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In case you missed it, everything just got worse. Much worse.

In the latest round of stories fresh from the Times v. Post blockbuster exchange, The New York Times is reporting that Trump is looking for dirt on special counsel Robert Mueller and his investigative team while The Washington Post is reporting that Trump’s lawyers are looking for ways to undercut Mueller’s investigation while also studying the issue of pardons for Trump’s team, Trump’s family and possibly even Trump himself.

In other words, Trump is looking to stop Mueller’s investigation at all costs, up to and including firing him, and, failing that, Trump wants to know how or if the presidential get-out-of-jail-free card works.

Let me see if I can put it even more plainly: If you trust the reporting of the best that #fakenews America has to offer, or even if you can’t bring yourself to go that far, you simply trust Trump’s own rambling, slam-the-entire-Justice-Department interview with The Times, we may be on the verge of a constitutional crisis. I’m a bigly believer in the innocent-until-proven-guilty concept, but it’s fair to ask who looks into pardoning himself if he has done nothing wrong?

After all, not even Nixon tried to pardon himself. But Nixon once did say this, which I assume is now the working model for the Trump administration: “When the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Trump has already used several variations on that theme. Sadly, Sean Spicer will no longer be at the White House to say it for him, but a new director of communications has already appointed Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will gladly take her turn.

What we know is that we shouldn’t be surprised by whatever Trump tries to do now, unless, that is, you think Congress is finally ready to stand up to Trump in anything resembling a meaningful way.

As Chuck Todd and the gang at NBC’s First Read wrote, it’s time for every Republican member of Congress to have to answer the question: What would you do if Trump does fire Mueller and/or hands out pardons to members of his family? If Republicans want to contain Trump — it would take only three in the Senate — they should lay out the consequences for him. I’m sure Cory Gardner understands that. I’m sure, even now, he’s tweeting his typical hot take, probably a pronouncement on either how terrible North Korea is or how beautiful Colorado is.

This might-be crisis was apparently set off by the news that Mueller’s Russia probe is looking into Trump’s past business dealings, including any involving Russia, and that he would probably want to look at several years’ worth of Trump tax returns. You may ask: What could Trump possibly be hiding? Trump is asking: What the hell are they trying to do to me?

It’s hard to know where to begin this chapter of the long-running disaster story — my God, has it been really only six months? —but we might as well start with the Don Jr. email dump, which followed a series of New York Times articles about his undisclosed meeting with the “Russian government lawyer” (who it now turns out, via Reuters, was also a lawyer for Russia’s largest spy agency).

The Times stories on the meeting, over three days, were accompanied by the ever-changing Don Jr. explanations  — the first of which, a large lie by omission, was reportedly approved by Trump the elder — and the ever-changing and ever-more-murky list of characters for the meeting in which Don Jr. brought along then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and then-and-now Trump consigliere, son-in-law Jared Kushner.

But it was when The Times informed Don Jr. that it had the emails and was prepared to release them that the younger Trump released the entire chain, which provided clearly-worded proof, for any who wanted to see, that those in the Trump White House were meeting with Russian representatives in order to find dirt on Hillary Clinton.

You can draw a straight line from there to Trump’s explosive 50-minute interview with the failing New York Times. The interview apparently began as an off-the-record session with three of the Times’ White House reporters and turned into, well, it’s hard to describe what it turned into. Anyone who cares about the state of America and the presidency should read it for him/herself.

For a few moments, some of us got hung up on Trump’s wide array of false claims (his Poland speech was called by critics the best speech a president ever made on foreign soil) and miscues (while in France, he got his Napoleons mixed up, and I don’t mean the pastries) and his astonishing ignorance of healthcare (he thinks a 21-year-old can buy healthcare coverage for $12 a year, apparently confusing cheap health insurance with cheap life insurance).

But the real story was obviously his attacks on old friend and AG Jeff Sessions for doing the right thing and recusing himself from the Russia probe, on former-Russia-probe-leader and FBI chief Jim Comey as a liar, on Mueller for doing his job by leading the Russia probe, on Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, for being from Baltimore (he’s actually from Philly and lives in Bethesda, Md., but that’s another story).

White House aides were stunned by the interview. Trump hadn’t told them he was doing it, just as he hadn’t told anyone he would have a second, undisclosed, no-American-translator-on-hand meeting with Vladimir Putin. They couldn’t be stunned by the latest leaks, though, which must have come from White House aides or from Trump lawyers.

Anyone confused as to why Trump chose to slam Sessions on the day he was supposed to be trying to rescue Trumpcare — I admit I was one of them — must now understand. Millions of vulnerable Americans losing their health coverage is one thing. The possibility of Trump losing the ability keep his tax returns hidden is quite another.

Photo by Ryan J. Reilly e via Flickr: Creative Commons

 

The Home Front: Cory Gardner is ‘under siege’ amid his ‘hunker-down strategy’ on healthcare

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner is under siege,” reports The Denver Post. “For weeks, protesters have rallied outside his offices in Washington and Colorado with the demand that he oppose Republican efforts to undo the Affordable Care Act. Several were arrested this week on Capitol Hill, joining more than a dozen activists who met a similar fate in Colorado. Meanwhile, Gardner has faced growing pressure from conservatives to make good on his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, a goal Gardner has supported with dozens of symbolic votes since he joined Congress in 2011. That force will be on display this weekend when thousands of activists descend on Denver for the Western Conservative Summit.”

“Sen. Ray Scott is peddling a state tax on bicycles, but he might be spinning his wheels,” reports The Grand Junction Dailey Sentinel. “In President Trump-like fashion, Grand Junction’s GOP state senator went onto social media this week saying he is considering introducing a measure into next year’s legislative session similar to one Oregon approved earlier this month, to put an excise tax on the sale of bicycles. “We will be proposing something similar,” Scott posted. “They use the roads also.” Later, the senator suggested that instead of a tax, maybe the state should require bicycles to have license plates, paying the state a fee to get them. His posts say he’s just spit-balling, and wants to know what people think about the concept, saying that bicycles are using the roads but paying nothing to maintain them. While some expressed support for both ideas, many didn’t, even questioning whether Scott has suddenly become a Democrat.”

“Beginning July 31, Boulder County will allow leashed dogs on a small stretch of the Picture Rock Trail on the county’s Heil Valley Ranch Open Space area south of Lyons,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “The 1,000-foot section of Picture Rock Trail runs between Red Gulch Road on the west and on the east by a connection to Lyons’ Bohn Park, which also features a dog park. On Thursday morning, Boulder County Commissioners Elise Jones and Deb Gardner voted to approve permitting leashed dogs on that short trail section, although dogs will continue to be prohibited — both on leash and off leash — on the rest of Picture Rock Trail and Heil Valley Ranch’s other trails.”

“When Greeley police dog Rocko turned his head to the left and snapped his jaws as he stood outside the car about 12:45 Saturday morning, officer Kevin Clarey knew there were drugs inside,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “Rocko is trained to react that way if he smells illegal narcotics, such as methamphetamine or heroin. Rocko’s reaction led officers to search the car and then the driver, who they’d found slumped over the steering wheel asleep not long before. As one of two dogs used by the Greeley Police Department, Rocko stays busy. He often conducts sniffs like Saturday’s. Many times they are a key step in arresting someone on suspicion of drug charges.”

“Six weeks after failing a state inspection on its staffing, the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo still has more than 80 vacancies in the key ‘direct-care’ staff positions that caused federal officials to put the hospital in ‘immediate jeopardy’ of losing its Medicare funding,” reports The Pueblo Chieftain. “When state inspectors failed the hospital June 5, there were 97 vacancies among the 723 direct-care positions. That shortage had apparently existed all spring. For inspectors, it triggered concerns about both patient and staff safety. That’s when the federal Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services said the hospital was in jeopardy of losing Medicare funding if the problem wasn’t immediately fixed.”

“A model teacher education program at Colorado Mountain College may require some model solutions to help aspiring educators make it through their student teaching year on solid financial footing,” reports The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “The first batch of students in CMC’s elementary education teaching program — one of five bachelor degrees now offered by the college — are entering their senior year this fall. The program requires them to put in 1,200 hours of student teaching in a classroom setting in order to graduate.”

“Call it Extreme Home Makeover: Routt County Elk Edition,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “Large machines that resemble giant lawnmowers will spend the coming weeks cutting down old vegetation in two parts of the National Forest around Steamboat Springs to make better homes for the elk. When it’s over, the elk and deer will have a better, more nutritious food supply and winter range. The work will also reduce the risk of wildfires in the area.”

“Decreasing the frequency at which painkiller prescriptions are filled for Colorado residents insured by the state’s Medicaid program is the most recent step taken by authorities to combat what has become known as an opioid epidemic,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “Opioids are drugs such as morphine, heroin and popular prescription pain pills with similar effects, such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Alleged over-prescribing of such pain pills in recent years has led to a highly documented nationwide uptick in opioid abuse that includes a rise in overdose deaths from both prescription drugs as well as illegal narcotics such as heroin.”

“The latest spacing applications filings by Extraction Oil & Gas, Inc. have some Broomfield residents concerned about more wells coming into Broomfield, but the company says it will stand by the promise it made to the community,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “When wells aretallied on six applications submitted July 13 to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, they show up to 120 proposed wells. The Sept. 11 and 12 hearings for the applications will be in Durango. Extraction Spokesman Brian Cain said all wells in the application that exceed the 99 the company promised will be drilled outside of Broomfield.”

“A Denver-based corporation wants to take over the non-operating Cotter Corp. uranium mill in Cañon City -— a Superfund site — for the purpose of remediating the contaminated land and acting as a steward of the land in the future. Colorado Legacy Land, a Delaware LLC based in Denver, is currently in negotiations with Cotter to obtain the former uranium mill, along with the Central City Schwartzwalder Mine,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “Doing so would mean the company owns the Cañon City land and would be responsible for clean up. Even so, Cotter always will remain a potential responsible party because the company caused the contamination. If Colorado Legacy Land fails to clean up the land, the burden would fall back on Cotter.”

“A two-car crash killed one person and injured four others west of Hesperus on Thursday evening,” reports The Durango Herald.

“When Amy Davis and her partner moved out of their house in South Florida and into a 399-square-foot cottage on wheels, they had no problem adjusting to the close quarters,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. But finding a spot for their “tiny house” proved a challenge until they stumbled upon a like-minded community nestled on a hillside in Woodland Park. Peak View Park is host to more than 40 of the units, each less than 400 square feet in size and mounted on trailers, that have been touted by HGTV shows and magazine articles as the gateway to an affordable, alternative lifestyle. But, as the new form of dwelling has made its way into housing markets, a problem has emerged: Governments aren’t quite sure how tiny houses fit in with zoning regulations and land-use codes. “The trouble is finding a place to put them,” Davis, 50, said from her miniature living room.”

 

ALEC Day 2: Betsy DeVos says school choice “is good politics because it’s good policy”

“Families are on the front line of this fight. Let’s stand with them!”

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U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos became the first member of the Trump administration to visit Denver, speaking Thursday to a noontime luncheon at the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference held at the downtown Denver Hyatt Regency.

DeVos, the first cabinet secretary in history to require a tie-breaking vote from the vice-president in order to win Senate approval, spoke for about 15 minutes to the friendly ALEC crowd.

“I’m no stranger to state-based advocacy,” DeVos told the ALEC attendees, who are primarily state legislators from around the country. At least 15 current Colorado lawmakers, all Republicans, are attending the 44th annual conference.

DeVos is no stranger to ALEC. According to National Public Radio, DeVos and ALEC “have ties that go back decades.” The American Federation for Children, which DeVos founded, is a financial contributor to ALEC. In addition, her father-in-law, Richard DeVos, received ALEC’s “Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award” in 1993 for his efforts on market-based school reform.

The noontime luncheon also featured a panel discussion with former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, who served during the Reagan administration, and state Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, who is running for Congress for the 5th Congressional District, challenging incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn, also of Colorado Springs.

“Our advocacy has led to some excitement on the left,” DeVos said, to laughter from the audience. She first took aim at protesters who marched from the state Capitol Wednesday in an event that protested both DeVos and ALEC. “I’m no stranger to organized protesters of the status quo, but it’s the first time I’ve been to an event where the protesters weren’t here just for me.”

DeVos then spoke about her signature issue, school choice, which some call a metaphor either for charter schools or taxpayer-funded vouchers that would go to private schools.

“Our opponents only protest those capable of implementing real change,” she said, adding that the next reforms in education won’t come from Washington, D.C. but from the states and the state legislatures. “Choice in education is good politics because it’s good policy,” and comes from parents who want the best for their children. Those who defend the status quo do not have the interests of children at heart, she claimed.

“Families are on the front line of this fight. Let’s stand with them!”

She then blasted teachers unions in general, and the American Federation of Teachers by name, stating they care more about a system created in the 1800s than about individual students. “They are totally wrong,” she added.

DeVos launched into a states’ rights approach to education, telling the audience that education is best addressed at the state, local and family levels, not by the federal government. “Equal education opportunity is common sense and the right thing to do, and it drives ‘big government’ folks nuts.”

DeVos said President Donald Trump is determined to place power in the hands of the people, and to reduce the federal footprint in education. He started off with an April executive order to review every regulation in the Department of Education that “might obstruct parents, teachers communities and students from serving their students.”

DeVos treaded carefully on the Every Student Succeeds Act, an Obama administration-approved law that replaced the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act and is intended to reduce the number of standardized tests given to students.

“We must comport with the law Congress passed,” DeVos said, but states should be encourage to be creative and “break away from the compliance mentality.”

On higher education, DeVos championed the recent decision by her department to put on hold a rule that would protect college students from predatory practices by for-profit colleges. The “borrower defense to repayment” rule, which DeVos paused last month, requires for-profit colleges to demonstrate that the education they provide helps graduates find gainful employment. DeVos said students should be protected from predatory practices, but schools should also be treated fairly, noting that public colleges and universities are not held to the same standard. The rule, put in place by the Obama administration, “is textbook overreach,” DeVos said, and “a war on every type of organization they didn’t like…if many traditional institutions were held to the same standard, many of them would fail [on the gainful employment standard] too,” she said. DeVos also noted that the rule would cost taxpayers $17 billion in unpaid student loan debt.

In a brief question-and-answer session following her remarks, DeVos went into more detail on the her views on school choice and states’ roles.

States must make the decisions regarding school choice, DeVos said. “Those [states] that pursue the most robust choices and greatest opportunities for parents and students will be the most successful,” she said.

Hill and Bennett are aligned through Conservative Leaders for Education, a new national organization Bennett founded late last year that is designed to encourage state legislatures to include conservative principles in state policy decisions on education. Hill’s signature issue – equal funding for charter schools – is backed by CL4E and ALEC. Hill’s bill won approval in the 2017 legislative session with the help of Democrats like Sen. Angela Williams of Denver and the measure’s House sponsor, Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, who is now running for the 7th Congressional District seat being vacated next year by Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Golden.

Related: Conservative education reform has “window of opportunity” in 2017

Hill said his biggest takeaway from DeVos’ speech was that the federal government is “respecting the states again.” It’s no longer “what the federal government tells you what you can and can’t do.” Hearing that, and being encouraged by DeVos on behalf of the federal government, was appreciated, he said. “Don’t tell us how to do our jobs, let our local communities make these decisions.”

He also pointed to what he called a “a unifying theme to empower students and teachers” that is broadly bipartisan and how to have an education system that provides that empowerment.

“The bar is pretty low right now. We have a lot of opportunity.”

 

Photo of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos courtesy of ColoradoPolitics.com

What will it take to reach the climate change goals set by Gov. Hickenlooper?

The governor’s order is big on aspiration, but short on details

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Words of praise flowed from environmental groups last week after Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order calling for Colorado to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent. This reduction, as compared to 2005 levels, must be achieved by 2025.

The executive order aligns Colorado with 13 other states in the new Climate Alliance that have pledged to honor Paris climate agreement goals, bucking President Donald Trump’s announced exit.

Hickenlooper said many of the right things when announcing his order “supporting Colorado’s clean energy transition” at Red Rocks last week. He talked about past successes that have improved the environmental economy while accommodating and even enhancing economic growth. He said the state must switch more electrical generation from coal to renewables. He called for a plan by January to ramp up the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, using at least a portion of Colorado’s $68 million share of the $15 billion Volkswagen must pay for cheating on its diesel emissions.

But the plan was also conspicuous for what it failed to say. Almost entirely absent were the concrete steps it will take to achieve these goals in the many sectors of the economy that produce greenhouse gas emissions. As Hickenlooper enters his last 17 months in office—possibly eyeing  a run for president—his legacy will be built not just on what is promised, but also what is accomplished.

For all the praise, there are equal parts skepticism, much of which involves a question the governor’s executive order does not even attempt to answer. What exactly will it take to meet the goal the order spells out?

Cuts will have to come from more than one sector. The 2014 Colorado Climate Plan says that electrical production was responsible for 25 to 35 percent of Colorado’s greenhouse gases, and transportation, including passenger cars, freight trucks, commercial aircraft and rail, account for about 25 percent. Fuels used for residential, commercial and industrial purposes make up 21 percent. Natural gas production and transmission and agriculture came next, followed by methane emissions.  Hickenlooper’s order made no mention of these smaller but still substantial contributions.

Environmental groups say Colorado will need what one describes as a “mix and match” variety of policy options that range from coal plant closings, higher standards that lessen use of fossil fuels in heating buildings, and steps to lower methane emissions from both existing and former coal mines as well as oil and gas drillings. Because  Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions come from so many sources, there is no single answer.

“We need both good goals and good actions to get there,” says Stephen Saunders, speaking for the year-old Colorado Communities for Climate Action, a consortium of 14 cities and counties. “Nothing has started yet in terms of concrete action.”

Whatever the policies needed to achieve the 26 percent reduction in eight years, they’re “not a path we are on” now, says Howard Geller, chief executive of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, a Boulder-based group. The governor’s order represents a ”significant change in direction. That’s an economy-wide goal, not just the electricity sector. We have to get big reductions in transportation. We have to get big reductions in buildings. …yeah, we’re getting big reductions from Xcel, but Xcel is not the whole state.”

But Clean Energy Action’s Leslie Glustrom was less charitable. Reading the executive order last Tuesday, she told The Colorado Independent, its goals are “so feeble as to be practically meaningless.”

If that’s a dark view, consider that an iceberg the size of Delaware recently calved from Antarctica.

The political landscape

One way to view Hickenlooper’s goals is through Colorado’s purplish political geography. It’s neither Boulder nor Colorado Springs. The Yale University poll from 2016 found that 71 percent of Coloradans believe global warming is happening, a hair above the national figure of 70 percent. Only 53 percent, however, agree that global warming is caused mostly by humans. (But asked if they support regulating C02 as a pollutant, 74 percent agreed).

Another way to measure his goals is to compare them to those articulated by former Gov. Bill Ritter in 2007. Ritter called for a 20 percent economy wide reduction by 2020 and an 80 percent by 2050. He also offered six  bridge strategies, including creation of an agriculture offset market, in an effort to create a carbon market.

Hickenlooper’s order is less comprehensive and does not specifically reaffirm Ritter’s mid-century goal. It can instead best be seen as an argument for reducing the carbon footprint of Colorado’s electrical supply. In addition to the economy-wide reductions of 26 percent, the order describes a goal of 25 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector by 2025 and 30 percent five years later—both compared to 2012 levels. The governor also orders a new greenhouse gas inventory, something not done since 2014. That inventory relies upon 2010 data. Another section orders electricity savings of 2 percent of total electricity each year. In other words, deliver the same services with less electricity. Xcel has been at around 1.5 percent, but Fort Collins Utilities has been achieving 2 percent annually by switching out older, inefficient light bulbs and other, more complicated strategies.

“They’re demonstrating it can be done,” says Geller of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. “We need to  do that around the state.”

And there’s also the intent to provide economic development strategies and other support to “communities impacted by our nation’s changing energy landscape.” Oak Creek, Hayden and Craig, all in northwestern Colorado, are especially dependent on coal taxes and jobs, as are several communities in Delta County and Nucla, Naturita and Norwood, in southwestern Colorado. Glustrom describes that goal as the “most important” in the executive order because “it’s a critical piece for moving our state forward.”

Is any of this enough?  C02 emissions are barreling toward 450 parts per million, the threshold for massive, irreversible climate destabilization long identified by many scientists. Former NASA scientist Jim Hansen, among others, has argued we must halt emissions and drive down concentrations to 350 ppm.

Activist and writer Bill McKibben has taken up that goal with his grassroots-driven organization, 350.org. McKibben has been in Colorado several times in recent years to make his fierce argument that we must keep the vast majority of fossil fuels in the ground if we hope to have a planet habitable for humans.

Hickenlooper calls himself “pro-business but with high standards.” He used that self-description at a forum in late June sponsored by the Aspen Ideas Festival. With the majestic Maroon Bells as his backdrop, he told the story of how Colorado in 2014 came to adopt regulations —widely considered the best in the nation—that reduce methane emissions associated with oil and gas drilling

During the four months of negotiations among drilling companies and scientists from the environmental community, the parties several times stalked out. “Our job was just to be the convenor,” that got them back to the table, Hickenlooper said.

In Aspen, Hickenlooper also talked about the need for concreteness to accompany goals. He admitted that he and his team had much yet to figure out about its climate change strategy. “Hopefully, in the next couple of months, (we will) find a way we can actually close a couple of power plants,” he said.

A stampede toward renewables

Some goals will be easier than others. In specifying a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the electricity sector 35 percent by 2030 as compared to 2012 levels, Hickenlooper is swimming with a strong tide. In 2015, 78 percent of Colorado’s electricity was generated by burning fossil fuel. But utilities are rushing to embrace renewables.

Tumbling prices of wind and now solar and storage have been dramatically undercutting the price of coal generation. This is not just a story in California or New York. It’s a story of middle America. Nebraska’s Omaha Public Power District last year pulled the plug on a nuclear power plant called Fort Calhoun that was commissioned to run until 2033. In doing so, the utility is swallowing $1.5 billion in decommissioning costs. Even so, it’s cheaper than to continue operating the plant.

In Iowa, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy this year announced a $3.6 billion investment in wind power with the goal of leaping from 55 percent wind energy to nearly 90 percent in the next few years. In Arizona, it’s solar. Tucson Electric in May inked a 20-year solar-plus-storage deal at less than 3 cents a kilowatt-hour. That compares with the low end of electricity from unsubsidized fossil fuel at 4.8 cents a kilowatt-hour,  according to Clean Technica, a website.

Xcel Energy, which provides 55 to 57 percent of Colorado’s electricity, is also rushing to embracing renewables. The same day that Hickenlooper announced his executive order, Xcel’s chief executive posted an op/ed that pointed out that electrical utilities nationally have reduced carbon emissions by 25 percent since 2005. “The Paris agreement would have required a 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025” Ben Fowke wrote. Xcel, he said, is on track to reduce its carbon emissions 41 percent in its six-state operating area by 2021 as compared to 2005.

In recent years, Xcel has closed two smaller coal-fired power plants and, as a result of the Clean Energy, Clean Jobs Act passed during the Ritter administration, will have completely switched out plants in Boulder and north of downtown Denver to natural gas by the end of 2017. Other coal plants—one of the three units at Craig and a small plant at Nucla operated by Tri-State Generation and Transmission—are scheduled to close within the next few years to comply with federal laws governing ozone formation.

More coal plants will close, not because of environmental laws, but because of price, says Ron Lehr, a former PUC chairman. He also points out that Xcel has figured out how to integrate much higher levels of renewables while ensuring reliability. The arguments against renewables a decade ago can be discarded. The question is not whether the plants will close, but how soon.

Xcel has four aging units—two at Hayden and two in the Comanche station at Pueblo—that began operations between 1965 and 1976. They collectively can generate 1,244 megawatts.That’s more than 10 percent of Colorado’s total electrical generating capacity.

With Lehr and another former PUC chair, Ron Binz, hovering in the background, State Rep. Chris Hansen introduced a bill in the last legislative session that sought to make it easier for Xcel to close those plants through issuance of rate-payer backed bonds. The process, called securitization, works at the heart of utility financing. Hansen’s bill was premised on the idea that Xcel can get lower interest rates with ratepayer-based bonds for its debt equity than it can now. The lower-cost interest payments can leave both Xcel customers and shareholders unharmed or even benefit them, and everybody gets less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  A key is that—as was noted by Hickenlooper’s executive order—federal tax credits that make renewable energy even cheaper are scheduled to be phased out by the end of 2019.

Hansen’s bill included a carve-out for proceeds to help coal-dependent communities of Colorado transition to new economies. The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House but failed to get out of committee in the Republican-controlled Senate. No reason was cited, but Lehr believes the coal mining industry retains lingering influence in Colorado and in right-leaning publications beyond its economic contributions.  

Expect that bill, or something like it, to return to the Legislature next winter. There is also potential for changes strictly through the PUC. But again, the critical selling point is the ability to shift to renewables without increasing costs to consumers.

“That’s where the magic really happens and things change,” Hickenlooper said in Aspen as he  emphasized the plummeting costs of renewables. “If you can say cheaper, that transforms the conversation.”

Other utilities—Black Hills Electric, which serves the Pueblo area; the 29 municipal utilities, and the 22 electrical co-operatives (most of which are supplied by Tri-State) —provide more than 40 percent of Colorado’s electricity. Lehr thinks they, too, can be persuaded to shift to renewables, again because it may save them — and their customers — money.

The transition, as the executive order and Hansen’s legislation acknowledge, has consequences for the tax bases of coal-dependent communities. In Aspen, Hickenlooper addressed that by saying that Colorado now has 1,100 coal-related jobs but 9,000 cybersecurity jobs available. “And two-thirds of them don’t require a degree” (beyond a high school diploma),” he said, which is true also for the coal jobs.

Colorado must expedite the transfer of “real jobs in real time,” he said, and he sees a state role for re-training of coal sector workers. “It would cost some money, but I don’t think it would cost as much money as everybody seems to think.”

What about buildings?

Electricity is only one part of this story. Transportation produces almost as much carbon dioxide. Hickenlooper’s key strategy here is to step up the charging infrastructure for electric cars. Last December, he joined with governors of Utah and Nevada in promising charging stations along major highways. When that is achieved, it will be possible to drive electrically from Kansas to the Pacific.

But absent from the order was mention of California’s clean-car standard, which has now been embraced by 13 states and Washington D.C. Nor were other transportation strategies identified. If Colorado’s goal is to be met, there will have to be more than charging stations —much more, according to Saunders and others.

The Colorado Department of Transportation will be a key agency to watch. So will the  Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and, in particular, the Air Quality Control Commission. In a previously scheduled hearing, that agency this week is scheduled to take up steps to further reduce ozone caused by oil-and-gas operations. Those efforts will presumably also advance efforts to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Buildings are conspicuously absent from the executive order. Residential buildings alone were responsible for 23.2 percent of total energy use in Colorado, according to the 2014 Climate Plan. We heat them and we heat the water in them, plus we cool them—all requiring energy. But unlike coal plants, buildings are expected to last a century, maybe more. Retrofitting a badly designed building is enormously expensive.

In 2007, Colorado legislators agreed to raise the bar for buildings in Colorado. That bar remains laughably low if you consider what must be done to decarbonize our economy by mid-century. Unlike oil and gas operations, where the state insists in supremacy in rule making, building codes are left to local jurisdictions. Many towns, cities, and counties still use the 2006 international energy conservation code. By 2012, the energy savings associated with code implementation had increased 30 percent. Keep in mind that this building code does not represent what is possible. Like a group of hikers, the code adoption moves at a slower pace.

Analysts say that that the Hickenlooper administration can get some things done with existing authority, but other actions are best achieved with the broader mandate of legislation.  Hansen, the state legislator, says he believes there are broad areas of agreement in energy and transportation for bipartisan support.  “We have a divided Legislature, and we need to find ways to work together. I think there are number of ways that it is possible,” he said.

In this purplish state where voters send more Republicans to Congress than Democrats, leaders can only get so far in front of their constituencies. But neither can they lag. Every week, it seems news arrives for further evidence that climate scientists have been, if anything, conservative in their predictions .

At the base of Maroon Bells, Hickenlooper talked about the need for concrete images when communicating climate change risk to the public. Rising oceans and the increasing acidification now destroying coral reefs provide unmistakable evidence of global warming, he said. But he wouldn’t concede that droughts and extreme weather in our state offer the same irrefutable evidence that climate change is underway here. Natural variability can mask climatic shifts, he said.

But he did not deny future impacts. “Half of our storage is in the snow, in the snowpack.” he said. “That’s hard for people to get their arms around. But if we (warm) just a degree or two, and that precipitation doesn’t get stored in snow, we run into real trouble.”

Hickenlooper that morning also talked about political alignments. “This is a time when there are going to be some new ideas on how states can work together and how municipalities can work together,” he said. “Certainly in the next month we will come forward with some ideas.”

Whether those ideas are strong enough, or fresh enough, to put Colorado on a more clear path to taming greenhouse gases remains an open question. The answer will also say much about the governor’s political legacy—and, perhaps, his fitness for the White House.

 

Photo by Allen Best

 

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Education-oriented donors continued to play an outsized role in the latest fundraising round of a governor’s race where all leading Democratic candidates have strong connections to Colorado schools.

Former state Sen. Michael Johnston, a Denver Democrat and a national figure in the education reform community, added another $301,000 to his campaign between April 1 and June 30, new records show. More than $200,000 came from outside of Colorado.

National donors included Reed Hastings, co-founder of Netflix and a charter school supporter, and Michelle Yee, an education researcher and wife of the co-founder of LinkedIn. Both have a history of giving to education reform candidates and causes in Colorado.

Locally, civic leader and megadonor Daniel Ritchie also gave to Johnston.

Johnston, who grew his war chest substantially in the last round by tapping his wide network of supporters across the country, has raised nearly $1 million since January.

But the Democrat who raised the most during the last quarter, according to reports filed Monday, was Cary Kennedy, the author of a 2000 state constitutional amendment mandating that Colorado annually increase spending on schools.

Kennedy, a former state treasurer, raised nearly $340,000 between April 1 and June 30. This puts her in a much stronger position to compete than some insiders originally thought.

Johnston’s continued nationwide support and Kennedy’s early fundraising success faced strong competition from the personal wealth of U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a multi-millionaire who has helped start charter schools and once chaired the State Board of Education.

He reported $274,155 in donations, including $250,000 that he donated to himself.

Colorado has strict limits on campaign donations, which favor wealthy individuals who can self-fund a campaign.

The competitive race has already seen one dropout, U.S. Congressman Ed Perlmutter. The Jefferson County Democrat was the supposed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. But he dropped out of the race earlier this month.

Noel Ginsburg, a Denver businessman who leads a nonprofit focused on apprenticeships, reported $92,792 in new contributions.

Political observers predict the race to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, will be the most expensive in history. And with unaffiliated voters making up a third of the state’s electorate, both parties see paths to claim the governor’s mansion.

The Republican field is still forming but so far features District Attorney George Brauchler, former state lawmaker Victor Mitchell, and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s nephew Doug Robinson.

Robinson raised the most during the fundraising quarter: $207,532. Brauchler reported raising $183,398. And Mitchell raised a little more than $15,000.

But Mitchell has more cash on hand than any other candidate — Democrat or Republican — after loaning his campaign $3 million.

Each Republican candidate has named education as a top issue. However, the Republicans have less pronounced ties to the state’s public schools.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat on July 18, 2017

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo: Former state Sen. Michael Johnston’s children listen to him announce his gubernatorial bid.

Photo credit: Nicholas Garcia of Chalkbeat

The Home Front: Letter said Colorado woman ‘could be held liable for drilling accidents if she didn’t sign,’ but…

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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Under the headline “Facts vs. Fear,” The Greeley Tribune’s Tyler Silvy reports about a Weld County woman named Linda Warner who won’t lease her land to oil-and-gas companies, and the letters she gets from those companies. “Warner, a former environmental studies teacher at University Schools, is against fracking, but she did more research when the letters first started arriving in her mailbox,” the Tribune reports. “She met with companies, then returned to the same conclusion: She wouldn’t sell or lease, no matter what. ‘It’s an ethics issue for me,’ Warner said. ‘I just don’t want to do it.’ Then, in April, came a unique letter from Aztec Exploration, one offering her a ‘last chance’ to sell those rights — one that said she could be held liable for drilling accidents if she didn’t sign. The letter was technically true. ‘To me, it just seems crazy,’ Warner said. ‘You’re being held liable for something you’re personally opposed to.'”

“After a sizeable spike in 2016 that nearly doubled the previous year’s total, the number of concealed handgun permits issued by the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office appears to be leveling off,” reports The Pueblo Chieftain. “From Jan. 1 through July 17 of this year, the sheriff’s office issued 1,034 permits. By comparison, 1,933 permits were issued last year, a notable increase over both 2015 (1,052) and 2014 (1,166). Although 2017’s numbers are trending up from 2014 and 2015, Undersheriff JR Hall said the sheriff’s office does not anticipate the 2016 mark to be surpassed. “I think we will probably hit close to in the middle of those figures by the end of the year,” Hall said in a telephone interview. “The numbers are kind of waning off toward the middle of the year. So I’m not sure we’re going to hit the 1,900 we hit in 2016.” And while 2016 was an election year, Hall does not see any correlation between that fact and the significant jump in permits from 2015.”

“Boulder City Council members made clear at a meeting in June, then again on Tuesday night, that they believe other towns and cities in the county aren’t doing enough to create affordable housing options for homeless and low-to-middle-income people,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “But the council members agreed that it’s best to keep any resentful feelings to themselves, or, at least, to phrase things more delicately from here on out. “If we berate people, we are going to get the opposite of what we want,” Mayor Suzanne Jones said Tuesday, after suggesting last month that county officials might consider taking punitive measures to “compel participation” from other communities that aren’t, in the Boulder City Council’s view, contributing enough land or money to the cause.”

“Calling it a shot in the arm toward making the city a pearl in the recreation industry nationwide, the Grand Junction City Council approved an incentive package for Bonsai Design Wednesday night to locate in a soon-to-be-built business park at Las Colonias Park,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “After the idea stalled three previous times before the council, it voted 6-1 to offer the company not only $1 million to help build a new facility at the park located on Riverside Parkway, but also waive about $79,000 in construction fees and offer a 10-year rebate on real property taxes.”

“Summer is the busiest time of year for Longmont’s one and only graffiti removal specialist,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “The spray-painted act of vandalism becomes more prevalent when it’s warmer and more people are outside, according to police and code enforcement officials. Yet this year, police said they are seeing graffiti dispersed throughout the city as opposed to the concentrations in certain neighborhoods — in parks on the east side, and between Ninth and 17th avenues — that they’ve seen in prior years.”

The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reports on the local district attorney’s office clearing officers in a shooting.

“Teenagers Whitmire Hewett, William DeMartino and Joshua Sandvick have added researching patents, ways to crystallize fertilizer and market specifics to their slates of summer fun,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “The trio have created a fertilizer system that ties into the typical home sprinkler system for their entrepreneurship class at Thompson Valley High School last year and, after winning $750 through the district program, are continuing to work toward turning Colorado Fertilizer Systems into a real business.”

“A proposed development that would bring affordable housing to the heart of Cañon City is up in the air,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “The Cañon City Planning Commission on Tuesday denied a request by a 3-2 vote to rezone the former St. Scholastica property at 615 Pike Ave. from R-2, Medium Residential Density in the Transitional Mixed-Use Overlay, to R-3, High Residential Density in the TMU.”

The Denver Post looks back at the Aurora theater shooting, which happened five years ago this week.

 

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Donald Trump sits down with three New York Times reporters in a 50-minute interview in which he blasted Jeff Sessions, Jim Comey, Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein. It seems that all of them had apparently treated him unfairly. He said he wouldn’t have hired Sessions as attorney general if he’d known he would recuse himself on the Russia investigation. The recusal, Trump said, was “extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.” Now, everyone is waiting to see if Sessions will resign.

Excerpts from The Times interview with Trump: Let’s just say that it’s a must-read.

Meanwhile, the Trump-Russia investigations continue. Jared Kushner is expected to testify in a closed-session hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday. Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort have been invited to testify in a public hearing July 26 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If they refuse, the committee has said it will issue subpoenas. Via The Washington Post.

A very tough diagnosis for a very tough man: John McCain has brain cancer. It’s not clear what that means for his immediate future in the Senate, but McCain is faced with a very aggressive kind of cancer, the same kind that killed Ted Kennedy. The good wishes have been pouring in. Barack Obama tweeted to McCain on his fight with cancer: “Give it hell.” Via The Washington Post.

At a White House lunch with Republican senators, Trump changed his mind on health care reform and wants Republicans to pass something, although he doesn’t seem to have any clear vision as to what that something might be. Just the day before, he was saying it was time to let Obamacare die. Now he’s threatening — playfully? — senators like Nevada’s Dean Heller who have opposed the Republican bills. By the way, the latest CBO score on the GOP plan to repeal and delay — just one possibility — has 32 million people losing their health care coverage. Via The Washington Post.

GOP senators have held their own late-night get-together Wednesday to try to find a way to repeal and replace Obamacare. As of deadline, they were still looking. Via Politico.

Ezra Klein: Why can’t Trump, who prides himself as the great closer, make a deal on health care? That’s easy. How do you make a deal when you don’t know anything about the topic, don’t know any of the details of your own bill, can’t make any trade-offs because you have no idea what anyone on either side wants. Via Vox.

Is the nuclear deal with Iran slipping away? Robin Wright writes in The New Yorker that the Iranian nuclear deal is to foreign policy for Trump what Obamacare is to domestic policy. He opposes both, but doesn’t seem to have an alternative for either.

If the Democrats are going to take back the House, which is their best chance to regain a toehold on Washington power in 2018 midterm elections, it’s going to take a comeback in the gender gap. The latest polls seem to show that it might be happening. Via The Atlantic.

From The National Review: The problem with the left, says those from the right, is that progressives are too annoying. Some are calling it “the hamburger problem,” because, supposedly, progressives spend all their time thinking about stopping people from eating quarter pounders.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr: Creative Commons

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It might not be the smoke-filled rooms of old, where politicians hammered out deals in secret— but that’s only because smoking isn’t allowed in public buildings in Colorado.

Otherwise, those deals, in the form of legislation, are going down at the 44th annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, taking place over the next three days at Denver’s Hyatt Regency hotel.

Hundreds of state lawmakers from across the country are meeting with lobbyists to hammer out model legislation in sessions that are closed to the public and the press. More than 1,500 attendees are at this year’s conference, a near-record, according to ALEC’s Colorado co-chair Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone.

The nonprofit, which calls itself a nonpartisan organization of state lawmakers “dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets and federalism,” is supported by more than 300 corporations and foundations, including several tied to the Coors family and to Charles and David Koch, the Kansas billionaires who have funneled millions into conservative causes. The oil and gas industry, as well as tobacco companies, also support ALEC, which is not required by law to report its sources of income.

Republican lawmakers from Colorado (and one Democrat) are out in force at this year’s annual meeting; by noon Wednesday at least 14 current legislators were milling around, including GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City. Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker is attending his first ALEC meeting. Key state budget writer Kevin Lundberg, a senator from of Berthoud, opened the first keynote address by singing the Star Spangled Banner.

One Democrat at the gathering is Colorado Springs Rep. Pete Lee, who is not an ALEC member, he says, but came to meet up with friends attending the conference. Being from Colorado Springs makes him very comfortable around Republicans,  he quipped. Republicans make up all of ALEC’s known membership from Colorado.

Some of the state Capitol’s most prominent lobbyists are also schmoozing, including Axion Strategies’ Micki Hackenberger, Sandra Hagen Solin, and Jim Cole of Colorado Legislative Services.

Wednesday morning saw both sides of the political spectrum at work: at the Hyatt, lawmakers and lobbyists huddled in closed sessions on issues such as broadband, K-12 and higher education, not to mention federalism and international relations, which featured a report from Lundberg on amending the U.S. Constitution.

Less than a mile away, more than 300 protesters gathered at the state Capitol, primarily targeting Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who is slated to speak at noon Thursday at the ALEC conference.

The protesters gave out “awards” to Colorado lawmakers who sponsored ALEC-backed legislation, complete with stand-ins who held large photos of the awardees.

One lawmaker they blasted for supporting a repeal of the state’s health exchange wasn’t actually a sponsor. Event organizers later told The Colorado Independent that the lawmaker, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, did vote for the bill (in an appropriations hearing) and they blistered him for the vote because of his membership in ALEC.

Cary Kennedy, a Democrat who is running for governor, mingled with the protest crowd; Democratic Sen. Andy Kerr of Lakewood, who is running for Congressional District 7, was among the featured speakers. Protest leaders blasted Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican running for Congress, because he sponsored a bill to provide equal funding to charter schools. But they omitted that the bill drew strong Democratic support in both the House and Senate, including its chief House sponsor, Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, who is running against Kerr for the congressional seat.

When the protesters marched to the Hyatt, they were met by heavy Denver police presence. The hotel entrances were closed off except for the main doors.

The conference attendees largely missed the action. They were at their luncheon session, listening to Molson-Coors executive Pete Coors talk about free speech and the rights of corporations to fund political campaigns. Noble Energy’s U.S. Senior Vice President Chip Rimer talked about advancements in fracking, and former presidential candidate and millionaire publisher Steve Forbes spoke about healthcare and his signature issue, tax reform.

“ALEC doesn’t tell conservative legislators what to do, despite what you read in the media, and certainly not our Colorado delegation,” said GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, who is considering a run for governor, during remarks ending the noon luncheon. “It’s just laughable to say an organization can tell independent-minded legislators how to govern. ALEC helps with research, experts, court-tested language and the development of ideas. We are grateful to you all for what you do for us.”

The conference runs through Friday.

 

Feature photo of protester with Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts head by Marianne Goodland

Inside the money game in Colorado’s governor’s race

A scramble for campaign cash

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The field for Colorado’s first wide-open governor’s race in decades might not be settled, but another lap in the horse race is complete.

This week, candidates posted their second-quarter fundraising numbers, showing who has been able to rake in the dough early in the season. All told, the cash in this race so far reaches a total of $5.7 million— meaning it could well shape up to be the most expensive Colorado governor’s race in state history. Of the money raised so far, candidates have already spent $1.2 million.

These gubernatorial hopefuls post their fundraising totals every three months.

In Colorado, individual campaign contributions to candidates for governor are limited to $1,150 per person per election cycle. That’s a relatively small number compared to other states. Giving it all at once is called “maxing out.” In Colorado, the names and employer of contributors must be public. Unlike some other states, corporations and unions here cannot give to gubernatorial candidates.

Fundraising reports are often about more than just dollars and cents, especially this early in a sprawling race. They can offer a window into where donors believe candidates stand on certain issues, as well as reveal the depth and breadth of a candidate’s support base. Some things to look out for are how much money is coming from inside Colorado and what big names with known agendas maxed out their donations to a candidate.

Also, just because someone has filed paperwork to run for governor— and there are 24 people who have so far— doesn’t mean they are serious about it. Another key thing to look for is who is filing their reports properly and on time, and who is not.

So, what are some takeaways?

Democrats have outraised Republicans so far

By a 5-to-1 ratio, Democrats were able to haul in more campaign cash than their GOP counterparts as they dialed for dollars this spring— well, at least those Dems who need to fundraise.

Former Democratic State Treasurer Cary Kennedy posted leading numbers for all candidates this quarter, showing about $340,000 raised in the past three months. She has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, a national group that supports women in politics and helps them fundraise. (The name stands for Early Money is Like Yeast.) Kennedy drew $575 donations from those working in higher education, teachers, government employees, homemakers, lawyers and retirees. An overwhelming majority of her campaign cash came from inside Colorado, and more than half of her donations were less than $100. “I am honored to have the support of so many Coloradans across our state,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Together we will work to make sure every Coloradan benefits from the progress we’ve made.”

Next is former State Sen. Mike Johnston, who snagged $300,000 this quarter. That, however, goes on top of the more than $600,000 he posted for the winter quarter, putting him in million-dollar territory. So far, more people have donated to him than anyone else in the race. Average donations were under $200, and he raised money from people in 43 counties, his campaign said. After releasing his fundraising total, Johnston said his refusal to accept money from political action committees “and the fact that I cannot simply write a personal check to fund this campaign” means he’ll rely on grassroots fundraising. A national presence in the education-reform movement, Johnston also drew a lot of maxed-out donations from out of state. Some of his national donors include Reed Hastings, “co-founder of Netflix and a charter school supporter, and Michelle Yee, an education researcher and wife of the co-founder of LinkedIn,” reports ChalkBeat.

Denver businessman Noel Ginsburg, who is the CEO of Intertech Plastics, raised $92,000 with nearly all of his contributions coming from Colorado and hundreds of donations of $500 or more. He loaned his campaign $100,000, which means if there’s any of it left over, he can take it back. The self-described moderate Democrat noted that although he is a first-time candidate, he has been able to raise nearly $250,000 since entering the race.

Then there’s Boulder Democratic Congressman Jared Polis, a multi-millionaire who has voluntarily capped his contribution limit to $100 per person and plans to self-fund his campaign. So far, he has put $255,000 of his own money into the race, and it’s not a loan, either. About 450 people have given Polis a $100 donation since he announced in mid-June, with the overwhelming majority coming from Coloradans. Polis had been in the race for fewer than 20 days before his report was due. “Jared believes all Coloradans have an equal stake in our state’s future and together we can build a people powered campaign,” his campaign said in a statement about why he is capping donations at $100 and won’t take money from PACs.

Golden-area Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter raised about $340,000 before he dropped out of the governor’s race in mid-July. He said he just didn’t have the fire in the belly to campaign and serve in Congress, but named Polis’s entrance into the race as an accelerating factor. He can give that money back to donors, or he could use it to donate to other candidates he supports.

Adam Garrity, who filed paperwork to run for governor, didn’t report any contributions, nor did Moses Humes. Michael Schroeder did not have a July 17 filing on record, according to a state database.

What about the Republicans?

Doug Robinson, a retired Denver-area investment banker with big-name family ties, has so far raised the most money, posting just under $210,000 since joining the race in early May. His uncle, Mitt Romney, maxed out to him. Friends and colleagues “dominated” the donor list, Robinson’s campaign said. Robinson,who is running as a political outsider, also loaned himself $60,000 to run. “I have a new appreciation for everyone who steps up to run for office and just how hard it is to make that call to your friends and family to ask for their financial support,” he said in a statement. “Not only is it difficult to make that call, but people’s support and enthusiasm is incredibly humbling.”

George Brauchler, the Arapahoe County-area district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter, raised around $190,000 this quarter. Nearly all of it came from inside Colorado and he boasted of having donors in every county. In a statement, he said, “I am not one of the millionaire establishment self-funders in the race for governor. As I’ve said from the time I entered this race, I am the grassroots candidate who will win the GOP nomination by meeting the voters face to face and delivering my message that Colorado’s best days are in front of it.” Brauchler transferred about $13,000 he had left in the account for his last campaign for district attorney.

Victor Mitchell, a wealthy entrepreneur who served one term in the state legislature, took in roughly $13,000, but he hardly needs it. Mitchell already gave his campaign $3 million. His campaign touted Mitchell’s ability to raise most of his money from small-dollar donors who gave $25 or less. He used that stat to take a shot at rival Robinson, calling him “Big-dollar Doug” for taking many maxed-out contributions. Robinson mocked Mitchell’s modest fundraising.

Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter posted $6,270. He says he wasn’t surprised at his low figure and acknowledged it isn’t a good haul. But he hasn’t been focused on fundraising, he said, and is instead paying attention to his commissioner job. He said he eventually expects he’ll raise enough to be competitive but hopes the primary isn’t all about who has the most money. “I think if this race comes down to money then we ought to just hand it to Jared Polis right now,” Gaiter told The Colorado Independent.

Republican Greg Lopez halved that, with $3,413 in donations. Retired banker Joanne Silva of Loveland reported raising just $375. Jim Rundberg didn’t have a contribution report on file, according to a state database, nor did President Donald Trump’s Colorado co-chair Steve Barlock.

Who are the big self-funders?

With fundraising limits so low, it is not unusual for candidates to loan their campaigns money in Colorado. They can donate as much as they choose. The difference is the degree to which they do that, and whether they actually loan themselves money or donate it to the campaign.

So far, the biggest self-funder in the Colorado governor’s race is Victor Mitchell, the three-million-dollar man who made his money founding or turning around companies in the tech, real estate and finance sector. But Polis putting a voluntary cap of $100 on his donations shows he’s more than willing to make up the difference with his own personal wealth, a fortune that has been estimated between $90 million and $140 million.

“I think it’s important to note that not everybody with money is Republican,” Polis told The Independent on the day he announced his run, though he declined to say how much he is willing to spend. In the past, the tech mogul spent $1 million of his own money to run for a seat on the state board of education.  

Some politics watchers in Colorado are wondering if uber-wealthy Kent Thiry, a Republican and CEO of the Denver-based kidney dialysis company DaVita, will get in the ring.

If he does, he could load up a campaign with cash likely only rivaled by Polis. Adding to his war chest would be a wealth of data he gathered on Colorado’s unaffiliated voters when he bankrolled the successful voter-approved Prop 108 campaign in November to allow those who don’t choose a party to vote in party primaries.

As data journalist Sandra Fish has pointed out for KUNC, however, having a big bankroll doesn’t always translate to winning races in Colorado. Looking at 30 races in the state since 2002, she analyzed the success rate of candidates who spent $100,000 or more of their own money. Even though they spent a combined $23 million to try and win office, “the self-funding candidate only succeeded in eight elections.”  

In five of those races, that candidate was Jared Polis.

Is the field settled yet?

Maybe not.

 

Potential candidates have plenty of time to decide. There is no set deadline for a person to become a candidate, according to the Secretary of State’s office. But if a Republican wants to start gathering signatures to get on the ballot, they can start on Jan. 16, 2018. If they decide to go through the caucus-assembly process, they would need to file paperwork a few days after next year’s assembly is over. 

Political observers are waiting to see if Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton gets in the race. A first cousin of George W. Bush, he could draw money from Bushworld. He has already benefited from a third-party group supporting term limits to get his name and face in front of voters.

Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said recently she is exploring whether there might be a path for her in the race. Lieutenant Gov. Donna Lynne, a Democrat, is also reportedly considering a bid.

Given no clear breakout on the Republican side in the second-quarter of fundraising, there is likely plenty of money out there to be had.

 

Photo by OTA Photos for Creative Commons on Flickr.

We did it!!!

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We at The Indy send a delighted thank you to our readers who were able to make Friday night’s fundraiser at the Mercury Café! It was a blast.

For those of you who couldn’t make it, the highlight was probably the rousing, infectious whirlwind of the hora, Colorado style.

We send a huge thank you, too, to all of you who donated as part of our matching grant! That of course includes all you dancin’ fools.

We are thrilled to announce that, thanks to your support, we met our $25,000 goal — meaning we raised more than $50,000 for our nonprofit newsroom.

If you didn’t get a chance to donate during our matching grant, it’s not too late to support us.

We’re proud to be a part of such an engaged community that knows the value of independent news, and we’re grateful for your part in helping us grow our small but mighty newsroom.

The Home Front: Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner want to help Colorado hemp farmers

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“In a case of one hand not knowing what the other is doing, the 2014 Farm Bill authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “At the same time, however, the federal Bureau of Reclamation prohibits water in lakes and other storage facilities that it controls to be used on cannabis crops. As a way of ending that incongruity, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators from three Western states introduced a bill Tuesday that would change all that. The senators — Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. — say that dichotomy has gone on long enough.”

“The Longmont Housing Authority’s attorney has concluded that police should have known better than to accompany property managers during warrantless inspections of apartment units in May,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. Attorney David Herrera, in a letter released Tuesday, detailed the findings of his internal investigation, which had been requested by the housing authority’s board following allegations police brought dogs to conduct drug searches at The Suites subsidized apartments at 2000 Sunset Way. Residents of The Suites have said they were unaware they could refuse the request by police and housing authority staff to search their apartments.”

The Pueblo Chieftain continues its local look into the opioid epidemic.

“Rodney Hollandsworth, administrator of Garfield County Community Corrections, says his program has been taking on “riskier individuals,” prompting him to upgrade security at the Rifle facility,” reports The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “Garfield County commissioners this week approved an additional $10,000 to help the program improve security after a recent threat on one of the program’s officers. Commissioners unanimously approved Hollandsworth’s request for the money, which would in part go toward new card readers at the facility.”

“Mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus have been detected in Fort Collins for the first time this season,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “Trapped mosquitoes in northeast and southeast Fort Collins were found to be infected with the virus, city officials announced Tuesday. The city and Larimer County still haven’t logged any human cases of West Nile virus this season, and the discovery of infected mosquitoes isn’t enough to trigger mosquito-spraying. Here’s what you should know about West Nile virus and mosquito-spraying in Larimer County.”

“The Steamboat Springs School Board voted unanimously July 18 to direct Superintendent Brad Meeks to draft ballot language needed to go to the district’s voters in November seeking approval both to take on $12.9 million in bonded indebtedness and a $1 million ongoing capital construct mill levy,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “The former would target district facilities in disrepair, including the roofs of five buildings, and the latter is meant to ensure the district doesn’t fall behind on facilities maintenance again in the future.”

“The City Council agreed unanimously Tuesday to the creation of a flexible zoning overlay for the area to be known as The Brands, and The Brands West, which is a proposed retail area in northeast Loveland south of The Ranch on both sides of Interstate 25,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “With the flexibility, the development would be able to have taller buildings at a higher density than are allowed in other neighborhoods of the city. However, the buildings would still be bound by height requirements set by the FAA because of the development’s proximity to Northern Colorado Regional Airport. The west side of the development is currently zoned as heavy industrial.”

“Cheers erupted at Broadlands Golf Course where Broomfield Ward 4 Councilman Greg Stokes gathered with friends and supporters as the first round of ballot returns for his potential recall were reported,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “Nearly two-thirds of those were in favor of keeping Stokes in office. Mayor Randy Ahrens read the first-round results — 1,509 voting to recall Stokes and 2,722 voting to keep him in office. By 9 p.m., the Broomfield Elections Division posted unofficial final counts of 1,583 votes to recall Stokes and 2,874 in support of him. Stokes hosted the poll-watch and thank-you event at Broadlands, 4380 W. 144th Ave., for friends, family and supporters who helped him canvass, send out mailers, write letters to newspapers, and raise money for his campaign.”

“Integrity Health Plus, a health care services company with offices in Durango, has declared bankruptcy and is moving out of a building owned by the county, to which it owes at least $125,000,” reports The Durango Herald. “La Plata County and San Juan Basin Health are among the estimated 100 to 199 creditors the company claimed in its Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings on July 7. The company estimated it owes between $1 million and $10 million in business debts, according to the documents.”

“Denver’s jail population is on the decline after reaching near-crisis levels last winter, and officials hope that several new practices will continue to reduce the number of people who spend time in the city’s two jails,” reports The Denver Post. “In February, the Denver Sheriff Department faced criticism from its deputies’ union and community activists, who said crowded conditions were leading to an increase in violence between inmates and against jail staff members. In some sections of the Downtown Detention Center, inmates were sleeping on pallets on the floor.”

“Frontier Airlines unveiled major changes Tuesday to its Colorado Springs schedule to begin this fall, when it will add service to Fort Myers and Tampa, Fla., but suspend flights to Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and reduce service to San Diego,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “The changes were part of a major shakeup in the Denver-based carrier’s schedule for flights from Nov. 1 to April 7, which were posted Tuesday on flyfrontier.com. Frontier also announced plans to expand service from its Denver International Airport hub with 85 flights to 21 new cities. Richard Oliver, a Frontier spokesman in Denver, said the changes to the carrier’s Colorado Springs schedule were unrelated to the Denver expansion and instead were part of a “normal seasonal adjustment” to its entire schedule, which also suspended service to eight cities from Denver and Cincinnati. He said the Chicago, San Francisco and Washington flights will resume in the spring as part of another seasonal schedule change.”

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Just how did Donald Trump and Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP gang manage to fall short in their longstanding bid to repeal Obamacare? Sen. Ron Johnson offered one explanation, saying of the no-hearings, no-expert-testimony, no-CBO-score finale, “It’s an insane process.” Via The Washington Post.

New York Times columnist David Leonhardt has another explanation. Even in this time when fake news seems to rule,  facts do apparently still matter.

Trump’s latest gambit — to just allow Obamacare to fail — is indicative of the Republicans’ main problem. They know how to attack government programs, but, despite controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, they don’t yet know how to govern. Via New York magazine.

Revenge of the GOP women: Three women who were left out of the Senate working group that put together the failed healthcare bill joined together to tank it. Via Vox.

One of Trump’s most cherished goals has been to erase as much as possible of the Obama legacy. The Obamacare-repeal disaster is just one way in which he has failed. Via The Los Angeles Times.

The inimitable Molly Ball writes in The Atlantic that Republicans aren’t turning on Trump. They’re turning on each other. As one unnamed House staffer puts it, it’s Republican-on-Republican violence.

We now know the identity of the eighth person at the Don Jr.-Russia meeting, which apparently wasn’t only about adoption. His name is Irakly Kaveladze. He is a Soviet-born American citizen who was once known as “the poster child”  — via former Michigan Sen. Carl Levin — of Soviet money-laundering schemes. Via The New York Times. And then there was the undisclosed second, “really weird” Trump Sr.-Putin meeting.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seems to be ready to undermine Title IX protections for victims of campus rape. Via The Baltimore Sun.

From The National Review: If you want to know how bad things are for Trump, David French writes that it’s time for Republicans to stop talking about Hillary Clinton and thinking instead about Jimmy Carter.

It’s time for Hillary Clinton to bow gracefully out of public life, along with all other women.  Via The New Yorker. Yes, it’s a Daily Shouts.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr: Creative Commons
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Monday, July 10, marked seven years and one day since Marvin Booker died at the hands of five Denver sheriff’s deputies. But on that sad anniversary, Booker’s family won a small victory – a meeting with the first and so far, only, city official to even talk to the family about the case.

Related: GREENE: Slain preacher’s family alleges that Denver officers rigged Taser evidence

The Booker family publicly pleaded with Denver’s new District Attorney Beth McCann to launch a criminal investigation into why a Taser relied on as evidence doesn’t match the facts of the case. According to data available within the device, that Taser was deployed 34 minutes after Booker was killed, and apparently for about one-third as long. The Booker family suspects someone in the city switched out the Taser used on Booker for one that shed more favorable – although inaccurate – light on the attack.

Related: Family speaks on seventh anniversary of Marvin Booker’s death

On the evening of the anniversary, Booker’s brother, the Rev. Spencer Booker and his wife, Gail, along with civil rights attorney Darold Killmer, discussed the meeting with McCann in a televised panel sponsored by The Colorado Independent and broadcast on Denver Public Access Channel 57.

Watch the full show here

Both Spencer and Gail Booker recounted the trauma of fighting with the city for years for justice. They spoke of the city’s callousness making the family wait nearly a year to see the video of the attack, and then requiring that they – including Marvin’s mother, Roxey Booker Walton – fly in on Mother’s Day to view it. “We want justice, real justice,” Gail Booker said. “We want someone held accountable for their actions.”

Killmer added that without a criminal investigation, “there’s no consequences for anyone.”

Spencer Booker said that even his family won’t stop fighting for accountability in the case, even if they have to hand the struggle down to the next generation or the one after that.

“Marvin is still speaking to Denver and I don’t believe he will stop speaking until things get right and justice is served.”

 

Video via Denver Open Media

 

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The great lie of the long-running Obamacare debate has officially been revealed. The reason Republicans spent seven years without offering their own health care plan is that they don’t have one, they’ve never had one, and, the way it looks, they never will have one.

That’s because there is no plan that offers better coverage for less money. There is no plan that can pass muster with voters if it robs hundreds of billions from Medicaid and deposits that money into the hands of the most wealthy. There is no acceptable plan that doesn’t insure as many people as possible or cover pre-existing conditions or allows junk insurance policies to set lifetime caps.

If Obamacare repeal and replace is truly dead — or, as some repeal opponents fear, only mostly dead — there is much blame to go around, but most of it centers on the fact that the debate was always more about Obama, who, I’m pretty sure, is no longer president, then it was about Obamacare, which is basically accepted now by a majority of Americans.

In the face of defeat, Donald Trump’s latest ploy is to let Obamacare die, rather than try again to repeal it, and then come up with a new plan! Or in his tweeted words Tuesday morning: “We were let down by all of the Democrats and a few Republicans. Most Republicans were loyal, terrific & worked really hard. We will return!” In a seperate tweet, he added, “As I have always said, let ObamaCare fail and then come together and do a great healthcare plan. Stay tuned!”

What Trump’s “plan” would do, of course, is to force insurance companies to flee the exchanges and leave, according to the CBO, approximately 32 million Americans without health insurance. On the other hand, Trump can keep his new cowboy hat. Stay tuned, indeed!

That the great lie is revealed during the multi-Pinocchioed Trump administration is, let’s just say, fitting. Trump and Mike Pence spent the last desperate days pretending that robbing Medicaid of $770 billion in projected spending would make the law stronger and better protect the most vulnerable. It would have been laughable on its face if you don’t count the not-exactly-funny circumstance of being poor and without insurance.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell was being called out by conservative Republican Sen. Ron Johnson for lying — is there a theme here? — as McConnell reportedly was assuring wobbly moderates that the most radical cuts in Medicaid were back-ended and would never be enacted. Johnson called it a significant “breach of trust,” which, in Senate speak, is like calling someone a Donald Trump.

Seven years into the debate, this is one of the great political humiliations of our time, and yet the sound you hear all the way from Washington is Cory Gardner, alongside a handful of Republican centrists and moderates, loudly cheering that humiliation. You can’t see Gardner, of course, since the last place he wants to be is anywhere out in public. But the cheering is unmistakable.

What it means to Gardner — whose Senate career was built on his opposition to Obamacare — is that if the bill is dead, he won’t actually have to go on record in support of the latest iteration of Trumpcare, one that is supported by little more than 20 percent of Americans. With luck, he won’t have to say anything at all,  which is Gardner’s default position on this bill even though he was on the committee that helped write it.

Four Republicans stepped up — three, we should add, for entirely wrong reasons — to block the bill from even being debated. I’m old enough to remember when you needed 60 votes to cut off debate in the Senate. Once again, mastermind Mitch McConnell couldn’t manage to get to 50.

So, now what?

Though Republicans have lost another battle, that isn’t to say they’ve necessarily lost the war. Soon after Jerry Moran and Mike Lee announced they wouldn’t vote for the bill going forward, leaving Republicans with only 48 votes, Trump was tweet-calling for a vote to just repeal Obamacare and then “start fresh,” because otherwise, he reportedly told a Senate group Monday night, they’d look like “dopes.” He said the “Dems will join in,” a tweet that just might make Trump look like the dope.

On Tuesday morning, McConnell was still advocating straight repeal, which, congressional watchers tell us, has no chance to pass. Will McConnell really settle for blameshifting by making vulnerable senators vote against this bill —Gardner’s nightmare scenario?  But John McCain, from his sickbed, Johnson and Moran have all called for what they call in the Senate “regular order,” meaning, you know, committee hearings and expert testimony and “regular” bill-making. Others are committing to voting against straight repeal.

And as the bill falls apart, conservative Hugh Hewitt was already tweeting about a purge — starting with Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who had opposed the first Senate bill, even if it meant he would be replaced by a Democrat. Will more votes really help?

But, for those opposing the bill, we should remember even as the bill went down, Susan Collins was the lone centrist Republican to have stepped up. I’ll give her the floor to remind everyone, including Gardner, what is truly at stake: “This bill would impose fundamental, sweeping changes in the Medicaid program, and those include very deep cuts. That would affect some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including disabled children, poor seniors. It would affect our rural hospitals and our nursing homes. And they would have a very difficult time even staying in existence.”

Or to put it another way, if Trump and McConnell have truly lost, that means tens of millions of Americans will have won.

Photo by perthhdproductions, via Flickr: Creative Commons

 

UPDATED: What’s going on with this crazy drug dog story in a Colorado low-income housing complex?

A controversy is swirling around the Longmont Housing Authority— and investigations have launched— after tenants complained K9s were accompanying management on random apartment searches

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UPDATE, July 18: Results from an independent investigation into this matter are in. Well, some results. On July 14, Longmont officials told media how police conducted warrantless searches of a public low-income housing complex were not proper.

From The Longmont Times-Call:

The city said that Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler had already stated, prior to getting the Weld investigation report earlier this week, that “we regret what happened at The Suites and have already taken corrective actions to ensure that this never happens again.”

Longmont’s Public Safety Department also initiated its own internal review of what went down. But the controversy isn’t over.

Longmont officials will not release the full 40-page report to media, citing Colorado’s broad and subjective exemption that doing so would not be in the public’s interest. In Colorado determining what is in the public’s interest when deciding whether to release a record is up to the law enforcement agency that holds that record.

“Officials including Public Safety Chief Mike Butler, rather than releasing the findings, summarized the report in a news release and video saying that police “have already taken corrective actions to ensure that this never happens again,” The Times-Call reported.

***

“I’ll go ahead and write this, because it apparently needs to be written: Low-income people have the same rights as everyone else. Low-income people are not the equivalent of tackling dummies, or lab rats or volunteers on some police training course. You can’t use poor people to train your police dogs.”

So wrote The Washington Post’s criminal justice columnist Randy Balko last week. He was talking about a local low-income housing authority in Longmont, Colorado.

The blunt remarks came after news first broke at ABC Denver7 on June 5 that a resident in low-income housing in Longmont was worried police might violate the constitutional rights of her neighbors after she saw a letter from the Longmont Housing Authority stating police would accompany housing management on searches of homes.

“Please note that we will occasionally have K-9 units with LPD accompany us for purposes of training and compliance,” the letter read in part.

Longmont police told the TV station they were doing it simply for “training” and would not let a K9 sniff around for drugs in a residence without the renter’s permission. But a resident told Denver7 reporter Jason Gruenauer, “Nowhere in this letter does it say we have the right to refuse that,” and “The whole process just seems just a little shady to me.”

The housing authority letter said residences in a 70-unit complex called The Suites would be chosen at random.

Then the story caught fire

Since the news broke June 5 on Channel 7, other local media produced their own reporting. The next day, KUSA 9News in Denver, the city’s NBC affiliate, aired a much-publicized nightly news broadcast saying the Longmont Housing Authority was “using the homes of low-income residents to train police drug dogs.” There were no warrants, said anchor Kyle Clark, “but simply a notice that the landlord was coming, and a police officer and drug dog would be there, too.”

The Washington Post picked up on the 9News report. 9News has been consistently producing broadcasts about the matter for the past week, leaving the mayor, who defended his police department to The Colorado Independent as the “best in the world,” feeling besieged as the city conducts an investigation into what actually happened and why.   

“If a mistake was made I think the intentions were very, very honorable and, you know, we’re not a bunch of jack-booted thugs that are busting down doors the way they [the media] try and paint us,” he told The Independent.

Would these kinds of searches be legal?

Police need permission to search your dwelling or they need a warrant under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that bars unlawful searches and seizures.

Here’s the text of one letter to a resident dated April 24, which doesn’t mention the search is voluntary:

This is a notice to visit your unit on May 10th between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. It is helpful if you are present so we can visit with you personally, but it is not mandatory. Please note that we occasionally have K-9 units with LPD accompany us for purposes of training and compliance. Apartments will be chosen at random. If you see the K-9, please don’t engage the dog, and please keep your dog on leash well away from the officer. Please kennel or remove all dogs from the unit, if possible. Otherwise, residents are responsible for being present during inspection and keeping their dogs leashed and restrained. Thank you for your cooperation.

Longmont police say they did not intend to harm anyone.

“We only agreed under the idea that we would not violate, nor would they violate, anybody’s Constitutional rights,” Longmont Public Safety Chief Mike Butler told 9News. “We made it quite clear that we needed permission to go in.” The chief also said the police were never really there to bust anybody, just to scope out the place and make sure it was “safe.”

Longmont’s deputy chief, Jeff Satur, told the local newspaper, The Longmont Times-Call, that K9 officers involved in searches last month at The Suites said they did not go into any apartments without permission.

But that’s at odds with what one resident of The Suites says.

From the 9News show “Next”:

Tamika McClure told Next that she was in bed when her apartment was chosen last month.

“We have inspections to see if our place is clean. I opened the door and I saw two cops and a K-9,” said McClure. “I refused to let the cops in, but one of the owners said I had to. I had to step outside, while they were searching with the K-9.” She said her complex manager told her that police were allowed in without a search warrant, but were not allowed to open any drawers to search. She said the dog “picked up on something” in two drawers in her bedroom. “I had to open them so the manager could look in our stuff and make sure there were no illegal drugs,” said McClure. “(Management) couldn’t touch our stuff, they just looked in the drawer.” She said she doesn’t have any drugs, not even marijuana, and that nothing was found.

Butler cancelled future searches after the media attention.

Mark Silverstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, told the Times-Call terms of the lease allow for monthly inspections and for maintenance, but he indicated he believes the local housing authority and police might have been teaming up to intimidate poor people.

“What’s concerning is that housing authority management and the police forced a tenant to allow a warrantless search and invaded her privacy,” he told the Times-Call. “It’s something that they never even would have tried to do to someone who wasn’t living in subsidized housing. People in subsidized housing do not give up their constitutional rights.”

How does the Longmont Housing Authority defend all this?

Initially an LHA official used a classic if-you-don’t-have-anything-to-hide-then-don’t-worry defense.

“If there is concern, it kind of sparks some curiosity for me,” said Krystal Winship Erazo, director of operations of the Housing Authority, in an interview with 9News. “You know, what are they concerned about if (the officers’) only job is to ensure there aren’t drugs in the unit?”

Erazo apparently stopped taking the calls from 9News— and she didn’t return a voice message for this story— but she earlier said there were “rumors” and concerns about “drug activity,” so the housing authority decided to partner with the local police— “to invite the canines over on their training day.” And that helps residents feel “secure,” she said, adding, “We’re holding residents accountable, it’s an opportunity for the dogs to train.”

How is the city responding to it?

On June 7, the City of Longmont put out a news release with a defensive posture.  

“It was incorrectly reported that the police were conducting illegal searches,” the statement read. “The source of this misinformation can be traced back to a letter that the Longmont Housing Authority sent to residents stating, ‘Please note that we will occasionally have K-9 units with LPD accompany us for purposes of training and compliance.’”

Police department leadership learned about the letter from tenants on the afternoon of June 6, the city release stated, and since the letter didn’t convey the police department’s commitment constitutional rights, the police decided to quit doing the searches.

“There was never any intent or violation of constitutional rights,” the release reads. “The police department has not arrested anyone or confiscated anyone’s property and has not conducted any searches without the consent of the individual, as related to this issue.”

The city also put out another statement, which read:

Longmont City Council is deeply concerned about the allegations of wrongdoing at the Suites. We are committed to investigating the issue to get to the truth. While we await the findings of the investigation, we want to express our support to Longmont Public Safety staff for the difficult work they do to keep our community safe. We pledge to protect the civil rights of all our citizens.

Members of the Longmont City Council called for an investigation into what happened and they have asked the Weld County sheriff’s office to help. A separate agency inside the local public safety department is handling it. And the city council also voted unanimously, minus an absent member, on a motion saying they wouldn’t hold any meetings behind closed doors about this situation at The Suites.

The city is involved in electing and approving some of the housing authority’s board members, but it is an organization separate from the city, Longmont Mayor Dennis Coombs told The Colorado Independent.  

What else is the mayor saying?

Longmont’s mayor, Dennis Coombs, feels the situation has been blown out of proportion. He also told The Independent he takes issue with the coverage from 9News anchor Clark, especially when he tweeted this:

Coombs said he sent that e-mail to a constituent on June 7, before he had complete information, and followed up with an apology once he realized he might have been mistaken. (In its online story, 9News reported as much.) Clark has said the city has not pointed to any inaccuracies in the station’s reporting, and he says the the city knew the station had a copy of the mayor’s email denying the searches happened. “The city only provided a copy of his correction and apology after we mentioned his false denial,” Clark says.

Asked if he believes police violated the constitutional rights of his constituents, Coombs says he doesn’t know. He hopes an independent investigation will find the answer to that question.

“If mistakes were made, the best thing to do is be transparent and open and say, ‘Hey, we blew it,'” he told The Independent. He added that some residents actually wanted police assistance with their drug problems under a program called The Angel Initiative. That city program states police seek to help those with addictions “rather than arrest our way out of the problem.”

The city has also pushed back on social media.

A local lawmaker is taking action

Democratic Rep. Jonathan Singer, who is a renter in Longmont, said on Facebook that he sent a letter to the board chair of the Longmont Housing Authority.

“I hope that we can get clear answers of who knew what and when. What transpired, and how we can hold our government accountable,” he said in his post. “Government doesn’t get it right every time. But that’s when we work to make it right.”

In his letter he seeks to find out who signed off or knew about the program and whether anyone raised concerns about it. He also asked for any police reports that might have been written up as part of the searches.

On Tuesday, Singer told The Independent the constituent reaction to what’s happening in his community has been mixed. Some are impressed with the public safety chief’s personal responsiveness to their concerns and how the City Council has shown interest in getting to the bottom of it. Others have expressed heartburn over the housing authority’s actions.

“I’m very shocked to keep hearing that it sounds like there’s more to the story,” Singer says. “I’m really happy that the media is taking a keen interest in this.”

Asked if he thinks the constitutional rights of any of his constituents were violated he says he doesn’t yet know.

“I think that’s hopefully what this investigation is going to [find out],” he says.

The news broke last Monday. A week later what’s the latest?

This week 9News received 265 pages of documents after filing an open records request, and the station released a handful of emails from the Longmont Housing Authority and city officials. Some of them showed housing authority board members discussing how the story was playing in local media, and strategizing about whether they might have a meeting behind closed doors to evade media attention.

“Think we ought to run this by our attorney. If we give notices for a special meeting you can bet that Kyle Clark will be there. May need to look into protocol for executive session with our attorney so we can assess outside of the limelight,” one board member wrote in reference to the news anchor.

Also on Monday, the Longmont Housing Authority launched its own investigation into the matter, led by the agency’s attorney David Herrera who plans to cooperate with the city’s probe.

“City officials said that would not be an in-house investigation,” reported The Longmont Times-Call, adding the city manager is “contacting agencies outside of Boulder County to request assistance in the investigation.”

Local media attention has continued to focus on the matter with 9News anchor Clark devoting much coverage and opinion on his nightly newscast “Next,” and on social media.

 

Anything else of note in those e-mails?

One email could be a clue as to what might have sparked the idea of police and K9s accompanying housing authority management on searches.

“In an email on April 12, Krystal Winship Erazo, the operations director of the Longmont Housing Authority, wrote to a Longmont police officer, “Do you still have any interest in having your K9 come by the coSuites? It’s working well at Briarwood. We’d love to have you,” 9News reported.

Briarwood is a housing complex where offenders on probation live. “There the police have a right to go in,” Longmont Mayor Coombs tells The Independent. “It’s part of their probation, they agreed to it as far as I understand it … that’s a totally different thing.”

Other e-mails show housing officials talking about concern among some tenants about their constitutional rights.

From 9News:

In an email on June 5, before a tenant reached out to 9NEWS about the search notice she received, [housing manager Alma] Collins wrote an email which said in part, “he (and other tenants as well) have expressed displeasure about the K-9’s. He insists that it is a violation of his rights/the constitution (sic) and that K-9s will not enter his unit without a warrant. Same from some other tenants as well. I have tried to explain that as part of the lease, we are authorized to enter units for purposes of inspection and emergencies. I don’t know enough about the law around warrants/K-9s/searches, etc. to explain any more. (sic)”

But later, in another e-mail, housing director Erazo wrote, “The K9’s and officers would not be able to enter on their own without resident consent,” to which manager Collins replied, “I was not aware that residents had to give consent for K-9s. That’s good info to pass on, and will probably help reduce [sic] upset about it.”

The ACLU is on the case

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, which is dedicated to “fulfilling the promise of equal justice under the law for all Coloradans,” is looking into what happened in Longmont.

The group’s spokesman, John Krieger, released this statement to The Independent when asked if the ACLU is tracking the issue: “I can confirm that the ACLU of Colorado is conducting an investigation into Longmont’s warrantless search program and seeking records pursuant to that investigation, which is ongoing.”

How do I know my own rights as a renter in Colorado?

Leslie Ebert, an attorney for Colorado Legal Services who represents tenants in public housing, says the rights of renters differ depending on the kind of housing they have. In other words, if you’re living in an apartment owned by a rental company or a private landlord, your rights are likely different than if you live in housing subsidized by the government.

In private housing in Colorado there is no law that says when a landlord can enter your apartment, Ebert says. Typically, your lease controls access issues, he says. If you don’t have a lease, a court could interpret whether a landlord’s actions were reasonable.

Public housing entities are able to draft their own leases, Ebert adds, but they have to comply with certain requirements outlined in government regulations.   

So, what should any renter in Colorado know if they want to know what rights they do and don’t have in public or private rental housing? Look at your lease, Ebert says, especially in regard to who is allowed to cross your threshold. But, you should know, he says there are occasionally provisions found in leases that are trumped by state or federal law.

An example: A lease could say an apartment manager wants to allow a cop into your place to sniff around and look for drugs. But that would be trumped by the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Says Ebert: “I don’t think a landlord can waive the tenant’s rights to an unlawful search and seizure.”

 

Photo by Dave Dugdale for Creative Commons on Flickr.