Questions about the hospital provider fee? Read this

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Reporters have struggled to find a short-hand description for the “hospital provider fee,” because  it’s impossible to describe briefly. And lengthy descriptions of it often require multiple readings. And that’s without trying to understand the intracacies of why it’s such a big deal.

So the Colorado Independent did us all a favor by dedicating a full article to: “What you need to know about Colorado’s biggest political battle. It’s called the hospital provider fee, and it’s complicated. Let’s break it down.”

You should take a few minutes to read the entire piece, by the Independent’s Corey Hutchins, but here are a few paragraphs:

The hospital provider fee is a state program requiring hospitals to pay money each year depending on how many patients stayed in hospital beds overnight and how much outpatient services they provided. That money is then used, among other things, to help Coloradans who can’t afford insurance plans get care, and to help the state pay for people who are on Medicaid, which is a government healthcare program for low-income Coloradans and their families.

Each hospital pays a different amount — some pay a lot, some pay nothing — and the fee hauled in nearly $700 million last year. This money is then matched almost dollar for dollar by the federal government to expand Medicaid, provide health coverage for Coloradans who are using emergency rooms for non-emergency treatment, and reimburse hospitals for care. The more money the fee brings in the more money the feds give Colorado to make sure people who can’t afford healthcare get it. Since 2009, the program has helped more than 300,000 people get insurance coverage….

Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, who sits on the state’s budget committee, explains it like this: Picture a bucket with water pouring in. The incoming water is state revenues, and when the bucket fills to the top (or hits its TABOR limits) water starts pouring over the edge— and that overflowing water (money) goes back to taxpayers in the form of rebates. Now, picture rocks in the bottom of the bucket. One of those big rocks is money from the hospital provider fee. It’s money that takes up space in the bucket, and those who want to take a big rock out can do so by reclassifying the hospital provider fee into an enterprise…

The context of AFP’s [Americans for Prosperity, which opposes the measure] involvement is that it’s a big-time, strategic pressure group with loads of resources and activists that will keep certain lawmakers holding the line on this issue, especially at a time when they need backing to run for re-election.

Meanwhile, the business lobby in Colorado is speaking in a near-monolithic voice for reclassifying the hospital provider fee into an enterprise, as have editorial boards at some of the state’s regional newspapers.

Senate President Bill Cadman Might Not Understand the Word “Compromise”

State Sen. Bill Cadman (R-Koch Brothers) loves the word "NO."

State Sen. Bill Cadman points to his favorite word in the legislature: “NO.”

On Wednesday, Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) evoked the notions of compromise and collaboration in his opening day speech at the State Capitol:

“Performing our duties to the best of our abilities means finding the best solutions. Leadership means finding solutions. It’s not about partisan solutions. President Kennedy once said, ‘Let us not seek the Republican answer or the democratic answer but the right answer.'”

Just kidding!

On Thursday, Senate President Bill Cadman began the process of assigning some 36% of primarily-Democratic legislation to the Senate State Affairs committee — otherwise known as the “kill committee,” because bills that enter the committee room don’t usually come back out. As of Thursday evening, we counted 39 bills introduced in the State Senate, of which 14 were immediately whisked away to “State Affairs.”

Both chambers of the legislature have a “State Affairs” committee, so Democrats and Republicans can send freshly-drafted bills to their inevitable death without much of a debate beforehand. To be clear, both Parties do this regularly — just not with the same level of frequency.

Again, as of Thursday evening, we counted 78 bills introduced in the State House, 13 of which did not pass ‘GO’ and were sent immediately to the State Affairs committee — a total kill percentage of about 17%. All but two of the House bills sent to State Affairs could be characterized as being largely Republican in nature.

For all of his blustery talk about collaboration, Sen. Cadman has been decapitating Democratic legislation at a rate that is nearly double that of the State House (36% to 17%). Nearly one out of every three Senate bills that could be classified as “Democratic” will be killed off before anyone even gets to talk about them in a serious manner.

When he talks about “compromise,” perhaps Sen. Cadman means that he has agreed to only kill off about one-third of all Democratic Senate bills. Such a nice man.

Facts vs. Fear As Terrorism Debate Intensifies

san-bernardino011_3516486bThe Durango Herald’s Peter Marcus has an insightful story up today discussing the similarities and disparities between recent fears over terrorism in the United States and last week’s domestic terror attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs–a story already taking on additional relevance as news events elsewhere add urgency:

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation continue to look overseas to stop terrorists attacks, as groups in Colorado say the spotlight should be placed here in America after last week’s shooting spree at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.

Perhaps the most vocal member of the delegation has been U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, who called for halting a Syrian refugee program after the Paris terrorist attacks last month, in which at least 130 people died…

But groups in Colorado and across the nation say Congress should also be looking at domestic terrorism.

The calls have grown after last Friday’s Planned Parenthood shootings, in which a police officer and two civilians were killed at a clinic in Colorado Springs. A clear motive has yet to be released by authorities, but reports suggest that the suspect referred to “baby parts” upon surrendering. Reproductive-rights advocates believe the incident should be treated as domestic terrorism against women…

“History has demonstrated that refugees fleeing violence and oppression in other nations are not a threat to the United States,” said Amy Runyon-Harms, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado. “Reasonable measures to ensure security while meeting humanitarian obligations are acceptable.

“But as we tragically learned last week in Colorado Springs, terrorism can be entirely homegrown,” she said. “In both cases, what is needed now is clear-headed responsibility and compassion – not fear and falsehoods.”

Yesterday, yet another horrific mass shooting left 14 people dead and more injured at a holiday party of San Bernardino, California county employees. The case in San Bernardino, as of this writing, may involve “mixed motives” of both workplace violence and a potential connection being reported today to international terrorism.

Rep. Scott Tipton (R).

Rep. Scott Tipton (R).

The biggest problem with using yesterday’s shooting in San Bernardino to underscore Rep. Scott Tipton’s argument against admitting Syrian refugees to the United States, as Republicans are quickly seeking to do today, is that the attackers were not refugees. Despite their Middle Eastern surnames, the principal attacker and county employee was a U.S. citizen, and his apparent spouse and co-conspirator came into the country on a fiancee visa. The circumstances as we understand them today, admittedly based on limited available information, do not bolster the case for denying entry of Syrian refugees into the United States in any way. Refugees are subject to vastly higher degrees of scrutiny then people who come to this country on tourist, student, business, and yes, marital visas.

And that means what happened in San Bernardino yesterday, on a practical level, has more in common with the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood terror attack than last month’s ISIS terrorist attack in Paris. It means the remedies needed are domestic remedies, not punitive action against helpless refugees.

Unfortunately, those facts may well be subsumed by public panic if connections to international terrorism in the San Bernardino attack are confirmed. Surnames, skin color, and religion are likely to be as far as many Americans choose to read before rendering a xenophobic judgment. But the truth as we understand it now from San Bernardino does not reinforce Tipton’s demagoguery against refugees. Sen. Michael Bennet, who has sponsored legislation to enhance screening of refugees but does not support a wholesale freeze, is much closer to the levelheaded measures needed–without giving the terrorists the victory of frightening us into rejecting refugees who are in many cases fleeing those same terrorists.

In short, these are the moments when it’s hard to do the right thing. But also the moments when doing the right thing matters most.

Talk-radio host falsely claims Hickenlooper wants to shut him up

(Sorry, Dan Caplis, but nobody is actually thinking about you specifically. Ever.  — promoted by Colorado Pols)

Dan Caplis.

Dan Caplis.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is taking heat on talk radio for suggesting that America “tone back the inflammatory rhetoric,” which may drive “emotionally unstable or psychologically unbalanced” people to “commit these acts of unthinkable violence.”

Hickenlooper made the comments during a CNN interview Sunday about Friday’s murders at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs.

This morning, KNUS host Dan Caplis said Hickenlooper “just doesn’t want us speaking the truth” about Planned Parenthood.

But Hickenlooper repeatedly said he doesn’t want to limit free speech. Read Hick’s comments for yourself.

Hickenlooper (at 5 minutes here and below): Certainly, it is a form of terrorism. Maybe in some way it’s a function of the inflammatory rhetoric that we see on so many issues now. There are bloggers and talk shows where they really focus on trying to get people to the point of boiling over to intense anger. And I think, maybe it’s time to also look at, how do we tone down some of that rhetoric. Honestly, no one is going to try to reduce free speech in this country. But if people are in some way emotionally unstable or psychologically unbalanced, that intensity of rhetoric sometimes seems to pull a trigger in their brain that they lose contact with what reality is.

Host: …Are you calling for changes in blogging or video games.

Hickenlooper: No. I am in no way trying to limit free speech. I think our community, the United States of America, ought to begin a discussion looking at, how do you begin to tone back the inflammatory rhetoric that in some ways might be good for, I don’t know, selling products in advertisements or whatever, but in some way it is inflaming people to the point where they can’t stand it. And they go out and they lose connection to reality in some way and commit these acts of unthinkable violence. I’m not saying we should restrict people’s free speech, nowhere near that. But I think we should have a discussion of at least urging caution when we discuss some of these issues so that we don’t get people to a point of committing senseless violence.

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.

(more…)

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).

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► 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…

(more…)

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

Silly

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.

(more…)

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.