Of (Preble) Mice and Men: The Making of a Non-Scandal

Preble mouse Colorado

Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse. That’s a long name to put on a birth certificate.

This is the Preble's Meadow Jumping Mouse. He/she looks harmless enough, but last week it inadvertently gave cause for three Republicans to go, well, mouse-shit crazy. The mouse itself isn't all that interesting (unless you're into that sort of thing), but the non-scandal that played out over its status as an Endangered Species is a fascinating look at how quickly some politicians can get moving when they think there's an opportunity to score some mindless political points.

This is also a story of how quickly those same politicians shut up and move on once their "scandal" proves misplaced.

Our story begins with a harmless news release that CBS4 in Denver turned into a serious story about flood recovery efforts. The CBS4 report caused Rep. Cory Gardner (CO-4), state Sen. Greg Brophy, and state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg to collectively go crazy about liberals and Endangered Species and anything else that Democrats might have done wrong. It just wasn't true.

Here's a look at the CBS4 story from Feb. 4, titled, "'Endangered' Mouse Could Delay Flood Recovery":

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is warning that many flood repair projects could be delayed because they are in an endangered mouse’s habitat.

The Preble’s meadow jumping mouse is listed as a threatened species, which means it and its habitat are protected by federal law. Its habitat lies along rivers and stream beds where flood repairs are underway.

The news upset Colorado State Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, who represents many of the flooded communities. He sent a letter to Colorado’s congressional delegation asking it to intervene saying the federal government has put a mouse ahead of Colorado families.

“We’re holding up the ability to redo safe drinking water, to rebuild sewage treatment facilities so we can keep sewage out of the rivers, trying to have a safe environment because of a mouse,” said Sonnenberg.

According to him, communities have to delay repairs after FEMA issued a warning that local governments could lose federal funding if they violate the Endangered Species Act. [Pols emphasis]

Gardner Preble mouse flood recovery

Not pictured: Rep. Sonnenberg and Sen. Brophy running around with their pants aflame

Did you happen to catch the spot where this story went off the rails (if you didn't, take a look at the sentences in bold)? "According to [Sonnenberg]" sounds like the title of a convoluted Indie movie, but for some reason CBS4 thought that state Rep. Sonnenberg would be the ideal person to explain the ins and outs of FEMA policy. Congressman Gardner was all too pleased to ride to the rescue. Here's his press release "demanding" immediate relief from the mighty Preble:

Rep. Cory Gardner (CO-04) took immediate action after it became apparent that flood recovery efforts in Colorado could be slowed significantly due to the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse.

Ooohhh…"immediate action!" But before sending his "immediate action" letter to FEMA and issuing a press release, perhaps Gardner's office should have checked with the people who actually do know what is going on. On Feb. 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and FEMA issued a joint press release with a pretty unambiguous lede:

Recent news accounts suggesting the Endangered Species Act and the Preble’s Meadow Jumping Mouse are delaying flood recovery projects in Colorado are inaccurate. [Pols emphasis]

From unambiguous lede we move quickly to unambiguous quote:

“We are working very closely with FEMA and other partners to make sure important flood recovery projects proceed on time while ensuring no harm occurs to species listed under the ESA,” said Noreen Walsh, Regional Director for the Mountain-Prairie Region. “But let me be clear: the Preble’s and other federally listed species have not, and will not, delay flood recovery efforts in Colorado.” [Pols emphasis]

Not only are the USFWS and FEMA clearly stating that the Preble will NOT impact flood recovery efforts…they are unequivocally saying that the Preble "and other federally listed species" have had ZERO impact on flood recovery efforts thus far. In other words, THIS IS ALL HORSESH*T.

So how did all this happen?

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House Passes Debt Ceiling Bill as Boehner “Gives Up?”

House Speaker John Boehner (R)

I make you laugh? Are you calling me a clown?

Interesting series of events today in our nation's capitol. From NBC News:

The House has passed a "clean" extension of the debt limit.

Twenty-eight Republicans joined all but two Democrats to approve the extension of the debt limit until March 2015 — without any additional legislative wish list items attached…

…Republicans had wanted to attach some kind of policy provision to the must-pass legislation. Members suggested including measures like approving the Keystone XL pipeline or repealing part of the Affordable Care Act, but leaders were unable to secure enough votes for those add-ons to ensure passage. The White House also insisted it would not pay “ransom” for the extension, a position that Obama successfully held during last year’s government shutdown.

Ultimately, House Speaker John Boehner brought a “clean” debt limit extension for a vote, a move that incensed many conservatives who wanted to extract some kind of concession from the White House.

Prior to the vote, our friends at "The Fix" wrote about the Greek tragedy that has become Speaker Boehner's legacy, suggesting that Boehner "quit" on the debt ceiling bill because he couldn't reach a deal with the many different factions of his Caucus:

House Speaker John Boehner summed up his speakership during a press conference Tuesday morning: “We don’t have 218 votes. When you don’t have 218 votes, you have nothing.”

Boehner was talking specifically about his failed attempts to cobble together a deal that would have allowed the Republican House majority to support an increase in the debt ceiling.  Over the past 10 days, he had tried to lure tea party conservatives to vote "yes" by putting approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, elimination of risk corridors in the Affordable Care Act and, finally, restoring the cost of living adjustment for members of the military on the table. Nothing worked. The simple fact is that there was no proposal that Boehner and his leadership team could think up that could overcome the fact that 30-40 Republicans wouldn't vote for any debt ceiling increase.

And so, Boehner gave up. "Let his party give him the debt ceiling he wants," Boehner said of President Obama. (Boehner's work is far from finished, of course. He will still need to deliver at least 17 Republican votes — if all 199 Democrats vote for their clean increase. And that's far from a sure thing.)

We've seen this movie before.  From the fiscal cliff to the farm bill to the government shutdown — and at several points in between — the narrative arc just keeps repeating itself: A controversial deadline looms, Boehner and the GOP leadership try like hell to avert it through a series of offers to the tea party wing of the conference, those offers are rejected, and Boehner is left throwing up his hands and cutting a deal with Democrats.

This, as has become clear over the past year or so, is Boehner's fate as Speaker: To lead a group of Republicans who do not want to be led.  And, ironically, even in the attempt to lead his conference (that is his job after all), Boehner has become further villainized by outside conservative groups.

In Boehner's defense, it is exceedingly difficult to lead a group of Republicans who not only don't want to be led, but don't know where they want to go anyway. Many conservative groups, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund, are openly calling for Boehner's ouster as Speaker, as though changing the man at the top would have any effect on changing the incompatible dynamics of the Republican caucus.

But after years of open frustration with Tea Party Republicans, perhaps Boehner is charting a new direction as leader — by no longer pretending to hide his cards. At the very least, perhaps Boehner has come to a different conclusion following last fall's government shutdown debacle. If they're not going to let him steer the ship, at least he's going to decide which iceberg to ram.

 

Reminder: Magpul Played Everybody Like a Fiddle

magpulheadline

As reported by the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle's Becky Orr Friday, and apropos today with a bill to repeal Colorado's magazine limit law up for certain death debate in the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee:

The Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board approved a $13 million grant Thursday to help a company that makes magazines and other gun accessories move to Cheyenne.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of the grant to help recruit Magpul Industries, a company based in Erie, Colo. SLIB is made up of the top five elected officials in Wyoming…

The company is expected to be in temporary quarters in Cheyenne as early as this summer. The business will remain there while a new building is built.

The state and local investment in the relocation effort will reach about $17 million over 20 years. The return to the public is estimated at about $20 million.

Colorado-based gun accessory maker Magpul.

Colorado-based gun accessory maker Magpul.

Last Thursday, the Colorado Independent's Shelby Kinney-Lang published an in-depth look at Erie-based ammunition magazine maker Magpul's impending move to Cheyenne, and the millions in taxpayer-funded financial incentives they'll receive to do so–and as we've discussed in detail, how that move appears to have been in the offing long before Colorado passed any law limiting gun magazine capacity.

Magpul announced last month that it would be moving its manufacturing to Wyoming and headquarters to Texas, and it is now clear that financial considerations unsurprisingly dominated negotiations around the move.

Yet the expansion plan itself and the company’s financial bargaining never made news in all of the reporting around Magpul last spring during the gun-law debates at the capitol. The main narrative spinning around Magpul at the time was that the company would move as a political statement. As the conservative Colorado Observer put it, Magpul executives “announced they would leave in reaction to the Democratic state legislature’s passage of gun-control bills.”

But Wyoming and Texas offered financial incentives to Magpul in 2012, when the company began exploring how best to realize its expansion plans and long before the gun measures had even been introduced…

Magpul’s January press release announcing its plan to move to Wyoming and Texas seemed to suggest that 92 percent of its Colorado workforce would join the company outside the state. But Magpul’s Duane Liptak told the Denver Post that wasn’t the case, that most of the company’s employees would be left behind in Erie. Liptak did not respond to the Independent’s requests for clarification, though a story about Magpul in the [Casper] Star-Tribune states that “some” unknown number of employees will move with the company and that 184 positions will be available in Wyoming. A more recent AP story says Magpul will bring “90 new jobs” to Cheyenne.

We do expect that executives from Magpul will testify at today's hearing, and that the example of their leaving Colorado–expressed in plaintive terms as "jobs lost"–will be frequently invoked as a reason a central magazine limit law should be repealed. But as we've tried diligently to ensure our readers understand, there's much more to this story–from Colorado employees who may or may not move/commute to Cheyenne, to the millions of dollars Magpul was shopping other states for before Colorado's magazine limit law was ever introduced.

Debate the efficacy of the law all you want, but don't misrepresent what happened here.

A Better “Amazon Tax?”

onlinetax

As the Durango Herald's Joe Hanel reports:

Democrats are back with another attempt to tax Internet sales, and this year, they are confident the courts will be on their side.

The so-called “Amazon tax” has roiled the Legislature for the last five years. Colorado passed an Internet tax law in 2010, but its status has been uncertain after it was thrown out by a federal judge, then reinstated and currently is the subject of a new lawsuit that seeks to block it again.

Colorado isn’t alone in trying to impose taxes on Internet sales. States got a big boost in December when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a New York law passed in 2008 to tax companies such as Amazon.com…

“It’s really simple. Our brick-and-mortar businesses are being undermined,” [sponsoring Rep. Lois] Court said.

Supporters include the Colorado Retail Council, a lobbying group for local businesses.

Here's the full text of the Marketplace Fairness and Small Business Protection Act as introduced.

The fight over collection of Colorado's standard state use tax of 2.9% for online purchases has raged in the Colorado legislature, and on this blog, for a number of years. As Hanel reports, Colorado passed a bill in 2010 meant to push online retailers to remit this tax, more or less by imposing an onerous paperwork requirement if they didn't. That law was ruled unconstitutional in 2012 by a federal judge, whose ruling was then overturned on appeal. The court battle over that law continues, but as Hanel reports, House Bill 14-1269 could render the issue moot.

In the time between passage of the 2010 "Amazon Tax" and today, the question has shifted at least rhetorically in favor of taxing online purchases, with large online retailers like Amazon expressing a new willingness to remit taxes in a "fair" manner. Federal legislation has been introduced to create a nationwide system for sales tax collection on online purchases, but like so many agenda items in today's paralyzed Congress, its status today is "uncertain."

But the bottom line hasn't changed: business groups like the Colorado Retail Council support collecting tax on internet sales because local retail has been severely impacted by the switch to tax-free online buying and selling. Not only has it hurt brick-and-mortar local businesses, the state and local communities are deprived of revenue. It can't–and shouldn't in a free market–be undone, but there's nothing radical about trying to level the playing field. In fact, claims that these laws are "anti-business," generally from Republican lawmakers, could not be more wrong. This is pro-business.

That is, pro local business. Now that this is becoming a more prevalent attitude nationwide, it will be interesting to see if House Bill 1269 gets a better reception from Amazon's many previous defenders.

More Republican Bills “Killed” With No Witnesses

Rep. Justin Everett (R).

Rep. Justin Everett (R).

A release from the Colorado AFL-CIO celebrates the death of two bills in the House State Affairs Committee today–House Bill 14-1087 to outlaw the state's public employee union, and House Bill 14-1098, this year's version of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-authored "Work For Less" anti-union bill:

Today the Colorado House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs overwhelmingly rejected dual proposals to “Prohibit collective bargaining for public employees” (HB14-1087) and “Prohibit discrimination labor union participation” (HB14-1098).  Both proposals would strip away the right to come together for better wages and working conditions—as the Denver Broncos currently do…

In response, Mike Cerbo, the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO made the following statement:
 
Colorado’s working families applaud the members of the committee today who rejected these irresponsible policies. Republicans whine about legislative overreach and talk about preserving individual rights, yet they will not stand up for the basic rights of individuals to come together to call for better wages, working conditions and quality of life. They have been stuck in a race to the bottom. The legislature was right in discarding these proposals.

Of particular note was the manner in which the bill died. The legislation from Rep. Justin Everett — to ban public employee unions — was apparently not worth its sponsor's time, either:

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Are we running a state or a fast food chain?

(Quite a smackdown of the Denver Post – promoted by Colorado Pols)

On Thursday, the Denver Post editorial board published a brief but disingenuous editorial that can only fairly be described as a declaration of war against Colorado’s middle class vis-à-vis Colorado’s state employees.

At issue, ostensibly, is the 3% pay raise that state employees have been advocating for since last fall and which was given temporary approval by the legislature’s Joint Budget Committee on Monday.

But really the issue goes well beyond state employees – this is an issue of whether Colorado is going to have an economy that works for the middle-class. This is about whether or not Colorado policymakers are going to lead on the issue of income inequality or whether they’re going to perpetuate economic stagnation for Colorado’s middle-class. The Post has clearly chosen the side of economic stagnation for the majority of Coloradans and now the question is which side are our elected leaders on?

The Post blithely states that the 3% raise plus average merit pay comes with an $88 million price tag. That number is presented without any citation or context in a deliberate attempt to stoke maximal outrage. The Post neglects to mention that the governor’s budget request is for $58.5 million in salary and merit pay funds, a request they seem to endorse when stating, “It’s not a question of whether state workers deserve a pay hike.”

So fully 2/3rds of what the Post insinuates is an extreme and untenable financial outlay had already been requested by the governor and is endorsed by the Post. Let us assume, arguendo, that the Post’s completely uncited $88 million figure is correct. The governor’s total budget request for 2014/15 is $21.9 billion dollars – $88 million dollars is just 0.4% of that total budget. If 30,000 middle-class workers aren’t worth 0.4% of our budget then what are they worth?

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Urban Myth Becomes “Clown Car Caucus” Legislation

ebtcard_sign

Last Tuesday, we took note of a spoof story on a satire "news site," The National Report, hilariously breaking the scandalous news of food stamps being accepted at Colorado's new retail marijuana stores:

“If you are a tax payer in Colorado, you get to pay for welfare recipients, a majority of whom are Democrats of course, to smoke pot now,” stated Denver resident Paul Horner.  ”Where will this all end?  First it was Obamaphones, then Obamacare, now Obamaweed?  Will we be paying for tattoos, manicures, body piercings, gay marriages and porn next?”

Store owner JC Franco defended his decision to accept EBT cards in an interview with National Report:  “Everyone should have access to marijuana. If a user is not able to afford their buds on a limited budget then having taxpayers help cover the shortage is only fair.  This isn’t a right only for the wealthy.”

So, as most readers of this piece were quickly able to determine, this didn't really happen. The National Report's website clearly disclaims that "all news articles contained within National Report are fiction, and presumably fake news." Unfortunately for the Douglas County Republican Party, as we discussed Tuesday, this story was lifted and reprinted on a number of real, non-spoof conservative websites as fact. It subsequently picked up with no disclaimer by lots of conservatives, including the Douglas County GOP's Twitter feed. It was our assumption that a little good-natured ribbing of our gullible friends in Douglas County would be the end of it.

weedopenBut as AP's Kristen Wyatt reports via CBS4, that's not the end of the story after all!

Food stamps for a pot brownie? It’s an urban myth in Colorado, but state lawmakers want to make sure that doesn’t happen. [Pols emphasis]

A bill proposed this week by several Republicans would add marijuana dispensaries to liquor stores, gun shops and casinos as places where recipients of public assistance payments and food stamps can’t use their electronic benefits cards to access cash.

There haven’t been any reports of public EBT cards being used at marijuana dispensaries. But lawmakers say pot shops should be added to the law to make clear it’s not legal.

“We need this bill, if for nothing else, as a statement,” said Rep. Jared Wright, R-Grand Junction… [Pols emphasis]

That's right, folks! Senate Bill 14-037 is actual legislation meant to ensure a satirical news story never "comes true." Senate Bill 37's sole Senate sponsor is the infamous Sen. Vicki Marble. In the House, the bill is sponsored by pretty much the entire "clown car" caucus of downright wacky and frequently-embarrassing GOP representatives: Reps. Jared Wright, Dan Nordberg, Perry Buck, Steve Humphrey, and Lori Saine. If they could just get Bob Gardner and Janak Joshi to sign on, it would be pretty much a perfect caricature.

Dispensary owners say they’ve been debunking rumors about food stamp use in marijuana shops.

According to Wyatt, the Marijuana Industry Group hasn't yet taken a position on Senate Bill 37. To be fair, they also haven't taken a position we've seen on the Daily Currant's shocking headline from last week, "Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization." There are probably a few other spoof stories about marijuana in Colorado they haven't taken a stand on. Which makes sense once you know they're fake.

Back in reality, only specific qualifying food items can be purchased with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds. Retailers who want to accept these funds must apply and be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We feel pretty confident that any licensed retail marijuana merchant who tried to accept SNAP funds for the purchase of marijuana, or anything containing it, would be frog-marched to the federal prison in Englewood faster than you can say "pass the bong." With lines around the block full of eager buyers with pockets full of cash, the idea that any marijuana retailer would need or want to try this is simply laughable.

With that said, AP reports that recipients of Social Security for Disability and certain other assistance funds that are deposited to the same account can be used essentially as cash for those funds–our understanding is that items are allotted to different funding pools from the same card at the point of sale. This has led to legislation prohibiting these cards being used at casinos and liquor stores. Those aren't "food stamp" funds at all, of course, but the outrage a good conservative feels at the mere thought of public assistance funds being spent in such disreputable places motivated them to be absolutely certain those immoral entitlees use an ATM across the street.

We suppose that alone might give this bill some pro forma utility–a "statement," like Rep. Wright says. What urban myth do you suppose our intrepid "clown car" caucus should tackle next? We open the floor to suggestions.

Fact: Magpul Played Relocation Patty-Cake Well Before 2013

Colorado-based gun accessory maker Magpul.

Colorado-based gun accessory maker Magpul.

Last Friday, we talked about Erie-based gun magazine manufacturer Magpul's announcement that they intend to move most of their manufacturing jobs out of Colorado in the next 12-16 months. Allegedly in retaliation for the passage last year of House Bill 1224, legislation restricting the sale of gun magazines with a capacity over 15 rounds, coverage of Magpul's impending departure in the Denver Post failed to mention a key component of the story: millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded incentives to offset the cost of moving to other states.

Reviewing this story over the weekend, there is one additional detail regarding Magpul and financial incentives to move out of Colorado that we think every Colorado voter reading this story should understand. Magpul was threatening Colorado economic development authorities with incentives from Wyoming and Texas–the very same states Magpul is now slated to move to–a year before the gun safety legislation Magpul cites as their reason for moving were introduced. As FOX 31's Eli Stokols reported last March during the legislative debate over the bills:

FOX31 Denver has confirmed that Magpul had discussions last year [2012--Pols] with the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade in which they asked about tax incentives and credits that might be available to them as they looked to consolidate their two facilities into a single space at North Park in Broomfield.

“They wanted some state support,” said Kathy Green, OEDIT’s spokeswoman. “We had some job training credits available but there was never any follow-up.”

According to Green, job training incentives would have been available only if the company was adding new jobs.

Last summer, Fitzpatrick reportedly told the governor’s office and Sam Bailey, the business development manager from OEDIT who toured Magpul’s facility, that Texas and Wyoming had lots of incentives for them should the company decide to relocate. [Pols emphasis]

“That was not a threat. We never made any threat to leave,” Doug Smith, Magpul’s Chief Operating Officer, told FOX31 Denver late Thursday afternoon. “We were just mentioning, hey, these other states have approached us, this is something they offer.”

Particularly in light of Magpul's subsequent decisions, it's absurd to suggest that the company mentioning "lots of incentives" available from Wyoming and Texas back in 2012 was not intended to spur a better incentive package from Colorado officials. Of course it was a "threat," and the only question is how implied or overt it was. The millions of dollars Magpul is getting from the state of Wyoming to build a huge new custom manufacturing plant may well have justified their decision to move without the gun safety legislation passed in Colorado last year. Those bills were used by Magpul to panic-sell thousands of high capacity magazines ahead of the new law taking effect, but that can't exactly be called a hardship for the company either. Remember, nothing in House Bill 1224 stops Magpul from manufacturing high capacity magazines in Colorado. 

Wouldn't it be great if a reporter would connect these dots in a news story? How much sympathy would Magpul still have if this had been reported along with the announcement they are leaving the state?

Because there's a real possibility that Magpul has been playing Colorado for suckers this whole time.

Magpul Gets Millions In Incentives To Leave Colorado

Colorado-based gun accessory maker Magpul.

Colorado-based gun accessory maker Magpul.

As the Denver Post's Carlos Illescas reported yesterday:

Magpul Industries threatened to leave Colorado after the legislature passed a measure banning weapons magazines with more than 15 rounds.

And now that is official.

The Erie-based ammunition magazine manufacturer said Thursday it is relocating its operations to Cheyenne and Texas.

Most of the 200-plus employees will [NOT--Pols correction] be moving to Wyoming, where manufacturing and distribution will take place, said spokesman Duane Liptak.

From plastic ammunition magazine maker Magpul's press release:

The company is relocating manufacturing, distribution and shipping operations to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Magpul is leasing a 58,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution facility during the construction of a 100,000 square foot build-to-suit facility in the Cheyenne Business Parkway. The Wyoming relocation is being completed with support from Governor Matt Mead, the Wyoming Business Council and Cheyenne LEADS.

"Moving operations to states that support our culture of individual liberties and personal responsibility is important,” says Richard Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive Officer for Magpul Industries. “This relocation will also improve business operations and logistics as we utilize the strengths of Texas and Wyoming in our expansion.”

Erie-based Magpul originally vowed to leave the state during debate over last year's House Bill 1224–legislation limiting the capacity of magazines sold in Colorado to 15 rounds. Their threat to leave was originally a negotiating chip for Republican opponents of the law, but became a retaliatory act once the bill was signed into law. Months dragged on, leading to news reports noting their lack of action to move out of Colorado as threatened. It's worth restating that nothing in House Bill 1224 prevents the manufacture of high capacity magazines in Colorado, only their retail sale to the general public. But Magpul, unlike their defenders in the legislature, was always honest about the fact that they were leaving the state to "defend principle"–not for any real economic reason created by the state's new gun safety laws.

Well, folks, as it turns out, there is an economic motive–but the Denver Post curiously omitted it.

Randy Bruns, CEO of Cheyenne’s economic development organization, said it is working with Magpul on a financial package that could include up to $13 million in state grants and loans to help the company move to Cheyenne. [Pols emphasis]

For Magpul, the passage of House Bill 1224 was an opportunity, not a crisis. Our understanding is that this company is no stranger to taxpayer-funded business incentives. And now, with the pretext of "defending principle" in hand, Magpul is leaving Colorado to custom build a new 100,000-square-foot manufacturing plant in Cheyenne with millions of dollars in Wyoming state grants and loans. Apparently they're going to get more taxpayer money from Texas Gov. Rick Perry to build a corporate headquarters in north Texas.

Far from a hardship, could be the most profitable "crisis" in Magpul's history! We think that detail, and maybe the fact that this is the manufacturer of the high capacity magazines used in the Newtown school shootings a year ago, should be included in these stories about Magpul leaving the state. At the very least, readers will understand that this wasn't just some altruistic defense of principle. And others might not be as sorry to see them go at all.

Unemployment Insurance Looms As Next Big Congressional Fight

Rep. Mike Coffman (R).

Rep. Mike Coffman (R).

Businessweek's Joshua Green reports today:

When Congress reconvenes on Jan. 6, one of the first issues it will take up is whether to renew an emergency federal unemployment program that expired on Dec. 28, cutting off 1.3 million jobless workers. Enacted in 2008 at the start of the recession, it provided up to 47 weeks of benefits for those still looking for work when their state unemployment benefits ran out. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he’ll try to pass a temporary extension, but most Republicans have balked at the $25 billion-a-year cost. If the program isn’t revived, the impact could be significant—not just for the 1.3 million people losing a vital lifeline but on the broader economy.

On Monday, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee released new data on the loss of unemployment insurance benefits by state, with a statement calling on Republicans to intervene on behalf of families "cut off from this basic assistance for job seekers."

Ways and Means Committee Democrats today released new estimates showing how many additional people in every state will lose their unemployment benefits each week that the federal program remains expired. On Saturday, 1.3 million people nationwide lost their federal unemployment insurance. In the first six months of 2014, an additional 1.9 million Americans will lose their coverage as they exhaust their state benefits and are unable to receive federal unemployment insurance – with 72,000 losing their benefits each week during the first half of 2014. The figures are based on Department of Labor data.

In Colorado, an estimated 20,200 unemployed workers saw their benefits cut off last weekend–a tough Christmas present indeed. During the first half of 2014, data from Ways and Means Democrats estimates that 1,123 workers in Colorado will lose unemployment benefits each week if the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program is not extended, a total additional 29,200 workers.

As usual, Democrats find themselves up against Republican ideological presumption. Businessweek:

Though the job market hasn’t fully recovered from the recession, many Republicans believe extending jobless benefits saps workers’ motivation to seek employment or accept positions they deem less than ideal. “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for,” Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said on Fox News on Dec. 8. “Beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers. When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group.” 

Much like the "sequester" federal budget cuts that took effect after Congress failed to make good on their 2011 promises to find alternatives, Republicans for a long time paid lip service to the desire to keep unemployment benefits flowing to jobseekers during the recent severe recession. With after the disastrous shutdown of the federal government last October, the sequester cuts Republicans had previously spoke out against became more or less their sole claim to victory. Today, where disparaging unemployment benefits was at one point off limits in this recession, you have influential Republicans openly grousing about creating a perpetual "dependent class" on government.

Polling released just before Christmas from Colorado's most competitive congressional district, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman's CD-6, shows voters their support extending federal emergency unemployment benefits by a whopping 63-33% majority. Here again we have an issue where the polling clearly indicates a politically expedient course of action. Just not the action taken by Coffman and his Republican colleagues.

Will this election year make a difference–to the endangered Rep. Coffman, or to House GOP leadership? We'll have to wait and see.

Strengthening Colorado Economy Calls For New Talking Points

doomgloom

The numbers reported today by the Colorado Business Journal's Mark Harden don't lie:

Colorado's unemployment rate fell sharply to 6.5 percent in November, the lowest level since 2008, and the state added 4,200 payroll jobs from the previous month, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported Friday.

The official Colorado jobless rate scored its biggest month-to-month drop — three-tenths of a percentage point from October's 6.8 percent reading — since before the Great Recession.

The latest unemployment rate stands 2.6 percentage points lower than its late-2010 peak of 9.1 percent, and 1.1 points below its level a year ago, according to adjusted data. Colorado in November had 32,000 fewer unemployed people than a year ago, for a total of 177,100, CDLE said.

Today's press release from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is clear that the drop in the official unemployment rate to pre-recession levels is due to both an increase in the number of jobs, as well as due to some workers leaving the workforce for a variety of reasons. Often attributed to "discouraged" unemployed workers deciding not to try to find work, there are also people returning home for domestic reasons and going back to school–both of which can actually be considered good signs for the economy. There's some glass-half-full to respond with anyway.

In customer service, it's said that for every bad experience, it takes a dozen good experiences to make a person feel good about you again. The state of the economy is one of the most important factors going into any election, even though it's also something over which politicians have indirect control at best. Disparaging the economy as an electioneering tool has been a great gift to Republicans since Barack Obama inherited a collapsing American economy–and in Colorado, at least since the 2005 epic ideological battle over Referendum C. There's a good argument that a political desire to foment economic dissatisfaction against the sitting President has prolonged the recent years of recession, and slowed recovery in the American economy. We believe historians will be arguing that point many years after Obama's term is over.

In the meantime, it's at least getting harder to disparage the economy. That's good politics for the party in power, but it's also just plain good for everyone. We have to believe there's a winning political message for Republicans in an economic recovery, even if it requires an admission that the sky didn't fall on America when President Obama took the oath of office. We humbly submit that would be good for everyone too.

Hickenlooper Hints at Potentially Terrible Idea on Gun Safety Legislation

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper held an end-of-year press briefing at the State Capitol yesterday. He told reporters that he was aiming for a modest, quiet legislative agenda (more on that in a moment), but more importantly, he hinted at a potential strategy around gun safety legisation that would be absolutely disastrous for both he and his fellow Democrats. From the Associated Press:

Hickenlooper said he doesn’t want to see any gun-control laws repealed, including new expanded background checks and a 15-round ammunition magazine limit. But he told reporters he’d consider tweaks to some of the new gun laws, without specifying what changes he’d agree to. [Pols emphasis]

“If there’s a way to improve them some way, if you have some way that they work better or do a better job at what was their intention, then I think we should sit down and have that discussion,” Hickenlooper said.

Your hole is big enough

Stop digging, Governor.

This may just be one of those classic "off-the-cuff" statements by Gov. Hickenlooper that make his staffers cringe but don't otherwise end up having any basis in truth behind them. But if Hickenlooper is so much as entertaining the idea of "tweaking" gun laws approved last spring, it would likely end up being the Governor's most bone-headed decision in his political career. You can argue whether or not you think the gun legislation passed by Democrats was a good idea, but there is absolutely no reason for Hickenlooper to support changing any of the new laws after only a few months.

"Tweaking" any of the legislation would immediately be spun as a victory by Republicans and groups like Dudley Brown's Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Hickenlooper can use whatever word he wants to describe such a change, but to everyone watching it would appear as nothing less than a capitulation on an issue that Democrats fought long and hard to achieve. And to what end? Would right-wing voters who opposed the gun safety legislation decide to support Hickenlooper all of a sudden? Of course not!

(more…)

Fix It, Don’t Repeal (Or Break) It

Sen. Mark Udall.

Sen. Mark Udall.

The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports on discussions in the U.S. Senate, which appear to now involve both Colorado U.S. Senators, on possible "fixes" to solves problems associated with the troubled rollout of the new Affordable Care Act insurance marketplaces:

Senate Democrats facing tough reelections say President Obama has not done enough to fix the botched rollout of his healthcare law and are vowing to repair it themselves.

The Senate Democratic leadership is not on board with lawmaker plans to begin rewriting ObamaCare and have urged for more time to assess the changes made by Obama and his team, lawmakers say…

“The [ObamaCare implementation] upgrade has been significant, but there’s more work to be done,” said [Sen Mark] Udall.

“Sen. Landrieu, Sen. Heitkamp, Sen. Shaheen and I are all working on a package that would incorporate our ideas,” he added.

Shaheen wants to extend the enrollment period for the ACA; Landrieu wants to mandate that insurance companies continue to offer plans that people like, even if they don’t meet the law’s requirements; and Udall wants to expand the pool of people included in the individual insurance marketplace.

Last month, Sen. Mark Udall's proposal to temporarily allow Americans to renew health insurance plans not in compliance with the Affordable Care Act's reforms raised some eyebrows, and this ongoing discussion about changes to the law isn't likely to sit well with many health care reform proponents. Just after Udall's first proposal came out, research from Udall's own office found that the vast majority of "cancellations" in Colorado actually weren't–most of the affected consumers on the individual market had indeed been given the option to renew their existing coverage into 2014. Nonetheless, the slow pace of marketplace insurance signups in Colorado and elsewhere, still more attributable to technical problems than any other factor, is growing increasingly urgent as deadlines approach.

To a certain extent, there's a need now for Democratic proponents of health care reform to accept that the protracted startup problems for the exchanges are causing real problems for citizens, that may indeed require fixes beyond what the Obama administration can do without Congress. That doesn't mean any of these current ideas from swing-state Senators will become law, between defensive Democrats and belligerent Republicans determined to not help fix a law they believe to be inherently evil. We also like the sound of what Udall is proposing based on this report better than Sen. Mary Landrieu's idea to simply allow noncompliant health insurance to be sold in perpetuity. But between the legitimate problems that exist today and the GOP's dogmatic resolve to kill the entire health reform law by any means necessary, a middle ground desiring to fix, but not repeal Obamacare, may well emerge as the political sweet spot in this debate.

The one other point we'll note from this Hill story is the role of Colorado's junior Sen. Michael Bennet in these discussions. Though considered a centrist, Bennet's close relationship with the White House, and status as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, signal to us that these discussions have at least a liaison talking to the Obama administration. Politically, the thing to keep in mind is that Sen. Udall is on the ballot in 2014, not Obama–and though we absolutely believe they share a common goal of successful health care reform, a little judicious triangulation off Obama and the recent troubles with Obamacare may not be such a bad idea.

More Data Shows Universal Background Checks Are Working

guns

A press release a short while ago from the Colorado House Majority Press Office:

Dozens of criminals have been prevented from buying a gun under a 2013 law that closed the loophole that allowed private sales of firearms to proceed without a background check on the buyer, official statistics show. 

Stats released by the state Department of Public Safety at the request of lawmakers show that from the time the background check law went into effect in July through the end of November, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation performed nearly 4,800 background checks on private sales in the state. 

After those 4,792 background checks, 72 sales were blocked because the would-be buyer was convicted of or charged with a serious crime, or was under a domestic restraining order. The crimes include homicide, sexual assault, assault, dangerous drugs and larceny/theft. The other 98 percent of the sales were to law-abiding citizens and went through without a hitch. 

The data also show an upward trend in the number of private-sale background checks in the first five months the law has been in effect. 

“Dozens of criminals would be walking around with a gun right now if not for the new law,” said Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora), who sponsored the background checks law with Rep. Beth McCann (D-Denver) and Senate President-designate Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora). “Our intention was to make our communities safer and make it harder for criminals to get guns. We now have five months of data that prove that the law is working.”

The data supplied by the Colorado Department of Public Safety shows a steady increase each month in the number of background checks conducted for a private sale or transfer of a gun as mandated by this year's House Bill 1229. Just over 550 checks for private sales were conducted in July, increasing to a total of 1,327 last month. The denial rate, with the exception of a small uptick in September, has held steady at just under 2% of transactions being rejected due to a disqualifying criminal record.

Those two percent of denied purchases were due to a number of reasons we'd consider very tough to argue with: four with restraining orders, a dozen people who had committed assault, five who committed burglary, and at least one rejected for a homicide conviction.

When the very earliest figures were released showing the first month of background checks had stopped ten criminals from purchasing guns in private sales, Republicans like Sen. Kevin Lundberg claimed that the number of denials was "not persuasive at all" that the law was working. We were reminded then of a 2012 bill from Rep. Mark Waller, now a candidate for Attorney General, to eliminate "redundant" state background checks by the CBI entirely. CBI checks became the law after a Castle Rock man bought a gun in a purchase that state checks would have prevented due to a restraining order, and then killed his children. Waller argued that this "one act" is the reason why have those "redundant" state checks.

Well, as of today, House Bill 1229 has prevented six dozen guns from ending up in the wrong hands. Every month there will be more such denials, even as 98%+ of the lawful gun buying public has no problems. Is preventing some quantifiable number of guns from being sold, to people nearly everyone agrees shouldn't have a gun, worth a few minutes of time and a few bucks from law-abiding citizens?

Folks, excluding a few shrieking lunatics and the elected officials goading them on, this is a no-brainer.

Boehner Changes Tune, Criticizes Right Wing Groups

House Speaker John Boehner

House Speaker John Boehner

A fascinating turn of events in Congress, as NBC News reports:

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, lashed out at conservative advocacy groups that have encouraged GOP lawmakers to oppose a budget framework unveiled last night by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

"They're using our members and they're using the American people for their own goals," an animated Boehner told reporters at the Capitol. "This is ridiculous."

Ryan and Murray, the top budget officials in their respective chambers, announced an agreement that would set baseline spending levels for the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. The agreement calls for spending levels slightly above the cap established by the automatic spending cuts known as the "sequester" through a combination of reforms, cuts and new, non-tax revenue.

Conservative groups had been girding themselves against the deal before its details were finalized, mostly because the spending levels exceed sequester levels. The Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and Heritage Action — each of them well-financed conservative advocacy groups that hold some sway over Republican primary voters — have begun lobbying furiously against the modest government funding agreement…

…The Republican leadership's struggle to manage its restive conservative flank is a familiar storyline to any observer of Congress over the past three years. Boehner's decision to side with conservatives and drive a hard bargain over government spending and the Affordable Care Act contributed in large part to the government shutdown in October that nearly threatened default on the national debt.

If conservatives balk at supporting the legislation, Boehner would need to turn to Democrats to help advance the package through the House. The speaker did just that in passing legislation to end the government shutdown earlier this year.

It's no secret that the right wing of the Republican Party, energized by the Tea Party's emergence in 2009, has been slowly but surely dragging down the GOP into depths that leave moderate voters shaking their heads. While many Republican leaders have been wringing their hands about how to distance themselves from the right wing while maintaining their support come election time, Boehner's outspokenness is the most visible example yet of the growing frustration in the GOP.