Rivera / Crowder Town Hall Heats Up, Democracy Thrives

 

 



 

 


When Colorado Senators Larry Crowder (left) and George Rivera convened a town hall in Pueblo on Wednesday, March 19, they probably hadn't planned to be confronted, interrupted, and corrected by dozens of Pueblo citizens of various political stripes. But that's what happened.

Over the course of a two hour meeting, Rivera and Crowder discussed wage theft, the proposed SouthWest Chief Rail expansion to Pueblo, PERA, TABOR, minimum wage and the rights of workers to organize, with about fifty vocal and opinionated constituents.

Senator Rivera came out swinging as the hard-right conservative he is- he explained that he is a "right to work" guy, that he is "not a believer in… the whole concept of the minimum wage", that he would like to privatize PERA (change it from a defined benefit to a "defined contribution" model).

He does not support the  lawsuit challenging TABOR, and he would rather see people paying fuel taxes than using public transportation, a dig at the proposed SW Chief rail line, the signature issue of his opponent for SD3, Represenative Leroy Garcia.

On SB14-05,  the "wage theft" legislation passed out of Committee  and into Appropriations with no Republican support, neither Senator took a strong position.  Both Senators agreed that it is a shame to steal a day's pay for a day's work, expressed some caution about costs of the measure, and moved on.


Senator Crowder, the more experienced politician, took softer stances, or tried to avoid taking stances altogether. He did not agree with privatizing PERA. He also does not support the lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of TABOR, does not support raising the minimum wage to $10.10, and seems to be somewhat ignorant of what would be required to dismantle TABOR.

On the minimum wage issue, Crowder advocates for raising the "median wage", a proposal which got quite a few baffled looks from the town hall attendees. Crowder stated  that only 2% of workers receive minimum wage, when, in actuality, 59% of workers, mostly women, are paid at the minimum level. 


When directly challenged by Yesenia Beascochea (left) of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition: "How are people supposed to buy groceries on $7 an hour?" Crowder waffled until he was rescued by George Rivera's daughter, (left center) who ranted for three minutes, questioning  why anyone should support poor folks on Medicaid.

So, Crowder never answered Beascochea's question.  Crowder is also the more moderate of the two southeastern Colorado Senators; Crowder was the only Republican to vote for Colorado's Medicaid expansion and Health Exchange. Lamar's Crowder is also a co-sponsor of the SW Chief rail expansion legislation, and did not agree with Rivera on the need to "privatize PERA".


Excerpts from the Town Hall discussion:

PERA

Rivera supports a “defined contribution” plan, not a “defined benefit” plan. Rationale: it will save money.

Carole Partin, a teacher, challenged him: Privatizing PERA will change it, and those are benefits that we worked for.  A defined contribution plan goes out to the hedge fund managers.

MINIMUM WAGE:

Barb Clementi, another teacher,  schooled the Senators on how we subsidize Walmart because of minimum wages. Rivera argued that low wages, low taxes are what brought businesses in.

Rivera argued that minimum wage legislation is a "slippery slope." He wondered, "Why would it stop at $10/hr, why not $25 hr?", and predicted that businesses would pass costs to the consumer, or close down. When confronted with examples of businesses such as Costco and others which pay $10.10 an hour, and are thriving, he changed the subject.

Question: What’s your opinion on raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour?

Rivera: "Well, I’m not a believer in the minimum wage. The whole concept of the minimum wage.  Because, OK, you raise it up to ten dollars and ten cents. What’s the business going to do? Are they gonna sit there, and say, OK, we’re gonna pay out that ten dollars and ten cents? And all of a sudden, we’re in the red, and whereas before we were paying seven dollars, seven-fifty, and isn’t that three dollars…more?. What are they gonna do? They’re gonna raise the cost of their goods to make up that three dollars and ten cents. So all of a sudden that ten dollars and ten cents…you’re right back where you were, a year or two later, you’re chasing your tail."

"Now let me give you another, for example….why stop at $10.10?  Why not go to twenty-five? Because twenty-five dollars an hour…Heck, we’ll all agree is good money, and everyone will be happy. No, that’s not gonna work, again, because they gotta raise the cost, raise the price of whatever goods they’re selling. They gotta make up for the cost of that pay raise, whatever it is."

Q: Do you think that Walmart’s going to go in the red by paying the minimum wage?

Crowder: Here I thought I had a chance. I can wait outside. (laughter)

"Here’s the thing about the minimum wage. 2% of the people rely on the minimum wage. (he’s 57% off, according to the Dept of Labor- 59% of American workers work for minimum wage)

What we ought to be talking about is the median wage. (Audience murmurs, puzzled) We’ve lost so much ground in the middle class. That’s what we ought to do. ….we need to work legislatively to stay out of the middle class’s way, so that they can continue…I think if we take care of the median wage, that the minimum wage will take care of itself. One of the things we can do is we can look at the employment percentage right now. "

It’s 9%. What we can do is get that employment percentage down here (gestures), and

Q: Yesenia Beascochea: Can I interrupt real quick, because I hear the both of you talking about the minimum wage.  Pay the people seven dollars an hour, minimum wage, and they have to buy the groceries, as the prices rise. The prices are rising. So how are you guys expecting…and I’m talking about poor people, that can’t afford to buy groceries at seven dollars an hour?

Crowder: (doesn’t answer her question) Would it benefit the working poor if a certain percent lost their jobs?

(Rivera's daughter complains for three minutes about how health care for the poor costs money to middle class people because: Obamacare).

TABOR:

I asked both Senators about their positions on TABOR.

Crowder: "My position on TABOR is simple. Voters voted it in. It’s up to the voters to vote it out. I do not agree with the lawsuit on TABOR that’s in the courts right now. I think what it does, it…undermines the voters…If people, truly, do not want TABOR, which I believe is….you hear both sides, you know? But I do believe that, to go through the court system, when the people of Colorado voted for it, undermines them.  So if someone wants to bring a petition, and convince the people of Colroado to get that back on the ballot,  then I would support that."

Barb Clementi (left): You recognize that it would take six or eight initiatives to actually do that?

Crowder: No, no, that can’t be true.

Barb Clementi: Yes, it would take many different initiatives to undo TABOR.

(Rivera interrupts)

Rivera:  "Well, I’ll be honest with you. If we have the low taxes that you’re talking about, ….you don’t think that TABOR had something to do with that? Look at all of the fees we pay…the fee you pay when you get your license plates. What do you think that is? That’s a tax by another name, that’s all that is."

UNIONS and ORGANIZING

Ron Greenwell, (left), chair of the Pueblo Democratic party, questioned Senator Rivera about how he felt about unions in general.

Greenwell: What do you know about the Colorado Peace Act? What do you feel about unions in general? And, would you support organized labor in the future?


Rivera: On the Colorado Peace Act, I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Greenwell: The Colorado Peace Act is legislation, that, when you're going in to organize, it's not a 50 plus 1, ….it's a 60 plus 40, something like that. And so, to make it fair for those who are organizing, they have to get 60% of the vote, rather than 50% plus 1.

RIGHT to WORK (for less): Rivera: Well, I believe in “right to work”. Let’s put it that way. …

(loud disagreement, chatter, laughter, comments from audience.

Rivera: …I don't think it's anti-union, whatever…I believe in right to work.

Rivera: I think if the government just keeps out of the way of people….(interruptions by several audience members) "Government is people! ”Government is in the business of helping the common people."


GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE OK IF IT'S WOMEN'S BODIES?

Kiera Hatton-Sena countered with a pointed question: So,  the “government shouldn’t interfere” with my body?"

Neither of the Senators answered Hatton-Sena's question.

The town hall finished with Rivera proclaiming that he was happy that so many people had attended his town hall, although they were clearly not in agreement with him. Colorado Progressive Coalition had informed its members about the town hall. 

I personally found it disturbing, not that there was conflict and disagreement, but how uninformed both Senators were. Rivera did not know the provisions of the Colorado Peace Act, although he proclaims that he believes in "Right to Work". Crowder had no clue that 59% of the population, not 2%, receives minimum wage. Neither Senator knew how much work it would take to undo Tabor; when they advocated for voter initiatives, to "Let the Voters Decide," they were effectively advocating to let TABOR continue to wreak harm in Colorado indefinitely. Rivera was seemingly not aware that a "defined contribution plan" effectively privatizes people's retirement benefits.

Senators Rivera and Crowder are out of touch with the majority of their constituents who are in favor of raising the minimum wage. They don't "get" women's complaints about the hypocrisy of proclaiming that government should not interfere with people's lives, while the government aggressively interferes with women's reproductive choices over their own bodies. In pro-union Pueblo, in which most people have a family member who worked or works for a union, Rivera's hard anti-union stance will also not win friends and influence constituents.

This is what small-d democracy looks like, and it is indeed a positive thing. It remains to be seen if the Senators will follow up with conversations with, and allow themselves to be educated by their disaffected constituents, or merely heave sighs of relief: "That's over."


 

Video from 3/19 Pueblo town hall More videos at: http://www.youtube.com/user/socoteacher

 

All photos and videos of this event by the author.

 

Don’t Look Now, But FASTER Is Fixing The Bridges

As the Denver Post's Monte Whaley reports:

Colorado's drivers face fewer dangerous bridges after a six-year push to replace old and crumbling crossings statewide.

As of July 31, the state has replaced 53 bridges while another 22 are under construction and 33 are in the design phase, Colorado Department of Transportation officials said Tuesday…

CDOT says the passage of the FASTER — Funding Advancement for Surface Transportation and Economic Recovery — legislation in March 2009, helped speed bridge repair and removal. The legislation created the Colorado Bridge Enterprise, which is a dedicated funding source for replacing poor-rated bridges.

The contentious fight over the FASTER vehicle registration fee increases, both during its passage in the Colorado legislature and afterwards as an electioneering battle cry for "Tea Party" Republicans, has faded from memory in recent months. We haven't seen any response from the Colorado Republican Party, or for that matter anybody on the right, to the Colorado Department of Transportation's press release yesterday. But it's worth remembering the massive fit the GOP pitched over the creation of a dedicated funding stream for bridge repairs, with just about every Republican running for office in 2010, from Scott McInnis to Walker Stapleton citing this "tax increase" as a reason to throw Democrats out. After 2010, some Republicans continued to grouse about FASTER, although the road construction lobby's tight relationship with GOP Speaker Frank McNulty ensured no serious effort to repeal FASTER would materialize in the GOP-controlled Colorado House.

Today, after a few minor hiccups, the estimated $100 million annually the FASTER legislation nets for repairing Colorado's aging bridges is making a real difference. Voters who have read about terrifying bridge collapses in other states deserve to know that in Colorado, we're doing what we can to maintain our infrastructure. Where the right wanted to use FASTER to stoke opposition to Democrats, today FASTER is an opportunity for Democrats to close the "value loop" for voters: to show them tangibly why public investments are worth making.

Concerns Over Fixing Aging Infrastructure Continue

Whether they will admit it or not, most people understand that the government (and yes, taxes) are a necessary part of our everyday lives when it comes to basic things like firefighters, police officers, and roads. It can be difficult to continue your daily commute if a giant freakin' hole opens up in the middle of the road — Sheridan Blvd., for instance.

Infrastructure needs

Continue on for a half-mile, then turn left at the GIANT FREAKIN HOLE IN THE STREET.

(via TheDenverChannel.com)

As 9News reports, Colorado's aging infrastructure needs some love:

It is the hidden problem waiting to happen. Beneath the streets and highways, all across this country, pipes carrying water to residents are aging and getting a day closer to failing.

"The system was designed for about a 50 to 100 year lifetime and many of them were put in shortly after World War II," said Ross Corotis, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "They've reached really the end of their aging life span."

A ruptured 12-inch water main on Sheridan Boulevard between Fourth and Fifth Avenues is representative of the problem. The pipe was installed in 1952. The pipe ruptured and created a sink hole approximately 27 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep on Sheridan Boulevard. It forced the closure of northbound Sheridan between First and Fifth Avenues and southbound Sheridan between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.

Denver Water expects the repairs to be completed and the road reopened by midnight. The water main break left one building and 16 residential customers along Sheridan without water.

"You see this and you say this is a shame. But it is not unexpected. In a statistical sense it is going to happen," Corotis said. [Pols emphasis]

Events like this are a good opportunity for elected officials and community leaders to remind the public that you can't fix roads and bridges without money. Nobody wants to pay more taxes, but there is a difference between desire and understanding that some things we take for granted are pretty damn important.

“Overreach” is Overwrought. Give it a Rest.

There are 65 members of the Colorado House of Representatives, and 35 members of the Colorado State Senate. The Colorado legislature as a whole is a representative body, with each Senator representing about 143,691 constituents, and each House member standing for 77,372 Coloradans.

The Colorado Constitution outlines the makeup and duties of the state legislature, but it is a guarantee in the United States Constitution that every state shall have a republican form of government (with representatives elected by the people), rather than a direct democracy governed by the citizens.

Even Dawson doesn't cry this much.

Even Dawson didn’t cry as much as Colorado Republicans in 2013

Why the brief history lesson? As the legislature closes out its 2013 session, Republicans and some political pundits are busy accusing Colorado Democrats of "overreaching" for passing a lot of progressive pieces of legislation, yet they seem to forget that this "republican form of government" is guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Members of the Colorado legislature are elected by popular vote, the purpose of which is to see that the majority of Colorado citizens are not overruled by the minority. It is a logical extension of the process that the minority may not be happy with the results of an elected body chosen by the majority.

To put it bluntly, that's kind of the point. The system is working as designed.

But don't tell that to Colorado Republicans. Take this recent press release from the Colorado House Republicans titled: "ICYMI: Democrats continue to run up the score."

The posting from the House GOP quotes liberally from an April 28th story in the Denver Post, though they notably failed to quote the sillier parts of the story about a "marathon legislative session":

Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch raced to the microphone and, in a thundering voice, accused Democrats of "doing a touchdown dance at the expense of the minority." [Pols emphasis]

…Republicans have accused Democrats of "overreaching," waging war on rural Colorado and introducing bills to reward unions and trial lawyers while harming businesses.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, disagrees.

"Overreaching? No," he said. "I think we've been listening to the people of Colorado and they've told us, 'We put you in charge and we want you to get something done.' "

Hey McNulty, ask Carly Simon if this is about you.

Hey McNulty, ask Carly Simon if this is about you.

Pabon is absolutely right here, and we've made the same argument before in this space. But before we get to that, let's examine how Republicans are so upset at the Democrats for continually beating them in elections that they think the 2013 legislative session is actually about them. To quote Carly Simon (no, seriously):

You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you

You're so vain, I'll bet you think this song is about you

Don't you? Don't You? Don't You?

There are many, many reasons why Republicans have never come close to regaining control of the state legislature since their surprise ouster in 2004, and their reaction to being steamrolled in 2013 is just another number on the list. Democrats are pushing ahead with progressive issues because Republicans don't do anything but get in the way. They don't offer reasonable amendments or attempt to debate in good faith — they just try to gum up the works and play procedural games. Anyone who has heard Republican Rep. Bob Gardner's version of a filibuster can understand what we mean here; Gardner just talks comically slow for as long as he can, his only goal to try to bore people into submission. Yet Republicans are annoyed when Democrats try to move things along and actually, you know, do their job?

Republicans call this "overreaching," and take it as a personal affront. But it's not about them, and it never was. It's about Democrats understanding that Colorado voters want them to lead; voters gave McNulty and the GOP a narrow majority in the House in 2010, and they promptly yanked it back from them two years later when it became clear that Republicans still have no intention of actually legislating.

Voters are tired of Republicans who can't figure out if they should still hate gay people. They're sick of Republicans who compare abortion to the Holocaust while everyone else is worried about schools and the economy. They're fed up with Republicans who persist with their ridiculous "Personhood" policy ideas that keep…getting…rejected…again…and again. "Personhood" isn't even about the issue anymore — it's a symbol of Republicans refusing to listen to even the most loudly shouted opinions of voters.

The simple truth of the 2013 session is this: Democrats were given a significant mandate from voters in 2012, and they are putting it to use. Some would say it is long overdue, and perhaps they learned their lesson from Congressional Democrats who did next to nothing with their 2008 mandate and then lost the House of Representatives in 2010. In fact, a closer look at the election results from the past decade tells a story that makes you wonder why Democrats waited so long to push harder on their agenda in the first place…

(more…)

Damn You and Your Cheap Gasoline!

Source: AAA.com

Source: AAA.com

Republicans and their pals in the oil and gas industry have a bit of a problem: How do you blame President Obama for driving up energy prices in America when it's not actually happening?

From Politico:

The threat of $4-a-gallon gasoline is a fast-fading memory, forcing House Republicans to shift tactics as they continue to blame President Barack Obama’s policies for driving up Americans’ energy prices. Republicans' broad agenda is largely unchanged, anchored by the Keystone XL pipeline, expanded offshore drilling, a rollback of EPA regulations and other steps they say would offer relief for consumers. But unlike the past two years, the price at the pump isn’t cooperating this time.

Instead, spring gasoline prices are at their lowest point since 2010. And all signs point to the price continuing to drop to as low as $3.20 a gallon during the summer driving season — what used to be prime time for the GOP to pound its “drill, baby drill” theme on the House floor while Democrats fretted about the possible impact at the polls.

No President, Democrat or Republican, has the ability to alter gas prices one way or the other, and the industry (and perhaps even some Republicans) are well aware of this fact. Maybe it's time for some "Don't drill for awhile, baby," chants to begin.

At Least He’s Not Your Legislator

In another edition of "At Least He's Not Your Legislator," we visit Washington State for another Republican comment reminiscent of President Ronald Reagan's infamous statement that "trees cause more pollution than automobiles." From The Associated Press:

A Washington state lawmaker has apologized for saying that bicyclists contribute to climate change with their heavy breathing.

Republican Rep. Ed Orcutt, of Kalama, is the ranking minority member of the state's House Transportation Committee. He apologized Monday for writing in an email last week that "the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider."

Rep. Orcutt tried to explain that his comment was a poorly-worded attempt to say that bicyclists don't have a zero carbon footprint, which would seem to be an effort to associate breathing with industrialization on some ridiculous level. No, this was a poorly-worded attempt at trying to say something halfway intelligent in general, and it failed.

Journalists should ask specific questions in candidate questionnaires

(Ken Summers backed “Personhood?” Bet he wishes that had stayed in the memory hole – promoted by Colorado Pols)



Publishing the basic positions of candidates, on specific issues and ballot questions, falls into the basic public-service function that journalism shouldn’t let go of, despite the hard times.

But if The Denver Post–or Fox 31 or 9News or KOA or any news outlet–is going to publish candidate surveys (and someone should), please ask specific questions that allow voters to compare candidates in the most meaningful way.

Here’s an example of what a huge difference specificity can make.

In 2008, both the Rocky Mountain News and The Post published candidate questionnaires.

The Rocky’s, which was far superior, asked four broad questions about why the candidate was running for office and his or her priorities. This was followed by a series of very specific yes/no questions, including queries on the death penalty, Roe v. Wade, illegal immigration, and vouchers, as well as questions about whether the candidate supported each of the ballot questions facing voters in the 2008 election.

The Post, on the other hand, asked broad questions about transportation, education, health care, and natural resources, as well as a “wild-card” question.

Among the Rocky’s questions, two were focused on a women’s right to choose.

The first addressed Roe v. Wade.

Here’s how Ken Summers, who was running for HD 22, answered the question:

The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Do you agree with the decision?

Summers: No

In the candidate’s words: Even if abortion is held to be legal, to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest, it is difficult to view it as a constitutional right. I have always viewed constitutional rights as those that are commonly exercised and essential to a free society.

For comparison, in his response to the Rocky, here’s how Ali Hasan, who was running for HD 56 answered it.

Hasan: Yes

In the candidate’s words: It is important to note that I agree that the federal ban against 7- to 9-month abortion should always be upheld.

Another Rocky question addressed personhood, which would outlaw all abortion and common forms of birth control.

While Shawn Mitchell declined to answer, Summers responded as follows:

Do you support Amendment 48? It would ban abortion by defining personhood as beginning at fertilization.

Summers: Yes

In the candidate’s words: A new baseline for this issue is needed. Clarifications will be needed.

Ali Hasan stated flatly in his questionnaire that opposed Amendment 48.

The closest thing The Post’s 2008 questionnaire had to these fun and exciting questions (and answers) was a broad question on the role of state government in providing health insurance, which is important, to be sure, but fails to illuminate narrow, and easily comparable, views on health insurance issues generally, and, specifically, on the topic of a women’s right to choose. In fact, not Summers, Mitchell, nor Hasan voluntarily brought up abortion issues in their answers. The Post’s question, which has unfortunately been removed from its website, was:

Health Care: What role do you see for the state in providing or ensuring health insurance for every Coloradan? What policies do you propose to achieve your vision of health care coverage in Colorado?

So, obviously, The Post’s question is important, but the Rocky’s approach had to have been of more use to voters.

I’m hoping that this year the Rocky’s 2008 “Ballot Builder” will be a model for journalists.

John Hickenlooper’s Great Idea: TBD Citizen’s Summit

I spent Saturday at TBD — a very lame name for a pretty cool idea. Governor Hickenlooper wanted to bring together one thousand civic leaders from all over the state, educate them on the basics of the budget process in Colorado, and give them ample opportunities to talk to each other about how best to move forward, in a completely nonpartisan environment.

The name TBD means “To Be Determined”, which I am told, refers to the fact the completed program still does not have a permanent name. When I was initially invited to join the group, the name was daunting — despite a vague description on a website, I had no idea what I was in for.

TBD took place over two weekend half-days in various regional locations, and culminated in a day-long Summit in Denver. Two other cities in CO joined the Denver group by Skype. The main content of the workshops revolved around five key areas previously chosen by a “framing committee”: transportation, health care, state workforce, education and the state constitution. These key areas became the framework for discussion and debate.

Lt. Governor Joe Garcia attended the full day Summit with us, and Governor Hickenlooper attended the last portion of the Summit, giving closing remarks, and inviting all of us to stay  involved on state matters. I overheard the Governor say to someone at one point, “That’s a very interesting idea. Why don’t we go for a beer and talk about is some more?”

During the course, participants were given reading materials, an overview of how the budget process works, and how TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and the Colorado Constitution interact. Every step of the way, we were given questions to answer about our personal values, which were tabulated electronically in real time using college test-taking hand units. After each participant voted on a question, the results were displayed immediately on a large screen, sometimes prompting further discussion. During the Summit, we transferred those values into the State Budget using the Backseat Budgeter. As you would imagine, balancing Colorado’s budget is much harder than it looks, and almost every attempt resulted in a smack against the infamous “Wall of TABOR”.

I found the whole process to be fascinating. Logistically, the program clearly had some bugs — there were questions that didn’t make sense at first glance and needed to be clarified, and there were times when our small groups did not understand what was being asked of us. Sometimes the pace seemed very rushed; other times a little slow. Because this was the first year for TBD, I’m confident will be worked out for future year’s workshops. The high-tech classroom worked well for the most part, and clearly furthered Hickenlooper’s brand as the geeky but lovable Governor who thinks outside the box.

Because the room was filled with municipal and county leaders rather than elected officials, I found it refreshing to talk honestly to people without partisan politics getting in the way. The participants were from a wide range of geographical areas, political affiliations and demographical groups, and I learned a great deal about why people vote the way they do. I also gained a better understanding of the mechanics that make balancing the state budget so complex (and frustrating).

TBD was presented through a private organization and paid for through contributions to a 501C-3. No state dollars were used to pay for any of it. Summaries of the statewide discussions and votes can be found on the website: http://tbdcolorado.org/

I strongly encourage my fellow activists and blog readers to apply to the program the next time it rolls around. The time commitment is minimal, the educational opportunity is great, there are free meals, you meet interesting people from all over the state, and when the temperature is 103 degrees outside, the air conditioned classroom is a godsend. And maybe the best part of all … the opportunity to see the Governor’s face when the vast majority of the room expresses their serious reservations about fracking.

Hard To Argue With That

A joint press release from Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado (D) and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (R):

Senators Mark Udall and Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) today will introduce a bill that would prohibit the use of Presidential Election Campaign Funds (PECF) for party conventions in the elections occurring after December 31, 2012.  Additionally, it would allow funds dispersed before that time to be returned to the U.S. Treasury for the purpose of deficit reduction.

“Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to maintain the integrity and fairness of the presidential nomination process,” Udall said. “Over the past several decades, political party nominating conventions have become elaborate celebrations devoted to partisanship.  The American taxpayer should not be responsible for footing the bill for these partisan events.  I chose to cosponsor this bill because it is a common sense, bipartisan proposal that will save taxpayers millions of dollars at a time when we need to exhibit more fiscal discipline.”

…Despite our $15.6 trillion national debt, political parties received a $36.6 million check ($18.3 million per party) from taxpayers to pay for the costs of political conventions occurring this summer.  The funds that are used to cover these conventions come from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF).  According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “Federal law places relatively few restrictions on how PECF convention funds are spent, as long as purchases are lawful and are used to ‘defray expenses incurred with respect to a presidential nominating convention.’”  Besides funding the event itself, the money is used to pay for entertainment, catering, transportation, hotel costs, “production of candidate biographical films,” and a variety of other expenses.  These events will be weeklong parties paid for by taxpayers, much like the highly maligned GSA conference in Las Vegas.

It’s fine with us, Denver just had a convention and the one before that was 100 prior. It’s safe to bet that we won’t be getting another one anytime soon. It’s also pretty hard to argue with this as an example of a place to show some fiscal discipline–at some point, a convention that actually involved some drama would probably change that. For now, political conventions really are a taxpayer-subsidized party, even if private funds pay many of the bills.

This does not mean we’re ungrateful for 2008, however. Our local economy still thanks you all.

Fernando Sergio scores coup for KBNO and local Spanish language radio audience with Obama interview

by Michael Lund, Big Media Blog

When was the last time a sitting president greeted Denver on the airwaves of a Spanish language radio station?  

This was the first question that popped into my head when I saw KBNO Fernando Sergio’s Facebook post that he’d be interviewing President Obama Tuesday morning at 10 am.  

Obama spoke to Colorado Hispanics … in English.  And what did he say?

Campaigns, political consultants, wonks and analysts use a single word for a community that factors heavily in determining their fates in this upcoming presidential election.  Whether it’s “Hispanics”, or “Latinos”, one word is used to identify an extremely diverse community, represented by entire spectrums of social, geographical, professional, cultural, socioeconomic, and generational identities.  Hispanics, contrary to what our oversimplified nomenclature might suggest, are not monolithic as a cultural group.  So, as an interviewer, which questions do you ask?  And as a candidate, how do you connect?  

Obama chose the right venue – a locally respected and established radio station, chatting with a familiar and well-known host.  

Fernando Sergio’s interview followed the expected talking points, and Barack Obama responded articulately and personably, off-script and on.

Here’s a quick summary of the highlights:

The Economy  

Conservatives will not be disappointed with President Obama starting his response by blaming the previous administration for the mess he inherited, with some prompting by Mr. Sergio.  But Fernando pressed Obama for specific examples of policies which improved the economy in his first term.  Obama cited saving the auto industry, “doubling down on clean energy”, and creating and saving American jobs by passing the Recovery Act.  He gave statistics which demonstrated successes, while reminding the audience of the hard work remaining, and warning of the lingering effects of depressed housing markets, continuing foreclosures and the looming European economic crises.

Healthcare

The President boldly promoted the Affordable Healthcare Act as a needed relief to families, which often lack health insurance despite holding multiple jobs.  He highlighted the extended coverage for children (extended to 4 million more immigrant minors, and coverage up to age 26 on parents’ plans).  He also cited improvement for seniors, particularly in coverage for prescription medications, and prohibiting insurance companies from excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Jobs, Education, and Wall Street reform

Obama warned against returning to policies in the financial industry “where Wall Street Banks get to do whatever they please”.  On jobs, Obama noted the need to get construction jobs back on line, “rebuilding our homes, rebuilding our schools”.  He noted that in Colorado, we have “some great schools” in substandard buildings, because the growth of the population hasn’t been matched with new school construction.   He spoke about his goal for educational opportunity and affordable college for all children.

Immigration reform and drug trade

Fernando Sergio suggested that executive order by the President could resolve the current political stalemate on immigration policy.  Obama pointed to his administration’s increasing success in securing the borders and directives to ICE in targeting criminals for arrest and deportation instead of students and hard working families.  But he also pointed to the lack of cooperation from Republicans to formulate comprehensive, compassionate, and permanent solutions to U.S. immigration policy, and he criticized Mitt Romney for praising Arizona’s immigration laws as a model for the country.  In a lighter moment of the interview, the President commiserated with Fernando Sergio about their personal liabilities should profiling become a keystone of federal immigration reform.

Obama also called for maintaining cooperative efforts with neighboring countries to curtail organized illegal drug trade and violence while respecting their sovereignty, and curtailing the demand for drugs in the U.S. and the transportation of arms over our border.  

Support for Small Businesses

President Obama noted that small business growth among Hispanics is three times faster than in the general population, and he recognized the entrepreneurial spirit of the Hispanic community.  His policies would bolster financing and training programs for small business owners, increase opportunities for small businesses to bid on government contracts and focusing on minority owned businesses.  He said his tax policy has allowed for 17 tax cuts which were favorable to small businesses in his first term.  

Connection with the Hispanic Community

Obama distinguished himself from Romney as a candidate who cares about and believes in Latinos.  He cited his appointments of Hispanics to cabinet positions in the Labor and Interior Departments, as well has his appointment of a Latino women to the Supreme Court of the United States.  He summarized his stances, while reiterating his awareness of the issues which affect Hispanics most.

And of course, to make the connection with Colorado Hispanics all the more personal and real, President Obama predicted that barring injury, Peyton Manning would complement the Broncos’ lineup and bode well for a winning season.  

   

New Ad Turns Gas Prices Back On Tipton

From DC-based Public Campaign, on air today hitting freshman Rep. Scott Tipton:

A new television ad by campaign finance watchdog Public Campaign, called “Connect the Drops,” will begin airing in Colorado today to highlight Rep. Scott Tipton’s (R-Colo) votes to maintain wasteful oil subsidies at the same time he was taking campaign contributions from the oil industry donors.

“Gas prices are soaring and oil companies are raking in record profits, so why does Congress keep voting to give Big Oil handouts at taxpayer expense?” asked David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign. “One reason might be all the campaign cash oil industry donors are doling out to Scott Tipton and his colleagues.”

The U.S. House has voted repeatedly in the 112th Congress to maintain wasteful oil subsidies. Pending transportation legislation may include a vote to end or continue the subsidies in the coming weeks. Oil and gas interests have donated $7.8 million to federal elected officials already this election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Rep. Tipton received at least $103,000 from oil and gas industry donors in 2011, according to Public Campaign analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission and CRP.

Democrats should be relieved to see ads up early hitting back against the use of gas prices by Republicans as a political cudgel. As we discussed last month, and seems more prescient daily as the rote attacks over speculation-induced high gas prices take shape, legitimate market forces aren’t driving this election-year increase–and profits are soaring, not production costs.

Given Tipton’s lackluster fundraising elsewhere, we suppose he’s lucky they’re doing so well.

DeGette Leads “Women’s Health Wednesday” Smackdown

UPDATE: Senator Michael Bennet joins the fracas. Press release after the jump.

—–

Via the Colorado Independent:

DeGette’s remarks as delivered differed slightly from the prepared version sent out to members of the media and reprinted below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to announce the Inaugural Women’s Health Wednesday. Starting today, and continuing for every Wednesday, Members of this distinguished body will take to the floor to stand against the unceasing attacks on women’s health care levied by my colleagues across the aisle and the extreme right wing across the nation. [Pols emphasis]

Mr. Speaker, I would like to kick off this first Women’s Health Wednesday by reminding everyone this is 2012, not the Dark Ages. Let me say that again: This is 2012. Yet because of the actions of this Congress, and straight up to the positions of their candidates for president, we are actually debating birth control. Birth control. 99 percent of women have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of Catholic women, and 1.5 million women rely on it for non-contraceptive purposes to treat a variety of medical conditions.

The Institute of Medicine has determined, based upon science, that birth control is a fundamental part of women’s preventive care. Yet, here we are debating birth control.

Mr. Speaker, everywhere I go women stop me to express their disbelief and outrage that we are actually debating birth control. Birth control saves lives, helps prevent unintended pregnancies, improves the outcomes for children, and reduces abortion. Those are all good things for women; for their families; for our nation. So why on earth would my colleagues across the aisle and their party launch a massive effort to limit access to birth control? This is 2012. We all know better.

Rep. Diana DeGette’s being kind with that last, since apparently, some of them do not.

Press release from Sen. Bennet’s office:

Bennet Statement in Opposition to Blunt Amendment Restricting Access to Contraception

Bennet: Women Don’t Need to Be Told by the Government How to Make Their Own Health Care Decisions

Washington, DC – On the floor of the United States Senate, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today voiced his opposition to an amendment, introduced by Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, that would restrict access to contraception and other preventative health care for women. The Senate voted down this amendment 51-48.

“I have a wife and three daughters…, and one thing I know is they don’t need to be told by the government how to make their own health care decisions, nor do the 362,000 Colorado women who would be affected immediately if this amendment passed. This amendment is written so broadly that it would allow any employer to deny any health service to any American for virtually any reason, not just for religious objections.

“In my home state of Colorado, I have held hundreds of town hall meetings in red parts of the state and blue parts of the state…. They want to know why we aren’t spending our time working on how to create more jobs for them…, how to fix this nation’s debt and deficit or how we pass a bipartisan transportation bill that creates immediate jobs and fixes a crumbling infrastructure.

“[It's] another case where political games are risking our ability to provide more opportunity, not less, for the next generation of Americans. And instead over the last several weeks, we’ve continued to debate about women and whether they should have access to the health care services they need and whether they should be the ones that are able to make the decisions about the health care services they need. And we sit here and wonder why the United States Congress is stuck at an approval rating of 11 percent. Maybe it’s because we’re talking about contraception in the context of a transportation bill.”

U.S. House Passes Absolutely Ridiculous “Energy Legislation”

As the Colorado Independent’s Troy Hooper reports:

A bill designed to encourage oil shale development cruised through the House on Thursday evening. But a wind production tax credit didn’t fly, and now layoffs and abandoned projects loom…

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, bundled the energy bills into a broader transportation package, most of which still hasn’t made it out of the House. Despite a century of failed efforts to make oil shale profitable, along with a Congressional Budget Office report that projects oil shale leases will total less than $100,000 annually over the next decade, Boehner has said energy drilling will fund his $260 billion transit package. The Congressional Budget Office report, however, projected Boehner’s bill would, over 10 years, leave the highway trust fund $78 billion in the red.

“Oil shale will not fund a single road or bridge repair,” said Matt Garrington, the Colorado-based deputy director of the Checks and Balances Project. “I’m afraid the Speaker and Rep. Lamborn have sold Congress on a plan that will actually increase the national deficit. Oil shale is a failed resource which will generate zero revenues, and Americans will have to pay the price.”

…Indeed, it was a good week in Congress for fossil fuels and a bad one for renewable energy.

An extension of the wind production tax credit was initially folded into an earlier version of a plan to extend the nation’s payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance bill. But when a deal was reached Thursday, the wind production tax credit was left out. All of Colorado’s congressional delegation except Lamborn support the extension of the wind tax credit, which debuted in 1992.

We’re trying to figure out how the U.S. House of Representatives could have possibly delivered a more confused or out-of-touch message on energy policy than the items they passed, and didn’t pass, in the last week. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s bill to “boost” oil shale production, ostensibly to fund transportation projects as part of a larger package from Speaker John Boehner, was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to have basically no value over the next ten years. Along with Rep. Scott Tipton, who has pushed “snake oil” shale development with similar grandiose forecasts and blanket condemnation of the Obama administration and who backed Lamborn’s bill, this was a substitute for effective action on energy–a political exercise that only works if the target audience doesn’t understand the facts.

Meanwhile, the wind energy production tax credit that didn’t make it into the final payroll tax-cut compromise–supported by every Colorado member of Congress except Doug Lamborn–has to wait, and an industry responsible for thousands of Colorado jobs waits in the lurch with it.

Seriously, folks, could they have done any worse for Colorado’s actual energy economy?

#oilshalefail – Another boondoggle by Lamborn

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)



Speaker of the House John Boehner is bringing his controversial highway bill (H.R. 7) to the floor this week. The Speaker has included Rep. Doug Lamborn’s oil shale boondoggle (H.R. 3408) as one of his funding sources.

Since oil shale doesn’t actually generate any money, we thought pointing out the truth behind Boehner’s and Lamborn’s bills was worth a new Checks and Balances Project video.



It’s bad enough that Lamborn’s bill actually creates a new subsidy for oil companies by setting “bargain basement” royalty rates for oil shale. And that it would hand over two million acres of public land to oil companies for the sake of oil shale speculation and mandate commercial leasing on 125,00 acres of public lands even though there is no commercial oil shale industry.

But now the Speaker is saying that we will pay for millions of dollars’ worth of repairs to highways and bridges with revenue from oil shale.

The problem with that plan is that oil shale creates zero revenue. And for that matter, zero energy and zero jobs.

In 100 years, oil shale has never been commercially developed in the United States despite billions in taxpayer-funded research and development handouts to industry.

In fact, Shell Oil, which is recognized as a leader in oil shale research, says the earliest that commercial oil shale technology could be available is next decade, and possibly later.

“A commercial decision would be in the middle of the next decade and possibly later depending on the sequence and outcome of research activities.” – Shell Oil website

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported “the legislation would not affect revenues” and projected zero revenue between 2012 and 2022.

Even Lamborn admitted to Allison Sherry at the Denver Post that oil shale “is not a real contributor to the highway transportation needs we have.”

So in addition to our video, I sent a letter to Speaker Boehner and Rep. Lamborn. In the letter I asked a very simple question:

“We respectfully request an explanation to the American taxpayer of this disconnect between fact and rhetoric.”

I’m hoping to hear back from the Speaker or Rep. Lamborn soon, but I’m not holding my breath.

The facts are clear. If America tries to fund highway repairs with oil shale revenues, we’re just looking at an increase in deficit spending. We need to spread the word, so people are educated. Watch our video. Share it with your friends.

And whenever you’re tweeting or facebooking, use the hashtag #oilshalefail. If we work together and make enough noise, maybe we can drown out the spin and rhetoric politicians are putting out there on oil shale.  

2012: The War On Women’s Bodies, and How To Respond Legislatively

Pro-zygote, anti-woman bills are being presented all across the nation, in an effort to awaken the evangelical Republican base before the election of 2012. Most of these bills have been written by, or championed via Personhood USA.

In Oklahoma, our not-so-distant neighbor, Senate Bill 1433 states a fetus “at every stage of development (has) all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state.” If Senate Bill 1433 becomes a law, all forms of abortion and various forms of contraception could potentially be considered murder, and therefore illegal.

Democratic State Senator Constance Johnson, attempting to make a point, attached

an amendment to the Oklahoma bill that would ban the spilling of semen in any location other than a woman’s vagina. Unfortunately, Senator Johnson then withdrew her amendment, which would have made masturbation illegal.

A like-minded State Senator, Democrat Jim Wilson, also added an amendment to the same bill, requiring the biological father of the child to be financially responsible for the mother’s welfare during the entire pregnancy (put your money where your mouth is, conservatives!), including housing, utilities, food, transportation, and all medical care expenses. As you may have guessed, this amendment also failed.

A similar bill to Oklahoma SB 1433 was defeated at the polls in Mississippi in November, 2011. Clearly, the point still needs to be made, and not just in Oklahoma.

In CO, their strategy is a little different. Personhood USA is once again attempting to amend the Colorado constitution through a statewide initiative, similar to the earlier Amendment 62. Amendment 62, in a nutshell, said a fertilized egg is legally a separate and distinct human being, and aborting one is murder. We know from previous elections in Colorado, this initiative will probably not pass. Voters have resoundingly defeated similar bills twice.

Still, Coloradans are concerned about what is happening all over the country, and it is merely a matter of time before our state legislature will be handed an anti-choice bill here. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, which released a 2012 study of pending legislation all over the United States:

The report shows that states enacted more than twice as many anti-choice measures in 2011 as the previous year, and the legislative landscape could open the door to even more attacks in 2012.

“The findings in this report should spur every American who values freedom and privacy into action,” Keenan said. “Last year, we predicted that our opponents would ignore the public’s call to focus on the nation’s immediate challenges, such as the economy. Sadly for women, our predictions came true at near-record levels. Lawmakers waged a War on Women, and as a result, women in many states will see more political interference in their personal, private medical decisions. In some cases, women could lose access to reproductive-health services they currently have.”

Keenan said 26 states enacted 69 anti-choice measures in 2011, the second-highest number since the organization started tracking such data in 1995. The record is 70, set in 1999. Since 1995, states have enacted 713 anti-choice measures.

Keenan said two pro-choice governors, Mark Dayton of Minnesota (D) and Brian Schweitzer of Montana (D), vetoed anti-choice bills and kept 2011 from breaking the record for state-level attacks. NARAL Pro-Choice America dedicated the publication to these gubernatorial champions.

The outcome was quite different in other states. For instance, while former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas (D) vetoed eight anti-choice bills over the course of her tenure, her successor, Gov. Sam Brownback (R), signed five anti-choice bills into law in his first year in office. Kansas tied with Arizona and Florida for enacting the most anti-choice measures this year.

Colorado needs to stand together to defeat the latest incarnation of Amendment 62, and be ready when the next pro-zygote bill is presented at the state legislature, as well. As a concerned citizen, I respectfully offer the following tips to our state legislators, when faced with a piece of anti-choice legislation.

Attach any of these as amendments: 1) The mother is allowed to claim the zygote as a dependent on her taxes, 2) Give the zygote a vote beginning with the next election, as interpreted by the mother (pray for twins ladies — you’ll get three votes), 3) Give the zygote the right to collect Social Security, food stamps, and other “entitlement” resources, 4) Give the zygote residential status beginning at conception, 5) Attach an amendment saying fathers owe child support beginning at conception.

The persistence of the evangelical right to strip women of their personal, private decisions regarding the health of their own bodies is not funny. Personhood USA, and its supporters, are incredibly persistent. As progressives, we need to also be persistent in protecting the rights of women everywhere. Sometimes, it takes a little humor, or a little shock-value, to wake some people up to the serious ramifications of ill-thought out legislation. In this regard, Colorado is at least as clever as her neighbors, is she not?