GOP Takes Aim At Colorado Civil Rights Law

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An MLK Day guest column by Colorado Sens. Morgan Carroll and Lucia Guzman in the Aurora Sentinel blasts state Senate Republicans for introducing a bill last week to repeal a significant piece of job discrimination law passed in 2013:

On the day before MLK’s 86th birthday, Republican state senators introduced a bill (SB 15-069) to eliminate the “Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013,” which was passed to ensure that all workers are protected from discrimination and harassment on the job. At the time, Colorado was one of only eight states that did not have laws to punish businesses with fewer than 15 employees who discriminated against their workers based on race, sex, religion, disability, or sexual orientation. The bill that passed in 2013 expanded civil right protections for all Coloradans, not just those who worked in big businesses…

The Republican bill introduced last week would erode Dr. King’s legacy and take Colorado back to an unfortunate chapter in our history where it was legal to discriminate. Discrimination unfairly costs people jobs, which is damaging to our economy. Women continue to trail behind their male counterparts in pay for the same work. In Colorado, Latinos and blacks live in poverty at rates much greater than whites, and more single women live in poverty than men. The 2013 bill put teeth in our existing anti-discrimination laws, while the 2015 bill would neuter the advances we made. Why in the world would we want to move backward toward a pre-Civil Rights Act world in 2015?

State Rep. Joe Salazar, a co-prime sponsor of the 2013 bill, noted the hypocrisy of attempts to mask malevolent action through messaging.

“On Friday (Jan. 16), when the House of Representatives honored Martin Luther King, Republicans stood and quoted him magnanimously on the virtues of civil rights, while at the same time introducing a bill to get rid of the Job Protection and Civil Rights Enforcement Act of 2013. It’s very apparent that they cannot comprehend the words, actions and deeds espoused by this great civil rights leader. We should feel sorry for them that they don’t understand, after all these years, what civil rights really mean.”

In 2013, Republicans in the Colorado legislature bitterly fought the passage of House Bill 13-1136, facetiously renaming it the "Trial Lawyers Employment Act" and the "Sue Your Boss" bill. But over time, it became clear in the debate and news reports that Republicans were primarily basing their case on the dubious assumption that "most discrimination claims aren't valid anyway"–actual words one business owner used as a surrogate by Republicans damagingly let slip. Rep. Perry Buck proudly told of a case in her own life of job discrimination, where she chose to quit rather than sue because "I choose to work where I want to work"–seemingly oblivious to those for whom that choice would have, you know, consequences.

Even after the fit Republicans pitched over passage of the bill in 2013, we're still surprised to see this repeal attempt. It's a fact that Colorado was one of a minority of states that hadn't closed this loophole allowing some businesses to discriminate against their employees. There's just no way to message their intent here in a way that looks good to the public–unless you're targeting a fairly narrow segment of the public who really thinks it should be okay for businesses to discriminate against their workers. Of all the fruitless "rollback" repeal battles Republicans are set to take on in the current legislative session, this is one that seems sure to result in more bad press than it's worth.

Senate Dems Smack Down “Radical Republican Rollback”

Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll.

Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll.

So far this legislative session, which we admit is only a few days old, the prevalent discussion at the Capitol has been mostly about bipartisanship. The beginning of the legislative session is always a time for platitudes about "working across the aisle," perhaps a bit more so right now given the narrowly split control of the legislature for the next two years.

It never lasts, of course. A press release from Colorado Senate Democrats yesterday afternoon is a shot across the bow of the new one-seat Republican Senate majority, calling them out on their "radical repeal-a-thon agenda" in not-screwing-around terms. Game on:

While Senate Democrats have been hopeful of working together to move Colorado forward, there has been a pattern of bills introduced by Republicans legislators which aggressively move the state backward. 

Despite Pres. Bill Cadman saying, “We all want to be a part of building a better future for Colorado,” only nine days into the 70th Legislative Session, the Senate Republicans have introduced extreme bills that put ordinary Coloradans at risk.

In the Senate alone, examples of the “Radical Republican Roll-Back” include bills that would allow:

• pedophiles or other criminals to run small daycares,
• the repeal of the renewable energy standard,
• felons to get guns by repealing criminal background checks,
• developers to build without regard to homeowners’ rights,
• discrimination against workers,
• more unvaccinated children in our schools,
• sale of Colorado’s public lands and open space,
• unconstitutional vouchers to drain public funds for K-12, and
• special interests to spend more on elections with less transparency. 

“I don’t think this radical repeal-a-thon agenda reflects common-sense Colorado,” said Senate Democratic Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.  “While the Republicans speak of working together, they introduced bills that smack of extreme ideological positions and special interests.”

More after the jump. It's better this way, folks. Admit it.

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Hickenlooper Hints at TABOR Reform in Inauguration Speech

As Charles Ashby reports for the Grand Junction Sentinel, the winds are a swirling around TABOR reform in Colorado after Gov. John Hickenlooper's inaugural speech on Tuesday:

The governor didn’t offer specifics on issues he intends to address in his second four-year term, possibly intending to save that for the State of the State speech he will give to a joint session of the Legislature on Thursday. Still, he hinted at a few, not the least of which are the revenue caps mandated under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Under that constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992, revenues that the state collects that exceed the current year’s budget, plus inflation and population growth, are required to be refunded to taxpayers.

But some state legislators are considering asking the voters if the state can retain some or all of those TABOR surpluses to put toward things such as K-12 education or transportation, saying both had dramatic cuts during the recession and aren’t yet fully restored.

Our state Constitution mandates that we increase our expenditures and simultaneously cut taxes,” Hickenlooper said. “If that does not sound like it makes much sense, that’s because it doesn’t. Nothing can grow and shrink at the same time. However, it is also true that careful pruning can allow for quicker, stronger and more effective growth.” [Pols emphasis]

Reporter John Frank of the Denver Post added some more TABOR-reform flavor from yesterday's festivities. Gov. Hickenlooper invited former Governors of Colorado to offer advice on his second term in office, and former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer got right to the point:

“My advice is, governor, lead a movement in this state to repeal the TABOR amendment,” he said to cheers from the crowd at the Fillmore Auditorium, where guests paid $100-a-plate to attend. “We need to invest in the future of our children’s education and the infrastructure of this state. We need to return that power, that authority, that decision, to the people’s representative, the legislature and the governor.”

Romer kept at it. “We need to revise this tax system and do what the conservatives do — invest in the future of this state,” he continued. “We need to revise the TABOR amendment and get a better tax system it needs not a political election, it needs a movement. Governor, lead that movement.”

As much as Republicans will be squawking about any suggested reform to TABOR, there's reason to suggest that this is more than just a talking point. Republican Senate President Bill Cadman's first piece of legislation this session deals with TABOR adjustments — though certainly not on the level that Colorado really needs. We couldn't sum up the problem any better than Hickenlooper did last night, when he said, "Nothing can grow and shrink at the same time." Will Republicans heed that reality?

State Republicans Introduce Discrimination Restoration Legislation

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

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Last year, conservative talk-radio hosts wrapped their loving arms around a baker for discriminating against a gay couple by refusing to bake them a wedding cake.

The baker said his cake-selling preferences flowed from his religious views, but, as a judge nicely articulated, it was actually factually illegal discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Radio hosts did live broadcasts from the cake shop, hot bigotry was served to anyone listening, and the baker was fined by the great State of Colorado.

Now Colorado Republicans are proposing a law allowing student clubs to violate campus anti-discrimination policies and still receive university benefits (funds, facilities, etc.). Sponsors include Tim Neville and Laura Woods on the State Senate side, and brother Patrick Neville and Stephen Humphrey on the House side.

Similar legislation, allowing raw discrimination against women, gays, or potentially any of us, is under consideration across the country. One, for example, could allow restaurants to refuse service to LGBT people. Or pharmacists to stop filling prescriptions for birth-control pills. Another would permit adoption agencies to reject potential same-sex parents.

Collectively, these bills are referred to as religious-freedom-restoration bills, but a more accurate name is discrimination-restoration legislation. Political observers expect CO Republicans to introduce broader discrimination restoration bills this session, beyond the narrow university-focused proposal currently on the table.

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Vicki Marble’s Pack Heat Everywhere Act

LogoBGFlag

One of the emerging stories as the 2015 Colorado legislative session gets under way is what appears to be a more robust attempt by Republicans and gun-rights activists to repeal the 2013 gun safety bills passed in response to the Aurora shooting and other high-profile gun violence incidents the previous year. In 2014, Republicans introduced a similar slate of legislation repealing basically all of the gun bills passed in 2013, but Democrats weren't budging–and the gun activists' ability to draw huge crowds to the Capitol in opposition to these bills in 2013 failed to materialize in last year's session.

It's possible that gun activists, emboldened beyond all reason by last year's recall elections, were counting on a Republican sweep at the polls in 2014. But with Democrats remaining in control of the Colorado House, both recalled Senate seats retaken by Democrats, and Gov. John Hickenlooper re-elected, it's highly unlikely that we'll see any of 2013's gun safety bills repealed. Whether that hard reality motivates or once again suppresses the gun lobby's activist turnout is yet to be seen, but if their excuse in 2014 was that they were waiting for their electoral triumph…they'll need to keep waiting.

In the meantime, Republican Sen. Vicki Marble, one of the Colorado Senate's least reality-tethered members, isn't waiting to repeal 2013's gun safety bills to charge ahead with her own Rocky Mountain Gun Owners pet priority: doing away with restrictions on the carrying of concealed weapons. Check out the summary of Marble's Senate Bill 15-032:

The bill allows a person who legally possesses a handgun under state and federal law to carry a concealed handgun in Colorado. A person who carries a concealed handgun under the authority created in the bill has the same carrying rights and is subject to the same limitations that apply to a person who holds a permit to carry a concealed handgun under current law, including the prohibition on the carrying of a concealed handgun on the grounds of a public elementary, middle, junior high, or high school.

Of course, RMGO is hard at work on the guns on school grounds angle too–just not in this bill. We don't expect Marble's "Guns for Everyone" bill to fare any better than the repeal bills, of course, but the contrast couldn't be clearer between the agendas of the two parties on guns. One is within the mainstream of public opinion on the issue, and one is not. The best way to demonstrate just how far out of the mainstream Sen. Marble's bill is? The National Rifle Association's own polling shows that 74% of NRA members–not just the public, NRA members–believe concealed carriers should complete some kind of gun safety training first.

So who are the reasonable actors here? It's self-evident, folks.

Sorry, Colorado GOP, But You Do Not Have a Mandate

The Neville Nutters: Sen. Tim Neville (left) and his son, Rep. Pat Neville

The Neville Nutters: Sen. Tim Neville (left) and his son, Rep. Pat Neville, just like to say no to stuff.

Colorado Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the State Senate. Democrats maintain a majority in the State House, as well as the Governor's office.

Readers of Colorado Pols probably know this already, but it's worth repeating because Republican legislators seem to think that voters gave them a mandate to go full-on crazy pants this year (relax, Dr. Chaps, we're not talking about that kind of "man date"). It's not just the anti-abortion "Personhood-ish" bills that might have you scratching your head; take a look at some of the other pieces of legislation that Republicans are introducing in Colorado. We'll forgive you for thinking this was 2001 — when Republicans basically owned the State Capitol — instead of 2015:

- SB15-045: Assistant Majority Leader Kevin Lundberg rolls out with a school vouchers bill (er, "Tax Credits for Private Schools").

- SB15-032: Majority Caucus Chair Vicki Marble does the bidding the of the RMGO with legislation that would allow Coloradans to carry concealed weapons without a permit.

- SB15-044: Lundberg and Senate President Bill Cadman are among the Republicans sponsors of a bill to cut back renewable energy mandates in Colorado.

- SB15-018: The Neville Nutters (Sen. Tim Neville and his son, Rep. Pat Neville) want to repeal the Late Vehicle Registration Fee. There's no actual plan here for how to pay for road and bridge construction and maintenance. This is a very simple "No" bill that seeks only to repeal something.

- HB15-1009: Remember that restriction on high-capacity ammunition? Yeah, let's repeal that!

- HB15-1037: Rep. Kevin Priola and The Neville Nutters sponsor what we'll call "The RIght to Discriminate Act", which allows you to freely exclude people so long as you claim that it is based on your religious beliefs.

All of this is just the beginning — the tip of the ever-melting iceberg — from Republican legislators who apparently believe that Colorado voters told them in 2014 that they had a mandate to "Just Say No" to pretty much everything. We haven't seen a collection of legislation that is this far-right since…well, we can't even remember the last time (and Colorado Pols has been around for 10 years).

Look, we get that we are living in a time in America where partisanship has never been more, uh, partisan, but this is pretty freakin' far from anything even resembling the general interests of Colorado voters. You could argue that Republicans are just "being Republicans" and trying to stick to some sort of manufactured set of ideals that they think got them elected, but this is the kind of thing that you usually see only when one side either has a clear majority or is so far in the minority that it doesn't matter if they draw up their legislation with crayons. This is a very risky strategy when you only control one chamber of the legislature — and even then by only one seat.

Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise, however. This is on the front page of Rep. Pat Neville's campaign website, where he declares that the HD-45 Representative should be a "CONSERVATIVE STALWART" (he put it in all caps, too):

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From PatrickForColorado.com, the campaign site of Rep. Pat Neville.

Senate Bill 1: Repeal 2013. Every Single Bill.

(Okay, this is funny – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

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DENVER – Newly elected President of the Senate Phil Radman announced today that his first bill of the 2015 legislative session would repeal everything passed in 2013, and possibly provide unexpected "benefits" for his friends in Colorado.

Senate Bill 15-001, also known as the Omnibus Repeal General Assembly Statute Mechanism (ORGASM) Act of 2015, seems ambitious by most measures. The legislature passed 441 bills in 2013, from controversial measures on guns, grass and gays, to all those other bills nobody ever read about in the news, to sort-of essentials like the School Finance Act and the Long Bill. Can we expect a happy ending?

"First and foremost, it's…oh wait, I'm supposed to lead off with jobs," said Radman. "But let's face it. Everyone expects us to try to repeal all that junk from 2013 anyway, so why not just do it all with one bill? The ORGASM Act will eliminate all that useless foreplay and trying to 'please' (holds up fingers as air quotes) everyone, and basically get the whole thing over once we get what we 'came' for. Limited government, and oh yeah, this bill more or less guarantees jobs for everyone."

No Senate Democrats showed up for Radman's press conference, and attempts to reach them for comment were as fruitless as a peach tree in winter. Staffers and aides dished up excuses for their bosses – "still drunk after seeing the 2014 election results," "analyzing congressional polling data for 2016," and "why should they even show up to vote this year?"

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Stapleton Open to NOT Returning TABOR Refunds

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

In a piece yesterday outlining the partisan agendas at the state legislature, Denver Post reporter John Frank reported that state Senate and House Republicans are unified in wanting to return tax-surplus funds to taxpayers, as stipulated by TABOR.

Frank wrote Democrats are split on the issue, noting that Senate Democrat Morgan Carroll "supports a move to seek voter approval to spend the money if it comes from an outside ballot initiative effort."

For perspective, reporters covering this apparent impasse should seek opinions of partisan leaders away from the Capitol, including the bipartisan leaders of Referendum C, which was approved by voters in 2005 and allowed Colorado to hold on to funds that would otherwise have been returned to taxpayers under TABOR.

Opinions from outside-the-dome could be surprising. In an interview with Colorado Public Radio's Ryan Warner, Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton said he was open to not returning TABOR refunds:

Warner: "You were a vocal critic of Amendment 66, which would have raised taxes to pay for education. In the way that you got involved with that, would you throw your support behind something that you felt was responsible and meant the state held on to the TABOR refunds?"

Stapleton: "Absolutely. TABOR is the popular whipping post, but Gallagher and Amendment 23 have also created a Gordian Knot of automatic ratchets in the budget and we need to free ourselves of automatic ratchets and get more control over where we spend dollars and more results-oriented spending for our budget going forward in the future. But I'm not opposed reflexively to anything, other than I'm opposed to anything that doesn't give taxpayers a voice in where their money is being spent."

Stapleton also said: "The more hopeful way to look at it is, if we in government do a good job and do our jobs in hopefully explaining to people where money is going to go and why resources are needed, that people will be reasonable enough to support fixes to our budget problems in Colorado."

Must Read Sunday: “Raging” Bill Cadman’s Very Good Deal

MONDAY UPDATE: Liberals demand Bill Cadman disclose or "step aside," from a release today:

"Bill Cadman's private business has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in 'soft money' from political action committees while serving as Senate Minority Leader," said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. "Now that he is set to take office as Colorado Senate President, the conflicts of interest invited by this relationship are mind-blowing. How can Cadman assure the public that decisions he makes as President of the Colorado Senate will not be influenced by the money he takes from right wing 527s?"

"The public needs to fully understand the relationship between Cadman's business interests and his duties as Colorado's highest ranking Republican lawmaker," said Runyon-Harms. "Do lobbyists know to steer campaign business to Cadman? Are Republican candidates in any way pressured to work with Cadman's private business? Do Cadman's special interest ALEC partners pay for his services? Does Cadman charge market rates? If not, why not?"

"Cadman's unprecedented double duty as a legislative leader and leading campaign vendor raises serious questions about his ability to lead the Colorado Senate," said Runyon-Harms. "If Cadman cannot provide answers to some very basic questions, then the public cannot have confidence in Cadman–and he should step aside. Coloradans won't tolerate this level of corruption in our state legislature."

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Sen. Bill Cadman.

Sen. Bill Cadman.

A story we've been waiting to see since the November elections gave Republicans a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate was published by the Denver Post today–an explosive exposé that could kick off the first major political drama of 2015. Incoming President of the Colorado Senate Bill Cadman, originally elected to the Colorado House in 2000, has been at the center of Republican legislative and electoral strategy for many years. We've had the pleasure of discussing a number of high and lowlights from Cadman's long legislative career, often involving his famously hot temper.

But as the Post's Lynn Bartels and John Frank report at length today, there's a lot more to the story of Bill Cadman that the public doesn't know–and for good or ill needs to know. For starters, Colorado politics has become a lucrative enterprise for our incoming Senate President:

Prior to working as a $30,000-a-year lawmaker, Cadman opened Advantage Marketing, which handles political campaigns.

All told, his firm has received more than $1.25 million from Colorado candidates and committees from 2002 through 2014, according to state campaign finance records.

"It would be a great business if that were all profit, but margins are pretty thin in this business," he said.

The largest payments — about $500,000 total — came from Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, a Republican attack group designed to help elect legislative candidates that received money from groups Cadman raised money for. In the 2012 election cycle, Cadman's firm received $418,000 from CCAG. In the 2014 cycle, he did $6,325 of work, state campaign finance records show. As a so-called 527 group, the CCAG is not allowed to coordinate its campaign efforts with the candidates or the party. The arrangement is not outlawed but raises questions for critics.

Indeed, Cadman's role as a principal campaign consultant for Republican-aligned 527s and candidates raises a lot of troubling questions. What kind of influence does Cadman have over the people and groups who contract with him? What relationship exists between funding to entities Cadman takes money from, and decisions Cadman might make as Senate President? Cadman has been in the business for a long time, but we don't think his dual political and official vocations have ever been fully reported until this story. It doesn't take much imagination to see how it could be spun quite negatively.

Dont drink and drive.

Don’t drink and drive.

For a man who has spent almost fifteen years in the Colorado General Assembly, perhaps the real shock is that so many details in today's profile have never been reported before now. We learn in this story for the first time that Cadman was arrested for driving under the influence in 2004, and quietly served a year's probation while continuing to serve in the Colorado House. That Cadman's DWAI conviction as a sitting legislator has never been reported until the week he takes over the Colorado Senate is…well, that's pretty remarkable, don't you think? Why didn't we hear about this during, say, last year's rancorous debate over GOP Rep. Mark Waller's felony DUI bill? We don't have a good explanation for how Cadman's DWAI conviction while serving in office escaped notice for all these years, even through other detailed airings of political dirty laundry–but we're pretty sure in the post-Laura Bradford era it could not happen this way again.

Another important, underreported fact about Cadman reported at last in today's story is his leadership role in the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative policymaking organization that has made national headlines in recent years. Bartels and Frank report that after having served as state chair of the organization, Cadman joined the national board of ALEC in 2013:

Among his conservative credentials: He's a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Cadman's ties provide fodder for his critics, who question the conservative organization's controversial past ties to voter ID bills and the "Stand Your Ground" legislation spotlighted by Trayvon Martin's death in Florida.

Cadman, who joined ALEC's national board in 2013, called it a "great" organization that provides a "great" format for addressing state issues. He pointed out that before the budget crises of the past decade, taxpayers paid for trips Colorado lawmakers took to ALEC and other legislative conferences. Democratic lawmakers, he noted, didn't raise any concerns.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin.

The fact is, until ALEC became a household name after Trayvon Martin and the organization's subsequent hemorrhaging of corporate sponsors, there wasn't much public awareness about them at all. Even in recent years, as major corporations like Google, Kraft, GM, and many more have publicly cut ties to ALEC, the organization has quietly retained its influence in Colorado politics. Each year, ALEC model bills on a variety of topics are introduced in the Colorado General Assembly. Without third-party watchdogs to compare the often verbatim language their lineage is never properly understood by many legislators, let alone the public. There is a major disconnect between ALEC's nationwide toxicity and their pervasive influence in Colorado legislative politics: and as ALEC's leading voice under the Gold Dome, a good deal of that disconnect comes down to Bill Cadman personally.

Bottom line: the GOP caucus that elected Cadman President of the Colorado Senate is of course aware of the good deal he has worked out for himself as a "campaign consultant" doubling as the state's highest-ranking Republican lawmaker. ALEC may be unpopular everywhere else, but within Republican politics it elevates Cadman instead of hurting him. But the public perceptions of all this could be very different, and if the logical questions raised by this story result in more damaging press, it's possible that Cadman's political and business interests alike will take a hit.

As for this DougCo DWAI on the down low? Something tells us there's more story there too…

RMGO “Will Not Comply” (With Colorado Election Law)

RMGOPistol

Colorado Independent:

Buried in the deep black news-hole that was the Friday after Christmas Day came a decision in a Colorado campaign finance case filed against bare-knuckles right-wing political group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer found that mailer campaigns put together by Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the Colorado Campaign for Life violated Colorado’s disclosure laws and ordered the groups each to pay $8450 each in fines.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has long been a bruising — some would say bullying — force in Colorado conservative politics. The group aims to move the state Republican Party to the right by targeting candidates and lawmakers that seem “soft” on what it considers core issues like gun rights and abortion. The group also opposes campaign finance disclosure laws as a whole, seeing them as a violation of First Amendment protections on free speech.

From Colorado Ethics Watch's release, that argument didn't wash:

CCL and RMGO hired a Washington, DC-area law firm to file a federal lawsuit against Ethics Watch and the Colorado Secretary of State to block the hearing, argung that Colorado's disclosure law is unconstitutional. On December 16, federal judge Robert E. Blackburn allowed the case to proceed in state administrative court, noting that Judge Spencer has jurisdiction to resolve at least some of CCL's and RMGO's First Amendment challenges to Colorado law. In his ruling, Judge Spencer rejected all of CCL's and RMGO's arguments that the First Amendment allows them to electioneer without obeying Colorado disclosure laws about money in politics.

The unfortunate fact is that an $8,450 fine is not nearly enough to deter an organization like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners from violating Colorado campaign finance disclosure laws in the future. After the 2013 battle of gun safety legislation in the Colorado legislature, RMGO raised vast sums of money, and a fine of this size can be easily built into their operating budget without any real impact on their operations–and that's assuming the fines aren't waived by an accommodating Secretary of State, like we've had for four years and are about to inaugurate for another four.

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But the real irony of this may be that RMGO's violations of Colorado campaign finance law, long a bête noire of Colorado Republicans, were for attacks on fellow Republicans. RMGO sent the mailings in question in support of their favored GOP primary candidates in Senate Districts 19 and 22–Laura Waters Woods and Tony Sanchez respectively. In both cases, these hard-right Republicans beat establishment candidates who were considered much more electable in the general election. Sanchez went on to be defeated by incumbent Andy Kerr, and while Waters Woods narrowly ousted SD-19's appointed Democrat, Republicans would feel much more comfortable defending that seat in two years had Lang Sias won this year's primary. The large sum Republicans spent trying to defend Sias in particular from RMGO's onslaught is a major sore point today–and without that backing for Woods in 2016, Democratic odds improve further for swiftly retaking this critical swing seat.

Looking back at their last two years, no one can discount RMGO's formidability as a political force in Colorado. This organization that uses the tagline "I Will Not Comply" has proven they mean it, especially when it comes to intra-GOP politics. But from walking embarrassments Sen. Vicki Marble to avoidable losers like Tony Sanchez–not to mention the loss this year of both Senate seats won in last year's recall elections–what RMGO accomplishes outside the bubble of red-on-red infighting is not so easily characterized as a success.

The one thing we know is that this slap on the wrist won't even slow them down.

Top 10 Stories of 2014: Unfinished Business in Jefferson County (#9)

The Taj.

The Taj.

Jefferson County, Colorado has long been considered a bellwether–for the state of Colorado, and increasingly as a place where national political trends can be seen in action contemporaneous to or before they take hold elsewhere. The result in Jefferson County has predicted the winner in Colorado statewide races for long enough that the rule of "as Jefferson County goes, so goes Colorado" has become axiomatic for politicos in this state.

This year, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner narrowly defied this rule, losing Jefferson County by under 1,000 votes but winning the election statewide. The reasons for this have more to do with dynamics across Colorado that hurt Democrats, a hardening of partisan battle lines that robbed Mark Udall of swing independent and moderate Republican votes other Democrats in recent elections have won over. Looking at Udall's performance compared to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who carried Jefferson County and the state by a much greater margin than Gardner, there's a case to be made that Udall's collapse in September and October was more attributable to Colorado voters rejecting him personally–or at least his campaign's heavy focus on abortion–than Democrats generally.

In Jefferson County, the 2014 elections took place against the backdrop of major unplanned controversy created by a new conservative school board majority. The 2013 election's big story in Colorado was the absolute slaughter at the polls of Amendment 66, an education tax increase. Amendment 66, in turn, turned out conservative voters all over the state, including in Jefferson County where three hard-right conservatives were elected by a landslide to form the new majority on the Jeffco's five-seat school board.

The new Jeffco school immediately set to work on a sweeping, highly politicized agenda of conservative reform proposals. After butting heads with the teacher's union over pay issues, the new board pushed through the hiring of a new superintendent from Douglas County–the same far-right dominated union-busting school district presently mired in court battles over their insistence funding religious schools that the new school board promised would not be their "model" for "reforming" Jefferson County Public Schools.

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Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

In September, the conflict in Jefferson County went national–in fact international–when word surfaced of a proposal from board member Julie Williams to review the district's AP history curriculum to ensure that it "promotes citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respects for authority and respect for individual rights, [does] not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law," and presents "positive aspects of the United States and its heritage." Williams is the sister-in-law of Sen.-elect Tim Neville, one of the most conservative incoming (and former) members of the Colorado legislature. With the power of the new majority, some of the fringiest actors in Colorado politics stood ready to impose their wacky will on one of the state's highest-performing public school districts.

As anyone who followed this story knows, thousands of students from across Jefferson County stormed out of class in massive and well-organized demonstrations against Williams' curriculum review proposal. At one point, the protests stretched for 22 miles along Wadsworth Boulevard, Jeffco's busiest surface street. Ultimately a weakened version of the curriculum review proposal was approved by the board without Williams incendiary language, but still one that gives Williams' political allies lots of board-sanctioned ability to make trouble. In the meantime, students and teachers are talking about the daunting logistics of recalling the new board majority, with a newfound understanding of the threat they represent.

So what does this mean for politics in Colorado's "political bellwether" county? It means something, for sure–but the full impact of the battle over public education in Jefferson County was not felt in 2014. This is not to say that Democrats didn't do their damndest to link the antics of the new school board with Republican candidates on the ballot–we documented numerous examples of hard-hitting TV spots and mailers linking Julie Williams to Neville, Laura Waters Woods, Tony Sanchez, Larry Queen, and others. It's likely that those ads made a difference, even if Neville and Waters Woods still won their races. It's clear that the prospect of having these protests turned against Republican candidates in Jeffco frightened GOP strategists at any rate, who responded with mailers intending to co-opt the protesters' message that were so desperate and shameless they left jaws agape.

In the end, 2014 was a year when the midterm political background noise may have helped conceal the long-term damage being done to conservatives in Jefferson County. In the worst electoral climate for Democrats in Colorado in many elections, Democrats actually did pretty well, enough to where Jefferson County if anything looks like less of a bellwether this election. If one bets that 2016 will not be the perfect storm for Democrats that 2014 was, and we believe that's a good bet, then key Jeffco races in 2016, like Sen.-elect Waters Woods in SD-19, would seem to be very ripe for flipping back to Democratic control. As for those thousands of student protesters? Many of them will be voters by 2016, at least some helped along by Colorado's new law allowing 16 year olds to pre-register to vote. Whether or not the conservative school board majority can be recalled is one question–but we expect their actions to ripple negatively for Jeffco Republicans for years to come regardless.

Bottom line: the role of Jefferson County may grow to something more than a bellwether in the coming years. As the state's fourth largest county by population, this is an electorate with enough heft to swing elections in Colorado–and this year, it's a county that (albeit narrowly) bucked the trend. That's not the same thing as a bellwether exactly, but in 2016, Democrats may have reason to celebrate Jeffco's bluer trajectory.

Campaign-finance lawsuit turns up Koch connection to Woods/Sias race

(Surprise surprise – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Laura Waters Woods.

Laura “Waters” Woods.

Yesterday, I wrote about a couple of campaign-finance lawsuits, filed by conservative Matt Arnold's Campaign Integrity Watchdog, which  could possibly expose whether top Republicans in Colorado knew about GOP-funded attacks on gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo.

Arnold has filed numerous other campaign-finance complaints this year on a variety of topics. See them by clicking on “Complaint Search” here and typing “Campaign Integrity Watchdog” in the “organization” line.

One complaint, in particular, illustrates Arnold’s persistence and shows the public benefits of disclosures required by campaign finance laws. Its story starts during this year's GOP primary after Arnold noticed a website and Facebook ads attacking Republican State Senate candidate Laura Woods. This was clearly direct campaign activity, said Arnold, but the website didn’t disclose who paid for it, as required by Colorado law.

But the website's host was listed, and after Arnold’s Integrity Campaign Watchdog filed a lawsuit, a judge issued a subpoena requiring the company to disclose who paid for the site. Arnold said the hosting company disclosed that it was working for GOP operative Alan Philp, who’s now associated with Aegis Consulting in Virginia, a Koch funded outfit set up to elect “winnable” candidates. (Talk-radio host and former Republican congressional candidate form Colorado Springs, Jeff Crank, is a leader of Colorado’s arm of Aegis Consulting.)

The case dragged on all summer, Arnold said, but eventually Philp “fingered Protect and Defend Colorado as responsible for the Woods website.”

So Arnold pursued a case against Protect and Defend Colorado, a registered campaign committee that supported GOP state senatorial candidate Lang Sias and opposed state senatorial candidate Laura Woods.

A hearing is scheduled, and Arnold, who's not being paid for his work, says he now faces big bad lawyers from Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck.

"It'a people playing dirty in primaries. I was a victim of it, when I ran for CU Regent," says Arnold. "So I'm sensitive. When your whole point is to hide behind a proxy server while you're smearing someone, I think that's despicable. If you want to criticize someone, man up and do so publicly, but don't hide behind a shield of anonymity."

Anybody Remember Geert Wilders?

Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

Dutch politician Geert Wilders.

The Western Conservative Summit, hosted annually by Colorado Christian University, has become one of the biggest-draw events for Republican politicos, pundits, and their many fans. Three years ago, the WCS featured an address by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders. Wilders became famous in Europe–some would use the world infamous–for his strident attacks against Muslim immigration into Europe and the religion of Islam in general. As the Colorado Statesman's Ernest Luning reported from the 2012 WCS:

Saturday afternoon’s topic, [Former Colorado Sen. John] Andrews said, would be “the existential threat to the United States of America posed by Islam.”

Pausing for a moment to let his words sink in, he continued. “I didn’t say ‘radical Islam,’ I didn’t say ‘extremism.’ After you hear from Frank Gaffney and our friend from across the Atlantic, Geert Wilders, you’ll know why I just say ‘the threat of Islam…’”

“Your country is facing a stealth jihad, an Islamic attempt to introduce Sharia law bit by bit by bit,” [Wilders] said.

In order to keep the United States from succumbing, Wilders said, politicians have to ignore what he promised would be derision from the liberal media and other quarters and firmly deliver strong medicine. First, he said, Americans have to stop putting up with “multiculturalism,” even as free-speech proponents cry foul. In addition, he said American courtrooms must bar Sharia law and “stop the immigration from Islamic countries.”

Most critically, he said, “We should forbid the construction of new mosques. There is enough Islam in the West already.”

Sen. Kevin Grantham (R).

Sen. Kevin Grantham (R).

Wilder's speech at the Western Conservative Summit attracted remarkably little press attention, but Wilder left Colorado with lots of new fans–like Republican Colorado state Sen. Kevin Grantham:

Regarding Wilders’ suggestion that Western governments ban construction of new mosques, Grantham said it was worth considering.

“You know, we’d have to hear more on that, because, as he said, mosques are not churches like we would think of churches,” Grantham said. [Pols emphasis] “They think of mosques more as a foothold into a society, as a foothold into a community, more in the cultural and in the nationalistic sense. Our churches — we don’t feel that way, they’re places of worship, and mosques are simply not that, and we need to take that into account when approving construction of those.”

Although it greatly upset local Muslim groups, we haven't seen much follow-up to this fairly astonishing quote from Sen. Grantham–which doesn't appear to comport with the First Amendment protections for religious practice we're pretty sure he would defend, at least if applied to Jesus. Who Muslims also revere (this hater stuff gets complicated). But as the UK Daily Mail reports, Grantham might get another chance soon, since his buddy Geert Wilders is back in the news:

Dutch far-right populist lawmaker Geert Wilders is be tried for inciting racial hatred after pledging in March to ensure there were 'fewer Moroccans' in the Netherlands, prosecutors said Thursday…

The case centres on comments Wilders made at a March 19 rally after local elections.
He asked his followers whether they wanted 'fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?'

When the crowd shouted 'Fewer! Fewer!' a smiling Wilders answered: 'We're going to organise that.' [Pols emphasis]

In a later TV interview, he referred to 'Moroccan scum'.

We know what you're going to say–in America, it's legal to "incite racial hatred!" And that's true in most circumstances. After all, Wilders didn't say exactly how he plans to "organize" fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands. It could be something really nice as opposed to what you're imagining. Think cruise ships, not death marches. Right?

On second thought, let's go ahead and ask Sen. Grantham his opinion anyway.

Associated Press Expands State Government Reporting

Good news here in Colorado and around the country: The Associated Press is beefing up its state government reporting. From "The Definitive Source," the AP news blog:

Building on The Associated Press’ unmatched presence in all 50 U.S. statehouses, we are adding to our competitive advantage by creating a team of state government specialists.

As announced today to the AP staff, the specialists will collaborate with statehouse reporters, as well as on their own projects and stories focused on government accountability and strong explanatory reporting. Their over-arching goal will be “to show how state government is impacting the lives of people across the country,” said Brian Carovillano, managing editor for U.S. news.

Here's how Carovillano explains what this means in terms of how state government is covered by the AP:

Let’s say there’s a trend emerging from several statehouses that our folks on the ground identify. The state government team will work with reporters in those states — and with the data team, if necessary — to bring depth and a national perspective to that issue and show how it’s playing out across the country.

They’ll be a resource to our statehouse reporters looking for help broadening the scope of their reporting, and a projects team that will partner with folks in the states to pursue bigger and more ambitious enterprise on the business of state government. And the focus really needs to be on how that impacts peoples’ lives. We don’t cover state government for the state government; we cover it for all the people of the state. The message here is that state government coverage is essential to AP and its members, and we are doubling down on that commitment, which should benefit the entire cooperative. [Pols emphasis]

This is good news all around, but particularly in states such as Colorado where the number of reporters covering the state legislature alone has dwindled to just a handful of people in the last 5 years. As we've seen in the aftermath of the demise of the Rocky Mountain News, there are fewer and fewer reporters able to focus on state government stories that really do affect a majority of Coloradans — whether they realize it or not. Robust reporting is crucial to maintaining good government and keeping a watchful eye on our elected and appointed officials.

Auctioning Access: You Think This Was a Bad Idea? Maybe?

AG-elect Cynthia Coffman.

AG-elect Cynthia Coffman.

Associated Press reports–oops!

A Colorado business group on Tuesday said it would back out of a lunch with the state's new attorney general after questions were raised about it winning the meal at an auction.

The Colorado Automobile Dealers Association won the lunch with Cynthia Coffman after bidding $500 at an auction at the Colorado Lincoln Club's holiday gathering, which it hosted at its Denver offices last week. On Tuesday, however, association president Tim Jackson said he would give the lunch away to another organization or person. He said the group bid on the meal solely to help out the Lincoln Club and did not need special access to Coffman, a Republican…

The auctioning of access to Attorney General-elect Cynthia Coffman by the GOP-aligned Lincoln Club of Colorado's annual holiday party was originally reported last week by the Colorado Statesman's Ernest Luning. And Luning reports that Cynthia Coffman was not the only Republican politician selling off personal access at this party:

The top bids went for lunch with State Treasurer Walker Stapleton after two competing consortiums, led by former Secretary of State Mary Estill Buchanan and Lincoln Club board member Barb Piper ramped bidding up to $725 for the honor, at which point Wiens and Stapleton decided he’d have lunch with each group for that sum…

The club also auctioned off lunches with state Sen.-elect Tim Neville, R-Littleton, and state Rep.-elect Kit Roupe, R-Colorado Springs, who was joined by neighboring state Rep.-elect Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs, to sweeten the deal. State Rep.-elect Jon Keyser, R-Evergreen, was called away on duty with the Air Force Reserves so was unable to take part in a planned live auction, though lunch with the new lawmaker was sold in the silent auction.

As for Tim Jackson and the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, according to Luning he did have an agenda for his lunch with AG-elect Coffman, before the whole idea of it became…well, you know, scandalous:

Jackson told The Colorado Statesman that he plans to take the opportunity to discuss the importance of automobile dealerships with Coffman, part of a continuous outreach effort with policy-makers and elected leaders. A full 20 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue is generated from the sale of new and used cars, Jackson noted…

Well now! That would have been rather productive lunch after all. Of course, no one is alleging that the Republicans who auctioned access to themselves to the highest bidder did so for personal financial gain. But just so everybody's clear about what the Lincoln Club is, from their own "About Us" page:

The Lincoln Club of Colorado is Colorado's oldest Republican Organization.  Based on the humanitarian principles of President Abraham Lincoln and founded in 1918, the club's mission has always been to promote the educational and social programs of the Republican party and to support the election of Republican candidates.

Bottom line: it may not be illegal, or even unprecedented, but the optics of lobbyists bidding for access to GOP politicians to fund a GOP campaign organization are about as bad as it gets–and CADA was wise to immediately cancel once word got out about it. If the other GOP politicians named in this story have any sense, they'll follow suit quickly.

Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said he did not know if the meals were legal, but he said it was inherently questionable. "It is literally paying for access," he said. [Pols emphasis]

Next time, just hold an old-fashioned fundraiser.