The Dropout Clock: How and When the GOP Presidential Field Thins Out

clown-carThere’s an interesting story today in The Hill attempting to predict which of the 17 Republican candidates for President will still have active campaigns by the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus on Feb. 1, 2016.

From The Hill’s perspective, there are 7 Republican Presidential candidates who might not make it to the Iowa caucus: Rick Perry, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore, and George Pataki. The Hill is making the prediction here that Carly Fiorina could have some staying power after only making the Junior Varsity team for the first GOP Presidential debate, in effect replacing Rand Paul in the top tier of contenders.

With The Hill story as inspiration, we decided to start our own feature here on Colorado Pols. We’ll call it (for now) “The Dropout Clock” as we attempt to forecast the end of the line for the bottom tier of contenders.*

*Yes, we know it’s early. Yes, we remember how John McCain nearly bankrupted his 2008 Presidential campaign before recovering to win the GOP nomination. Yes, we understand that the rise of “Super PACs” has changed the way the game is played.  This is just our best guess, with the current information at-hand, of how the 2016 field will begin to thin on the Republican side.

We’ll break this up into a couple of categories, with numbers assigned to individual candidates representing when we think they’ll bow out of the race. This is one list where being #1 is not good news. Click after the jump to get started.


It Wouldn’t Be a Secret Society if you Talked About it, Kent Lambert


Who controls the British crown? Who keeps the metric system down? We do, we do!
Who keeps Atlantis off the maps? Who keeps the Martians under wraps? We do, we do!
Who holds back the electric car? Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star? We do, we do!
Who robs cavefish of their sight? Who rigs every Oscar night? We do, we do!

        – “Stonecutter” theme song, via The Simpsons.

On Tuesday the environmental group Center for Western Priorities released a new report underlining the “anti-government extremism” behind renewed efforts to move federal public lands under state control. According to a summary of the report:

Last week, armed members of the Oath Keepers and other militias arrived at a mine in Montana, posting “no trespassing” signs on public land. The operation is the latest in a string of standoffs involving extremist groups that refuse to recognize the authority of the U.S. government, including incidents at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon and Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada.

A new investigation by the non-partisan watchdog Center for Western Priorities has uncovered wide-ranging ties between those extremist groups and Western legislators involved in a coordinated effort to take our national lands from the American people. 

Sen. Kent Lambert using night vision scope on the Mexican border.

Sen. Kent Lambert using night vision scope on the Mexican border.

Reporter Joey Bunch picked up on the report for the Denver Post, and he caught up with Colorado Springs state Sen. Kent Lambert for his response:

“They aren’t just supporting similar goals — they’re trying to pass legislation that goes directly to the demands and ideology of the Oath Keepers and Bundy Ranch supporters,” Aaron Weiss, a spokesman for the Center for Western Priorities, responded in an e-mail about the state-control advocates.

“When Kent Lambert mentions ‘posse comitatus’ during a floor debate, that’s a dog whistle to the Oath Keepers — there’s a tiny group of people who even know what the term means, much less cite it during the legislative session.” [Pols emphasis]

Lambert said he hadn’t heard of the Oath Keepers before Tuesday [Pols emphasis], so it wasn’t a dog whistle but a reference to the “Federalist Papers, No. 29,” a letter from Alexander Hamilton to the people of New York in 1788 to the clarify the role of state militia in enforcing provisions of the Constitution. Further, the often-cited 1878 Posse Comitatus Act limits the federal government’s role in domestic police matters. Lambert’s unsuccessful Senate Bill 39 would have recognized that state and local governments already has jurisdiction over U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Sen. Kent Lambert (R), and militia leader Chris Simcox.

Sen. Kent Lambert (R), and militia leader Chris Simcox.

We don’t know if Lambert is a card-carrying member of the Oath Keepers, but we have trouble believing he’s never even heard of this group before. Lambert is a well-documented supporter of usurping federal control over lands (and borders), and has openly consorted with militia leaders like accused child molester Chris Simcox in Arizona (photo right). The Oath Keepers have been in the news quite a bit lately for their bizarre attempt to “defend” Ferguson, Missouri from…black people, or something. Here’s what Mother Jones magazine says about the group:

Oath Keepers is one of the fastest-growing “patriot” organizations on the right. Founded last April by Yale-educated lawyer and ex-Ron Paul aide Stewart Rhodes, the group has established itself as a hub in the sprawling anti-Obama movement that includes Tea Partiers, Birthers, and 912ers. Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Pat Buchanan have all sung its praises, and in December, a grassroots summit it helped organize drew such prominent guests as representatives Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, both Georgia Republicans.

Hard to imagine these guys not being right up Lambert’s alley–Lambert or any number of other GOP Colorado legislators in both chambers. You might start with legislators who tag along for the Republican Study Committee of Colorado’s annual border “fact finding” junkets. But there’s at least a possibility that without the right secret handshake, you’ll never know for sure!

Might be worth keeping this angle in mind next session just the same.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (Aug. 13)

Get More SmarterYou’re not the only one who fell asleep before the meteor shower last night. 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).



Gina McCarthy, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), visited Durango on Wednesday to take arrows over a massive minewater spill in the Animas River. Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, joined by her counterparts from New Mexico and Utah, is making not-so-subtle threats to sue the EPA over the the spill.

The river seems to be returning to pre-contamination levels, however. Colorado’s top gross-water tester, Gov. John Hickenlooper, drank directly from the Animas River on Wednesday to prove that the water is safe, contacting the Durango Herald 24 hours later to prove that he wasn’t dead.

► The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled — unanimously — that business owners do not have the right to discriminate at will. The court says that a Lakewood bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple violated state anti-discrimination laws. We still need a court to make it illegal to put disgusting fruit filling between cake layers.


Get even more smarter after the jump…


Sorry, Ted Cruz, But This Canadian Would be a Better Candidate

Wyatt Scott is a candidate for Parliament in Canada. Sadly, he cannot run for President in the United States, so we’re stuck with Canadian-American Ted Cruz instead.

Scott may not be the Presidential candidate America needs. Heck, he may not even be the candidate America would want. But we definitely deserve more political ads like this one:


The Nuge Joins Forces With Ken Buck

Ted Nugent.

Ted Nugent.

Back in April, we took note of a photo Tweeted by Rep. Ken Buck from his Washington, D.C. office, proudly holding an AR-15 assault rifle with Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. This photo struck us as a bit curious, since Washington, D.C. has very strict gun laws that outlaw Buck’s AR-15 rifle and the 30-round magazine attached to it.

After a morning of interesting back and forth between inquiring reporters and the D.C. Attorney General’s office, who at first insisted the weapon was illegal and that they were “looking into” the matter, the U.S. Capitol Police stated they had allowed Buck to display the weapon in his office under “regulations” that permit members of Congress and their staff to possess unloaded guns on Capitol grounds. The manner of how that regulation comports with local D.C. law was left unresolved, but Rep. Buck still has his AR-15 on display in the Cannon Office Building by all accounts.

Curiously, though, today we received this fundraising email blast on Rep. Buck’s behalf from aging rock star and famous “gun guy” Ted Nugent, which seems to imply a very different outcome to last April’s little brouhaha:

If we don’t stand our ground, Barack Obama (or worse, President Hillary Clinton) will take away our guns that we rely on to defend our homes, families, and country.

That’s why I need you to hear something completely insane…

You know they tried to toss a US Congressman in jail for having his legally owned AR-15 in his office?

That’s right – my friend Congressman Ken Buck was under investigation by the Washington, DC, Metro Police because the city’s Left-wing gun regulations are so restrictive, most people can’t even legally exercise their God-given Constitutional right to bear arms (even in a private place like your office)!

He put a picture online of Congressman Trey Gowdy and himself admiring his awesome American flag wrapped AR-15 and some vindictive liberal gun-hater sent it to the police. The rest is history…

Rep. Ken Buck (right), with his gun.

Rep. Ken Buck (right), with his gun.

So, if The Nuge means this blog when he says “some vindictive liberal gun-hater,” because we were the ones who posted the photo of Buck with his AR-15 that led to news inquiries, we guess that’s one thing. But in terms of the rest of the story “being history,” well, our readers know that Ken Buck didn’t face any charges or sanctions for his assault rifle on Capitol grounds–in fact, it’s still there.

But that version of the story, otherwise known as the true story, wouldn’t raise nearly as much money.

That’s why I’m helping Congressman Ken Buck. He’s a guy we can trust who will fight for the values we share – especially when it comes to the 2nd Amendment. Hell, they tried to get him thrown into jail for exercising his Second Amendment rights!

That’s my kind of guy. Bold, brave, and packing heat in his office to scare off liberals.

As our longtime readers know, this isn’t the first time that The Nuge has weighed in on a Colorado political matter. Ted Nugent endorsed Tom Tancredo for governor in 2014, which because a lively sidenote in that race after Nugent denounced President Barack Obama in a radio interview as a “communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel.” Nugent also said of our state following the passage of 2013’s gun safety bills, “if ever there was a poster child for apathy, disconnect, laziness, and abandonment of We the People, and moral dereliction, it is Colorado.”

We can assume from the former statement that Nugent, like Buck, “loses his appetite” in the presence of America’s first black president. But we would kind of like to know if Buck agrees with Nugent in his assessment of the state Buck represents in Congress.

Needless to say, we hope not.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (Aug. 12)

Get More SmarterWe have a Jesse Ventura sighting! 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).



► Democrat Morgan Carroll isn’t pulling any punches in her bid to unseat Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora). Carroll is calling out Coffman for his lack of leadership on the Aurora VA Hospital project — particularly given Coffman’s role as Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Veteran’s Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call Ratings for 2016 Congressional races believes that Colorado’s CD-6 has become much more competitive, reclassifying the race from “Favored Republican” to “Leans Republican” as Carroll continues to gain momentum. EMILYs List is expected to announce today that it is backing Carroll in 2016.

► Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is expected to be joined by her counterparts from New Mexico and Utah for an announcement in Durango regarding the Animas River minewater spill. Check out this handy guide for questions and answers about the Animas River spill.


Get even more smarter after the jump…


Is It Ryan Frazier Time Already?

Who has one thumb up and no chance at winning a U.S. Senate race? This guy.

Who has one thumb up and no chance at winning a U.S. Senate race? This guy: Ryan Frazier.

Rumor has it that Ryan Frazier is talking with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) about potentially running for U.S. Senate in 2016.

Yeah, Ryan Frazier.

We don’t have many details on the “Frazier for Senate” rumor, but in some ways, it almost doesn’t even matter if the story is true or not. If anybody is seriously considering getting behind Frazier in 2016, it is a clear indication that Republicans are essentially conceding the seat to incumbent Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet.

We wrote in November 2011 that Colorado had likely seen the last of Frazier as a candidate for public office after the former Aurora City Council Member was thoroughly drubbed in his second high-profile campaign in 12 months. Lest you think Colorado Pols is just trying to throw dirt on a potential Republican candidate, take a look at what we wrote following the 2010 midterm elections:

Sometimes a candidate will lose a big race but do well enough that he or she is considered a rising star. Frazier? Not so much. He got bullied out of the Republican Senate primary to run in CD-7, where he proceeded to get the absolute crap kicked out of him by Rep. Ed Perlmutter. Frazier is a good fundraiser and is decent at delivering a prepared speech, but his campaign was amateurish at best and he otherwise proved to be immature, vacuous and just plain silly in unscripted moments. In one debate, he repeatedly demanded that Perlmutter tell him the page number of something in the health care bill; when your big attack is that your opponent can’t recall page numbers, you’re running a student council campaign.

It’s not losing the race that hurts Frazier, but the fact that he couldn’t even be competitive in a Republican year. Frazier lost by 11 points to Perlmutter and received about 13,000 fewer votes than 2008 GOP candidate John Lerew, a guy whose own yard signs said “John Who?”

Not long after losing a double-digit race to Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CD-7) in the Republican wave year of 2010, Frazier doubled-down and ran for Mayor of Aurora in 2011…with nearly the same result. Frazier lost by 10 points to Steve Hogan in the “nonpartisan” Mayor’s race.

We haven’t seen or heard much from Frazier since his back-to-back beatdowns, although he occasionally pops up at 9News as a Republican “political expert” for reasons that we couldn’t begin to try to explain. So, why would anyone even consider Frazier for statewide office?

It’s easy to forget that Frazier was briefly a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2009, and at one point was even thought to be among the Republican frontrunners for that office before someone convinced him to drop out of the race and join the field in CD-7. If Frazier was ever going to try a political comeback, the 2016 Senate race might be his best chance — if only because Republicans can’t find anybody else to run — and he can at least point to a history of decent fundraising as a selling point (although fundraising would be considerably more difficult with a record of double-digit losses).

Is Ryan Frazier the best that Republicans can do in 2016? Well, no, actually, but the GOP has yet to find a decent candidate who is even somewhat interested in the race, so the NRSC probably has to at least listen to a Frazier pitch. If you think that Frazier couldn’t possibly be any worse than he was in 2010-11, you’d probably be correct. And that, of course, is exactly the problem.

Morgan Carroll Rips Coffman on VA Hospital Oversight

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Denver Post’s John Frank with Rep. Mike Coffman’s “how dare she” response:

“I’ve lead the effort in Congress to investigate the cost overruns at the hospital,” Coffman said in a statement, responding to Carroll’s attack. “I’ve passed legislation to continue the construction at the hospital and I’ve lead the effort to strip the VA of its construction management authority and to permanently transfer it to the Army Corps of Engineer so that this never happens again.

“So, it is disappointing that Sen. Carroll chose this issue for a partisan press release.”

Notwithstanding the fact that Coffman has repeatedly invoked the Aurora VA hospital project to attack the Democratic Obama administration, sometimes in rather nasty ways like comparing the VA to the terrorist group ISIS, he simply can’t escape his personal share in responsibility for the failure to get the new VA hospital built. In today’s story, Coffman appears to be relying on the fact that the hospital wasn’t in his district until after redistricting–as if he hadn’t been running on his military record from day one.

Above all, the biggest thing veterans want at this point is the one thing Coffman can’t deliver thanks to his feckless Republican congressional leadership–a finished hospital.

So yes, folks. It’s going to remain an issue.


Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll.

A press release from Democratic CD-6 candidate Morgan Carroll’s campaign follows up the in-depth story this past weekend on the over budget VA medical center project in Aurora in the Denver Post, calling out Rep. Mike Coffman for his own responsibility as chairman of the House VA Committee’s Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee:

“I am thankful that the Denver Post has published a thorough and much needed investigation into the many problems that have led to massive cost overruns at the VA hospital in Aurora. When the Post says the ‘Aurora project reads like a hit list of dead ends and missed opportunities,’ it’s clear that Colorado taxpayers and veterans are not being well served and deserve better. The failures of this Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs are deeply troubling to all of us who care about the promise we made to our veterans and their families.

“Unfortunately, Congressman Coffman and this Republican led Congress have been asleep at the switch and have failed to identify problems and solve them. As the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Mike Coffman was in the best possible position to provide early and robust oversight of the VA hospital. [Pols emphasis] Despite his position atop this critical subcommittee, Coffman has been more effective in issuing press releases and covering up his failed oversight than holding the VA accountable. Additionally, he has been unable to work with leaders in his own party to find a long-term funding solution – opting instead to kick the can down the road.

“This is not just about Colorado or the 6th District – this hospital is about keeping our promise to America’s veterans. The brave men and women who served our country deserve the best facilities and care here at home. If given the opportunity to represent the 6thDistrict, I pledge to continue fighting tirelessly on behalf of our Servicemembers and veterans.”

Bernie Rogoff, a Korean War veteran and member of the Legislative Committee of the United Veterans Committee, issued the following statement:

“Congressman Coffman has politicized the VA hospital and made it more about his public profile than the veterans who are suffering as a result of Congressional inaction. Colorado veterans need a leader who gets real results, as Senator Morgan Carroll did when she helped build the Military Family Housing at Buckley Air Force Base, not ineffective Washington politicians like Mike Coffman who failed to provide basic oversight of the Aurora VA hospital.”

Although Rep. Coffman has co-opted the VA medical center controversy as a political platform in recent months, we’ve been pointing out for at least as long that Coffman himself shares responsibility for the situation as chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Team Coffman’s usual response to this allegation, generally consisting of self-righteous indignation delivered at high volume to inquiring reporters, only works until a credible opponent presses the issue.

As you can see, Morgan Carroll is doing just that. In her earlier interview with 9NEWS’ Kyle Clark and again in today’s release, Carroll is proving that she is not afraid to question Coffman’s supposedly untouchable record on military and veteran’s issues.

In doing so, she just might demonstrate that Coffman’s record isn’t so untouchable after all.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (Aug. 11)

Get More SmarterRemember when people thought Rick Perry might become President? Those were the days. 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).



► The future political aspirations of Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler took a massive hit on Friday…and on Monday Brauchler took to the right-wing radio circuit and made things much, much worse by lashing out at everyone that came to mind. This included a rant on the parents of convicted killer James Holmes questioning why they failed to personally call Brauchler to plead for their son’s life. Classy.

► Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry appears to be nearing the end of the line where his Presidential aspirations are concerned. Perry is reportedly no longer paying his campaign staff, and as “The Fix” reports, the writing is on the wall (and the ceiling, and the floor):

Yes, Perry will likely plod on in the campaign because, well, he can  — thanks to his super PAC.  But, staying in the race and being a viable candidate aren’t the same thing. Perry’s financial troubles are indicative of the systemic problem at the heart of the campaign: He simply isn’t a good enough candidate to overcome what people believe to be true about him. (That is, of course, that he is not a very good candidate.)


Get even more smarter after the jump…


Dr. Chaps: I Am Trump, Trump Is Me

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, Donald Trump.

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, Donald Trump.

Here’s a link to a perfectly fine story by the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Megan Schrader on the retirement of El Paso County Democratic Party chairman Christy Le Lait, which we would tell you to read even if it didn’t contain an absolute jewel of a quote from the infamous Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt.

But with apologies in advance to Le Lait, Klingenschmitt managed to pull a Kanye West once again, hijacking this local interest piece and making national news:

[Le Lait] said the national publicity given to Klingenschmitt’s comments about the gay community have furthered the stereotype that Colorado Springs is a haven for right-wing extremists…

“I find it ironic that the Democrats throw a tantrum when they can’t win an election in a socially conservative city,” Klingenschmitt said when told of Le Lait’s comments. “Because just yesterday one of my best volunteers, who is a social conservative, told me she’s quitting the Republican Party after 40 years because not enough Republicans will stand up for Gordon Klingenschmitt and defend traditional marriage.”

Klingenschmitt, who is running for a state Senate seat in 2016, said his election proves voters want an outspoken leader, not a compromiser.

“It’s the same phenomenon we’re seeing with Donald Trump,” Klingenschmitt said. “He’s too outspoken. He’s not politically correct, and so is Gordon Klingenschmitt, and that’s what people want.” [Pols emphasis]

You’ll recall that Rep. Klingenschmitt was in the news again quite recently after making comments on his Youtube broadcast “ministry” that could be construed as calling for gay Boy Scout scoutmasters to be “drowned in the depths of the sea.” Those remarks earned Klingenschmitt more demands for his resignation from liberals, but only a half-hearted round of distancing from fellow Republicans. We’ve seen nothing since then to indicate further action by Klingenschmitt’s nominal boss, House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso. Not even Klingenschmitt’s opponent in the upcoming SD-12 primary, or the current holder of that seat Senate President Bill Cadman appear to want draw attention to “Dr. Chaps” one way or the other.

Folks, is it really possible that the answer lies in Donald Trump’s poll numbers? Is Klingenschmitt, like Trump, really “what people want?” Or at least what Republican primary voters want?

As much as we’d like to say Klingenschmitt is wrong, this all makes a certain kind of sense.

Tuesday Open Thread

“You have to be able to tolerate what you don’t necessarily like so you can be free.”

–Larry Flynt

Yes, George Brauchler Is Damaged Goods Now

UPDATE: Via Jason Salzman, Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler goes off the rails today on talk radio, blaming pretty much everybody but himself for losing the death penalty case. Safe to say this was not his finest performance–a telling look at what happens when the shine comes off the “golden boy.”


Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler.

Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler.

As word spread on Friday that the jury in the Aurora theater shooting trial would not sentence the shooter to death, we noted via Twitter that this result is a major defeat for Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler. Brauchler’s higher political ambitions are very well known, after he was mentioned as a potential GOP challenger to Gov. John Hickenlooper last year–and as Republicans have faced big problems finding a candidate to run next year against incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet, Brauchler’s name has been invoked in that race as well.

It’s not that we were trying to be crass about this story. We’re a political blog, and politics is the angle we are expected to take on the events of the day.

As our friend Lynn Bartels suggests above, the verdict in the Aurora shooting case could have gone either way–and might have had very different political implications had the jury chosen to recommend a death sentence. But the fact is that Brauchler did pursue the death penalty despite an offer from the defense of an uncontested sentence of life in prison with no possibility of release–and that unsuccessful pursuit of death for the Aurora theater shooter extended the pain and expense of the process by over a year and millions of dollars.

Friday evening, 9NEWS devoted a news story entirely to the Tweets of Jordan Ghawi, the brother of Aurora shooting victim Jessica Ghawi, in which Jordan Ghawi condemned Brauchler’s “political ambition trumping reason.” After the verdict, Ghawi thanked jurors for “letting reason and not emotion guide you in your decision.” Naturally, opinions vary markedly among survivors and family of Aurora shooting victims as to whether or not the killer should have been sentenced to death. But Ghawi’s powerful statements against more killing in response to the death of his sister, and calling out of the “political ambition” that drove the decision to seek the death penalty, at least partly deprive Brauchler of the ability to claim the moral high ground now that the killer has been spared.

Indeed, the only real story of misconduct related to the Aurora shooting trial involves Brauchler himself. During the trial, Brauchler was harshly criticized by Judge Carlos Samour for Tweeting about the trial from the courtroom. Brauchler’s ill-advised Tweets violated the judge’s order against social media from the courtroom, led directly to the dismissal of three jurors from the trial, and was later the subject of a complaint filed with the Colorado Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel. Republican defenders of Brauchler tried hard to downplay this incident, but after jurors were dismissed over it, there was little for Brauchler to do but take his lumps.

Politically, that misstep might have been forgotten basking in the “glory” of a death sentence, but Brauchler did not win a death sentence. The additional months and millions of dollars spent “needlessly” at trial, as Jordan Ghawi put it, were all for naught. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if you supported the death penalty in this case or opposed it. Today the story is only that the Aurora shooter will not be executed, and that Brauchler had some moments of bad publicity on the way to losing the death penalty case.

No matter how much you may like Brauchler, feel like he did the “best he could,” or (the one that probably matters most) need him to shore up a dwindling Republican bench in Colorado, this outcome does not set Brauchler up to run for higher office.

And we all know it.

GOP’s Animas River EPA Dogpile Is Totally Ridiculous

Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

A press release from Koch brothers-linked conservative group Advancing Colorado kicks off our look at the mine wastewater spill near Silverton that’s been making nationwide headlines for several days. As anyone who doesn’t live in a mine knows by now, a federal Environmental Protection Agency crew working last week on remediation of mine water pollution accidentally dislodged debris holding back a vast quantity of polluted mine water in a complex of abandoned mines along Cement Creek, a tributary of the Animas River, sending a massive flood that’s been festering in the area for many years surging through Durango and into New Mexico toward the Colorado River drainage system.

As Advancing Colorado’s press release today makes clear, the disaster presents a political opportunity for the EPA’s legion of haters on the right to dump their pre-existing animus into the Animas:

“The so-called Environmental ‘Protection’ Agency needs to be held responsible for the disaster they created and the damage they have inflicted on our environment and economy. This environmental disaster is just one more example of why people do not trust the job-killing EPA and we have every right to question why our hard-earned money is going to such an incompetent and mismanaged government agency. This is now a multi-state issue, and people have every right to be absolutely outraged with the EPA, and the officials who continue to provide support and cover for this agency.”

Ellen Roberts.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts (R).

In news coverage this weekend, Republican politicians affected maximum indignation over the idea that the government agency charged with protecting the environment had “caused” an environmental disaster:

“We’re hearing that this is somewhat to be expected living in a mining region, but what is very clear from this is the communications were not adequate, and they underestimated how severe this was,” state Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, said Friday. “It does have significant consequences, both in terms of the environmental issue and in terms of trust.

“The Animas River, to Durango and Southwest Colorado, is not just a river, it is our lifeblood in so many ways,” she said. “What we see before us is horrifying, so I think I personally have very high expectations of what the EPA is going to do to fix this.”

Rep. Scott Tipton (R).

Rep. Scott Tipton (R).

Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton piled on for good measure:

“Coloradans deserve to know the EPA’s plan for cleaning up the mess they’ve made and their plan for the long-term restoration of the river habitat impacted,” Gardner said…

“The poor communication is unacceptable,” Tipton said in a statement. “If a mining operator or other private business caused the spill to occur, the EPA would be all over them. The EPA admits fault, and as such must be accountable and held to the same standard.”

As the story is being told on talk radio and other conservative media channels, the EPA may as well have been the ones who dug these mines, extracted all the gold and other metal resources, and left them to fester for the next generation to clean up. We get that anyone who has found themselves on the wrong end of the EPA’s regulations, from gold mines to coal mines, would feel a vengeful urge to lash out–or, as with Advancing Colorado’s press release above, to order your “grassroots” surrogates to do so. Politicians backed by industries that chafe under EPA regulations are similarly jumping at the chance to score points off this EPA remediation crew’s misfortune.

Sen. Cory Gardner.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

But without that ulterior motive driving the criticism, it falls apart under even casual scrutiny. Of course the EPA didn’t dig these privately-owned abandoned mines, mines that were spewing polluted water at the rate of hundreds of gallons per minute for years before this spill. The EPA was working in the mines above Silverton to remediate this pollution, with a goal of removing heavy metals from the runoff before it flowed into the Animas River at all. The mines in question were not being adequately maintained by their private owners, Sunnyside Gold Corp. Private remediation attempts to stanch the flow of mine waste arguably made the problem worse, and that mining company’s offer of $6.5 million to absolve itself from further liability was totally inadequate. Designation of the area as an EPA Superfund site, which would make far greater resources for cleanup available, is actually opposed by local interests in Silverton, in part because they would like mining to someday resume–and a Superfund cleanup onsite would obviously make that a problem.

Bottom line: there is a lot of information still to be released about what exactly happened at the entrance to the Gold King Mine last Wednesday, but we know that the larger problem of thousands of mines across Colorado and the West leaching pollution into our water supplies is a problem the EPA is working to solve–not to worsen. With billions in private profits extracted from our mountains at a time when no protections existed to ensure it was done safely, responsibility now falls to the EPA to protect today’s citizens from harm. Without question, if the EPA’s actions cause harm, they’re responsible for that too. But the original cause of this disaster–private mining interests who sought to maximize profits and skirt liability at every step–cannot be laid at the EPA’s feet.

And to attempt to do that for usual-suspect political purposes, bashing the EPA over this spill because you don’t believe in climate change or because you take money from the fossil fuel industry, should outrage everyone impacted by it.