ProgressNow Colorado’s Winners and Losers of the 2014 Legislative Session

WINNERS

 

LOSERS

1. Colorado students

This year, Colorado finally began the road back from years of devastating budget cuts to our public schools and colleges. Thanks to an improving economy and sound budgetary decision making, the state was able to restore $100 million in funding for our colleges and universities and begin to restore millions of dollars in badly-needed funds to K-12. We have a long way to go to restore all of the cuts to education since the Great Recession, but 2014 was a great start.

 

1. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners

In 2013, the extremist pro-gun group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners helped organize recall elections against Colorado Senators who supported last year’s common-sense gun safety reforms. This year, it was widely expected that RMGO would flood the Capitol with angry mobs and misinformation in an attempt to repeal these new laws. Unfortunately for RMGO, those crowds of gun rights activists failed to reappear at the Capitol as they had in 2013. The reason is simple: the sky didn’t fall, and Colorado’s new gun safety laws are working.

 

2. Colorado’s economy and working families

From support for advanced industries to helping ensure the working families most in need can get child care assistance, this was a great legislative session for Colorado’s economy. Following up on legislation from 2013, support for advanced technology job creators was increased. Legislation brought by Sen. John Kefalas and Reps. Brittany Pettersen and Tony Exum to expand child care grants will provide invaluable help to families trying to balance their careers with caring for young children. 

 

2. Anti-choice extremists

This year, far-right legislators introduced yet another piece of legislation that would ban all abortions in Colorado, even in cases of rape or incest. Colorado is a pro-choice state, and voters have repeatedly rejected abortion bans in statewide ballot measures in recent years. This year’s abortion ban bill failed, but not before numerous conservative legislators, including House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, had signed on as cosponsors. Attempting to ban abortion in Colorado has already done grave political damage to conservatives, but they still haven’t learned their lesson. Colorado women won’t go back.

 

3. Victims of floods and fires

Following devastating floods and fires in 2013, Democrats and Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly came together to pass comprehensive legislation to help our state recover from last year’s catastrophic events and improve our ability to cope with future natural disasters. Leaders like Rep. Dave Young, co-chair of the Flood Disaster Study Committee, worked overtime to ensure the lessons learned in 2013 were reflected in policy this year. Tax credits to offset damage to property owners, streamlined relief funding for affected residents, and flexibility for local government to fund road and bridge repairs are just a few of the sensible reforms that passed this year with bipartisan support.

 

 

3. House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso

Republican Colorado House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso deserves some credit for helping pass many bipartisan bills this year, but he stumbled badly by signing on to the disastrous abortion ban legislation mentioned above. DelGrosso also faced major embarrassments within his caucus, such as the chronically sleepy and tardy Rep. Justin Everett, and Rep. Jared Wright leaving a loaded gun unattended in a Capitol hearing room. Some leaders make the best of a bad situation, but DelGrosso was unable–or unwilling–to help himself and his party's brand this year.

4. Governor John Hickenlooper

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s administration worked both in public and behind the scenes to defend and expand on the historic progress made by the General Assembly in the last two years. Hickenlooper has shown real leadership on issues ranging from education to reproductive choice to equality for every Colorado family. And Hickenlooper ends the 2014 legislative session with an unbeatable record of solid economic growth in his first term.

 

4. Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman

At the beginning of this year’s legislative session, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman exploded in a fit of rage on the Senate floor, claiming that bills were being mishandled, and even threatening recalls against Senate leadership. But as it turned out, Cadman was completely wrong, and the gun safety repeal bill he complained about received a fair hearing. But the incident underscored Cadman’s reputation as an erratic hothead, prone to emotional outbursts and unsuited to leadership.

 

5. Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino

Mark Ferrandino, ending his term as Speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives this year, has made history in too many ways to count. As the first openly gay Speaker of the House in Colorado’s history, Ferrandino presided in 2013 over the long-sought passage of civil unions legislation. This year, Ferrandino has been invaluable in defending the gains made in 2013, and pushing forward with this year’s progressive agenda of economic growth, disaster recovery, and funding education. Republicans and Democrats alike have praised Ferrandino’s steady and fair leadership this year.

 

5. Legislators seeking higher office

For a host of reasons, conservative incumbent legislators seeking higher office failed to achieve their objectives. Sen. Greg Brophy’s bid for governor fizzled, Rep. Amy Stephens, Sen. Owen Hill, and Sen. Randy Baumgardner failed to gain any traction in their brief campaigns for the U.S. Senate, and Rep. Mark Waller’s run for Attorney General fell apart after faring poorly at the Republican state assembly. In some cases these were simply unqualified candidates, but legislative experience isn’t the plus for Republicans seeking higher office that it once was–mostly because the extreme GOP grassroots can’t stomach the compromises necessary to effectively govern.

 

6. State employees

Through the Great Recession, Colorado’s state employees worked without a raise for years. Colorado public employees make less than their counterparts in the private sector, and as the state’s largest employer, state employee income has a direct impact on our economy. In the 2014-2015 budget, state workers are seeing base-building pay increases for the second year. Every day we rely on our road workers, corrections officers, firefighters, and other state employees, and it’s great to finally see them being recognized for their hard work.

 

6. The “clown car caucus”

From banning abortion to going after the non-problem of buying marijuana with public assistance, there was a group of conservative legislators that one could always count on to sponsor the most embarrassing legislation this year. Many of these legislators, such as Rep. Lori Saine and Sen. Vicki Marble, won their seats with help from the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which seems to not care if candidates are completely unqualified as long as they vote RMGO’s way on guns. Republicans hoping to put on a fresh face after years of electoral defeats in Colorado weren’t helped by the “clown car caucus” this year.

 

7. Women

With one of the nation’s highest rates of female representation, the Colorado General Assembly remains a model for the entire nation. This year, in addition to vital support for single moms and working families through child care assistance, progressives in the legislature beat back yet another attempt by the far right to ban all abortions in Colorado. Senate President Morgan Carroll become the second woman to serve in that leadership role. Conservatives keep trying every year, but thanks to our strong women and progressive leadership, the “war on women” stops cold when it arrives at the Colorado General Assembly.

 

 

7. Wage thieves

After years of trying, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri and Rep. Jonathan Singer’s bill to strengthen protections for Colorado workers from wage theft by employers finally passed the Colorado General Assembly. Many victims of wage theft don’t have the resources to fight a long, expensive court battle to win back their wages. Ulibarri and Singer’s bill will allow the Department of Labor to determine cases of wage theft directly, and help ripped-off employees get paid faster.

8. Transparency and good government

One of the bills already signed into law by Gov. Hickenlooper this year is legislation to make it easier for citizens and watchdogs to obtain government records through the Colorado Open Records Act. Rep. Joseph Salazar and Sen. John Kefalas teamed up to pass this important bill to prevent abuses of the system by public officials with something to hide.

 

8. Secretary of State Scott Gessler

This year’s legislative session was a disaster for Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler. Gessler made headlines after irresponsible budgetary decisions left his office millions of dollars in the red, compounding a record of bad judgment that already included the Independent Ethics Commission’s ruling that Gessler had “breached the public trust for private gain.” Gessler’s attempts to undermine and vilify Colorado’s election modernization laws fell flat, and his failed quest to uncover “illegal voters” has seriously harmed Gessler’s reputation under the Dome.

 

9. Colorado’s air and water

Gov. Hickenlooper’s work this year to pass important new air quality protections for oil and gas drilling is a prime example of bringing industry and conservationists together to make a positive step for everyone. New, dramatically steeper fines for oil and gas drilling violations passed by the legislature this year add teeth to the laws already on the books. And protections for water quality around uranium mining and processing sites will protect the public and the environment from harm as that industry responds to market demand. The job of protecting the public health and environment may not be over yet this year, but progress has undeniably been made.

 

9. Representative Jared Wright

Rep. Jared Wright’s brief legislative career has been marred by controversy, ever since details of his resignation from the Fruita Police Department led to attempts by fellow Republicans to get him out of the race. In the legislature, Rep. Wright further angered his fellow Republicans after leaving a loaded handgun in a Capitol hearing room–leading to calls for all legislators to check their firearms at the entrance to the Capitol like all other citizens must do. Since being pressured into not running for reelection, however, Rep. Wright has turned over a new leaf–frequently siding with progressives on issues related to public health and energy production. That has only made Wright more of a loser among his fellow Republicans, but Wright’s constituents may finally have a reason to appreciate his service.

 

10. Bipartisanship

Most of what we hear in the news today is about political controversies, and this year had its share. But it’s also worth remembering that around 95% of bills passed this year in the Colorado General Assembly had bipartisan support. On issues like disaster relief, job creation, and government transparency, more often than not there was no daylight between Republicans and Democrats. The issues that divide us sometimes define us, but other times we know how to come together as Coloradans to do what’s right–and that’s important to remember when emotions run high.

 

10. Palisade peaches

The Palisade peach lost out this year in a bid to become the state’s official fruit. Elementary school student Nick Babiak made a strong effort this year lobbying in favor of a bill to designate Palisade peaches as the state fruit, but was thwarted by opposition from the Rocky Ford Growers Association. Progressives stand with Nick Babiak and with the finest peaches grown anywhere, and hope 2015 will be the year that Palisade peaches finally receive their due.

BREAKING: No Local Control Compromise This Session

UPDATE #2: Conservation Colorado's Pete Maysmith:

Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith released the following statement today on the failure to reach an agreement on legislation to enable local governments to have a say over heavy industrial drilling and fracking in their neighborhoods and communities.

“Coloradans concerned about the impact of drilling and fracking in their communities are indebted to Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and Representative Sue Ryden today.  Both leaders worked tirelessly over the past several weeks to reach a compromise that protects Coloradans and their communities. As Colorado’s oil and natural gas boom continues, cities and counties must have the best tools at their disposal to craft protections that ensure drilling and fracking near homes, schools and neighborhoods is protective of our public health, environment and Colorado quality of life.

Conservation Colorado had hoped all parties could find the proper balance to address the heavy industrial drilling and fracking happening in communities across Colorado.  As the session ends without resolution to these important issues, Coloradans will have to consider if there are alternative forums to protect Coloradans and hold the industry accountable for their impacts on our communities."

—–

UPDATE: FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

Without a legislative compromise, it’s all but certain that a series of ballot measures that would allow local communities to ban fracking outright will continue on a path toward the November ballot.

The measures, which are being financed by Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, go much further than the proposed legislation that was in the works, which would have merely allowed cities and counties control over setbacks (how far wells must be set back from homes and schools) and inspections.

Polis had been willing to drop his ballot measures if lawmakers had reached a deal, according to numerous sources involved in the negotiations; although Republicans, many of whom were open to a compromise, didn’t trust that that would have been the case.

—–

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Press release from Colorado House Democrats breaks the news–there will be no compromise legislation giving local governments greater regulatory control over oil and gas drilling this session. Barring the extraordinary, this likely ensures constitutional measures on this hotly controversial subject are headed to the statewide Colorado ballot this fall:

Rep. Su Ryden (D-Aurora) and Majority Leader Diecky Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder) announced today that negotiations intended to harmonize state and local authority over oil and gas development have made progress but failed to produce an agreement in time to introduce a bill in the 2014 session. 

Here is a joint statement by Rep. Ryden and Rep. Hullinghorst: 

“Addressing Colorado citizens’ concerns about the impacts of oil and gas development on their lives and their communities is a top priority for us as policymakers. To address those concerns, we have been involved in extensive discussions involving a variety of stakeholders, incuding other legislators, the conservation community, oil and gas operators and the Hickenlooper administration.   

“Those discussions focused on harmonizing local and state authority in regards to energy production. It is of critical importance to people across this state to balance local communities’ ability to act to protect the health, safety and welfare of Colorado families while also creating a consistent and predictable regulatory framework that allows for responsible energy development. 

“Our conversations have been productive, but we haven’t yet struck an accord with all of the stakeholders, and we’ve run out of time in this session to pass consensus legislation.   
  
“We want to thank all those who have put their time and energy into the conversation, and hope that all involved and other interested parties are ready to continue in a good-faith dialogue about how to meet the reasonable expectations of local communities impacted by energy development as well as the needs of operators. We hope we will continue moving toward these shared goals.” 

We'll update with further developments shortly–this may not be the last word.

Post story exaggerates GOP unity this election cycle

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

hickandoppo

I was all set to write a blog post this morning about Scott Gessler saying on the radio that his Republican gubernatorial opponents are all losers, including Mike Kopp who, Gessler said, presided over the Republicans' disastrous legislative-election collapse in 2010. Gessler told KNUS talk-radio host Jimmy Sengenberger a couple weeks ago:

“If you want to have the same results that we’ve had in the past, just do the same thing… I’ve won a state-wide election. You know, Tom Tancredo is a good man, he has not won one. Bob Beauprez is a good man, he has not won one. Mike Kopp is a good man. When he ran the state Senate Majority Fund, which was the 527 to support senators in 2010, we didn’t win any of the competitive races then either. I think we need to stop looking to the past and looking instead to the future.”

But then I saw Denver Post reporter Lynn Bartels' article about all the "unity" among Colorado Republicans this election cycle. Bartels reported:

Although there's a four-way race this year for the GOP nomination for governor, [GOP State Chair Ryan] Call & Co. so far have done an effective job cajoling the candidates to aim their potshots at Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and not each other.

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Rep. Jared Wright Goes Full-on Rogue In Career’s Final Days

Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita).

Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita).

​"One-and-done" GOP Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita) is ending his second and final legislative session with quite a flourish, as the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports:

Rep. Jared Wright doesn’t care what the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce thinks about a bill he’s backing on uranium mining.

The Fruita Republican is co-sponsoring a bill with a Boulder Democrat, Rep. KC Becker, aimed at protecting the state’s groundwater supply from radioactive contamination…

While the bill primarily is aimed at helping residents around a Superfund site near Canon City, some Republicans fear it is overly broad.

We've followed Rep. Wright's stormy one-term career as an elected legislator, which almost never got off the ground after revelations about his departure from the Fruita Police Department and his questionable personal financial troubles sent his Mesa County GOP benefactors running for the proverbial exits. Despite that rocky start, as a fairly reliable Republican vote in the General Assembly, we think Rep. Wright might have gotten a pass to run for re-election–before a disastrously idiotic mistake, leaving a loaded handgun in a legislative committee conference room, made him an unacceptable liability to his fellow gun-toting Republican legislators. Not long after that incident, Wright held a "shotgun press conference" announcing he would not seek re-election and endorsing his erstwhile GOP primary opponent.

Great movie.

Great movie.

But since then, we've seen flashes of a whole different Rep. Wright. Wright was the only House Republican to vote in favor of a bill to study the health effects of oil and gas development in several Front Range counties, voicing arguments in favor of the legislation that made surprisingly good sense. Likewise, with the bill he's co-sponsoring with Democrat K.C. Becker on uranium groundwater contamination, Wright is articulate and on point.

Too much so for his Republican colleagues:

“Representative Coram, I respect your expertise, I just happen to disagree with you on this issue,” Wright said. “I represent an area that abuts a quarter of your district and I don’t see this resulting in job loss.”

“With all due respect, Representative Wright, your district came out in opposition,” Coram added. “The Grand Junction chamber of commerce came out in opposition. Club 20 is in opposition. I don’t know who you’re talking to in your district, but the people who have talked to me have certainly been in opposition.”

“I represent the people of my district, the people of the state of Colorado, Representative Coram. Not one group or organization,” Wright countered. [Pols emphasis]

Rep. Wright has given us lots of material in only two years on the Colorado political radar, most of it in the form of schadenfreude. Here in what are effectively the last few days of his political career, with all the pressure off, no benefactors to please, nothing left to lose, he might actually be just a little bit inspiring.

Replacing Racist Lady in HD-35: “Sustainability Scares Me” Dude

We talked at the end of March about the Republican candidate in Colorado House District 35, an open seat being vacated by term limited Rep. Cherilyn Peniston, named Maria Weese. Weese's Facebook profile revealed a long history of unapologetically racist views, complaining about how "the heat has really been turned up by the Blacks in this country," and "the wagons circling around Obama led by the Blacks…[and] minorities getting government checks in the mail," among plenty of other disqualifyingly out-of-the-mainstream statements.

We've just learned that Weese has decided in the wake of these disclosures not to run for the legislature. Given that she was very likely about to become the next Nate Marshall, the openly racist Republican House candidate forced off the HD-23 ballot, this was a very sensible decision–whether made by her or (more likely) Republicans at a higher strategic level.

The only remaining problem for the GOP in this narrowly-averted disaster? That would be Weese's replacement!

Back in 2012, we introduced readers to then-Westminster City Council candidate Michael Melvin, a gruff-sounding Tea Party "small government" type running on a platform opposed to the redevelopment of the former Westminster Mall property. Melvin's lecture in a debate on the dangers of "sustainability" (above) was one of the funniest clips to emerge from any municipal race that year–transcribed once again for the record:

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Local Control “Grand Bargain” In The Works?

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

As the Denver Business Journal's Ed Sealover and Cathy Proctor report:

The oil and gas wars that many predicted at the Colorado Capitol still may be coming as the 2014 legislative session wanes, as industry representatives and elected officials are discussing a bill that would give local governments more control over drilling regulations.

A draft bill that was revised late Tuesday and was given to the Denver Business Journal would grant local governments regulatory authority — provided the rules don’t conflict with state statutes — over noise and over setback distance between a well site and schools, hospitals and homes. It also would give cities and counties the authority to conduct inspections and monitoring and to charge a “reasonable” fee to cover its costs.

House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel, said early Tuesday that she doubted such a bill would materialize this session because there is only a week left until the May 7 adjournment of the General Assembly. But several sources close to the negotiations said that discussions about the bill picked up throughout the day as a number of oil and gas companies began to see it as a favorable alternative to facing a proposed ballot measure in November that could allow local governments to push setbacks for well sites as far as 1,500 or 2,500 feet from homes and schools and permit local fracking bans…

A last-minute bill to increase the power of local communities to regulate drilling reflects a very simple reality, one that we've acknowledged in this space discussing the possibility of a much more stringent statewide ballot initiative:

Capitol sources say that some oil and gas companies, fearing the potential of losing to [Rep. Jared] Polis’ well-funded ballot effort, [Pols emphasis] are pushing to pass the proposed bill because they consider it to be much less extreme. But there a rifts over what details would be acceptable not just to that industry but to other industries that could be affected.

Negotiating a deal that would be good enough to please both local control initiative proponents and the oil and gas industry is a tall order, but some of the same people involved in the 2010 "Clean Air Clean Jobs" compromise to convert coal-fired power plants along the Front Range to natural gas are working to align these disparate interests enough to strike a deal. This late-session negotiation comes as other bills favored by conservationists, like a mere study of the health effects of oil and gas drilling which passed the House last week, die with help from Democrats in the one-vote Democratic majority Senate. 

Apropos, a couple of weeks ago, Eli Stokols reported for Politico Magazine about the larger issues surrounding this debate. Without expressing an opinion on its conclusions, as negotiations progress, it's clear Stokols wrote a prescient story:

Ted Trimpa, a Denver power lawyer and strategist once dubbed “the Democrats’ Karl Rove,” was instrumental in helping Polis and the three other millionaires build Colorado’s progressive infrastructure and consolidate power over the last decade. Now he finds himself trying to hold it all together.

He worries that the ballot initiative would splinter a progressive coalition in Colorado that’s been so successful that it’s now seen as a blueprint for Democrats and Republicans in other states—its many successes attributable to an unusual and lasting harmony, an ability to avoid sticky policy fights that distract from the shared goal: winning.

Resolving Colorado’s fracking fight quickly may yet provide other states with a blueprint of how to deal with local control issues around oil and gas, a national example of how compromise and consensus can be achieved even in our polarized times. But if Polis’s measures move toward the November ballot, the country may find out that Colorado isn’t such a model after all, that coalition politics aren’t as easy as this state has made them seem.

“We’re a state known for the two sides working together,” Trimpa tells me, “but if this initiative makes the ballot, the age of that will be gone for a very long time.”

It is what it is, folks, and few of us are privy to the action going on behind the scenes. Politically, there's an undeniable need for Democrats to present a unified front in this tight election year. On the other hand, coalitions only work when sufficient common ground exists to move forward. This has always been the great challenge of holding together the center-left Democratic coalition that has held control of this state for going on a decade, and this isn't the first time the ability to hold that coalition together has been put to a high-stakes test.

We'll update as soon as we learn more–and that won't be long with session's end just days away.

Guns For Dangerous Crazy People, Too!

For illustration purposes only.

For illustration purposes only.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports today:

Responding to numerous emails and a “legislative alert” from the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Association, several state lawmakers voted against a bill that changes some definitions in the state’s civil commitment statutes.

Under those laws, mental health professionals can hold potentially dangerous patients for up to 72 hours and prescribe additional treatment beyond that time…

It stems from a civil commitment task force that was created last year in response to the shooting deaths at an Aurora theater in 2012.

But gun owners worry that once someone is labeled mentally ill, they lose their right to own or possess a firearm.

During last year's pitched debate over gun safety legislation passed in the Colorado General Assembly, one of the most often-heard arguments against the legislation then being debated was that it ignored the real issue identified in recent mass shooting events: that is, mental health problems afflicting the shooters. We shouldn't be regulating guns, they said, we need to do more to both protect the community from and provide treatment for people with mental illnesses.

Now that there's legislation to do just that, what's the response from the gun lobby and their pet legislators?

“I think that a lot of stakeholders weren’t included, including law enforcement … and Second Amendment community,” [Pols emphasis] said Rep. Justin Everett, R-Littleton. “We want to consult with all communities out there, especially after we had two-and-a-half recalls this last cycle.”

As you can see, the gun lobby may have once paid lip service to mental health legislation as an an "alternative" to the gun safety bills passed last year–but when they had the chance to actually do something, in this case carrying out the recommendations of experts convened after the Aurora shootings, forget it! Right back to the "take our guns" scare tactics. It's not  a surprising development, but it should be eye-opening for those who think Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and their wholly-owned representatives in the legislature can be reasoned with.

Allow us to suggest here, as gently as we may, that some of those most upset by the possibility of civil commitment reform, to include figures in Colorado politics whose names you may even know, might themselves be in need of it. We'll leave the individual diagnoses to qualified professionals, naturally.

In the meantime, somebody check the weather in Hell, because GOP Rep. Bob Gardner is a legitimate voice of reason in the Republican House caucus on this legislation, as well as one of the only "yes" votes:

“I, like you, received a large number of emails about House Bill 1386 over the weekend, most of which simply did not understand the bill,” Gardner said. “This bill has nothing in it about guns. If we fail to get the help to those who need it and they harm themselves or they harm a family member, we’ve done them no service by not putting them on a 72-hour hold.”

Good for Rep. Gardner, and shame most of his colleagues.

Those Wacky GOP Candidates – Where Are They Now?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Colorado's Republican party has put up some rather entertaining candidates for the state legislature this year, and I just had to post some updates on them.

Nate Marshall posted an official withdrawal from the HD23 race on April 9, after being exposed as an active white supremacist. However, his campaign committee is still active. Is he hoping the outrage will die down? Marshall's latest post on his Facebook page links to an article positing that liberals are "purging Christians". Huh?

Right now, it appears that  Max Tyler won't have an opponent in HD23, as the committee of the other GOP candidate, Christopher Hadsall, is inactive.

 

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Don’t Even Study Fracking? Really?

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

​The Grand Junction Sentinel's Charles Ashby reports on passage yesterday of House Bill 14-1297, a bill to study the health impacts of hydraulic fracture drilling ("fracking") in certain affected Front Range counties:

The Colorado House approved a controversial bill Thursday that some Republicans believe is designed to give opponents of hydraulic fracturing fodder to ban the practice in the state…

The measure, HB1297, cleared the House on a 38-27 vote. It calls for a study of the health and “quality of life” impacts of hydraulic fracturing of natural gas wells.

Although the bill, which heads to the Senate for more debate, confines that study to six Front Range counties around the Denver metropolitan area, it is seen by some Republicans as a plan by Democrats to slant it to be anti-fracking.

Interestingly, a single Republican legislator did vote in favor of this bill yesterday, outgoing Rep. Jared Wright of Fruita. We've been hard on Wright over the scandals that nearly cost him election in the first place and appear to have now ended his brief legislative career–not to mention leaving a loaded gun unattended in a Capitol committee hearing room–but we'll be damned if Wright doesn't make perfectly good sense regarding this bill.

“We want to know that we’re not just blindly going forward with technology. That we do it the right way,” Wright said. “I believe it can be done the right way, and frankly, I don’t have a doubt that it is being done the right way. I think the results of this study will be that our operators are doing their jobs and doing it in the careful way that we ask them.”

Rep. Wright tells Ashby that while he shares traditional GOP skepticism about government studies, he has "read this bill in-depth and I feel like it’s well laid-out, and I think it’s certainly the intention that it’s done the right way." Obviously, if Wright is right, Republicans and their energy industry benefactors have nothing to fear from an objective study of the health effects of fracking in Colorado. It will reinforce the argument they make about the safety of the practice. And if Wright is wrong, and fracking is not being done "the right way"…what responsible lawmaker would argue against finding that out?

We ask rhetorically, since 27 Colorado Republicans voted against this bill yesterday.

Purged: Priola Resigns as House Minority Whip

Rep. Kevin Priola (R).

Rep. Kevin Priola (R).

The other shoe drops from last week's intra-Colorado House GOP infighting, Denver Post's Anthony Cotton:

Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, said Monday he is resigning as Republican minority whip in the wake of an internal party squabble last week…

During a debate last Thursday on dueling amendments to the Student Success Act, which will provide funding to K-12 schools, Priola backed Democratic co-sponsor Rep. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, over fellow Republican Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. The move drew the immediate ire of a number of Republicans, who alleged Priola wasn’t acting in keeping with his role as whip.

Within hours, the Republican caucus held a meeting, with Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, leading an effort to remove Priola. The attempt eventually failed, but it was clear Priola was on shaky ground within the party.

As we discussed last week, there is a great deal of frustration building among conservative Republicans in the Colorado General Assembly. After stoking outrage to a fever pitch during last year's successful recall campaigns against Democrats in the Senate, conservatives have suffered a wave of setbacks in 2014–failing to pack committee hearings for stillborn repeal measures, ridicule after showing up to hearing unprepared to debate their own bills or call witnesses, and widespread criticism of unpopular legislation introduced by Republican legislators like this year's total abortion ban bill. It seems that frustration boiled over last week, when Rep. Kevin Priola supported a Democratic amendment to the Student Success Act over an amendment offered by fellow Republican Rep. Jim Wilson.

The swift retribution campaign against Priola headed by Rep. Chris Holbert ended embarrassingly when caucus leadership declared the move out of order, but we're not at all surprised to see Priola resign from House leadership today. At this point, the caucus would have been weakened further if Priola had not resigned from leadership, even though Priola is not erratic enough to pull a Kathleen Curry and disaffiliate from the GOP altogether. It's expected that the candidate named to replace Priola in last week's dustup, Rep. Polly Lawrence, will be the next minority whip.

With hard right Republican legislative candidates continuing to do well in the primary process, conservatives in the legislature may yet feel empowered to throw their weight around. Don't look for anything to change there until the June primary–or maybe until after November.

 

GOP Caucus Crackup? Anti-Priola “Coup Attempt” Fails

UPDATE: Here's a clip of Rep. Kevin Priola from yesterday's debate over Rep. Jim Wilson's amendment to House Bill 14-1292. The tension then brewing over Priola's opposition to this mostly GOP-supported amendment is clear in his voice:

​—–

GOP Reps. Kevin Priola and Chris Holbert.

GOP Reps. Kevin Priola and Chris Holbert.

FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports this afternoon:

House Republicans met for 30 minutes Thursday morning after Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, called a meeting with the goal of replacing Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, as the caucus whip.

Priola had alienated many of his fellow GOP colleagues a day earlier when he declined to support an amendment to the Student Success Act sponsored by Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, that most Republicans supported.

Priola hadn’t paid Wilson, one of the more popular members in the caucus, the courtesy of informing him ahead of time that he wouldn’t be supporting his amendment related to a transparency website to show how school districts spend public money.

The Denver Post's Anthony Cotton has a little more reaction from Republicans:

According to the Republicans, part of Priola’s job as Whip is to determine where the membership stands on the issues and help align support within the party–on Wednesday, party members say, Priola not only failed to do that, he argued on the floor in favor of Hamner’s amendment over Wilson’s.

When Hamner’s amendment was passed in a close vote, it led to Thursday’s move by Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, to have Priola removed.

“We were shocked and disappointed that happened,” Holbert said. “He should have let us know his position and we could have made adjustments.”

In the end, despite the push from Rep. Chris Holbert to remove Rep. Kevin Priola from his Minority Whip position on the spot today, minority caucus chair Rep. Kathleen Conti scuttled the move by ruling the motion out of order–as Priola hadn't resigned, the position technically wasn't "vacant." This would clearly indicate that Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso  was not on board. Originally, as Stokols reports, an angry GOP caucus was prepared to oust Priola, as indicated by an initial vote against adjourning the meeting of the caucus. After Conti ruled the whole business out of order, a second vote to adjourn passed.

So what really happened today? For the best clue available, we turn to Rep. Frank McNulty:

The attempted coup, whatever vote precipitated Thursday’s meeting, has been a long time coming, according to several House Republicans who describe a widening gap between the caucus’s moderate and conservative wings.

“This isn’t about the amendment yesterday,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. “This is about personalities.”

By all accounts, this has been a very frustrating legislative session for the conservative wing of the GOP House caucus. After the success of last year's recall elections against two sitting Senators and the resignation of a third, conservatives expected to vigorously oppose Democrats at every step, setting the stage for a clear election season distinction. Instead, as we've recounted in this space, the base GOP outrage they hoped to sustain into this year has fizzled, and the GOP caucus took heavy criticism for dead-end ideological flights of fancy like the abortion ban bill. This incident over a relatively obscure Democratic amendment supported by Priola–which apparently didn't even pass on clean party lines, with several Democrats voting against along with most of the GOP–appears to ripped the scab off of a much larger intra-caucus disagreement.

Judging from the unsatisfying end of today's blowup, we've probably not heard the last of it either.

The “Great Social Experiment” or “Leadership”?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

"This is going to be one of the great social experiments of this century"
~Governor John Hickenlooper

 

Yesterday's senate hearing on SB14-177 and SB14-178 drew a standing-room-only crowd; one that ultimately demanded an overflow room for the observers and witnesses.  The attendees were a broad swath of Colorado citizens: mother and child, medical refugees desperate to find a remedy for their child's condition; attorneys, social workers, business owners, political activists, lobbyists, and myself as the sole farmer in the room. It was an afternoon of passionate testimony by medical marijuana activists who see the bill as a subtle, some may say "backroom" attempt,  to recriminalize the use and or possession of cannabis under section 18-18-102 of the Colorado statute.  The vague language of the proposed bill caused confusion even amongst the law enforcement and social workers who provided testimony for both the proponents and the opposition. 

I'm forever in awe of the breadth and depth of the human and social capacity that Colorado possesses.  The testimony by Jeri Shepard, a Greeley attorney, was compelling.  Jeri went point by salient point, deconstructing the myths around legalization, she offered to the members of the Judiciary Committee they read the book, "The New Jim Crow", an exercise she had participated in as a group Lenten exercise.  If one was measuring the prudence of Coloradans ending prohibition in 2012 by Jeri's testimony, you wouldn't describe our efforts as "a great social experiment".  You would call it "leadership".

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Banning Red Light Cameras, Anyone?

red-light-camera

As the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports, a bill to prohibit red light cameras in Colorado is gaining some bipartisan momentum:

A proposal introduced in the Senate late last week would bar cities and counties from using automated vehicle-identification systems that pinpoint drivers committing traffic infractions.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, has introduced similar legislation the past two years, though unlike in previous sessions, he has strong support this go-round from House and Senate Democratic leadership.

"These cameras just create revenue for cities and don't actually increase public safety at our intersections," said Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, the bill's prime House sponsor. "I think we should be focused on making people safe, not raising money." [Pols emphasis]

As Lee reports, local governments are raking in millions in fines from relatively low-overhead automatic camera enforcement at intersections. Not surprisingly, the Colorado Municipal League doesn't like this bill one bit–though they cite the public safety considerations, not the revenue. At the end of the day, money talks: and the badly needed revenue these cameras provide may prove reason enough to keep them with no further debate needed.

What say you, Polsters? Red-light liberty, public safety, or cash?

Abortion? Gun Control? Genghis Khan? It Must Be Holocaust Week Resolution Time!

Today, the Colorado General Assembly debated and gave initial passage to House Joint Resolution 14-1015, the annual resolution designating the last week of April as Holocaust Awareness Week. Each year, the debate over this resolution gives Republicans an opportunity to score rhetorical points on a variety of their favorite issues. Last year's memorable tag team on abortion from Sens. Kevin Lundberg and Scott Renfroe was a notable example.

This election year, CD-4 primary candidate Renfroe was muzzled, and Lundberg was a bit more subtle–though the abortion/Holocaust reference is still unmistakable:

LUNDBERG: And I ask all of us, are we still too conveniently numb? I see human life taken, that I believe is immoral and injust, am I too conveniently numb to speak out? [Pols emphasis] I pray that we will all re-evaluate our moral standards in each and every step we take…

Lundberg is known for a lot of things, folks, but failing to speak out about abortion is not one of them.

Not to be outdone, here's Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, making a not-so-subtle reference to the gun safety legislation passed in Colorado in 2013 as he invokes the Rwandan genocide of 1994:

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Field of Candidates for Jefferson County Offices (Almost) Set for June Primary

With both the Democratic and Republican county assemblies behind us, the field is set for the slate of races in Jefferson County. Here's the rundown for every race and candidate that will appear on the June Primary ballot, with a few notable exceptions (SD-16 and HD-23)…

STATE SENATE
SD-16 (Republicans will hold the SD-16 assembly this weekend)
Sen. Jeanne Nicholson (D), Incumbent
Tim Neville (R)
Richard Wenzel (R)

SD-19
Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D), Incumbent
Laura Waters Woods (R) — top line on GOP ballot
Lang Sias (R)

SD-20
Sen. Cheri Jahn (D), Incumbent
Larry Queen (R)

SD-22
Sen. Andy Kerr (D), Incumbent
Tony Sanchez (R) — top line on GOP ballot
Mario Nicolais (R)
 

STATE HOUSE
HD-22
Rep. Justin Everett (R), Incumbent – top line on ballot
Loren Bauman (R)
Mary Parker (D)

HD-23
Rep. Max Tyler (D), Incumbent
Nate Marshall (R), expected to resign as candidate; Republicans have until April 17th to choose a replacement.
 

HD-24
Jessie Danielson (D) — top line on ballot
Kristian Teegardin (D)
Joseph DeMott (R)

HD-25
Jonathan Keyser (R)
Janet Heck Doyle (D)

HD-27
Rep. Libby Szabo (R), Incumbent
Wade Norris (D)

HD-28
Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D), Incumbent
Stacia Kuhn (R)

HD-29
Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp (D), Incumbent
Robert Ramirez (R)
 

STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION
CD-1
Taggart Hansen (D)

CD-7
Jane Goff (D), Incumbent


BOARD OF CU REGENTS
CD-2
Linda Shoemaker (D)
Robert Weverka (D)

CD-7
Irene Griego (D), Incumbent
 

COUNTY COMMISSIONER
District 3
Don Rosier (R), Incumbent
John Flerlage (D)


ASSESSOR
Louis DAurio (R)
Ronald Sandstrom (R)
Andrew Hassinger (D)

 

COUNTY CLERK AND RECORDER
Faye Griffin (R)
Michael Snow (D)

 

TREASURER
Tim Kauffman (R), Incumbent

 

CORONER
John Graham (R), Incumbent

 

SHERIFF
Jeff Shrader (R) — top line on ballot
Jim Shires (R)