With Democrats doing everything they can to link Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to down-ballot candidates, one of the races to watch in Colorado may be that of the often overlooked Third Congressional District.

National Democrats believe this may be the year they take control of the U.S. Senate and make inroads into reclaiming the House, and that means looking at races that might not have been in play in the past. Groups like Emily’s List and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red-to-Blue have invested in two bids by Democratic women in Colorado – for the Sixth Congressional District seat held by Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and for the Third Congressional District seat held by Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

Third-term Congressman Tipton faces off this fall against Democrat and former state Sen. Gail Schwartz.

He’s a somewhat baby-faced and plain-talking 59-year old from Cortez. She’s an ever-smiling, admittedly short ball of energy who has made her life in some of Colorado’s most popular and upscale ski towns, most recently Crested Butte.

Fundraising for the contest has favored Tipton, but not by much. He has so far raised $1.5 million to her $1.3 million. But Schwartz has outraised Tipton in the last two quarters. In the period ending Sept. 30, Schwartz brought in $709,000 to Tipton’s $384,000.

Related: Fundraising in Colorado’s hottest congressional races tops $8 million

Tipton has received money from the Koch Industries PAC and the Right to Rise PAC, which was formed to support former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential run. He also has taken contributions from a variety of energy companies and oil, gas and coal-backed political action committees. Among his individual donors: several members of the Coors family, billionaire Philip Anschutz, American Furniture magnate Jake Jabs, Pueblo Chieftain publisher Bob Rawlings, and conservative education reformer and oilman Alex Cranberg.

Schwartz has contributions from California environmentalist Tom Steyer, businessman and philanthropist Rutt Bridges, Stryker Medical Equipment heiress Pat Stryker, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California. Schwartz’s campaign also is funded by Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and a variety of labor unions, including education and trades groups.

Many factors set these two candidates apart, including how they view the future of the Third District.

Tipton is focused on the economy and jobs that are tied to the district’s energy industry. He also has sponsored legislation that many believe would turn over Colorado’s federally-owned lands to the state for sale to the highest bidder.

Schwartz’s focus is on employment, too, but it’s combined with an interest in protecting Colorado’s public lands and building up the outdoor recreation industry that she believes will help replace some of the jobs lost in mining.

Schwartz has lived in Colorado since graduating from the University of Colorado in 1971. She moved to Aspen back then, working with a company that designed ski areas in the United States and Canada. She also had a hand in developing some of the Roaring Fork Valley’s first affordable housing.

She has been in public service since the 1980s, sitting on the state’s Commission on Higher Education and the University of Colorado Board of Regents before being elected to the state Senate in 2006. She was term-limited in 2014 and points out she has never lost an election. She defeated an incumbent Republican regent in 2000 and an incumbent Republican senator in 2006.

Schwartz, 67, and husband Alan moved to Snowmass Village in the 2000s, although more recently they’ve called Crested Butte home. They have three daughters and two grandchildren.

Tipton, who was born in New Mexico, has lived almost his whole life in his mostly-Western Slope congressional district. He holds a degree in political science from Fort Lewis College and is the first member of his family to graduate from college. Until recently, he owned Mesa Verde Pottery, which at its peak employed 22 workers and has been in business for more than three decades. Tipton and his brother sold the business to the Ute Mountain Utes tribe in 2014. He and wife Jean have two daughters.

Tipton first ran for Congress in 2006, losing to Democrat John Salazar. He then headed to the state Capitol, serving in the 2009 and 2010 sessions. At the end of 2010, he challenged Salazar again for the Third District seat and won by 5 percent, to date his closest margin of victory. Tipton has been in the U.S. House since that 2010 election.

The Third Congressional District covers more than one-third of the state by land-mass. Its largest population centers are Grand Junction to the west and Pueblo to the east.

Some 35 percent of Colorado is managed by the federal government. Most of that is in the Third. For voters there, recreation and tourism (including hunting and fishing) compete with ranching, which uses public lands for grazing cattle.

And everyone competes for water. The district includes the headwaters for the Rio Grande, Yampa, White, North Platte and the Gunnison rivers, to name a few. The mighty Colorado River, although it starts in Rocky Mountain National Park, cuts through the district on its way to Utah, Southern Nevada and Arizona. The district also includes many of the state’s most popular ski resorts: Aspen, Crested Butte, Snowmass, Steamboat Springs, Telluride and Wolf Creek are among them.

Politically, the Third has leaned Republican for the past several election cycles. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney won it by 6 percent, with 52 percent of the vote to President Barack Obama’s 46 percent. John McCain won the district four years earlier with a 3 percent margin – 50 percent to Obama’s 47 percent. Obama won Colorado as a whole in both those elections, with a statewide victory over Romney by 5 percent in 2012 and a 9 percent win over McCain in 2008.

According to the Secretary of State, the district has more than 519,000 registered voters. Republicans lead there with 180,121. But unaffiliated voter numbers aren’t far behind, at 178,743. Democrats trail at 153,244. The district’s boundaries were changed in 2011 to make it more competitive, which meant folding in a larger percentage of Democrats.

The U.S. Census reported an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent in 2014. But that was before the closure of several of the district’s largest coal mines, including the Elk Creek and Bowie #2 mines, both in Delta County. Shutting down both mines over the past two years has resulted in the loss of about 1,000 high-paying jobs. Job losses in oil and gas have also plagued the district.

That’s part of what drives Tipton: helping those hard-hit communities find ways to survive.

“We have a tale of two economies,” Tipton told The Colorado Independent in August. “Denver is doing reasonably well. Resort communities are doing well. But when we go into other communities, people are worried about keeping jobs and too many are looking for them. I’m driving past stores that were once occupied and now are for sale or lease. It’s about jobs and the family’s future.”

Hoping to help out those communities, Tipton has co-sponsored and carried bipartisan legislation such as a hydropower and jobs bill, signed into law in 2013 by President Obama. Tipton and Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Golden also sponsored a bill to encourage small businesses access to capital from small banks and credit unions.

Why should Tipton return to Congress?

Kraig Andrews of Grand Junction, a project manager for a construction company, likes Tipton’s accessibility and efforts on behalf of Mesa County. Andrews said Tipton has pushed to keep public lands open for the outdoor recreation industry in Mesa County, where 80 percent of the lands are federally-managed. “We thrive on outdoor recreation here,” Andrews said, citing the county’s man mountain biking, hiking, hunting and fishing businesses. Tipton advocated for keeping trails open on federal lands that had been cut off by the Bureau of Land Mangement, Andrews said.

As Andrews tells it, Tipton has gained the trust of residents in the Third District. “Congress needs more than a loud mouth. One person can make a difference, especially if that person works well with others,” he said. “He works for the people.”

Schwartz, in her eight years in the Senate, also worked on jobs creation. She sponsored legislation on rural broadband that employs workers to build and maintain internet infrastructure and on a “cottage foods act” that allows people to produce foods in the homes for local sales.

Rochelle Needham of Gunnison County has known Schwartz for years, and applauds her devotion to the environment and love of nature. “She’s worked tirelessly for the Thompson Divide” near Carbondale that the Bureau of Land Management had considered opening to drilling in 2014.  Schwartz is poised and skilled at working around people who can be difficult to work with, Needham said. Diana Glazer, also of Gunnison, said Schwartz more accurately reflects the needs and positions of people on the Western Slope, especially on water and the environment.

Schwartz’s biggest brush with controversy may well have been in 2013, when she co-sponsored a bill to raise the renewable energy standard for some of the state’s rural electric co-ops. Among the bill’s notable features: it exempted a handful of rural co-ops, including Holy Cross Energy in Schwartz’s district, which supplies electricity to the Aspen and Vail ski resorts. Opponents, including the free-market Independence Institute, claimed Schwartz and co-sponsor Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs did not know how the utilities worked and that the bill would drive up energy costs for rural Coloradans. Gov. John Hickenlooper called the bill “imperfect,” but signed it anyway.

Schwartz has been accused of siding too much with environmentalists,which led to an attack ad in the 2010 election from the dark money group Western Tradition Partnership. The ad featured Schwartz’s head superimposed over the body of Donald Trump, saying, “You’re fired!” to the voters of her Senate district.

Tipton also has had his share of missteps. In 2011, he apologized to the House Ethics Committee after his daughter used his name to attempt to gain contacts for her employer, a broadband company. A month later, it was reported that Tipton spent $7,000 with vendors who did business with his nephew’s company – the same broadband company that employed the Congressman’s daughter. In 2012, Tipton used taxpayer money to promote a campaign event, inadvertently listing it on his congressional website.

Earlier this year, Tipton was criticized for offering a bill authored by SG Interests, a Texas oil and gas company whose employees have contributed more than $37,000 to his campaigns over the past six years, according to The bill was never acted on.

Schwartz and Tipton sat down last week (separately) to talk with The Colorado Independent about what matters in the district and what they’ll do to win votes. Both made their campaign pitches to water leaders at last week’s Colorado Water Congress summer conference in Steamboat Springs.

During Schwartz’s remarks to the Water Congress, Republican Rep. J. Paul Brown of Ignacio asked her about her views on the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” Schwartz replied that she represented the three Delta County mines in her Senate district and just the day before had visited the Trapper Mine in Craig. “I’ve advocated for both coal and oil and gas,” she told him.

Schwartz told The Independent that she has worked on a number of mining issues, from dealing with mine safety issues to finding funding for infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, that mine employees travel on.

She counts among her accomplishments her work advocating for an exemption on the federal “roadless” rule that prohibits road construction on certain National Forest lands. Schwartz explained that the exemption allowed coal mines to build vents to vent methane gas. That greenhouse gas can be captured from vents, she noted, citing a program in which the Aspen Ski company uses coal mine methane as an energy source.

Schwartz also touted that she stood up to the environmental community on methane captures being included in the state’s renewable energy portfolio. The Colorado Petroleum Association recognized her efforts to help the industry with its “Legislator of the Year” award in 2011.

Schwartz said the free market, not government regulation, should determine the nation’s energy portfolio. She also advocates for opportunities to develop renewable energy – specifically biomass, geothermal and hydroelectric power.

Four of the state’s seven headwaters are in the Senate district Schwartz represented. She says it’s important to protect those waterways from wildfire damage, and to bring more water-efficient technologies to farms and ranches. A lot of agriculture relies on public lands and on keeping them in public hands, she said. “The movement to sell them off undermines our economies, our water quality and water quantity.”

Defense of public lands is among Schwartz’s strongest attacks on Tipton’s record. She points out that the GOP platform calls on Congress to pass legislation requiring the federal government to turn over federal lands to the states, which can then sell them off to the highest bidder.

Tipton co-sponsored the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2015 that would “empower states to control the development and protection of all forms of energy on all available Federal land.” Schwartz claims that bill would effectively turn over Colorado’s public lands to energy developers, jeopardizing the Third District’s outdoor recreation economy and threatening thousands of jobs. “This is simply code for privatizing and selling” public lands, Schwartz said, because no state can possibly afford to manage its public lands.

Still, Schwartz is critical of what she see as government overreach on certain public lands, which she notes has led to tensions like the Bundy standoffs in Utah and Oregon.

In CD3, many blast the Endangered Species Act, which recently listed theGunnison sage grouse as a threatened species. Many West Slopers believe the species can be protected without federal intervention. Schwartz backs delisting the bird and says it should be treated the same as the greater sage grouse, which the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service removed from its list of potential endangered species last year. The money the state has put into mitigation efforts for the birds has been tremendous, she said. “The state has made its best effort, and the federal government needs to respect those efforts.”

Although she has the backing of some environmental groups, Schwartz had strong criticism for some in the environmental community, saying that certain groups’ instinct to “stop everything” isn’t helpful. “We have to protect habitat and species, but in a way that respects the state’s approach,” she said.

As for her presidential pick, Schwartz demurred. There’s strong support for both Clinton and Trump in the district, but her “race is where we can come together on issues like water and climate change,” she said. “People want leadership, especially on protecting public lands.”

Schwartz differentiated herself from Tipton by noting that he votes 95 percent of the time with his party. “I’m willing to reach across the aisle and not be locked down with ideologues on either side of the aisle,” she said. “I have a record of getting things done and gaining support.”

In his remarks to the Water Congress last week, Tipton touted his support for states’ rights, especially water rights, and chastised Washington for federal overreach, especially with environmental regulations. He’s currently sponsoring a bill that would mirror one passed this year in Colorado to tell the federal government “hands-off” on Colorado water rights.

Control over water is a hot issue in the district. In 2011, the U.S. Forest Service demanded that ski resorts turn over their water rights in exchange for renewing their leases on public lands. The ski companies sued and the Forest Service rules were tossed because the agency hadn’t properly followed federal procedural guidelines. Late last year, after a five-year fight, the Forest Service backed down. The water rights issue also affected farmers and ranchers who graze herds on Bureau of Land Management public lands. The BLM had demanded they also cede water rights, but later also backed down.

Tipton blasted the Forest Service rule, calling it “theft” of water rights and complaining that it’s a symptom of a broken process in Washington – one where rules are put into place and never again reviewed. Congress needs to get involved with the rulemaking process, he said.

About the Endangered Species Act, he said the law doesn’t provide a clear idea of the target numbers each state needs to match on protecting species. “We appreciate the Act for what it did” for eagles, Tipton said. But it needs to be more specific on the issue of the sage grouse, for example.

Tipton noted that unemployment in the district is now about 10 percent, well above the state or even national rates. He believes cutting back on federal regulations would stimulate the economy and bolster job growth, and he intends to continue that fight into the next Congress.

Like Schwartz, Tipton touted ability to reach across the aisle, saying that every bill that he has been able to pass out of the House did so with bipartisan support. He has sponsored five bills that have been signed into law, most recently a measure requiring the executive director of each federal agency to develop a software licensing policy. Tipton serves on the House Financial Services Committee and on two related subcommittees. He previously sat on the House agriculture, natural resources and small business committees.

But Tipton’s voting record as a whole is hardly bipartisan. The web site Ballotpedia said that for 2013, Tipton voted 98.2 percent of the time with his fellow Republicans. In 2014, it was 94.2 percent. InsideGov rates him as “very conservative” on individual rights, domestic issues and defense, and “moderately conservative” on economic issues. GovTrack rates him among the more conservative members of Congress, saying he “usually” votes with his caucus.

Does that play well in the district? The Denver Post, in its 2012 endorsement, advised Tipton to take a more moderate path. The newspaper didn’t endorse any Third District candidate in 2014, but endorsed Tipton for re-election earlier this month.

As for his views on the presidential candidates, Tipton was clear. Clinton has made a “commitment to a third [Obama] administration,” he said. “We aren’t seeing the jobs or the recovery.”

Regarding GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, he said, “Do I agree with the Republican nominee every time? No.” But, he added, the role of Congress is not to be a rubber stamp for any administration.

Let’s talk about those CU regent candidates on your Colorado ballot

The race between Democrat Alice Madden and Republican Heidi Ganahl could tip the balance of power of CU’s board of regents for the first time since 1979



If you’ve looked over your ballot, you may well be wondering: What’s a University of Colorado regent? Why am I being asked to vote for one? Why do I care?

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. About 10 percent of voters who cast ballots for president have left the regents boxes blank in previous years. But this year the race is a big deal.

For one, the balance of power on the board of Colorado’s flagship university could tip in this year’s election, and the race comes at a time when college campuses have become high-profile battlegrounds over issues like guns, race, free speech and gender identity. Already, one national issue, climate change, is featuring prominently in the campaigns for regent. And what to do about the rising costs of tuition in an era of reduced state funding?

Regent races may be typically sleepy affairs, but this year’s at-large race between Democrat Alice Madden and Republican Heidi Ganahl has gotten more attention than usual. There is also big money pouring in on both sides— an unusual development in races for regent in Colorado. Madden is backed by a Super PAC called Blueflower, which has spent more than $120,000 on her behalf so far, according to campaign finance data. Ganahl is supported by a Super PAC called Colorado Right Now, which has spent a whopping $350,000 to boost her bid. The Super PAC is airing TV commercials for Ganahl; Madden does not have the campaign funds to do so. The two have not had a debate. And they both blame each other for that.

The race is on, so you’ll want to know what to say when it comes up at parties before Election Day. (Don’t ask us what kind of parties we go to.)

As Ganahl frames the election: “We call this race the most important race you’ve never heard of because most people don’t know what the heck a regent is.”

So, what is the board of regents?

The University of Colorado Board of Regents in a nine-member panel of elected men and women who each represent a political party. Seven of them are elected in their respective congressional districts, and two at-large regents are elected by all voters statewide. Regents serve six-year staggered terms. Colorado is one of only four states where voters statewide get to choose a regent instead of having them appointed, and if you’re a registered voter you’ll get to make a choice between two candidates in November— one a Democrat and one a Republican.

And what do these regents do?

Among other duties, regents choose the president of the University of Colorado’s 60,000-plus-student body. They set policy, decide on degree programs and vote on the university’s $3.5 billion budget. CU is the state’s third-largest employer and contributes $7 billion to Colorado’s economy. Regents also vote on whether to raise or lower tuition.

What’s so important about the at-large race for regent this year?

Well, for one, while Colorado has been trending blue over the past decade, the board of regents has been controlled by Republicans since 1979. Right now, it’s a 5-4 GOP majority.

It hasn’t been a hyper-polarized board, and according to Michael Carrigan, a Democratic regent from Denver, there’s no reason to think that will change.

“It’s not the like Democrats are going to get in charge and go wacky left, or if the Republicans stay in charge that they’re going to …[try] to turn the university in a radically right direction,” he says.

That may be so, says his fellow regent, Glen Gallegos, a Republican from Grand Junction, but “I think it’s important to the party to have control of that board. Whether it’s more symbolic than not, I think it’s an important thing.”

While generally rare, votes that break along party lines have been known to happen. In 2008, for example, the board chose current president Bruce Benson, an oil man who was once chairman of the Colorado Republican Party and the GOP nominee for governor in 1994, on a 6-3 party-line vote.

The issues currently challenging the university — from faculty diversity, to the promotion of academic research on climate change, to the rising cost of tuition and how to offset it — suggest partisan differences could lie ahead.

The board deadlocked in June when trying to elect a new chair. Votes split between two candidates, one a Republican, one a Democrat, with a third candidate peeling off a single vote. As of this posting, the board has yet to choose its chair. During a weekend retreat in the mountains earlier this month, the board sought again to name a new chair, but no one made a nomination.*

OK, so who’s running for the at-large seat that will be on my ballot in November?

The two candidates are women, and come from pretty different backgrounds.

Democrat Alice Madden is a former lawmaker and University of Colorado grad with a history of environmental activism. Madden, it should be noted, was also an architect of the successful 2004 effort to flip Colorado’s legislature blue, which later became known as “The Blueprint”— the title of a book about the movement.

“Certainly I want to rally the Democratic troops and I’ll say we’ll flip the board, and I flipped the House and isn’t that cool, but that’s campaigning,” she says. “Of course, I do want people to get excited about this race, but I do think the Republicans have been in control for an awfully long time and my question is, ‘Do you think things could be done better?’ And I do.”

Madden is the director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado’s law school, her alma mater. That means that if elected as a regent, she would govern her employer. She is supported by environmental group Conservation Colorado and Colorado WINS, a union representing more than 30,000 state employees. Madden is concerned with racial diversity at CU.

Prior to running for CU regent, Madden wanted to become lieutenant governor— and perhaps even governor— when Joseph Garcia stepped down and Gov. John Hickenlooper had to appoint a replacement. In emails allegedly hacked from an account belonging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta and published by Wikileaks, Madden wrote to Podesta about her interest in the job, indicating he might have some sway with the governor:

In sum, I offer John a way to check a lot of boxes, build up his progressive credibility (especially with unions & enviros), and help Hillary in ’16. The reason I am reaching out is that John’s typical MO would be to pick someone non-political and very moderate. I am sure s/he would be a perfectly nice person but not a big help to HRC. A word from you would go a long way to get me on his short list. I can do the rest!!

Madden says she recalls writing the email to Podesta. She hadn’t announced her run for regent at the time and she calls it an intriguing opportunity because as lieutenant governor she would be involved in the state commission on higher education. “A lot of people had asked me to look into it,” she says, but she thought it was a long shot. “I would have been honored to be chosen.”

She says she has no desire to run for governor because she is committed to her law school job and hopes to be a CU regent for the next six years.

Republican Heidi Ganahl is a businesswoman and CU Boulder grad who sits on the University of Colorado’s foundation board, runs a charity called Moms Fight Back and started Camp Bow Wow, which became the first big nationally franchised doggy day care service. She does not believe in “safe spaces” on campuses.

“I’ve got a business background, I built a $100 million brand with Camp Bow Wow and franchising is all about listening to people and helping people collaborate and come to a vision that we can all agree on, and building on that vision,” she told The Colorado Independent, noting those are qualities needed for being an effective regent.

Republican Party chairman Steve House has a little joke about Ganahl he tells when talking her up.

“Heidi makes me mad,” he told a GOP audience in El Paso County earlier this month. “Because she found a way to make more money than I do by playing with dogs.”

Ganahl is one of the many down-ballot Republicans running this year who won’t say if she is voting for Donald Trump for president, but she says she is “voting the Republican ticket” up and down the ballot.

“I’m voting the Republican ticket, it’s that simple,” she says when reminded that the Republican on top of the GOP ticket is Trump.

For many years, the race for regent, because it is so obscure, has tracked with how the race for president goes in Colorado. Asked she believes Trump will have an effect on her as a candidate who won’t even say his name in an interview, she demurred.

“Like other Americans I’m struggling with the whole situation, too, but I do believe our party’s principles are the best for our country,” she say.

Madden’s camp frames her as a right-wing fellow traveller of the Koch-brothers network, but she says it just isn’t so and “it’s just paying politics.”

Plenty of issues set Madden and Ganahl apart.

Madden says she’ll fight for more state funding, while Ganahl says she’ll fight for innovative fundraising because she doesn’t think the university system will get more taxpayer money. Madden doesn’t like the idea of voters choosing regents and thinks they should be non-partisan and appointed positions. Ganahl likes voters having a choice in how the university system is run. Madden wants to increase the minimum wage for all CU employees; Ganahl worries doing so would mean higher tuition. Madden wants more celebration of and focus on the climate change research being done at the university. Ganahl downplays that topic a political issue.

Wait. What does climate change have to do with a board of regents race in Colorado?

A lot, apparently. And who knew, right? When The Colorado Independent asked what the practical implications of a Democratic victory would be, Madden’s first response was this: “I think we could actually talk about climate change.” Right now, she says, the regents don’t ever mention the university research on the topic — much less promote it.

“This is verboten,” she says. “Which is ridiculous. So it’s kind of a slap in the face to the amazing people we have here. Their work is not only dismissed but ridiculed.”

Regent Linda Shoemaker, a Boulder Democrat, echoes that sentiment.

“We have a lot of scientists doing important climate research … that may not feel as free to do their work under a Republican administration than a Democratic one,” she says. “We do definitely have Republicans [on the board] who do not believe that people are impacting the climate.”

Asked about the topic, current Republican regent Steve Bosley of Longmont said regents stay out of academic research, and academic freedom is protected. Philosophically, though, he notes that he’s skeptical of the preponderance of evidence supporting man-made climate change. In the 1950s, he noted, there were medical doctors who didn’t think smoking was unhealthy.

Related: Email controversy highlights CU regents’ problem with climate change

Ganahl doesn’t see the relevance of the issue for the board.

“I’m not sure where climate change comes into the discussion about running a university,” she says. “I think it’s more of a political discussion than it is one that we should be dealing with. I think we should leave it to the scientists to deal with that, not the board of regents of the University of Colorado.”

She told The Durango Herald she believes Madden is “big in the climate change movement,” and aired her concerns about the topic being raised at other higher ed institutions.

“I have a senior at the University of Oregon, and I’m horrified at what I see happening there,” she told the paper. “Instead of teaching critical thinking, they’re being told here’s what we believe, here’s why you should believe it and the deal is done. A lot of parents are not OK with that.”

Climate change isn’t the only environmental issue coming into play in the regent’s race. Colorado’s oil and gas industry is also paying attention. Republicans on the board worry Democrats might seek to divest holdings in fossil fuels. The university cannot make any direct investments, so its portfolio, which swings somewhere between $800 million and $1.2 billion, is in money management and mutual funds. Some have fossil fuel companies in their portfolios.

Republican Bosley, who also chairs the CU investment committee and has a background in finance and business, says researching divestment has been “one of the most fascinating projects that I’ve worked on, to understand it and the ramifications.”

He wonders about a gray area. What if the university has investments in a pipeline. Is that a fossil fuel investment? There is precedent for divestment at the University of Colorado. In 2006 the university pulled investments from companies doing work in Sudan after the genocides in Darfur.

But those investments were less than one tenth of 1 percent of CU’s portfolio, Bosley says. Fossil fuel investments make up much more.

In 2015, CU’s regents voted 7-2 against divestment from fossil fuels, with the two dissenting votes cast by Democrats. Current at-large Democratic regent Stephen Ludwig voted with the Republicans.

“If the Democrats get control, I think they would vote to bring that divestment back up,” says John Carson, a Republican regent from the 6th District who led the charge for the vote last year. “We have a lot of people who are pushing for that, so it will be an issue.”

Simon Lomax, an associate energy policy analyst with the Denver-based libertarian Independence Institute and a consultant who advises pro-business groups, has written much about Madden’s ties to environmental groups that support large university systems’ divestment in the fossil fuel industry. And he has linked her to California billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, who is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in Colorado on research and polling.

Madden says she characterizes herself as a “carrot-not-a-stick person,” and would rather consider the sum of policies of a corporation with which the university does business. The measure she uses, a checklist called Environmental Social Justice Governance criteria, or ESG, assesses a company’s environmental practices, as well as its policies related to LGBT issues and pension protection, among other factors.

“I admire the people behind [divestment] because I worked on divestment from South Africa — it was my first protest — so I admire any kind of activism by young people, and I’ve told them that I prefer ESG and I just think it’s a better way to go,” she says, adding, “This is not the end-all-be-all of the race.”

Another climate change-related issue has bubbled up in the race after the Wikileaks dump of allegedly hacked Podesta emails. In them was a thread in which the website ThinkProgress, a product of the liberal group Center for American Progress, took credit for silencing a University of Colorado professor named Roger Pielke Jr., who used to write about climate change until he came under criticism from the group. Madden worked for the Center for American Progress, an issue Pielke has raised publicly. The editor of ThinkProgress says there was no organized campaign to damage the professor’s career. (Full disclosure: I once attended a conference in Washington, D.C. put on in part by CAP nearly a decade ago in which the group reimbursed me for travel.)

In his writings, Pielke, who studies natural disasters and climate change, has written that increased natural disasters are not a product of global warming. After coming under attack from ThinkProgress he shifted his academic work from climate change to sports governance, saying he basically got muzzled on that topic.

Madden says her work for the Center for American Progress was to write articles about clean energy legislation, comparing states with best practices. She says she had nothing to do with any campaign against the CU professor. She worked for the think tank for about a year and a half.

“He sounds familiar, but I don’t know who he is,” she says about Pielke. “I certainly didn’t know anything about him in relation to the think tank.” Madden says regents should not be influencing the direction of research or saying anything that has “any kind of chilling effect around it.”

Ok, so I’m a parent in Colorado. What could this race mean for my family and me?

Well, if you’re planning to send your kid to one of the University of Colorado’s campuses, you might consider some of the biggest differences between the two candidates.

Less than six percent of CU’s budget is funded by the state. There are no state statutes or constitutional requirements that mandate Colorado spend a certain amount of state funds per student. According to the Fiscal Institute, a Denver-based economic think tank, Colorado ranks 48th in the nation for state funds per full-time student. Only New Hampshire and Vermont spend less.

In 1996, just under 15 percent of Colorado’s general fund went to higher education, the Institute reports. About 9 percent of the general fund goes to higher ed today.

Ganahl, the Republican contender for the at-large regent seat, doesn’t think the state will increase funding to the university system, and is looking for a different approach.

“I’m not sure where we’re going to get the additional funding with transportation needing so much and K-12 needing so much, and the cost of the Affordable Care Act in Colorado is skyrocketing,” she says. “So there’s only so much money in the bucket unless you raise taxes dramatically, and I just like to take a different approach and one that doesn’t have us rely on that state funding. If we can get the state funding, wonderful, but if we can’t we can’t be beholden to that. We have to figure out how to move our university forward in many ways.”

Madden, the Democrat, believes the state should — and likely will — increase funding, especially if enough Democrats win House and Senate seats to control the General Assembly.

How? Something called the hospital provider fee, a nearly $1 billion state program whose revenue counts against mandatory spending caps under Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights constitutional amendment. Last year, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Democrats in the legislature fought hard to have the program reclassified as a stand-alone TABOR-exempt enterprise to free up more money in the state budget for transportation and — wait for it — higher education.

Related: The Hospital Provider Fee Issue Explained

The issue became the biggest battle of the last legislative session, when Democrats couldn’t get the fee reclassification passed through the Republican-controlled Senate. Dozens of civic and policy groups took public positions about whether or not to reclassify the fee, with most— including a near-monolithic voice of the state’s business community— supporting it. The University of Colorado’s board of regents, however, never took a position. This, despite CU president Benson being a vocal supporter of the shifting the fee and testifying in favor of the policy before lawmakers. Democratic regent Shoemaker says the board didn’t have the votes to support reclassifying the hospital provider fee and a no-vote would have been embarrassingly out of sync with Benson.

“I think the hospital provider fee has a good chance of passing in the next year,” Madden says. “But why wouldn’t you always fight for restoring funding? We’re one of the few states that hasn’t restored funding.”

Asked what she thought about reclassifying the hospital provider fee, Ganahl said she doesn’t have a problem with it being reclassified, but voters should decide that— not the legislature. She would rather see such a question put to voters.

“You’ve got to be really careful about banging on Capitol Hill to get more money,” she said.

During the last legislative session, CU president Benson testified in favor of a legislative reclassification of the hospital provider fee. Asked if she agreed with him on that, Ganahl  said, “I disagree on that point,”

According to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, “net tuition for public institutions of higher education in Colorado has increased 38.5 percent since 2009. The U.S. average increase was 26.7 percent.”

Earlier this year, the board of regents voted 7-2 to lock in tuition for incoming freshman at CU-Boulder for four years, and voted for a 4 percent tuition hike for incoming freshman in 2018.

What  would these candidates do about political diversity among faculty on campus?

A college campus in Boulder, Colorado. What could sound more liberal, right?

So it’s not surprising that some Republicans want to keep control of the University of Colorado, hoping that GOP regents will have some sway in injecting more conservative viewpoints into the higher ed marketplace of ideas. They’ve found some success with the Center for Conservative Thought and Policy at CU-Boulder, a privately funded program with a visiting scholar who stays for four years. The center recently was rolled into the school’s Center for Western Civilization, which is designed to bring more conservative discourse into Western civ classes. The plan is to have faculty be part of it, along with graduate and doctoral students.

“I think what the reality is is that, if you don’t have members of the board supporting it and helping raise money for it, I’m not sure how long it would continue,” says John Carson, a Republican regent. He says he hears all the time how much parents worry about their kids getting a well-rounded education.

It is true that the faculty tends to be more progressive than conservative, says regent Shoemaker. But to her, that’s just more reason to elect a Democrat onto the board.

“I believe the whole system will function better and more smoothly with less friction, with less controversy,” she says. “Right now we can’t even select a board chair.”

For her part, Madden wants to see a different kind of diversity on campus.

“Who we hire as professors matters,” she says. “We have very few black professors and very few black administrators compared to our population. It’s a problem.”

According to the latest faculty diversity report for CU Boulder, there are 121 black faculty and staff members out of about 6,100. On campus, 1.6 percent of the undergraduate student population is black. As for Latinos, there are 580 faculty and staff members. The undergraduate Latino student population is 10.6 percent.

Regents, Madden says, can move the needle by selecting a president who makes diversity hires a priority.

“It’s not that difficult,” Madden says, noting that the university system is taking steps to do that.

But, “it’s moving too slow,” she adds. “It’s just too damn slow.”

Policy issues aside, is this race really about a new CU president?

That depends on whom you ask.

Jim Martin, a former regent who held the at-large seat up for grabs this year, penned a recent newspaper column about how the current president’s future “likely hinges” on this race.

The Republican candidate agrees.

If Democrats gain control, “I think the first thing they want to do is fire our president,” Ganahl says bluntly. “Which is not good. He’s done a great job and he’s made some incredible advances at CU … I think that would be a terrible decision to move Bruce out.”

The Democrat, Madden, says that just ain’t so, despite unflattering comments she’d made about Benson’s selection in 2008.

“I’m not running because of Bruce Benson,” she says. “And I met with him to tell him that, by the way.” She says he has “done a great job as president.”

But Benson is almost 80 years old.

“We’re going to ride him as long as [we] can,” says Gallegos, the Republican regent from Grand Junction.

“I would say the selection of a president is on the line,” counters Shoemaker. “All of our leadership is going to be turning over in the next five years. We have got to be well prepared for that. And we, the board of regents, should be as functional as we can be so we attract the very best and brightest people who want to lead our university.”


The battle to replace Democratic state Sen. Linda Newell of Littleton is being waged not only by the two major party candidates, but by outside groups that have spent at least a million dollars, mostly on ads and mailers critical of the other side’s candidates.

Control of the state Senate, which Republicans hold by one seat, has led many to focus on the race in Arvada between Republican incumbent Laura Woods of Westminster and Democrat and former state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada. That’s the extra seat Democrats need to gain control of the Senate.

But flipping the Senate also requires that Democrats hang on to two other hotly contested seats being vacated by term-limited Democrats, including Newell’s District 26 seat.

That contest, between Democratic Rep. Daniel Kagan of Greenwood Village and Republican Arapahoe County Commissioner Nancy Doty is one of the biggest money statehouse contests this year, more due to spending by outside groups than fundraising by the candidates.

Kagan has so far raised $233,442 to Doty’s $169,511. But it’s the outside money that’s making the difference.

Among the players: Colorado Citizens for Accountable Government, which runs mailers and TV ads that oppose Democrats. Since the first of September, the group has spent at least $250,000 on advertising targeting Kagan, in particular for his support of the hospital provider fee.

On the other side, the Democratic-aligned Colorado Citizens’ Alliance independent expenditure committee has spent at least $734,000 on mailers and other advertising criticizing Doty for her views on guns, abortion and for taking special interest money.

Doty has taken contributions from big-name Republicans such as former U.S. Sen. William Armstrong, former Gov. Bill Owens (she was his chief financial officer from 2000 to 2004) and U.S. Senate candidate Jack Graham. Other noteworthy Republicans, including Pete Coors, Larry Mizel and Jake Jabs, also have funded her campaign, and she personally has pumped in $6,500 of her own money.

Kagan has taken contributions from millionaire Rutt Bridges, his former wife Barbara Bridges, and son Jeff Bridges, who is running to succeed Kagan in House District 3. Kagan also has received donations from four political action committees set up by current Democratic members of the General Assembly, as well as $7,500 from the state Democratic Party – one of six similar donations made to Democrats running for the state Senate.

Both candidates are experienced politicians. Kagan is finishing up his eight years in the state House. Doty has spent four years as an Arapahoe County Commissioner and, before that, nine years as Arapahoe County’s clerk and recorder.

Doty, 70, came into elected office via an untraditional route. She was first elected through a recall of her predecessor, Republican Tracy Baker, who was accused of sexual misconduct and financial mismanagement in 2003. Doty was elected to finish out the remaining time left for Baker’s term and then ran and won the seat for two terms after that.

Kagan, 63, is an English native who also started his political career in a different way: fulfilling a vacancy left by then-Rep. Anne McGihon of Englewood, who resigned two months into her third term in office in March 2009 to take on a new job. Kagan had been McGihon’s aide.

Kagan has been a U.S. citizen since 1984. He’s known for his English accent and his ever-present cigarette, although it’s now an e-cigarette.

He has a diverse business background, having worked as a Teamster, lawyer, and business owner. He’s taught flying and managed his family’s textile business in England.

Kagan is currently the chair of legislature’s House Judiciary Committee. He holds a law degree from Yale and once had a law firm with his wife, Faye, in Washington DC, but has never practiced law in Colorado, choosing instead to go into politics after moving to the state in 2007. Off-session, he is retired.

Kagan toyed with retiring from legislative service at the end of this year. But the current political climate convinced him to continue. “I was always raised to participate in politics in whatever way one can. That’s an obligation, one I’m trying to fulfill at the end of my working life,” he said.

“The dysfunction we see in our national politics has not overwhelmed Colorado. But with the way things are going, I’m afraid it might,” he continued. National politicians have lost their way and forgotten why they were elected in the first place, and “I’m seeing that begin to happen in Colorado. That is another motivation to not retire at this time. I want to be part of the stand against the degradation of our politics.”

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

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.

Kagan sees the hospital provider fee as a chance for the state to reverse course for funding public education and infrastructure such as roads and bridges. “We’ve watched our infrastructure deteriorate” and the business climate along with it, he said. The underfunding trend can be reversed without an increase in taxes if lawmakers “recategorize the hospital provider fee and allow those funds to be used where they’re very much needed,” he said.

In response to Republican claims that making the fee an “enterprise” would be a backdoor way around TABOR, Kagan pointed out that the enterprise structure was set up when TABOR was originally approved by voters in 1992. And “it wasn’t a flaming liberal who set that up,” Kagan noted. “It was [Republican and convicted tax cheat] Doug Bruce and the architects of TABOR. They acknowledged when TABOR was passed that when the government provides a service, those funds should not be counted as TABOR revenue…[enterprise status is] actually what the architects of TABOR intended.”

Kagan voted in favor of the 2013 statewide gun control measures that limited the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and required background checks for private transfers of weapons. He calls those measures “modest but important, and it is important that they not be rolled back,” he said. He added the background check law has helped weed out hundreds of dangerous applicants for firearms. As he sees it, Coloradans don’t need massive magazines for hunting or self-defense.

“The only time you need a large magazine is when you want to kill a lot of people in a short period of time,” he said.

House Republicans tried six times in the 2016 session to either restrict or end abortion. Kagan, who is pro-choice, said those bills were an attempt to impose one moral view on women seeking reproductive care.

“I think it is very wrong to try and interpose my judgment or the legislature’s judgment between a woman and her doctor and her conscience when it comes to very personal decisions,” he said.

For their part, Democratic lawmakers tried to push through a package of bills designed to level the playing field on equal pay for equal work. While there is already a federal law requiring equal pay, the bills offered in 2016 would have worked on some of the issues not covered by that law. Kagan said that paying women less than men for doing the same work is “unjust and counterproductive,” and that lawmakers must be all they can to end the inequity.

“No one is suggesting that everyone doing the same job must be paid the same,” Kagan said.

The only exception is if the only difference between two employees is their gender, he said.

Kagan does not support Amendment 69, the ColoradoCare single payer ballot measure that voters will decide in November. “I believe in greater access to health care, but the more I learned about the details of this initiative the more concerned I became and the less I liked it. Not the least of which is the fact that it won’t fully cover women’s reproductive health.”

One of the more important issues in the district, Kagan said, is the underfunding of public schools.

“Our first obligation is to our children and all Colorado children, to make sure they have a decent start in life and that begins with a quality public education,” he said. “We’re not doing what we should be doing.”

Without a change in the hospital provider fee, the only other available education funding option for now is to ask the public if they want a time-out on TABOR refunds, Kagan said. “That won’t involve a tax increase and it’s something the public needs to seriously consider.”

Doty said she decided to run for the Senate because it was “important.” The county is running well, she said, and she decided she could do more at the state level.

Doty has lived in the district off-and-on for more than three decades. Her education includes degrees in medical technology and accounting, and she has worked in public accounting and banking, and did a stint at the Fort restaurant as its finance officer and at the Savio House, an in-home residence for troubled youth.

She lists education among her top priorities.

“We have a lot of good teachers, but I want parents to have an option on how their children are educated. One size doesn’t fit all,” she said, citing the need for charter schools, homeschooling, online education and private schools.

Does that mean she would support taxpayer funding for private schools? Doty pointed out that other states have educational savings accounts – an idea she’d like to see Colorado explore. Such accounts could be used for a disabled child for special education, for example. “It gives parents an option,” she said.

The hospital provider fee isn’t a subject that has come up on the campaign trail, Doty indicated, and although she comes from a strong financial background, she admitted she isn’t quite up to speed on the issue and needs to spend more time looking into it.

“The ironic thing is that we’re talking about money that will solve all the issues once the transfer takes place. I don’t know if that’s the answer,” she said.

UPDATE: since the publication of this story in June, Doty has come out against reclassifying the fee.

Doty said she supports the lawsuit filed by 54 county sheriffs that attempted to overturn the 2013 gun control laws. While that suit was dismissed in May by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court did not rule on the constitutionality issue, and the plaintiffs plan to refile.

“I don’t want to see laws made more difficult. What we have on the books should be adequate,” she said, adding that she’s aware that that the county sheriffs believe the laws – especially on the 15-round limit – is unenforceable.

The background checks for gun transfers don’t make sense to her, she said.

“It’s not realistic in all situations.” Doty said, adding that she believes those transfers would affect people who take in guns for repair or cleaning.

(The law specifically exempts temporary transfers, such as would be the case for repairs.)

Doty is anti-abortion although, based on her family’s history, her views on the topic are nuanced. She told The Independent her mother once faced a difficult pregnancy, and her father was told the doctors could either save his wife or the baby. Her father chose her mother, reasoning that some day they could have more children.

“I understand there can be situations” in which an abortion is considered, Doty said. “There can be exceptions.”

On the issue of equal pay, Doty said she has worked hard and believes pay should be based on ability and “what you’re worth.”

“I wouldn’t expect someone to pay me more just because I’m a woman,” she said.

She noted that some women choose to go into careers, like teaching, in which they work nine months and are off during the summer. “I think people should be aware, when they choose a profession, what they will be paid,” she said.”

She also doesn’t agree with raising the minimum wage. She worries if the rate is raised, a lot of people could lose their jobs. “I don’t want to tell businesses how much to pay their employees,” she said. “These entry level jobs are there for a purpose.”

Doty said the need for affordable housing is pressing in the district and she backs efforts to reform the state’s construction defects law. Developers and builders claim the law makes it too easy for homeowners’ associations to sue over defective units. Legislation to reform the law has failed the last three years in a row.

Doty also pointed out that she doesn’t back Amendment 69 – the universal health care ballot issue this November. “I believe it would hurt Colorado economically, cost jobs and result in higher taxes for people,” she said.

On her presidential preference, Doty said she will support the Republican nominee, although Donald Trump was not her first choice. She initially backed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“A year ago, I would never have believed Trump would be the nominee,” Doty said.



In a so-funny-but-not-funny report in The Gazette this week— that’s right, not The Onion— reporter Debbie Kelley revealed how parents of Palmer Ridge High School students in a heavily conservative part of the state acted like high schoolers themselves after the school’s newspaper endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.

Some highlights from the piece:

The editorial “outraged” some parents, said Palmer Ridge English teacher and newspaper adviser Tom Patrick. They emailed the school and took to social media, saying the editorial was inappropriate for a student publication, that Trump should have been given equal space, and that the paper’s staff should be suspended. They said Patrick was a “communist” and a “socialist.” They accused him of indoctrinating students and called for his job. “There are a lot of parents that don’t understand what the rights of the student press are and the Colorado law,” Patrick said.

Cue that silent “Jon Stewart look.”

Nine students comprise The Bear Truth editorial board of the school’s paper that comes out once a month. The news made it around. The Denver Post’s editorial board wrote its own editorial callingThe Bear Truth’s editorial “courageous.”

From the Post:

Faculty adviser Tom Patrick is a well-regarded expert in student papers. He is correctly following the 1990 Colorado Student Free Expression Law and its tough-minded provisions — which freedom lovers should be proud exist in our state and only eight others. Many other states allow school administrators to meddle with or even censor student publications.

In a gesture of solidarity, the Post sent The Bear Truth “a bunch of desserts from Borrellio Brothers.” The student paper also endorsed local Republicans with no controversy. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, yeah, the student newspaper’s website traffic went through the roof.

The best/worst editor’s note of the 2016 presidential race goes to The Boulder Daily Camera

A recent write-up in The Daily Camera about a campaign swing by Donald Trump Jr. through Boulder this week carried a hilarious editor’s note that probably was not meant to be so hilarious:

EDITOR’S NOTE: Comments attributed to a Trump campaign spokeswoman were removed from an earlier version of this story at her request after she learned she would be identified by name.

Huh? So Trump’s Colorado spokesperson doesn’t want to speak for him? I reached out to The Camera about this odd note, and basically it comes down to a misunderstanding between an editor and a reporter about whether the reporter agreed not to name the spox (he says he did not) in the story.

From The Camera’s Matt Sebastian:

 When I spoke to her, and she claimed she’d been promised anonymity and demanded her name be removed from the story, I told her we don’t quote spokespeople anonymously. She then said something to the effect of, “Then I don’t want those quotes in the story at all.” I was, to be honest, kind of taken aback, and said, “You’d rather the Trump campaign not be represented at all than have your name in the story?” She said yes, and I agreed to remove the quotes, thinking we’d promised her anonymity.

To be honest, I thought it was totally bizarre that a campaign spokesperson was so worked up about having their name attached to a Trump story. Still, I knew it was highly unusual, and quite awkward, to remove somebody’s quotes from a story at their request, especially an official spokesperson. It’s not something we do. But I also felt that if we’d agreed to not use her name, we should honor that.

“Like I said, this one’s squarely on me,” Sebastian told me. By the time he realized the mistake, he said, “it would have been doubly awkward to undo it all and put the quotes back in, especially since it was a placeholder story that was going to be overwritten that afternoon by coverage of the actual event.”

Hillary’s Colorado campaign controlling The Denver Post’s editorial board? Probably nah.  

Reporter Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio spotted some interesting emails in the hacked #PodestaEmails Wikileaks dump related to Colorado. The email chain is about an anti-fracking Bernie Sanders ad and how the Clinton camp would respond in Colorado. Clinton staffers talk about how they’ll push some Clinton supporters with anti-fracking reputations out front if they have to, but maybe don’t want to start a rumble. Says one Clinton Colorado staffer in the alleged emails: “I think the Denver Post Ed Board could smack Sanders if we want them to but that makes it a bigger fight.”

9News reporter Brandon Rittiman posted on Twitter “HRC camp so casually talking of ability to control @denverpost ed board is not a good look.” Associated Press reporter Nick Riccardi weighed in: “I don’t know if it’s controlling the Post ed board or just knowing that it is reliably pro-energy.”

It’s doubtful Clinton’s Colorado people could control the editorial board of the state’s largest newspaper— or even think they could. It’s not like they’re Mike Coffman. I kid, I kid.

USA Today’s Denver correspondent gets the money quote in Columbia Journalism Review

This week I wrote for CJR’s United States Project about a multi-million-dollar libel verdict a jury in North Carolina handed down against The Raleigh News & Observer— and how journalists across the country are reacting to the fallout from certain aspects of the three-week trial. During court proceedings the plaintiff’s lawyer grilled the paper’s journalists on the stand about emails, notes, and planning documents the lawyer had obtained during discovery that were related to the published story in question. “After the verdicts came down, the N&O reported [the plaintiff’s] attorney said he believed internal emails and memos from the newsroom had an impact on the jury, which in the end agreed with the plaintiff, concluding statements published by the N&O were false,” I wrote.

From the CJR piece:

That’s an aspect of the case that has some journalists re-thinking the way they go about their own work prior to publication. “My very clever boss has a saying,” though perhaps not original, says Trevor Hughes, a Denver-based correspondent for USA Today. “Dance like nobody is watching, but email like it may one day be subpoenaed and read aloud in a deposition.”

The comment Hughes gave me ended up as a pullquote in the piece, and journalist Twitter seized on it, sharing it widely.

The Gazette gets impact on an investigation into toxic water

A big round of applause to The Gazette for its coverage of water contamination in the Colorado Springs area.

“Local, state and federal politicians Monday called for accountability and more investigation into the military’s use of firefighting foam after a Gazette investigation showed the Air Force ignored decades of warnings from its scientists about a toxic chemical in the foam,” the paper reported this week. “The chemical is suspected in widespread water contamination.”

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

Did you spend the day decking the house out with Halloween decorations and neglect all the news fit for the Sunday fronts?

Well, The Longmont Times-Call put hometown native and ‘Daily Show’ alum Kristin Schaal on the front page when she came back to Longmont to campaign for Clinton. The Greeley Tribune profiled a school resource officer as the first line of defense against poor cop reputations. With “Health on the Ballot,” The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covered two big health-related ballot measures. Cops and bikers played flag football for charity on the front page of The Pueblo Chieftain.  At $96.5 million, building permit valuations are hitting high-water marks in Routt County, reported Steamboat Today & Sunday. Advocates in Loveland are pushing for more funding as the state and region grow, per The Reporter-Herald. The Denver Post looked at some of the legislative races to watchThe Boulder Daily Camera fronted a piece on a local bomb-planting suspect and his alleged ties to the obscure “STP” hippie faction. The Durango Herald featured a piece about the “aid-in-dying” ballot measure known as Prop 106. With “TOXIC LEGACY,” The Gazette reports how the Air Force ignored decades of warning from its own researches “in continuing to use a chemical-laden firefighting foam that is a leading cause of contaminated drinking water for at least 6 million Americans, including thousands of people south of Colorado Springs.”

Battle for control of the Colorado Capitol. Or, what I learned from Walsenburg 

After the 2014 midterms, a panel of Colorado political reporters gathered in Denver to talk about the highs and lows of covering the election. One thing that emerged was how media gave down-ballot races the shaftThe Denver Post’s politics editor at the time said if the paper had more resources he would have liked the opportunity to dispatch reporters to better cover the battle over the state Senate, which flipped to the Republicans that year.

That was very much on my mind this week as I ventured into rural Colorado for a sense-making narrative feature for The Colorado Independent about what’s at stake in the battle for control of the Capitol this year, which could flip back to the Democrats. I chose to set the story in the heart of Senate District 35 in southeast Colorado, which features a race between two politicians that don’t fit the generic party politics mold or the view from the Front Range— a Republican who would vote to reclassify the hospital provider fee, and a Democrat who would vote to repeal the 2013 gun-magazine law. There’s also some news in there about what a Senate controlled by Democrats might accomplish: Setting up a new committee on climate change, for example, repealing the death penalty, and shaping state spending with a new majority on the Joint Budget Committee.

As I wrote on Twitter, it’s about 5,000 words. I’d be humbled if you read half of them.

A Colorado Public Radio reporter recounts getting stopped by a cop

Colorado is an open-carry state, which means you’re allowed to carry guns openly, even a rifle. This blew up last year when a witness in Colorado Springs called 911 to report a man walking around the neighborhood with a long, black rifle and was told there was nothing illegal about it. Minutes later that man went on a random killing spree.

But this week Colorado Public Radio reporter Jo Ann Allen, who hosts “All Things Considered” for the station, has a personal story of getting stopped herself for allegedly carrying a rifle in public. She was carrying golf clubs.

Here’s how the 911 call went out that started the whole thing: “I just— well, I’m driving right now, but there was a— I’ve just got on I-25 going southbound from Dry Creek, and it’s by the RTD Park-N-Ride. There was a black— he was a black man, black in dress, carrying a I assume a rifle.”

Allen the reporter, who is black but is not a man, recounted the story along with the responding officer, on an episode of Colorado Matters.

The Gazette keeps hiring away political reporters from other newspapers 

Readers of this newsletter over the past few weeks likely have noticed The Gazette in Colorado Springs is making moves under its new editor, Vince Bzdek, who came fromThe Washington Post last spring. A bevy of new hires— Joey Bunch from The Denver Post, Jim Trotter from Rocky Mountain PBS— is forming a political team with a goal of ramping up statewide political coverage. The paper, owned by conservative Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, is already doing its own polling, a service other Colorado newspapers have scrapped as their resources dwindle. The latest hire to the politics team is Peter Marcus, a young and ubiquitous reporter who spent the past few years at The Durango Herald and was at The Colorado Statesman before that.

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

My colleague Jackie Spinner wrote about how on the verge of a teacher strike, Chicago turned to social media. Meanwhile, Jonathan Peters wrote about how a social media feud led to a public records fight in Miami Beach. Trudy Lieberman wrote about how Star-Ledger employees in Newark were left scrambling after a retirement plan dissolved at their paper. And I wrote about how The Raleigh News & Observer’s loss in court may cause journalists to rethink how they communicate.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE

Photo by Ryan Hammer for Creative Commons on Flickr.


Election Day is 12 days away, and one of the hottest races for the state House is taking place in the suburbs immediately south of Denver in House District 3, which includes Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills Village, Englewood and Sheridan.

What’s at stake: control of the state House. Democrats hold a three-seat majority, 34 to 31. The Bridges-Brown race has been targeted by both parties as one of the seats that could swing either way.

Katy Brown of Cherry Hills Village won the June 28 GOP primary, defeating Englewood Mayor Pro Tem Rick Gillit. Jeff Bridges of Greenwood Village was the victor for the Democratic primary, besting former Greenwood Village City Council member Meg Froelich.

Both are vying to replace term-limited Rep. Daniel Kagan, a Democrat who is now running for the Senate in Senate District 26, one of the hottest senate races in the state.

Bridges has raised $213,638 through October 12. More than $112,000 of that has come in since the June 28 primary.

Brown hasn’t done as well. She’s raised a total of $105,443, with more than $78,000 of that since the primary.

Among Bridges’ biggest supporters: the Colorado Democratic Party, with $14,800 in contributions; unions, such as the AFL-CIO and firefighters, with at least $9,225; Conservation Colorado, $3,000; and Voices for Choice, $2,225.

Brown received $7,500 from the Colorado Republican Party. She’s also benefitted from the Colorado Education Association endorsement, which has brought in $11,700 from three groups affiliated with state and local teacher unions.

Both candidates also have benefitted from the spending of outside groups. Bridges is backed by independent expenditure committees like the Democratic-affiliated Coloradans Creating Opportunities, which spent more than $14,000 in October for canvassing in the district.

Brown has benefitted from support from the Republican-affiliated groups such as the Colorado Leadership Fund, a 527 committee that spent more than $6,000 in October on mailers.  

Brown has lived in the district more than 10 years. She has served on the Cherry Hill Village city council since 2012, and before that was on the city’s Parks, Trails and Recreation Commission.

She is the owner of Visionary Consulting, a web development firm geared toward the tourism industry. Her clients have included the Colorado Tourism Office and the Colorado Lottery. She was named a Denver Business Journal “40 Under 40” business leader in 2011.

Her target issues include the broadening access to good jobs and bolstering entrepreneurship. A pro-business environment requires strong transportation infrastructure, a skilled workforce and access to affordable housing, she says. Given her background in science (she has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in computer science and media), she also believes strongly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities and scholarships.

On the list of issues Brown says residents care about: education funding, immigration reform, marijuana’s impact on children, and tools for law enforcement.

Transportation infrastructure is critical to the health of our economy, Brown said. Colorado’s population is expected to grow by 50 percent within the next 20 years, and “we cannot support that population growth without investing” in roads and transit.

Brown thinks the difficulty with the hospital provider fee comes from how the money would be used. If that can be resolved, she would support reclassifying the fee to lift TABOR constraints.

“It’s not a tax on everyday citizens,” she said. “I do think we have to make sure it’s not a blank check for larger government spending on programs that are not a priority.”

When it comes to gun control, Brown said, “I support the Constitution,” noting the Second Amendment language protecting the right to and bear arms shouldn’t be infringed upon. “People do have legitimate concerns about growing gun violence and public safety, but you can’t ignore the Constitution because it’s convenient.”

Brown says her district’s residents don’t bring up abortion. She is a Catholic and said she respects life in all of its forms.

“But the Supreme Court has ruled abortion is a constitutionally-protected right, and you can’t ignore it. I respect those who feel abortion is wrong, but passing laws at the state level cannot accomplish a solution to that issue,” she said.

Brown doesn’t support recent attempts by lawmakers to legislate pay equity. Those bills, she says, set up a new kind of glass ceiling and would keep women from achieving more.

“As a woman, I don’t want government negotiating on my behalf or capping what I can earn as a hard working dedicated employee. I can achieve more than a male counterpart,” she says.

“As a small business owner, I pay my employees commensurate with their contribution to the company, and business owners should have to do that,” she added. “People are not identical or interchangeable. Everyone has special skills and talents they bring to the table,” and business owners should be able to compensate people based on the value they bring to the business.

Brown speaks often about the economic diversity of the district.

“Everyone has their own paths in life,” she said. Hers started in Louisiana, in public schools, and she says she has bootstrapped her way to the Cherry Hills Village, one of Colorado’s most affluent communities. “Those are opportunities that I want everyone to have.”

Bridges is the son of Rutt Bridges and Barbara Bridges. Rutt Bridges, who developed software for the petroleum industry, is a multi-millionaire who was one of four Democrats who pumped millions of dollars into state House and Senate races in 2004, helping Democrats take control of the General Assembly for the first time in three decades.

Bridges, for his part, studied divinity for a master’s program at Harvard. His experience finding common values, he said, would influence his work as a lawmaker. “It’s great training for the state House.”

He praises Ken Salazar’s work in the U.S. Senate – statesmanship he would like to emulate if elected.

“That guy made government work. He found common ground and brought people together,” he said. “We need people to work together to make government work. That’s not happening and that’s why I’m running.”

Bridges has had to fend off criticism from opponents that he hasn’t lived in the district for years. He filed for the House race a week after buying a condo in Greenwood Village.

“Values come from where you grow up, and I grew up in the district,” the Arapahoe High School graduate told The Colorado Independent. “This is my home. I grew up here. No one else in the race can say that,” he added. “Every kid dreams of growing up, spreading their wings and then coming back home.”

As he tells it, the important issues in the district include the economy and education.

“Colorado’s economy is doing very well, but it’s not being felt by everyone I talk to.” People are struggling all across the district, he said.

As for education, Bridges noted that the state funds public education on a per-pupil basis at about the same rate as Alabama – a record he called “shameful.”

“If we want the economy to keep going and growing, we need great public schools,” he said, adding that failing to fund public education threatens the state’s future economic prosperity.

Bridges said his Democratic neighbors complain about “how nasty and partisan and obstructionist governing has become.” “The nasty tone from Washington has seeped into Colorado,” he said, hampering the state’s tradition of people working together to make Colorado better. “We need to bring that back.”

He is a strong champion of abortion rights. “We have to continue to resist legislative efforts to roll back a woman’s right to choose” and to block government intrusion between a woman and her doctor, he said.

On gun control, Bridges opposes any efforts to roll back the 2013 legislation that capped ammunition magazines at 15 rounds and required background checks for gun transfers. He pointed out that his high school, Arapahoe High, had a shooting several years ago, and added that he had friends at Columbine during the 1999 massacre.

“My life has been personally touched by gun violence,” he said.

He notes that mass shootings aren’t the only aspect of the gun issue Coloradans need to worry about. Suicides and domestic violence are as, if not more, concerning. He agrees with Republicans when they talk about how ending gun violence requires addressing mental health issues. “That’s an opening to do more about improving mental health services,” Bridges said.

When it comes to the hospital provider fee, he said, “This is a simple accounting fix.” Every other fee that came into the budget since TABOR was passed hasn’t been included in the TABOR spending cap. The hospital provider fee shouldn’t be subject to TABOR restrictions, either, he said.

Another challenge presented by with TABOR is that it has made it impossible to fund transportation, and Bridges looks forward to seeing how that might be addressed on the November ballot. Crumbling roads and bridges hurt the state’s economy, especially when enjoying the mountains and open space is a major reason for why people live in Colorado, he said.

Bridges is a strong supporter of pay equity, including the measure proposed in the state House this session requiring state contractors meet equal pay standards. Every person should earn what he or she deserves, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation, he said.

Based on state reapportionment maps, Republicans hold a one-point advantage over Democrats in voter registration (35 to 34 percent), with independents not far behind at around 30 percent of voters.

And although the district regularly swings between Democrats and Republicans for senators, voters have kept the House seat in Democratic hands for the past 20 years. Still, Kagan won his 2014 election by a mere 450 votes.



The latest Wikileaks email dump dumps all over the Clinton Foundation, highlighting the Clinton campaign’s concern about the foundation’s big-money foreign donors as well as Bill Clinton’s personal money-making strategies, which was called, in one memo, Bill Clinton, Inc. It looks like they had every reason to be worried. Via the New York Times.

Meanwhile, what everyone is talking about is the new GOP war on women, this time starring Newt Gingrich, who was shaking his finger at Fox News’s Megyn Kelly while telling her she is “fascinated with sex” after she asked Gingrich’s about those women who had accused Donald Trump of sexual assault. A Trump adviser tweeted that Kelly wasn’t very smart, and Trump congratulated Gingrich on the interview. Via the Washington Post.

Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” columnist,  writes of Trump’s party of angry, white, abusive males.

The Democrats may win the presidency and they may take back the Senate, but some Republicans seem more concerned with getting revenge against Paul Ryan for his lukewarm support of Trump. Via the New York Times.

So, Mike Pence is campaigning in Utah. Yes, in Utah, which last went Democratic in 1964. Via National Review.

Here’s one way to explain Hillary Clinton’s recent rise in the polls: According to a Harvard Institute of Politics poll, she’s now leading millennials by 28 points. Thanks, Bernie? Via the New Republic.

Three ways to fix Obamacare: One of them, and maybe the most important, is to bring on that public option. You think that’s going to happen? Via the New Yorker.

What happened to the Iran nuclear deal as a huge campaign issue? Donald Trump happened. Via Foreign Policy.

If you want to know how to interpret Bob Dylan’s Nobel silence, you might start by re-reading your Jean Paul Sartre. Via the New York Times.


Photo by puffydown via Fickr, Creative Commons




The Boulder Daily Camera reports how “A University of Colorado professor who’s been criticized for his writings about climate change has been caught up in WikiLeaks’ dump of emails involving John Podesta, campaign chairman for Hillary Clinton.” Roger Pielke Jr., a faculty member on the Boulder campus since 2001, “was the subject of a July 2014 email about an essay he wrote on climate change for the website FiveThirtyEight,” the paper reports. “The email was sent by Judd Legum, the editor of ThinkProgress, a site that’s part of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the advocacy arm of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, which was founded by Podesta in 2003. In his email to billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, Legum described how he believed Climate Progress, the environmental arm of ThinkProgress, got Pielke to stop writing about climate change for FiveThirtyEight. “I think it’s fair say that, without Climate Progress, Pielke would still be writing on climate change for 538,” Legum wrote.

This fall’s unusual warmth is hampering the success of Colorado elk hunters, reports The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “It’s definitely out of the norm with this weather,” area wildlife manager Perry Will told the paper. “It has not been a bumper crop season by any stretch due to the weather. The weather alone — the full moon and the dry, warm weather — has caused problems for hunters.”

The Longmont Times Call reports how the city is headed for more water rate hikes. “The decision, along with the March decision to participate in the water storage project at 10,000 acre-feet, will likely mean water rate increases of 8 percent in both 2017 and 2018, above the 9 percent increases in both years that have already been approved.”

There are political campaign sign wars raging on the Western Slope, reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “It’s been bad out there with the vandalism,” said Richard Hathorne, who coordinates with the Republican campaigns, including Trump and Senate candidate Darryl Glenn, for signs. “We’ve had a lot of them taken and I’m sure the other side has too,” Pyle said. “I haven’t noticed a lot of Trump signs out there,” Mary Beth Pyle, head of the Mesa County Democrats, told the paper.

The ACLU is filing a lawsuit challenging sweeps of the homeless in downtown Denver, according to a report on today’s front page of The Durango Herald.

The Pueblo Chieftain reports on a homeless man who is urging the city to build a shelter instead of booting out area campers. “I feel like I was targeted,” the 58-year-old Carlisle said Wednesday. “I’d been living there for six months and the police knew I was there. There were 15 other camps near mine, but I was the only one they rousted that night.”

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came back to Colorado— a state whose Republicans loved him— to campaign for GOP U.S. Senate nominee Darryl Glenn in Loveland, reports The Fort Collins Coloradoan. “Cruz, who took all of Colorado’s delegates during the Republican presidential caucus, spoke to a crowd of about 200. One family waved pro-Cruz signs, including switching a spinning Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s ‘Lyin’ Ted’ insult into ‘Lion Ted’ — and other memorabilia.”

The Loveland Reporter-Herald has a video of the Cruz-Glenn campaign event.

The Pitkin County clerk and the Secretary of State’s office tell The Aspen Times that election rigging is “highly unlikely.” For it to happen in Colorado would require “a massive conspiracy of all 64 county clerks and the secretary of state,” SOS spokeswoman Lynn Bartels told the paper, “noting that clerks statewide can be Democrats, Republicans or independents.”

The Denver Post reports how the Denver Police Department is re-writing its use-of-force policy. “The new policy will shift the department’s focus from telling officers what is legally allowed when using force against citizens to one that encourages officers to use the minimum amount of force necessary. It also will provide specific scenarios and a decisionmaking model to guide officers on how they should react to those situations, Chief Robert White told The Denver Post during an interview Wednesday.”

Donald Trump’s running mate Mike Pence was in Colorado Springs for the third time yesterday, urging voters to “come home,” reports The Gazette. “Pence spent much of his 40-minute speech outlining how Trump planned to cut taxes for both individuals and businesses, halt illegal immigration, renegotiate trade deals, repeal the Affordable Care Act, put a moratorium on new federal regulations and end what he called “the war on coal.” He also said told the crowd, which included dozens of veterans, that Trump would rebuild the nation’s military, restore the “arsenal of democracy and give the military the resources they need to so they can hunt down and destroy ISIS (the Islamic State) at the source.”




If you’re planning to mail in your ballot this year, there’s a one-in-three chance it will need an extra stamp.

Twenty-four counties, including Boulder and Denver, have two-page ballots this year. That will require postage of 68 cents to mail in the ballot, versus 47 cents for one-page ballots that fall under the one ounce maximum.

Three counties — Denver, and Costilla and Rio Grande in the San Luis Valley — have multi-page ballots because they’re covered under a section of the Voting Rights Act that requires ballots to be written in both English and Spanish.

But plenty of voters have doubtlessly already mailed in their ballots, or will soon, without enough postage. Then what happens?

County clerks aren’t advertising it, but county governments will pick up the tab for ballots short on postage — whether they can afford it or not.

“When I used to mail in my tax returns, I put extra stamps on the envelope to make sure it got there and I would get my refund as soon as possible,” said Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels. “I can’t imagine any Coloradan would gamble with something as precious as a vote. Suppose that ballot doesn’t get delivered?  That’s why we tell voters to use two Forever stamps to be sure. And many counties have 24-hour ballot drop boxes so voters don’t even need to use stamps.”

This year’s election will be the first presidential contest under a new set of rules from the U.S. Postal Service on insufficient postage for ballots.

In October, 2013, the Post Office changed its rules about rejecting ballots that didn’t have enough postage. Before that, if you mailed in a ballot with insufficient postage, it could be returned to you for the extra stamp.

But in 2013, the Post Office issued new rules that put it onto the county clerks to handle the difference when a ballot came in without the required amount of postage.

Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute, no fan of mail-in ballots, sees adding proper postage as the cost of voting. A resident of Boulder County, he points out that the envelope for the Boulder ballot mentions that extra postage is required to mail it back in.

“We old Republicans know how to buy stamps. Younger progressives don’t know what a stamp is,” he quipped.

A stampless ballot in your own mailbox is unlikely to even get picked up. But what happens if you drop off your ballot at a post office “blue” box without postage?

The USPS says ballots cannot be mailed free of postage, but the cost won’t fall to you.

“Short-paid and unpaid absentee balloting materials must never be returned to the voter for additional postage,” the 2013 rules declare. “Postage is collected from the election office upon delivery or at a later date.”


Photo credit: Karen Horton, via Creative Commons license, Flickr



Making your way through your Colorado ballot, you’re forgiven for being stumped by the judge retention questions.

If you’re lucky, you’ve never found yourself in front of any of the handful of judges on your ballot before, but it’s still up to you whether to retain them. State judges in Colorado are appointed by politicians, but are only allowed to stay on the bench if voters say so.

So how do you know whether a judge is a good egg or a bad one? It turns out there are entire commissions, called the Colorado Commissions on Judicial Performance, devoted to this very question.

These panels evaluate state judges and publish their findings in what’s called the “Blue Book,” which goes out to every registered voter prior an election. You should have gotten yours already, and if you kept it around you might consult it to see how those judges on your ballot fared in reviews by lawyers and the commission members.

If you already threw out your Blue Book, you can find performance evaluations for judges online here.

“If a voter wishes, they can click back through the data itself. The data can go 70 to 80 questions, and the questions asked are thorough with categories and several questions under each category,” according to the 2015 State Integrity Investigation by the Center for Public Integrity, which, full disclosure, I worked on.

Here’s more from the SII:

“I believe the evaluations are comprehensive and complete with respect to the statute and rules governing the work of judicial performance commissions,” said Kent Wagner, director of the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation. The Colorado Judicial Review Commission, which analyzes the performance of judges and evaluates their effectiveness, tends to give better grades to male judges, according to data reporting by The Durango Herald in 2014. In 2014, when the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation evaluated Supreme Court Justice Brian Boatright, the commission “conducted a personal interview with Justice Boatright, read opinions that he authored, observed him in court, reviewed his self-evaluation, and reviewed survey responses from attorneys and judges regarding his performance. Among the survey questions was ‘how strongly do you recommend that Justice Boatright be retained or not retained in office?’ Of attorneys responding to this question, 66% recommended to retain, 15% not to retain, and 19% made no recommendation regarding retention. Of judges responding to this question, 97% recommended to retain, 1% not to retain, and 2% made no recommendation regarding retention.

Not everyone believes the narrative write-ups offer the best evaluations.

William Banta, a State Judicial Performance Commission member in 2005 and 2006 who spent seven years on the 18th Judicial District Performance Commission, wrote a 2010 op-ed in The Denver Post in which he said “There has been a failure of real performance evaluation and a lack of analytical content in the write-ups for the voters.”

Too often, he wrote, “narratives have amounted to complimentary resumes instead of job performance evaluations.  Some commentators and observers have denigrated the narratives as a ‘rubber stamp’ exercise for retaining judges”

It turns out reading the narratives in the Blue Book, however, is not something every Colorado voter does.

Since 1998, only three judges have lost elections following a ‘do not retain’ recommendation, KUSA 9News found in an investigation earlier this year.

In other words, even when the government itself says a Colorado judge isn’t a keeper, voters tend to cast ballots to retain them anyway.

“On average, a judge deemed unfit to stay on the bench will win re-election in Colorado with 54 percent of the vote,” 9News reported.

So… to the Blue Books, voters— or wherever you look. But this time, read up on those judges.


*This post has been updated

Keefe: Rigged system


A white paper released today by Denver’s Independent Monitor reminds us why we need that office. The 61-page half-yearly report reveals what most city safety officials won’t about Denver’s Finest.

Things like the incident when a police took a city-owned trailer and sold it on Craigslist.

And the time when an off-duty detective picked up a known prostitute in a patrol car, then lied to his supervisor about it. A month later, when it came out that he had exchanged sex for returning her impounded car, he quit.

In January, an officer jokingly threw a bag of pot retrieved as evidence into a fellow officer’s car. He then un-holstered his gun, pointed it in the direction of his colleague and said, “Dirty cop, show me your hands.” Who says law enforcement doesn’t like a good laugh?

And then there was the night two Denver cops and their wives were drinking at one of the couple’s homes. The women started fighting, leading their husbands to start hauling off on each other, too, until one brandished a weapon and later said he was going to lie to Internal Affairs about the whole mess.

In fairness, misconduct is a statistical rarity in the police force. The cases outlined in the OIM report apply to only about one percent of Denver’s 1,400-something officers.

Still, parts of the document read like a how-to manual on public drunkenness, drunk driving, hit and runs, sexual assault and domestic violence.

One bonehead officer had the bad judgment to take the day off from work, purportedly for medical reasons, attend a sporting event, drive drunk and get into a bad accident. Busted.

It will come as no surprise that Denver’s District Attorney’s office has taken a pass on criminally prosecuting wayward cops, like the one who was arrested in May after a woman alleged that he sexually assaulted her. For readers who’ve followed the revolving door that is the Safety Department’s disciplinary process, it also will come as no shocker to see a long list of new ways cops can screw up and then appeal their disciplinary measures.

One argues that his two-day suspension for pulling a knife on a co-worker in an elevator was heavy-handed.

Another takes umbrage with his 10 days of suspension and fine of two day’s pay for flirting with female civilian Police Department employees, touching one and making her feel uncomfortable, and then tickling the waist of the female supervisor who told him to stop. After all, if The Donald can get away with it, why shouldn’t he?

Another officer is appealing his two 30-day suspensions (and a termination held in abeyance, whatever that means) for pinning an unruly suspect (who kicked and spit at him) by the neck until she seemed to lose consciousness. Apparently, it slipped his mind to seek medical help for her or mention to his superiors that the whole incident happened.

And in the annals of temper tantrums: An off-duty cop drinks a “substantial amount” of alcohol at a downtown bar, becomes irked by a performer (a mime, maybe?) and angrily confronts him by lobbing what the report refers to as “offensive names.” The cop then goes on to allegedly grab the performer by the shirt and continue harassing him until several bystanders intervene. Then the officer starts duking it out with the BYSTANDERS. We’re talking plural here. For all this, the hothead was suspended for 10 days and fined six days’ pay.

Lest anyone accuse me of reading the report in a glass-half-empty kind of way, I point out that some officers were lauded for acts of heroism and bravery. Two saved five kids from a burning building. Two pulled a woman to safety after they feared she’d take her life on an I-225 overpass. And a super sweet officer gave the victim of a bike theft his old mountain bike so she could get around. Love these stories. So much.

The  report also addresses Denver’s Sheriff’s Department, which over the years has made more than its share of headlines for jailing the wrong people, roughing up those in its custody and occasionally killing them. Old habits die hard. According to the report, a few deputies still haul off at lippy or uncooperative city jail inmates by slamming them on the ground or into walls or other immovable objects.

One deputy pepper-sprayed an inmate who posed no apparent threat, the report says. Another left an unsupervised inmate in an elevator for 36 minutes. And yet another pulled the hair of an inmate who was intoxicated, naked and suicidal.

As we’ve seen before, at least one deputy was given preferential treatment when he was taken into his department’s custody on a domestic violence arrest.

And in a particularly maddening case, a deputy was busted for having skipped his rounds during which he was supposed to make sure all inmates were accounted for. The body of a prisoner who had died in his cell apparently went unnoticed. But, the city assures us, the deputy’s failure to conduct inspection “had no apparent bearing” on the death.

Independent Monitor Nicholas Mitchell is a rare voice of independence in a city whose administration all too often doesn’t return reporters’ phone calls or emails about the skeletons in its Safety Department’s closet. His job is to watchdog law enforcement. And in an era with fewer and fewer city hall reporters, we need all the eyes and ears we can get.

The independence of the Independent Monitor’s office is at stake this election with Denver ballot question 2B. The measure would enshrine the office permanently in the city charter so that mayors’ administrations or city councils couldn’t do away with it.

Support for Question 2B comes from civil rights activists, freedom of information fans and families of the folks that a handful of bad officers have victimized. The police union hasn’t taken a formal stance on the measure, but is effectively against it.

Flickr photo by Brevia Storia del Cinema.

Battle for the Capitol: What’s at stake if Colorado’s Legislature flips?

Just one seat hangs in the balance on Nov. 8. Here’s what’s on the line.



WALSENBURG, CO — On a recent Wednesday in the back of the Alpine Rose Cafe, an old-school diner with cracked green vinyl booths in this rural town in Spanish Peaks country, a mail-in ballot belonging to owner Phyllis Cordova sat unopened on a table surrounded by three men talking politics.

None of them had heard much about a local race for the state Senate in this district. But its voters could decide which party controls Colorado’s legislature next year. The race pits incumbent Republican rancher Larry Crowder of Alamosa against James Casias, the Democratic sheriff of Trinidad.

“Some of [the candidates] I hear about, but I haven’t heard about them,” Cordova said as the men nodded along.

And that’s kind of a shame.

The presidential race has engulfed much of the media coverage and discussion among voters, crowding out commentary about down-ballot candidates for Colorado’s state House and Senate. But what happens this year in Colorado’s legislative elections might have a greater impact on the life of an average Coloradan than who wins a U.S. Senate seat, or, arguably even the presidency.

In Colorado, Democrats control the state House by three seats and Republicans control the Senate by one. If Democrats hang on to the House and take that one Senate seat, the party captures the Capitol and the balance of power flips. That could impact everything from environmental and healthcare policies to the state budget.

“As they say, elections have consequences,” says Rob Witwer, a former Colorado GOP lawmaker who co-wrote an oft-cited book called The Blueprint about how Democrats gained control of the Colorado legislature in 2004 with the financial backing of four wealthy progressive activists.

“When you flip a chamber in the state legislature … and that results in full Democratic control or full Republican control of the legislature, then you’re in a position to enact a lot of policy,” Witwer says.

One of the races that could usher in that change is here in this sprawling southeastern district. It stretches more than 300 miles across 16 counties from Wolf Creek Pass to the Kansas border— an area that covers nearly one-fourth of the state of Colorado. The district is so large that the two candidates running for state Senate live three hours apart. The town of Walsenburg sits almost smack in the middle of their respective hometowns.

But in the Walsenburg diner, dressed in a faded Carhart T-shirt and sporting a gray mustache and glasses, retiree Warren Menges said he doesn’t see his life changing much whether Democrats control the statehouse or it remains divided between the two parties.

“I’m retired. I’m a Vietnam veteran so I have VA disability, so I have insurance, this that and the other,” he said. “I’m not really affected.”

Next to him, his bearded friend George Walker leaned back in his chair, similarly unconcerned about a potential change in political direction for the state.

“Not unless they want to take both of my guns away from me,” he said to chuckles all around.

img_1015That midday October exchange in the back of the Alpine Rose Cafe encompasses much more about what’s at stake in the year’s legislative races across Colorado than the two men might realize.

Indeed, health care and firearms are two major wedge issues almost certain to be resurrected in the coming session.

If Democrats take control, they likely will be able to pass a key budget strategy of Gov. John Hickenlooper and other Democrats to reclassify a nearly billion-dollar hospital program called the hospital provider fee to free up more money in the state budget for transportation and education. If the Democrats had enjoyed a majority in the Senate last session, they would have gotten it done. But the Republican-controlled Senate blocked that plan.

As for guns, if Republicans stay in power in the Senate they are likely to try again to repeal a package of gun safety laws that, among other things, imposed bullet limits on firearms. The laws were passed in 2013 when Democrats controlled the legislature, and the move is an often-used talking point in a firearms friendly state when talk of another Democratic takeover seems possible. Elect Democrats and they’ll go crazy on your guns.

That’s the view from the Front Range, but in rural Colorado, and particularly in this Senate district, that kind of simple partisan analysis doesn’t always apply.

Consider Crowder, a mustachioed, cigarette-smoking, straight-talking former telephone contractor and cattle farmer from the San Luis Valley. First elected to the state Senate in 2012, he was the only Republican in the Colorado General Assembly to vote in favor of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare the following year. And during the latest session, Crowder was, again, the only Republican in the GOP-controlled Senate to buck his party and publicly say he would vote in favor of re-classifying the hospital provider fee, taking on the Koch brothers in the process. Crowder drew criticism from the right as he vocally pushed for the plan in committee hearings, saying he cared more about the people of his district than he did about party politics. He worried hospitals serving his constituents could close.  

crowder-picOut on the campaign trail— as much as there is one across this vast landscape— Crowder doesn’t get into the larger picture with voters about what’s at stake at the Capitol in his race.

“You gotta realize when they talk about the balance of power, it’s more in the inner circle of Denver area,” he says. “We all expect in rural Colorado whoever is representing us will represent our values and our issues. So it doesn’t matter in large part … what you perceive as that balance of power.”

In Crowder’s district, which includes the San Luis Valley, the median household income can swing from $60,000 in Cokedale to $21,000 in Antonito. Districtwide, it’s about $38,000— about $15,000 less than Colorado as a whole. Hispanics represent a whopping 35.8 percent of the population — about 15 percent higher than in the state as a whole — in a place where healthcare, retail, education and agriculture make up the top industries.

Crowder focuses on what he’s been able to do in recent years for the district, such as helping revitalize rural downtowns, expanding a cemetery, helping establish a rural homeless program and keeping an Amtrak line running in the area. As a veteran, he says he cannot get past Benghazi, so he will probably vote for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump even though he believes Trump is “somewhat off the wall.”

Four years ago, when Barack Obama led the top of the ticket, Crowder was one of four Republicans running for the state Senate in Colorado and the only one of them who won.

“Will [Trump] affect this race? Of course it will,” he says. “How much I don’t know.”

Asked what he thinks the biggest contrasts are between him and his opponent Casias this year, he says, “To be honest with you, I cannot tell you.” He doesn’t know too much about Casias, he says.  

Casias the sheriff is a trim, former coal miner, construction worker and cop with thinning gray hair, known by the nickname “Blue.” In 2013 he was one of only a handful of Democratic sheriffs to sign onto a lawsuit attacking the new gun-safety laws that were passed by Colorado Democrats. He said he did it to uphold the Second Amendment of the Constitution. If Republicans in the Senate were to try to repeal those gun laws, they could count on his vote if he were elected, he told The Colorado Independent.

“That law does not really take care of the killings that are going on,” says the Democrat. “I’m one that believes that guns aren’t the ones that kill people.”

The sheriff says his focus is on healthcare, education and jobs. He wants to expand broadband in rural areas, as well as wind and solar farms and the jobs that come with them. He says he’ll fight for the equal rights of women and for collective bargaining.

img_0713If Casias wins, “It’ll mean a lot for the Democratic Party,” he acknowledges. “However, though, parties don’t elect me, people elect me.”

He says there will always be issues Democrats and Republicans can agree on, and things they cannot.

“But if it’s something that’s going to benefit Senate District 35, which is southern Colorado and the San Luis Valley, those are the ones that put me in that office if I get elected,” he says. “I’m there for them, I’m not there for myself or anybody else.”

The state Democratic Party is helping Casias because they see it as one of the handful of important legislative races this year, he says, but the balance of power at the Capitol in Denver is not something on the minds of those he meets as he has campaigned.    

“Hasn’t come up once,” he says.

All politics is local

The Crowder-Casias matchup in rural southeastern Colorado is just one race that could determine the partisan makeup of the General Assembly.

But there are about a half dozen other statewide elections that could be key to what the legislature looks like when lawmakers return to Denver in January.

Those races are taking place from the suburban battlegrounds of Arapahoe County, Jefferson County and Adams County to surrounding areas. There even may be some sleeper races to watch.

As volatile and chaotic as this election cycle has been with Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket and even as an appetite for third-party candidates rises, conventional wisdom holds while the House is within reach of Republicans, it likely will remain under Democratic control. A Trump tail wind is buffeting Republican campaigns up and down the ballot.

“The Senate is the one to watch,” says John Straayer, a political science professor at Colorado State University who focuses on legislative politics. “It seems to me that there are more at-risk seats on the Republican side than the Democratic side.”

This election season, millions have been pouring into a handful of targeted legislative races on both sides of the ideological divide, from liberal billionaires like George Soros and California environmentalist Tom Steyer to the oil and gas industry. Soros, who has personally donated to a handful of Colorado Democrats in battleground races, is also linked to nearly $200,000 in spending here through a group called Immigrant Voters Win. Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate Action Committee, has spent nearly $2 million here, much of it on research and polling.

As the parties wage war over the airwaves, in your mailboxes, and at your doorsteps, Democrats have a nearly 2-to-1 financial advantage over Republicans this season according to an analysis by Colorado Public Radio, “raising $12.1 million, to the Republican’s $5.3 million.” The Republican Party, CPR notes, gets most of its money from oil and gas companies.

There are other groups on the conservative side with names like Better Jobs Coalition, Prosperity Through Property Rights (backed by realtors), Colorado Free Enterprise Alliance (backed by contractors and builders), and others spending money in legislative races.  And Boulder Weekly has published an investigation connecting dots the paper says shows a strategy among Republicans, the oil-and-gas industry, and even the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, “for turning Colorado from blue to red” through a network of  people and groups.

Meanwhile, for the first time careful political observers can recall in Colorado, anonymous fliers are attacking Democratic candidates for the legislature with no disclosure at all about who paid for them.

In other words, there is plenty of energy expended on either side hoping to have influence in how the Legislature looks, likely because of what they think they might get out of it. After the 2016 session, one emerging consensus was that lawmakers didn’t do much. A split House and Senate resulted in gridlock.

Take, for example, the one day last winter when a Democratic House committee passed an expensive education bill to fund full-day statewide kindergarten. An hour later, a Republican Senate committee killed a bill that would have asked voters to support the same thing.

If they win control, Democrats say they would like to see the legislature tackle issues such as climate change, criminal justice and education. Democratic lawmakers say they could pass a key budget plan blocked by Republicans in this last session.  

“The issue is whether or not Colorado can continue to be on the leading edge of cutting carbon emissions, adding wind and solar energy and tackling climate change,” says Pete Maysmith, who runs the environmental group Conservation Colorado, which is spending in the six figures to help elect Democratic senators. It has spent more than a quarter of a million on the Woods-Zenzinger race alone. “That is in part— not exclusively— what’s at stake in the Nov. 8 election.”

Conservatives say they are worried a Democratic takeover could lead to a repeat of 2013 when lawmakers passed a liberal wish list of new laws that not only included the tougher gun laws, but more liberal voting rules, including all-mail ballots and Election-Day voter registration. Conservatives say they fear environmental regulations and an assault on the spirit of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, a 1992 constitutional amendment that limits government spending.

Democratic control of the statehouse will also amplify Hickenlooper’s power as governor. The split chamber has meant he didn’t have to sign many controversial bills. The bills that came across his desk only arrived there with bipartisan support. (Hickenlooper himself is wading into the fray, airing a TV commercial for four Democratic state Senate candidates.)

Jon Caldara, the president of the libertarian Independence Institute, worries Hickenlooper, whose term is up in January of 2019, will sign whatever progressive law finds its way under his pen.

“2013 showed just how weak the governor was in signing every piece of ridiculous legislation that came his way,” Caldara says, citing the magazine limits for firearms. “It would be different if we had a governor who would stand up to the crazies in his own party, but we don’t.”

So, what might happen if the Legislature flips?

Climate change moves to the forefront

Conventional wisdom has it that if the Democrats take control of the Senate, that body’s current minority leader, Lucia Guzman of Denver, would become the new president of the Senate. And if that happens, she would not only have the power to assign Senate committee chairs, but also could set up a new standing committee.

She told The Independent that she would create and appoint members to a new panel with one mission: to “move the state in the direction of supporting more renewable energy.”

Guzman says part of the committee’s work would be assessing how state government could help communities on the Western Slope where the coal industry is on the wane.

Colorado, she says, needs to move into a renewable energy economy.

”We want to have an opportunity through this committee to join with communities in the rural areas throughout Colorado where we might bring together environmental and conservation interests with business rejuvenation opportunities,” she says.

One potential partner in the effort, she says, likely would be Conservation Colorado.

Asked what his group hoped to achieve with a Democratic majority, the group’s leader Maysmith said an increase in rooftop, community, and utility-scale solar power, as well as more wind turbines and new jobs associated with such industries.

Colorado, he said, will look different if pro-environment lawmakers are running the state Senate, and that’s why his group is making it rain to see that happen.

This doesn’t surprise Simon Lomax, an energy policy analyst at the conservative Independence Institute. But it concerns him. Throughout this campaign season, Lomax has been tracking the “extraordinary” campaign finance spending (nearly $2 million) of environmental billionaire Tom Steyer of California in this year’s Colorado’s legislative elections, much of it on research and polling. In a series of blog posts for the website Complete Colorado Lomax has framed Steyer’s spending as a big-money campaign to help Democrats take over the state Senate.

“If you needed proof that Tom Steyer and the environmental left are making a big move in Colorado politics this year, this is your proof,” Lomax says of the prospect of a renewable energy committee in the Senate.

He says such a plan reminds of him of something called the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming launched by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California in 2007 after Democrats took control of Congress.

“This climate committee idea comes right out of Washington, D.C. and San Francisco before that,” Lomax says. “It shows once again that environmental politics are a huge factor in almost every race on the Colorado ballot this year. The danger signs have been there for many, many months.”

Of course those signs are not seen as dangerous to everyone.

Renewable energy and conservation is a good example of what’s at stake in the legislative elections now playing out statewide, says Jim Carpenter, who worked in the governor’s office for Roy Romer under a Republican-controlled legislature and then under Bill Ritter and a Democratically controlled statehouse.

Under Ritter, when Democrats held both chambers between 2007 and 2010, they were able to pass about 59 pieces of renewable energy legislation, Carpenter says. That legislation included increasing the state’s renewable portfolio standard, which requires state-regulated utilities to use a certain percentage of renewable energy, from 10 percent to 30 percent, and helping the wind, solar and geothermal industries to grow in Colorado. They also rewrote state rules for the oil and gas industry that expanded the size of an oil and gas conservation commission to include the head of the Department of Natural Resources and the head of the public health department and required more conservation voices be involved in making appointments to it. It was the first major reform in oil and gas regulations in Colorado in decades.

“That just would not have been done if we did not have a majority in both chambers,” Carpenter says now.

During those years, lawmakers also passed the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act, which began a process of retiring a handful of coal-fired power plants.

Says Carpenter: “If you control both chambers then you can start with a very different conversation than if the other party controls something.”

Transportation and education funding goes up in the short term

During the last legislative session, the biggest fight came over a plan by Hickenlooper and Democratic lawmakers to re-classify the hospital provider fee into a standalone enterprise exempt from limits on how much revenue the state can collect before triggering TABOR.

The hospital provider fee requires hospitals to pay the state based upon the number of overnight patient stays and outpatient services rendered. That money is then used, among other things, to care for Coloradans who can’t afford insurance plans, and to help the state pay for Medicaid, which is a government healthcare program for low-income Coloradans and their families.

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

That money is counted toward revenue limits the state can take in under TABOR. If the program is re-classified as a standalone enterprise and exempt from revenue limits, it would free up millions of dollars. Democrats say they would use the money for infrastructure spending, transportation spending, and to fund higher education in Colorado.

Since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2014, any attempt to work around TABOR constraints has been blocked.

During this last session, focus on the hospital provider fee sharpened with the realization that Colorado was poised to hit its caps under TABOR.

Reclassifying the fee has near monolithic support from the state’s business community because it would help fund transportation and education, and last session, the effort to do so likely had the votes to pass even the Senate — if a bill would have made it to the floor. But a term-limited Republican Senate Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs vigorously opposed the change as a violation of the spirit of TABOR even though the state’s Republican attorney general opined that reclassifying the program was legal under TABOR. The free-market group Americans for Prosperity, backed by the billionaire Koch brothers, was loud in its opposition to the bill, as well.

Still, there were likely enough votes in the legislature to pass it, especially because of Republican Sen. Larry Crowder’s support. But Cadman sent the bill to a so-called kill committee, where a Republican-controlled panel snuffed it out, thwarting a floor vote.

If Democrats take control of the Senate they will have control over committee assignments. So, boom. Done.

“If we have the majority we will pass the hospital provider fee,” an emphatic Guzman said.

Oddly enough, the hospital provider fee debate has largely been absent in even some of the tightest legislative races that could determine control of the Senate, says Michael Fields, the state director of Americans for Prosperity.

His own group hasn’t made much hay of it, either, and, Fields says the AFP instead has focused resources on the high-profile congressional race between incumbent Republican Mike Coffman and Democratic Sen. Morgan Carroll.

“Regardless of who has control over the legislature, the hospital provider fix isn’t going to fix our long-term budget issues,” he says. “The people who are supporting this have promised [the money from it] to everyone out there … it will dry up soon.”

The death penalty could be repealed

Last year, death penalty abolitionists in Colorado hit the snooze button on trying to repeal capital punishment, largely because lawmakers in favor didn’t want a backlash during the campaigns in their upcoming elections in an unpredictable presidential election year.

That’s the same reason abolitionists did not run a ballot measure for repeal this year.

At the beginning of last session, Guzman said she would not be running a repeal bill, but she would work to fight for it over the next few years.

During that same session, Republicans in the Senate put forward legislation— ultimately unsuccessful— that would have actually made executing people easier in Colorado.

If Dems take control of the Capitol, repeal could pass, Guzman says.

“That’s a bill that we as Democrats have wanted to bring forward and get passed over the years,” she said.

While there are some Democrats who don’t support repealing capital punishment, Guzman says she’s confident she could reach across the aisle and work with some like-minded Republicans.

“I’m very excited, and have a lot of belief that we could pass the repeal of the death penalty if we change leadership,” she says.

Democrats could shape the state budget

The mother of all committees at the Colorado Capitol is the Joint Budget Committee. Six lawmakers (three from the House and three from the Senate) sit on the JBC. The committee’s makeup will change after this general election.

The JBC essentially writes the state budget. It is where all budget bills begin, and the panel deals with supplementing budgets (or not) when one agency or another comes looking for more money. In other words, the JBC sets priorities for how the state of Colorado spends its money.

Right now, the JBC is evenly split with three Democratic members and three Republican members. If Democrats take control of the Senate, Democrats could take control of the JBC, as well.

Partisanship is a fact of life up on the JBC. It matters who sits on the committee and in a time of increased political polarization, it matters which party they represent.

Consider: Before the GOP took control of the Senate, a state program was created in Colorado under which unauthorized immigrants could obtain driver licenses. After 2014, when Republicans took control of the Senate in those legislative elections, the JBC cut funds the program needed to operate, leading to months and even years of waiting for those licenses.

One area where influence on spending under Democratic control of the JBC might be most apparent is with education policy. Democrats would likely be more open to more funding.

According to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, a Denver-based economic think tank, Colorado ranks 48th in the nation for state funds per full-time student. Since 1992, teacher salaries adjusted for inflation decreased more than 20 percent in Colorado, according the Learning Policy Institute.

“Traditionally higher education has always been the first thing to get cut in a bad year,” says Pat Steadman, a Democratic senator from Denver and a member of the JBC who is leaving office this year. When higher education funding gets cut, he says, tuition goes up faster.

On the campaign front, the Colorado Education Association is helping candidates in tight legislative races this year, maxing out campaign contributions in some, and having their members canvass the districts.

“Most of our recommendation candidates are Democrats,” says CEA president Kerrie Dallman.

Still, she sees education as a nonpartisan issue.

“The legislature has changed control between parties over decades now and we’re still near the bottom of education funding in Colorado compared to nationally,” she says. “For us I don’t think it necessarily matters [which party] is in control over at the state legislature.”

Education advocates like Dallman say you can’t have a conversation about education funding in Colorado, though, without having a conversation about TABOR.

Democrats in control of the JBC won’t fix Colorado’s school funding problem, Dallman says, but a takeover might mean the legislature will re-classify the hospital provider fee to offer a short-term supply of funds.

Back in Walsenburg

On a sunny afternoon in October, Sharon Valdez is on her way to the local utility to pay some bills. Like plenty of Coloradans she’s been bombarded with ads and news about this election.

But, as far as the partisan makeup of the Legislature hanging in the balance goes, “I didn’t know that part,” the local retiree says on the sidewalk, pulling a squirming young boy by the arm. “I’ve been listening to Trump and Hillary and what’s going on there.”

Neither has she been following the race between Crowder and Casias.

Around the corner, the headquarters for the county Democratic and Republican parties sit not far from one another. Both have their doors open to the street. At around noon, only workers and volunteers are to be found inside.

Dale Lyons, chairwoman of the Huerfano County Democratic Party, says it’s hard to break through the noise of national politics to get voters interested in legislative elections. But the party, she says, has printed up a leaflet on the major differences between the two party platforms and why they feel Democrats would be better up and down the ballot.

About a block away, volunteer Sandy White, a retired water lawyer, sits alone, arms crossed, in the local Republican HQ. He says he often stresses to voters how local elections can matter more than the ones topping the ticket.

“It takes a long time for the federal government to reach into Huerfano County, with some exceptions,” he says. But still, he says the race between Crowder and Casias for Senate District 35 has not gotten much attention in the area.

White thinks most people likely assume Crowder will win because he’s so well known, so, “it’s just not high on everybody’s list of things to worry about.”

Around the corner, on Main Street, Marianne Smithey sits behind the counter of her antique shop unaware that control for the state Capitol is up for grabs this year.

“I don’t let politics consume my life,” she says. “If I did, I’d go crazy.”



If the polls are right — and, while they’ve been wrong before, they’ve never been quite this wrong — the only remaining question in the presidential race is how badly (or, if you will, how bigly) Donald Trump will lose.

This matters.

It matters on so many levels. I remember when George Will wrote that it was the duty of true conservatives to ensure that Trump, the usurper, would lose to Hillary Clinton in all 50 states. Well, that won’t happen. But he could lose Arizona. He could even lose Utah. Polls say the race is close in demographically-ripe-for-change Georgia. Polls say the race is even close in Texas. In fact, in the Real Clear Politics poll of polls, Texas is now listed as a toss-up state.

But the size of the defeat is not about some liberal revenge dream, in which, say, a humiliated Trump is consigned to wake up each post-election morning to the sound of Elizabeth Warren telling him what nasty thing a bunch of nasty women are going to do to him that day.

It’s not even about Democrats rolling up the score so they can win back the Senate and make inroads on the Republican majority in the House.

A Trump defeat is about the future of the Republic, and no less than that. But the size of the Trump defeat is about what America has learned — if anything — from the terrifying fact that someone like Trump has come so close to actually winning. Not that there isn’t some danger in a complete rout. A humiliation of Trump’s true believers could simply reinforce the the idea that the election, and everything else, is rigged against them.

We won’t list all the reasons Trump is unfit for office. The big ones are as plain as the sign on any Trump-licensed building: the demagoguery, the misogyny, the bigotry, the Putinry, the media conspiracy, the international bankers’ conspiracy, the whole schmear.

In the latest would-be outrage — at some point, we passed the point of actual outrage, which is truly outrageous — Trump has been openly rooting for America and its allies in Iraq to lose the battle of Mosul, calling it, as he often does, a total disaster that makes us look dumb because, in Trump’s close reading of the military situation, we tipped off ISIS that we were going to attack. This man who is so close to getting his hands on the nuclear codes shouldn’t even be trusted to play a round of Risk, the game of global domination.

In another time, in another election, in a former America, all of this would be disqualifying. But this is this time, when the intersection of celebrity and 24-hour cable TV and run-to-your-corner websites are ready-made propaganda tools and a Trump-like figure, we can now see, was all but inevitable. And running against the Clintons, whose very existence has been central to the rise of right-wing conspiracy media, just made it that much more clear. Certainly, historians will be working on this case for generations to come.

This time is also when a wide swath of the so-called white working class, as George Packer writes in a brilliant piece in the New Yorker, has been lost by Democrats and exploited by Republicans and now represents an identity-group that someone other than Trump must champion. He wonders whether Clinton can be that person.

As Packer put it, the term “working class” once “suggested productivity and sturdiness. Now it means downwardly mobile, poor, even pathological.” He points to Sarah Palin’s visit to Greensboro, North Carolina during the 2008 election, where, she said, she found “the real America.” In fact, by that time, there had been what he calls the “great inversion.” Cities were once again the hot properties where the creative classes had clustered and the areas around places like Greensboro were “hollowing out, and politicians didn’t seem to notice.”

Trump either noticed or just lucked into it. It doesn’t matter which. But he found an abandoned America, which also found him, and together they would make America great again. Add the mix of race — eight years of the first black president, the rise of Black Lives Matter — to Clinton’s being female (you know, weak, no stamina) and suddenly you have at least 12 years of America that doesn’t look like America looked whenever it was that America was great. No wonder the alt-right deplorables and David Duke and rest came on board. No wonder they’re ready to stick with the election-is-rigged theme after Nov. 8.

But here’s an interesting point. For Trump to make it close, that means that typical Republicans will vote for Trump because that’s what we do. We have divided into teams. Don’t be fooled by the growing number of independents or unaffiliated, which is more about the fall of institutions than anything else. We have picked teams, and the question now is whether one team is ready to stick with Trump.

According to the recent CNN/ORC polls, only 57 percent of Trump supporters — yes, of his supporters — now expect him to win. This means that for those voters, the vote is a freebie. If they’re voting for Trump because of the Supreme Court, their vote won’t matter if Trump loses. If they’re voting for Trump because they don’t like Clinton, again, that vote won’t matter if Trump loses.

For many Republicans (see: Ryan, Paul), the question has been party vs. country. If Trump is going to lose anyway, it’s only about country — and how many people really think Donald Trump is fit to lead ours.


Across Colorado, mailbags are bulging with cast ballots and county clerks have been tabulating how many people have already voted and who those people are.

Today, Craig Hughes, a Denver-based political consultant for Democratic candidates, logged onto Twitter to put some of this early return data into context.

Hughes and a counterpart, Colorado Republican pollster and consultant David Flaherty, agree: The numbers look remarkably good for Democrats in Colorado this presidential election season with still two weeks to go until Nov. 8.

Flaherty, who runs the Republican-leaning public affairs firm Magellan Strategies, acknowledges what appears might be on the horizon.

“I think we are beginning to see a Democratic wave,” he told The Colorado Independent. “I think there are major problems afoot [for Republicans] with these numbers. Democrats have never been up his high this early.”

Since 1992 Flaherty has been closely watching voter data in Colorado. He says Republicans, who lost the state in 2012, were much more organized than this year.

“This operation is just on fumes,” he says.

Never had Flaherty seen so much organized turnout on the Democratic side. Republicans, he says, are likely holding onto their ballots longer because of the effect of Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Does he think they can catch up?

“No,” he says flatly.

This is first presidential election in which voters in Colorado can cast their ballots entirely by mail.

To learn if you are registered and how to make sure you get a ballot, click here.

Editor’s view: BAD FAITH

Denver DA Mitch Morrissey leaves office in January. This is the story of the 29-year-old case he won’t let go.


The retrial of Clarence Moses-EL for a 1987 sex assault starts Nov. 7th in Denver District Court.

Moses-EL, 60, served 28 years in prison before a judge threw out his convictions last December. Newly discovered evidence, the judge ruled, was pertinent enough “to allow a jury to probably return a verdict of acquittal in favor of the Defendant.”

The new evidence includes the statements of a man who testified that he had rough consensual sex with the victim and beat her up at the exact same time and place she said she was attacked. That man was the first person the victim named in her statement to police, who never investigated him as a suspect. He’s also a convicted rapist.

You’d think that would be enough for Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey to drop the case against Moses-EL, who has proclaimed his innocence since the day he was arrested.

But it isn’t.

Nearing the end of his three terms in office, Morrissey is risking his reputation by re-prosecuting an apparently innocent man for an attack to which a known sex offender has confessed. Morrissey is gambling his legacy as a pioneer in DNA evidence on a case in which city officials trashed all the physical evidence before it could be tested. It’s a long shot for the DA’s office, considering its only evidence against Moses-EL is that the victim claimed his identity came to her in a dream. That’s right. A dream.

Nothing about this case – and Morrissey’s decision to keep pursuing it – has ever made sense. Not to Moses-EL. Not to his defense lawyers. Not to me.

I have covered the surreal twists and turns of Moses-EL’s conviction for 10 years. Know right now that I’ve come to believe in his innocence. Know, too, that for reasons I cannot understand, Morrissey – who has declined an interview for this column – has been hell-bent on pursuing this case, and has attacked my credibility and twisted facts to the media and to lawmakers.

The new trial is scheduled to start the day before the most attention-grabbing election in recent U.S. history. That means the story behind The People v. Clarence Moses-EL is likely to be drowned out by other news. So hear me out about the case Morrissey keeps pursuing in our names.

In a reporting career that’s almost as long as Moses-EL’s struggle to prove his innocence, I’ve never pressed this hard on my keyboard. I’ve never felt more of a call to make a story heard.

A dream

It is an August evening in 1987. Some friends gather to drink in a housing project in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.

One of the women later says in court that she drinks “probably five or six” Schlitz Malt Liquor Bulls before heading home a few doors down where her young children are sleeping. She passes out on her couch. Soon after, a man enters their home, penetrates her vaginally and anally, and then beats her so hard that she permanently loses use of one eye. The intruder also rifles through her wallet before he leaves.

Police arrive and ask who attacked her. The victim – whose identity The Independent is protecting – tells them she didn’t get a good look because the lights were out, she has terrible eyesight and the assailant blindfolded her. Then she names as possible assailants three of the men with whom she had been drinking earlier that night. “LC, Earl, Darnell,” she says. The police report and transcripts from Moses-EL’s preliminary hearing and trial show she names the same three men in the same order to her sister, as well.

A day and a half later at the hospital, the victim changes her story by naming Moses-EL. She doesn’t know him, but they’re neighbors and she knows his wife, with whom she reportedly had been fighting earlier that week. Moses-EL’s identity, she tells police, came to her in a dream. The victim apparently puts a lot of stock in her dreams. Notes from the hospital, where she undergoes an evaluation to assess her trauma, indicate she says she “has had premonitions/visions/daydreams on a # of occasions that have come true.”

*  *  *

At trial, the victim’s dream statement was the only evidence presented that linked Moses-EL to her rape. His defense attorney – whom Moses-EL later said was incompetent – didn’t have the blood evidence fully analyzed nor ask to have the physical evidence DNA tested. He insisted that Moses-EL not take the witness stand. His strategy relied largely on witnesses testifying that Moses-EL was at home with his son and brother-in-law at the time of the attack.

Prosecutors poked holes in that defense, pointing out inconsistencies in alibi witnesses’ testimonies. And that’s how the  jury came to convict Moses-EL, handing down a 48-year sentence for first-degree sex assault, second degree assault and second-degree burglary.

“A dream,” Moses-EL told me from prison in 2006, when I first reported his story for The Denver Post. “I’m in here because of a dream.”

Dawn of the DNA era

Where were you during the O.J. Simpson trial?

Moses-EL was watching from the Crowley County Correctional Facility in 1995. While his fellow prisoners grumbled about the racism that tainted the police investigation, he was struck by something else: defense attorney Barry Scheck’s work with DNA evidence, which then was a frontier in criminal law.

Moses-EL was one of scores of prisoners who wrote Scheck in New York seeking help with their cases. He was elated when Scheck agreed. Scheck said he’d handle the post-conviction appeal for free if Moses-EL paid $1,000 to test the physical evidence for DNA.

Genetic fingerprinting wasn’t widely available when Moses-EL was arrested eight years earlier. This was his chance, finally, to prove he wasn’t the assailant.

From prison, he managed to raise the $1,000, mostly from fellow inmates who had heard him talk about his innocence month after month, year after year. Anyone familiar with how prisons work knows it’s no small task to scrape together that much money. For one thing, inmates don’t part lightly with the scant amount of cash available to them. For another, if a DNA test that fellow prisoners paid for out of their good will came back pointing to Moses-EL, it wasn’t only his appeal that was in jeopardy, but also his safety.

“The fact that Clarence asked for that money in the first place has always, to me, shown he’s innocent,” Tim Masters, the first wrongfully convicted Coloradan to prove his innocence with DNA testing, told me earlier this year. “If he’s not innocent, there’s no way in the world he was going to make that calculation, with the whole prison looking. No way. That’d be insane.”


The most reliable proof of Moses-EL’s guilt or innocence likely was written in genetic code on the sex assault kit, two stained bed sheets, a pair of men’s briefs, and a pink and black outfit worn by the victim the night of the attack. He won a court order in November 1995 to test those items, which Denver police packed in a box they labeled in Magic Marker with large bold letters. “DO NOT DESTROY.”

About a month later, before the box could be sent to the DNA lab, someone in the police department’s evidence room ignored the label and threw the box in a dumpster.

James Huff, the lead detective in the case, had signed a form authorizing the box to be destroyed. Huff later said the Denver’s District Attorney’s office hadn’t told him that Moses-EL’s appeal was pending or that the judge had ordered the DNA evidence be made available for testing.

Tossing out the box clearly defied the judge’s order, city policy, and common sense. Yet no one in the police department or DA’s office was reprimanded.

Moses-EL remembers the day he learned police had trashed the physical evidence. He said it felt like being “given cement shoes and thrown in the water just to sink.”

Without the ability to prove his innocence through DNA analysis, he asked for a new trial. The judge sided with the District Attorney’s office, which argued that his case didn’t meet the legal standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court for criminal defendants seeking legal remedies when government agencies mishandle or destroy evidence. Defendants are required to prove authorities acted out of malice or “bad faith.”

That legal precedent pre-dated genetic fingerprinting, but still stands today, even now that DNA testing is widely available and capable of revealing scientifically irrefutable truths in criminal investigations. Legal experts say “bad faith” is almost always impossible to prove. That leaves defendants like Moses-EL with no recourse when key evidence goes missing or is scrapped presumably out of negligence or human error.

In 2006, during one of several interviews I had with Moses-EL in prison, he was still chafed by authorities’ refusal to give him a new trial.

“They broke their own rules and threw out the only key to my freedom,” he told me. “If that ain’t bad faith, man, I don’t know what is.”

“I’ll be right back”

Moses-EL was raised in West Baltimore by a single mom who had eight kids. As the eldest son, he felt compelled to quit high school and help her with the bills. He did that by stealing – petty stuff at first, but then pricier items like jewelry. He served four stints in prison for larceny in Maryland before moving to Colorado in 1986.

“I was a thief,” he admits. “But that didn’t make me no rapist. That didn’t justify giving me 48 years for something I didn’t do.”

Like a watched pot, time passes slowly in prison. Moses-EL kept his frustration from boiling over by reading everything he could. He read religious scripture, which helped solidify his belief in an Islamic-based faith known as Moorish Science. He read philosophy treatises, law books, books on chess, historical novels and biographies. He found purpose in those texts and wisdom in their words – wisdom he shared with young prisoners who came to him for advice.

At Kit Carson Correctional Facility in Burlington, the prison chaplain loaned his office to Moses-EL to counsel fellow prisoners about quitting drugs and gangs. Moses-EL urged them not to let their hearts sour. That’s what he said he told himself every day, trying to stave off bitterness.

I first met Moses-EL in that office. The chaplain sat and listened for what I recall was our nearly three-hour interview.

Moses-EL remembered riding his bike with his then 3-year-old son, Anthony, when police stopped and arrested him in 1987. He recalled telling Anthony not to worry and assuring him, “I’ll be right back.” He talked about Anthony growing up without his dad and visiting him less frequently, and then not at all as he realized his “pops” wasn’t coming back any time soon. He spoke of the helplessness he felt at times, and the suspicion that the world was conspiring against him. He described his faith in Allah and in his mom, and about her unyielding belief in his innocence.

“She told me, ‘Son never admit to something you did not do even if it costs you your life or you staying in prison.’”

Moses-EL was more than 18 years into his sentence when I met him. He spoke with disbelief and defiance about the 29 years in prison still ahead of him at that time. I asked what he’d say to Mitch Morrissey if he were there in front of him.

“I’m an innocent man,” he said, looking directly into our video camera. “Various people has been named. The evidence has been destroyed. There’s nothing that links me to this crime other than the victim’s statement. Was the victim’s testimony credible? These are the things that I want you to think about when you go to bed at night, Mr. Morrissey.

“I’m gonna be like a mosquito, a gnat. I’m gonna bug you. I’m gonna bug society. I’m going to bug the courts. I’m gonna bug the governor. I’m gonna bug the president if I have to. What does it take for an innocent man to get out?”

LC Jackson

Norm Early was Denver’s district attorney at the time of Moses-EL’s trial in 1988, and Morrissey one of the prosecutors in the office. Though Morrissey didn’t handle the case, he has said he was assigned to the same courtroom and worked closely with the prosecutor who did.  

When Moses-EL’s evidence was destroyed in 1995, Bill Ritter was the elected district attorney and Morrissey one of Ritter’s deputies. Ritter went on to become governor and refused to grant leniency on Moses-EL’s sentence.

Morrissey became DA in January 2005, having been elected largely on his expertise using DNA evidence to prosecute crimes. The crime solving tool, he promised voters, would help keep people safe.

A year into his first term, his office touted its role solving the 1992 cold case rapes at knifepoint of a 9-year-old girl and her mother. The DNA matched a man named LC Jackson, the same “LC” first named by the victim after the attack for which Moses-EL was convicted.


LC Jackson

The 1992 assault took place about a mile and a half from the scene of the Moses-EL case, and the two incidents, as police reports and court testimony show, shared striking similarities.

Jackson knew the adult victims in both attacks and was aware that they were living with their children and without men in their homes. The victim in the Moses-EL case lived two doors from Jackson’s then-girlfriend, with whom he was staying; the victims in the 1992 case lived in the same housing complex as Jackson’s girlfriend at the time. He was familiar with both homes’ floor plans.

Both attacks happened in the middle of the night, at about 2:30 a.m. Jackson entered the home in the 1992 case through a window, just as the perpetrator is believed to have entered the scene of the Moses-EL case.

Jackson raped the 9-year-old victim in 1992 while her two-year-old sibling was in the room. The victim in the Moses-EL case was assaulted with her infant and toddler in the room. Jackson used a pillowcase to cover the face of his adult victim in the 1992 case. The perpetrator in the Moses-EL case used a “do-rag” to cover the victim’s face. Jackson applied pressure to the necks of his victims in the 1992 rapes. The perpetrator in Moses-EL’s case choked and squeezed the victim’s neck during the assault. Victims in both incidents sustained injuries to their heads.

When Morrissey’s office nailed Jackson for the 1992 rapes in 2006, Trip DeMuth, Moses-EL’s lawyer at the time, pointed out that police had never questioned Jackson as a suspect in the Moses-EL case. I have never been able to glean an answer from police about why – nor an answer from Moses-EL’s trial attorney about why he didn’t bring the holes in the police investigation to the jury’s attention.

DeMuth also raised other red flags with Morrissey’s office, including comments made by James Huff, the lead police detective in Moses-EL’s case. In a sworn statement from 2005 Huff said he always had reservations about Moses-EL’s involvement and wondered if a personal vendetta led the victim to frame him. A week before the attack, she had been fighting with Moses-EL’s wife, Stephanie Burke, over a scuffle between their two young sons. The victim told police she “had problems with Stephanie Burke before and was always being threatened by her,” according to a police report. As Burke tells it, the victim publicly vowed that she was going to “get back” at her.

“Due to the fighting and the bickering, the jealousy, the pettiness, of all that, I always had doubts about this. I could never prove it either way,” Huff said in the affidavit. “This is one of those cases where I really wish there was DNA.”

Those factors seemed enough to at least question Jackson about his possible involvement in the Moses-EL case once the DNA implicated him for the 1992 case. But 19 years into Moses-EL’s prison sentence, Morrissey refused to reopen the investigation, asserting that the victim had never named Jackson as her assailant.

“What appears is that Mr. Jackson was somebody that the victim knew. …There’s nothing to indicate that he was involved with this in any other way,” Morrissey told me in 2007. “She never indicated that he raped her.”

That assertion, which he made several times, was wrong. The police report and transcripts of Moses-EL’s preliminary hearing and trial clearly show that when police and her sister asked who had attacked her, she answered, “LC, Earl, Darnell.” Morrissey’s office had full access to those documents, which I also photocopied and handed him during that same interview. But written proof that the victim did, in fact, first name Jackson as a possible assailant did nothing to persuade the DA to correct the record or change his mind about the case.

If police and prosecutors had done their jobs in 1987 and questioned Jackson, he may have been charged, prosecuted and yanked off the streets. That’s a painful “what-if” for the adult victim in the 1992 attack.

“The first guy named and they don’t investigate him? I don’t get that,” she told me in 2007.

Calling the mishandling of DNA evidence in Moses-EL’s case “outrageous,” she added, “I think somebody should pay for the destruction of evidence and the guy should be set free because of it.”

In our 2007 interview, Morrissey defended the discarding of the evidence.

“It got destroyed through the normal course of the destruction-of-evidence policies of the Denver Police Department,” he told me.

I pointed out that the Denver Police Department’s operational manual at the time specifically stated that police must “honor all valid court orders” regarding evidence, and that “it is the responsibility of the office or investigator” being asked to sign a destruction order to “determine the status of the case…”

I also pointed out records of the city’s probe into the destruction incident showing Moses-EL’s evidence was, in fact, trashed in defiance of Denver policy.

“Defied?” Morrissey asked me. “How are you defining ‘defy’?”

After nailing Jackson on the cold case rape, Morrissey wouldn’t agree to re-investigate Moses-EL’s case or to grant him a new trial.

“There’s nothing to support any reason to reopen the case,” he told me. “The defendant has had his day in court.”

I asked if he could empathize with Moses-EL or put himself in his shoes.

“No,” Morrissey said. “I’ve never raped anybody.”


Denver DA Mitch Morrissey

Trashing the truth

Moses-EL’s story led a 2007 Denver Post investigative series that I co-reported and wrote with my colleague at the paper, Miles Moffeit. Our year-long project, “Trashing the Truth,” was about the loss and destruction of DNA evidence.

At the time, Morrissey had emerged as a national leader in using genetic fingerprinting to prosecute crimes and solve cold cases. He had testified before Congress and snagged millions of tax dollars for a DNA lab and lab work in Denver. Given the importance he puts on DNA evidence, his  “tough luck” response to evidence destruction – especially in a possible innocence case – is especially puzzling. Every wrongful conviction is, after all, a cold case.

In 2008, when Columbia University named “Trashing the Truth” one of three finalists for that year’s Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism, Morrissey contacted the Pulitzer Committee to say my reporting about the Moses-EL case was inaccurate. He went on to gun for my job at the paper, telling anyone who’d listen – including my bosses – that the story was wrong. At least one member of his office even falsely spread word that I was romantically involved with Moses-EL.

In 2008, then state Senate president Ken Gordon, a former public defender, read about Moses-EL’s case and proposed a bill to address precisely his situation. The law would have required courts to grant new trials in rare cases in which law enforcement agencies destroy biological evidence in defiance of court orders to test it.

Morrissey set out to kill the bill, arguing that granting new trials would needlessly negate jury verdicts. In trying to persuade the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the measure in March 2008, he claimed in testimony he gave to that committee that the victim identified Moses-EL as her rapist immediately after her attack. That was untrue, as is clear from, among other documents, this part of the trial transcript when the reporting police officer was testifying.

Defense attorney: “When you took the offense report, Officer, did (the victim) say anything about Clarence Moses?”

Officer: “No.”

After the Senate approved the bill, Morrissey told the House Judiciary Committee in April 2008 that Moses-EL’s efforts to prove his innocence were re-traumatizing the victim. Dubbing Gordon’s measure the “Re-victimization Bill of 2008,” he defended his record and that of his office, asserting that the case had been misrepresented by the news media, the Senate and “throughout the halls of this building.”

The bill died, leaving Moses-EL still stuck in prison.

I saw Gordon two or three times before he had a fatal heart attack in 2013. Each time, he expressed frustration about not being able to right the wrongs he felt had been done to Moses-EL, who still had more than a quarter century left in his prison sentence. The last time I ran into him, Gordon asked me to tell Moses-EL he was sorry he couldn’t have done more to help.

What was done in the dark

In the spring of 2012, a letter arrived for Moses-EL in prison. It was from LC Jackson, who by then was serving a life sentence for the 1992 cold case Morrissey’s office had solved in 2006. Moses-EL and Jackson didn’t know each other, having met only once in passing years earlier.

“I really don’t know what to say to you. But let’s start by bringing what was done in the dark into the light. I have a lot on my heart,” Jackson wrote. “I don’t know who (sic) working on this, but have them come up and see me. It’s time. I’ll be waiting.”

Moses-EL’s lawyer went to see Jackson, and he confessed.

The defense filed a motion for a court hearing in which Jackson could tell his side of the story. But, in several court filings and hearings, the DA’s office fought to keep Jackson from taking the stand. At first, it argued – with no evidence – that through prison connections Moses-EL tried to coerce or bribe Jackson into confessing. Later, the DA argued that Jackson’s statements to Moses-EL’s lawyer weren’t valid because he didn’t have his lawyer present. 

The fight dragged on as two judges were replaced in the courtroom to which the appeal was assigned. Finally, a third judge was assigned to the case. Kandace Gerdes was fairly new on the bench, having been appointed straight from many years working as a prosecutor in Morrissey’s office. She granted approval for the hearing process to move forward.

In the summer of 2015, more than three years after Jackson sent Moses-El the letter, Jackson took the stand. Under oath, he said he had been with the victim in the same place and at the same time of the attack for which Moses-EL was convicted. He said he had rough, consensual sex with her that night in a position he found “nasty.” And he admitted that he got angry and lashed out in what he described as a “Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde” burst of rage.

Having let Moses-EL serve so much time for his crime, he said, had long weighed on his conscience. He told the judge that his mind went “back and forth and back and forth and back and forth” about whether to come forward. “It was hard for me to stand up,” he said. “I guess I was being selfish.”

Jackson, 50, suffers from health problems. Confessing, he explained, was his way to “the kingdom of heaven.”

“I want to just clear up a lot of things in my life,” he testified. “I just think this is the way I can relieve myself and not carry all this with me.”

Also at that hearing, Jackson’s girlfriend from 1987 – who lived two doors down from the victim – testified that Jackson had left her house at the time of the attack. And a University of Denver forensic scientist testified that, based on data analysis of evidence collected at the scene, it’s “highly likely” that someone with Jackson’s blood type was the assailant, and “highly unlikely” that it was someone with Moses-EL’s blood type.

As a result of their testimonies, Judge Gerdes vacated Moses-EL’s convictions and set him free on bond in December.

The victim has declined comment about the case since at least 2006, describing any attempt to interview her as harassment. That’s why I have not tried to reach her to ask her thoughts about Moses-EL’s release and his upcoming retrial. The DA’s office won’t say if she’ll be testifying.

Moses-EL, for his part, has tried to move forward. He has worked two jobs at an inventory service in Westminster and at a Wendy’s in Commerce City. He has reunited with his son and daughter, who were 3 when he was arrested. He has come to know his 12 grandchildren whom he had been too proud to let see him behind bars. He’s working toward building a Moorish Science Temple in Colorado. He’s relishing fresh air and mobility. And he’s acclimating to freedom in the 21st Century – Internet, iphone and all.

“Gotta stay plugged in, connected,” he said about the earbuds always around his neck and the smart phone constantly ringing and beeping and buzzing. “I have lots of time to make up for.”

Morrissey’s last stand

Morrissey could have let Moses-EL move on to rebuild his life after the judge lifted his convictions last winter. But he didn’t.

Instead, four days after the judge’s ruling, the DA’s office issued a statement. It read, in part: “Those who now argue that he was convicted based solely on a dream are either unaware of the complete facts or disregard them. The victim was severely beaten, suffered multiple facial fractures, and was in a coma [emphasis mine]. It took some time after the attack before the victim was able to give her statement.”

That assertion not only contradicted Morrissey’s earlier claim that the victim had named Moses-EL immediately after being assaulted, but the victim’s medical records, presented as evidence in the court file, contain no mention of her being in a coma after being brutalized. The victim herself testified at trial that she went to her sister’s house after her attack and before she was taken to the hospital. The emergency room report shows she was “logical/coherent”, “easy to engage, verbal, cooperative.” The ER doctor and the victim’s sister both testified at trial that she was conscious.

In December, The Denver Post editorial page urged Morrissey to drop Moses-EL’s case.

“Let him enjoy the freedom that was taken from him decades ago,” the editorial read. “The case is weak with little more evidence than a dream.”

“He needs to let this go,” added state Rep. Beth McCann, the Democrat running to replace Morrissey once he’s term-limited out of office in January. If elected, she has said she’d drop the charges. McCann’s opponent, Helen Morgan, who’s running for the seat as an independent, hasn’t commented on how she’d handle the case because she works in Morrissey’s office. There’s an “ethical prohibition against me talking about it in public,” she said at a Colorado Independent debate in September.

Defense lawyers sought to disqualify the DA’s office and appoint a special prosecutor. They argued Morrissey’s office has “thwarted” Moses-EL’s “attempts to exonerate himself at every turn.”

“Rather than admitting that it prosecuted and imprisoned an innocent man, the Denver District Attorney’s Office instead has engaged in a cover-up campaign by misstating the facts of this case to the legislature and the media,” read a motion filed on Moses-EL’s behalf. “The District Attorney’s factual misstatements have been repeatedly reported by the media and are highly inappropriate.”

Moses-EL’s lawyers also argued that Morrissey’s office should be disqualified because, after the DNA evidence pointed to Jackson in the 1992 rapes, it withheld information about similarities to his case. Both the U.S. and Colorado constitutions prohibit prosecutors from withholding evidence that’s favorable to a person accused of a crime, even after a conviction.

“…The Denver District Attorney failed to disclose this information to Mr. Moses-EL for nearly a decade…,” read the motion to disqualify Morrissey. “The Denver District Attorney’s office cannot be trusted to fulfill its ongoing duties to disclose favorable evidence to Mr. Moses-EL in connection with the upcoming new trial.”

Bonnie Benedetti, the chief deputy district attorney Morrissey assigned to preserve Moses-EL’s conviction, countered that there was nothing to disclose because “there is no ‘signature’ evidence that would support that Mr. Jackson was involved in the rape” for which Moses-EL served 28 years.

In a press release, Morrissey’s office said there’s no new evidence in the case because Jackson’s confession “was not true and was retracted” in a private meeting with its staff before the 2015 hearing. “In his statement to the District Attorney’s investigator, (Jackson) admitted he had lied and made the confession up,” it reads.

But at hearing, Jackson testified before Judge Gerdes that the investigator sent to interview him by the district attorney’s office had intimidated him into changing his story. The investigator, Jackson said, prefaced the interview by saying he had previously worked for the Denver Police Department and had arrested Jackson on a burglary case for which Jackson was convicted and served eight years in prison.

Benedetti has suggested that, since the August 2015 hearing, Jackson has again recanted his confession. Given those vacillations, it’s unclear how he’ll testify at the retrial.

Moses-EL’s lawyers asked Judge Gerdes to postpone the trial until the winner of the Nov. 8th election takes office in January. Gerdes denied that motion on grounds that the trial date already has been pushed back once and that juror summonses already had been issued. She also twice refused to appoint a special prosecutor.

Defense lawyers filed an emergency petition with the Colorado Supreme Court asking for a special prosecutor. The request alleged years of misconduct by Morrissey, saying he had a personal interest in his office’s prosecution of the case. Benedetti has countered in court that, “To continually say that this is somehow a personal vendetta of Mitch Morrissey is simply without basis.” The court denied the emergency petition earlier this month without comment.

Jury selection for the two-week trial is scheduled to start on Nov. 4. Morrissey’s office asked that jurors not be allowed to hear that authorities trashed all the physical evidence nor that Moses-EL already spent nearly three decades in prison on the case. Those facts — both of which cast the DA’s office in unfavorable light — could cause jurors to “unfairly sympathize” with Moses-EL, Benedetti argued. Judge Gerdes agreed, saying, “Sympathy has no place in a criminal trial.”

“What they gonna think?” Moses-EL asked me a few weeks ago about the jurors in his retrial. “They gonna think I been hiding out all this time, 28 years hiding out somewhere, instead of the reality of the thing – that I done spent 28 years locked up for this already.”


Over the past 10 years, I’ve read volumes of legal documents and court transcripts, conducted dozens of interviews and written umpteen stories about Moses-EL’s case. Never has he strayed from the details he laid out in our first interview in the prison chaplain’s office. Never has he hesitated when I asked a tough question. And never has anyone involved in that ugly August night in 1987 assured me that this case is even remotely fair.

I’ve come to admire Moses-EL’s strength and dignity throughout his ordeal. I’ve come to count him as a friend. I admit I’m no longer objective about this case, but I assert that I am factually right.

It would be unfair to blame Morrissey for the shoddy police work in 1987. It would be unfair to hold him personally responsible for the department’s failure to interview LC Jackson, letting him ­walk free then. It also would be unfair to fault Morrissey directly for letting all the truth-telling DNA evidence get tossed in a dumpster.

Yet, in straining to justify those and other mistakes, Morrissey acts in bad faith, continuing to trash the truth of this case.

The district attorney had more than enough evidence in 2006 to re-examine Moses-EL’s convictions. Now, by continuing to hang charges over Moses-EL’s head, he’s stripping even more time from a man who’s already lost nearly half a lifetime to this case while the man who admits he attacked the victim goes untried and unpunished. That is the greatest unfairness of them all.

“DO NOT DESTROY” is a warning about more than just boxes of criminal evidence. It also applies to the people over whom prosecutors hold enormous power. It’s a caution about the lives they can wreck when they take that power and stubbornly, persistently misuse it.

Photo of Clarence Moses-EL by Marie-Dominique Verdier.

LC Jackson photo from Colorado Department of Corrections. Mitch Morrissey photo from Denver District Attorney’s website.