Get More Smarter on Wednesday (March 18)

Get More SmarterOkay, Leprechauns, that’s enough. Go away 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…

► The Long Bill is coming! The Long Bill is coming!

No, it’s not! But it will be! From the Denver Post:

The much-awaited introduction of the state budget bill may be delayed up to a week to give the Joint Budget Committee more time to answer pressing spending questions and adjust for the next fiscal forecast.

Senate President Bill Cadman and House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst — along with the chambers’ respective Republican and Democratic leaders — agreed to waive the March 23 legal deadline for the spending bill, known in legislative parlance as the long bill.

The new deadline is March 30, though it may get introduced sooner if budget writers finish their work faster. The remaining budget schedule — with final negotiations expected to end April 10 — are likely also delayed by a week.

► Governor John Hickenlooper supports SB-215, a school reform bill aimed at reducing student testing. As Fox 31’s Eli Stokols reports, Hick also made his position clear on prior reforms:

Hickenlooper sought to show broad consensus around reducing the number of assessments for students and teachers while maintaining high academic standards across the state.

He also drew a line in the sand on a related issue, implying that he would likely veto any measure that includes changes to the reforms passed under 2009’s Senate Bill 191 requiring that a teacher’s effectiveness by determined in large part by their students’ demonstrated achievement.

With the Republican senate president and Democratic Speaker of the House behind him, Hickenlooper called the education reforms adopted as a result of S.B. 191 “essential reforms.”

 Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Get More Smarter on St. Patrick’s Day

GMS-GreenGreen beer? Drink away. Green milk? Not so much. 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 legislators are taking up the issue of police brutality today with a handful of bills, including increasing the number of body cameras.

► The so-called “Parent’s Bill of Rights” (also known as the “No Rights for Children”) should finally meet its inevitable end today in the State House.

► Meet state Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Rich People Only).

 
Get even more smarter after the jump…

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BREAKING: Steve House Ousts Ryan Call

MONDAY UPDATE: A telling “Retweet” from ousted GOP chairman Ryan Call says it all:

callpalacio

And with that, Ryan Call washes his hands of you. FOX 31:

Just four months after helping to engineer the Colorado GOP’s first big statewide victory in 12 years, Chairman Ryan Call is out of a job.

Steve House was elected over Call by more than 400 Republican delegates at the party’s the annual meeting in Douglas County by the Republican State Central Committee.

Call, who was seeking a third term, was ousted as a result of frustration from both the grassroots and establishment sides of the party.

AP:

Call said the party still faces serious challenges going into the 2016 elections, and he wished House “the best of luck.”

Even though the party is coming off its best election in years, some Republican activists say results could have been better with someone else in charge.

Last November, Colorado saw 100,000 more Republican votes than Democratic votes. But Democrats hung on to the governor’s office and the state House.

—–

UPDATE 12:00PM: Steve House’s victory over Ryan Call now official, reportedly a 57-43% margin. House now giving his victory speech.

—–

Word just reaching us from the Colorado Republican Party’s reorg meeting–former Adams County GOP chairman Steve House has defeated incumbent Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call on the first ballot. We’ll update shortly with coverage.

And remember, you heard it here first.

Colorado PERA’s Executive Director: Fiduciary, or Politician?

Association of State Retirement Administrators: Colorado PERA Pension Has 5th Worse Funding Discipline in the Nation.

The Executive Director of Colorado’s largest public pension plan (Greg Smith of Colorado PERA) knows quite well that the pension plan he leads has a lower level of funding (funded in the low 60 percent range) than is needed to meet the pension system’s long-term financial obligations. Greg Smith knows that the payments received by the PERA pension system from its state and local governmental sponsors, since 2002, have been well below the funding levels calculated by Colorado PERA’s own actuaries as necessary to maintain the solvency of the pension system. Executive Director Greg Smith represents a board of fiduciaries, the Colorado PERA Board of Trustees.

Yet, Greg Smith recently testified to the Colorado Legislature that the pension system requires no “additional contributions.” In my opinion, the Colorado PERA pension system (a Colorado state agency) must have a leader who will speak the truth to Colorado’s state and local elected officials, rather than a leader who seeks to perpetuate financial mismanagement of the pension system.

Historically, the fact that Colorado PERA officials have acted in a political manner rather than as fiduciaries is largely responsible for the decline in the pension system’s funded ratio. (Note the past unanimous support of the PERA Board of Trustees for Governor Bill Owens PERA “service credit fire sale,” and the fact that state agency Colorado PERA has spent many millions of trust fund dollars on lobbyists and political/public relations campaigns.) Colorado does not need a “politician” at the helm of this state agency. Colorado PERA members desperately require a pension leader who will consistently act as a fiduciary. This public pension system itself cries out for greater oversight.

PERA Executive Director Greg Smith contradicting PERA General Counsel Director Greg Smith.

On December 11, 2014, Colorado PERA’s Executive Director Greg Smith testified to the Colorado General Assembly’s Joint Budget Committee: “We don’t need additional contributions.”

On August 11, 2009, at the Denver meeting of the Colorado PERA “Listening Tour” Colorado PERA’s (then) General Counsel Greg Smith blamed the Colorado General Assembly for the decline PERA’s actuarial funded ratio: “We have not been paid what’s called the actuarially required contribution.” “We’ve not been receiving that full contribution in any of our divisions for many years . . . seven years to be specific.”

http://www.copera.org/pera/about/listeningtour.htm

Colorado PERA’s Greg Smith may very well be alone in the nation in that he, as a fiduciary who heads a major public pension system that has been grossly and historically underfunded, testifies to elected officials overseeing the pension system “we don’t need additional contributions.”

http://coloradopols.com/diary/66484/colorado-pera-fiduciaries-severely-underfunded-but-see-no-problem#sthash.VIa8SL5T.dpbs

Note the testimony of the previous Executive Director of Colorado PERA (Meredith Williams) to the Colorado Legislature’s House Finance Committee on February 23, 2012 (relating to the Legislature’s historical underfunding of its PERA pension obligations):

“We’ve had a significant problem over the years, in that . . . contributions, payments by (PERA) employers into PERA have been kind of the last thing in the budget building process, and we have not made the required payments. Unfortunately, in our line of work, where we’re involved in compounding shortfalls grow, particularly when the shortfalls continue year after year after year.”

I ask: Were Colorado PERA officials speaking the truth to Colorado legislators on February 23, 2012 when [then] Colorado PERA General Manager Meredith Williams, testified to the Colorado House Finance Committee “We’ve had a significant problem over the years, in that . . . contributions, payments by (PERA) employers into PERA have been kind of the last thing in the budget building process, and we have not made the required payments. Unfortunately, in our line of work, where we’re involved in compounding shortfalls grow, particularly when the shortfalls continue year after year after year.”

Or, were Colorado PERA officials speaking the truth to Colorado legislators on December 11, 2014 when JBC members heard from Colorado PERA that “we don’t need additional contributions”?

Logically, only one of these Colorado PERA statements to Colorado state legislators can be true.

http://coloradopols.com/diary/66279/colorado-pera-officials-corrupt-state-budget-process-joint-budget-committee-analyst-silenced

The National Association of State Retirement Administrators (NASRA) recently released a study addressing the extent to which public pension plan sponsors in the United States have made  “actuarially required contributions” (ARC) to the pension plans.

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal: “Colorado Ranks 46th for Pension Funding”:

“Colorado has made 74.5 percent of its annual required contribution to its public employee retirement plans from 2001 through 2013, placing it 46th in terms of average state pension funding, a report suggests.”

“While most U.S. states are meeting their pension commitments, a report by the National Association of State Retirement Administrators shows Colorado has lagged for more than a decade.”

“Colorado placed behind New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington, North Dakota and Kansas, and is just ahead of Virginia, Illinois and Oklahoma, according to the report. The report also included the District of Columbia.”

“The report, ‘Spotlight on The ARC Experience of State Retirement Plans, FY 01 to FY 13,’ examines how state governments performed meeting the annual required contribution (ARC) of their public employee retirement plans,” according to NASRA. It details the ARC experience of 112 state-wide and state-sponsored public pension plans in the U.S. Together, these plans account for more than 80 percent of all public pension assets and participants.”

http://csbj.com/2015/03/13/report-colorado-ranked-46th-for-pension-funding/

Link to the NASRA Report:

http://www.nasra.org/files/JointPublications/NASRA_ARC_Spotlight.pdf

Excerpts from the NASRA Report:

“A government that has paid the ARC in full has made an appropriation to the pension trust to cover the benefits accrued that year and to pay down a portion of any liabilities that were not pre-funded in previous years. Assuming projections of actuarial experience hold true, an allocation short of the full ARC means the unfunded liability will grow and require greater contributions in future years.”

“The annual required contribution, or ARC, refers to the amount needed to be contributed by employers to adequately fund a public pension plan. The ARC is the sum of two factors: a) the cost of pension benefits being accrued in the current year (known as the normal cost), plus b) the cost to amortize, or pay off, the plan’s unfunded liability. The ARC is the required employer contribution after accounting for other revenue, chiefly expected investment earnings and contributions from employee participants.”

“Only a few states have conspicuously failed to adequately fund their pension plans.”

“Most states made a good-faith effort to fund their pension plans; a good-faith effort is defined here as paying 95 percent or more of the ARC.”

“Failing to make even a good-faith effort to fund the ARC increases future costs of funding the pension.”

 “The median ARC experience is 95.1 percent, meaning that one-half of the plans received at least 95.1 percent of their required contributions.”

 “All but six states paid at least 75 percent of their ARC.”

The Disparity of Colorado PERA Governmental Employer Contribution Legal Frameworks:

“For the Colorado Affiliated Local plan, statutes require employers to fund the actuarially determined contribution. Employers who participate in the Municipal, School, State, and Denver Public Schools plans under the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association contribute a fixed percentage of compensation specified in statutes.”

(My comment: Public pension plans that rely on fixed statutory contribution rates, like Colorado PERA, rather than regularly paying the pension’s full ARC have the lowest funded ratios.)

The Colorado PERA State Division has paid only 67.5 percent of its ARC requirement [FY05-FY13.]

 http://www.nasra.org/files/JointPublications/NASRA_ARC_Spotlight.pdf

A few years ago, Colorado PERA officials and their hired lobbyists argued that the PERA public pension system’s 69 percent funded ratio was such a crisis that the contracts of Colorado PERA pensioners just had to be broken. They contended that the Colorado PERA pension system’s 69 percent funded level constituted an “actuarial emergency” that justified the breach of Colorado PERA retiree pension contracts.

December 16, 2009:

Colorado PERA officials in written testimony to the Joint Budget Committee: “The General Assembly cannot decrease the COLA (absent actuarial necessity) because it is part of the contractual obligations that accrue under a pension plan protected under the Colorado Constitution Article II, Section 11 and the United States Constitution Article 1, Section 10 for vested contractual rights.”

http://www.kentlambert.com/Files/PERA_JBC_Hearing_Responses-12-16-2009_Final.pdf

In spite of the fact that Colorado PERA officials had previously admitted to the existence of the PERA “ABI” (COLA) contractual obligation, these officials hired lobbyists to enact a bill to break the contract. In 2010, the Colorado Legislature (with help from 27 lobbyists) passed the bill, in effect asking the Colorado Supreme Court for the political favor of ignoring their own court’s precedent to break the contract. The Colorado Supreme Court, as a political entity itself, obliged. Since Colorado courts refused to grant discovery in the case, PERA’s claims of an actuarial emergency received no judicial scrutiny. This is our government theoretically constrained by the Colorado and US Constitutions.

http://coloradopols.com/diary/64487/the-colorado-supreme-court-politicians-in-black-robes-as-it-turns-out#sthash.gcpgGTWh.dpbs

Will Fracking cause the ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE?

Probably not, but few any longer dispute that some activity related to fracking can induce earthquakes, despite years of industry pressure to deny the link.  But this is not about Frackquakes either. 

Not really. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management did try to lease the dam at the Paonia Reservoir once, and that gets closer to today’s update.  

For many it includes this perplexing fact: that oil and gas leasing on public lands starts with a whomever whim, nominated by no one really knows who, how, or why–and sometimes, maybe on a Friday afternoon when someone is not paying enough attention, something kind of crazy might slip through at the agency.  

The BLM did lease a cemetery for oil and gas drilling and fracking, according to a National Geographic article (sponsored—without intended irony, I presume—by Shell), published on its website today:  Fracking Next to a Cemetery? 10 Unlikely Sites Targeted for Drilling”:

Kanza Cemetery sits on a 320-acre expanse east of Colorado Springs offered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The rural graveyard, where more than a hundred people are buried, has been there for at least a century. Its land was leased for $26 an acre. 

The day started out like most others had before it, with Pa looking through the morning news and Ma off to collecting from the hens, when there was a knock on the weathered old farmhouse door…

Over cookies and lemonade at the Paynes’ home, a BLM representative informed them about the auction and its implications. She says they were assured that the graves would not be disturbed.

Drilling the Dead…

The leased cemetery and surrounding lands are among a number of places highlighted by the group Western Values Project in a new report “ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE: The Top Ten Most Shocking Places the Oil and Gas Industry is Trying to Lease and Drill.” 

It does seem that no where is off limits in the minds of some folks seeking their fracking fortune off the public’s domain.

The National Geographic article also notes, from the report, private ‘split estate’ lands in Wyoming where the landowners obtained a conservation easement to protect sage grouse among other species and resources, that the BLM has put on the auction block for oil and gas drilling at industry’s request.  

Indeed, oil and gas companies have been invited by the federal government to nominate public minerals under other people’s private lands, even those with conservation easements, and among the ranches and farmlands of the West for years.  

The local community had to fight back to stop the leasing of the orchards and irrigation works of Colorado’s North Fork Valley.  The agricultural lands there are the result of a century of back-breaking hard labor, first by Homesteaders then by generations, and decades of federal projects and millions in expenditures along the way.  (Thanks Wayne Aspinall!). 

Then there are the historical sites, and not insignificant ones: even the Sand Creek Massacre National Historical Site was nominated for oil and gas drilling.  BLM, thankfully, did catch that one before it went to sale.   

And industry has repeatedly nominated lands in the South Park area, including a large amount of Denver’s water supply.

There Interior Department reforms, that the BLM has begun to implement, have led to the agency agreeing to complete a Master Leasing Plan that hopefully will provide stronger guidance on which areas should be off limits to oil and gas development.  And in the North Fork Valley the BLM has agreed to consider a community-based set of management recommendations for the valley as it updates its resource management plan for the area. 

But industry remains, it appears, feeling entitled.  In Utah it has set off to achieve a new type of visual impact by taking on the art community, which is noted in the Western Values Project report.

This, in particular, seems to have attracted the ire of the grumpy-sounding Big Oil lobby spokesperson in the National Geographic article:

“A single artist determining that her work requires ‘an unimpeded view to the horizon’ does not automatically trump the public’s right to the energy it owns beneath the land,” [Kathleen Sgamma, Western Energy Alliance] says.

An interesting comment from a single industry that often behaves as if its interests trump the public’s in deciding where oil and gas development is appropriate. 

To that question it usually appears it has one answer: any where and everywhere. 

The oil and gas industry, it seems, does not see problems with leasing around organic orchards; in towns or city water supplies; atop sacred historical sites and on consecrated ground; the minerals from beneath another’s own private lands, even those under a conservation easement; in sage grouse or other sensitive habitat, or even amidst art installations.

No, fracking probably won’t cause the Zombie Apocalypse.  But there seems something unholy about letting the oil and gas industry be the one to call the shots about the public’s resources and lands.

Decisions about which of America’s shared places and publicly-owned resources should be subject to leasing for drilling, fracking and industrial development, and which ought not to be, should be shared decisions and not simply left up to industry to propose, decided behind a cloak of secrecy away from public oversight.

The BLM has taken important steps to making improvements in this process.  But it still has a ways to go.  Shining more sunlight into BLM oil and gas nominations (which the agency has now specifically re-designed its process to avoid) and strengthening the public’s ability to have truly meaningful input into where, when, and how this activity occurs, remain largely in the realm of aspiration. 

This is reform that the agency needs to stick with and complete. Because an informed and engaged public remains the best defense against bad policy. And Zombies.

Radio host accidentally leaves clues about who wrote document trashing votes by Thurlow

(Oops! The Nevilles appear busted – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

GOP Reps. Patrick Neville, Dan Thurlow.

GOP Reps. Patrick Neville, Dan Thurlow.

On his Facebook page yesterday, KLZ AM-560 radio host Ken Clark posted a document and posed the question, “This is Dan Thurlow’s voting record so far, what do you think?”

Clark freely acknowledged that he didn’t write the piece, which criticizes Thurlow, a Republican who’s been voting against his caucus, for nine votes opposing right-wing legislation. For example, Thurlow’s vote for a ban on “conversion therapy” is noted in the document with the comment: “Thurlow thinks that is a great idea and was the only R in the entire house to vote for it.”

The document states that Thurlow is an “idiot” for voting against a bill that would have allowed the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to allow “transfers of machine guns, destructive devices, and certain types of firearms” if the transferee met certain conditions, loosening the current regulator regime. 

In describing Thurlow’s vote against the machine-gun-transfer bill, HB 1086, Clark’s secret-source states: “This was my bill, it would have mandated CBI sign off on form 4s for NFA license packets if the person passes a background check.”

So judging from this “my bill” line in the document posted, and other comments about email, Clark’s source appears to be a legislator who sponsored HB 1086.

Sen. Tim Neville.

Sen. Tim Neville.

And Clark acknowledges in the comment section that Clark deleted a reference in the anonymously-authored document to HB 1171 as  “my freedom of conscience protection bill.”

The sponsors of both those bills are Rep. Patrick and Sen. Tim Neville. (See HB 1171 here and HB 1086 here.)

So, while we can’t be sure, it looks like Clark’s source is either Rep. Patrick Neville or Sen. Tim Neville.

Asked about the situation, Clark said it was “an editing error on my part.”

In any case, it’s a lesson for all of us who receive leaked or anonymously-authored documents. Read them carefully before posting them to avoid disclosing your sources or giving hidden clues to bored bloggers who love to expose anonymous sources.

Get More Smarter on Friday (March 13)

Get More SmarterFor the second month in a row, the 13th falls on a Friday. 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 will meet tomorrow to select their State Party Leaders for the next two years. As first reported at Colorado Pols yesterday, incumbent Chair Ryan Call is expected to lose his job to challenger Steve House. Click here for more on tomorrow’s election.

► Excuse me, but is that an IUD you are wearingJohn Frank of the Denver Post reports on the newest “aborti-fashion,” as Republicans might call it, taking place at the State Capitol.

 
Get even more smarter after the jump…

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More Journalists Were Needed to Sort Through the Madness of GOP State-Chair Race

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Last Call for Ryan Call?

Ryan Call.

UPDATE: Fox 31 Denver’s Eli Stokols offers an excellent closing analysis of the race here: “GOP Chairman Ryan Call facing revolt led by AG Cynthia Coffman.”

___

One thing is clear in the home stretch of the battle between Ryan Call and Steve House to be the next leader of Colorado’s Republican Party.

The race could have used a few more reporters like the Colorado Statesman‘s Ernest Luning covering it. As it is, “coverage” of the race has mostly been left to a bizarre and sometimes toxic shooting gallery of talk radio, Facebook, more Facebook, progressive bloggers (including outcasts like me), and whisperers and more whisperers. Honestly, this situation, set against a backdrop of intense GOP anger and madness, doesn’t serve Republicans or the rest of us.

The candidates have spoken directly to lots of the Republican activists who will be voting Saturday, which is good, but the race for Republican chair is an excellent example of what won’t be covered at all by real journalists as the profession fades. And we all lose from that.

Luning has provided the most even-handed and in-depth coverage of the Republican leadership race, and he’s out with a new story yesterday that included new allegations against Steve House, who’s challenging Ryan Call. Luning reports:

A group of former Adams County Republican officers circulated a letter on Wednesday slamming House for his tenure leading the county party and calling his character into question.

The letter, signed by former county chairs Patty McCoy and Clark Bolser, former vice chair Patty Sue Femrite and county finance chair Maria del Carman Guzman-Weese, alleged that House quit the post half way through his term in order to run for governor after promising he wouldn’t do just that. What’s more, the Adams County group charged, he left the county GOP in a shambles and it was Call who came to the rescue to rebuild it.

“Steve definitely has charisma and personal ambition, and he certainly knows how to give a good speech,” the group wrote. “He’s personally likeable. But his record of unfulfilled commitments, multiple broken promises, and overall poor performance as County Chairman left many of us in Adams County disappointed, extremely frustrated, and with unwelcome extra work during a critical time.”

Steve House spokesman Mike McAlpine (of Hudak-recall fame) denied the accusation, telling Luning it was dirty politics and, in fact, Adams County Republicans actually helped flip the Colorado Senate in 2014.

In any case, in addition to his reporting of this flap, Luning nicely summarizes the House-Call contest as we head into Saturday morning, when the final vote will occur at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock.

Denver Municipal Races: Fundraising Update

Back in January we sifted through the various races for the May 5th Denver Municipal election. As we said at time time, some of the Denver races were still just beginning to shake out; with new fundraising number available, it’s time again to take a look at the very large field of candidates.

The fundraising numbers below were compiled through publicly-available reports that can be accessed via the website of the Denver Clerk and Recorder. While anyone can access campaign finance data and make their own spreadsheet — heck, we do it all the time for state races — we did not actually pull all of these reports on our own. Most of the work was done by Denver political consultant Matt Derrington (Derrington Consulting), who compiled this data on his own and kindly shared it with Denver Pols to re-purpose here. For more on the latest Denver fundraising numbers, check out Jon Murray at the Denver Post.

Okay, let’s get to it. We’ll take you through the numbers, race-by-race, after the jump…

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The Last Call, Well and Truly: GOP Expected to Oust State Chair

Ryan Call, Steve House.

Ryan Call (left) and his likely replacement, Steve House.

If you have any clever puns to play off of the name “Ryan Call,” now would be the time to use them.

Republicans will convene on Saturday to select their Party leadership for the next two years, and from everything we hear, State Party Chair Ryan Call will almost certainly lose his re-election bid to challenger Steve House. The conclusion is so forgone, in fact, that Call has apparently already come to terms with his fate and is now just hoping to keep the final tally from turning into a rout for House.

Colorado Republicans had a pretty good year at the polls in 2014, but as we told you back in December, the knives were coming out for Call anyway. Republican insiders have never been comfortable with paying a hefty salary to a State Party Chair, and it was this concern over the State GOP budget that got the ball of change rolling. Call has since been plagued by stories of shady campaign finance connections, and the Chair’s race has taken on the kind of bizarre paranoia that Colorado Republicans do best. The list of grievances aimed at Call continues to grow.

House is a former Adams County Republican Chair, and 2014 candidate for governor, who in many ways was an ideal candidate to put forth to challenge Call. House is independently wealthy and doesn’t need the salary that Call has been collecting, which makes it easy for him to push for the GOP to return to a pre-Dick Wadhams era when Party Chair wasn’t a full-time paid gig.

With Call likely to lose on Saturday, the story now turns to Senator Cory Gardner, who has publicly and privately supported the two-term GOP Chair. Gardner is reportedly collecting proxies from around the state to support Call on Saturday, and a loss for Call will be a serious black eye for Gardner’s image. National media outlets praised Gardner as a rising star following his November defeat of Sen. Mark Udall, but how will they gauge Gardner’s inability to get his own State Party Chair re-elected? Gardner is already reeling from backlash over the infamous “Dear Iran” letter, and soon he’ll be asked to explain why the GOP faithful in Colorado have already tuned him out.

 

GOP vice-chair candidate says Republicans aren’t “cool” and once labeled them “almost human”

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Derrick Wilburn.

Derrick Wilburn.

A former talk-radio yapper, Derrick Wilburn, is running for Vice Chair of the Colorado Republican Party.

Wilburn once co-hosted a CO Springs radio show called, “Black, White, and Right,” which aired on KZNT 1460-AM. Wilburn, who’s African-American, represented the “black” part, while former congressional candidate Robert Blaha wore the “white” mantel. And both were right–as in tea party, as opposed to “correct.”

To give you an idea of  the depth of Wilburn’s tea-party-ness, during one radio show a couple years ago, Wilburn gave “Almost Human” honors to Republicans generally, and he added that GOP chairman Ryan Call is emblematic of Republicans. So he sounds about as mad at his fellow Republicans as other party leaders leading up to Saturday’s election, and the division has even crept into the marriage of Mike Coffman and Cynthia Coffman, who might be mad at each other over it.

Maybe Wilburn’s almost-human critique of his fellow Republicans is connected to another gripe: Wilburn says his fellow Republicans aren’t cool.

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Bennet and Post’s Matthews further the “Both Sides Do It” meme again

Sen. Michael Bennet is nothing if not press savvy. Most of his press coverage, it seems to me, has been about the dysfunction and disappointment of the institution he so eagerly joined and not about any accomplishments he’s made while a member.

Not to be distracted by anything substantial he could do between now and his (presumed) attempt at getting reelected in 2016, Bennet has gone on the bipartisan offensive again to mildly criticize his senate peers, to try to seem like he’s doing something productive, and to give more credence to his guiding philosophy that “both sides do it” when it comes to political mis- and malfeasance.

The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews gladly serves up the dish, and helps Cory Gardner not look like a nut at the same time:

On Thursday, Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Cory Gardner plan to introduce legislation that would impose strict rules — including the possibility of arrest — on the Senate anytime one or more federal agencies were thrown into shutdown mode.

It’s a situation that nearly occurred this year with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and one that impacted the entire federal government in October 2013.

Under the Bennet-Gardner bill, the Senate would be forced to take attendance roughly once an hour — every day — between 8 a.m. and midnight for as long as a shutdown continued.

The rationale, said Bennet and Gardner, was to keep lawmakers in town to negotiate.

“If someone’s idea is to grind the government to a halt, then members of Congress ought to be darn well sure they’re finding a solution together,” Gardner said. “You can’t do it by flying home. You can’t do it by going to your respective political corners. You can only do it when you’re here together, at work.”

And Gardner says he doesn’t really want to grind government to a halt as part of the majority party in both houses with just that recent and destructive record. It just kinda happened. So that’s how the Post will portray it.

And what else?

For more than two centuries, the Senate has had the ability to compel attendance, but the Colorado legislators’ bill would make clear that an arrest warrant is the penalty for skipping town during a shutdown. “It’s using existing procedure,” Gardner said. “(But) this procedure is a little bit of a hammer.”

So it uses existing procedure. Anyone who’s watched CSPAN for more than 5 minutes is likely to have heard “I call for a quorom” from someone on the floor of the senate. And because Bennet or Gardner clearly do not want to be accountable for holding their fellow senators accountable, they issue a press release instead and pretend they’ll pass a law to do what they won’t do while they’re standing on the floor. 

It’s a dirty job, but someone should be willing to do it; if they want to be bipartisan so bad, they could take turns!

A showy bill

Without question, the bill is a bit showy.

But both lawmakers said they’ve been working on the legislation for months — and that aides have spent hours with the parliamentarian to ensure they got the rules right.

So admittedly it’s a showy bill. Destined for failure. Not gonna happen. 

But the Denver Post writes it up. And Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner get to be bipartisan while pretending both sides are threatening a government shutdown and both sides are equally responsible for the current dysfunction in our government.

Well, both sides, no, all sides, did it in this case: they perpetuated a lie with some of the most lazy and irresponsible governing and reporting possible. And Michael Bennet gets a headline once again while doing nothing for his stature, and nothing for the people he represents.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (March 12)

Get More SmarterOn this day in 1912, the Girl Scouts were founded; that’s what it says on our free wall calendar, anyway. 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 are surprised that there has been so much backlash over the “Dear Iran” letter. That anyone would be surprised at the reaction tells you a lot about Senate Republicans. Via Politico:

Though none of the 47 Republican signers has expressed regret for co-signing it, the missive, authored by freshman Sen. Tom Cotton, is creating unexpected fallout in Congress. And it threatens to linger politically and legislatively.

Utah legislators want to bring back the firing squad for executing prisoners. That is a real sentence.

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Get More Smarter on Wednesday (March 11)

Get More SmarterHere’s a sentence nobody ever wants to have said about them: It’s not technically treason. 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 Sen. Cory Gardner talked to the Denver Post (sort of) about his decision to sign his name to the now-infamous “Dear Iran” letter. Gardner’s weird, rambling response to a letter that spawned the hashtag #47Traitors did nothing to explain why he thought this was a good idea. Mike Littwin wonders who was more humiliated about this letter — Republicans or President Obama – while dissecting this political disaster for the GOP.

► Speaking of the “Dear Iran” letter, the Denver Post editorial board used a whole five sentences to opine on the issue yesterday. This is the same newspaper, of course, that endorsed Gardner for Senate in 2014.

► The anti-vaxxers in the Colorado legislature have re-emerged on an amendment offered to an otherwise uninteresting naturopathic bill:

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Bennet emails in his Keystone vote explanation

Here is the email I got from Michael Bennet’s office regarding his Keystone and Veto override votes.  Did he convince you that he did it for good environmental and climate reasons?

 

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the Keystone XL oil pipeline. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, Canadian energy company TransCanada submitted a 2008 application to the U.S. State Department for a permit to build and to operate the Keystone XL oil pipeline. If permitted, the proposed pipeline would stretch 1,661 miles from Hardisty, Alberta, to Port Arthur, Texas and would carry up to 830,000 barrels of oil per day.

President Obama’s State Department released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) evaluating the project on January 31, 2014.  This document contains new and updated technical information regarding the potential environmental impacts related to the Keystone XL pipeline.  Among the findings from the State Department report was an observation that blocking the pipeline’s construction is, “unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the Canadian oil sands or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”  In other words, the tar sands in Canada are going to be developed to meet the global need for oil whether or not Keystone XL is built.

Following the release of the EIS, opponents of the pipeline criticized the State Department analysis as flawed because of a perceived conflict of interest involving a contractor who worked on the report.  The State Department’s Inspector General investigated these claims and subsequently dismissed them.  The Inspector general found on February 26, 2014 that, in hiring of the contractor in question, State “substantially followed its prescribed guidance and at times was more rigorous than that guidance.”

On January 29th, 2015, with the EIS and Inspector General report completed, I supported a measure, S. 1, that would authorize construction of the pipeline. This legislation passed the Senate on a 62-36 vote. On February 24th, 2015, President Obama vetoed S.1 and returned the legislation to Congress. On March 4th, 2015, I voted to overturn the veto and pass the original legislation. The veto was sustained on a 62-37 vote. 

In advance of this vote I heard from hundreds of Coloradans – both supportive of and opposed to the pipeline. Pipeline opponents are largely concerned that the line’s construction will facilitate expansion of tar sands development in Canada, and will lead to increases in the carbon pollution associated with that development. While I am a firm believer that we need to take aggressive steps to dramatically reduce carbon pollution that causes global warming, most experts – including the State Department and several former environmental officials from the Obama Administration – agree that blocking the Keystone XL pipeline will have little bearing on whether the tar sands oil deposits are developed.

Instead, these energy experts point to the President’s Climate Action Plan – a plan I have repeatedly supported in public statements and through my voting record in the Senate – as the truly consequential fight in Congress over whether our nation will begin to address carbon pollution. Between increasing vehicle efficiency standards and addressing emissions from power plants, the President’s plan is expected, according to a New York Times analysis, to cut more than 1 billion tons of carbon annually when fully implemented. Compare that figure to the estimated emissions associated with Keystone (an increase of 18.7 million tons of carbon over the same quantity of oil produced domestically), and the Times found that the President’s plan is likely more than 50 times more important than Keystone from a climate perspective.

Whether or not you agree with the New York Times‘ conclusions, the numbers underpinning that analysis would suggest that Keystone XL does not deserve the attention it has received in our domestic fight against climate change. Instead – we should be focused on achieving steep reductions in carbon pollution from vehicles and power plants. And in this case, the numbers really matter. If we choose not to accept the math about emissions figures, then we lose credibility when we argue with those who want to misrepresent or ignore the science we’ve used to argue for action in the first place.

While it would’ve been my strong preference to vote on Keystone XL in the context of a comprehensive energy bill that slashed emissions and dramatically increased renewable energy, we were tasked with voting on it in isolation. Congress and the country need to move past this political fight over Keystone XL and instead focus on supporting the President’s ambitious climate regulations. We should also start a real debate about a proactive and forward-looking carbon plan that covers the entire economy, not just vehicles and power plants. I’m particularly interested in a carbon tax on all fossil fuels as an elegant and market-based solution to address climate change. In fact, I voted to consider a carbon tax as part of last Congress’s budget bill.

Finally, and from a parochial standpoint, I am glad that Keystone XL is related to the development of new resources from Canada, and not the oil shale underlying water-scarce Western Colorado. I’d rather we diversify the regions that provide our energy than see places like the Thompson Divide near Carbondale, the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River, or the backyards of our state’s Front Range communities become drilled-out sacrifice zones because we shut off our other energy options.

I’m a firm believer that some places are too special to drill – that’s why I’m against drilling in places like Red Rock country in southern Utah, the Arctic Refuge in Alaska, and a variety of wild places in Colorado. However I’m also a believer that a pragmatic and sober minded decision maker can’t in good conscience be “against” everything because the transition away from fossil fuels cannot occur overnight.

It is for the reasons outlined above that I cast my vote in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline. While I know your perspectives may diverge on the matter, I want to sincerely thank you for reaching out to my office and for your willingness to engage in a constructive conversation. I assure you that I will keep your perspective in mind as I continue to advocate for a forward-looking energy policy. I hope you will stay in touch on this, and other issues, of interest to you and the State of Colorado.

I value the input of fellow Coloradans in considering the wide variety of important issues and legislative initiatives that come before the Senate. I hope you will continue to inform me of your thoughts and concerns.

For more information about my priorities as a U.S. Senator, I invite you to visit my website at http://bennet.senate.gov/. Again, thank you for contacting me.

Sincerely,

Michael F. Bennet
United States Senator