment of the Executive director and management committee members, the management and development of any plans, projects, expenditures, or activities of the IEC will be conducted independent of any CRP official or staff member, including the State Chairman. CEW believes, but has offered no evidence that the IEC will, in the future, not abide by its own rules. [Pols emphasis]

Well, folks? Would you say a guilty plea to the charge of coordination by the executive director of the Colorado independent expenditure committee might have given this judge pause?

Naturally, Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call, locked in a tight battle for re-election, sees no problem:

In a phone call, Call said Harber is no longer involved with the state party or its independent expenditure committee—and that anything the consultant did in another state is no more relevant here than if Call was given a traffic ticket while driving through Washington, DC.

A…traffic ticket? Seriously? Illegal coordination of donations between the "hard" and "soft" sides of political spending is at the heart of Harber's guilty plea. It's exactly what Ethics Watch sued the Colorado Republican Party over in response to their formation of this "independent" expenditure committee. Call's dismissal is laughable with these facts in view–and yet we have to assume that it was enough to deter local reporters. After all, there's no story.

Hutchins reports that most local reporters didn't even respond to the CJR's queries. One who did answer, AP's Nicholas Riccardi, actually claimed that "people here in general don’t seem very interested in the ins and outs of political maneuvering and machinery as they are in other states." Well hey, what the hell do we have political reporters for at all then? Isn't it great how he's made this decision for all of his readers? Has it occurred to Mr. Riccardi that as a journalist, his own self-fulfilling presumption helps make that true?

Sorry to be so blunt, but it's ridiculous. And illustrative of a much larger problem.

Kudos to CJR for following up–and for the well-deserved shaming of local reporters who apparently couldn't be bothered to do their jobs. There is a story here that the public deserves to know, to include Republicans getting ready to choose their next party chairman.

“Condo Construction Crisis?” Don’t Believe The Hype

Construction defect.

Historic construction defect.

Quite a bit of coverage last week of the introduction of legislation restricting the rights of homeowners to sue over faulty construction. As the Denver Business Journal's Ed Sealover reported:

A bipartisan pair of senators introduced a long-awaited construction-defects reform bill in the Colorado Legislature Tuesday, starting the clock on an 85-day effort to try to win over opponents who have killed similar efforts in each of the past two sessions.

Supporters of Senate Bill 177, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel, R-Parker, and Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Commerce City, unveiled a wide-ranging coalition of backers that includes municipal leaders, builders, economic developers and affordable-housing advocates…

But that coalition did not include any of the groups that opposed Ulibarri's 2014 bill, supporters acknowledged, leaving legislative sponsors needing to find a way to convince homeowners and trial lawyers that they should accept having a tougher path to file a lawsuit in exchange for a solution that many say will do little to spur the building of new condos. [Pols emphasis]

The push to "reform" Colorado's multifamily residential construction defects law has been widely forecast to become one of the most contentious issues the General Assembly will debate this year. Proponents argue that the current state of Colorado law creates a legal disincentive for developers to undertake these kinds of construction projects. The Denver Post's John Aguilar:

Reform advocates contend that the condo market has dried up in Colorado because construction-defects law has increased the liability — along with insurance premiums — for builders to the point where owner-occupied multifamily projects are not viable.

According to the market research firm Metrostudy, condos accounted for more than 20 percent of all housing starts (more than 4,000 units) in late 2005 but only 3 percent through most of 2014.

Beauvallon, a Denver construction defect horror story.

Beauvallon, a Denver construction defect horror story.

In short, lobbyists for developers say that Colorado law exposes builders to unacceptable liability for construction defects, and that's why there aren't enough condos available in Denver's red-hot housing market.

But is that really what's going on? A group representing homeowners in Colorado says the situation is much more complicated than risk of lawsuits over defects–and has data to back it up. The DBJ reported in January:

Economic conditions following the recession have contributed to a market in which buying a home is more difficult and expensive than it used to be, the study says.

Higher fees, required credit scores and home prices, as well as wage stagnation, unemployment and lower marriage rates have all kept potential buyers out of the market, said Pat Pacey, principal at Pacey Economics, during a conference call Tuesday.

Higher student-debt loads have also contributed to the younger generation holding off on buying a home, she said…

The findings are in direct opposition to the narrative put forward by developers, brokers and politicians in recent months, who say that the state's construction defects law is to blame for the lack of condo development, which many say has put a chokehold on the lower end of the home buying market across the metro area. [Pols emphasis]

But perhaps the best argument against weakening the rights of homeowners to "spur" condo construction is this: Colorado's slump in multifamily construction is not unique to Colorado.

The Colorado builders complain that “condos accounted for more than 20 percent of all housing starts (more than 4,000 units) in late 2005 but only 3 percent through most of 2014.” And, “in 2014, 5 percent of all new housing stock in Colorado was condominiums.”  Yeah, well, take a number.  Nationally, in November 2014, multi-family starts were down 11% from the same time last year. Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census, its August 2014 report showed a “steep 31.7 percent decline in multifamily production.” 

Bottom line: the hurdles faced by the next generation of Colorado homebuyers are more complicated than proponents of this legislation suggest. To buy their argument is to ignore the crushing burden of student debt faced by young people today, stagnation and even decline of real incomes for today's workers, and the tighter lending requirements buyers face today as opposed to before the recession of 2008. Not to mention that this is just the latest attempt by developers to shield themselves from liability, part of a years-long strategy–and at this point, the possibility that political objectives are factoring into business decisions should be considered.

Once you understand that the roots of the problem are much more complex than liability of builders for construction defects, the whole campaign to weaken homeowner's rights to sue over those defects falls apart. The fact is, buying a home is one of the biggest, if not the biggest investment most working families will ever make. To force homeowners into arbitration and hobble HOAs trying to get justice for their members deprives Coloradans of basic and entirely reasonable protections for their most valuable asset.

Honestly, it's hard to imagine a greater disincentive to buying a condo than this bill.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (Feb. 17)

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Still hung over from celebrating the birthdays of Lincoln and Washington? 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…

► Consumer groups are worried that Colorado's Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) may not be reauthorized for the first time since its founding in 1984. The OCC was created to represent consumers in front of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) whenever rate hikes are sought by energy and telecommunications companies.

► Following on the heels of one of the least effective sessions of Congress in history, Republicans continue to struggle to get anything done on Capitol Hill. As the Los Angeles Times explains:

After six weeks in session and 139 roll call votes in a House and Senate that feature some of the largest Republican majorities in generations, one of the most telling statistics from the new Congress is this: President Obama's veto threats outnumber the bills Congress has been able to send him.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Tuesday Open Thread

"The wise are instructed by reason, average minds by experience, the stupid by necessity and the brute by instinct."

–Marcus Tullius Cicero

DeGette Skipping Bibi Netanyahu’s Speech

Benjamin Netanyahu.

Benjamin Netanyahu.

Controversy is building in Washington over an address to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled for March 3rd–just weeks before Israeli elections, and not invited by President Barack Obama as a breach of diplomatic protocol. Netanyahu's address, pertaining to negotiations with Iran over that country's nuclear program, is controversial in Israel for the same reason, with a majority of Israeli voters saying the speech should be cancelled. Reuters:

The speech has caused controversy in Israel and the United States, where the Democrats and the White House are angry that the Republican speaker, John Boehner, invited Netanyahu to speak at a sensitive time in the nuclear negotiations between Iran and six big powers including Washington, and only two weeks before Israel's closely fought March 17 election.

Following complaints from opposition parties, election chief Salim Joubran decided that Netanyahu's address should be broadcast with a five-minute delay in Israel, giving news editors time to cut any statements deemed partisan…

President Barack Obama, at odds with Netanyahu over the Israeli prime minister's criticism of the nuclear talks, will not meet him during his visit, saying it is a breach of protocol to receive a foreign leader before an election.

As of now, most members of Colorado's delegation reportedly plan to attend Netanyahu's speech, including all the Republicans, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Jared Polis. Rep. Ed Perlmutter hasn't made a public announcement yet. The one Colorado representative who has said she will not attend Netanyahu's speech is…well, we just gave it away, it's Rep. Diana DeGette. Rep. DeGette has a scheduling conflict on March 3rd:

Congresswoman DeGette will not be able to attend Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech. She has had a long-standing scheduling commitment that morning to address a clinical research group about her 21st Century Cures initiative, and we just learned this morning that the Prime Minister’s speech is scheduled for 11:00, which creates a conflict for her.

Other than a highly one-sided report in the Boulder Jewish News, DeGette's decision to not attend Netanyahu's address hasn't received much press. We expect that will change as long as the speech isn't cancelled, that others will be given many chances to comment, and that Rep. Perlmutter's decision whether or not to attend will be closely watched. It's a longstanding presumption in American politics that categorical public support for Israel is mandatory for any real political viability. The problem with this address to a Republican-dominated Congress is that Netanyahu is making a partisan issue out of something that historically hasn't been. And it's forcing a conflict of loyalties that American supporters of Israel haven't been made to reckon with.

In Israel, Netanyahu has been roundly criticized even by some of his right-wing allies, mostly for appearing to put his ties to the Republican Party ahead of the close relationship Israel has always had with the United States. [Pols emphasis]

It should be noted that attending a speech is not the same thing as agreeing with it. But insofar as Netanyahu is involving Colorado politicians in Israeli domestic politics without their consent, we're obliged to point out that not every friend of Israel is a Likudnik.

Or, for that matter, a Republican.

Denver Police Union Calls For Chief White’s Resignation

Defaced Denver Police memorial.

Defaced Denver Police memorial.

In a development sure to have political ramifications, 9NEWS reports on a fresh war of words between the Denver Police Protective Association and DPD chief Robert White after a vandalism incident during a large anti-police brutality protest march Saturday:

The head of Denver's police union wants Chief Robert White gone.

He says officers were told not to take immediate action when protesters defaced a memorial for fallen officers.

"We will no longer follow him as we move forward," said Nick Rogers, president of the Denver Police Protective Association. "He is not our chief."

Saturday, demonstrators aiming to protest what they perceive as police brutality threw red paint on the memorial, which sits outside of Denver Police headquarters. Rogers says DPD brass told officers not to take immediate action.

As 9NEWS reports, Denver Police under Chief White have followed a less-confrontational policy when dealing with protest marches, identifying individual lawbreakers for later arrest as opposed to charging into crowds to break up illegal activities on sight. Our understanding is that in a life-threatening situation, police would still wade into a protest to restore order, but not for (as in this case) preventing petty vandalism committed by a small number of protesters. Two suspects have already been arrested over Saturday's incident.

We get up early to beat the crowds.

“We get up early to beat the crowds.”

Such a policy becomes more important to strictly adhere to, though we'd say it always should be important, when police respond to a protest against police brutality. In addition to the nationwide headlines in recent months over the issue of police killings and beatings of unarmed citizens, DPD itself has a long and unsettling record of police brutality–and a culture of mutual silence and protection among police officers accused of misconduct that has made cracking down on the problem very difficult. Repeated, well-publicized instances of obvious misconduct by Denver police, both in the commission and concealment of violence against undeserving citizens, have severely eroded the trust of the community they serve. Accountability for Denver police accused of misconduct remains slow, uneven, and too often dependent on the media forcing the hand of officials.

Bottom line: everything we have heard about Chief White suggests that he is genuinely committed to reforming both the public image and internal culture of the DPD, and this reflects creditably on Mayor Michael Hancock for appointing him. However emotional police officers may be about this memorial to fallen officers–and we don't want to disparage that legtimate sentiment–it would absolutely have been the wrong decision to break from established policy and violently charge into this crowd over what amounts to petty vandalism.

Chief White told rank and file that he found the vandalism "abhorrent" but said "I believe the decision we made was appropriate."

Rogers says the actions send a different message.

"The message I got was you, as a police officer, are not as important as our image," Rogers says.

In early December, several Denver Police officers were injured, one critically, in an unrelated car accident that followed a large walk-out of students from East High School protesting against police brutality. The same Denver police union at that time circulated rumors that students had jeered the injured officers, which was not corroborated by any of the numerous media outlets on scene or witnesses other than Denver police. The story made for good mythmaking on FOX News, but locally, it wasn't good for the police union's credibility. In this case, calling for the chief of police to resign for following his established policy, and not giving in to emotion where it could make his job harder in the long run, makes Chief White look like a hero.

As for the Denver Police Protective Association? Maybe it's time they reflect on who they're really supposed to be protecting. Because whether they realize it or not, this is not the "image" they want.