Get More Smarter on Monday (May 11)

We can see clearly now. 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…

Joe Neguse, the Democratic nominee for Colorado Secretary of State in 2014, has been appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper as the new head of the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). From a press release:

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced today Joe Neguse will be the executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) effective June 1, 2015. He will replace Barbara Kelley who has served in the role since 2009.

“Joe’s experience as an attorney, civic leader, and public servant will be an invaluable asset to DORA,” said Hickenlooper. “Our business friendly environment is an essential part of Colorado’s economic success, and Joe will champion that effort to further grow our vibrant business community and protect consumers.”

Tell us we’re not alone here: We can’t see or hear “DORA” and not immediately think of “The Explorer.”

► Congressional Republicans are preparing to introduce legislation outlining a late-term abortion ban as soon as this week. You know, because Congress has nothing else to do.

► With the 2015 Colorado Legislative Session in the rear-view mirror, media outlets around the state are rolling out their “Winners & Losers” and assorted summaries of the session. Joey Bunch of the Denver Post writes that the middle class was ignored by both Republicans and Democrats; Bunch, Lynn Bartels and John Frank of the Post combine to play Win, Lose, and Draw.


Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Ken Witt: Not Very Nice (or Smart)

A new story out of the scandal-plagued Jefferson County school board late last night, following an ugly exchange between the chairman of the new conservative majority Ken Witt and a Jeffco student representing the group Jefferson County Students for Change. A complaint filed by Jeffco parent Wendy McCord today recounts what happened:

Bullying is defined as “any written or verbal expression, or physical or electronic act or gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental or emotional harm to any student.”

Witt made a defamatory statement regarding a District student, who is a minor, at the Meeting. He not only accused her of using racial epithets, he also directed district staff to post social media screenshots that identified the student by name. In addition, Witt said he refused to have anything to do with the organization that this student represents.

Aside from the obvious hypocrisy that Witt won’t associate with students who essentially “liked” a Tweet but continues to sit next to (and serve on the Board with) a woman who posted material from an identified hate group encouraging parents to keep their children out of schools to protest a day designed to prevent bullying of LGBT students and staff, Witt’s statements were completely unacceptable.

Since the moment Witt, Newkirk and Williams took office, they have repeatedly embarrassed this District. They continue to degrade and demean not only our staff but, as evidenced in this circumstance, our students. These are the very stakeholders the Board and all district staff are supposed to protect.

In the video above, you can see minority board member Jill Fellman responding to the student, suggesting that the board use available time in a future meeting to have a conversation with the student group Jeffco Students for Change. Witt interrupts Fellman to accuse the leader of this group, who was one of the handful of people still in attendance at this meeting after midnight, of “favoriting…on Facebook er social media” (Witt is a little unclear about what kind of social media he is referring to) “racial epithets about district staff.” On the basis of this, Witt announces that he “will not have any association with this group.” It’s not seen in the video, but Witt directed to have a Tweet identifying the student in question projected on the large screen at the front of the room.

Readers will recall that the communications director for Jeffco schools, Lisa Pinto, has claimed she was racially insulted via Twitter over a post from an anonymous spoof account about “burritos” being served–in fact a reference to the meeting we helped publicize earlier this year between Witt and the conservative board chairs of several other Colorado school districts at Lakewood’s Jose O’Shea’s Mexican restaurant. This case of silly misplaced outrage formed the basis of a notably unsuccessful countermessage campaign from the Independence Institute, hoping to garner sympathy for Pinto–and shift attention away the ongoing PR disaster that is board member Julie Williams, or the district’s increasingly bad-faith contract negotiations.

It’s necessary to explain all of that in order to understand just how off-base Witt was in attacking this student and the student group represented. Once you understand this, Witt’s ridiculous bullying of a student he is charged with representing over merely “starring” something entirely inoffensive, projecting the student’s name for all to see in the board room and disparaging an entire group of Jeffco students over it…well folks, it’s pretty outrageous conduct. Not to mention, given the recent controversy over Williams’ sharing of a hate group’s call to defend discrimination, hypocritical in the extreme.

Which seems to be the rule these days on the Jeffco school board.

Get More Smarter on Friday (May 8)

MoreSmarter-RainWe’ll be happy to break down the ramifications of elections in the United Kingdom as soon as we figure out how the whole thing works. 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…

► With the 2015 Colorado legislative session now officially in the books, all eyes turn to Gov. John Hickenlooper and, more specifically, his writing instrument of choice. As John Frank reports for the Denver Post, Hickenlooper may veto two red-light camera bills and is taking a close look at a few more pieces of legislation. The House Speaker, meanwhile, joined Hickenlooper in voicing displeasure over the demise of TABOR reform efforts:

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst of Boulder said she will keep alive a Hickenlooper-endorsed plan to remove the fees paid by hospitals from state revenue collections to make room for more transportation and education funding within the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights spending limits.

“That’s one of the things I’m the most sorry about that did not pass out of the Senate,” the Boulder Democrat said. “We are facing a budget crisis without finding a way to address our revenues coming up against the TABOR cap.”

► The Associated Press has its own take on the 2015 legislative session, calling it “among the most sharply partisan in recent memory.”

 ►Colorado Senators Michael Bennet (D-Denver) and Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) are calling for more congressional oversight in the Aurora VA Hospital project. Once again, we remind you, that Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) is the CHAIRMAN OF THE NONOVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE under the House Veterans’ Affairs committee.


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Republicans In a Panic Over Morgan Carroll

Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll.

News yesterday, first reported by the Denver Post, that Colorado Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll is considering a run for the congressional seat currently held by Republican Rep. Mike Coffman is spreading quickly–and judging by the reaction today from the National Republican Congressional Committee and its surrogates, she’s got their undivided attention. The mere prospect of a Carroll run in CD-6 elicited this shrill statement in response:

It’s clear that Morgan Carroll’s ultra-liberal reputation precedes her, and no amount of spin will convince 6th District voters otherwise.

NRCC Comment: “After years of championing far-left policies in the Colorado State Senate, it is clear Morgan Carroll’s ultra-liberal positions are out of step with the priorities of everyday Coloradans. From raising taxes on Colorado families to cheerleading Hickenlooper’s disastrous gun grab, Carroll has shown she is more interested in pushing her far-left ideology than helping Colorado families.” – NRCC Spokesman Zach Hunter

The great irony here–one of them, anyway–is how Mike Coffman was forced to dramatically reinvent his own political image following redistricting in 2011. Long a hard-right conservative in the mold of his immediate predecessor in CD-6 Tom Tancredo, Coffman’s continued survival in his highly competitive new district is largely attributable to his willingness to flip-flop on prior stands in order to present himself as a “moderate,” if not a full-on liberal Republican. Coffman’s 2014 opponent Andrew Romanoff foolishly positioned himself as a budget-balancing, quasi-conservative candidate instead of a principled Democrat–which allowed Coffman to run to Romanoff’s left on a variety of issues like immigration reform. Had it not been for Coffman’s audacious reinvention and Romanoff’s helpfully awful message, at the very least Coffman would not have trounced Romanoff by such a large margin last year.

And folks, that’s not going to work on Morgan Carroll. Coffman won’t be able to outflank Carroll on progressive issues, because Carroll won’t be afraid to run on those issues like Romanoff was. You can see the difference in the NRCC’s statement above, in which Carroll is portrayed as a–gasp–liberal! Thus ceding right from the start the ground Coffman exploited so well in 2014 against Romanoff.

It remains an open question whether a Carroll run in CD-6–which is not official yet of course–would induce Coffman to jump to the U.S. Senate race right away, or whether GOP strategists might conclude defending CD-6 is more important. Either way, the NRCC’s deep concern is evident in their bellicose response to just the notion of Carroll getting into this race.

Bottom line: they should be concerned.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 7)

MoreSmarter-RainAt this point, just let us know if it’s not going to rain. 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…

► It’s over — it’s really over. The 2015 Colorado legislative session is in the books, and the Associated Press takes a look at what went down on the final day under the Gold Dome. For more on the last day’s events, everybody who is still at the Denver Post combined for a story.

 ► State Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll is taking a look at running for Congress in CD-6. 

 ► Problems with construction at the VA Hospital in Aurora were obvious well before construction even began, according to the Denver Post (originally noted by ProgressNow). May we remind you, dear readers, that Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) is the CHAIRMAN OF THE NONOVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE under the House Veterans’ Affairs committee.


Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

So Much For Keeping That Interest Rate Hike Bill Under Wraps

FOX 31’s Tammy Vigil reports on the last-minute giveaway to subprime personal lenders that passed the General Assembly with distressing bipartisan support–at least in the Democratic-controlled House–and is now headed to the Governor’s desk, where consumer advocates hope it will be vetoed:

Only the Governor can save consumers now.

House Bill 1390 raises interest rates on personal consumer loans by up to 71 percent. It would allow lenders to raise finance rates from 21 percent to 36 percent on loans up to $3,000.

It also increases rates from 15 to 21 percent on loans more than $3,000 to $5,000.

These loans target people with some credit problems who can’t get loans from traditional banks and credit unions to buy consumer products like cars, boats and to consolidate debt…

As we discussed yesterday, House Bill 15-1390 would dramatically increase the maximum allowable interest rate on the specific types of personal loans offered by subprime lenders like Citigroup’s OneMain Financial and Springleaf Financial. Not surprisingly, lobbyists for these corporations were the driving force behind this legislation, and successfully prevailed on Democratic leadership in the House to allow the bill to be introduced late last week. Asked to defend the legislation yesterday by FOX 31, House sponsor Rep. Jovan Melton (D) made a disappointingly unconvincing argument:

“It is high risk. It has a higher interest rate of 36 percent, but it’s much better than 125 percent we see with pay day lending facilities,” said State Rep. Jovan Melton, a Democrat from Aurora.

He also said these lenders need a hand to stay in business in our state… [Pols emphasis]

The claim that these lenders need to be able to hike interest rates in order to “stay in business” is plainly contradicted by the huge success they are enjoying in Colorado today–in 2013 alone, millions of dollars in profits on over 31,000 loans of the type that would be affected by the legislation. Sure, 36% is a lower interest rate than payday loans, but the current rate caps are not hurting these lenders’ business. It is therefore completely disingenuous to claim that we must let them inflate the cost of loans they issue to consumers by almost 40% in order to “keep them in business.”

In fact, that’s the same nonsense we heard from the payday lending lobbyists and their political surrogates back in 2010, when legislation reforming that industry’s over-the-top usurious practices was signed into law. Five years later, surprise! You can still get a payday loan in Colorado with ease.

Bottom line: this was a major political mistake for Democrats who backed indefensible anti-consumer legislation, and another lesson about the constant vigilance needed at the Capitol to protect citizens from predatory corporate lobbyists. The last-minute rush to pass this bill was obviously meant to limit debate and public knowledge of what was happening, and that was a terrible decision by Democrats who should know better.

And now that the media is cluing in to what happened, it’s time for some mea culpas–and a swift veto by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (May 6)

Get More SmarterToday is the last day of the 2015 session of the Colorado General Assembly, which means your favorite lawmakers are about to catch up on some sleep. 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…

► The Colorado legislative session ends today, but we’re no closer to a solution to the “Gordian knot” that is the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). As the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Megan Schrader reports:

Senate President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, introduced Senate Bill 1 on the first day of session to address how TABOR refunds are given. It died Tuesday in the House.

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, introduced House Bill 1389 last week to avoid giving TABOR refunds by moving state revenue out of the general fund. It too died Tuesday in the Senate…

The issue will likely be taken up next session with greater urgency.

In other words, the status quo prevails–and the state’s looming future needs are left unmet.

► Rep. Patrick Neville, one half of the father-son legislative duo we’ve affectionately branded the “Neville Nutters,” at least has a sense of humor. He sent us this photo today to prove it!

nevillenutter

Well played, young Rep. Neville. Well played.

Elizabeth Warren is still not running for President.

► But Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina are, at least for vanity purposes.

► Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is still answering questions about emails, even though the polls say voters don’t really care.

Get even more smarter after the jump… (more…)

Sen. Morgan Carroll Ponders CD-6 Run

Sen. Morgan Carroll (D).

Sen. Morgan Carroll (D).

Potentially game-changing news in the 2016 race to defend/pick up Rep. Mike Coffman’s swing CD-6 seat, as the Denver Post’s Mark Matthews reports this afternoon:

State Sen. Morgan Carroll is meeting next week with national Democrats to talk about the possibility of her running for Congress in the U.S. House seat now held by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, said two fellow party members.

On the agenda for her Washington visit is a powwow with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which acts the hub of the party’s House fundraising and strategy. A DCCC aide confirmed the meeting.

Carroll also is expected to spend time with officials from Emily’s List, a campaign group that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights…

A run by term-limited and popular Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll could be a major boost for Democrats, seeking the winning combination to pick up what remains on paper one of the nation’s most competitive congressional seats. The 2011 redistricting process refashioned Coffman’s district from Tom Tancredo’s old conservative stronghold into a winnable prospect for Democrats, but Coffman’s shameless reinvention resilience in two subsequent election cycles has proven a major frustration.

As a presidential year, 2016 could prove a much a more opportune election cycle for Democrats to pick up this seat. Unknown and underfunded Democratic candidate Joe Miklosi came unexpectedly close to taking out Coffman in 2012, a showing that may better predict how Carroll would fare in 2016 than Andrew Romanoff’s drubbing last year in an election that was highly favorable to the GOP. Carroll’s deep ties to the district as a longtime representative of Aurora in the state legislature gives her an advantage that the two previous Democratic candidates lacked.

Perhaps the biggest question if Carroll does get in this race is how it might affect Coffman’s plans for 2016–increasingly viewed as a likely candidate to challenge Sen. Michael Bennet, we’re not completely sure whether Carroll’s entry into the CD-6 race would push Coffman to run for Senate…or motivate fellow Republicans to keep him in CD-6 to defend the seat. If she does get in this race, we’re pretty confident that Morgan Carroll will be the greatest challenge Coffman has ever faced. And without Coffman to defend CD-6, she is quite likely to take this seat away from the GOP for as long as she wants it.

Stay tuned, a lot is riding on this decision–for both parties.

Last-Minute Swindle: Personal Loan Interest Rate Hike Races Through General Assembly Ahead of Sine Die

Sen. Cheri Jahn (D).

Sen. Cheri Jahn (D).

Just when you thought it was safe to exhale as the end of the 2015 session of the Colorado legislature approaches today, fresh controversy is brewing at the Capitol over House Bill 15-1390: a bill that sped through the House yesterday before passing the Senate today to allow lenders to dramatically increase interest rates charged for specific types of personal loans. Passed with almost no notice or debate, the Bell Policy Center is urgently sounding the alarm–from their release yesterday before the bill passed the Senate this morning:

A late bill that is clearly bad for consumers easily passed the House and is on the Senate floor. This bill, Allowable Finance Charge for Certain Consumer Credit Transactions (HB15-1390), would raise the cost of credit for moderate- and low-income Coloradans on certain consumer credit transactions. The frenzied pace of the final days of the legislative session paved the way for this bill to sail through, and consumers stand to lose. [Pols emphasis]

The bill passed the House (62-2) last week and the Senate Finance Committee (4-1) this morning, despite strong testimony in both chambers from our Rich Jones. Jones said that raising the caps on certain supervised loans and consumer credit sales would lead to more high-cost and unaffordable credit products. We are not opposed to the loans, just to increasing the current rates.

The Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which regulates these loans, testified in the House about how HB15-1390 would affect these loans. While neutral on the bill, the office said that it would increase the costs of an average $6,000 loan by 38.1 percent. In response to a question, the Attorney General’s Office also said there is nothing to indicate that this credit product is not available to consumers or that consumers are having a hard time accessing this product. [Pols emphasis]

In a legislative session that was supposed to be about the middle class, this bill moves Colorado in the wrong direction. We wish this bill had come up earlier in the session to allow more time for conversations with legislators…

But the extremely limited debate this bill received appears to have been a feature, not a bug. The legislation has its origin with lobbyists for OneMain Financial, a branch of Citigroup that specializes in the kinds of personal loans that would be affected. The bill was rushed through the House with almost no opposition, but the vote today in the Senate was not unanimous after Democratic Senators realized there was a problem. There seems to be an effort now that the bill is causing controversy to make excuses for its plain effect–allowing lenders to hike interest rates on personal loans. Unfortunately, it’s a one-page bill, and there’s no sugar-coating what it does.

Much like the shenanigans we’ve seen in previous years to undo hard-won reforms of the payday lending industry, what we’re seeing here is another ugly brute-force attempt by lobbyists and allied politicians to ram through an undesirable piece of legislation during the final crush. Longtime readers will recall that the payday loan reform battle was fraught with lobbyist-engineered treachery, with several attempts before success in 2010 scuttled by Democrats making “surprise” votes to kill the bills. Sen. Cheri Jahn, the Senate sponsor of House Bill 15-1390, has a long history of this kind of thing, and has little trust among consumer advocates as a result.

Bottom line: lender lobbyists are some of the most audacious under the Dome, but this bill could well be a step too far–for them, and for legislators in both parties who signed on to this ill-advised ploy. There is simply no reason to ram through legislation like this except to gouge consumers and enrich lenders. And the only reason to ram it through at the last minute is to keep it quiet.

In short, it’s one of those situations that makes voters, you know, cynical. Hopefully, Gov. John Hickenlooper will correct what appears to be a major bipartisan mistake.