Climate Change: Its What’s for Dinner

Norman Rockwell painted a scene of a fictionalized Thanksgiving that still haunts hostesses and hosts to this day.

By now most people are aware that the history that brings us Thanksgiving is not all as sanguine as we may have been led to believe. The subtext of conquest is bitter to swallow for many.

And abundance itself can devolve to gluttony and greed – stampeding consumerism no longer contained to the immediate Black Friday aftermath even, but invading the holiday itself.

So don’t blame me for ruining the day to raise another issue we can fret over even as we count our blessings otherwise – and that is climate change. Specifically what that clear and present climate crisis means for the food system and food security.

As you slather butter on squash and pile high your pie, you might consider that food systems are among the most vulnerable to climate change.  At risk from drought and wildlife, floods and landslides, threatened by declining pollinators and expanding pests, burdened by crashing fisheries. Of the systems that sustain humanity, how we produce and find the food we eat may be the most in jeopardy.

The point with all this isn’t to ruin the feast but to provide a morsel to chew on as the tryptophan kicks in. And may there be many more days of too much deliciousness in your life. But if we care about feeding ourselves and each other we ought to care about climate change and what we can do about it.

Recently I helped convene a group of growers, food advocates, climate crusaders, and local heroes in a series of gatherings and events around local food security and climate change, as reported in High Country News and KVNF community radio.

Pete Kolbenschlag, the organizer of the Paonia panel discussion, knows that food security affects everyone. “If you care about what’s on your plate, and you care about feeding other people and the planet, then we need to care about climate change, because climate change is going to affect our food supply,” he says.

The purpose was to consider what climate change means for agriculture and rural communities on the Western Slope and how we could begin to work collaboratively to address it.

Generally western Colorado is vulnerable to increased periods of drought and extreme precipitation, a snowpack that melts earlier and warmer winters, with freezes into May likely to remain a fact on the elevated slopes on the western flanks of the Rocky Mountains.

Warm winters result in early blooms on fruit trees that are then at risk to late snow and spring frosts.

Accepting some problems such as increased incidences of early bloom coupled with late April freeze, which is a real problem for the fruit producers where I live for instance, will be part of living with a changing climate.

And climate change means several things more broadly for farming and food security in Colorado as well, including:

*Adapting our farming and food systems to a changing climate will be necessary: to create more climate resilience into the design, crop selection, and techniques; and to make wise water use and management, a top priority in all aspects of growing and producing food.

*Adopting better practices in agriculture and in food system, to reduce greenhouse gas contributions – from eating less meat to utilizing techniques that enhances local carbon capture.

*Accelerating the transition to cleaner energy sources and more local power production in agricultural and food production.

Food security and the threats looming to it from climate change is an issue of global significance.  It also matters for us here at home.  And meeting the challenges that climate change poses for Colorado’s food system will take national and state commitment, as well as local action.

Homegrown approaches for rural communities and others that can help us adapt our food system to address climate change,  from sharing local clean energy capacity and installations (‘solar barn-raisings’) to expanding local food networks.

There is tangible value in gratitude. And for most of us there are things for which we are rightfully thankful. Considering these things helps cultivate a positive attitude.

We can be thankful we are removed from troubling global events we see, perhaps. We may be thankful we are not fleeing a war torn cluster of other powers’ making.

But even these situations have roots not only in political upheaval, like in Syria and Iraq, but also in basic needs that are going unmet. The fact is we are all connected. Global security is connected to food supply. And that supply is being directly impacted from climate change.

A stock Thanksgiving meal set unlike any that I have personally experienced, yet with several classic elements.

So if you are fortunate enough to be able to look with thanks upon your table this season, do take time to think about the world beyond your circle. Remember your family and friends that aren’t there. Include the farmers and winemakers, the workers and craft that brings bounty to you.

But also thank Governor Hickenlooper for defending the Clean Power Plan and Senator Bennet for supporting it against Republican rollbacks in the Senate. One little bite at a time, and some perseverance, and we can make a real difference.

Maybe say a little prayer for peace. But also send it to the world’s leaders heading to Paris this week. Ask that they keep the wisdom that reminds: the smart ruler fills bellies while the harvest of an army is a waste of thorns.

If we want peace, we need security. And if we want security then people need to be secure in their food supplies. And to ensure people have full bellies, and secure food supplies, political leaders need to Act on Climate. It really is as simple as the food on our plate.

A Colorado governor who fought bigotry–and won in the end

(Past is prologue – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Gov. Ralph Carr (R-CO).

Gov. Ralph Carr (R-CO).

During WWII, the U.S. government forced Japanese Americans  from their homes on the West Coast and moved them to interior states. Kansas Gov. Payne Ratner, reflected the opinions of many governors when she responded at the time with, “Japs are not wanted and not welcome in Kansas.”

With at least 22 Republican governors saying they’ll try to keep Syrian refugees out of their states, Denver University’s Seth Masket wrote a blog post yeserday reminding us of this and pointing out that Colorado Governor Ralph Carr “stood out” among his fellow governors at the time and declared that the forced relocation of the Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 was unconstitutional. He also welcomed them to Colorado.

Masket didn’t mention Hickenlooper, who has welcomed Syrian refugees, but the loose parallel between the two Colorado governors isn’t lost on anyone reading Masket’s post, titled “The governor who didn’t give in to fear … and paid a price for it.

Masket: “Obviously, the relocation of American citizens of Japanese ancestry is not the same as accepting refugees from another country,” writes Masket, who’s an Associate Professor of Political Science at DU. “But there are clear parallels, particularly in the political incentives governors are confronting. It’s not just that it’s easy to demagogue against foreign invaders; it’s that it’s sometimes politically risky not to. The governors refusing to take in Syrian refugees today may or may not know Ralph Carr’s name, but they have surely imagined his fate, and they don’t want the same for themselves.” [BigMedia emphasis]

Masket cites the Principled Politician, former 9News reporter Adam Schrager’s much-acclaimed biography of Carr. The book shows the respect Carr has now, in hindsight, even though his stance during WWII ended his political career.


Get More Smarter on Tuesday (Nov. 17)

GetMoreSmarter-SnowIf you squint your eyes really hard, you can have a snow day, too. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).


► Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is refusing to play the politics of reactionary rhetoric in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Hickenlooper says that Colorado will not automatically reject Syrian refugees just because one of the Paris attackers came from that area of the globe. As we wrote yesterday:

For our part, we’re reminded of the example of another governor of Colorado, Gov. Ralph Carr, who in the early days of World War II urged the people of Colorado to welcome and respect Japanese-Americans being transported here by the federal government away from the West Coast. Carr paid for his foresight and equanimity with his political career, but is today remembered as one of our state’s best governors.

Today, Gov. Hickenlooper has spoken out in the finest traditions of a state that has witnessed both great compassion and great intolerance in our history. He deserves not just the gratitude of future Colorado citizens with the benefit of hindsight, but to be heeded now as a voice of reason in difficult times.

Good on you, Governor.

The Denver Business Journal has more on Hickenlooper’s announcement, which is at odds with the decisions of several Republican governors around the country. Colorado Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) is also joining the fear-mongering chorus. French investigators, meanwhile, believe a Syrian passport found near the attacks was a fake — planted intentionally because rejecting Syrian refugees may actually do more to benefit ISIS. 


► A decision on moving prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. prisons has been put on hold. As the Denver Post reports:

A report on the future homes of dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees is stalled, leaving leaders in Colorado to continue to debate the issue.

Prisons in Colorado, Kansas and South Carolina are being considered as new destinations for those housed at the U.S. military prison in Cuba.

White House and Pentagon officials have declined to say why the report, expected last week,  has been delayed indefinitely

…The Super Max federal prison in Fremont County already is home to several convicted terrorists, including 9/11-coconspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and 2001 failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid.



Get even more smarter after the jump…


Profiles In Courage: Hickenlooper Welcomes Syrian Refugees

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As the Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reports:

So far more than a dozen governors, most of them Republicans, have said they want to close their state borders to refugees from Syria. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe both, Democrats, however, have said their states will continue accepting refugees.

Colorado Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton said in a statement today he wants to stop refugees from Syria from entering the United States.

President Barack Obama said the United States would continue to accept refugees and called efforts to screen those fleeing Syria based on their religion “shameful.”

In September, Colorado “was preparing to help” as refugees left Syria and other countries in the Middle East, according to CBS Denver.

In a statement today, Gov. John Hickenlooper makes it clear that nothing has changed:

“A few short days ago we witnessed another senseless act of terrorism. Our hearts go out to the families, friends and loved ones of those lost and injured in Paris, and in other acts of terror around the world. Our first priority remains the safety of our residents. We will work with the federal government and Homeland Security to ensure the national verification processes for refugees are as stringent as possible. We can protect our security and provide a place where the world’s most vulnerable can rebuild their lives.” [Pols emphasis]

As the American Civil Liberties Union notes, the knee-jerk response from some Republican governors against taking in refugees from the war in Syria is, in addition to optically quite troubling, most likely not legal:

For our part, we’re reminded of the example of another governor of Colorado, Gov. Ralph Carr, who in the early days of World War II urged the people of Colorado to welcome and respect Japanese-Americans being transported here by the federal government away from the West Coast. Carr paid for his foresight and equanimity with his political career, but is today remembered as one of our state’s best governors.

Today, Gov. Hickenlooper has spoken out in the finest traditions of a state that has witnessed both great compassion and great intolerance in our history. He deserves not just the gratitude of future Colorado citizens with the benefit of hindsight, but to be heeded now as a voice of reason in difficult times.

Good on you, Governor.

These People Won’t Be the Next Lieutenant Governor of Colorado

But can the next Lt. Governor do THIS?

But can the next Lt. Governor do THIS?

Last week’s surprise news that Colorado Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia will soon resign from office has led to some natural speculation about Garcia’s potential replacement. Governor John Hickenlooper will reportedly name a replacement LG sometime within the next few weeks, and that person will need to be confirmed by a highly-partisan Colorado legislature.

Aside from being the next person in line to serve as Governor in the event that the big office is vacated before the next election, we couldn’t tell you a whole lot about what the LG actually does on a daily basis. We could tell you even less prior to 2010, when Hickenlooper expanded Garcia’s role by also naming him head of the Colorado Department of Higher Education. The LG’s office has not historically been a stepping stone to…anything in Colorado politics

The Colorado Statesman is running a couple of online polls speculating about the next name to get the LG title (here’s Poll 1, and here’s Poll 2). While we haven’t heard much about who might get the nomination from Hickenlooper, there are a few names from the Statesman polls that we can probably already cross out.

If Hickenlooper chooses an LG from the ranks of the state legislature, there are three Democratic lawmakers in the Statesman polls that can probably go ahead and cross themselves off of any list: State Rep. Crisanta Duran, and State Senators Linda Newell and Angela Williams. 

Back in May 2015, Duran, Newell, and Williams all signed onto a letter to Gov. Hickenlooper stating that they had “lost confidence” in the leadership at the Department of Human Services and urging Hickenlooper to make leadership changes at DHS. We’re not going to use this space to debate the relative policy merits of the DHS letter; from a political perspective, you’re not earning points with your Party’s own Governor when you publicly sign your name to a letter questioning his decision making.

Linda Newell, Crisanta Duran, and Angela Williams

Linda Newell, Crisanta Duran, and Angela Williams

This would hold true in any state, or any organization, for that matter. When you give somebody in your professional circle a public wedgie, you probably shouldn’t hold out any hope that you might get a big promotion 6 months later.

On the flip side, it makes sense that state Sen. Mike Johnston would be on the Statesman’s list of potential LG candidates. Johnston and fellow Democrat Millie Hamner are two high-profile legislators who did NOT sign onto the DHS letter last spring. If you are Gov. Hickenlooper and you’re thinking about who to select as your Lt. Governor, you’re probably going to start your search with people whose support you don’t need to question. That’s not just politics — that’s human nature.

It’s possible — perhaps even likely, given recent historical trends — that Hickenlooper will pick a Lt. Gov. who is not a sitting legislator. Both Garcia and Barbara O’Brien, Gov. Bill Ritter’s LG, were working outside of state government when they were selected as running mates. But if Hick does decide to go with someone already under the Gold Dome, it’s going to be a Democrat — and it’s going to be somebody Hickenlooper knows will stand behind his decisions.

BREAKING: Lt. Governor Joe Garcia Stepping Down

UPDATE: Per Brandon Rittiman at 9News, Hickenlooper’s office expects to name a new L.G. within a matter of weeks:


Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia

Breaking news this morning from John Frank, Joey Bunch, and Jesse Paul of the Denver Post:

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia announced Tuesday he is stepping down from his post to take a new job.

The Pueblo Democrat will become the president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, a Boulder-based organization that serves as a resource for colleges and universities in 15 states. He will transition to the new job sometime before July 1, according to the governor’s office.

In Garcia’s current role as Hickenlooper’s deputy, he serves as the executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

By all accounts there is nothing at play here other than Joe Garcia’s decision to take his career in a different direction as Governor John Hickenlooper approaches the end of his eight-year term in office. As Hickenlooper himself explains:

Garcia told Hickenlooper about the job opportunity more than a month ago and used the governor as a reference. “He said he wanted a change,” Hickenlooper added. “He cares a lot about higher ed and the job he was offered probably pays double what he makes now and allows him to look at higher education in 15 states. It’s a big deal.”

Hickenlooper has plenty of time to decide on who he will nominate to fill the remaining 18 months of Garcia’s term as Lieutenant Governor (Garcia won’t leave Hickenlooper’s administration until next summer).

It will be interesting to see who Hickenlooper eventually taps as LG, because that person could get a nice head start on a potential run for Governor in 2018. Hickenlooper has always been publicly supportive of a potential gubernatorial bid from Garcia in 2018, though as the Post reports, Garcia’s new career path would seem to indicate that he is not looking at elected office in the near future.

On This We Agree: Cynthia Coffman is Silly



Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is a big supporter of the new federal Clean Power Plan. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is not a fan, however, and that’s okay…to a point. The Governor thinks that Coffman is breaking the law by forcing Colorado to join a multi-state lawsuit challenging the Clean Power Plan. As the Associated Press reports:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Monday he will ask the Colorado Supreme Court whether it was legal for the state attorney general to sue the federal government over new air pollution rules even though Hickenlooper supports the rules and is trying to implement them.

Hickenlooper said he should have made the final decision on whether Attorney General Cynthia Coffman joined 23 other states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency. Coffman said the rules are an illegal overreach.

“The law makes it clear that except in limited circumstances — which don’t exist here — the attorney general is not permitted to file such lawsuits unless directed to do so by the governor,” Hickenlooper said.

Former Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar backed up Hickenlooper’s comments today during an event in Boulder, telling Bruce Finley of the Denver Post that Coffman’s legal opinion is incorrect in this matter:

“What the attorney general is doing here is clearly illegal on her part,” he said. “We’ll see what the Supreme Court has to say.”

And what does Coffman herself have to say about the subject? That leads us to this little gem that just made it into a story from the Colorado Statesman (which also references a Colorado Pols story from last week):

“And finally, I would say to people who would think that I have been influenced by the energy industry, that they must not know me that well, because I am not that easily influenced,” Coffman concluded. [Pols emphasis]

Not. That. Easily. Influenced.

Yes, friends, we are talking about the same Cynthia Coffman who played a central role in trying to blackmail State Republican Party Chair Steve House last summer. You may have heard about the scandal, which has been dubbed “Coffmangate.” It would be difficult to be any more persuadable to political arguments.

Cynthia Coffman’s Clean Power Plan Suit: Who’s Pulling The Strings?

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Among the growing number of curious decisions by Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman is her signing on to a multistate lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Because of clean energy  initiatives and legislation already passed here in Colorado in the last 12 years, our state is much closer to compliance with the goals of the CPP than many others. Avowedly pro-energy Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper supports the CPP, and in an August interview with Colorado Public Radio, expressed some amount of befuddlement over Attorney General Coffman’s plans to sue:

Hickenlooper has said he intends to meet the carbon reduction goals set by the EPA this month. But Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman says the goals are “unrealistic,” and raise “significant concerns for Colorado,” and is considering suing the EPA.

“[The attorney general and I] haven’t had a chance to talk… One of the amazing things about this moment in time is that inexpensive natural gas is a very, very clean fuel. And we have a couple of aged coal plants in Colorado… there might be one or two or three that might be able to be converted to natural gas, and natural gas right now is so inexpensive, it might allow us to achieve the reductions without significant cost increases [for consumers]…

“We don’t see the evidence [to support a lawsuit] based on what we know.”

Any way you look at it, AG Coffman’s decision to join in lawsuit over the objections of the governor of the state she serves–a state already a model for the goals this plan wants to achieve–looks weird. Of the 20 or so states that have filed suit against the administration over the Clean Power Plan, we haven’t checked to see how many involve state attorneys general going against their own governors, but we’re guessing that’s a minority of cases.

So what gives? Yesterday, we were forwarded documents produced from a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request of the attorney general’s office by the DC-based group Public Citizen. These documents appear to show a major role in Colorado joining the lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan by one Mike Nasi. Nasi is a Texas-based energy industry attorney who has apparently helped direct the energy industry’s response to the Clean Power Plan, new rules on mercury emissions, and a variety of other subjects. It should be noted that neither Nasi nor his law firm Jackson Walker LLP are registered lobbyists in the state of Colorado.

Despite this, Nasi testified in favor of the industry-sponsored Senate Bill 15-258 this year, the so-called “Electric Consumers Protection Act” to forestall any state implementation plan for carbon dioxide reduction. After SB-258 died, Gov. Hickenlooper announced that the state would support and comply with the Clean Power Plan.

Enter Cynthia Coffman.

There’s a wealth of information in the CORA “doc dump” from Public Citizen (two files, here and here) about the collusion between her office, pro-energy Colorado lawmakers like Sen. John Cooke, and Nasi in advocating against the Clean Power Plan. This in turn sheds light on Nasi’s multistate roundup of willing attorneys general to sue the administration. We hope readers will take a look at these documents and help us establish more details about the connections and players involved. In light of Colorado’s readiness–according to the governor, anyway–to be a leader in implementing the Clean Power Plan, this back-channel maneuvering by the attorney general to join this lawsuit stands out as especially dubious.

And maybe even, dare we suggest it, misconduct.

Clinton’s Colorado Campaign Ramps Up, Tackles Big Issues

Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton.

As the Colorado Stateman’s Vic Vela reports:

Volunteers for Hillary Clinton’s Colorado campaign this week received an education in “how to win a caucus 101,” laying the team’s groundwork for winning votes that won’t be cast for another five months.

“If we win Colorado, that puts Hillary in the best possible position to win the Democratic nomination,” Brad Komar, Clinton’s Colorado campaign lead, said in a call to volunteers Tuesday evening. Komar invited the press to listen in during the call…

In an interview with The Colorado Statesman following the call, Komar said many Colorado Democrats who have lived in the state for a long time know the caucus system “like the back of their hand.” But others might not have lived here or been eligible to vote in 2008, the last time a competitive Democratic caucus was held here — the same year then-candidate Barack Obama defeated Clinton for the nomination.

Komar, who ran Gov. John Hickenlooper’s successful re-election bid last year, said the organizing effort is just getting started but adds that Clinton has built-in advantages here.

“Hillary has a lot of institutional support in Colorado,” he said. “We have a lot of elected endorsers, just a lot of folks who want to help her. And that’s important in a caucus.”

Sources tell us that Colorado is taking a major role in Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s caucus and general election campaign strategy. Despite a summer of Republicans throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at her, Clinton remains the broadly-anticipated Democratic nominee for president, and her campaign views the caucus in Colorado as an opportunity to organize rather than any kind of political make-or-break. A press release from Clinton campaign chair Brad Komar today announced Hillary’s campaign leadership team in Colorado, headed by a face you’ll recognize:

“Coloradans are pioneers who collaborate from instinct,” said Governor Hickenlooper. “We were the first state where the people gave women the right to vote. That is why we are excited to finally crack that glass ceiling by electing Hillary Clinton as the first woman president of the United States.  From fighting for the rights of women and children across the world as Secretary of State to helping create SCHIP as First Lady which now provides health insurance to 8 million children, Hillary Clinton is a champion that has delivered results.”

That’s right–the same Gov. John Hickenlooper who made headlines last week after tossing out some throwaway speculation about the extremely well-publicized private email server Clinton used while serving as Secretary of State. Hick pulling his foot out of his mouth long enough to sign on to Clinton’s leadership council should help put that gaffe in its proper perspective. That’s Hick for you.


Coloradans Not So Bloodthirsty After All?

Lethal injection chamber.

Lethal injection chamber.

A new poll from Public Policy Polling, which is generally considered a Democratic-aligned polling outfit but has won many plaudits for accuracy over the years, has a new poll out challenging the conventional wisdom that Colorado voters overwhelmingly favor capital punishment. As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports:

Colorado voters appear split on whether the death penalty should remain in place, a new poll finds, a result that may indicate support for capital punishment is softening in the state.

The survey comes amid a conversation about the future of the death penalty in Colorado after juries in two high-profile trials opted against imposing it.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, asked voters last week whether the state should replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole. The survey found 47.2 percent favor keeping the death penalty and 42.9 percent want to replace it — a difference that is essentially within the margin of error of 4.3 percentage points.

An additonal 10 percent remained undecided, according to the poll, which was commissioned by the Better Priorities Initiative, a Colorado-based group that opposes the death penalty.

Boulder County DA Stan Garnett.

Boulder County DA Stan Garnett.

A press release from the Better Priorities Initiative quotes Boulder DA Stan Garnett:

“This poll shows that Coloradans have grown weary of this wasteful government program that prolongs victims’ suffering, provides little to no deterrent effect, and ultimately yields no executions,” said Stan Garnett, District Attorney for the 20th Judicial District. “As Coloradans continue to have this statewide conversation about the death penalty, they are concluding they can live without it.”

These findings come on the heels of the state’s two highest profile death penalty cases in many years. In both cases, the death-qualified juries determined that life in prison without the possibility of parole was the appropriate sentence for the perpetrators instead of death by lethal injection. The juries’ rejection of the death penalty in both the Aurora theatre shooting and the Fero’s Bar stabbing fall in line with national trends that show a marked decrease in the number of death sentences handed down by juries, which reached a 40-year low nationwide in 2014.

Garnett went on to say, “As a District Attorney who has the responsibility of managing a large office of lawyers and staff, I always focus on what is efficient and what keeps my community safe. The reality is that the death penalty is wasteful and does nothing to make our communities safer. Tough and focused prosecutors across Colorado are coming to the same conclusion.”

The poll stands in marked contrast to another poll taken during the recently-concluded trial of the Aurora theater shooter, in which over 60% percentage of respondents indicated they favored the death penalty in that case. The most recent round of debates over the death penalty has raged in Colorado since well before this summer, however, after Gov. John Hickenlooper granted a reprieve to the so-called “Chuck E. Cheese killer” who had been scheduled to be executed in 2013.

It was widely assumed that Hickenlooper’s decision to grant a reprieve in that case would cost him politically. In last year’s gubernatorial election, GOP opponent Bob Beauprez used Hickenlooper’s decision in campaign ads to paint the incumbent as “soft on crime”–a similar tactic to what Beauprez had unsuccessfully tried against Bill Ritter in 2006. It didn’t work, in part because Beauprez’s ugly negative campaign had begun to backfire on a variety of issues.

Or maybe the issue just doesn’t have the purchase with voters that we all thought?

Today’s poll asked Coloradans what they think would be the most important issue in deciding how to vote for their state legislator next year. The death penalty barely registered, with only 5% of voters saying the issue would guide their vote, and other issues like the economy and health care scoring far higher. This again would seem to indicate that the death penalty is not nearly the marquee issue that Republicans have claimed–against Hickenlooper, or in support of either the policy or politicians like George Brauchler who have significant political capital invested in support for capital punishment.

The death penalty is one of those emotive issues where polling can swing wildly based on contemporary issues. When it seemed likely that the Aurora shooter would receive it, polling suggests voters liked it better. Now that the death penalty has failed to be applied in our state, in two cases where conventional wisdom would surely suggest the law warranted it?

It’s possible this debate has entered a new phase.

Colorado’s Death Penalty Teeters on Brink of Irrelevance

UPDATE: The Denver Post’s editorial board says “the death penalty in Colorado has effectively expired.”

There will never be crimes any worse than those committed by Holmes and Lewis. There may be crimes that are their equal in cruelty, but how often are they likely to occur? And why should those criminals be put to death if Holmes and Lewis were not?

Is the death penalty really only for people who commit crimes of similar magnitude who are neither mentally ill nor the product of childhood abuse? How often do such monsters come around?

The death penalty in Colorado has effectively expired. And it didn’t happen because of bleeding-heart lawmakers or activist judges. It happened because juries themselves wanted no part of it.


sir-mario-owens-nathan-dunlap-robert-rayThe Denver Post reports on the final decision yesterday by a jury in yet another Colorado death penalty case, this one in Denver related to the murders of five people in October of 2012 during a botched robbery attempt at Fero’s Bar and Grill:

When a Denver jury on Thursday spared a convicted mass killer the death penalty, a confused silence enveloped the courtroom. Dexter Lewis, who stabbed five people to death in 2012, will spend the rest of his life in prison…

Almost three years after Lewis joined in on a robbery that spiraled into a gruesome massacre, the case came to a blunt and dazed ending.

After deliberating for less than three hours Thursday, at least one member of the jury of 10 women and two men found that the details of Lewis’ life that suggested mercy — including chronic abuse and neglect — outweighed the heinous details of the crime that suggested death.

The decision yesterday to sentence convicted murderer Dexter Lewis to life in prison instead of the death sentence sought by prosecutors comes just weeks after a jury in Arapahoe County failed to agree on a death sentence for the killer in the 2012 Aurora theater massacre. Both of these high-profile cases represent circumstances that the prosecutors believed merited the ultimate punishment. But in both cases, at least one juror could not be convinced, and that ended the question of imposing a death sentence.

Lethal injection chamber.

Lethal injection chamber.

Mike Littwin at the Colorado Independent opines today that these outcomes further delegitimize capital punishment as a viable means of seeking justice, even as public polls show the idea of capital punishment still enjoys broad support in this state:

If Lewis and Holmes don’t get death, who does? It’s with that question — and with the near-certain answer — that the conversation almost certainly has to end…

Colorado has executed one person in the past 48 years. It currently has three people on death row. There’s no deterrence argument left, if there ever was one. For that matter, it’s hard to see where there’s a justice argument left.

It’s a punishment that is used so rarely — with decades-long waits on death row for the few assigned there — that any execution now seems to be little more than random, an accident of time or place. And a random punishment, as Supreme Court Justice Steve Breyer recently wrote, can’t, by definition, be just. He called it “the antithesis of justice.”

…John Hickenlooper made that decision himself in the case of Nathan Dunlap, granting him a “temporary reprieve” rather than letting an execution go forward. He didn’t say that Dunlap deserved any form of mercy. He wouldn’t even bring himself to use Dunlap’s name. Hickenlooper said his problem was with the system of capital punishment and whether it delivers the justice that it promises. He said you can’t have an imperfect system and also have justice.

The imperfections are there for all to see, in matters of race, gender and class. It’s no wonder that only seven states executed anyone last year. The botched execution in Oklahoma of Clayton Lockett led the Nebraska legislature, of all places, to end the death penalty there, even overriding a governor’s veto to make it happen.

There’s little question that the outcomes of these two high-profile death penalty cases will affect the debate over capital punishment in Colorado next year: in the legislature, and maybe at the polls as well. It’s worth remembering that at the same time Gov. John Hickenlooper was contemplating a reprieve for the “Chuck E. Cheese killer,” which he granted in May of 2013, his office helped scuttle legislation to repeal the death penalty in Colorado. There were a number of factors that went into Hickenlooper’s tapping the brakes on repeal of the death penalty in 2013, not least the already very ambitious slate of bills that had passed that year–including the hotly controversial gun safety bills that would later provoke recalls against Democrats state senators.

Bottom line: a poll in late July, just before the verdict in the Aurora theater trial, showed that over 60% of Coloradans supported the death penalty in that case. But today, with the Aurora shooter headed to prison for life and now the killer in the gruesome Fero’s Bar massacre also spared the death penalty, the question becomes whether the death penalty still works at all: as a punishment, a deterrent, or even a workable means of obtaining satisfaction for victims. At least one Aurora victim’s relative has been vocal about the wasted effort, expense, and emotional trauma of seeking the death penalty, only for the jury to impose a sentence that defense attorneys had offered over a year before.

At the very least, you have to concede that Hickenlooper’s postponement of the one execution he would have been responsible for looks very different today after these other arguably more vicious killers’ lives have been spared. And as one of the last “civilized” places on earth that still judicially kills people, these events provide context for a debate that may really be, in the long arc of history, in its final stages.

What’s Next for George Brauchler?

Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler.

Arapahoe County DA George Brauchler.

The Aurora Theater Shooting trial finally came to a close on Wednesday when Judge Carlos Samour Jr. sentenced convicted killer James Holmes to 12 consecutive life sentences, and another 3,318 years in prison for good measure. Following the sentencing, Samour put an exclamation point on the trial when he said, “Get the defendant out of my courtroom, please.”

Privately, at least, life should essentially return to normal for Judge Samour and the countless others who have invested much of the last few years on this case. But for Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who is being courted by Republicans to run for U.S. Senate in 2016, he may just be exchanging one spotlight for another.

In an interview with the Colorado Independent, Brauchler acknowledged that he feels the pressure to make a decision on his political future by Labor Day – less than two weeks away. Now that the sentencing is complete, it’s a good time to look at the political ramifications of the Aurora Theater Shooting Trial for Brauchler — and by extension, Colorado Republicans in general.

We decided to do this Rickey Henderson-style by having a Q&A conversation with ourselves, so let’s get to it after the jump… (more…)

All of Colorado is (NOT) Contaminated

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River.

Gov. John Hickenlooper drinks from the Animas River.

Governor John Hickenlooper juggles a lot of different responsibilities as Colorado’s top elected official — which includes serving as Colorado’s chief tester of gross-looking water, which he did again last week in chugging a bottle of water from the Animas River in the aftermath of the Gold King mine wastewater spill.

Hickenlooper agreed to drink from the river at the request of several people in the Durango area in an effort to assure people that the water was safe — and the big sip made Hick plenty of friends as a result. From the Durango Herald:

John Hickenlooper was Johnny-On-The-Spot, clearing his schedule to be in town, see the Animas River firsthand, listen to concerns and offer the power of his office.

Then there was The Moment – when Gov. Hickenlooper took a bold stand for Durango and La Plata County. He defiantly raised a bottle of river water and downed it.

“If that shows that Durango is open for business, I’m happy to help,” he said.

Hickenlooper didn’t say whether or not the Animas River was tastier than the glass of fracking fluid he once quaffed, but the move nevertheless generated a bit of controversy. On Monday, Denver Post reporter John Frank Tweeted a link to his Sunday story about the Animas River, asking the question “Is [Hickenlooper’s] big Animas River sip a liability or political win?” Here’s what the Governor had to say regarding his motivation for drinking from the river:

“The point I was trying to make is that the river is back to normal,” Hickenlooper said in an interview after returning from Durango. “There’s a silver lining in all this. It doesn’t appear there is going to be lasting environmental damage or significant environmental damage, and what most of us were fearful of didn’t happen.”

Sunday’s Post story notes some vague disapproval from the likes of state Sen. Ellen Roberts, who offered her usual brand of WTF-flavored commentary, but you’d have to really squint your eyes in order to make out the downside of Hick’s demonstration. By swigging river water, the Governor was making a pointed effort to ease fears and tamper speculation about the extent of the pollution in the Animas River — and to make sure that misinformation didn’t cripple the tourism economy in Southern Colorado. (more…)

Get More Smarter on Friday (Aug. 14)

Get More SmarterAre you ready for some Denver Broncos football? YEAAAHHHHHHH!!! It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).



► Back-and-forth accusations continue over the massive wastewater spill into the Animas River near Silverton. As the Denver Post reports, wastewater contamination from the Gold King mine may have been nearing a tipping point even before an EPA investigation inadvertently triggered last week’s river spill:

The EPA has yet to release its work order detailing precautions the crew was to take before the Aug. 5 spill. But other documents reviewed by The Denver Post show the EPA was acting on a growing awareness that state-backed work done from 1998 to 2002 on mines around Gold King had led to worsening contamination of Animas River headwaters.

The EPA was acting at Gold King after what, in an October document, the agency deemed a “time critical” effort to try to contain the increased toxic leakage — with elevated cadmium at 35 parts per billion, lead at 60 ppb and zinc at 16,000 ppb — from the nearby Red and Bonita Mine.

► We’ve started the “The Dropout Clock” on Colorado Pols as we try to gauge which Republican candidates for President are most likely to leave the race before the Iowa caucus. Our guess is that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will be the first to go; “Republican insiders” tell Politico that they think former Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the most likely candidate to fold up shop.


Get even more smarter after the jump…


Hickenlooper Steps Up To Sell TABOR “Baby Step”

UPDATE: Although the Denver Post story this weekend represents this proposal as a “revamp” or “fix” to the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, commenters note correctly that this is merely a proposed exemption of revenues from the 2009 hospital provider fee from TABOR. The proposal would prevent the fee from busting TABOR’s revenue caps, allowing the state to keep the money.

Not that TABOR’s zealous defenders will like it any better, of course.


Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper is putting his money where his mouth his–or is it putting his mouth where he wants your money to be?–by proposing a small “tweak” to the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) that would allow the state to retain several hundred million dollars to fund needed projects:

On the first day of a new statewide tour, Gov. John Hickenlooper found an appropriate venue in this high mountain town for his push to revamp how the state spends money.

The Democrat stood on stage at the historic Tabor Opera House in Leadville and made a lengthy pitch for an overhaul to TABOR — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Hickenlooper wants to exempt the hospital provider fee from state revenue collections under TABOR because it pushes Colorado over the constitutional cap, prompting taxpayer refunds next year even as the state struggles to adequately fund priority areas.

If the fee were removed from TABOR, Colorado’s revenues would fall under the cap and the state would have $200 million more to spend on road projects and classrooms, the governor said.

To be clear, this is not the “grand bargain” that would undo the fiscal chokehold of the combination of TABOR with other constitutional spending caps and mandates to let our elected officials do their jobs as prescribed by the same state (not to mention federal) constitution. The hospital provider fee was passed in 2009 under Gov. Bill Ritter in order to qualify for additional federal matching funds for Medicaid. The program has been very successful, but that success has come with the side effect of pushing the state beyond TABOR’s dreaded revenue caps.

Despite a backlog of funding priorities and money cover them, it’s necessary to hold a statewide vote to simply allow those funds to be retained and used by the state. For citizens who don’t understand TABOR, there’s a widespread assumption that our better economy means more revenue that the state can then use to pay for all the stuff we depend on every day–roads, schools, health care.

But in Colorado, that’s just not the way it works.

“I think giving people the real facts is half the battle,” he said after the first events. “To make sure they understand that … it’s going to crowd out, over the next few years, hundreds of millions of dollars from the things all these people want from their state government.”

We’ve heard some grumbling that Hickenlooper “squandering” an opportunity for a much more comprehensive solution for a smaller-scale proposal like this might make it harder down the road for such a “big fix” to pass muster. But we honestly think that the battle to unwind TABOR’s deviously complex restrictions on raising revenue in our state is a longer-term problem than Hickenlooper or anyone else can solve by 2016. The political backing doesn’t yet exist to make a wholesale repeal viable, and the projections of looming and persistent shortfalls in the future aren’t close enough yet to be real to voters. There is more work to be done educating the public, and more harm that needs to be seen with voters’ own eyes.

In the meantime, Gov. Hickenlooper is doing what he can. The arguments that he’s making for this small-scale proposal apply to the big questions as well–and either Hick or his successor will benefit from his touring of the state to tell this story when TABOR’s judgment day finally arrives.