Wayne and Holly Williams Love Them Some Gov’mint Money

Holly Williams and Wayne Williams

Holly and Wayne Williams

As the Colorado Springs Independent reported yesterday, Holly Williams (wife of Secretary of State-elect Wayne Williams) is seeking appointment to the Colorado Springs City Council — a vacancy that the Council is expected to fill at a meeting on Monday evening:

Ten people are vying for an appointment to fill the unexpired City Council term of Joel Miller, who resigned to run for mayor in late November. The appointee will serve for 3 1/2 months, until voters elect someone at the April 7 city election.

Here's how the Indpendent describes Holly Williams:

Holly Williams, legal assistant, Law Offices of Wayne Williams, who recently was elected as Colorado Secretary of State. Holly is his wife and used to be public trustee in El Paso County, appointed by former Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican.

Why should you care about any of this? Because it may directly affect the work (and ethical duties) of new Secretary of State Wayne Williams, the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder who has already said he plans to "moonlight" with his private legal practice once he is sworn-in to the SOS office in January. Wayne is moving up to state office after spending years as an elected official in Colorado Springs (including a stint as an El Paso County Commissioner).

Wayne's wife, Holly Williams, also has a history of mixing government work with her husband's law firm. As the Colorado Springs Independent reported in October 2003, Holly was not shy about directing work toward the Law Offices of Wayne Williams while serving as the El Paso County Trustee (a job that got Holly in a mess of trouble on her own). You really should take a moment to read the entire story from the Independent, but here's how it all ties back together:

In a news story on page 17 this week, reporter Terje Langeland chronicles a recent audit of the El Paso County public trustee's office, headed by Holly Williams. The audit is not good; among other things it indicates that under Williams' watch, the office has been an open invitation for embezzlement and theft of funds. [Pols emphasis]

Williams insists that steps have been taken to correct the problems, but when you consider all of the players in the drama, the problems run far deeper than an office audit.

As the public trustee, Williams oversees a 16-person office that processes nearly $2 million in fees related to foreclosures and property purchased in El Paso County. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens appointed Williams, a Republican operative, close supporter and former piano teacher who has no formal accounting training, to the $48,500 job in 1999.

Williams is married to attorney Wayne Williams, a past chairman of the local Republican Party who, like his wife, co-chaired the Owens for governor re-election efforts last year.

Last November [2002] Williams was elected to the five-member Board of County Commissioners. The year before that, his wife hired him to do about $1,000 worth of legal work for the trustee's office. [Pols emphasis]

To recap, incoming SOS Wayne Williams has publicly stated his intention to "moonlight" at his law office even though voters elected him to a full-time job. But how is Wayne going to find the time to court new clients? He may not have to look far if Holly wins appointment to the Colorado Springs City Council; she's shown in the past that she has no problem re-directing public money to the law offices of her husband.

Perhaps this is how the Williams' family plans to implement the old GOP policy of creating smaller government with less regulations — you just privatize things and give the work back to yourself!

ALEC: Keeping Kevin Lundberg Relevant (Among Other Things)


David Weigel writes at Bloomberg Politics about an organization we've talked about quite a bit in this space, possessing a great deal of underreported influence in the Colorado General Assembly–the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which just concluded its annual meetings in Washington:

"I'm fairly satisfied with the oil and gas industry's treatment," said Colorado State Senator Kevin Lundberg. "When they're doing it for themselves, they do a good job."

It's December 5, and Lundberg is standing in the emptying ballroom of the Hyatt near Capitol Hill. The American Legislative Exchange Council's 2014 Washington summit, a post-election tradition, has just ended after a speech by former Secretary of Interior Gale Norton, who now runs an eponymous firm that helps businesses overcome "regulatory challenges." Lundberg, whose Republicans took back the state Senate in November's races, is telling me the story of how a drilling company once goofed on his family's  property — they put up two wells after fumbling the first one — then fixed it themselves. That contrasted with the ways national and local Democrats had tangled up businesses.

"One of the first things [former governor Bill] Ritter did was expand the oil and gas commission from nine to 13 members — oh, and by the way, he got to appoint the extra four — and regulation got tighter and tighter," recalled Lundberg.

The Coloradan, unsurprisingly, was very representative of ALEC membership's mood. The 2014 elections were very good to Republican state legislators, and to the party's state attorney general candidates…

The article goes on to discuss a host of new ALEC policy initiatives to "fight back" against regulation of the energy industry. As we've discussed before, ALEC has a highly influential role in policymaking in the Colorado legislature, a role set only to grow as longtime ALEC member and incoming Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman prepares to take over one chamber of the General Assembly next month. ALEC's friendlier climate in Colorado next year, as with so many states where Republicans made significant gains in this year's elections, comes despite the fact that the organization is hemorrhaging corporate sponsors after years of scandal. ALEC's role in controversial gun legislation caused a major exodus of corporate partners in 2012, and more recently the organization's stance against climate change has alienated major tech company members like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google.

Indeed, it seems the only place ALEC still wields much influence today is in Republican-controlled state legislatures across the nation. We can't speak for its role in other states, but in this state, ALEC has also been a haven for…there's no nice way to say this, some of the less effective members of the Colorado legislature–like Sen. Kevin "Crazypants" Lundberg, or former ALEC state co-chair Rep. Libby Szabo. Honestly, we've never been able to understand why ALEC doesn't get the kind of media attention in Colorado that it does in other states, especially as the organization's influence has become nationally scandalous.

But each new session is a fresh opportunity.

Thursday Open Thread

"The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides."

–Henri Frederic Amiel


Colorado Politicos React To Torture Report

UPDATE: National Journal reports on a fiery speech from Sen. Mark Udall today, again demanding the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan:

In a career-defining speech, Sen. Mark Udall took to the Senate floor Wednesday to discuss a largely classified internal CIA investigation into the agency's Bush-era "enhanced interrogation techniques," and call for the current CIA director's resignation.

Udall, an outbound Democrat from Colorado, began highlighting key conclusions from the CIA's so-called Panetta Review, written in 2011 and named after then-agency Director Leon Panetta. Its critical findings, in addition to the agency's attempts to prevent the Senate from seeing it, Udall said, demonstrates that the CIA is still lying about the scope of enhanced interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration.

That deceit is continuing today under current CIA Director John Brennan, Udall said.

"The refusal to provide the full Panetta Review and the refusal to acknowledge facts detailed in both the committee study and the Panetta Review lead to one disturbing finding: Director Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture."

Obama, Udall said, "has expressed full confidence in Director Brennan and demonstrated that trust by making no effort at all to rein him in." Udall additionally referred to Brennan's "failed leadership" and suggested that he should resign.

The Denver Post's Mark Matthews:

He also blasted President Barack Obama on Wednesday for breaking his word to shine light on what Udall has dubbed a "dark chapter of our history."

"The White House has not led on this issue in the manner we expected," the Democratic lawmaker said. "This administration, like so many before it, has released information only when forced to."


Waterboarding torture.

Waterboarding torture.

Responses from more Colorado members of Congress to the release yesterday by the Senate Intelligence Committee of a damning report summarizing abuses committed by the Central Intelligence Agency in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and asserting for the record that the torturing of captured enemy combatants did not produce useful intelligence. The Colorado Independent has a statement from Rep. Jared Polis:

“The release of the Senate CIA torture report today reveals a dark and shameful chapter in American history,” Polis said in a release. “Under the guise of patriotism, the CIA conducted wholly un-American behavior that failed to secure our nation, but did much damage to our credibility and standing at home and abroad. The activities described in the report demonstrated a flagrant and frightening disregard for domestic and international law, offering a glimpse into the mindset of an agency that clearly believes it can play by a different set of rules.

“This report is a good first step towards bringing much needed accountability to our intelligence community, but it alone is not enough to change the culture that led to these lasting and continuous violations of international law and American values. I am calling for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to double down on their oversight of the intelligence community to ensure that these types of activities never happen again and that those who work at the CIA and other intelligence agencies don’t trample on the very constitution they seek to protect.”

But Republican Rep. Scott Tipton, via the Durango Herald, doesn't have anything positive to say:

“Congressman Tipton is in the process of reviewing the Senate report, but shares the concerns of House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers that its release could put Americans’ lives at risk around the world,” said Josh Green, a spokesman for Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. “He supports transparency and also believes that prudence should be exercised in terms of what sensitive national security information is released so that it doesn’t jeopardize American lives or incite violence.”

Meanwhile from Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs, a full-throated endorsement of torture. We're sorry if you naively expected any better from him:

"The partisan conclusions reached in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA enhanced interrogation techniques is designed to humiliate our nation and the intelligence community.  It also has the potential to endanger the lives of Americans.  I believe in transparent government, but I also believe in a government that is able to use all the tools at its legal disposal to protect American citizens.  There should be no doubt that harsh interrogation techniques produced actionable intelligence from a handful of terrorists that could not have been obtained any other way." [Pols emphasis]

We haven't seen any statement yet from GOP Reps. Mike Coffman or Cory Gardner about the release of the torture report. Gardner's view is of particular interest, since he just unseated one of the U.S. Senate's leading critics of intelligence excesses post-9/11, Sen. Mark Udall. It's hard to imagine Gardner being anything like the force on civil liberties and human rights in wartime that Udall has been his entire career in Congress, but some kind of statement from Sen.-elect Gardner would give us an idea of just what has been lost on these issues with Udall's defeat.

Our guess is, more than the Denver Post's editorial board will want to admit.

Air…Water…Health…and Accommodation.

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

Photo courtesy Rep. Jared Polis

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Resurrected Rocky Mountain News?

The Denver Business Journal tantalizes Colorado news consumers nostalgic for our two-paper past:

Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz is exploring the possibility of reviving the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver daily newspaper that shut down in 2009 after nearly 150 years of publication, the Denver Business Journal has learned.

Anschutz has prepared a prototype newspaper and is conducting market research to assess the feasibility of publishing the newspaper once again, almost six years after E.W. Scripps Corp. closed the venerable tabloid.

Ryan McKibben, president and CEO of Anschutz' Clarity Media Group, said the prototype is being put out on the Internet with an invitation to potential readers to comment.

Check out the "prototype" at RockyMountainNews.com.

Conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz puts a scare into liberals as the potential owner of a major Denver newspaper, and other media properties owned by Anschutz like the Washington Examiner and the Weekly Standard make that trepidation at least partly justifiable. On the other hand, Anschutz's purchase of the Colorado Springs Gazette has not resulted in a slant in that paper's newsroom–the editorial board was always conservative like the readership, but the news reporting has been down the middle and of good quality.

Bottom line: it would be wrong to complain about the decline in political news reporting in Colorado since the demise of the Rocky Mountain News and not welcome the outlet's return, regardless of who owns it. Any way you slice it, there are more good political stories in Colorado today than there are good reporters to tell them. So we welcome any expansion of the pool.

Republican Recount Agitation Fizzles

Marilyn Marks.

Marilyn Marks.

The Pueblo Chieftain reports today on a swift abort to talk of a paid recount of two (not really) close races there:

The local GOP had by the end of the day on Monday to deposit $17,000 into an escrow account to pay for the recount, a figure quoted to the GOP by County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz and disputed by the party.

Becky Mizel, chairwoman of the local GOP, said her members came close to raising the money and lamented that part of Ortiz’s quote included an outside consultant to be on hand to answer any questions about the tabulating machinery when the GOP asked for that during the actual election.

“Ethically, I can’t justify spending the hard-earned money of my membership on this,” Mizel said. [Pols emphasis]

This comes after a lengthy period of nit-picking by Pueblo Republicans and eccentric former Aspen mayoral candidate Marilyn Marks, who insisted without evidence–even as they appear to have not hurt Republicans a bit–that mail ballots were wreaking havoc with Colorado elections.

Likewise, the Denver Post's John Aguilar reported this morning about a push to recount Adams County races we first broke word of last Friday:

Gary Mikes, chairman of the Adams County Republican Party, said Monday he suspects that invalid ballots were turned in by voters during the Nov. 4 election in the race for House District 31, in which Democrat Joseph Salazar ended up with a 221-vote lead over Republican challenger Carol Beckler. The same goes for the Adams County commissioner race, in which Steve O'Dorisio, a Democrat, bested GOP candidate Joseph Domenico by 597 votes, Mikes said.

In an email to Adams County elections officials earlier today, Adams County GOP chairman Gary Mikes withdrew that request with an apology "for any inconvenience." As for Pueblo, the margins in the two races in question, one House race and the county clerk race, were significantly larger than the extremely narrow races in Adams County–which themselves still fell outside the allowable range for a recount paid for with state funds.

What we've heard, as with Pueblo, is that the "concerns" in Adams County boiled down to baseless James O'Keefe speculation about vote fraud, none of which has been substantiated anywhere, and as we've discussed at length would have been impossible to pull off due to the safeguards clearly outlined in last year's election modernization law. Overall Republicans did very well in this year's elections, to include surprisingly strong performance in traditionally Democratic Adams County. If anything, we can imagine why Republicans wouldn't want to start looking under rocks up there, lest they endanger some of their own close wins.

Bottom line: the real problem may be that reality in our elections this year completely failed to live up to conspiracy theorists' hype, and they've just been a little slow to catch on to this fact. But when it comes time to put your money where there mouth is, reality has a way of snapping back into focus.

Republican Infighting Still Going Strong Despite Election Results

Ryan Call

Is a third term the right Call for Republicans? (see what we did there?)

Republicans enjoyed another mid-term "wave" Election Year in 2014 (following the 2010 Tea Party wave) that saw them grab control of the U.S. Senate as well as many more important top-ticket statewide seats around the country. Yet as 2014 comes to a close, Election Day victories have not translated into GOP harmony.

As GOP activists turn their attention back to internal political struggles, discontent among the various wings of the Party continues to brew. Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call is expected to face a challenge to his re-election bid in 2015 despite Republican success at the ballot box (more on that in a moment), a trend that is not unique to Colorado. Check out this story last week from Arizona Capitol Times:

Arizona GOP Chairman Robert Graham is facing an insurgent challenge from the right despite his party’s sweep of statewide races and successful defense of Republican majorities at the Capitol.

Lori Urban, a longtime party activist and president of the Paradise Republican Women’s Club, is taking on Graham in the party’s election for chairman in January. Urban and other activists are panning Graham for failing to expand the GOP’s legislative majorities in a year when Republicans, riding high on a wave of anti-Obama sentiment, won seat after seat in local and federal elections across the country. They also accused him of failing to listen to the party faithful, whom they said are clamoring for closed primaries.

In response, Graham has lined up endorsements from party loyalists and conservative icons, including Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and S1070 author Russell Pearce. [Pols emphasis]

This is politics at its most absurd, to be sure. Arizona's Republican Party Chairman presided over sweeping victories in 2014, yet his job is so unsafe that he has had to recruit the wackiest members of the far right to stand behind him in a show of support…and it still might not be enough to save his job.

Salaries for state party officials

Here in Colorado, we've already seen competing factions emerging from both the Tea Party and supporters of Dudley Brown's unruly Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO). The schism between Republicans and RMGO rose to new levels in Jefferson County, with the two sides in open conflict leading up to the June Primary Election, but that's far from the only problem facing Call's re-election.

Republican activists remain irritated at the hefty salary awarded to their Party Chairman, a practice that began in 2007 when Dick Wadhams was elected Chair and pushed through changes to the Party bylaws that turned a largely-volunteer position into a full-time job. The State Republican Party was a mess when Wadhams took over, which made it much easier for Wadhams to advocate for a "temporary" change that would allow him to earn more money in a sort-of dual role as Chairman and Executive Director. But the "temporary" change initiated by Wadhams wasn't altered when Call succeeded Wadhams as Chair in 2011; in fact, the Republican Party (via the Colorado Republican Committee) now pays monthly salaries for Call as Chairman and Shana Kohn as Executive Director. Democrats also now employ a full-time Chairman and Executive Director, though the salaries are considerably higher for the GOP (see chart at right).

There is no real standard model for paying a State Party Chairman, a practice that varies widely from state to state, but many Republican activists in Colorado want to go back to a non-paid Chair in favor of spending more money on staff positions and down-ballot "coordination" efforts. Even if GOP activists can't eliminate the idea of a paid Chairman altogether, Call may be challenged to explain how he justifies a $8,274 monthly salary (not including benefits) while also working as an attorney at Hale Westfall, LLP. Call will also likely come under fire for his decision to spend millions on a new "independent expenditure committee website" that was unveiled in August with front-page images of natural landscapes in Utah; the project was dubbed Call's "brain child," and he will defend it by pointing to the Republicans taking a one-seat majority in the state senate (though RMGO will lay claim to many of those victories).

As he seeks a third term, Call has the support of many Republican officials, including the cherubic new Senator-elect, Cory Gardner. But as both Republicans and Democrats have seen in the past, the vocal minority of the Party base doesn't really care about those endorsements. Call can also rightly point to success at the ballot box as reason enough to grant him re-election, though that may end up meaning as little to the Party faithful in Colorado as it apparently does in Arizona. Do elections matter to the base when it comes time to select their Party leaders? We'll find out soon enough.


Tensions High As CIA Torture Report Nears Release

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO).

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO).

UPDATE #3: Republicans angrily pushing back against the Intelligence Committee's report, MSNBC:

GOP members of the committee who withdrew their support for its investigation released their own 167-page “minority views” response to the Democratic report, arguing that the detention and interrogation program “saved lives and played a vital role in weakening al Qa-ida.”

The dissenting committee members – Sens. Saxby Chambliss, Richard Burr, Jim Risch, Daniel Coats, Marco Rubio and Tom Coburn – are just some of the many Republican lawmakers up in arms over the comprehensive review of controversial CIA interrogation techniques, which they warned would lead to violent reprisals that would endanger American personnel and jeopardize intelligence interests.

“I cannot think of a greater disservice to our men and women serving in the military and in our intelligence field than to hand terror groups like ISIL another recruiting tool and excuse to target them,” Republican Sen. John Cornyn said in statement issued Tuesday. “Due to the political calculations of some, the American people and our allies across the globe are less safe today than they were before.”

The CIA and it supporters also went on the offensive Tuesday, with the publication of a pro-interrogation op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by former CIA Directors George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss and Michael V. Hayden, as well as the creation of a website, “CIA Saved Lives,” by former agency officials.


UPDATE #2: Here's the report.


UPDATE: Sen. Mark Udall via Twitter responds to today's report:

Udall's full statement:

Mark Udall, who led efforts to hold the White House, CIA and intelligence agencies accountable to the American people, welcomed the declassification today of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's exhaustive study of the CIA's brutal, ineffective and misguided detention and interrogation program.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released the executive summary of the report today following months of negotiations with the White House and CIA — a process Udall fought to keep moving forward. Udall also had threatened to take any step necessary to get the truth out if negotiators for the committee and executive branch could not reach an accord that kept faith with the important transparency the report represents.

"The release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's study of the CIA's detention and interrogation program is an historic victory for our nation, the Constitution, and our system of checks and balances. This study ensures that the truth about the CIA’s brutal torture program finally comes out and that the agency can learn from its repeated missteps and start to restore its integrity," Udall said. "My goal from day one has been holding the CIA accountable, shedding light on this dark chapter of our history, and ensuring neither the CIA nor any future administration would make these grievous mistakes ever again. The report released today achieves those goals and affirms that we are a nation that does not hide from its past, but learns from it.

"We can protect our national security without compromising who we are as Americans. This landmark study — and the millions of pages of agency documents and testimony it is based upon — shows that torture is not effective and does not make us safer."

Udall has been the leading proponent of swiftly declassifying the Senate Intelligence Committee's exhaustive study on the CIA's detention and interrogation program. Following the Senate Intelligence Committee's vote this spring to declassify the study, Udall called on the White House to speed declassification of the study and prevent the CIA from interfering with its public release.

Udall also has aggressively pushed back on intelligence officials and anonymous leaks that have sought to discredit the Senate Intelligence Committee's study and prevent the truth about the CIA's brutal torture program from coming out.



Gessler Blames County Clerks for Election Day Problems

Scott Gessler.

Secretary of State Scott Gessler: Blaming everyone else since 2011!

You may recall from Election Day that there were several complaints of problems with the Secretary of State's computer system as county clerks tried to update ballot results. As Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Sentinel reports, Secretary of State Scott Gessler blames the county clerks for problems with his own office:

Colorado’s county clerks and the Colorado Office of Information Technology aren’t agreeing with Secretary of State Scott Gessler about what happened on Election Day.

Gessler told state lawmakers last week that it wasn’t his office’s fault that the county clerks’ offices had problems accessing the Colorado Statewide Registration and Election system.

Instead, the Republican blamed the Office of Information Technology and the clerks’ election workers, saying there was nothing wrong with his system, known as SCORE.

“In anticipation of an afternoon flood (of usage), we brought the system down at 2 o’clock (on Election Day) and brought it up at 2:05 and 30 seconds, so it was down for about five and a half minutes,” Gessler told the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday. “We thought the system worked very well.”

But the Colorado County Clerks Association and the Office of Information Technology, or OIT, said that’s not entirely what happened.

Mesa County Clerk Sheila Reiner, who is the 2014 president of the association, said the system went down early in the day Nov. 4 because of an initial problem at OIT, but continued to have problems until the polls closed at 7 p.m.

It's hard to say that this is just a simple "he said/she said" argument. Gessler appears unwilling to acknowledge that the SOS computer system had any problems, instead blaming county clerks for clogging up the system. How dare those county clerks actually try to use election software on Election Day.

Gessler's argument is pretty thin in general; there are numerous accounts of computer problems happening across the state throughout the day. We'd guess the Office of Information Technology knows a little more about this than Gessler himself.

At Least She’s Not Your Gubernatorial Candidate (Anymore)

On the subject of the protests raging across America over police brutality against African Americans, Roni Bell Sylvester, who Colorado political trivia aficionados will remember was a minor candidate in last year's Republican gubernatorial primary, has a very simple suggestion:


What a great idea–why can't we just keep these uppity urban protesters busy in the fields?

Why hasn't anybody suggested this? We'd swear we've heard this before. Wait, never mind, history class!

Oh, wait a minute…