Colorado River Basin drying out faster than previously thought

What will our Fracker in Chief say about this?

Seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River Basin for valuable water are drawing more heavily from groundwater supplies than previously believed, a new study finds, the latest indication that an historic drought is threatening the region’s future access to water.

In the past nine years, the basin — which covers Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California — has lost about 65 cubic kilometers of fresh water, nearly double the volume of the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead. That figure surprised the study’s authors, who used data from a NASA weather satellite to investigate groundwater supplies.

About two-thirds of the water lost over the past nine years came from underground water supplies, rather than surface water.

“We were shocked to see how much water was actually depleted underground,” Stephanie Castle, a water specialist at the University of California at Irvine and lead author of the report, said in an interview.

This water is critical for all aspects of life in the geological area.(No, I will not change my screen name to Captain Obvious.) Fracking, which our governor, a trained gelogist, says is harmless, uses enormous amounts of water which in turn affects peoples water wells, Discarded fracking fluids are now also beginning to affet water supplies. Oh, and did I mention increased earthquake activity in fracking areas?

Here's a map of the Colorado River Basin by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamantion that is in the Post article:

The ease with which our Governor gives his support to the highly disruptive extraction of fossil fuels from our environment never ceases to amaze me. There are many negative aspects of the technology, yet he has remained firm in his support of Big Energy. Maybe this latest piece of evidence will finally catch his attention to the long-term harm fracking will do to Colorado's environment. 

PPP: Udall, Hickenlooper 44%, Gardner, Beauprez 43%

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

Today's release from Public Policy Polling reaffirms the present dead heat in Colorado's U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, with incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Gov. John Hickenlooper clinging to statistically insignificant leads over their Republican challengers:

PPP's new Colorado poll finds the exact same numbers in the races for both Governor and the Senate- Democratic incumbents John Hickenlooper and Mark Udall are clinging to 44/43 leads over their challengers Bob Beauprez and Cory Gardner respectively.

In the Governor's race this represents a significant tightening over the last four months. In March we had found Hickenlooper leading Beauprez 48/38. Since that time though Hickenlooper's approval rating has dropped a net 10 points, from 48/41 then to now 43/46. And Beauprez's net favorability has improved 14 points from 20/33 then to now 31/30. That movement's come largely among Republicans- he's gone from 33/22 to 57/12 within his own party as it's unified in the wake of last month's primary.

The closeness in the Senate race is nothing new though. Our last four polls have found Udall with leads of 2, 2, 4, and now 1 point. This is shaping up as yet another key Senate contest this year where the early blitz of negative advertising has left both candidates unpopular. Udall has an upside down approval rating at 36/47, but Gardner's not a whole lot more well liked with 34% of voters rating him favorably to 39% who have a negative opinion.

beauprezdemsfear​Read the poll's full results here.

These numbers confirm a trend we've seen in other recent polling: a swift closure of the gubernatorial race as GOP nominee Bob Beauprez consolidates post-primary support and Hickenlooper recovers from a tough few weeks in the press, while the U.S. Senate race remains extremely tight with little movement in the last few weeks. We continue to foresee trouble for Beauprez as the press examines his far-right record, which hasn't happened even as Hickenlooper has faced what will likely be the worst press of the campaign stemming from his disastrous appearance in front of hostile county sheriffs. The same lies ahead for Cory Gardner, though it's arguable that Beauprez will prove easier to marginalize due to the sheer extremity of Beauprez's past statements–not to mention Gardner's slick deceptiveness.

Looking down the ticket, undeniably troubling indicators for Colorado Democrats–demonstrating the significant challenge ahead for them this year after years of political dominance. Many voters are undecided, but Republican candidates for Treasurer, Attorney General, and Secretary of State all hold leads well outside this poll's margin of error. Republicans also hold a 45-38% advantage in the poll's generic legislative ballot. Even if trends in the top-ticket races stabilize in favor of the Democratic candidates as we expect, Democrats need to recover downballot to avoid a divided state government in 2015–potentially much more divided than was the case in 2011-12, when the GOP held a one-seat House majority.

Can Democrats get it done? Absolutely–the record shows that the polls consistently underestimate Democrats in this state, as they did in 2010 when the "Republican wave" broke on the Rocky Mountains.

But anyone on either side who feels confident today is a fool.

Everybody And Their Mother Comes Out Against Local Control

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

As the Denver Post's Mark Jaffe reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper's press conference yesterday kicking off the opposition campaign against two local control ballot measures championed by Rep. Jared Polis left no confusion about where the governor stands–as if there ever was any.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Thursday said two ballot measures aimed at giving local governments more control over oil and gas drilling would damage the state's economy and must be defeated…

"It is clear these initiatives will kill jobs and damage our state's economy," Hickenlooper said. "These measures risk thousands of jobs, billions of dollars in investment, and millions of dollars in tax revenue."

…Hickenlooper said Initiative 88 is the opposite of local control, for it sets a "arbitrary limit" across the state with no room to adjust it locally.

As for Initiative 89, Hickenlooper questioned whether local governments would have "the sophistication" to enforce it.

Via Gannett's Raju Chebium, Rep. Polis responds:

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis said one measure he wants to include on the state's November ballot would give local governments the power to approve or reject fracking operations without fear of reprisal from the oil and gas industry. Another measure would allow residents to decide how far fracking wells should be from their homes and businesses.

Fracking may be appropriate far from residential neighborhoods and in rural and industrial areas, but communities must have the ultimate say over whether the wells can sprout up nearby, he said.

"It's perfectly reasonable for residents to feel that it shouldn't be in residential neighborhoods. That should be up to them if they want it," Polis said. "If Loveland residents want fracking, they should be able to have it. If Fort Collins residents don't, they shouldn't be sued." [Pols emphasis]

Our understanding is that despite the swift closing of ranks against these initiatives on the part of Democratic insiders, Rep. Polis remains fully committed to passing them. The fact is, whatever fear has been put into establishment Democrats about consequences from running these initiatives, Polis can defensibly argue he is simply representing his district–where three cities have already passed moratoria, and in the case of Lafayette an outright ban, on hydraulic fracturing. That's a point getting lost as Democrats across the state–Mark Udall, Andrew Romanoff, Ed Perlmutter, and many others–fall in line behind Hickenlooper in opposition to these ballot measures, and the chattering class groupthink ramps up against them.

One of the most popular arguments against these initiatives aimed at Democrats is the assumption "certainty" that they will hurt Democratic electoral prospects this November, either directly or indirectly from the resources expended in the fight. We continue to see a plausible scenario wherein Democrats benefit from these initiatives by stoking turnout, even as individual Democratic candidates give themselves cover by opposing them. Today, as Democrats disappoint conservationists with their stand against local control, they still know Democrats are closer to their position than Republicans will ever be. While these initiatives might be setting up 2015 for a divisive blue-on-blue fight over the issue, that doesn't mean the damage will be felt at the polls this year.

And it wouldn't be the first time the voters proved bolder than the leaders.

Video: Hickenlooper Plays The Banjo at Red Rocks

hickbanjo

From last night's concert of Old Crow Medicine Show at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Did you know Gov. John Hickenlooper could play the banjo? Because we didn't.

Love him or not, you've got to admit that's pretty cool.

Local Control Special Session Officially Dead; Voters To Decide

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

As 9NEWS' Brandon Rittiman reports, Gov. John Hickenlooper is giving up on the idea of a special session of the legislature this year to pass legislation giving local communities greater control over oil and gas drilling. That means two measures supported by Rep. Jared Polis to increase setbacks from drilling and establish an "environmental bill of rights" for Coloradans, are likely a go for this November's ballot:

Talks aimed at brokering a compromise to allow increased local control over oil and gas drilling operations have failed, Gov. John Hickenlooper's (D-Colorado) office reported Wednesday.

The governor's office says there will be no special session – as Hickenlooper had hoped – to pass a compromise law on fracking.

"Despite our best efforts and those of other willing partners," the governor said in a written statement. "We have not been able to secure the broader stakeholder support necessary to pass bipartisan legislation in a special session."

That news all but ensures Colorado voters will have the opportunity to weigh in with a statewide vote on fracking this year, a follow-up to local ballot questions which have halted the practice in four Front Range communities.

With the special session now dead, as many observers expected, Sen. Mark Udall was quick to announce his opposition to the ballot measures:

"Fracking can be done safely and responsibly," Udall wrote shortly after the governor's announcement. "I believe that Colorado can and must do better, which is why I oppose these one-size-fits-all restrictions."

Undaunted, Rep. Polis announces he is moving ahead:

“I have said from the beginning of this debate that my one goal is to find a solution that will allow my constituents to live safely in their homes, free from the fear of declining property values or unnecessary health risks, but also that will allow our state to continue to benefit from the oil and gas boom that brings jobs and increased energy security,” Polis said.

“I stand by this goal, I am confident that the majority of Coloradoans share this goal, and I am committed to continuing to work to protect our Colorado values.”

FOX 31's Eli Stokols reports that the American Petroleum Institute, which plans to spend a great deal of money fighting these initiatives, hardened opposition among Republicans and the oil and gas industry against a compromise with a poll indicating they can beat the ballot measures. On the other side, proponents have polling that says the measures can pass–even after respondents hear the industry's arguments against the measures.

Stokols speculates once again about the measures "potentially jeopardizing the reelection of Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall — and, by extension, Democratic control of the senate." As we've said previously, that is a dubious suggestion at best. We also don't believe that high-profile Democrats steering clear of these initiatives hurt either the initiatives or their re-election campaigns–there's a lot more driving those campaigns than this one issue, and by disavowing the initiatives early, there's nothing to use against Udall or Hickenlooper even if they do go badly. As for Rep. Polis? The FOX 31 story a week ago, trying to cast CD-2 Republican candidate George Leing as a credible opponent–which even most Democrats opposed to Polis on this issue found laughable–makes it pretty clear he doesn't have much to worry about. That said, we expect the industry will do whatever they can to extract a cost from Polis for his "impertinence."

In November, all of these assumptions will meet their ultimate test–and somebody's going to be wrong.

Whiplash: New Q-Poll, Beauprez 44%, Hickenlooper 43%

hickskydive

After yesterday's poll from NBC/Marist reassured Colorado Democrats with apparent growing leads in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, a new poll out from Quinnipiac University today restores a healthy sense of fear:

Despite stronger voter optimism about Colorado's economy than found in many states, the race for governor is tied, with 43 percent for Democratic incumbent John Hickenlooper and 44 percent for former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, the Republican challenger, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. 

Voters give Gov. Hickenlooper a split job approval rating, with 48 percent approving and 46 percent disapproving, compared to a 52 – 39 percent approval rating in an April 23 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University. 

Hickenlooper does not deserve reelection, voters say 48 – 42 percent, down from a positive 47 – 43 percent support in April. 

The gender gap is wide today as men back Beauprez 48 – 37 percent, while women back Hickenlooper 48- 40 percent. Hickenlooper leads 90 – 4 percent among Democrats, while Beauprez takes Republicans 86 – 7 percent. Independent voters are divided with 41 percent for Beauprez and 40 percent for Hickenlooper. 

In another split, 43 percent of voters have a favorable opinion of the governor, with 42 percent unfavorable, down from 51 – 37 percent favorable in April. Beauprez gets a 31 – 25 percent favorability rating, with 43 percent who don't know enough about him to form an opinion, compared to 52 percent who didn't know enough about him in April.

Clearly a significant move from Quinnipiac's last poll of the Colorado gubernatorial race, when Gov. John Hickenlooper was beating Bob Beauprez by a comfortable nine-point margin. But what's the reason? Speculation we've heard ranges from consolidation of support for Beauprez among conservatives after the primary to fresh negatives for Hickenlooper from his gaffe-laden comments to county sheriffs about the gun safety bills passed last year.

Looking ahead in this race, though, we see major problems for Beauprez in the very large percentage of voters who don't know enough about him to form an opinion. That vacuum is going to get filled, and there's a vast body of highly damaging material on Beauprez to fill it with–as we've been reporting in this space for months. It's arguable that the only reason Beauprez appears competitive today is that Beauprez's record has not been reported accurately by the press so far–witness the ridiculous story right after the primary in the Denver Post about what a "mainstream moderate" Beauprez is. Once the public learns about Beauprez's civil war rhetoric, his "birther" speculation about President Barack Obama, the "hoax" of climate change, his Tom Tancredo-style immigration views, and much more–it remains our view that Beauprez has nowhere to go in this race but down.

To ensure that outcome, it's time for Democrats to take the gloves off. 

How could radio host resist asking Beauprez if he really thought Hick was drunk during pool game with Obama?

(Seriously? – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

“Both Ways” Bob Beauprez (right).

Bob Beauprez suggested over the weekend that Hickenlooper was drunk when he played pool last week with President Obama.

Beauprez made the comment on Craig Silverman's debut radio show Saturday on KNUS 710-AM. Here's the exchange:

Silverman: Bob Beauprez, tell me this, because you could lock up a lot of votes if you give the right answer. Can you play pool better than John Hickenlooper?

Beauprez: [hearty laugh]

Silverman: I mean, it went – did you watch him play? He looked like he was sick!—like there was poison in his beer. He scratched, and he missed one of the easiest shots in the world. Tell me you can do better, because he got beat on his home tavern court by Barack Obama. That’s the first foreign victory for Obama in a long time. And –

Beauprez: [laugh]

Silverman: I mean, it looked like Obama was having a good time, but – I don’t know, how do you think that all went down?

Beauprez: John might have been at the brewery a little bit ahead of the President. He might have gotten an early start on the beers. [BigMedia emphasis]

Silverman: Yeah.

Beauprez: Yeah, that wasn’t his finest moment.

LISTEN: Beauprez Suggests Hick was drunk when playing pool with Obama

It's possible Beauprez was joking, I admit, but if he was, it's not clear at all. If you're Silverman, how could you resist asking Beauprez if he was seriously suggesting that Hick was drunk.

New NBC/Marist Poll: Udall Up By 7, Hickenlooper Up By 6

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

Mark Udall, Cory Gardner.

A new poll out today from NBC News/Marist has very bad news for Colorado Republicans–beginning with GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner, who is now down by 7 points to incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, outside this poll's +/- 3.1% margin of error:

In Colorado’s Senate contest, incumbent Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., leads GOP challenger Cory Gardner by seven points among registered voters, 48 to 41 percent; another 10 percent are undecided.

In the state’s race for governor, sitting Gov. John Hickenlooper holds a six-point edge over Republican opponent Bob Beauprez, 49 to 43 percent, with 7 percent undecided…

A gender gap is helping the Democratic candidates…In Colorado, Udall is up by 12 points among female voters (50 percent to 38 percent), but he’s running neck and neck with Gardner among men…

Among Latinos – who make up 16 percent of registered voters in the Colorado poll – Udall has a 31-point lead over Gardner, 58 to 27 percent.

And also in Colorado, both Udall (by 50 to 34 percent) and Hickenlooper (by 52 to 35 percent) have the advantage with independent voters.

Here are the details on today's poll of Colorado voters.

The leads for Udall and to a lesser extent Gov. John Hickenlooper among independent voters are particularly dire for Republicans, who are counting on an agitated independent vote breaking their way this November. Udall's massive 31-point lead over Gardner with Latino voters shows Gardner's late attempts to appease this community by changing up his hard-line rhetoric on immigration reform have fallen flat. Combine that with Udall's double-digit lead over Gardner with women voters, and Gardner looks much worse off at this point than most news reporting on this race would suggest.

Hickenlooper has more ground to gain against GOP opponent Bob Beauprez, and that's likely to happen once Beauprez's long record of disqualifying looney-tunes statements since his last run for office in 2006 becomes more widely publicized. Hickenlooper's pundit-certified "tough couple of years politically" colors the narrative about this race, but even here there is good news: 52% of respondents say they are more likely to vote for a candidate who thinks laws governing gun sales should be more strict.

Opposition to the loosening of gun regulations is largely fueled by female voters, who say they are less likely to support a pro-gun rights candidate by 20 percentage points, while men are about equally divided on the question.

Meaning the biggest advantage Colorado Republicans have going into this election…is no advantage at all.

Bottom line: while nobody would suggest these hotly competitive races are over, a few more polls like this could change that. These are not numbers Republicans hoping for victory this November want to see.

Strong Economic Growth in Colorado Great News for Hickenlooper

Hickenlooper-Head

As the Denver Post reports, Colorado's economic growth is outpacing earlier forecasts:

Colorado is on track to add 68,000 net new jobs this year rather than the 61,300 the Colorado Business Economic Outlook in December predicted it would gain, according to a midyear update from the University of Colorado.

"We are seeing broad-based growth in the whole economy, not just energy," said Rich Wobbekind, the CU economist who puts together the closely watched forecast, which is in its 49th year…

The biggest unexpected employment gains, however, are coming in leisure and hospitality, which has added 13,000 jobs on a year-over-year basis in May compared with the annual gain of 7,500 the Outlook predicted in December.

"It is largely tourism-driven, on the accommodations side," Wobbekind said.

Other areas with stronger-than-expected hiring are professional and business services, health care, and local and state governments.

You don't need James Carville to explain why this is good news for Gov. John Hickenlooper. There are plenty of other issues that will be debated in advance of the November election, but from a practical political perspective (say that three times fast), there's really no way that Hickenlooper loses his bid for re-election if Colorado's economy continues to grow in the coming months. First and foremost, Hickenlooper has always tried to position himself as a leader when it comes to economic and employment growth, and he can use this issue to trump virtually every attack from Republican opponent Bob Beauprez.

Even without strong economic news, Hickenlooper has several potential paths to victory in November. The same cannot be said of Beauprez; if he is forced to try to argue that Hickenlooper should not get credit for Colorado's economic growth, he's already lost.

Bob Beauprez Breeds Idiocy

“Both Ways” Bob Beauprez (right).

There was a school of thought leading into the June Primary that Democrats were better off with Tom Tancredo as the Republican nominee for Governor, mostly because Tancredo was thought to be particularly poisonous for Republicans across the ballot. While we certainly understood the logic behind that premise, we'd always believed that Bob Beauprez was just as problematic for Republicans, if not more so, because of his incredible penchant for saying ridiculously stupid things. For all of Tancredo's problems as a candidate, he at least seemed to have figured out how to keep his own feet out of his mouth lately.

Beauprez? Not so much.

As the Denver Post reports today, Beauprez's foolhardy nature seems to infect everyone around him; his campaign can't even put out a prepared statement that doesn't say something dumb:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez on Tuesday said calling a special legislative session to forge a compromise on local control over oil and gas drilling in Colorado is not in the best interests of the state.

In a statement sent in response to Denver Post questions, Beauprez called on his incumbent opponent Gov. John Hickenlooper to " reject calls for a special legislative session that would serve as little more than a tool to force ill-advised policies on the people of our state without debate, deliberation, or discussion."…

…Beauprez wrote that the issue should be resolved during the normal legislative session.

"The governor and the legislature have 180 days to deal with issues they determine to be important enough to warrant new laws. [Pols emphasis] The Colorado taxpayer should not have to finance a special session, just so a bill can be passed that would strip citizens' property rights, and create a chaotic patchwork of different regulatory environments around the state, which would remove any remaining shred of certainty — especially on the heels of six consecutive years of rule changes."

Colorado's normal legislative session is 120 days. [Pols emphasis]

As Post reporter Bruce Finley noted, Colorado's legislature is not in session for 180 days — or anywhere close to that number. The normal legislative session runs from early January to early May, but in recent years has been concluded early as legislative leaders seek to save the state a little money.

How on earth does Beauprez's campaign make such a stupid mistake? It's not like this is just Beauprez talking off the cuff and saying something ridiculous, as he is wont to do. This is a prepared statement that included a foolish error that went completely unnoticed by anyone on Beauprez's staff. This is the Republican nominee for Governor who seems clueless to something as simple as how often the legislature convenes.

Is Beauprez's own peculiar brand of idiocy just infecting everyone around him? Has he had trouble finding staff who actually live in Colorado? What's going on here?

Drill, baby, drill?

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

On a recent Spring day Germany generated over 50 percent of its energy from solar:

Germany, with 1.4m PV systems, generated a peak of 23.1GW hours at lunchtime on Monday 9 June, equivalent to 50.6% of its total electricity need. According to government development agency Germany trade and invest (GTAI), solar power grew 34% in the first five months of 2014 compared to last year.

This is truly amazing and shows what can be done with some wise infrastructure investments and a willingness to tell your local Coal Barons to "suck it". Oh wait, that particular Koch – Colorado's own Bill - has seemingly moved on from coal, while Colorado has most decidedly not and still relies on coal for 66% of its energy

The recent fire and power outage at Colorado Springs' Drake Power Plant has given the city, and the state in my humble opinion, an opportunity to turn its eye towards the future.

But many local business leaders just can't see the obvious benefits of a solar-powered Springs:

The 12 options the City Council is considering for Drake include the costs of building a replacement power source, adding renewable energy, offering demand-side management incentives and adding to Front Range natural gas plant. The best financial option is to keep Drake open for 30 years, according to the consultant's report. Utilities would see a more than $200 million return on its investment.

When Drake is decommissioned, Utilities will need to build a replacement power source, which most likely would be a gas-fired plant. Coal-fired power is produced at roughly half the cost of gas-fired power, but is dirtier.

Utilities is spending about $121 million to install scrubber technology at Drake to meet environmental standards. In June, the Obama administration released a draft of The Clean Power Plan, which calls for reducing carbon dioxide emission at power plants by 30 percent by 2030.

More than 30 coal-fired plants have closed across the county in the wake of strict Environmental Protection Agency regulations, including emission control.

As an astute politician once said, "A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you're talking real money." That observation and its ramifications here are quite clear. But, besides coal, there is also Colorado's unnatural reliance on hydraulically fractured natural gas and its "clean" fuel — that comes at such a high environmental and human cost.

(more…)

Democrats Unload on Hickenlooper Over Gun Law Ramblings

UPDATE: Gov. John Hickenlooper seeks to clarify his remarks today, FOX 31's Eli Stokols:

In his first interview on the subject, Hickenlooper told FOX31 Denver that he wasn’t aware he was being filmed last Friday during a meeting with the sheriffs in Aspen when he appeared to backpedal on the magazine ban, agreeing with one sheriff that it was unenforceable and telling the group that he didn’t expect the legislation to even make it to his desk.

The remarks, he said Friday, were an effort to apologize to sheriffs who felt their voices weren’t heard during last year’s legislative process, not a disavowal of the magazine ban itself.

“I didn’t say it’s unenforceable, I said it’s difficult to enforce,” Hickenlooper said. “A lot of laws are difficult to enforce; that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there. If we went through the process again, I’d sign it again.” [Pols emphasis]

…A week after the meeting with the sheriffs, the governor explained that he and his staff made the decision last year to sign House Bill 1224, which bans magazines of more than 15 rounds, more than a month before the legislation reached his desk; and he said that he wouldn’t have allowed the senate to vote on the controversial measure — three Democratic senators who supported the ban were ousted from office last fall as part of a recall effort in response to the gun bills — if he were considering a veto.

—–

Very, very bad at impromptu speaking.

Very, very bad at impromptu speaking.

The Denver Post's Kurtis Lee has been eagerly running down every conceivable angle on the lingering story of Gov. John Hickenlooper's ill-fated attempt to appease Colorado county sheriffs at a meeting last week. Today, Lee reports on the response on MSNBC last night by former Senate President John Morse, who narrowly lost a recall election last year after the passage of gun safety legislation:

Former Democratic Senate President John Morse said the comments Gov. John Hickenlooper made recently about his support of gun-control laws from 2013 is “disrespecting the families of the victims that worked so hard to pass this legislation.”

Morse supported a wide-ranging package of Democratic gun-control measures that became law last year. His backing of those bills, which include limits on ammunition magazines and universal background checks on all firearms sales and transfers, led to his ouster in a recall election last September…

Morse, in an interview with MSNBC, said the gun-control laws “did not divide the state,” and cites polls that show a majority of Coloradans back the law that requires universal gun background checks.

There is perhaps no one out there more deservedly angry with Gov. Hickenlooper over his foolish backpedaling of the 2013 magazine limit law than Sen. Morse. Morse laid everything on the line to get these bills passed, and having lost his seat by the narrowest of margins in last year's recalls, he can hold his head high–and obviously, Morse has a legacy interest in defending these laws. For John Morse, passing the 2013 gun safety bills was a goal worth the loss of his seat, and Hickenlooper's thoughtless pandering to the sheriffs is a huge slap in the face.

Like we said yesterday about this story, the real potential for political damage to Hickenlooper is limited: by the time that has passed since passage of these bills, voter fatigue with the issue of gun control, and the weakness of any potential opponent who may emerge from next Tuesday's GOP primary. But it definitely doesn't help Democratic legislators who are defending their records with voters for Hickenlooper to undercut them like this, and to have done so just to have a more pleasant meeting with county sheriffs who will never support him is simply not justifiable.

At this point, as Lee's continued interest in this story shows, Hickenlooper's silence in response to media requests for clarification of what he said to the county sheriffs is doing disproportionate harm. Hickenlooper needs to get all of his staff into a huddle–and after apologizing for pointlessly throwing at least one of them under the wheels, he needs to make sure everyone is saying the same thing. Then he needs to call reporters and tell them what that is. Maybe he claims stagefright, or altitude sickness, it doesn't matter–the biggest priority is that he stops contradicting himself and fellow Democrats.

And then, after he has taken his lumps and walked this back as best he can, he can shut the hell up for awhile.

You REALLY Didn’t See That One Coming, Governor?

Stupid governor traps

Keep an eye on the stick, not the carrot.

Governor John Hickenlooper has ascended the political ladder in Colorado with several parts of savvy politician mixed in with a folksy-schtickiness that, for the most part, has served him well. But as we pointed out last year, the "Hick Schtick" has been losing some of its power as Hickenlooper's political opponents learn how to use it against him. 

This problem for Hickenlooper emerged again last week, when the Governor walked right into a political trap when speaking in Aspen to the County Sheriffs of Colorado. Hickenlooper made some silly mistakes in speaking to the Sheriffs group when he inexplicably apologized to them for not communicating better over gun safety legislation passed in 2013. That story has continued well into this week, thanks to a well-placed camera and microphone. As Kurtis Lee of the Denver Post reports:

Gov. John Hickenlooper told county sheriffs at a recent gathering he felt conflicted about supporting a bill that limited ammunition magazines, but because one of his "staff made a commitment," he felt compelled to sign it into law.

"To be honest, no one in our office thought it would get through the legislature," Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said in an unedited video recorded by the conservative group Revealing Politics. "There were several Democrats who said without question they weren't going to vote for it."

The measure — by far the most controversial in a package of gun-control bills signed into law in 2013 — bars the sale of ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds. The measure passed the Democratic-controlled legislature with no Republican support.

Eric Brown, Hickenlooper's spokesman, said Wednesday that he has not had a chance to speak with the governor about which staffer committed the governor's support and signature for the legislation. Hickenlooper is in Mexico this week to promote economic development.

As we wrote on Monday, Hickenlooper should have known better. His folksy attempts to make friends with a group of Republican sheriffs who were always going to be opposed to his policies ended up doing nothing but harm to his own image. Republican operatives have done a good job of expanding this story into more than it really is, something that became easy to do when the Governor walked right into their clutches. What did Hick think would happen here? What possible upside did he see in going back to the contentious 2013 legislative debate over gun safety? Did he just want Republican sheriffs to like him better? Did the Shirtless Sheriff just freak him out too much?

Hickenlooper fell into a stupid trap here, and it's his own fault for doing it. But as Aurora Sentinel editor Dave Perry opined this week, there are plenty of important details to remember – including the fact that the Colorado Chiefs of Police supported a ban on high-capacity magazines:

Hickenlooper’s gaffe here happened when agreed to talk to this group of self-aggrandizing gunslingers to begin with. Not that Hickenlooper didn’t make missteps here and elsewhere along his political path, but this was a phony gunfight from the get go…

What too many people forget here is that these sheriffs helping to perpetuate this hysteria are politicians. Most — if not all — share a common trait: Republicans with a magazine to grind against the Democratic governor. These sheriffs are trying to tell the public that nobody asked them nothing about any of this as the law was being created. That’s a load of crap…[Pols emphasis]

…Did Hickenlooper mishandle pushing back against the sheriffs? Probably. Who cares? Does it mean these two laws are any less valuable? Hell no. We’re they written so that they’re difficult to enforce? That’s for state lawyers and others to decide. If they are, modify them to ensure their intent and end this fake fury for good. And as for these sure-shooting sheriffs-turned-constitutional-lawyers: Spend your time protecting the public instead of preaching politics.

There's no sugar-coating that Hickenlooper fell into an obvious trap with the Sheriffs' group here, but even so, the political ramifications aren't particularly dire. For one thing, the gun legislation debate is already more than a year old; voters are already tired of hearing about it, and it's only June. And, of course, there's the not-so-little problem Republicans face with their own Gubernatorial field. Even if this were an election-defining moment (and even the most enthusiastic Republican would have to admit that it most certainly does not rise to that level), the GOP is going to have a hell of a time convincing voters that their nominee for Governor is worth selecting…period.

Yes, this is a bad story for Hickenlooper that reflects poorly on the Governor, but there's not more to it than that. Maybe this experience will finally convince Hick to put his "Schtick" in his back pocket for awhile and pay more attention to what's really happening in front of him. Maybe this will finally convince him to deal more closely with his obvious allies rather than spend so much time trying to court enemies. Or, maybe Hick will just keep on keeping on, and fall right into the next hole covered by Republicans with sticks and leaves. If nothing else, we'd guess Hickenlooper has made his last official visit to a meeting of the County Sheriffs group.

GOP Gubernatorial Candidates on Local Control: Yeah, Right

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

The Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover reports, not that there was ever much doubt, but for the record:

None of Colorado’s four Republican gubernatorial candidates support Gov. John Hickenlooper’s current effort to give local governments more regulatory authority over drilling operations in exchange for U.S. Rep. Jared Polis yanking down his nine proposed regulatory ballot initiatives, with all of them saying that doing so would be, in essence, capitulating to the wealthy Democratic congressman.

Only one of the quartet — former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo — said that he would be open to some measure of local control on some oil and gas issues, while another, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, said he believes drilling restrictions already are too harsh and should be rolled back in order to boost the energy economy in Colorado…

Hickenlooper, Polis and the state’s two largest drillers have agreed on a compromise proposal, but the governor is seeking more industry and business support — enough, administration sources say, to get a number of Republicans to vote for the bill — before he calls a special session.

If one of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates were in office right now, it’s pretty clear that no such negotiations would be underway. [Pols emphasis]

Of the four responses, we have to say that Tom Tancredo’s comes the closest to a reasonable position, at least acknowledging the desire of local communities to have some control over heavy industrial operations like oil and gas drilling within their boundaries. All of them employ Rep. Jared Polis as a scapegoat, although Sealover notes correctly that the resistance blocking the local control compromise legislation is from the energy industry.

As for Scott Gessler’s contention that regulations on oil and gas in Colorado are already “too strict” and should be rolled back to “boost the energy economy,” well, that’s the Honey Badger for you! That will almost certainly be a minority viewpoint among general election voters, but for the purposes of moving out of distant third place in this primary, Gessler’s ready to pander and pander hard.

Bottom line: Gov. John Hickenlooper’s friendly relations with the energy industry are a matter of record, about which we’ve had plenty to say in this space–the good, like bringing the industry and conservationists to the table for strong new air quality rules, and the bad like Hickenlooper’s dubious taste for fracking fluid. Fortunately for Hickenlooper, one of these guys will be the alternative in November–and there will be a clear, or at least clear enough, distinction.

Two More Fracking Ballot Measures Approved; Industry Hardliners Still Won’t Bend

Fracking compromise in Colorado

Um, you know these cards don’t make a useful hand, right?

As we've written about before in this space, a potential legislative compromise agreement on fracking safety, led by Gov. John Hickenlooper, is still being held up by business and oil and gas hardliners who seem content to try to bluff with a hand of mismatched cards.

As the Denver Post reports today, that bluff just keeps looking weaker and weaker:

Two more ballot initiatives that could limit oil and gas drilling have been approved for gathering of petition signatures by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Initiative 88 would require new oil and gas wells to be located at least 2,000 feet from the nearest occupied structure. Current state law establishes well setbacks at 500 feet.

Initiative 92 would give local governments the authority to limit or prohibit oil and gas development within their jurisdictions. The measure proposes that if state and local laws conflict, the more restrictive laws would govern drilling.

Both Initiative 88 and Initiative 92 have received substantial financial backing from Rep. Jared Polis, who has dealt firsthand with fracking on his property in Weld County. Despite having a very personal stake in this issue, Polis has made it clear that he is willing to support a legislative agreement. "Despite the draft not being perfect I stand ready and willing to support the compromise and I appreciate all the work that has been done to craft this bill," Polis said in a statement.

Though no official agreement has been reached that would remove all fracking-related measures from the November ballot, Hickenlooper has managed to bring several key players into the fold. Three of the largest oil and gas companies operating in Colorado — Anadarko, Noble Energy, and PDC — have agreed with Polis to cooperate on a legislative solution. But any potential deal continues to be blocked by groups such as the Colorado Petroleum Association and the Colorado Association of Homebuilders, as well as a handful of some of the smaller oil and gas operations in Colorado. You read that correctly — many of the companies that still oppose any sort of compromise deal aren't even that active in Colorado drilling.

Check out this data on active wells through 2013, via the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (DNR):

O&G Companies Percent of Wells in Colorado Position on Compromise
Anadarko, Noble Energy, PDC 34% SUPPORT
Conoco/Phillips 7% OPPOSE
BP/Chevron/XTO 6.8% OPPOSE

As you can see, the oil and gas companies with the largest stake in Colorado drilling operations are all supportive of a legislative compromise. What's the deal here? Did Anadarko and Noble Energy forget to pay their annual dues to the Colorado Petroleum Association?

Regardless of your opinion on the issue, it's curious that a potential agreement on fracking is still being held up by a handful of hardliners who don't seem to understand that local control is a winning issue. There has been plenty of saber-rattling by industry folks threatening to spend gajillions of dollars to defeat any potential ballot measure this fall, but this appears to be one of those issues that can't just be defeated with a checkbook. Put it this way: if a local control measure makes the ballot in November, would you really bet against its passage? Remember that the Colorado Oil and Gas Association spent nearly $1 million last fall to defeat four local ballot measures…and couldn't prevent any of them from passing. If they couldn't defeat local ballot measures in an off-year election with a crapload of cash, why would anybody think that their odds would improve in 2014?