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What could we at The Colorado Independent possibly do to capture both the absolute absurdity and the critical importance of tonight’s opening-round debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton?

Live-blog it, of course. But not with just any bloggers. We’re bringing in the big guns, in the form of a pair of political deep thinkers who disagree on nearly everything except this: No issue, and certainly no politician, is too important not to be skewered.

We have on board, of course, our own political columnist, Mike Littwin, who has been skewering politicians for a living for approximately forever. And to line up against him, we brought in a ringer, Colorado’s own Jon Caldara, a well-known political prankster, who, remarkably, is also the head of an important think tank.

Littwin, from the left, and Caldara, from the right, have been friendly foils, in print, on radio, on TV, in cyberspace, for years and years and once again relish the opportunity to one-up the other for our readers’ amusement and, with any luck, edification.

No one doubts the importance of this debate, which may be the most-watched since Kennedy/Nixon. And while there were some doubts about how important it would be in Colorado, which briefly seemed to have strayed from the orbit of critical swing states, you can rest easy. We’re back. Nate Silver rates Colorado as the sixth most likely tipping-point state. The national polls are tight. On average, Clinton leads — narrowly.

So with the future of the Republic hanging in the balance, tune in to tonight’s debate broadcast on the station of your choice, but as you watch Trump vs. Clinton, keep an eye on the live blogging matchup of Littwin vs. Caldera right here. We guarantee at least as many insights, and almost certainly more intentional laughs.

See you at 6:45.

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Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall largely disappeared from political life in Colorado after his defeat by Cory Gardner in 2014. Word is that he’s spent a lot of time hiking, completing the Colorado Trail and rafting the Grand Canyon.

But Udall is back in the fold, scheduled to speak as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 10 a.m. at the Westin Denver Downtown.

“This will be Senator Udall’s first major speech on behalf of the Clinton campaign and we hope you will be able to join us to hear Secretary Clinton’s plans for outdoor recreation and our public lands,” according to Andrew Pappas, a lobbyist for the Outdoor Industry Association.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a name in the mix for a cabinet position should Clinton be elected, will also be there. Hickenlooper is scheduled to close out the event with a riff on what Colorado is doing to “support and grow the outdoor recreation economy,” according to a statement.

 

Photo by DonkeyHotey for Creative Commons on Flickr.

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The public will never know how Smoky Hill High School ninth-graders scored last spring on English tests that challenged them to do things like interpret ancient Greek poetry.

Nor will it know how many fifth-graders at Monterey Community School in Commerce City grasp concepts like identifying a story’s main idea. Or whether sixth-graders at Ortega Middle School in Alamosa can puzzle out the complexities of algebraic equations.

Those results from last spring’s PARCC tests were among roughly 4,000 data points shielded from public view — the result of a new, more restrictive state policy designed to protect individual students from being identified. More than 1 in 4 data points from the math and English tests are not available for public inspection because of the year-old policy.

The move to redact more data from the state’s publicly available standardized test results is a dramatic shift for a state known for rich and easily accessible educational statistics. Inspired in part by the State Board of Education’s zeal for student privacy, the change has sparked a new debate pitting data transparency advocates against student privacy supporters.

“It’s really problematic that we don’t know how thousands of kids at large high schools are doing,” said Lisa Berdie, policy director for A Plus Colorado, a school reform advocacy group. “(These results aren’t) just for punitive accountability decisions. It’s so communities and students and families have a sense of how their schools are serving them and whether they meet grade-level requirements.”

Officials at the Colorado Department of Education stress that districts and schools are receiving complete data sets, and that parents will be provided with comprehensive reports explaining how their students and schools are performing.

The new rules, state officials acknowledge, are among the most stringent in the nation.

Department of Education officials and State Board of Education members say that the state remains committed to using data for accountability, and that the rules are designed to make it impossible for a member of the public to pinpoint how a particular student performed on state tests.

“The intent and the purpose of the rules are important to protect individual privacy and prevent the identification of individual students through the manipulation of the data,” said Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, the state board’s chairman. “And as far as I’m concerned, it’s more important to protect those individual students than give the press something to write about.”

What do the new rules do?

Before 2015, when the new rules took effect, Colorado’s data rules were pretty simple. If fewer than 16 students at a school took any test — say, fourth-grade English — the state would not release the results.

The new rules say that if fewer than four students score at any one of the exam’s five proficiency levels, the state must redact results from that level and results from at least one other level. (If just the one were blacked out, doing simple math would allow someone to easily fill in the blanks).

Consider this example: Twenty fourth-graders at a school take a test and four place at Level 1, two place at Level 2, five place at Level 3, four place at Level 4 and five place at Level 5. The state would redact the results for Level 2 and one other level and report the rest.

In the last round of achievement results this month, the state didn’t release school-level results by individual proficiency level at all. Instead, it placed students in two broader categories — those who scored in levels 1, 2 and 3, and those who scored in 4 or 5, meaning they met or exceeded expectations.

Students at levels 4/5 were reported. If fewer than four students fell into that category, the scores were suppressed.

The state took an additional step that rubbed some schools the wrong way.

If a school’s results were withheld on any one test — and it is the only school in the district with redacted results on that test — the state took the additional step of also redacting the results on the same test from another school (the one with the fewest number of scores in the district).

The state believes this step is critical because it would be possible for someone to subtract the school’s student population from the district’s overall results to learn the school’s results.

That’s why Smoky Hill High School’s ninth-grade English scores were withheld this year. Because the results from the Cherry Creek School District’s alternative high school, Endeavor, were redacted, the state withheld the Smoky Hill scores because Smoky Hill had the fewest valid scores on the ninth-grade test.

Cherry Creek school officials are not happy about the new rules.

“A school that had more than 300 kids testing isn’t a school that should have any stars,” said Judy Skupa, the district’s assistant superintendent, referring to the typographical symbol the state uses when scores are redacted.

What’s the actual privacy threat?

According to federal law, the state must redact data that could allow any person using reasonable measures, such as basic subtraction, to figure out how a particular student performed on a test.

Joyce Zurkowski, the state’s chief assessment officer, explains it like this:

Imagine a neighborhood middle school had 100 sixth-graders take the state’s math test, and not a single one met the state’s expectations. Under the old rules, it would be very easy for folks on the block to know, at the least, the student next door did not pass the test.

That, Zurkowski said, would violate student privacy.

Here’s a slightly more complex example: Say a school had 17 boys and 10 girls take the third-grade math test. While the girls’ scores would be redacted under the old rules, their results could be determined through simple subtraction.

“You don’t get to know how your neighbor’s child performed,” she said. “We needed to do a better job of protecting that individual student’s data, that we hadn’t been doing historically.”

The Colorado Department of Education says it never received a complaint about privacy violations under the old, less restrictive system.

What’s the concern about transparency?

Advocates for more data are worried that the new rules will prohibit the public from knowing two things: which schools are doing poorly and which schools are doing exceptionally well, especially with traditionally underserved populations.

“That’s information we need to know,” said Luke Ragland, vice president of policy for Colorado Succeeds, a nonprofit group that advocates for school reform on behalf of the business community.

Advocates lay out another scenario: you could have a school where most students aced the exam, but that data could be withheld if too few students placed in the lower categories.

That’s what happened at West Ridge Academy in Greeley, as the Greeley Tribune reported.

“We’re not just hiding schools that are underperforming,” said Berdie, of A Plus Colorado. “We’re also hiding success stories.”

An even greater fear is that as the state breaks students into subgroups — students of color, students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, students with special needs — the data will increasingly be redacted because not enough students are scoring in each category.

Starting in 2017, states will be required to break down student performance data into even more subgroups to include students of military families and those who are homeless.

Elena Diaz-Bilello, associate director of the Center for Assessment, Design, Research and Evaluation at the University of Colorado Boulder, said it will be increasingly difficult to draw any conclusions from state test score results if so much data is held back from the public.

“I don’t think the state thought through all the implications,” she said.

Where does the state go from here?

Many advocates in the education reform community are hoping the state softens the rules.

“My biggest fear would be that in the privacy environment we’re in right now, we’d swing so far in one direction and no longer have an opportunity to recalibrate,” said Dan Schaller, director of governmental affairs for the Colorado League of Charter Schools.

For the moment, the new rules only apply to state standardized tests given in grades three through nine, Zurkowski said. Other important measures that go into a school’s quality rating are not affected — including the SAT, graduation rates and growth data that show much students learn year to year.

The rules are not explicitly required by any law — not even Colorado’s landmark student privacy law passed earlier this year. Zurkowski said the policy is influenced by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.

That leaves room for the rules to shift, which Zurkowski said is a possibility.

“It’s an ongoing conversation,” Zurkowski said. “I”m not saying we hit this right. I know we haven’t hit this right. And these rules will continue to evolve. In the end, we got to balance transparency and privacy.”

Photo by Nicholas Garcia, Chalkbeat Colorado.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Nicholas Garcia on September 23, 2016. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Q&A: Colorado’s Chief Medical Officer on the health impacts of fracking

“I think people often invoke public health or health concerns when we don’t necessarily have evidence…”

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Last month, The Greeley Tribune published a story with the headline “Weld County health incidents level with rest of state, despite more oil and gas development.” In it, Dr. Larry Wolk, the executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, discusses CDPHE data that shows no greater levels of health problems in gas-heavy Weld County than in other counties across the state. Wolk was appointed to his current role in 2013 after several years as the chief executive officer of  CORHIO, Colorado’s nonprofit health information exchange. In the story, he spoke out against the characterization of oil and gas development as harmful to human health, stressing the difference between direct and indirect exposure when it comes to oil and gas pollution.

“I’m not going to tell anybody to go drink a pint of liquid petroleum or stand over an active well site and wave the fumes in to breath them in,” Wolk said. “Nobody would argue that this stuff isn’t toxic, but it’s all about exposure to toxins, and we don’t see anything to be concerned with at this point in time.”

The Colorado Independent called Wolk to hear more about that story, the data he discussed, and what kind of protection Coloradans can expect — or not expect — from oil and gas development in their communities in the near future.

Note: This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

The Colorado Independent: To start, could you briefly summarize for our readers what your role is as Chief Medical Officer? What is your main objective, and what kind of role do you play in protecting the interests of Colorado and Coloradans?

Dr. Larry Wolk: Well, there are a couple of things, but serving as the executive leader for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment means that I aim to ensure the public’s access to the best possible health and the best possible environment. I act as an advocate for that, both with the governor and for the governor, as well as for the department when it comes to making sure that we have a lens on health equity and environmental justice and making sure that everyone has access to the best health and environment as possible.

CI: I’d like to start by talking about a story that came out in The Greeley Tribune earlier this month that referenced a study showing Weld County doesn’t see a higher incidence of fracking-related health impacts despite having significantly more wells. Can you talk about the design and results of that study?

LW: Well, first of all, there was no ‘study.’ [The CDPHE was] asked to look at a table of data that was put together by one of the oil and gas companies — I can’t remember which one — to see if we stood by the numbers that it had pulled from one of the databases that we had made publicly available. The first thing we do is make sure that it is our data and make sure that it is credible, and we said yes, that’s our data, and yes, it’s credible. What the data shows is that from a registry standpoint — we maintain registries based on a number of health conditions, whether it’s cancer, birth defects, etc.— that the rates of these different health concerns or issues in some of these oil and gas-rich communities were no different from those that were not in oil and gas-rich communities. It was maybe misrepresented as a “study” by [The Greeley Tribune], but it was not a study.

CI: So, it was actually an analysis — can we call it an analysis — ?

LW: Yeah, based on a publicly available database.

CI:  So, the analysis shows that Weld County does not have significantly more instances of asthma, birth defects, infant mortality or low birth rates than other Front Range counties. But a recent report released by the Clean Air Task Force shows that Colorado has the third-highest number of oil and gas-related health incidents out of any state in the U.S., despite having what the state calls the toughest regulations in the country. The lead author of the study attributed the persistent health problems partly to the fact that air pollution doesn’t stay within state borders. Does it make sense, then, that the effects of oil and gas development would obey borders enough to isolate effects to the county level?

LW: Not necessarily. And I think somebody raised the point, too, that the effects would be diluted — that a county can really be pretty expansive, so you could have a lot of development in one little corner of the county and not much in the rest of the county, and see a cancer rate that’s no higher than in a neighboring county. So there is definitely room for caveats, if you will. I don’t rule out caveats — I like to make sure people understand all the caveats. The point of The Greeley Tribune story, and the statements that I made in it, is that this question of exposure is much more relevant than the actual fracking process itself or the oil and gas processes themselves. It’s just like if you were talking about cigarette smoke, paint thinner, dry-cleaning, what have you. Nobody would argue that these substances aren’t toxic, nobody would argue that they aren’t bad; they are toxic, and there’s all kinds of work in science that says concentrated benzene exposure can lead to all kinds of health effects, cancer effects. But what levels of exposure are you talking about at certain safe distances, protective distances, if you will?

CI: Does the health department have data about instances of health problems over time, before the increase in oil and gas development in Colorado? What does that data say?

LW: I don’t have right off the top of my head what we see an increase of versus or what we see a decrease of. I will say that we see the kind of continued, expected increases based more on age and genetic profile than anything that’s being done here in the state. You know, prostate and breast cancer continue to be the dominant forms of cancer, but those both have more to do with the ages of people who live here and their genetic backgrounds than anything that the state is doing.

Asthma has been flat and high for quite a while, although, because we have a state where people are coming and going a lot, it’s hard to look statewide. You can look at our website and see what that sort of prevalence has done in terms of trends. From a pollution standpoint, we have been relatively stable, and have actually seen some improvements in some types of pollution. Particulate matter is way down — we don’t have the brown cloud like we used to — and ozone we’ve been able to regulate to a level that certainly isn’t getting any worse, and, in some respects, is actually getting a little better. Based on the data on our website, you can’t tie the emissions to the diseases, but you can certainly look at the disease incidents themselves.

Lung cancer, for example, statewide was 55 incidents per 100,000 people in 2004, and now it’s hovering somewhere around 40 per 100,000. So we’ve seen at least a decrease in age-adjusted incidences of lung cancer in the last 10 years.

CI: University of Colorado researcher Lisa McKenzie worked on a study published in 2014 that shows that certain birth defects are as much as 30 percent more common among mothers living near natural gas wells. You pointed out — and she agreed — that correlation does not prove a causal relationship. But would it not make sense to apply the “prevention principle” here? If there’s even a small indication that something is harmful to public health, why not take action as soon as possible? Why not make public health the top priority?

LW: Oh, it is, it definitely is. But I think the limitations to that study, which Dr. McKenzie would agree to, make it really difficult to apply. First of all, the [oil and gas] well data that was used in that study used a combination of open, shut-in and inactive wells, not just active wells. Second, the data was based not on residence, but on where the mothers delivered their babies, and we know that a lot of people, especially rural people, can travel quite a distance to deliver their babies. The correlation [between birth defects] and where you deliver your baby doesn’t hold up quite as well as the correlation to where you live. [NOTE: The study assumed that a mother’s address at time of delivery was the same as her address during the first trimester of pregnancy — the critical time period for formation of birth defects. Some studies have shown that up to 30 percent of mothers move during their pregnancy, “potentially introducing some exposure misclassification for the early pregnancy period of interest.]

There was also, if you were making the inference that living near oil and gas wells leads to an increase in certain kinds of birth defects, there were also some birth conditions that actually seemed to decrease in incidence, like cleft palates. We think that this is the kind of research that needs to be done, but certainly there were enough limitations that kept us from saying that we need to increase setbacks or reduce oil and gas activity or whatever.

CI: Health concerns were a major motivator for Colorado’s two anti-fracking ballot initiatives, which ultimately failed to make the ballot. What are your thoughts on these initiatives, considering both that 100,000-plus community members called for the protection of their health and that you yourself are an expert in public health?

LW: So, it’s really on your second point that my role fits in. I try to provide some technical assistance to these kinds of things, because I don’t have an official opinion that should matter. I’m a regulator. It’s the will of the people as to what they vote for, and it’s my job to take into account public health and environmental health and work with it. The second part of the statement is where I sometimes take issue.

I think people often invoke public health or health concerns when we don’t necessarily have evidence that there is a valid health issue. There are certainly other issues that are valid as to why people don’t want these things near them: They don’t like the noise, they don’t like the smell, they don’t like the traffic, they don’t like the appearance. I’m not invalidating those, at all — I certainly wouldn’t like to live in a neighborhood near those, either — but I can’t, in my role, allow that to be a substitute for saying that this is bad for public health. We don’t have any demonstrative evidence that increasing the setbacks from oil and gas development would be any more protective of the public’s health than where the current setbacks are, because we don’t have any evidence that there is a public health impact as a result of the current setbacks.

We don’t have any evidence that 500 feet is the wrong number. It might be the wrong number as it relates to noise, or to ‘I don’t like seeing it,’ or as it relates to truck traffic, but those aren’t really health issues. We have evidence that being five feet from an active well 24/7 is not good. With that kind of exposure, we see irritation and the potential to inhale directly benzenes and things that cause chronic diseases and cancer. So trying to find that right number [for a setback distance] is I think the right thing to do, but we just don’t have any credible evidence that 500 feet or 1,000 feet is not enough, that increased setbacks would be any more protective of public health than the current setbacks.

There are always ongoing efforts by researchers to try to measure the effects of oil and gas development, to see if there are any spikes in health problems as it relates to that, but it’s an ongoing effort.

CI: So what kind of threshold, in terms of evidence that oil and gas development has an impact on public health, would be required for the state to take action?

LW: One is studying air emissions. We just received the most comprehensive inventory of air emissions from Colorado State University to date, and so what we can do now is we can model that. Based on what the air monitors have detected as far as pollution levels in the air, we can now model that to say, ‘what’s the risk of cancer, what’s the risk of asthma’’ just by knowing what a good, solid air inventory shows us. We should have that modeled by next summer, so we’re hoping within the next year that that might give us some information that might cause us to act. And from the research community, we need well-designed studies that can overcome some of those limitations that we just talked about. We aren’t an academic institution, so we rely on academic institutions to conduct the kind of studies that Lisa McKenzie is working on. We want to see a body of research developed that can overcome some of those limitations.

CI: What would you say to people who feel, particularly given that the oil and gas industry is so powerful in this state, that data and information surrounding the environmental impacts of oil and gas development is biased?

LW: I think it’s fair. I think we live in a state where we have bias on both sides. We have a very strong advocacy community for oil and gas development, and we have a strong advocacy community for environmental protections. I would like to think that the CDPHE is one organization that can really try to stay unbiased and evidence-based and objective when it comes to putting forth truthful information. It’s not that either of those two sides would put forth untruthful information, but you can use data sometimes to make your point on one side or the other. So you have to be able to rely on somebody to be objective when it comes to balancing the playing field there.

I would like to think that is our department, but as you said, I think you have a governor — and I think our governor does a good job of balancing between environmental health and oil and gas development — but if somebody is suspicious of the governor, that would lead them to be suspicious of the health department, too. My goal is to be objective, but people will think what they want to think sometimes.

Official photo via Colorado.gov

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There’s only one duo that’s more oil-and-water, more Mars-and-Venus, more Archie-and-Meathead than Trump/Clinton. It’s our very own Mike Littwin and the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara. Colorado’s best political columnist (above, left, appropriately) will face off against Colorado’s best loved Libertarian (above, far right) for a live, running, online commentary tonight about the first presidential debate. Indy Editor Susan Greene will moderate the debate-over-the-debate between two pundits who have only one thing in common: bad hair. The conversation will start at 6:45 here at www.coloradoindependent.com. We’ll be at it as long as the candidates are still standing, and yakking… and probably even beyond that. It’s hard to shut these guys up. Do join us. We promise keen insights, big egos and lots of debate-night fun.

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The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covers homeless issues above and below the fold today, with one piece about a shelter limiting stays by half, and another datelined from Portland about six health providers offering $21.5 million for homeless housing.

Mailed ballots are being sent to 5,700 Colorado military personnel serving overseas, reports the Longmont Times-Call. “Ballots also are on their way to about 13,700 other registered Colorado voters who aren’t in the military but are Colorado and US. citizens currently living overseas.” Some of them even come by email.

The Greeley Tribune fronts a story about a local senior nutrition program today.

Raising Colorado’s tobacco tax could affect you even if you don’t smoke, reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “The initiative would also increase taxes on other tobacco products by 22 percent. The so-called “sin tax” would cost the average pack-a-day smoker an extra $600 a year in taxes and would raise an estimated $315.7 million a year for the state. Funds would be split among various causes — with $54 million allocated annually to tobacco education, prevention and cessation programs.”

The Gazette in Colorado Springs reports on a new public viewing area of the state’s largest gold mine in Cripple Creek. “But some say it’s not the same as the historic American Eagles Scenic Overlook down the road and up a hill. Newmont Mining closed that attraction last year after purchasing the mine in August 2015.”

The Durango Herald profiles a local man who repurposes old cars.

“A dispute over who will moderate one candidate forum has prompted the local Republican Party to withdraw most of its candidates from an Oct. 6 event. The question of moderators may prompt a state legislative candidate to withdraw from another session,” reports Vail Daily. The biggest dispute is about an Oct. 6 forum sponsored by the Vail Valley Partnership and Vail Board of Realtors. Republicans — with one exception — have pulled out of that event. The dispute, which dates back to April of this year, is about who will ask questions to the candidates. The Republicans want two moderators, one Democrat and one Republican. The sponsoring organizations will have one moderator: Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer.”

A farmer’s market hits the front page of The Boulder Daily Camera.

The Denver Post fronts its second installment of “Digging Through Danger,” a series based on a yearling investigation of accidental deaths in Colorado’s oil-and-gas fields. “Oil and gas companies typically leave management of their sites to subcontractors, a practice that dilutes safety standards and protects companies from liability, making an already dangerous job even more so, a Denver Post investigation has found.”

The Cañon City Daily Record has a piece about a local race for the Colorado House between a local businessman named David Higginbotham and incumbent Republican Wilson.

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On Thursday, just days after city officials adopted Denver’s first dedicated affordable housing fund, community organizers marched to demand rent control from state lawmakers.

Rent control has been illegal in Colorado for the past 31 years. In 1981, the state legislature passed a law that banned the practice. In 2000, the state Supreme Court reaffirmed the ban in a  now-infamous ruling called the Telluride decision. The decision has kept overt rent control off the state law books, but it also contains provisions that have allowed municipalities to find creative ways to address housing issues. For example, cities can limit rents if the housing authority partners with developers and has an ownership stake in developments.    

Still, advocates think state lawmakers need to repeal the 1981 ban, thereby allowing municipalities to cap rents outright.

“We need our elected officials to hear us,” Claudia Vasquez of We Organize Westminster said after the march. “We are calling for rent control because families are being torn apart.”

Denver, like other Colorado cities, has been limited by the prohibition for years. Until this week’s passage of the city’s fund to provide affordable housing, rent control has been largely limited to for-sale units.

The trust fund relies on a dedicated, two-part funding stream of property taxes and a development fee applied to new commercial and residential developments, including rentals. The city will take the money to build affordable housing, including rentals, thus improving affordability without actually limiting rents.

The Telluride case prevents Denver from requiring apartment builders to rent-restrict some of the units they’re building. But, said Denver city attorney David Broadwell in an email, “We can require them to pay a fee to help the city address our affordability problems in general.”

Denver is a little late to the game. For years, Boulder took a bolder approach, requiring developers to either partner with the city to build affordable rental units or to pay a fee. The partnership requirement was Boulder’s nod to the Telluride decision, which said that cities can only impose rent control if they or their housing authorities have an ownership stake in the development.

No developer took the city up on the partnership offer, Boulder Inclusionary Housing Program Manager Michelle Allen told The Independent.  It complicates insurance, taxes, and day-to-day operations and developers are generally leery of partnerships with government agencies.

But the requirement allowed Boulder to raise an average of $3 million a year for affordable housing, including rental units.

“We push it because we really want affordable housing,” Allen said. “A more conservative community might not be inclined toward that kind of intrusion in the free market, and then there’s the rent control statute on top of that.”

In response, Broadwell pointed out that Denver “did address residential rental projects, but only in the sense of offering a ‘voluntary incentive’ program to encourage apartment developers to include affordable units in their projects.”

In other words, while Boulder mandated the fee payments, Denver made it more attractive for developers to build affordable units instead of making it a hard requirement.

There are other options to ease the burden now faced by renters, Stephen Moore, Policy Director at the Front Range Economic Strategy Center wrote in an email.

For example, Moore wrote, Denver could define what justifies evicting a tenant, as San Francisco does. It could also require greater notice of rental increases. In Oregon, rent increases on month-to-month leases are prohibited in the first year and after that, tenants must be given 90 days’ notice.

In Denver, tenants can be, and often are, given 10 days’ notice.

Angel Tellez attended the march with his wife and toddler. He used to live in Westwood, along with the majority of his extended family.

He has had to move twice, first to another place in Westwood, and now he lives in Federal Heights. Both times, his rent unexpectedly jumped by over 200 dollars. He works as a delivery driver, and makes $30,000 per year. He has to support his son and mother, who lives with him, so $200/month hits hard.

“It’s hard because I miss my neighborhood and community in Westwood,” Tellez said. “I believe we’re all humans and we have the right to live without these rent increases.”

 

Photo Credit: Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent

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Donald Trump today released more names of judges he would choose to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court if he is elected president.

Two of them, Timothy Tymkovich and Neil Gorsuch, hail from Colorado and sit on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Colorado and five other western and midwestern states.

Both judges were appointed by George W. Bush and are conservative.

Tymkovich, the 10th Circuit’s chief justice, once served as the solicitor general of Colorado and argued the state’s case for Amendment 2 in 1995, a voter-approved ballot measure that banned state and local municipalities from enacting laws that prohibited discrimination on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1996 struck down the measure as unconstitutional.

Tymkovich and Gorsuch sided with the majority of a 10th Circuit decision in 2013 in the famous case about whether Hobby Lobby should be required to have healthcare plans that include free contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Both justices ruled for Hobby Lobby and relied on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United to do so. Written by Tymkovich, the ruling stated, in part:

Because Hobby Lobby and Mardel express themselves for religious purposes, the First Amendment logic of Citizens United, where the Supreme Court has recognized a First Amendment right of for profit corporations to express themselves for political purposes, applies as well.

We see no reason the Supreme Court would recognize constitutional protection for a corporation’s political expression but not its religious expression. We also believe that a constitutional distinction would conflict with the Supreme Court’s Free Exercise precedent. First, we cannot see why an individual operating for-profit retains Free Exercise protections but an individual who incorporates—even as the sole shareholder—does not, even though he engages in the exact same activities as before. This cannot be about the protections of the corporate form, such as limited liability and tax rates. Religious associations can incorporate, gain those protections, and nonetheless retain their Free Exercise rights.

During a stop in Colorado Springs yesterday, Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, told the crowd to imagine what the Supreme Court might look like if Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton becomes president. 

“We’re electing a president for the next four years and that president is probably going to set a course of direction of the Supreme Court of the United States for the next 40 years,” Pence said. “You better think about that real hard, Colorado.”

Meredith Thatcher, the spokeswoman for Clinton’s Colorado campaign, called the future of the Supreme Court one of the critical issues Clinton has raised on the campaign trail.

“Looking back at the important decisions made by the Supreme Court over the last eight years, from upholding the Affordable Care Act to making marriage equality the law of the land, it’s clear we need to elect a president who will appoint judges who don’t put corporations and special interests ahead of individuals— starting with repealing Citizens United,” Thatcher said.

Other names on Trump’s potential Supreme Court justice list include U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who was the only non jurist to make the cut. Lee, who has been a critic of Trump throughout this election, quickly said he is not interested.  

In May, Trump released the names of 11 potential picks for the Supreme Court, which included Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid.

The latest list, according to The Wall Street Journal, includes:

Mike Lee, Utah senator Neil Gorsuch, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Margaret A. Ryan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces Edward Mansfield, Iowa Supreme Court Keith Blackwell, Georgia Supreme Court Charles Canady, Florida Supreme Court Timothy Tymkovich, 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Amul Thapar, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky Federico Moreno, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida Robert Young, Chief Justice, Michigan Supreme Court.

 

Photo by Jeff for Creative Commons on Flickr.

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JeffCo voters in Lakewood’s House District 23 will have the chance to choose a new representative for an open seat for the first time in 14 years. Republicans haven’t held the seat since 2004 when Ramey Johnson lost a close race to Democrat Gwyn Green. Democrat Max Tyler, who replaced Green in a vacancy appointment in 2009, is term-limited.

Republicans have struggled to regain their footing in this seat that has trended Democratic in recent years, including an embarrassing turn in 2014 when their candidate Nate Marshall was forced to drop out when news reports revealed him to be a white supremacist.

Republican Chris Hadsall (left, above) is hoping to reverse that streak this year, while Democrats are counting on Chris Kennedy (right, above), a legislative aide and Democratic staffer at the state Capitol since 2010, to keep the seat blue.

This election will mark Hadsall’s second attempt at the seat. He filed as a candidate in the last election, but was forced to withdraw due to his employment with the federal government, which prohibits running for office under the Hatch Act. Hadsall is relying on his military record, experience in the medical device industry, and outreach to Libertarians to carry him over the line.

Hadsall is a former Marine who served for nearly a decade and retired on a medical disability in 2007 after being hit by a suicide bomber in Iraq. He openly discusses his battles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he said cost him his first marriage. He has since remarried and has four children with his wife Tracy and works for a medical device company in Broomfield. Hadsall has lived in the district five out of the last six years. He’s originally from a small town in Missouri, which he said gives him a good perspective on rural issues as well as urban problems. He enjoys Colorado’s outdoors and can be found riding his mountain bike in some of the area’s best trails, including on Green Mountain, which is in the district.

Kennedy previously was a structural engineer, working mostly on multi-family and single-family residential projects. That got him interested in renewable energy and later in politics. Kennedy is a lifelong Coloradan who has lived in the district for 11 years. He’s single and outdoorsy, enjoying climbing mountains, camping and cycling. He’s also a big music fan and until a few years ago was the frontman, lead guitarist and songwriter for Mitya, his own rock band.

Kennedy has worked in various capacities with Democrats for the past six years. He ran U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s successful 2014 re-election campaign, served as chair of the Jefferson County Democratic Party and also has worked for a handful of Democratic lawmakers at the state Capitol, including Tyler and Democratic Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino of Denver.

Kennedy has a more than four-to-one advantage in fundraising, with $121,677 in contributions compared to Hadsall’s $28,834. Hadsall also loaned his campaign $2,952 earlier this year.

Kennedy has received more than $37,000 in contributions from political parties and unions. Large donations have come from the Colorado Democratic Party ($8,688); the Colorado Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and the Jefferson County Education Association ($7,500 total).

Hadsall has commented twice on his Facebook page about his fundraising disadvantage. Earlier this month he said he was “flattered” by the amount of money Kennedy has raised, saying, “It means the Political Establishment is nervous about the outcome of the election and knows I’m more than qualified to be your next State Representative.”

Hadsall’s biggest contributions, of $1,000 each, have come from a pro-business political action committee, Homes for All Coloradans — which has given its largest donations this year to Republicans — and from the Jefferson County GOP. He also received $400 donations from Joe Coors, Jr. (who passed away last week) and son Brad Coors of Parker.

Hadsall and Kennedy both spoke with The Colorado Independent about some of the hot-button issues facing Colorado, as well as topics important to their district.

In 2016, Republicans tried to repeal some of the 2013 gun control measures passed in 2013 that included a 15-round limit on ammunition magazines and mandatory background checks for private transfers of weapons.

Kennedy, who was then working for Ferrandino, said he would not support repealing those 2013 measures, calling them important protections to guard against gun violence. He disputes claims that the measures violated the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “We didn’t undermine the Second Amendment, we respected it and made it harder for dangerous people to get weapons of war.”

Hadsall said he is “for liberty” and constitutional rights, but added that all of those rights come with responsibilities. He’s more interested in seeing issues of gun violence dealt with as a mental health issue, calling it a bigger systemic problem than just about guns. He’d also prefer to see the magazine limits law amended rather than nixed, but said the 15-round limit is an arbitrary number, and someone who wants to do that kind of damage will find a way around it. Such laws give people a “false sense of security,” Hadsall said. He claims support for background checks, calling them reasonable. Still, he has been endorsed by Second Amendment activist Laura Carno who helped lead the recalls against Democrats who passed gun laws, including universal background checks, in 2013.

Democratic lawmakers tried to push through a package of bills in 2016 designed to level the playing field on equal pay for equal work. While there is already a federal law requiring equal pay between genders, the bills offered in 2016 would have worked on some of the issues not covered by that law.

“It’s obviously a priority,” Kennedy said. He applauds the effort to require state contractors to adhere to pay equity standards, as well as another that would have forbid employers from asking potential employees about salary history, calling it a creative idea for a problem that’s been difficult to solve. Both of those measures did not pass in 2016, although a third, on allowing employees to discuss salaries with each other, did pass.

Hadsall believes in equal pay for equal work, pointing out that he has three daughters. Still, he doesn’t support changing the law if it creates mandates. His campaign, drawing on his experience in the health sector, has featured broad opposition to mandates in health insurance as well. “The problem I have with insurance mandates,” Hadsall told the Independent, “anytime the government mandates something, the market doesn’t stabilize and is constantly trying to catch on to what that rule or regulation means.” Kennedy supports maintaining the health insurance mandates already approved in Colorado.

Some of his strongest views are on raising the minimum wage, which will be on the November ballot. Hadsall is strongly opposed to the measure because he believes it will hurt small businesses. Minimum wage wasn’t intended to be a living wage, he said. But for those who have to make a living on minimum wage, many can work more than one job, and those workers should be helped with education or other training to move into higher-paying jobs. Hadsall, who said he came from a poor family, said he believes there should be a safety net for low-income people, but that government also needs to help those on public assistance find a path to success and self-sufficiency.

The hospital provider fee has been the subject of much controversy between the House and Senate and between Democrats and Republicans for the past two sessions. The fee is levied on hospital overnight patient stays as well as outpatient visits. That money is then matched with federal dollars and redistributed to hospitals to cover uninsured patients and to expand Medicaid. Democrats and a handful of Republicans want to see the fee removed from the state’s revenue limits, as established under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The fee would then be reclassified to be exempt from TABOR restrictions and revenues would be spent on uninsured patients and Medicaid expansion.

Kennedy believes that converting the fee to an enterprise, which is allowed under TABOR, is the right thing to do. The state has a lot of funding needs, from K-12 education to higher ed to affordable housing and transportation. He believes the fee should have been classified as an enterprise when the law was first passed in 2009.

Hadsall thinks the hospital provider fee is an issue that should be decided by voters, given that at up to $600 million in tax dollars is at stake. Otherwise, he supports keeping the provider fee revenue under TABOR. “Something this significant needs to be done by the voters,” he said.

House Republicans tried six times in the 2016 session to either restrict or end access to abortions. Kennedy said he would have opposed all six measures, and supports a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body. Republicans “make it sound like it’s about health, or in the case of Texas, about providing high medical standards. It’s a ruse,” Kennedy said, “designed to shut down options for women’s health care. (The Texas law, HB2, would have required abortion clinics to adhere to the same facility standards as out-patient surgery centers. That law was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year.)

Although Hadsall said he is pro-life, he doesn’t support personhood laws, one of the six measures attempted in 2016. He is comfortable with exceptions but not for late-term abortions, But he also believes it’s an issue that voters in his district aren’t particularly interested in, and that the legislature should focus on other priorities.

What voters in the district are interested in, Kennedy noted, is transportation. He thinks voters should consider whether to fund the state’s multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure needs. “We need to have a serious conversation with voters about what they expect from government and whether they’re willing to pay for it.” Trying to find the dollars through rooting out waste, fraud and abuse just isn’t enough, he said. “You can’t cut your way to prosperity.”

Hadsall said transportation is a big issue in the district, from road construction to the need for sound barriers along Sixth Avenue west of Simms. He also supports asking voters for help, such as through increasing gas or sales taxes, but only if the General Assembly can guarantee that such taxes would go to transportation needs and not just plug holes in the General Fund. “People will support a tax” if they know it will go to fix roads, he said. He also wants the General Assembly to think creatively about reducing traffic congestion, such as coming up with incentives for employers to allow workers to telecommute.

Builders and developers have claimed for years that Colorado’s construction defects law overly favors homeowners in multi-family units like condos and townhomes. Builders blame the law for stifling the addition of new condos and townhomes to the state’s tight housing market. In Lakewood, the city council passed its own construction defects resolution two years ago. Similar resolutions have been passed in at least a half-dozen other suburban communities.

Kennedy said he would be open to supporting a compromise on the construction defects issue, which has been tied up in the legislature for several years. In the 2016 session, groups came within a week or two of crafting a compromise, but it died in the final month of the session.

Kennedy supports one aspect of the construction defects proposed change: that those who serve on boards of homeowners association not have the only say on whether to sue a builder for defects. Kennedy pointed out that if a homeowner doesn’t have a defective home, a lawsuit from the HOA keeps them from selling or refinancing the home. “There is reason to scrutinize the process,” Kennedy said. Homeowners have a right to have significant defects repaired, and if the legislature can find that middle road, he added, “I would be inclined to support it.”

Hadsall doesn’t want revisions to the construction defects laws to protect “bad actors” but thinks builders and developers don’t know if the Lakewood or other city resolutions will protect them from frivolous lawsuits. There are common sense measures that can be taken, he said, such as mediation or arbitration between homeowners and builders, which has been proposed in previous legislation at the Capitol but is also now the subject of a lawsuit awaiting action from the Colorado Supreme Court.  Give the builders a right to cure defects, and make sure lawsuits are supported by a majority of the homeowners in an HOA, not just the board, he said.

Mail ballots for the November election will go out on Monday, October 17.

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“Johnstown water officials are under investigation for inadvertently killing almost 1,000 fish in the town’s reservoir this summer,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “In an effort to treat an algae outbreak, a worker put a chemical compound into the water that ended up suffocating 972 fish, Jennifer Churchill, a spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said on Thursday.”

Donald Trump Jr. got a warm reception at a stop in Grand Junction yesterday, according to The Daily Sentinel. “The younger Trump’s event at the Mesa County Fairgrounds was billed as “a campfire with Donald Trump Jr.,” with him talking about specific issues facing the use of public lands in the West. Well, there was no campfire, and all the younger Trump said about public lands was that they should remain open and accessible to all. And instead of the 4,000 people organizers had expected to draw, there were only about 300.”

A service provider and a developer plan to build a $14 million apartment complex for the homeless near downtown Colorado Springs, The Gazette reports. “The project will target the chronically homeless – usually single men and women who suffer from debilitating physical or mental conditions and who often sleep in tents, doorways and cars for long stretches of time.”

Meanwhile, volunteers are key to a new homeless program in Loveland, The Reporter-Herald reports. “The One Congregation-One Family program — a program under the Department of Local Affairs that has several versions throughout the state including One Village One Family through Homeless Gear in Fort Collins — pairs mentor teams of churches, organizations, businesses and community members with families experiencing homelessness or housing instability.”

The Pueblo Chieftain localized the story about a black man killed by police on tape in Charlotte with a story about how and when footage is released by local police. In Charlotte, the police chief has yet to release the tape publicly. In Colorado, whether or not to release footage is up to the police to decide if they think it’s in the “public interest.” The Pueblo department “has provided videos when sought by the news media under the Colorado Criminal Records Justice Act. The only caveat is the police have waited until the district attorney’s office has closed an investigation.”

In Steamboat Springs, police will start carrying a treatment for drug overdoses, Steamboat Today reports. “The potentially life-saving drug called Narcan is a nasal mist form of naloxone. Recently, it became legal to buy the drug without a prescription. City Market in Steamboat Springs sells the drug, and Walgreens anticipates selling the drug soon.”

Ivanka Trump came to the Liberty Common school. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins has that dispatch.

“The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a Boulder District Court judge was wrong to conclude last year that Boulder was within its rights to create a municipal electric utility,” reports The Daily Camera. “The ruling reverses Judge Judith LaBuda’s dismissal of a lawsuit by Xcel Energy — the incumbent utility from which Boulder has long sought to separate — that aimed to undo the utility’s formation on paper. In 2011, Boulder voters authorized the city to explore forming a municipal electric utility, assuming approval from Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission, and demonstration that the municipal utility could acquire Xcel’s local distribution system and charge rates that don’t exceed those charged by Xcel at the time of acquisition.”

“James Coleman, who purchased Purgatory Resort in 2015, has added another ski slope to his portfolio: Hesperus Ski Area, 11 miles west of Durango,” according to The Herald. “The acquisition announced Thursday includes the Hesperus Ski Area’s lodge, rental shop and tubing hill, in addition to its 160-acre lease.”

Vail Daily asks today if the ColoradoCare universal healthcare ballot measure is right for Colorado. The paper looks at what the amendment, set for voters to decide on Nov. 8, would do.

Colorado will get hotter because of climate change, reports The Denver Post. “Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins are likely to see hot days more frequently each year, including an average of seven days with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, according to three studies released Thursday by the Louisville-based Rocky Mountain Climate Organization. They also predict, with less certainty, an increase in severe storms dropping significant rain or snow. If heat-trapping emissions into the atmosphere keep increasing, researchers found, the northern Front Range climate by 2050 will be fundamentally different.”

Denverite’s Erica Meltzer talked with Republican U.S. Senate nominee Darryl Glenn.

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Jury of peers

In Charlotte, Keith Scott’s family sees the video of the police shooting and killing him. The police chief says the video, by itself, is inconclusive and refuses to show it to the public. Scott’s family agrees that the video is unclear about whether Scott was armed or not, but that the video should be released to allow everyone to judge. Via The New York Times.

In the streets

Riots following the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott have upended Charlotte’s vision of itself. Via The Wall Street Journal.

Say what?

And then there was the white congressman representing suburban Charlotte who said in an interview with BBC News that the mostly black protesters “hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not.” Via The Washington Post.

Charges filed

In Tulsa, officer Betty Shelby is charged with first-degree manslaughter in the police shooting of Terence Crutcher. Via Tulsa World.

Dog and pony

As we head toward Monday’s debate, maybe the most important question of the night is whether debates really matter. We’ve got two informed opinions, which may be more than you get Monday night. Amy Walter of Cook Political Report says that if one of the candidates can make a potential pool of voters feel less tortured about voting for him/her, that candidate will win. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics says history and poll numbers tell us that debates matter remarkably little.

Abnormalizing normal

In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait writes that the normalization of Donald Trump is not the story of the campaign. Rather it’s the abnormalization of Hillary Clinton.

Lyin’ Ted

To understand the power of positive polling, the big rumor now is that Ted Cruz, seeing Trump’s rise in the polls, may be considering endorsing Trump. Via The Atlantic. 

Put me in, coach

You know that Clinton is a policy wonk. Well, here’s a close look at Clinton’s giant policy team just waiting for the nearly-policy-free election season to be over so they can really get to work. Via The Huffington Post.

Funny or die

On a lighter note — actually, on a crazy, absurdist, what-will-one-candidate-do-to-win-millennials note — Hillary Clinton tunes up for her debate with Trump by going head to dead with Zach Galifianakis on “Between Two Ferns.” Via The New Yorker.

Photo credit: Jobs for Felons Hub, Creative Commons, Flickr

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COLORADO SPRINGS — As protests continue in North Carolina and Oklahoma following two separate officer-involved shootings of black men, vice presidential candidate Mike Pence focused on support for law enforcement in a town hall in the shadow of Pikes Peak.

The Indiana governor and running mate of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump touted the campaign’s endorsement from the nation’s largest police union. He vowed a Trump administration would bring “law and order” to communities across the country.

“Donald Trump will never forget the men and women who serve in law enforcement at every level in this nation or those who have worn the uniform or are wearing the uniform,” Pence said about three minutes into his speech 45 days before the Nov. 8 election.

Pence had fashioned the event as a mid-afternoon town hall in the Hillside Community Center to a crowd of more than a hundred. Before he got to the questions, he said he had some things to get off his chest.

“It’s really heartbreaking news. Second night in a row of riots in beautiful cities,” Pence said. While there have been riots in Charlotte, protests have so far remained peaceful in Tulsa.

“Let me be clear,” he continued in a sober tone from a podium flanked by flags. “Donald Trump and I and every American, we stand by the right of every citizen in this country to peacefully assemble and protest and to demonstrate and to stand up for their convictions. That’s what a free and open society is all about. But there’s no right to engage in violence.”

And Pence, whose uncle was a police officer, called any loss of life, in any circumstance, a tragedy. He said any officer-involved shooting deserves thorough, transparent investigations.

But he also said he believed police around the country are getting a bad rap from Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Sadly, our opponent once again refers to what she calls the institutional racism in law enforcement,” Pence said. “We’ve heard this week, again, the systemic racism in law enforcement in this country.”

His voice rising, Pence said he and Trump believe police “are not a force for racism in America,” but “a force for good,” deserving support and respect.

“I want to promise you, as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, a President Donald Trump will support our law enforcement officers at every level,” he said. “We will see to it that they have the resources and the tools to do their job.”

Pence didn’t mention it, but in Colorado Springs the police department recently disbanded its gang unit indefinitely because of critical staffing shortages, and also reduced house calls. A recent headline in the daily newspaper in Colorado’s second-largest city read “Major changes for Colorado Springs police as cops say they don’t feel safe.”

Following the event, Ed Jones, a black former GOP county commissioner and state senator from the Springs area who supports Trump, said he believes the reason African Americans in the U.S. might find themselves on the other end of a police officer’s gun is because they haven’t handled themselves properly during police interactions. A lot of that, he said, is because “they don’t comply.”

“I just cannot believe, there’s an officer there,” Jones said pointing toward a man in a uniform working the event, “that he wakes up every morning and says ‘I’ve got to go out and shoot a black guy’— and that’s the narrative that the liberals give.”

Just today, after reviewing camera footage, the district attorney in Tulsa, Oklahoma, charged the officer who shot Terence Crutcher, a black 40-year-old motorist, with first-degree manslaughter after she responded to a vehicle stopped in the middle of a road and shot Crutcher to death as police helicopter cameras and dashboard cameras rolled.

In Charlotte, the police chief there has said video is not “definitive” in the officer-involved shooting of Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black man who was killed while officers were serving a warrant on someone else. Police said Scott had a gun. His family says it was a book.

 

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Labor Day traditionally marks the start of the final push of the campaign season and spending by committees involved with the nine measures on the November ballot has ticked up dramatically. Campaign finance reports filed earlier this week for Sept. 1 to Sept. 14 reveal some pretty lopsided fundraising and spending by groups involved with three of the state’s hottest ballot measures.

Amendment 71, aka Raise the Bar. You’ve seen the ads – John Suthers, mayor of Colorado Springs; former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb (get well, soon, Mr. Mayor!) and former Colorado Springs Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace – all urging citizens to vote yes on Amendment 71.

Those ads, which can be found on area TV stations as well as the Internet, don’t come cheap.

What’s the issue and how much has been raised to support or oppose the measure in the most recent reporting period? Raise the Bar would require ballot measures seeking a constitutional amendment to obtain petition signatures in all of Colorado’s 35 state senate districts, instead of collecting signatures just along the Front Range, which is common practice today. Those ballot measures would also need a higher percentage of votes – 55 percent – versus the 50-percent- plus-one-vote requirement currently in state law. 

Raise the Bar is backed by a coalition led by “Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence,” Protect Colorado for short. The organization, which is funded by oil-and-gas giants Anadarko and Noble Energy, also led the opposition to two anti-fracking initiatives that failed to make the ballot last month.

There isn’t yet a formal campaign committee devoted to fighting the ballot measure, but Amendment 71 doesn’t lack for opposition. That opposition has made for interesting bedfellows: the Independence Institute, Colorado Common Cause, various right-to-life groups, TABOR supporters, and others from across the political spectrum.

Who are the big contributors? Protect Colorado has been the biggest funder to date, with $1 million donated this month. Colorado Concern, a coalition of business leaders, has put in $185,500,  including $25,500 this month. In all, Raise the Bar took in $1.1 million in the most recent two-week filing period.

Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute said an issue committee is being organized to raise funds to fight the measure, but that hasn’t happened yet.

What’s the grand total, so far? Raise the Bar has raised close to $2.7 million, most of it in the past six weeks.

What about expenses? Raise the Bar has spent $2.1 million to get out the message. Of that $2.1 million, $882,530 has been spent  on radio and TV ads in the last two weeks, according to recent campaign finance reports.

And after all that raising and spending, what’s the balance sheet look like? Raise the Bar had $524,305 left in the bank as of Sept. 14.

 

Amendment 69, aka ColoradoCare. While Raise the Bar is raising millions to support the measure, ColoradoCare hasn’t been so fortunate.

What’s the issue and how much has been raised to support or oppose the measure in the most recent reporting period? The amendment would set up a universal health care system in Colorado, funded by a 3.33 percent tax on employees and 6.67 percent tax on employers. It would replace private insurance and ensure that all Coloradans have health care, regardless of ability to pay or pre-existing medical conditions.

The committee backing ColoradoCare raised $10,011 from Sept.1 to Sept. 14. The main opposition comes from Coloradans for Coloradans, which raised $69,305 over the same time period. Coloradans for Coloradans is an issue committee backed largely by the health insurance industry.

Who are the big contributors? ColoradoCare is backed by Co-operate Colorado, which focuses on the state’s healthcare crisis, and a slew of doctors and other health care professionals, including state Sen. Irene Aguilar, the “creative force” behind the ballot measure.

ColoradoCare received more than 200 individual donations in the last two weeks, ranging from a few dollars to $500. Coloradans for Coloradans received $22,500 from a political action committee backed by the hospitality industry, $10,000 from Pfizer; and several $5,000 donations, including one from Focus on the Family; and a $1,000 contribution from John Elway.

What’s the grand total, so far? The fundraising by Coloradans for Coloradans swamps that of the ColoradoCare backers. Coloradans’ donations are just under $4 million, compared to $359,725 for ColoradoCare.

What about expenses? Coloradans for Coloradans shelled out $183,432 in just the last reporting period. Of that, $163,345 went for advertising on cable TV and on the Internet, including Facebook.

ColoradoCare spent $33,415 in the same time period, with $12,927 shelled out for less high-profile advertising: mailers, rack cards and bumper stickers.

And after all that raising and spending, what’s the balance sheet look like? ColoradoCare has $10,782 left before the next reporting period ends. Coloradans for Coloradans has $329,664 on hand.

 

Amendment 70, minimum wage. This ballot measure attempts to persuade voters to increase the state’s minimum wage, currently at $8.31 per hour, to $12 per hour by 2020.

What’s the issue and how much has been raised to support or oppose the measure in the most recent reporting period? The minimum wage is a national issue; several cities, like Seattle and Washington, D.C., are planning to increase their minimum wage rates to $15 per hour, which is considered a “living wage.” A “living wage calculator” developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says that to sustain a family of four, with two working adults, the living wage in Denver would have to be $16.57 per hour.

Amendment 70 proposes the minimum wage increase to $9.30 per hour, beginning Jan. 1, 2017 and increasing by $.90 per hour every year until it reaches $12 per hour on Jan. 1, 2020. A recent survey by Magellan Strategies shows the measure has strong support, with 55 percent in favor and 42 percent against.

The measure is backed by Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, which brought in $600,422 in the reporting period of Sept. 1 to Sept. 14. Opposition is led by Keep Colorado Working, which raised $22,800 in the last two weeks.

Who are the big contributors? Keep Colorado Working received $10,000 from the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association and another $5,000 from the state’s association of collection agencies. Byron Wheeler, a director of franchise performance for Burger King, contributed $4,500. Bruce Gerstein, owner of Thornton restaurant 5 Alarm, donated $2,000.

The biggest funder of Colorado Families for a Fair Wage has been the Service International Employees Union (SEIU), both directly through the union and through a side organization, the Fairness Project of Palo Alto, California, which works to put minimum wage initiatives on state ballots. SEIU contributed $200,000 this month and, through the Fairness Project, gave another $100,000. The union’s total for both groups is now $586,132.

The New York-based Civic Participation Action Fund, which targets public policy on behalf of low-income people of color, kicked in $300,000 this month, bringing its total to $500,000.

What’s the grand total, so far? Colorado Families for a Fair Wage has brought in $2.3 million, compared to $636,884 for Keep Colorado Working.

What about expenses? Colorado Families for a Fair Wage spent $443,700 in the first two weeks of September, with the largest chunk, $400,000, on advertising through Screen Strategies Media of Fairfax, VA.

Keep Colorado Working spent a majority of its funds in the first two weeks of September, a total of $501,952. Of that, $372,500, went to Pac/West of Denver for a TV media buy. So keep your eyes out – the ads are coming.

Oregon-based Pac/West has been the go-to source for advertising this year; the company has so far made almost $14.6 million this year in Colorado on mailers and other advertising for committees targeting House and Senate candidates, as well as for several issue committees, including Protect Colorado.

And after all that raising and spending, what’s the balance sheet look like? Colorado Families for a Fair Wage still has plenty to spend: $745,667. Keep Colorado Working has $30,894 on hand.

The next two-week reporting period ends on Sept. 28. Mail ballots go out on Monday, Oct. 17.

 

Photo credit: 401(k) 2012, Creative Commons, Flickr 

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Spoken word artist Toluwanami Obiwole is in front of Union Station, standing still amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

“Every generation needs a new revolution,” she says to the camera. “There’s a difference between a moment and a movement.”

So begins the video anchoring New Era Colorado’s new This is Why We Vote campaign, an effort to get millennials to move past their political frustration and vote for change.

“So much of the conversation around this election is about a candidate’s recent gaffes, but it shouldn’t be about a candidate’s missteps — it should be about the issues that affect us every day,” says New Era Colorado Executive Director Lizzy Stephan.

Since its founding in 2006, New Era Colorado has worked to increase youth participation in the democratic process through voter mobilization, including online registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Stephan says the 2016 election in particular demands participation from young people, who make up more than a third of eligible voters this year.

“There are some very serious issues at stake in this election, like whether we’re going to seize our last opportunity to address climate change or the fate of millions of hardworking undocumented immigrant families who don’t know what the future holds,” she says. “This is what our generation cares about—this is why we vote.”

In her poem, which narrates the video, Obiwole, who is both a student at CU Boulder and Denver’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate, urges millennials to vote on issues such as affordable education, immigration reform and an increase in the minimum wage.

“We vote because defending our communities is more than a hashtag…because education shouldn’t come with its very own debt collection agent… because wages should add up to respect,” she says.

In a press release put out by New Era Colorado, Obiwole adds, “This poem illustrates that young people today are carrying on that tradition by demanding that politicians and candidates take bold action on issues like climate change and racial justice.”

Stephan says that young people are less likely than older voters to cast their ballots out of party loyalty or the appeal of a specific candidate.

“What we know about young voters is that they cast their ballots to make a difference,” she says. 

New Era Colorado aims to register at least 50,000 new Colorado voters for this election cycle. The video was a collaborative project between New Era Colorado and Colorado-based video production company Balcony Nine Media.

Photo credit: Screenshot from thisiswhywevote.org

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Either Denver City Council members blather too much, or someone’s trying to muzzle critics of Mayor Michael Hancock.

Those are the takes on a proposed rule seeking to limit the amount of time a member can comment and ask questions at public meetings.

“We as a council are doing way too much talking,” says Councilman Albus Brooks, who’s behind the proposal and who notes that council members speak two to three times longer at council meetings than members of the public. “People want to see us showing restraint and disciplining ourselves.”

Councilman Rafael Espinoza counters that Brooks’ proposal seeks, in effect, to mute members who are critical of the Mayor.

“The administration is trying to limit our power even further,” he says. “They’re trying, flat out, to silence us.”

Denver’s is a strong-mayor, weak-council form of government, meaning that the mayor has most of the power over key policy and budget decisions and can veto ordinances approved by the 13-member council. Under Hancock and most of his predecessors, a council majority traditionally has backed the mayor’s agenda and are rewarded, in turn, with funding for their pet projects and districts.

The current council is a bit different than past councils in that seven newcomers – all rookies – were elected in 2015. That means more than half the members have had a steep curve learning the ins and outs of zoning, city contracting and lawmaking. It also means they’ve had lots of questions.

There’s another factor at play, too. Although the majority of members have lined up behind Hancock, some have challenged key parts of his agenda. This has been evident this month as the council considered Hancock’s affordable housing plan. It was especially clear earlier this summer when members debated a controversial, $300 million plan for a massive storm water drainage system from the Platte River to Park Hill. One of those council meetings didn’t end until after 2 a.m.

City staffers, activists, lobbyists, journalists and even some council members have grumbled about having to sit for hours while some members drone on with proclamations about spelling bee winners and high school football teams, pontificate about personal matters or ramble in confusion about the ordinances proposed on their agendas.

“It can get mind-numbing – like Novocain for the soul,” says one city watchdog (who asked that her name not be used for this story). She says this past year she decided to spend Monday evenings watching council meetings on cable TV rather than from the hard benches in council chambers. “Now I can at least fold laundry while I listen.”

As Brooks tells it, an analysis of last year’s meetings shows that some members have spoken for nearly an hour on single ordinances. He refuses to release that data because, he says, “I don’t want to embarrass certain council members.”

Sources who’ve seen the analysis say that Espinoza and Councilwoman Debbie Ortega are listed as the biggest talkers on council. As it happens, both also have been the most outspoken critics of Hancock and his administration – especially his handling of the storm water project and his affordable housing plan, which both criticized as lacking ambition. Espinoza and Ortega also have blasted Hancock and his office for a general lack of transparency in city government.

The administration hasn’t yet responded to an inquiry for this story.

Since Brooks became council president in July, he has been mulling proposals to limit the time council members can speak at council committee hearings and regular Monday night council meetings – both of which are open to the public. He first sought to allow each member 10 minutes for comments and three questions per bill, but he’s now eyeing a five-minute window for comments and a limit of three questions per bill. He says he has “overwhelming support” from his colleagues for the resolution, which may appear on next week’s council agenda.

“I think there’s a lot of feeling of let’s tighten it up out of respect for the people who have to sit in these pews every Monday,” he says.

Espinoza maintains that the proposal is motivated less by respect for the public than a desire to shush dissent among an already-weak council.

Ortega, currently an at-large councilwoman who represented northwest Denver on the council from 1987 to 2003, says Hancock’s administration provides less background information to council members than previous mayors. She says members need that material to cast informed votes.

“We’re not always given the complete data and I’m expecting a little better due diligence on the part of the city agencies,” she says. “People elect us to be their voice. To just shut us down makes no sense at all.”

At least on this issue, Espinoza and Ortega have found an ally in Councilman Kevin Flynn, a former Rocky Mountain News reporter who clocked plenty of late Monday nights during years covering Denver council meetings. Flynn – who says he’s “squarely in the middle” of Brooks’ chatter rankings – says it’s discourteous to the public when council meetings run late, but “it’s also discourteous to the public to have their elected representatives cut off in debate while deliberating the public’s business.”

As Flynn sees it, the problem isn’t that there are too many items on the council’s agenda, but that the council isn’t enforcing existing rules requiring members to limit their discussion to the specific item being discussed. Rather than pushing for new rules, the council’s president “needs to lean on his authority to enforce” existing rules to keep members from wandering off-topic, says Flynn, who calls Brooks’ proposal an overreaction.

Flynn notes that the council’s authority already has been ratcheted back by cutting the time members have to consider city contracts. “We already have as little authority and power as you can imagine,” he says. To change council rules because of a few long-winded members, he adds, “would be foolish.”

Flynn sees the fact that the two biggest offenders on Brooks’ list happen to be the Mayor’s two loudest critics as “serendipity,” not political back-stabbing.

Brooks also dismisses the notion that his proposal is politically motivated.  “It’s just the way this has shaken out,” he says. “I would strongly resist the temptation for people to rush to the conclusion that this is politics.”

The current rule requiring members to stay on-topic doesn’t go far enough, he adds. He wants a time limit on the books so that he and future council presidents may enforce more discipline.

Brooks argues that members of Congress abide by time limits, and he dismisses criticisms that his measure would further weaken the council.

“I think it strengthens us because (we’ll have to get) right to the point,” he says. “We won’t be pontificating.”

Civic watchdogs says they fear Brooks’ measure will, in effect, amount to censorship.

“Members of the public who watch the proceedings are entitled to hear what council members are thinking and what council members may learn by asking questions of the administration,” says Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

“Sometimes, robust conversations about tough issues can be time consuming,” adds Elena Nuñez of the government transparency group Common Cause.

Nuñez worries that effectively silencing the Mayor’s most vocal critics “creates the appearance that council is expected to just be a rubber stamp for the administration.”

Flickr photo by Felipe Del Valle