Rep. Dan Thurlow Keeps On Bucking GOP Caucus

Rep. Dan Thurlow (R).

Rep. Dan Thurlow (R).

As the Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby reports today, freshman GOP Rep. Dan Thurlow is emerging as something of a wild card within the Colorado GOP House minority. We took note of a vote by Thurlow earlier this session against a Rocky Mountain Gun Owners bill to ease the acquisition of machine guns, rockets, and other military-grade weapons. But that’s not the only issue on which Thurlow is throwing off his fellow Republicans:

Rep. Dan Thurlow earned a lot of respect from Democrats on Tuesday when he was the only Republican in the Colorado House to vote for a bill to ban conversion therapy for gays and lesbians…

“To me, the conservative position is to stay out of other people’s lives, and everybody should have the ability to live the life they want,” Thurlow said after casting his vote. “I’m not trying to change anybody.”

Immediately after the vote, the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver and one of seven openly gay lawmakers in the Legislature, shook Thurlow’s hand and thanked him for his vote.

The bill passed the House 35-29, but faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Senate, where it now heads.

As Ashby reports, Thurlow also voted against two so-called “religious freedom” bills this week, joining majority House Democrats to kill what opponents called legislation granting a “right to discriminate.” Thurlow also helped vote down an attempt by Republicans to roll back vehicle registration late fees passed in 2009 that have funded dozens of bridge replacement projects around the state.

House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, for his part, is paying lip service to the idea that all of his caucus members are independent actors representing their constituents:

“I’m the minority leader that allows my members to vote how they feel like they need to best represent their district,” DelGrosso said. “I’ve never instructed any of those folks that they need to bear the Republican torch on every issue. I’ve said from day one, we’re going to have caucus issues, but the reality is, if you feel like you need to vote a different way for your district, that’s why you were sent here.”

This is, of course, exactly what you’d expect DelGrosso to say in public. Behind the scenes, however, we’ve heard that Thurlow’s votes are greatly irritating many other House Republicans, and stirring up opposition in Thurlow’s safely Republican Mesa County district. Thurlow is no Jared Wright, whose personal financial indiscretions before taking office and embarrassing mistakes as a freshman legislator made him a one-term wonder–but if Thurlow keeps voting his conscience instead of the GOP party line, it’s not unreasonable to speculate that he might share Wright’s fate.

And that would be a real shame. Colorado Republicans need more Dan Thurlows.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (March 11)

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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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Get More Smarter on Tuesday (March 10)

Get More SmarterDear Iran: Did u get our letter? Write back soon!

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 is among 47 Republican Senators who signed a letter to Iran in a bizarre attempt to undercut the Obama Administration in talks over a nuclear agreement. This was really, really, really not a good idea.

► Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) says that Republicans in Congress do NOT want to repeal Obamacare. Tipton’s remarks came during a speaking engagement with the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association on Monday.

► Wait just a minute…Rep. Scott Tipton really said that Congressional Republicans do NOT want to repeal Obamacare? House Republicans have cast some 60 votes to repeal Obamacare since 2011, with the most recent vote coming last month.

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Dr. Chaps Compares Planned Parenthood to ISIS

TUESDAY POLS UPDATE: Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado responds to Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt in a blistering statement:

It is deeply troubling that Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt of El Paso County has decided to stoop to ridiculous rhetoric instead of finding common solutions to the real policy issues facing Colorado families. In a recent podcast, he praised a South Dakota legislator who compared Planned Parenthood to ISIS. In fact, the legislator from SD, like Rep. Klingenschmidtt, has championed the extreme agenda being pushed by the groups that yell at and harass women who seek care in health clinics.

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health care to women and men and makes sure that women have the option to decide when is the best time to begin their families. Planned Parenthood ensures that people have all the information, options, and support that they need to make their own health care decisions. That is why one in five women in America has turned to Planned Parenthood for support and health care. That’s a far cry from “terrorism.”

This is not the first time Rep. Klingenschmitt has taking the extreme position of drawing comparisons between people or policies he disagrees with to the “Islamic State.”

His behavior is reprehensible, extreme, out-of-touch and should be denounced by all of his legislative colleagues and the leaders of both political parties. This goes beyond politics – it is shameful and we hope both Democrats and Republicans alike will be honest in declaring it so.

—–

State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt has said he’s “very proud” of South Dakota State Rep. Isaac Latterell, who wrote a blog post last month comparing Planned Parenthood the Islamic State.

“I am discerning the spirit of god on this state rep from South Dakota,” said Klingenschmitt in Tuesday’s edition of his online video series called Pray in Jesus’ Name, beginning at about the five minute mark below. “His name is Issac Latterell. And he is taking a stand to protect the innocent, and I am very proud of that.”

“Father, we ask your blessing, on South Dakota, on all of America, Father, that we would stand against terrorism in all its forms, stand against murder of innocents in all of its forms, that we would be consistent in our policy and stop funding the abortion business with American tax dollars,” he said later. “God, wake us up as a nation to stop the slaughter of innocents.”

As I reported for RH Reality Check this morning, the last time Klingenschmitt brought up ISIS, writing last year that U.S. Rep. Jared Polis  wants “to bankrupt Christians who refuse to worship and endorse his sodomy” and that Polis would “join ISIS in beheading Christians,” Ryan Call denounced Klingenschmitt’s comments.

This, in turn, led Klingenschmitt to say his remarks were “hyperbole” and that “some Democrats do not have a sense of humor.”

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Get More Smarter on Monday (March 9)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Republicans in the State Senate are making their last-gasp effort during this legislative session to change gun control laws passed in 2013.

Civil rights groups are rallying today in protest over so-called “Right to Discriminate” legislation making its appearance in the State House.

► As we begin the second half of the 2015 Colorado legislative session, the Colorado Springs Gazette looks ahead to Under the Golden Dome, Part II.

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Oh Lordy, Kumbaya

As the Denver Post's Joey Bunch reports, Republicans and Democrats at the state capitol are swaying to the same sappy tune when it comes to developing Colorado's workforce to meet the needs of the future:

Dozens of Colorado legislators from both parties stood together Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to tell the middle class that help is on the way…

The package would give employers financial incentives to take on interns and apprentices and would develop programs that coordinate high schools and colleges with companies willing to help train and eventually employ workers, bill sponsors said…

The industries targeted by the legislators pay well: engineering, research and development, manufacturing, aerospace, bioscience, electronics, energy and natural resources and other skilled trades.

In a separate blog post, Bunch details the workforce development bills introduced so far and on the way. Just about every legislative session features a similar moment of bipartisan camaraderie over a package of mutually inoffensive economic development legislation, but with so many nasty fights swirling on a host of hot-button partisan touchstone issues this year, both parties felt the need to make an extra show of it yesterday. And why not? Especially in a non-election year, voters love to see this and reporters love to write about it.

Yes, folks, that's Democratic Rep. Mike Foote (D) with his arm around Sen. Laura Woods (R). If you're thinking that this doesn't happen very often, you're right.

Enjoy it while it lasts, because the gun magazine limit repeal and Rep. Gordon "Dr. Chaps" Klingenschmitt's "right to discriminate" bills are up for debate Monday! At which time Kumbaya will be over.

Get More Smarter on Friday (March 6)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► A group of 10 sheriffs from 3 different states are suing Colorado for legailzing marijuana. Replied Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulderish), "This lawsuit is a silly attempt to circumvent the will of Colorado voters and is a waste of time." Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith is the lead plaintiff on the lawsuit; top law enforcement officials in Greeley and Weld County decided to stay out of the lawsuit, presumably because they were too busy doing their jobs instead.

► Colorado legislators said Thursday that they are focusing on bills to help the middle class in Colorado. As Joey Bunch reports for the Denver Post:

Lawmakers have introduced four bills so far to help people prepare for and get better-paying jobs, with six more to be introduced soon.

The package would give employers financial incentives to take on interns and apprentices and would develop programs that coordinate high schools and colleges with companies willing to help train and eventually employ workers, bill sponsors said.

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GOP Plays Dirty To Kill Concealed Weapon Background Checks

Concealed handgun.

Concealed handgun.

As the Denver Post's John Frank reports, House Democrats ended a major standoff with Republicans over the issue of funding for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to close a backlog of background checks for concealed weapons permits yesterday, essentially by capitulating to the GOP's curious refusal to increase this funding and thereby accommodate the surging demand for CCW permits in the state:

A Washington-style budget standoff at the state Capitol ended Wednesday as the House conceded to the Senate's position on a $2 million spending bill for the public safety department.

The unanimous vote removed the final hurdle for a measure that includes money for testing evidence in drunken-driving and rape cases but jettisoned a provision allowing the agency to hire more staffers to reduce the wait time for concealed-carry background checks.

The Democratic-controlled House insisted on the $370,000 for background checks, but the Republican-led Senate objected and refused to negotiate on the bill, creating what one lawmaker described as a "high-stakes game of chicken" that drew comparisons to congressional gridlock.

If the House didn't pass the supplemental spending bill, it would have died — a reality House Democrats said was too steep to accept.

Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, speaking to reporters afterward, acknowledged this as a tactical defeat, but defended the decision to fold in the face of determined GOP opposition to the CBI funding request. The Durango Herald's Peter Marcus:

House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Boulder, said it simply was too important to let the bill die, noting money for the state’s toxicology lab, law-enforcement training and testing for rape kits.

“I call it being the adults in the room,” [Pols emphasis] Hullinghorst said after the vote Wednesday, which passed unanimously. “There was very little alternative.”

As we discussed last month regarding this same controversy, Republican opposition to funding the CBI's request for additional funds to close the concealed-carry background check backlog is not easy to explain at first blush. After all, Republicans are supposed to be the defenders of Coloradans' right to own and carry weapons for self-defense. Why would they not want the CBI to close the backlog of background checks, and get these applicants their permits faster? Wouldn't that be the pro-Second Amendment thing to do?

The answer to this curious question lies in the law–CRS 18-12-206. Which reads:

(1) Within ninety days after the date of receipt of the items specified in section 18-12-205, a sheriff shall:

(a) Approve the permit application and issue the permit; or

(b) Deny the permit application based solely on the ground that the applicant fails to qualify under the criteria listed in section 18-12-203 (1) or that the applicant would be a danger as described in section 18-12-203 (2). If the sheriff denies the permit application, he or she shall notify the applicant in writing, stating the grounds for denial and informing the applicant of the right to seek a second review of the application by the sheriff, to submit additional information for the record, and to seek judicial review pursuant to section 18-12-207.

And here's where it all starts to make an ugly kind of sense:

(2) If the sheriff does not receive the results of the fingerprint checks conducted by the bureau and by the federal bureau of investigation within ninety days after receiving a permit application, the sheriff shall determine whether to grant or deny the permit application without considering the fingerprint check information. [Pols emphasis]

The Republican-controlled Colorado Senate has already passed legislation that would eliminate the background check requirement entirely for carrying concealed weapons. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the legislators they control are all on record in opposition to any additional background checks for CCW permits. That legislation is set to die in the Democratic-controlled House State Affairs committee sometime this month.

But as you can see, Republicans have a backup plan for killing CCW background checks, in the form of starving the CBI of the funds it needs to conduct them in a timely manner. It's not necessary to repeal the law requiring CCW checks, if they can simply push the backlog for their approval beyond the ninety days specified in the law–after which the sheriff approving the CCW permit simply doesn't have to use the information.

This is just another example of Colorado Republicans using the budget process to wield legislative power that they don't otherwise have with only narrow control of a single chamber of the legislature. Much like defunding the driver license program for undocumented immigrants, it results in a situation no one in authority should ever want: a program that remains legal but is in practice not functional. In both cases, this achieves Republican policy goals, but subversively and without regard to the hardship it causes in the meantime.

In this case, the GOP may be going too far. If Democrats can demonstrate to voters that the GOP's true objective here is to get rid of background checks for CCW permits, we think that can be turned into a significant political liability. Because it's not the way the process is supposed to work, and the public won't support the real objective here if it's fully explained to them.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (March 5)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce announced its opposition to so-called "Right to Discriminate" legislation being pushed by Colorado Republicans. This will put a dent in the GOP argument that businesses should be allowed to discriminate for financial reasons.

► As the Colorado legislature nears halftime, 9News reporter Brandon Rittiman takes a look at what to expect in the coming months. Colorado Senate Democrats talked up their mid-session accomplishments yesterday. “We said we would fight for middle class families, and that is what we have done," said Senate Democratic Leader Morgan Carroll. "While we have had several partisan defeats, we are not deterred."

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Get More Smarter on Wednesday (March 4)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Senate Democrats are holding a mid-session legislative briefing this afternoon for the media. Saturday, March 7 marks the official halfway point of the Colorado legislative session. Gov. John Hickenlooper is taking a more hands-on approach to this legislative session compared to years past.

► This probably won't surprise you, but several Republican lawmakers who present staunch anti-government platforms actually receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal subsidies for their farms. They don't want to kill the golden goose — they just want it for themselves.

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Get More Smarter on Tuesday (March 3)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

Colorado's Congressional delegation — minus Rep. Diana DeGette — was on hand today as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Congress. House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to Congress so that Republicans would stop yelling at him for a few hours. 

► Like just about everything else these days in the Colorado legislature, partisan lines are forming over the Parental Leave BIll. Either that, or Republicans really don't want to go to that ballet recital.

► The Denver Nuggets have finally fired head coach Brian Shaw. The Nuggets were just 56-85 during Shaw's tenure, or what Congressional Republicans might call a "winning record."

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GOP Anti-Abortion Bill #3 (!) Up Today

Creepy Uncle Sam holding a speculum.

Creepy Uncle Sam holding a speculum.

9NEWS' Amy Crowfoot reports, they just can't help themselves:

HB15-1112, sponsored by Rep. Lois Landgraf (R-Fountain), would require a physician to "take all medically appropriate and reasonable steps to preserve the life of a born-alive infant" and prohibits denying nourishment to a born-alive infant with the intent of ending the infant's life. It also prohibits using a born-alive infant for scientific research or other experimentation.

Landgraf said that because there are no reporting requirements for abortions, there is no way of knowing what happens to born-alive infants at this time. "The baby," she said, "can be set on a shelf and allowed to die."

Back in reality,

"It is already illegal to kill a living human being," [Pols emphasis] [Rep. Lois] Court said, also adding, "I am really tired of my Republican colleagues bringing forward divisive social issues when we really should be focused on rebuilding our middle class here in Colorado."

The same arguments apply here as with the other GOP anti-abortion bills that have been introduced to certain death in the Democratic-controlled House. The motivation must be deeply emotional and ideological, because politically, it's just disastrous. Whatever marginal benefit running these bills have with motivating the conservative anti-abortion base is totally undone by the moderate voters these bills alienate. Politically, it's a tremendous gift to Democrats, proof positive that the "War on Women" is no myth.

There seems to be this idea that Republicans can insulate themselves from criticism over abortion, perhaps following Cory Gardner's example of gumming the issue to death, even as they run anti-abortion legislation year after year.

2014's experience notwithstanding, we do not share their optimism.

Partisan Battle Lines Forming Over Parental Leave Bill

parental-leave-bill-2013

A fact sheet from 9 to 5 Colorado summarizes House Bill 15-1221, legislation to renew existing Colorado law allowing parents to take unpaid leave for their childrens' school activities. This legislation passed its first House committee test today on a party-line vote, but faces an uncertain future in the GOP-controlled Colorado Senate:

In 2009, the Colorado State Legislature passed the Parental Involvement for Academic Achievement Act, which allowed many Colorado employees to take leave to attend their children’s school activities. Research has consistently shown that increased parental involvement in the education and schooling of their children correlates with greater academic achievement outcomes. This legislation expires this year and should be permanently extended.
 
What the Current Parental Involvement Policy Does:

•    Allows employees of Colorado businesses to take up to 18 hours of leave per academic year to attend their children’s parent-teacher conferences, special education services, response to interventions for dropout prevention, attendance, truancy or other disciplinary issues.
•    Allows parents to participate in the above activities for children in Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade.
•    Applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. 
•    Limits leave to 6 hours per month, and the employer may require that the leave be taken in increments of 3 hours or less.
•    Requires parents to provide employers with at least 1 calendar week’s notice of the leave, except in an emergency. 
•    Employers may require that employees provide written verification of the reason for leave, and in the case of leave taken for an emergency, the employee must provide written verification of the leave upon return to work. 
•    Part-time employees accrue their leave at the percentage of full-time hours that they work (if you work 20 hours a week you would receive half of the leave time received by a full-time employee).
•    An employer may limit the leave granted to an employee if the health and safety of a person necessitates that the employee be present at work.  
•    Specifies that businesses that already have comparable leave policies that may be used for the same purpose and under the other provisions of the bill are not required to provide additional leave.
•    Allows for employers to deny leave if their absence would result in a halt in service or production.

House Bill 15-1221 would permanently renew the 2009 Parental Involvement for Academic Achievement Act, and expand the definition of "school activity" to include events like back-to-school meetings and meetings with counselors. This legislation saw a significant fight in 2009 when originally passed, which is one of the reasons it included a five year "sunset" provision requiring it to be reauthorized by the General Assembly. We've seen nothing to suggest that the 2009 bill has caused problems for employers, but Republicans are getting air cover from conservative group Compass Colorado as they try to kill it:

“Everyone wants to encourage parent participation in their children’s academic lives,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado. “We need to ask ourselves if we really need to legislate every aspect of the employer/employee relationship. Does more regulation imposed on businesses get the desired outcome, or will it just create more red tape and make the employer/employee relationship more adversarial?”

We're not saying they have a good argument, but it's interesting that Republicans are trying to fight what seems like a no-brainer bill. Supporters cite polling that says 93% of parents want to be involved with their child's education, but 52% say work responsibilities make that harder. We're not aware of any Democrats being targeted in 2010 for supporting parental leave legislation–but in 2016, what kinds of ads will be made about Republicans who are trying to repeal it? What does this say about the party who claims they're "pro-family?"

Once again, this is not a fight we would willingly take on, with a huge potential for blowback on Republicans from voters if they kill this bill. But that appears to be what's happening as of now.

Get More Smarter on Monday (March 2)

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TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Conservation groups are drawing attention today to Republican efforts to roll back Colorado's renewable energy standards. The State House is almost certain to reject these attempts, but not before Republicans are done dragging themselves through the mud.

► Congressional Republicans have another few days to figure out how to continue funding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) after a dramatic end to last week that saw passage of a one-week extension. According to poll results from CNN, Americans would blame Republicans for any problems with failing to fund DHS; no surprise here, since REPUBLICANS HAVE THE LARGEST CONGRESSIONAL MAJORITY SINCE THE NEW DEAL.

► House Speaker John Boehner (R-Tanning Bed) is trying to downplay GOP disarray by calling internal dissention a "disagreement on tactics." Colorado Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) sided with Boehner on Friday despite spending weeks on the talk-radio circuit saying he would do the opposite.

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Renewable Energy Standard Rollback To Die Today

UPDATE: The Durango Herald's Peter Marcus:

The measure made it through the Republican-controlled Senate last month but faced an uphill climb in the House, where Democrats on the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee ended the effort by a 6-5 party-line vote…

Environmentalists held a rally at the Capitol just before the hearing to express their opposition to the bill. A group of mothers said the issue is about protecting the health of future generations by moving away from traditional fuel sources that many believe is at least in part the cause of climate change.

“Moms believe we have a moral obligation to protect children’s health and future, ensuring they have clean air is one of the very basics,” said Dana Gutwein, a leader with the group Colorado Moms Know Best. “The reality is that chopping the state’s renewable-energy standard in half would mean relying more on coal-fired plants and more kids dealing with asthma and other respiratory problems.”

—–

Wind power.

Wind power.

AP via the Aurora Sentinel:

A bill to lower the mandates has passed the Republican state Senate and awaits its first hearing in a House committee Monday.

That committee is controlled by Democrats and is expected to reject the idea.

The bill would cut in half the percentage of renewable energy required of large utilities by 2020, from 30 percent to 15 percent. It would also reduce the renewable energy mandate on rural electricity co-ops, from 20 percent to 15 percent by 2020.

Ahead of today's hearing, 350.org and Conservation Colorado are rallying to draw attention to Senate Bill 44:

The House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee has the capacity to kill Senate Bill 44. This bill would roll back our renewable energy standard from 30% by 2020 to 15%. This is especially absurd because Xcel already gets 19% of their electricity from wind alone. Some renewables are cheaper than fossil fueled power and actually help rural Coloradan communities, contrary to the 'war on rural Colorado' narrative.

This is another situation where Democrats have an opportunity to use GOP support for a bill with no real backing outside one special interest–in this case the fossil fuel industry–against Republicans with the much larger majority of voters who won't support rolling back Colorado's popular renewable energy standard. The "war on rural Colorado" rhetoric employed by opponents of the renewable energy standard for rural electric co-ops in particular was always dreadfully over the top, and fell flat during the failed "North Colorado" secession movement.

The only thing that's changed is control by one seat in the Colorado Senate, and that's why the bill survived long enough to be noted in two separate news cycles. Keep in mind that even Cory Gardner had to run as a renewable energy proponent last year. Outside a small segment of climate change denialist diehards and fossil fuel industry surrogates, opposing Colorado's renewable energy standards–which most voters aware of the issue consider a good thing–makes little political sense.

But along with abortion bans, making the world safe for anti-vaxxers, and rolling back gun laws, this is where Colorado Republicans have chosen to plant their flag. For Democrats looking ahead to 2016, it's a wealth of material.