Rep. Don Coram and his War on Rural Coloradans

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

"Members, this is a war on rural Colorado. This product on the Uravan mineral belt is their only option for jobs.  With this bill, that option is lost." Rep. Don Coram on SB 14-192

What Colorado State Representative Don Coram calls a “War on Rural Colorado” others might call the “holding environmental scofflaws accountable” or “making polluters clean up their mess before we trust them to not make another”  act. 

And surprisingly enough (if apparent conflict-of-interest is surprising among good-old-boy politicians) Rep. Don Coram fought legislation that could force himself to comply with cleaning up a toxic mess for which he himself is responsible.

As passed the Senate Bill 192 requires radioactive contamination to groundwater wells be cleaned up to levels that meet the standards of the Water Quality Control Commission for the well's historic use. But as originally proposed the bill would have placed stricter controls over all the 32 uranium mines that are still operational in Colorado, and on any new operations that apply for licenses.

As the Durango Herald noted in an editorial blasting Rep. Coram:

State Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, was on the wrong side of history Monday on several fronts. In opposing Senate Bill 192, he took on the role of a lobbyist, argued against a popular and prudent environmental protection and, at the same time, played off of the unrealistic hopes of economically challenged towns. It was not his finest hour.

SB 192 is a bill meant to address the kind of environmental disaster experienced by Cañon City when the Cotter uranium mill poisoned a neighborhood’s groundwater. It sets minimum standards for groundwater cleanup before a company can be absolved of further responsibility. It also mandates that uranium and thorium mines be licensed by the state health department if they use a process that involves injecting water into rock formations.

Remediation for ‘Collateral damage’ might as well be another name of the Department of Energy’s ‘Legacy Management’ program.  The ‘legacy’ is the mess of toxic waste that will remain deadly for thousands of years.  Colorado’s toxic legacy has already cost the American taxpayer billions—and led to the removal of an entire town, a trail of cancer casualties, and the ruin of lives from the busts that inevitably, almost inexorably, follow booms in company towns built to be solely reliant on single, highly volatile extractive industry.  

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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.

Sen. Hodge Criticized For Native American “Reparations” Remarks

Sen. Mary Hodge (D).

Sen. Mary Hodge (D).

A report from Indian Country Today on the unexpected death yesterday of a bill to offer qualifying Native Americans in-state tuition is raising eyebrows–not simply because the bill died, but due to the comments of a Democratic state senator principally responsible for killing it:

A bill in Colorado that would have provided prospective Native American college students with in-state tuition died Tuesday in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Hours after the bill was defeated by a 3-4 vote, State Senator Mary Hodge – the only Democrat to vote against it – told ICTMN that the potential cost of the bill was too great and that there was an issue of “reparations.”

“I don’t know how long we can make reparations [to Native Americans] or how far we’d have to go back,” she said. “I guess my point is we can’t fix what we did.” [Pols emphasis]

House Bill 1124, sponsored by State Representative Joseph Salazar, was to provide a Native American of a federally recognized tribe with resident status when applying to a state-supported institution if the student’s tribe had “historical ties” to what is now Colorado territory. “Often due to circumstances beyond their control, many American Indian tribes and members of American Indian tribes have been forced to relocate across state lines, far from their historical home places,” the bill reads.

“Those people are already gone,” Sen. Hodge said. [Pols emphasis] “At what point do we say ‘we’re sorry’ and move on? And I don’t know if we’re there yet.”

There are questions about the cost of implementing this legislation, though sponsor Rep. Joe Salazar says that the $5 million cost of the bill wouldn't have come from the state budget. But Sen. Mary Hodge's complaints about "reparations" and how "those people are already gone" in reference to Native Americans displaced from what is now Colorado by white settlement go offensively beyond the scope of an appropriations debate–changing the discussion into one about bigoted ignorance of history by an elected public official. In this case, a Democrat.

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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.

Is Cotter the toddler ever going to clean up?

A basic lesson we all learn early on in life is that if we make a mess, we need to clean it up. It's a common courtesy thing – we take responsibility and clean up after ourselves so that our neighbors don't have to.

But the Cotter Corporation is throwing a big tantrum while refusing to clean up their mess in Cañon City. One of Colorado's biggest messes has been going on for over 30 years. Residents in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Cañon City have been exposed to contaminated wells for over 30 years. An entire generation has grown up in Cañon City surrounded by uranium pollution and now their children are growing up in it too. Ranchers have struggled. Businesses have shuttered. And Cotter doesn't care.

How would you feel if that was your water? 

The Uranium Processing Groundwater Protection Act or SB 192, which would finally get crybaby Cotter to clean up its mess and protect Coloradans from future messes, is a smart bill. It's also long overdue. Residents are depending on this bill to get their town and livelihoods back. They're tired of their backyard being a notorious Superfund site. That's why the Act has 111 local, diverse businesses and organizations in support.

Senator Grantham (R- Cañon City) has heard their stories – from the local monastery that depends on well water, to the ranchers who rely on clean streams, to the residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood who have dealt with contamination since the – all deserve their water to be clean and protected. They have the right to use their water without worrying about radioactive contamination.

Yet, Senator Grantham still voted against his own constituents. Party politics and special interests apparently deserve more protections than his neighbors.

The Act would also safeguard Colorado citizens by regulating a new water intensive technique of extracting and processing uranium, which has never been tested or used in a commercial setting in the U.S. The bill will ensure that the same licensing process required for other uranium processing and radioactive waste disposal projects should also be required for these new technologies and also bring Colorado into compliance with federal requirements.

Unfortunately, if SB 192 doesn't pass before the end of the session, it may be too late to protect Coloradans and the residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood from future contamination and force Cotter to clean up their mess as they try to work a backdoor clean up deal. That's just not right.

Cotter can throw a tantrum all they want, but in the end Coloradans deserve to be able to use the wells on their land for irrigation and the water rights they are entitled.

Red-Light Camera Ban Passes Senate

UPDATE: Food for thought as legislators consider Senate Bill 14-181, here are some interesting points in favor of red light cameras from the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police:

Year-to-year changes in red-light running fatalities reveal an average annual decrease of 5.6% from 2007 to 2011. U.S. and worldwide studies show a 25 to 30 % reduction in injury crashes at locations with red-light safety cameras, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports. A five-year study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in 2011 found red-light cameras saved more than 150 lives in 14 of the largest U.S. cities, reducing fatalities by 24 percent.

Cameras get drivers’ attention, and reduce the most dangerous type of collisions – right angle crashes. A 2011 Texas Transportation Institute study of 11,122 crash records from 275 intersections showed 633 fewer crashes at intersections with cameras; and a 32% decrease in right-angle crashes…

The use of photo speed radar enforcement is already strictly limited to residential streets, school zones and construction zones. It can be used only where the speed limits is not more than 35 miles per hour. A violator must be exceeding the speed limit by at least 10 miles per hour to receive a ticket. Photo speed radar vans are manned by qualified personnel. Red light cameras are deployed at selected high risk intersections. Fines are limited to a maximum $40 for speeding and $75 for red light infractions. No points are assessed against a driver’s record.

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red-light-camera

As the Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports, the red-light camera ban bill, supported by a bipartisan election-year coalition and hotly opposed by local government reaping big bucks from installed cameras, has passed the Colorado Senate:

At its core, Senate Bill 181 would bar local municipalities from using automated vehicle-identification systems that pinpoint drivers. Along with red-light cameras, the measure includes photo radar cameras that detect speed.

The bill moved out of the Senate on a 21-14 vote. The only amendment attached allows for toll roads to continue using photo radar cameras that detect speed.

The measure has support from Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday was noncommittal toward the bill. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said at an afternoon news conference he's seen earlier versions of the bill, but has yet to view its current form.

"I think there are a number of people that feel a level of anger over what they feel is an intrusion and is not making their roads safer, and their opinion is that it's a way for local governments to try to increase their revenues," Hickenlooper said when asked about his personal views on the concept of banning photo red-light cameras. "That creates a real frustration in a lot of elected officials."

Gov. John Hickenlooper's sympathy for those poor, misunderstood elected officials notwithstanding, the public at large seems to be the most "frustrated" party over red-light cameras. The disagreement over the public safety value of these systems is difficult to sort through legitimately, due to what's perceived to be an ulterior motive to raise badly-needed revenue for local government–one thing red-light cameras excel at. Sometimes it falls to your humble hosts to remind our readers that revenue for our local governments is a good thing, or failing that at least a necessary evil–and if TABOR won't let governments get it the old-fashioned way, they've got to get creative.

A poll follows: will Gov. Hickenlooper sign Senate Bill 14-181 if it passes?

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Faced With Catholic/GOP Uprising, Dems Kill Pro-Choice Bill

Protesters against SB-175 Tuesday. Photo credit: Peter Zelasko, Catholic News Agency

Protesters against SB-175 Tuesday. Photo credit: Peter Zelasko, Catholic News Agency

The Denver Post's Kurtis Lee reports on drama yesterday in the Colorado Senate over Senate Bill 14-175, the Reproductive Health Freedom Act. After several days of intense controversy, what was once an important bill for at least some Democrats to close out this year's legislative session is now dead–and the finger-pointing is well underway:

Rather than battle Republicans over a proposal they stressed would help protect reproductive rights, Senate Democrats on Wednesday spiked the legislation — a move that drew applause from some religious groups packed into the chamber's gallery who strongly opposed it…

All Senate Republicans, alongside the Archdiocese of Denver, denounced the legislation as "overreaching" and "ambiguous," saying the measure was not needed.

"It's a solution in search of a problem," said Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs. "There is no one, no evidence, that has said there's a denial of things like contraception to women in Colorado."

Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, who sponsored the measure, said he carried it because constituents expressed at town halls and forums concerns over efforts in other states to make it more difficult for women to seek guidance on abortions and receive common forms of contraception.

From Senate President Morgan Carroll's statement after Senate Bill 175 was killed:

We were optimistic that the Republicans would come on board with a proposal that would ensure all women are able to make private and personal reproductive health decisions with freedom from government interference. But we are disappointed that we were unable to get bi-partisan support to acknowledge and uphold the values of the majority of Coloradans.
 
With 21 days left in the legislative session and 269 bills still pending, having a GOP filibuster would bring D.C. style dysfunction to Colorado.  We have made our point and in the interest of getting the remaining work done, on education, jobs, higher education affordability and childcare, we laid the bill over. 
 
We will continue to fight against attacks on women and their private healthcare decisions and uphold the values of Colorado women and families.

On the other side, here's the story as told by the Catholic News Agency:

Amid growing protests led in large part by the Catholic Church, the Colorado Senate on April 16 killed a controversial bill that could have banned all pro-life laws in the state…

Originally introduced March 31, the controversial bill – S.B. 175 – only gained wide publicity last week. It sought to ban all new pro-life laws and regulations, including requirements for pre-abortion ultrasounds and restrictions on the RU-486 abortion drug.

With the bill now dead, there are reporters and Republicans who say this was a "quixotic effort"–but clearly the bill's religious opponents didn't agree while they massed crowds at the Capitol to oppose it. Proponents point to new restrictions on abortion being passed around the nation, as well as other so-called "pre-emptive" bills, like a bill signed in Oklahoma just this week that pre-emptively bans future minimum wage increases and paid sick day laws, to justify both the intent and functional precedent for the Reproductive Health Freedom Act.

It's our understanding and has been reported, though victorious Republicans deny it today, that threats were leveled by the Senate Minority to bring the entire chamber to a halt for the rest of the legislative session if Senate Bill 175 passed–which could have endangered dozens of important bills. The fact is, Democrats are on solid ground, given the polling on the abortion issue and the overwhelming defeat of abortion ban initiatives in Colorado, pushing a bill to affirmatively protect reproductive choice rights. For that reason alone, predictions that the defeat of Senate Bill 175 has major ramifications seem overblown–certainly not to the degree that Republicans harmed themselves by killing the popular civil unions bill two years ago. In the eyes of voters, questions about efficacy and timing aside, Democrats were on the right side of the issue.

If anything? If you have to take on the Catholic Church, Holy Week might not be the best timing…

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)
 

Tim Neville’s Statement Does Not Make Suspicions Of Link Between Him/RMGO And Nathaniel Marshall Unfounded

(Worse and worse – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

The Colorado Independent has been investigating the circumstances that led to Nathaniel Marshall, a person with significant ties to white supremacism, to enter the race for Colorado HD-23.  As an early result of that investigation, the Independent's John Tomasic reported yesterday that signs had emerged indicating that Tim Neville – a person with significant ties to Rocky Mountain Gun Owner's Association ("RMGO") - recruited Nathaniel Marshall to run for HD-23.  The signs relied on by Tomasic's article consisted of the following:

1) Rick Enstrom, a prominent candy business executive and onetime Republican House candidate, specifically claiming that Marshall admitted he was recruited by Neville at the Jefferson County Assembly ("Enstrom's Statements")

2) Dudley Brown, RMGO's Executive Director, admitting that per RMGO political director Joe Neville, Tim Neville spoke with Marshall at "an event" ("Brown's Statement")

In response to Tomasic's article, Tim Neville last night put forth the following statement on Facebook (accessible here):

"Regarding the leftist hit piece published today posing as a news story in the Colorado Independent:  I spoke with its author John Tomasik [sic] and told him I had no connection with Mr. Marshall's campaign- not as an endorser or financial donor or supporter.   I suggested Mr. Tomasic retract his story because it’s false.  Then he asked me if I ever met Mr. Marshall and I had to explain to him that I meet hundreds of people each week on the campaign trail.  Then he hung up on me.  Shocked?  No, but I'm very disappointed that a Republican like Rick Enstrom would spread such a story without even a phone call to me.  I believe he knows my number, since his campaign had no problem finding me when I helped him as a volunteer to walk his precincts in 2012.     These types of attacks only embolden me to fight even harder for you.  I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your calls and emails of support tonight.Iron sharpens iron. Together I look forward to taking back Senate District 16 this November and winning a Republican majority.   Game on!" (emphasis added)

While Tim Neville may wish that his mere claim that a story is false is sufficient to demonstrate that a story is in fact false, that is not the case.  Here, there is evidence to indicate that Neville – and through him potentially RMGO – recruited White Supremacist Nathaniel Marshall to run for HD-23.  The first two pieces of evidence are the Enstrom and Brown Statements.  In addition to those statements, last night Nathaniel Marshall revealed that he had been invited to an RMGO fundraiser as a candidate and that now they were throwing him "under the bus".  Moreover, recruiting Nathaniel Marshall would fit within a perceived pattern of RMGO supporting candidates who repeat its party line but who are poorly vetted – the chief example being former pornographic novel writer Jaxine Bubis.

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RMGO-Backed Candidates Win GOP County Assemblies

Lang Sias, Tea Party endorsed no longer.

Lang Sias, “Tea Party endorsed” no longer.

​As the Colorado Independent's Sandra Fish reports:

Jefferson County Republicans set the stage Saturday for two potentially divisive state Senate primaries.

Disagreements over which candidates are the strongest supporters of gun rights, “liberty” and the pro-life movement simmered just beneath the surface during an afternoon of speeches and voting.

Democrats have an 18-17 majority in the state Senate, and Republicans hope to take it back. The JeffCo seats, currently held by Democrats, could be key to that effort…

Saturday, Lang Sias and Laura Woods faced off in Senate District 19 for an opportunity to face appointed Democratic Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, while Mario Nicolais and Tony Sanchez competed in Senate District 22 where one of them will face incumbent Sen. Andy Kerr.

Sias, a former fighter pilot, took direct aim at Woods and her supporters, who include Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a conservative gun rights group. Sais lost to Sen. Evie Hudak by fewer than 600 votes in 2012…

“My opposition thinks I should be disqualified because I didn’t participate in the Hudak recall,” Sias said. “I did not feel it was right for the to stand up and ask for a do-over.” [Pols emphasis]

Laura Woods.

Laura Woods.

Tony Sanchez in SD-22 and Laura Waters Woods in SD-19 are the prohibitive favorites of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the hard-line gun rights group foremost responsible for the drive to recall two sitting Colorado Senators last year while forcing the resignation of a third.

But even as RMGO flexes its muscles in the Republican primary, evidenced by both Woods and Sanchez winning top lines on their respective primary ballots this weekend, there is desperate establishment pushback underway against this post-recall attempt to install more RMGO friendly legislators in the Colorado General Assembly. RMGO overall does a fantastic job getting their candidates through the GOP primary process, recent examples of their work including Sen. Vicki Marble.

Unfortunately, once these RMGO-endorsed primary candidates become legislators, they have a tendency to severely harm the Republican brand as a whole (see: Vicki Marble). Sometimes they don't even make it that far, like brief SD-11 "RMGO endorsed" recall successor candidate Jaxine Bubis. The fact is, you've got a lot of Republicans out there who would like nothing more than to wash their hands of Dudley Brown and his ilk forever.

At the same time, how can any self-respecting Republican cheer when Lang Sias runs away from those same recalls in his county assembly speech? For us, this epitomizes the cognitive dissonance at work among Colorado Republicans today. On the one hand, the recalls are the Colorado GOP's rallying point for this year's "comeback." On the other, they reveal perhaps the greatest weakness in today's Colorado Republican Party–embarrassed by its own "success," out of touch, at war with itself.

As we've said, we don't know what the GOP's solution is, but the problem becomes more obvious every year.

Rivera / Crowder Town Hall Heats Up, Democracy Thrives

 

 



 

 


When Colorado Senators Larry Crowder (left) and George Rivera convened a town hall in Pueblo on Wednesday, March 19, they probably hadn't planned to be confronted, interrupted, and corrected by dozens of Pueblo citizens of various political stripes. But that's what happened.

Over the course of a two hour meeting, Rivera and Crowder discussed wage theft, the proposed SouthWest Chief Rail expansion to Pueblo, PERA, TABOR, minimum wage and the rights of workers to organize, with about fifty vocal and opinionated constituents.

Senator Rivera came out swinging as the hard-right conservative he is- he explained that he is a "right to work" guy, that he is "not a believer in… the whole concept of the minimum wage", that he would like to privatize PERA (change it from a defined benefit to a "defined contribution" model).

He does not support the  lawsuit challenging TABOR, and he would rather see people paying fuel taxes than using public transportation, a dig at the proposed SW Chief rail line, the signature issue of his opponent for SD3, Represenative Leroy Garcia.

On SB14-05,  the "wage theft" legislation passed out of Committee  and into Appropriations with no Republican support, neither Senator took a strong position.  Both Senators agreed that it is a shame to steal a day's pay for a day's work, expressed some caution about costs of the measure, and moved on.


Senator Crowder, the more experienced politician, took softer stances, or tried to avoid taking stances altogether. He did not agree with privatizing PERA. He also does not support the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TABOR, does not support raising the minimum wage to $10.10, and seems to be somewhat ignorant of what would be required to dismantle TABOR.

On the minimum wage issue, Crowder advocates for raising the "median wage", a proposal which got quite a few baffled looks from the town hall attendees. Crowder stated  that only 2% of workers receive minimum wage, when, in actuality, 59% of workers, mostly women, are paid at the minimum level. 


When directly challenged by Yesenia Beascochea (left) of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition: "How are people supposed to buy groceries on $7 an hour?" Crowder waffled until he was rescued by George Rivera's daughter, (left center) who ranted for three minutes, questioning  why anyone should support poor folks on Medicaid.

So, Crowder never answered Beascochea's question.  Crowder is also the more moderate of the two southeastern Colorado Senators; Crowder was the only Republican to vote for Colorado's Medicaid expansion and Health Exchange. Lamar's Crowder is also a co-sponsor of the SW Chief rail expansion legislation, and did not agree with Rivera on the need to "privatize PERA".


Excerpts from the Town Hall discussion:

PERA

Rivera supports a “defined contribution” plan, not a “defined benefit” plan. Rationale: it will save money.

Carole Partin, a teacher, challenged him: Privatizing PERA will change it, and those are benefits that we worked for.  A defined contribution plan goes out to the hedge fund managers.

MINIMUM WAGE:

Barb Clementi, another teacher,  schooled the Senators on how we subsidize Walmart because of minimum wages. Rivera argued that low wages, low taxes are what brought businesses in.

Rivera argued that minimum wage legislation is a "slippery slope." He wondered, "Why would it stop at $10/hr, why not $25 hr?", and predicted that businesses would pass costs to the consumer, or close down. When confronted with examples of businesses such as Costco and others which pay $10.10 an hour, and are thriving, he changed the subject.

Question: What’s your opinion on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour?

Rivera: "Well, I’m not a believer in the minimum wage. The whole concept of the minimum wage.  Because, OK, you raise it up to ten dollars and ten cents. What’s the business going to do? Are they gonna sit there, and say, OK, we’re gonna pay out that ten dollars and ten cents? And all of a sudden, we’re in the red, and whereas before we were paying seven dollars, seven-fifty, and isn’t that three dollars…more?. What are they gonna do? They’re gonna raise the cost of their goods to make up that three dollars and ten cents. So all of a sudden that ten dollars and ten cents…you’re right back where you were, a year or two later, you’re chasing your tail."

"Now let me give you another, for example….why stop at $10.10?  Why not go to twenty-five? Because twenty-five dollars an hour…Heck, we’ll all agree is good money, and everyone will be happy. No, that’s not gonna work, again, because they gotta raise the cost, raise the price of whatever goods they’re selling. They gotta make up for the cost of that pay raise, whatever it is."

Q: Do you think that Walmart’s going to go in the red by paying the minimum wage?

Crowder: Here I thought I had a chance. I can wait outside. (laughter)

"Here’s the thing about the minimum wage. 2% of the people rely on the minimum wage. (he’s 57% off, according to the Dept of Labor- 59% of American workers work for minimum wage)

What we ought to be talking about is the median wage. (Audience murmurs, puzzled) We’ve lost so much ground in the middle class. That’s what we ought to do. ….we need to work legislatively to stay out of the middle class’s way, so that they can continue…I think if we take care of the median wage, that the minimum wage will take care of itself. One of the things we can do is we can look at the employment percentage right now. "

It’s 9%. What we can do is get that employment percentage down here (gestures), and

Q: Yesenia Beascochea: Can I interrupt real quick, because I hear the both of you talking about the minimum wage.  Pay the people seven dollars an hour, minimum wage, and they have to buy the groceries, as the prices rise. The prices are rising. So how are you guys expecting…and I’m talking about poor people, that can’t afford to buy groceries at seven dollars an hour?

Crowder: (doesn’t answer her question) Would it benefit the working poor if a certain percent lost their jobs?

(Rivera's daughter complains for three minutes about how health care for the poor costs money to middle class people because: Obamacare).

TABOR:

I asked both Senators about their positions on TABOR.

Crowder: "My position on TABOR is simple. Voters voted it in. It’s up to the voters to vote it out. I do not agree with the lawsuit on TABOR that’s in the courts right now. I think what it does, it…undermines the voters…If people, truly, do not want TABOR, which I believe is….you hear both sides, you know? But I do believe that, to go through the court system, when the people of Colorado voted for it, undermines them.  So if someone wants to bring a petition, and convince the people of Colroado to get that back on the ballot,  then I would support that."

Barb Clementi (left): You recognize that it would take six or eight initiatives to actually do that?

Crowder: No, no, that can’t be true.

Barb Clementi: Yes, it would take many different initiatives to undo TABOR.

(Rivera interrupts)

Rivera:  "Well, I’ll be honest with you. If we have the low taxes that you’re talking about, ….you don’t think that TABOR had something to do with that? Look at all of the fees we pay…the fee you pay when you get your license plates. What do you think that is? That’s a tax by another name, that’s all that is."

UNIONS and ORGANIZING

Ron Greenwell, (left), chair of the Pueblo Democratic party, questioned Senator Rivera about how he felt about unions in general.

Greenwell: What do you know about the Colorado Peace Act? What do you feel about unions in general? And, would you support organized labor in the future?


Rivera: On the Colorado Peace Act, I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Greenwell: The Colorado Peace Act is legislation, that, when you're going in to organize, it's not a 50 plus 1, ….it's a 60 plus 40, something like that. And so, to make it fair for those who are organizing, they have to get 60% of the vote, rather than 50% plus 1.

RIGHT to WORK (for less): Rivera: Well, I believe in “right to work”. Let’s put it that way. …

(loud disagreement, chatter, laughter, comments from audience.

Rivera: …I don't think it's anti-union, whatever…I believe in right to work.

Rivera: I think if the government just keeps out of the way of people….(interruptions by several audience members) "Government is people! ”Government is in the business of helping the common people."


GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE OK IF IT'S WOMEN'S BODIES?

Kiera Hatton-Sena countered with a pointed question: So,  the “government shouldn’t interfere” with my body?"

Neither of the Senators answered Hatton-Sena's question.

The town hall finished with Rivera proclaiming that he was happy that so many people had attended his town hall, although they were clearly not in agreement with him. Colorado Progressive Coalition had informed its members about the town hall. 

I personally found it disturbing, not that there was conflict and disagreement, but how uninformed both Senators were. Rivera did not know the provisions of the Colorado Peace Act, although he proclaims that he believes in "Right to Work". Crowder had no clue that 59% of the population, not 2%, receives minimum wage. Neither Senator knew how much work it would take to undo Tabor; when they advocated for voter initiatives, to "Let the Voters Decide," they were effectively advocating to let TABOR continue to wreak harm in Colorado indefinitely. Rivera was seemingly not aware that a "defined contribution plan" effectively privatizes people's retirement benefits.

Senators Rivera and Crowder are out of touch with the majority of their constituents who are in favor of raising the minimum wage. They don't "get" women's complaints about the hypocrisy of proclaiming that government should not interfere with people's lives, while the government aggressively interferes with women's reproductive choices over their own bodies. In pro-union Pueblo, in which most people have a family member who worked or works for a union, Rivera's hard anti-union stance will also not win friends and influence constituents.

This is what small-d democracy looks like, and it is indeed a positive thing. It remains to be seen if the Senators will follow up with conversations with, and allow themselves to be educated by their disaffected constituents, or merely heave sighs of relief: "That's over."


 

Video from 3/19 Pueblo town hall More videos at: http://www.youtube.com/user/socoteacher

 

All photos and videos of this event by the author.

 

Opposing The Recall Fix Bill Is Stupid–Unless…

Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert

Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz.

A guest opinion piece from Pueblo County Clerk Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz makes the case for passing Senate Bill 14-158, which would attempt to fix conflicts between statutory election law and century-old constitutional recall provisions. Last year, those arcane William Jennings Bryan-era recall provisions were invoked to successfully halt the delivery of mail ballots in the recall elections of John Morse and Angela Giron. Given the very small margin in Morse's SD-11 recall defeat, this court decision may well have been decisive:

The ability to circulate petitions and recall elected officials is a constitutional right. But recall elections are much more difficult than the regularly scheduled elections. They typically are more emotional and controversial. Fewer people vote in recalls so they tend to be less representative, and they are expensive for local governments.

County clerks deal with recall elections periodically, more commonly for local officials such as city council members or school board directors. In Colorado last year, we held two recall elections for state legislators — the first time in the history of our state. I supervised one of those recall elections, in which 36 percent of eligible voters participated and cost Pueblo County $270,000.

The participation rate would have no doubt been higher and the cost less burdensome had we been able to mail ballots to all registered voters. [Pols emphasis] But a lawsuit by the Libertarian Party revealed 100-year-old constitutional language that candidates have until 15 days before the election to petition onto the ballot, not leaving enough time to print, mail and return ballots. This petition timeline is not in place for any other type of election. It is an even more burdensome timeline for small, rural counties with fewer resources.

As the GOP-aligned "news" site Colorado Observer reports, Republcians and recall organizers aren't happy:

Victor Head, who ran the successful recall against former state Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo), said he saw the bill as a “retaliatory sort of move.”

“I think it’s just spiteful,” said Head, who’s now running for Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder. “They really don’t care about public opinion any more. They’ve proven that over and over…”

“You can’t just change the meaning of things. Words have meaning. Election Day is Election Day,” said Head. “You can’t just say, ‘Well, Election Day is when mail-in ballots go out.’ That’s what they’re saying. I have a feeling that’s going to cause more problems with more statutes.”

The fact is, the 100-year old constitutional provisions governing recalls never anticipated the modernization election system that Coloradans take for granted today. Voters don't all gather on one Tuesday to cast their ballots at polling places anymore–mail ballots are accepted by the public and popular for voting in this state, and that means what they envisioned in 1912 to be "Election Day" really does encompass a longer period than one day.

The becomes critical when you understand that the lawsuit that halted the delivery of mail ballots did not expressly prohibit them; it made mail ballots effectively impossible to deliver and be returned in time. The opposition to Senate Bill 158 is opposition to a bill to protect access for voters, and to set deadlines that don't conflict with the constitution, while still allowing for timely recall elections using the voting method voters expect.

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