Senate GOP Kills College Tuition Cap Bill

Student life.

Student life.

Via AP and the Fort Collins Coloradoan, a priority from Gov. John Hickenlooper's State of the State address dies at the hands of the GOP-controlled Senate Education Committee:

The Senate Education Committee considered a Democratic bill to extend the current 6 percent hike cap indefinitely. The proposal was part of the Democrats' broader agenda this year to rein in costs for the middle class.

For some students at Colorado State University on Thursday, the proposal sounded like a sound idea.

"Making sure (tuition hikes aren't) ludicrous, like a 20 percent jump? I'm for that," junior health and exercise science major Philip Ephraim said.

The 2011-12 school year saw a 20 percent jump for in-state students over the previous year. Tuition had increased by 9 percent annually for the years before and after that year, according to CSU. The Legislature passed the tuition cap last year, but it was not permanent…

Laura Waters Woods.

Laura Waters Woods.

Of course, the 6% tuition cap bill that died yesterday was only "permanent" for as long as the General Assembly wanted it to be. Any such statute can be changed at any time. But in Hickenlooper's State of the State address, he called for tuition at Colorado state schools to increase by no more than 6%, in an effort to control the growth in the cost of higher education. Which, if you haven't heard, has been a big problem in recent years (see above).

But by fewer than 700 votes in suburban Arvada, Republicans are in charge of the Colorado Senate. Sen. Laura Waters Woods and her hard-right colleagues on the Senate Education Committee are expected to be a major roadblock on education issues for the next two years, and yesterday's action lived up to the predictions.

On Thursday, Education Committee members agreed that Colorado has done a poor job of funding higher education, but the GOP-controlled board voted 5-4 on party lines to reject the measure.

Republicans on the committee pointed out that even the 6 percent cap could mean tuition would double in a couple of decades. They called the cap an arbitrary limit on the institutions and an example of "micromanaging" the schools…

It's called gridlock, folks, and it's what's on tap in the Colorado Senate through 2016. The only thing we can tell you, and the student body of Colorado State University, is everybody had better get used to it.

And elections matter. We'll say that again too.

Something For Everyone In Hick’s 2015 State of the State

hicksos

As the Colorado Independent's Tessa Cheek reports:

Governor John Hickenlooper used his fifth State of the State speech today to paint his legislature, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House, with a Colorado-ness that reaches beyond party priorities. He touted the new first-ever statewide water plan, quoting Thomas Hornsby Ferril, whose poetry is engraved in the Capitol and that emphasizes common interest: “Here is a land where life is written in water.”

“Representatives of urban areas recognized that locally sourced dairy and food is vital to all of Colorado; while the agricultural areas realized that they could not simply allow urban areas to dry up,” Hickenlooper said of the water plan, noting it involved “the largest civic engagement process in state history.”

Lawmakers and leaders should come together, Hickenlooper suggested, to apply similarly high standards of public input and cooperation to tackle tough questions surrounding topics like oil and gas development and government funding under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR)…

The Denver Post's John Frank on Gov. John Hickenlooper's measured comments on the controversial so-called Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR):

Hickenlooper capped his speech by addressing the state's budget situation — which he labeled a "financial thicket" in his inaugural address Tuesday. It's a reference to the possibility of refunds under the state's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, despite underfunded state programs.

"There is a legitimate debate of whether government should be a bit bigger or a bit smaller," the governor said, according to prepared remarks. "But that misses the point. Regardless of size, government must work."
 
But he stopped short of asking for an overhaul of TABOR and avoided taking a direct stance on how to address the issue.

"Some people want to get rid of TABOR, some want to get rid of Amendment 23, others want to get rid of Gallagher. There is no shortage of thorns in this fiscal thicket," he said. "And while we will continue to strategically prune, our state budget can only endure so much cutting. "

The Denver Business Journal:

Referencing the oil and gas industry, Hickenlooper emphasized the number of environmental protections he has added through collaboration with the industry during his first term, then said he looks forward to seeing the recommendations that a task force examining the role of local government in regulating the industry will deliver later this session. But he did not give any parameters as to what kind of increased regulations he may be willing to back in the Legislature.

On the issue of local control of oil and gas drilling, an issue that caused intense infighting among Democrats last year, Hickenlooper didn't offer much in the way of specifics–but the language that he used to describe those proposals, and the competing interests of surface and subsurface property owners, is unlikely to make conservationists very happy. From the speech:

As part of a compromise to keep economically-devastating initiatives off the ballot, [Pols emphasis] we have worked with the Keystone Center and brought long-polarized interests to the same table…

I look forward to the recommendations of this task force, and pledge to work with you and other stakeholders in developing our energy resources, protecting property rights and our natural environment and public health.

The insistence that increasing local control over oil and gas drilling, in particular the setback and "environmental bill of rights" initiatives put forward during last year's debate, would be "economically devastating" broadcasts our Democratic governor's bias on the issue. There is a legitimate conflict between the rights of surface landowners and mineral rights holders needing resolution, but Hickenlooper still appears firmly on the side of mineral rights owners against local communities based on his comments today.

We wonder how politically tenable that position will be for Hickenlooper throughout his second term, as more research on the effects of "fracking" near residential neighborhoods comes out, and the plummeting price of energy caused by OPEC's price war on the frackers eats away at the already-overblown estimates of the economic impact of the industry in Colorado. Might the same changing economics that led Hickenlooper to endorse President Barack Obama's threatened veto of the Keystone XL pipeline soften Hick's hard line against communities worried about fracking in their boundaries?

That's one of the biggest of many questions awaiting Hickenlooper in his "legacy term."

Hickenlooper Hints at TABOR Reform in Inauguration Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bob Beauprez Needs to Sell a Shitload of Buffaloes

Beauprez-CampaignFinance

Bob Beauprez owes Bob Beauprez a lot of money.

Colorado Republicans are preparing for a tough campaign for State Party Chair now that Steve House has made it clear that he will challenge two-term Chair Ryan Call in March. There are many reasons why Call is facing a challenge despite a pretty successful 2014 election cycle, but much of the debate involves how money is being spent by the State GOP.

There are two main financial questions that are playing a significant role here. The first, which we've discussed before, is a debate about whether or not the State Party Chair should continue to earn a hefty monthly salary; Call is paid about $8,300 per month by the State Party, and many of the GOP faithful would like to return to the pre-Dick Wadhams era when the Chair earned only a small stipend. 

The second big financial question is about whether the State Party should assist former gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez in paying off more than a million dollars of campaign debt. The Republican buffalo rancher — that would be Beauprez — has nearly $1.1 million in outstanding loans from his campaign. Beauprez's campaign committee is also $50,550 in the red, a balance that must be taken care of at some point.

Most of the money loaned to Beauprez's campaign came from his own checkbook, and there is some debate about whether or not the Republican Party should help him raise money to refresh his own coffers. There is also some question about whether Beauprez had a deal with Call to assist him in paying off his rather large campaign debt. Throw in the question of whether Republicans funded efforts to kneecap gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo, and you can see where this starts to get complicated.

That this discussion is even taking place is somewhat odd when you consider that the ability to finance a campaign was the #1 selling point of Beauprez as the Republican nominee for Governor; the vast majority of his support in advance of the June Primary came from the knowledge that he was the only GOP candidate with any hope of raising serious money.

It was because Beauprez was able to write checks to himself that Republicans decided to give him another shot at the nomination — should those same Republicans now help pay off Beauprez's debt even though he didn't win in November? The answer to that question may well determine whether Ryan Call still has a job in March.

Hickenlooper Evolves On Legal Weed

Weed, with money.

Weed, with money.

Lots of discussion today about Gov. John Hickenlooper's interview on CBS' 60 Minutes this weekend (video above). One year into Colorado's experiment with legalized marijuana, Hickenlooper's outlook appears to have brightened considerably:

Bill Whitaker: In the beginning you didn't think it was a good idea?

Gov. John Hickenlooper: No. I opposed it. You know, and I opposed it and I think even after the election if I'd had a magic wand and I could wave the wand I probably would've reversed it and had the initiative fail. But now, I look at it and I'm not so sure I'd do that even if I had such a wand. I mean, I think we've made a lot of progress. And, you know, still a lot of work to be done. But I think we might actually create a system that can work.

For context, here's what Hickenlooper had to say last year about marijuana in Colorado in a debate against Bob Beauprez, who openly favored repealing Colorado's Amendment 64:

Asked if he thought it was reckless for Colorado voters to approve legal marijuana in 2012, Hickenlooper kept going.

“I think for us to do that without having all the data, there is not enough data, and to a certain extent you could say it was reckless,” he said. “I’m not saying it was reckless because I’ll get quoted everywhere, but if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have done it, right? I opposed it from the very beginning.

“In matter of fact, all right, what the hell — I’ll say it was reckless.”

Back in March, Hickenlooper went even further:

Keeping the state safe in this new era is a top priority for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. "I think our job right now is to regulate it vigorously, make sure that kids don't get it. Make sure people don't drive when they're high. And if it turns out it is harming our state — we're going to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't — but if it does, we're going to make sure the public hears that as well. Let's say it doesn't work out, I want to be able to say, 'We did everything we could to try and make sure this transition to recreational, legalized marijuana was done effectively, fairly and still didn't work.' And then the voters should look at it again."

We take Hickenlooper at face value on his "evolution" over legal marijuana, since we don't think the apparent success of legalization–both the lack of societal harm or the federal government's so-far tolerance for it–could have been predicted in 2012. Marijuana proponents will of course argue that there was never any real societal danger from legalization, but we don't think it's unreasonable for others to have been skeptical about that. Either way, the experience of marijuana legalization in Colorado is increasingly undeniable: plenty of harm reduction and revenue, with little actual downside. After decades of zero-tolerance criminal prohibition, the last year of the sky not falling in Colorado is proving a lot of people very, very wrong.

And when even beer-baron Gov. Hickenlooper admits it, you can believe it.

ICYMI: Hickenlooper Finally Picks New Chief of Staff

From Lynn Bartels at the Denver Post, Gov. John Hickenlooper has selected well-known Denver attorney Doug Friednash to be his new Chief of Staff:

Friednash, a former state lawmaker, also served as the city attorney for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock before joining the Brownstein firm.

Friednash replaces Roxane White, who resigned last year to oversee a national nursing program serving first-time moms living in poverty. She also served as Hickenlooper’s chief of staff when he was mayor of Denver.

Friednash won't officially sit behind his new desk until February 2. Interim Chief of Staff Kevin Patterson will move to a new "Chief Administrative Officer" role within the Governor's office.

Top 10 Stories of 2014: The Final Four

We are finishing up our Top 10 Stories of 2014 by posting the final four all at once.

As we realized while writing the first six entries, there isn’t much that we can say about the biggest stories of 2014 that hasn’t already been written in this space. With 2015 already upon us, it’s time to close this series out.

With that, we give you the entire list of our Top 10 Stories of 2014. Follow the links below for the first six entries, or follow the jump to read the final four in its entirety.

#10: Colorado’s Two-Headed Electorate
#9: Unfinished Business in Jefferson County
#8: Cory Gardner Runs for U.S. Senate
#7: Frackapalooza!
#6: Colorado GOP Goes WTF
#5: So Much for Those Recalls
#4: Republicans Battle Each Other But Take Control of State Senate (below)
#3: Coffman Crushes Romanoff in CD-6 (below)
#2: Hick Finds His Groove, and Another Bad Loss for Beauprez (below)
#1: Gardner Wins Senate Seat, Ending Long Career for Mark Udall (below)

 

(more…)

Hickenlooper: Veto Keystone XL

keystone-xl-southern-section-starts-transcanada-1-537x357

The Denver Post's Mark Matthews–didn't see this coming, did you?

Speaking to reporters outside the White House, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday afternoon that he supported the administration’s pledge to veto new legislation from Congress that would fast-track construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline…

Hickenlooper said Obama, a fellow Democrat, was making the right call in opposing the U.S.-Canada oil pipeline.

“He has not been persuaded that this something in the best interest — long-term — of the United States,” Hickenlooper said. “I know there are a lot of people in Colorado who disagree with that (but) … with the price of oil down as low as it is, I don’t think the Keystone pipeline makes sense.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Support for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would speed the passage Canadian heavy crude oil to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf Coast, has become an article of faith for just about every energy industry backer and surrogate in Colorado politics. This is despite the fact that Colorado already has a pipeline connection from Commerce City to Alberta, and the Keystone XL pipeline would never enter the state. In fact, the biggest quantifiable effect completion of the Keystone XL pipeline on Colorado would have is an increase in local gas prices, as Canadian crude is routed to global markets via the Gulf Coast. The campaign trail claims by Cory Gardner last year that Keystone XL would create "thousands of jobs in Colorado" were simply hogwash, unsupported by any objective evidence.

And of course, there is the tar sands are really bad for the planet angle.

With that said, and Gov. John Hickenlooper makes this pretty clear, the biggest reason why Keystone XL is quickly becoming a nonstarter is the plunging global price of oil–which changes the economics of exporting massive quantities of low grade Canadian crude oil, well, anywhere. Now that low oil prices and a glut of supply have taken the immediate pressure off, a rational conversation about this project reveals a high cost with dubious benefits at best to the American economy.

It may not be as satisfying, but sometimes the bottom line speaks louder than a million protesters.

Top Ten Stories of 2014: Frackapalooza! (#7)

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Colorado has a long history as an energy-producing state, but the recent explosion of hydraulic fracture drilling to extract oil and natural gas from previously uneconomic deposits has spread the impacts of drilling to communities that have never seen it before. Urbanization of the Front Range of Colorado has put residential communities in direct conflict with subsurface mineral rights owners, making energy development an up close and personal issue for large population centers in addition to the heavily drilled areas of the rural Western Slope and Weld County.

In 2013 and 2014, Front Range cities continued to pass bans and moratoria on "fracking" within their municipal boundaries. Though they enjoyed popular support, these bans have generally not fared well in court challenges. In 1992, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down a similar ban in Greeley, and in 1996 ruled that subsurface mineral property rights have the same validity as surface property rights. These precedents have resulted in most of these recent measures being thrown out in court.

The result, say local governments and conservation activists, is inappropriate heavy industrial land use in residential areas. They argue the rights of subsurface mineral owners to extract their holdings is directly impacting surface property values–and to a degree yet to be fully determined, the health of affected residents. In the absence of conclusive studies on the impact of fracking, but with much evidence to suggest considerable harm being done, New York state has banned the practice altogether.

Into this contentious atmosphere stepped Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder this year. Polis, a wealthy young internet entrepreneur and one of the major architects of the "Blueprint," owns property in Weld County. In the summer of 2013, a drilling operation was set up on adjacent property that was later found to be in violation of setback rules from existing structures, and fined tens of thousands of dollars. That experience contributed to Polis' activism on the issue subsequently, and his support for ballot initiatives then being developed to give local communities greater control over oil and gas drilling.

Fracking fluid.

Fracking fluid.

The threat of Polis' wealth behind initiatives to regulate the oil and gas industry led to what can best be described as a wholesale freakout by the industry and its vast army of well-paid PR flacks, surrogates, and politicians on both sides of the aisle. This leads to an extremely important fact that everyone needs to understand: in addition to basically total control of the Colorado GOP, the oil and gas industry also wields significant influence in the Colorado Democratic Party. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper was elected in significant part due to a belief that he could bring pro-energy and environmentalist Democrats together, and on some occasions he has done so–like the state's new air quality management rules. At other times, though, Hickenlooper has been nothing short of oafish on energy issues, enraging the left with his wildly deceptive claims to have "drank fracking fluid."

The power wielded by the energy industry behind the scenes in Democratic politics led to an ugly period this summer, in which Rep. Polis was attacked publicly and privately by fellow Democrats for daring to push these "divisive" local control ballot measures in a tight election year. Industry-friendly Democrats "concern trolled" the party with dire warnings of the oil and gas money that would flood the state to defeat these measures, absolutely certain, despite evidence to the contrary, that this would result in devastating collateral damage to Democrats up and down the ticket.

To counter those biased predictuions, supporters pointed to their own polling, showing local control ballot measures enjoyed broad support, and likely would pass in a statewide vote–just as fracking bans and moratoria have fared well in local votes. Among rank-and-file Democrats, support for environmental and health protections over unbridled drilling is a lopsided no-brainer. In fact, there's a pretty good argument to be made that Democrats in Colorado have weakened their core base of support by consistently running–and governing–to the right of base Democrats on energy development.

Rep. Jared Polis.

Rep. Jared Polis.

In the end, as we reported in August, Polis, Hickenlooper, and stakeholders on both sides reached a temporary compromise that resulted in the withdrawal of the drilling setback and "environmental bill of rights" initiatives Polis was supporting. Polis' compromise, it's fair to say, was not received well by the more strident anti-fracking activists in Colorado, though mainstream groups like Conservation Colorado praised it. The commission created by their agreement to make recommendations on enhancing local control legislatively is set to report in February of next year. For his part, Polis has said that he will go back to the ballot if the commission doesn't come up with effective proposals, or the legislature doesn't pass them. Everything we know about this compromise suggests that Polis made the deal in good faith with his fellow Democrat Gov. Hickenlooper, and that he will indeed be back if it doesn't make tangible progress.

Meanwhile, the energy industry has funded a lavish public relations campaign to promote fracking as a safe source of domestic energy. This campaign has consistently relied on deceptive claims about the effects of a statewide ban on fracking, even though nothing Polis supported in 2014 comes anywhere close. Perhaps most importantly, this issue is not playing out in a vacuum: the shale energy boom in the United States has awakened the global energy export cartel OPEC, and a global price war driving energy prices down to levels that make extraction unprofitable could do more to curtail fracking's local growth than anything else–at least for the near-term future.

Bottom line: the conflict between the Old West's mineral wealth and the New West's quality of life has grown with the scale of both, and with greater understanding of the consequences of our actions. A great metropolis has grown up over minerals that used to be either inaccessible or accessible without impacting residential populations, creating new questions our old laws may not be equipped to settle. If the final chapter of this conflict is written in our lifetimes, we'll be very surprised.

But we believe our descendants will judge us on our protection of the surface over the minerals beneath it.

Top 10 Stories of 2014: Cory Gardner Runs for U.S. Senate (#8)

Republican Cory Gardner

Next month Republican Cory Gardner will be sworn-in as Colorado's newest U.S. Senator. This story is not about that.

In fact, let's forget about the outcome of the 2014 Election altogether (at least for the purposes of the words that follow). Regardless of what happened in November, one of the biggest political stories in Colorado in 2014 was Gardner's surprise decision to jump into a Senate race that Republicans had no hope of winning against incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. Gardner's candidacy for Senate changed the entire election cycle and re-aligned the Republican ticket up and down the ballot, for better or worse. This is not to downplay the significance of Gardner's victory in November; no matter how the results shook out, Gardner's decision to run for U.S. Senate was important and impactful enough on its own to warrant a place in our Top 10 Stories of 2014.

It was late February when Gardner announced his Senate run, and within a matter of weeks he had already cleared a crowded field of candidates on the Republican side. That the seas parted so easily for Gardner (with some holdout from Owen Hill) is testament to the fact that he was clearly the best candidate Republicans could find in 2014. But it wasn't just that Gardner was an appealing candidate on his own; like being the most attractive person in a small room, Gardner was an exciting choice for Republicans who were otherwise stuck with an historically-bad field of candidates. It's easy to forget today just how bad things looked for the GOP one year ago.

Rep. Amy Stephens and Sen. Owen Hill.

Amy Stephens and Owen Hill were not so good at running for U.S. Senate.

The three top GOP contenders for Senate (Ken Buck, Amy Stephens, and Owen Hill) finished the Q4 2013 fundraising period by raising about $200,000…combined. Buck, Stephens, and Hill ended up posting 3 of the 10 worst fundraising quarters in Colorado since 2000. To put these numbers in perspective, Republican Rep. Mike Coffman spent more money in Q4 than the three top Republican Senate candidates managed to bring in the door (here's the chart if you want the details). Dig a little deeper, however, and the numbers got much worse; including outstanding loans and debts, Stephens actually finished 2013 with a negative balance of $11,000 (Gardner even offered to help pay off Stephens' debts as part of the deal to get her to drop out).

Gardner wasn't just the best chance that Republicans had in 2014 — he was really the only option. Gardner's sketchy record on policy issues was irrelevant when it was clear that he was the only GOP candidate who could rub two nickels together. Republicans would have eventually raised money for whomever emerged from the June Primary, but Gardner was the only candidate who could raise enough money to support a real statewide field effort for the GOP — something which would benefit every other race down the ballot. Even if Gardner had failed to win the Senate race, his candidacy was critical for Republicans in general; it's probably fair to say that Republicans could not have taken control of the State Senate without Gardner's cherubic mug churning out both dollars and voters. Resources aside, Gardner's candidacy also gave Republicans a feeling of confidence that they hadn't felt since former Gov. Bill Owens was coasting to an easy re-election victory in 2002.

Gardner's candidacy also shifted the priorities of Colorado Republicans. Bob Beauprez would probably not have been the GOP nominee for Governor if not for his ability to partially self-fund a challenge to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper; Republicans certainly wanted to defeat the incumbent Governor, but it was more important for Beauprez's campaign to support — or at least, not harm — Gardner's bid for Senate. There are many reasons that Ken Buck lost his 2010 Senate race against Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet, and the absurd candidacy of Republican Dan Maes for Governor sits near the top of that list. With Gardner in the race for Senate, Republicans felt a new urgency to make sure that Tom Tancredo was not their nominee for Governor, lest his well-known and divisive positions poison the electorate. At times, Beauprez's campaign for Governor almost became an afterthought, with the outcome justifying the strategic approach; Colorado Republicans would take a Gardner win and a Beauprez loss 10 out of 10 times.

Finally, Gardner's Senate candidacy made room for other prominent Republicans in 2014. Gardner backed Buck to replace him in CD-4, and the GOP's erstwhile Senate "frontrunner" had little trouble winning a crowded Primary to win a seat that was virtually impossible for Democrats to challenge in a General Election. After the November election, Buck was voted by his peers as the "President" of the freshman class of Republican Members of Congress, which should only benefit other Colorado Republicans. Buck also went on to hire GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Brophy as his Chief of Staff, giving the former State Senator someplace to land within the Republican infrastructure.

Cory Gardner's ascension to the U.S. Senate is the biggest political story in Colorado in 2014 (spoiler alert). That he decided to run for Senate at all is a Top 10 story in itself.

New York’s Fracking Ban–Of Course It Matters To Colorado

Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

Fracking near a high school in Greeley, Colorado.

The Denver Business Journal's Cathy Proctor has a great story published yesterday with local reaction to the decision by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration in mid-December to ban the practice of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas entirely. New York state does not have the kind of widespread frackable energy deposits found in Colorado, but the region's rich Marcellus Shale formation stretches into some less-populated counties in the southern part of the state.

New York's reputation as an East Coast liberal stronghold is the first and most obvious line of defense for Colorado's growing army of energy industry spin doctors, but Proctor's story today demonstrates that the fight over fracking in Colorado is going to be impacted by New York's decision one way or another:

Asked about Cuomo's decision, [Gov. John] Hickenlooper said, via an email from his spokeswoman, that "Colorado is not New York and every state has to find the approach to energy development that makes sense for their communities."

"Colorado is fortunate to have an abundance of energy resources and a long history of environmentally responsible energy development, he said. "The work of our task force will ensure we continue to develop in a way that is safe for our residents, supports jobs and the economy, respects private property rights and protects our environment."

At the other end of the spectrum, [Rep. Jared] Polis criticized Colorado's existing regulations because they don't allow individuals and communities to decide where oil and gas operations should take place.

"While the state of New York has concluded the risks are too great to allow fracking at all, in Colorado homeowners aren't even allowed to stop oil and gas companies from drilling on their own property, despite potentially being only a few hundred feet from their home or school," Polis said in a statement. [Pols emphasis]

"I hope rather than banning it as a state, we let each homeowner and community decide if they want fracking or not," he said.

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Here's something we've said before, and that even the leftiest anarcho-primitivist yurt dweller (you know who you are) needs to understand: there will be no statewide fracking ban in Colorado. When Gov. John Hickenlooper says that "Colorado is not New York," he's stating the obvious. There is only a very small percentage of fairly radical voters who will disagree with unabashedly pro-fracking Gov. Hickenlooper's view that energy development in Colorado is important, makes a lot of people in Colorado money, and has a long history. There is lots of debate over the degree of energy's importance to the state's economy, but it certainly does matter more to Colorado than to, say, New York.

But that's not really the point, because there will be no statewide ban on fracking in Colorado.

Fracking is not a new technology, but its widespread recent use to recover previously inaccessible oil and gas underlying a large area of Colorado's Front Range has brought mineral rights owners and the energy industry into direct conflict with densely populated residential communities. The industry's asserted right to operate their dirty industrial process anywhere there are mineral rights to do so results in horrendous land use conflicts that would never be allowed otherwise: heavy industry in neighborhoods, and next to schools. This is what has led to several Front Range cities passing moratoria and bans on fracking within their boundaries, directly challenging the state's hegemony over energy development.

We'll have more to say about the battle in Colorado over fracking, a battle with Democratic champions on both sides now in Hickenlooper and Rep. Jared Polis, as we continue to recap the year's biggest stories in Colorado politics. New York's decision to ban fracking is just one new discussion item in a debate that raged furiously in 2014 in Colorado, and is set to intensify early next year as the commission brokered in the uneasy truce between the energy industry and environmental groups allied with Rep. Polis makes policy recommendations on local control over drilling.

Here's the full report from the New York Department of Health. You'll notice pretty quickly that it asks more questions that it provides answers. But in large part, these are the same questions the people of Colorado are asking about fracking–and we're going to have to reckon with them here too. The absurdly shrill attacks on Polis and environmentalists this year for daring to challenge the status quo on this issue are severely discredited by New York's action–especially when you consider than none of the measures backed by Polis would have done what New York just did.

And the bottom line is, there won't be a statewide fracking ban in Colorado. We think it's important to say that over and over, since the energy industry's high-dollar PR campaign revolves around the hypothetical consequences of a fictitious proposal.

But having said that, New York's fracking ban is going to factor in Colorado's debate over fracking. And it should.

Expert Analysis: What Happened in Colorado in 2014?

The good folks at Hilltop Public Solutions, one of the leading Democratic-aligned political consultant firms in Colorado with offices across the nation, have put together a fascinating presentation analyzing the results of the 2014 elections in Colorado. We had the opportunity to view their presentation this week, and obtained permission to use their slides and data in a post. We doubt we can explain in a blog post as well as Craig Hughes and team can tell the story, but we'll try to give readers a sense of their conclusions. This is largely a data-driven explanation, but to be clear, it does come primarily from the perspective of Democrats.

Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-2

This slide dispels one of the major misconceptions about the 2014 elections. The fact is, Democrats turned out the votes they believed were necessary to win in Colorado, and did so in greater numbers than they had in the last midterm election in 2010. What Democrats didn't count on was a national political climate that Colorado has slowly caught up with in the years since President Barack Obama's election. In 2010, Democrat Michael Bennet won substantially more right-leaning independents and even Republican votes than Mark Udall did in 2014. Combine that with the sudden erosion of support for Democrats in formerly reliable blue areas of the state–Pueblo and Adams County–and you can account for much of the difference between Bennet's narrow win and Udall's narrow defeat.

Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-3 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-4 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-5 Hilltop-Public-Solutions-2014-Election-Results-Analysis-7

What you can see in these slides is analysis of the "surge" vote in 2014 midterms–voters who did not vote in the last 2010 midterms elections but did this year. As you can see, Democrats performed well among these lower-propensity voters, and it wasn't really what you'd call a "Republican wave" at all. But it wasn't enough to overcome the large Republican base in Colorado, which was much more unified behind Cory Gardner than the GOP was united behind Ken Buck in 2010.

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Air…Water…Health…and Accommodation.

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Today and tomorrow Governor Hickenloopers' Blue Ribbon Panel on Oil and Gas policy is meeting in Rifle to discuss the future of drilling and fracking in Colorado. Not many people I know have high hopes this will result in any groundbreaking policy suggestions, but it could. If the Commissioners are willing to set aside a century old principle for a few minutes and consider that we are living in 2014 and not 1872…and that consideration points the way to only one conclusion.

It is time to effectively incorporate the Rule of Reasonable Accommodation into COGCC policy, taking into consideration the advances in technology and practices used by the modern extraction industry.

When Congress split mineral and surface estates in the 19th century, it was done for reasons that seemed appropriate and necessary, at the time. But times have changed, and it is imperative that the "Blue Ribbon Panel" understand and act upon those changes. Since the beginning of the separation of the two estates, the mineral estate has generally considered to be dominant. The rationale for the mineral estate being dominant was that the ownership of minerals would be meaningless if the mineral owner could not access and extract those resources through the surface. That seems reasonable enough, and for a very long time, difficult to argue.

With advanced technology, specifically directional drilling, the Rule of Reasonable Accommodation becomes a much more flexible vehicle. The Rule, as set forth in CRS 34-60-127, states:

"An operator shall conduct operations in a manner that accommodates the surface owner by minimizing intrusion upon and damage to the surface of the land."

As used in this section, "minimizing intrusion upon" can include "selecting alternative locations for wells" among other measures as long as they are "technologically sound, economically practical, and reasonably available to the operator". With modern drilling practices providing the industry with the capability to reach out, literally and laterally, for miles, there is no longer any need for an operator to sit atop or even close to a mineral resource in order to gain access.

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Recount Requested by Republicans in Adams County?

According to rumors emanating from Adams County, the Republican Party has requested a recount of the vote in all of Adams County.

Per Colorado's Revised Statutes, today is the last day that an "interested party" can request a recount of the General Election results (at their own expense, of course). We are trying to confirm these rumors, but if true, this could open up one hell of a can of worms related to candidates up and down the ballot.

Turnout in Adams County was incredibly low in 2014. For example, Democratic Rep. Joseph Salazar was re-elected to his post in HD-31 with 11,501 votes (compared to 11,280 votes for Republican Carol Beckler). It's no surprise that turnout in 2014 would be lower than in a Presidential year, but the drop-off here was particularly head-scratching. Check out the vote totals from the last three election cycles in HD-31:

TOTAL VOTES IN HD-31
2010: 30,462
2012: 31,101
2014: 22,781

Again, voter turnout could reasonably be expected to be low in 2014 compared to prior years…but a drop of nearly 30% is a different story. Also interesting to note: Former Adams County District Attorney Don Quick lost his bid for Attorney General to Republican Cynthia Coffman by a margin of 44.83% to 48.11%. There are other explanations for how Quick could have failed to carry his own county despite having won two terms as Adams County DA, but it is a question mark nevertheless.

We'll update this post as more information becomes available.

Hickenlooper Apologizes for Sand Creek

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

hicksandcreek
Image via Facebook

Posted today on Gov. Hickenlooper's Facebook page – and, I imagine, on other websites as well…

Today, as runners complete the 16th annual, 180-mile Sand Creek Spiritual Healing run, marking the 150th anniversary and commemoration of the Sand Creek Massacre, I offer something that has been too long in coming.

On behalf of the state of Colorado, I want to apologize.

To the runners, to the Tribal Leaders and to all of the Indigenous people and the proud and painful legacy you represent…

On behalf of the good, peaceful and loving people in Colorado, I am sorry for the atrocity that our government and its agents visited upon your ancestors. I want to assure you that we will not run from this history, and that we will always work for peace and healing.

This is, as the governor notes, a long time in coming – too long. Thank you, Governor.