AG Coffman’s Animas River Politicizing Backfires Spectacularly

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

As the Colorado Independent’s Susan Greene reports today, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s trips to Durango to “investigate” the recent spill of mine wastewater into the Animas River have local officials crying foul–and may have brushed with violating the law Coffman is charged with protecting yet again:

At the peak of the Animas River crisis, Cynthia Coffman reached out to the Durango City Council and La Plata County Commission and invited each member to dinner. But several of her would-be guests didn’t appreciate what the state Attorney General planned to serve up.

Some are blasting Coffman for ignoring Colorado’s open meetings law. As the state’s top law enforcement official, they say, she should have known better than to try to gather them together in a closed meeting.

“Talk about awkward – being asked by the attorney general herself to violate the law,” Mayor Dean Brookie told The Colorado Independent. “We were all pretty taken aback that she would have created that situation.” [Pols emphasis]



As Greene reports, Coffman asked several members of the Durango city council and La Plata County commissioners to join her for dinner at Durango’s Palace Restaurant on Tuesday, August 11th. The problem with such a meeting, as anyone familiar with Colorado law as it pertains to the conduct of public officials, is that a group of city councillors or county commissioners meeting together to discuss public business without appropriate public notice would be a clear violation of Colorado’s Open Meetings Law.

And as we’ve noted before with Cynthia Coffman, attorneys general have a higher obligation than other public officials to avoid breaking the law:

“I would expect the Attorney General to know the requirements of the open meetings law. Her request to try to unofficially assemble city council members would be careless at best,” said Peg Perl, senior counsel for Colorado Ethics Watch, a group promoting government ethics and accountability throughout the state.

It appears that the conscientiousness of these local officials, who recognized that Attorney General Coffman’s invitation to discuss public business over dinner in private was illegal, may have protected Coffman from yet another instance of breaking the laws she is charged with upholding as the state’s top law enforcement officer–that and a flight delay, of course. But in addition to helping establish a pattern of misconduct by Colorado’s attorney general, there’s another piece of this story that needs to be considered:

“We assumed at first she was there to see if we needed her assistance,” added Mayor Brookie. “We would have really appreciated it if she had reached out to see what we needed like Gov. Hickenlooper did.”

But the locals soon realized that Coffman was scrambling in-state and with neighboring states’ attorneys general to drum up support for a lawsuit against the Obama administration. Some equated her work around the disaster with GOP presidential contender Ben Carson’s campaign stop in Durango to try to make political hay out of the spill. [Pols emphasis]

Coffman didn’t try to reschedule her meeting with council members and commissioners when it became clear from news reports and other channels that, regardless of their political affiliation, they were more interested in collaboration than litigation.

You see, folks, under the radar of sensationalized news coverage, ridiculous conspiracy theories, and eager Republican grandstanding over the Environmental Protection Agency’s role in the Animas River spill, there’s a growing anger over the politicization of the event for unrelated political purposes like attacking the EPA’s clean air rules. There’s a recognition by locals directly impacted by the disaster like the city government of Durango that, far from being “part of the problem,” the EPA was and remains their partner in solving the massive problem of mine waste pollution in Colorado and the West.

So when our Republican attorney general invites local Southwest Colorado officials to break the law for the purpose of trashing the EPA for political points, they have two very good reasons to tell her no.

And to not be very nice about it, either.

And Then The Coffmangaters Threw a Party!

harveyhocReaders by now are very familiar with the ongoing Coffmangate scandal, in which Colorado Republican Party chairman Steve House was confronted by a cabal of fellow Republicans led by Attorney General Cynthia Coffman about his “failure” to hire former Sen. Ted Harvey as the state party’s executive director–and as the story is told, then threatened House with exposure of an alleged affair if he did not resign his position.

The latest word we have is that the investigation of the Coffmangate scandal, which according to some legal experts meets the technical definition of felony criminal extortion in Colorado law, is still continuing. Last Friday night, though, according to photos we were forwarded over the weekend, a number of the principal figures in the Coffmangate scandal threw themselves a party! With House still in office and the Coffmangate co-conspirators in disarray, we’ll be damned if we can tell you what they were celebrating.

Perhaps they decided to go with self-incriminating instead.


From left: Coffmangate instigator Tom Tancredo, Steve House’s alleged mistress Julie Naye, Republican activist Kim Hertzfeldt, and “Tea Party”-aligned former GOP state party official Lana Fore. Hertzfeldt’s name has surfaced several times as part of the pro-Ted Harvey faction that sought Steve House’s ouster.


Here’s Lana Fore, ex-Pueblo County GOP chair and principal Coffmangate actor Becky Mizel, and Tancredo cheek-to-cheek. And look over Tancredo’s shoulder–why, isn’t that sitting GOP Rep. Clarice Navarro? Guess she’s not planning on much help from the state party next year!

But the photo you’re really waiting to see, the one that ties the whole menagerie together, is after the jump:


Whither Joe Biden?

Vice President Joe Biden.

Vice President Joe Biden.


Two days after huddling with advisers about plans for a presidential run at his home in Delaware, Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday made a short unannounced trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at his Naval Observatory home.

Warren, a liberal icon who for months has been urged by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing to mount a presidential primary challenge of her own, notably has held off on endorsing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party’s current frontrunner for the nomination. Warren’s said the race remains wide open…

The variables that would help determine if a run for president by Vice President Joe Biden principally revolve around Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who is facing a barrage of attacks from Republicans eager to pollute her image ahead of the 2016 primaries. If Hillary makes it through the next few weeks of the kitchen sink being thrown at her, a Biden run won’t make much sense and will fizzle quickly.

Another consideration is that Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose campaign has energized liberal Democrats but doesn’t have much realistic hope of himself winning the presidency, has a lot of momentum to transfer to someone in this race. The conventional wisdom has been that Hillary would ultimately inherit Bernie’s mojo, but she still needs to present the affirmative case to liberals that she deserves their support.

In the meantime, sure. These conversations are going to happen.

Coffman Goes Negative Early: Strength or Desperation?

Rep. Mike Coffman (R), Sen. Morgan Carroll (D).

Rep. Mike Coffman (R), Sen. Morgan Carroll (D).

The Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning offers a preview of the message incumbent GOP Rep. Mike Coffman intends to use against what’s expected to be his toughest challenge ever from former Colorado Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll–and it’s all negative all the time:

Coffman acknowledged that it was “going to be a tough race.” His opponent, he said, was Carroll, “a personal-injury attorney.” As the crowd groaned, he quickly added, “and there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that industry, or that profession, has an important role to play in our society. But there are bad apples within that profession, and Morgan Carroll has done her best to represent those bad apples in the State Legislature.”

“She wants to do to America what she’s done to Colorado,” Coffman continued. [Pols emphasis] “What she needs to do in Colorado is help clean up the messes that she’s created here, that have hurt this economy, that have hurt jobs, that have hurt Colorado’s working families. I look forward to a spirited race,” he said, and then repeated his characterization: “Because Morgan Carroll, representing the bad apples of that industry has created a lot of IOUs there and you can bet she’s going to raise a lot of money from them, so I need all your help.”

That Coffman is centering his message on Carroll’s career as (Coffman’s words) a “personal injury attorney” is not unexpected, since “trial lawyers” have been employed as a universal boogeyman for Republican politicians since time immemorial. While that may be an effective message in safely Republican areas dominated by business interests, we have real questions how effective attacking Carroll for being someone who ordinary citizens turn to for justice will prove in swing CD-6–one of the most economically and ethnically diverse districts in the state today.

As for “doing to America” what Carroll “did to Colorado?” All we can assume here is that Coffman must have forgotten about Business Insider’s ranking last year of Colorado as the #1 state in America for economic growth. And Forbes’ ranking of Denver as the best place to do business in America. And Colorado’s unemployment rate that’s a full percentage point below the national average. These facts make exporting whatever we’re doing in Colorado to the rest of America sound, well, pretty good.

Bottom line: in each of Coffman’s last two campaigns in the redistricted swing CD-6, Coffman has opted for a strategy of going harshly negative right out of the gate against his opponents. Victories in 2012 and 2014 against an underfunded and overcautious challenger respectively have almost certainly validated this approach in Coffman’s mind.

But for a host of reasons, Coffman’s hard-charging negativity–we’ll refrain this once from calling it “shrill”–could backfire in 2016.

An Open Letter to Donald Trump

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Donald Trump.

Donald Trump.

I am compelled by conscience to respond to your recent hate-filled rhetoric toward immigrants and your call to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living and working in the United States.

I must call out your words for what they are: cowardly and immoral. It is cowardice to categorically attack and dehumanize 11 million people to further your own political ambition. Your words are those of a demagogue—a false ‘solution’ that riles up the worst of our humanity.

I must ask you: Did undocumented immigrants make the decisions to shutter thousands of American factories and send millions upon millions of good jobs to other countries? Did undocumented immigrants pass the ‘free trade’ agreements that have ruined both well-paid manufacturing and, increasingly, service jobs in America?  Did undocumented immigrants pass the massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans that have showered further wealth upon them and led to public services cuts and extreme deficits? (I could go on and on.)

No, people with enormous economic and political power made those decisions—Wall Street, CEO’s, members of the 1%, and the politicians whom they have bought made those decisions. I will say that again—people with incredible power made those decisions. Yet, you prey upon the considerable economic insecurity that almost all Americans feel today and blame undocumented immigrants—a group that is a far cry from wielding power over the commanding heights over our economy and our politics. This is not courage, sir—it is rank cowardice.

Worse than that, you are attempting the ugly, dangerous, and age-old tactic of scapegoating. We must look at our history—and the history of the world—and remember just how dangerous scapegoating is. I urge you, and every American, to pause for a moment and reflect upon what has happened every time in history when a group that is different is first made to be the ‘other’ then blamed for that society’s problems? The next step on that treacherous path is always a call for their removal from that society—or much, much worse. This perilous call is what you have just issued.

Already, that peril is becoming clear. Two men, apparently ‘inspired’ by your rhetoric, beat a Latino homeless man in the place of my birth, Boston.  Mr. Trump, can you imagine Jesus Christ uttering the hateful words that you have towards undocumented immigrants? In fact the Bible says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40) Where in any tradition of any major world religion does it call for such hatred and dehumanization of our fellow man? This is why your words are immoral.


Bruce Ben$on’s GOP Debate Raises Interesting Questions

CU President Bruce Ben$on.

CU President Bruce Ben$on.

As the Boulder Daily Camera’s Sarah Kuta reports:

University of Colorado officials are working to finalize details ahead of the Republican presidential debate to be held on the Boulder campus in October…

Several campus officials, including members of the CU police force, traveled to Cleveland earlier this month to observe the logistics, security plans and media coordination efforts for the debates at the Quicken Loans Arena.

The decision to host a Republican presidential primary debate on the traditionally liberal University of Colorado Boulder campus might seem strange to outsiders, but that’s only because they don’t know CU’s arch-Republican President Bruce Benson. Benson, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and longtime top funder of GOP candidates and campaigns, helps a Boulder GOP presidential debate make sense.

Even so, this is still the Boulder you hippies know and love we’re talking about:

CU is also preparing for protesters, who may use the debate to hold demonstrations about marijuana, tuition costs and policing, [CU police chief Melissa] Zak said.

“We will have our intelligence arm trying to look for that,” she said.

We fully expect that the presence of the entire gaggle of Republican presidential candidates, or at least the ones who make CNBC’s cut, will bring out a colorful range of demonstrators on a variety of topics. That will make for great establishing shots outside the debate venue, which the networks ought to love.

But what about inside?

No ticketing information has been made available yet by the debate hosts…

The question of who gets to attend the CU presidential debate will have a significant impact on the tenor of the debate, and how it’s perceived by the public. There’s no word as of this writing what the breakdown of distribution of tickets to the debate will be, but insofar as CU’s brand is being enlisted to give this GOP debate credibility, we’d say the CU student body should comprise a significant percentage of the audience.

It’s true, this might also have the effect of demonstrating that the gap between at least some of these candidates and reality as CU students experience it is, well, quite large! How Donald Trump would fare under that lens is, we admit, potentially problematic–but it could give Republicans interested in appealing to socially well-adjusted young voters a chance to shine.

Honestly, that might be reason enough right there for “Ben$on” to let it happen. Or…not.

Either way, we’ll be very curious to see what happens here.

Get More Smarter on Friday (Aug. 21)

Get More Smarter

The Denver Broncos play their second preseason game tomorrow in Houston against the Texans; let’s all join hands in hope that nobody breaks Peyton Manning. 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).


► It’s Friday, and the Gold King mine spill into the Animas River continues to dominate the political headlines. As Mark Matthews reports for the Denver Post, Congress may have been able to prevent this month’s wastewater spill…if Congress actually did stuff:

Twice in the mid-2000s, a program intended to clean up the mine-fouled waterways in the region around the Gold King Mine failed to find traction in Congress, where a fight between miners and environmentalists kept the idea from going forward. The legislation proposed by U.S. Reps. Scott McInnis and John Salazar in 2003 and 2006, respectively, would have created a pilot program in the Animas River watershed that would allow so-called good Samaritan groups to clean up polluted mines without fear of long-term liability…

…The program was aimed at getting a start on cleaning up waste from old mines in the area and could have at least lowered pre-spill levels of contaminants that have killed stretches in the watershed.

Advocates of good Samaritan legislation say the failed attempts were emblematic of a long-running fight in Congress, spearheaded by Colorado legislators, to find a way to deal with thousands of defunct and dirty mines in the West.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) are working together on a new version of the so-called “Good Samaritan” legislation.


► Famous rich person Donald Trump is on the cover of Time magazine because of his unexpected early success as a Republican candidate for President. Every now and again, Trump says something that makes you pause and consider whether maybe — just maybe — there is more to his candidacy than meets the eye:

As he bids farewell, he has a final thought, something he has been mulling over. It’s about that massive audience for the first Republican debate on Fox News, which he credits almost entirely to himself. On Sept. 16, CNN will host the next debate, under the direction of Jeff Zucker, the man who helped launch Trump’s NBC show, The Apprentice. Trump has no doubt it will be huge.

“Here’s my question: So if I go to CNN and I say, Look, you’re going to have a massive audience, and if I say to them, I want $10 million for charity, nothing for myself, what happens?”…

…“If I’m in it, they’ll get this crazy audience, and they’re going to make a fortune since they’re selling commercials every time we take a break. Would you ever say to them, would you ever say, I want $10 million for AIDS research, for cancer, for this type or not, or is it too cute?”

Get even more smarter after the jump…


Get More Smarter on Thursday (Aug. 20)


Happy World Mosquito Day–is that really something you wish on people? 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).


► GOP presidential candidate Jeb! Bush is headed to Denver next Tuesday for a public town hall on “veterans issues.” Liberal group ProgressNow Colorado is asking their members to attend and ask such pertinent questions as:

Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs is swamped with injured veterans of wars started by Jeb’s brother, former President George W. Bush. Will Jeb Bush continue to involve the United States in reckless wars, and if so, how will he take responsibility for the thousands of new injured veterans who will need care?

What about fellow Republican Mike Coffman’s failure to oversee the Aurora VA hospital project as chairman of the VA’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee?

Massive cost overruns for military weapons programs barely make the news these days, while a VA hospital running over budget is a nationwide headline. As President, would Jeb Bush continue to sink billions of dollars into unnecessary and expensive weapons, or will he direct that money to ensure veterans have the care they need?

Needless to say, getting Jeb’s answer on any of those would be newsworthy.

► Also, Jeb! says “anchor babies” is not an offensive term. Trump it up, Jeb!

In other Colorado presidential news, GOP operative Josh Penry will front Marco Rubio’s Colorado campaign, while Democrat Brad Komar will head up Colorado organizing efforts for Hillary Clinton.

► A new study from Stanford University, not exactly a liberal bastion, says that the real swing votes are unregistered, unlisted Americans who would vote Democratic if they cared to vote at all. Food for thought next time you hear the words “silent majority.”

Get even more smarter after the jump…


Animas River Spill: The Looney Tunes Begin

Utah's EPA conspiracy theorist lawmakers: Sen. Margaret Dayton (R), Rep. Mike Noel (R).

Utah’s EPA conspiracy theorist lawmakers: Sen. Margaret Dayton (R), Rep. Mike Noel (R).

We haven’t seen anything like this yet from Colorado public officials, at least not in print–but over in Salt Lake City, as the Tribune’s Brian Maffly reports, Republican lawmakers are becoming quite…imaginative with their allegations against the federal government over the spill of polluted mine wastewater into southwest Colorado’s Animas River two weeks ago:

Two Utah lawmakers on Tuesday speculated that federal environmental officials might have deliberately triggered the Colorado mine release that sent 3 million gallons of toxic sludge into a San Juan River tributary, and asked Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to investigate the possibility.

Reyes was briefing the Utah Water Development Commission when Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, suggested the Environmental Protection Agency could have breached the Gold King Mine in an effort to justify Superfund designation for the long-dormant gold mine.

Rep. Mike Noel, whose district covers Utah’s southeastern corner, affected by the spill, joined Dayton in theorizing — neither offered evidence — that the EPA may have caused the release to help environmentalists put a halt to mining.

Reyes said he would inquire into the matter when he visits with EPA officials at the mine Wednesday to assess the spill site, but a Salt Lake City environmentalist blasted Dayton and Noel’s claim as “ridiculous, unprofessional, paranoid nonsense.” [Pols emphasis]

Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

Animas River fouled by minewater spill near Silverton.

As locals following this story are aware, there has been no mining above Silverton along Cement Creek since the 1990s. The battle over Superfund designation for the area, which would unlock lots of federal funding for cleanup, is in part due to some local residents and large mining companies like Kinross Gold harboring dreams of hard rock mining resuming. But the major water pollution problems affecting these mines–long before this latest spill–make that unlikely. Another major reason local Silverton interests oppose a Superfund designation today is the possible stigmatic effect on tourism and land values.

The point is, water pollution from Silverton’s mines is a longstanding problem that everyone involved knew was getting worse. After the Sunnyside Mining Company (now owned by Kinross) halted mining operations, they installed crude bulkheads in their tunnels, which resulted in polluted wastewater backing up and eventually flowing into the Gold King Mine that’s the subject of news coverage today. Kinross denies any responsibility for the pollution flowing into or from the Gold King Mine, but all reporting we’ve read that actually delves into the area’s mine-addled hydrology says that’s nonsense.

Either way, the bottom line is the same: the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t create the pollution. Their job was to remediate it. Obviously, they screwed up when they punched through the entrance to the Gold King Mine and unleashed a torrent of polluted minewater. But the pollution was already there, waiting to flow forth at any moment.

It’s necessary to understand the above facts in order to realize just how preposterous it is that sitting Republican lawmakers are speculating the EPA might have intentionally caused this spill in order to “put a halt to mining.” This isn’t about present-day mining at all, it’s about cleaning up a legacy of toxic mining practices that threaten the health of thousands along the Animas River and its confluent waters. Including a fair number of Utahns.

So please, for the sake of everyone legitimately impacted by this disaster, cut the conspiracy theory crap.

Josh Penry Brings The Classy To Team Rubio

Josh Penry.

Josh Penry.

As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports:

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio is starting to form his team in Colorado.

The campaign announced that Josh Penry, a former state Senate GOP leader, will serve as Rubio’s state chairman. The volunteer role will put him in charge of building an organization to support Rubio’s 2016 ahead of the Colorado caucuses in March.

Yes, that Josh Penry:

His pick as Colorado chairman drew a reaction from national Democrats in an email blast about “Marco retro-Rubio.” The Democratic National Committee highlighted Penry using the word “shrill” to describe Democrat Morgan Carroll, the former state Senate president mounting a campaign to challenge U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman in the 6th District…

The DNC release also noted Penry’s remark in 2012 comparing [it] with one Penry gave in 2010 suggesting that Democrat Michael Bennet’s campaign “looked like the Student Body Association at an all-girls school” for its focus on abortion rights and birth control.

On the one hand, Josh Penry brings undeniable campaign experience in Colorado, with years under his belt organizing both for himself and fellow Republicans as one of the principals at GOP-aligned political consultant firm EIS Solutions.

On the other, you have Penry’s propensity for, if you will, verbal diarrhea. And as with Penry’s other client Rep. Mike Coffman, Penry’s (not so) smart mouth could end up doing more harm than good for Marco Rubio in the long run. For an ambitious and talkative guy like Penry, it’s worth keeping in mind at all times that being the story isn’t always a good idea for one’s client.

Thursday Open Thread

“There are some frauds so well conducted that it would be stupidity not to be deceived by them.”

–Charles Caleb Colton