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COLORADO SPRINGS — Days after Bernie Sanders officially backed a ballot measure in Colorado that would create the first universal healthcare system in the nation, the Green Party’s presidential nominee, Jill Stein, said she is not ready to endorse the plan.

“I don’t want to throw my weight behind an endorsement at this point,” Stein told The Colorado Independent in a sit-down interview before a packed speech at a downtown Unitarian Universalist church. “But I would certainly respect anyone who sees fit to work on it.”

Stein said she supports a “complete single-payer program” at the federal level.

The physician from Massachusetts is in Colorado for the day on a campaign swing along the Front Range.

ColoradoCare, she said, has important principles and has inspired voters to mobilize in Colorado, which underscores the need for what she called “comprehensive and secure” healthcare. But she said she has concerns about gaps and loopholes in the measure— she did not specify what they are— and has questions about whether those shortcomings could be “filled in.”

In Colorado, the measure has divided Democrats. The state’s leading progressive group, ProgressNow, recently came out against it, and the state’s Democratic establishment have largely panned the proposal. Some worry about large new taxes, while others, like the pro-choice NARAL of Colorado, have concerns the plan would restrict abortion access.

Related: Sen. Irene Aguilar discusses ColoradoCare’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week

Asked if she would urge her supporters in Colorado to vote for the measure, which will be on the ballot in November, Stein said she would leave it up to them.

“I know our supporters are actually split,” she said. “And there are many who have been very involved intensively and there are others who praise the movement but who aren’t actively involved.”

In October, Sanders told The Colorado Independent in a statement he believed the state could “lead the nation” by passing ColoradoCare. But he officially endorsed the measure this week through his new group Our Revolution.

In Colorado, Stein’s supporters who met her at a downtown park and marched with her through the downtown streets to the church, loudly criticized Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton more than Donald Trump.

“Hell no to DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary,” they chanted at times.

Stein has about 7 percent support in Colorado, a state with about 10,000 registered Greens, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, and she is likely angling for the votes of disaffected supporters of Bernie Sanders, who beat Clinton by 19 points in the March 1 caucuses here.

But Stein’s non-endorsement for the ColoradoCare measure puts her at odds with the Green Party’s U.S. Senate nominee in Colorado, Arn Menconi, a full-throated supporter of the measure, which is also called Amendment 69.

“People want her to take a leadership role on Amendment 69,” Menconi said of Stein outside the church, following the Stein speech. Menconi said while leadership in the state Green Party is not fully supportive of the measure, most members he has spoken with throughout his campaign are and he hans’t heard anyone but a state co-chair for the party raise concerns about the plan.

Both Menconi’s major-party opponents in the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet and Republican Darryl Glenn, oppose ColoradoCare. Libertarian nominee Lilly Tang Williams is also against it.

Menconi said he would work on Stein throughout her campaign visit to Colorado.

“I’ll bet you we’ll see a change in 48 hours,” he said.

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This year, for the first time ever, The Colorado Independent sent out a questionnaire to all the candidates running in Colorado’s House and Senate races.

The 17-question survey asks our incumbent and would-be lawmakers how they feel about gun rights, healthcare, school vouchers, and pay equity; where they stand on the hospital provider fee, personhood amendments, water conservation, campaign finance laws and a potential switch from caucuses to primaries. We asked each candidate who they support for president, and whether they’ll be actively campaigning on their candidate’s behalf.

We’ve heard from about one in four candidates so far, with a much higher response rate from Democrats and third-party candidates than from Republicans. Responses are coming in every day — here’s the response rate so far:

SENATE:
58 percent of Democratic candidates
13 percent of Republican candidates
50 percent of third-party candidates

HOUSE:
36 percent of Democratic candidates
9 percent of Republican candidates
47 percent of third-party candidates

Of Colorado’s 57 incumbents up for re-election this year, only seven (all Democrats) have responded so far.

Notable takeaways:

  • Not all Republicans support Trump and not all Democrats support Clinton. We heard from candidates on both sides who are unhappy with their choices.
  • Democrats and Libertarians support aid-in-dying measures, but we saw both Democrats and Republicans who are still either unsure or are willing to let voters decide. Republican Linda Garrisson, HD 41, considers it murder.
  • Democrats tend to support mandatory water conservation measures and Republicans tend to oppose them, but there are candidates on both sides who are still unsure.
  • Party lines are a pretty reliable indicator of feelings towards background checks and carrying concealed guns in schools — unless you’re Julia Endicott of HD 20, a rare Democrat who supports concealed-carry in schools.
  • Personhood is unpopular across the board. Same for caucuses.
  • Democrats favor public funding for IUDs (long-term birth control) for teens. Libertarians and Republicans, not so much.
  • Also: Republican Al Jacobson from HD 32 found our questionnaire too long. Democrat T.J. Cole of SD 23 responded to the survey, but ignored the questions. Libertarian Roy Dakroub of HD 50 loves swearing.

This questionnaire is meant to increase transparency, accountability and communication between elected officials and their constituents. It’s very much a work in progress, and we’ll continue to update it as responses from more candidates come in.

Don’t see your candidate? Find your districts, look up who’s running for House and Senate there, and tell them you’d like to hear their views.

Candidates, send your responses to kelsey@coloradoindependent.com and we’ll put them on the site.

We’ve placed candidates’ responses on the maps below. The colored icons — blue for Democrat, red for Republican, black for third party — show candidates from whom we’ve received responses so far. Click “see answers” to read them in full.

Colorado Senate

Colorado Senate Inset

Colorado House of Representatives

Colorado House of Representatives Inset 1

Colorado House of Representatives Inset 2

Interactive maps made using ThingLink. Infographics made using Venngage. House and Senate district maps via Google maps. 

Photo credit: F Delventhal, Creative Commons, Flickr 

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For several months, we’ve seen Republican Party leaders distance themselves from Donald Trump because of his outrageous and offensive comments. Video recordings of Trump rally supporters have shown the world the darkest side of America and of the Republican Party. White supremacist groups have become more emboldened with each offensive statement their candidate spews.

Notably, we’ve heard Hillary Clinton talk about Trump giving rise to “alt- right extremism.” But she stopped short of labeling Trump a racist. That seems appropriate because Trump’s comments should be weighed by the very communities he has ceaselessly attacked.

We will call it like it is from the perspective of the Colorado Latina/o community: Donald Trump is a racist, plain and simple. And his violent, hateful followers are racists, too. We’re hardly surprised by this “alt-right extremism.” The fact is, some in the Republican Party have been going down this path for decades.

We’ve long seen the hate unfold in Colorado. Let’s not forget that former Congressman Tom Tancredo and current Congressman Mike Coffman were on the same anti-immigrant, anti-communities-of-color bandwagon for the first decade of the 21st century. Tancredo knows a tiger cannot change its stripes and still spouts the same demagoguery (at least he’s true to himself – if only to himself). But Coffman wants everyone to believe that he has changed his birther, anti-communities-of-color stripes – his perspective seemed to change just as his congressional district happened to be redrawn to include more black and brown voters. Learning a bit of Spanish doesn’t erase Coffman’s well-known anti-immigrant history.

Also, let’s not forget the 2010-2012 era of the Republican-controlled Colorado House of Representatives. During those two years, Colorado experienced a level of hateful, racist, anti- LGBTQ, anti-women Republican behavior not seen since the Civil Rights Movement.

Even today, Colorado’s Republican elected officials attempt to bring legislation that would allow for voter suppression in communities of color, strip women of their reproductive rights, discriminate against the LGBTQ community and otherwise disenfranchises Coloradans who aren’t straight, male and white. This summer, we saw the chair of the Delta County Republican Party removed because she posted an image comparing President Obama to a monkey.

Some Republican leaders rightly express disdain for Trump and his supporters, voicing utter concern about the direction of their party. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins is one such Republican leader who won’t support the cruelty evident in Trump’s “alt-right extremism.” We sympathize with those Republicans because they didn’t sign up for this ugliness. At the same time, we refuse to believe that they didn’t know this type of heartlessness was percolating within their party.

Because we believe in leading from a position of humanity, we supported Bernie Sanders from the beginning. We believed, and still do, that Bernie Sanders’ movement is the antithesis of GOP hate mongering. And while we were heartbroken when he ultimately asked us to support Hillary Clinton for President, Bernie rightly argued that stopping Trump makes it easier for our movement to move forward. It’s easier to work for change when you’re not battling a dictator.

We know some Bernie supporters are reticent to support Clinton. We respect their position, but we’d like to offer a different perspective.

As leaders in the Chicana/o community and in Colorado as a whole, we’ve long had to battle the Colorado GOP’s “alt-right extremism.” We don’t have the luxury of picking up our marbles and going home because our guy didn’t win. Trump’s agenda negatively targets the Latina/o community, women’s reproductive choices, low- and middle-income families, small businesses, the Muslim community, civil rights, American Indian sovereignty, etc. We — and our predecessors — have fought too hard and too long for the little rights we do have. Our children, grandchildren, family, friends, neighbors are all at risk with a Trump presidency and “alt-right extremist” rule.

As progressives, we know that our first job is to protect the disenfranchised and the disadvantaged. We leave no one behind. We know the only wall that must be built, the only wall that matters at all, is the one we form to stop the waves of the Trump Hate Machine from disenfranchising, criminalizing and deporting our communities.

Our vote won’t come easy for Clinton. She must recognize that ours will be a vote of accountability for the next four years, and that a second-term reward depends on first-term results (we will understand, however, that her results might be muted by the same kind of Republican obstructionism that President Obama has faced). Clinton talks about unifying her supporters with Bernie supporters. Her talk must be sincerely demonstrated through administration appointments and policy adjustments that reflect our collective progressive values.

We commit to marshaling our resources and massive energies to help with voter turnout in Colorado. We commit to fighting like hell for Hillary Clinton and against “alt-right extremism.” After all, our vote isn’t just a vote for her, but a vote to protect our communities.

Photo credit: Jamelle Bouie, Creative Commons, Flickr 

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This week in Steamboat Springs, a Washington insider gave a hint at what the Republican Party may be planning after the November elections in which many in the GOP believe their presidential candidate will lose, and lose big.

Republican Brian Wild is a D.C.-based policy director for the Denver law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has its hands in deep-pocketed political interests in both the Eastern and Mountain time zones. He and Democratic counterpart Elizabeth Gore, also a D.C. policy director with Brownstein, debated the presidential election Thursday during the summer conference of the Colorado Water Congress.

Gore started off by saying she would vote for Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Wild replied, “I’m voting.” Full stop. No mention of the Republican candidate, businessman Donald Trump, or any other presidential candidate.

Wild went on to give a pessimistic view of the GOP’s future if the party doesn’t change its tactics, including seeking out presidential candidates who can win general elections.

But it’s more than that, he explained to the audience of about 300. Clinton has made the Democratic Party more moderate, in the way the Republicans used to do.

The GOP has lived for the past three decades off of Ronald Reagan, Wild said. Up until the 1980s, the GOP was not a small government party, and it was also pro-choice. Reagan came in with a set of principles that transformed the party.

What Republicans need now, Wild said, is that same kind of contender –  a “coalescing super candidate who says this is what I believe in” and who can rebuild the party from those core values.

The White House has a “blue tint,” Gore said, meaning that Democrats have a structural advantage going into the election that’s related to the Electoral College. Republicans aren’t capable of nominating someone who can win the general election, she said. She said the House is unlikely to switch to Democratic control this November, although the Senate probably could end up in Democratic hands, or at a 50-50 split.

Wild agreed, stating that it’s unlikely that the government will be in one-party control anytime in the future, except possibly in a narrow two-year window. “It’s kind of depressing,” he said.

The GOP also needs to change its ways regarding independent voters, and that means allowing independent voters to vote in presidential primaries, Wild said.

He noted that independents are a majority of the electorate who don’t vote in the primaries. As a result, Republicans don’t nominate presidential candidates who will win the general election. “It just doesn’t work,” he said.

If independents engaged in the political process and voted in primaries, “We would have substantially better candidates” who would be “more reflective of your views,” Wild said. “But if you only vote in November,” then voters are left with the candidates who come out of the primaries.

Gore noted research showing that if an independent voter sides with a certain party for three presidential elections in a row, that voter will start to identify with that party, even if not formally registered with it. That, she said, holds more true for the national election than for state or local elections taking place at the same time. Independent voters are more willing to split the ticket, voting for one party at the top of a ballot and for candidates of another party in lower-ticket races.

Both noted the unusually high unfavorable ratings for both Trump and Clinton. Wild said Election 2016 is unlike any other because both candidates are viewed unfavorably by a majority of the electorate. Usually, the candidate whom voters view more unfavorably than favorably loses the election. That won’t be the case this year since both presidential nominees are in that position.

Clinton has consistently been ahead of Trump in national and swing-state polls since the Democratic National Convention in July, and neither Gore or Wild expects much movement in those numbers.

But there’s one factor that may influence polling before November: the three presidential debates. Gore said there could be other, unpredictable events that also could shift the numbers, but she wasn’t specific.

“I think Clinton will win the election, but anyone who rules out Trump does so at their own peril. He has over-performed throughout this whole process, much to my puzzlement,” she said.

Wild pointed out that voters have taken a “throw them out” attitude toward Congress, and have in recent elections succeeded in ousting longtime office holders. But, he noted, that approach hasn’t exactly been helpful.

It used to be that a politician had to be in Washington for 20 years before coming into leadership, Wild said. Now, turnover is so fast that only a handful of senators and members of the House have been there as long as he has – about 20 years.

The numbers bear that out. Fifty-four of the 100 sitting senators have been in office only during the Obama administration. In the House, 245 representatives – out of 435 House members – have served only as long as Barack Obama has occupied the White House.

“Constantly throwing people out is part of the problem,” Wild said. “You end up with people who don’t know how to do things” in Washington.

This election should have been an opportunity for the GOP, he added. “I have an awesome job convincing people Trump will win. But if I take off my party hat, I don’t see how Clinton will lose.”

Home Front: Teacher pay, carbon cuts and a world fly-fishing championship

What you need to know today, from the front pages of Colorado’s top newspapers

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The Fort Collins Coloradoan has a story about how starting pay for teachers is lagging at the Poudre School District.

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has two climate change stories on its front page: One, an AP story about the vanishing habitat of a rabbit-like animal called the Pika, and another story about groups challenging gas leases in the West because of climate concerns. (External links: The online stories aren’t on the Sentinel website yet, but the front page image is here.)

Steamboat Today fronts a story about how the Forest Service wants input on improvements of a ski area, making some locals “curious” and others “anxious.

The Durango Herald has the governor on the front page threatening an executive order on carbon cuts in Colorado.

The Loveland Reporter-Herald reports on the first patient in Colorado to receive a new type of heart stint at the Medical Center of the Rockies.

Someone put today’s front page of the The Longmont Times-Call in a museum for posterity about local news. The paper carries a story about the mystery of bullet holes in a local residence, a story about the country scuttling an “owl activist” concert, and another about a driver hitting a light pole “due to a bee.”

The Denver Post suggests U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet “probably escapes fallout” from criticism of his work on the Iran nuclear deal after a reporter speaks with the senator about it a year after his vote.

The Gazette reports on a big new local cyber security center hiring a CEO and kicks of a three-day conference in November at The Broadmoor.

Vail Daily has a piece about a world fly-fishing championship taking place in Eagle County. (The U.S. team has a shot of winning this year.)

The Cañon City Daily Record fronts a profile of a new school administrator.

The Boulder Daily Camera has a story about the city considering a soda tax to curb consumption in poor neighborhoods.

Denverite fronts “Denver in 5 minutes: What you need to know today, Aug. 26

 Photo credit: Loren Kerns, Creative Commons, Flickr 
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Sen. Michael Bennet this morning made a pitch to the state’s water community for sending him back to Washington, despite the rank partisanship that characterizes Congress these days.

Colorado’s senior senator spoke this morning to 340 water leaders attending the summer conference of the Colorado Water Congress in Steamboat Springs.

In prepared remarks, Bennet cited his bipartisan efforts on immigration, the farm bill and education, and touted his ability to work across the aisle with Republican senators such as Cory Gardner of Colo., Roy Blunt of Missouri and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

He also spoke about the continued efforts to clean up the Gold King mine disaster in Durango, stating that when it comes to water issues, the federal government should “do no harm,” although the Environmental Protection Agency caused the Gold King leak. The efforts of the local community trying to protect its tourism industry have been impressive, he said, and as a result the Durango area’s economy is doing well.

Bennet pledged to continue to push the EPA to reimburse the community and the tribes for the damage. He also will continue to work on legislation with Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton of Cortez on so-called “Good Samaritan” legislation that would allow mine cleanups without fear of lawsuits. “The spill was a reminder that there are thousands of abandoned mines across the West,” yet the nation’s mining law dates back to 1872. That’s also legislation that he’s working on with New Mexico lawmakers.

Bennet also took aim at those in Washington who are more interested in playing politics than in making constructive change.

“What we’ve lost in Washington is the ability to have these differences in a way that’s constructive for the country,” he said.“It’s inexcusable. We have a moral responsibility to make sure we’re moving this country ahead.”

In a free-flow question and answer session after his speech, Bennet took off the gloves and talked at length about what frustrates him most: Congress’s broken culture and its inability to do anything.

He started off by noting a poll that showed only 9 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, and comparing it to other things that have higher approval than 9 percent: the Internal Revenue Service (40 percent), reality TV star Paris Hilton (15 percent) and the percentage of people who want the United States to turn communist, at 11 percent.

While he believes Congress is hamstrung by partisanship, Bennet also said that some of those who say Congress is broken “are the arsonists lighting the house on fire.” Their fuel, he added, comes from both sides of the aisle.

At times Bennet appeared exasperated  – not at the audience, but at the partisan problems he says infest the nation’s capitol, a city where he grew up. It was an unscripted Michael Bennet, one who momentarily stood with his hands on his hips, shaking his head.

Bennet cited a Democratic caucus lunch in which a senior Democrat (he didn’t name names) pointed to the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, stating that the crisis is “what separates us from them. We believe in government, they don’t.” Bennet said he realized some of the decisions were made by a Republican governor, but in the end it was government as a whole that’s culpable. Even before the water crisis, there isn’t a single school in Flint where any senator would send their kids. “This can’t be what divides us.”

Bennet said he has tried to work with his Republican colleagues – such as Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina on improving the approval process of the Food and Drug Administration. Before that legislation, the FDA would approve 1 or 2 drugs per year. But in the past four years the FDA has green-lighted 50.

Bennet also gave a strong defense of the science backing man-made climate change. He noted polls of independent voters who overwhelmingly say they would be less likely to support someone who denies that climate change is real and/or caused by people. It was a subtle dig at his Republican opponent, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who has said he’s skeptical of man-made climate change.

The time has come to adopt policies at the national level to prepare for climate change before the trend becomes unfixable, Bennet said. Colorado’s economy is already threatened by climate change, such as increasingly extended fire seasons and the threats wildfires pose to forests and the state’s water supply.

“I’m optimistic,” Bennet said. There are real opportunities to get results for Colorado and the nation. “The public is sick and tired of rank partisanship,” and Bennet said he hopes that this year’s election creates political momentum for that to change.

And “if the election goes the way many think it will go, I hope it will incentivize the Republican party to put the capitalists back in charge,” he said.

“I wouldn’t go back if I didn’t think we could improve it.”

Bennet recalled a town hall held in the “worst tea party town in the state” (which he didn’t identify), with people calling him a socialist, and claiming President Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

That kind of partisan politics has made it impossible to fix the real problems, he said. “We don’t have the decency to maintain the assets and infrastructure that our parents and grandparents had the decency to build for us.”

Bennet encouraged the audience, who sat mostly silently during the remarks, to hold their congressional representatives accountable in the same way citizens hold local officials accountable. “If we hold Washington to the same standard” as mayor, city council or school superintendents, “there’s no way we’d be having the problems we’re having, and there’s no way you would shut down the government for politics.”

The only antidote to partisan politics is to vote out of self interest, state interest and in the interest of the country.

“If we do that we’ll be fine,” he said. “If we leave it to Washington to play the political game, there’s no reason for optimism.”

 

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is in Aspen today for a fundraiser. The town’s mayor, Steve Skadron, wants the candidate to learn something while he’s there.

“I’m hopeful that Mr. Trump’s visit to our cherished community will sensitize him to the reality of climate change and its impact on our community,” Skadron said. “The strength of our local economy is directly related to the health of our natural environment.”

Aspen, the mayor said in a statement, is a place that prides itself on welcoming everyone.

“While we respect a diversity of opinions and views, we are disheartened by the prejudice and anger that so often comes through Mr. Trump’s pronouncements,” Skadron said. “I sincerely hope he takes home some of our mountain values like respect of the natural environment, a constructive public-private sector balance, and a willingness to reach out and help your neighbor rather than vilify those who are different.”

Trump has dismissed climate change for different reasons.

Trump also said he would cancel last year’s Paris agreement on climate change.

 

Photo by Ken Lund via Creative Commons on Flickr.

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David battling Goliath is a cliché. But how else to describe the struggle between a rural electric co-op and its powerful supplier of electricity?

“David” is the Delta-Montrose Electric Association, a medium-sized co-op in west-central Colorado. It serves 71,000 customers across two counties and 3,400 square miles with roughly 100 employees. 

“Goliath” is Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which sells electricity to 43 co-ops across Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska. It has 1,500 employees, strip mines, power plants and 1 million customers over its four states and 200,000 square miles.

Like the biblical David, Delta-Montrose has sunk a stone deep into Tri-State’s forehead. The missile was provided by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which ordered Delta-Montrose to buy any reasonably priced renewable energy on offer. The order cut the heart out of power-purchase contracts that Tri-State has with Delta-Montrose and its 42 other co-ops. Those contracts require the co-ops to buy at least 95 percent of their power from Tri-State until mid-century.

Standing on the bedrock of those contracts, Tri-State has borrowed $3.4 billion to build power plants and transmission lines. The commission’s order throws a bomb into that mountain of debt and the power plants it finances. If, over time, enough co-ops substitute local renewable power for Tri-State’s power, Tri-State could go bankrupt.

You would not guess Tri-State’s peril from its sunny 2015 annual report. Even the fine print in its audit statement doesn’t mention the commission’s decision.  But in Docket EL16-39, on the website of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Tri-State’s lawyers warn that the agency’s 2015 decision could jeopardize “Tri-State’s well-being and existence.”

The lawyers are not exaggerating.

The electric co-ops describe themselves, accurately, as a close-knit family. Why then did Delta-Montrose, a typical co-op in a rural area, create this crisis? The story starts in 2004, when Tri-State asked its co-ops to extend their contracts from 2040 to 2050. Tri-State needed the extension to build a new multi-billion-dollar coal plant in western Kansas. Lenders would not finance a plant that could run out of customers before the plant’s debt was paid off.

The other 42 co-ops extended their contracts. But the board of Delta-Montrose refused. It wanted to avoid spending 40 years paying for a plant it believed would be obsolete long before 2050. The co-op’s alternative strategy was to gradually generate more and more power at home. It hoped that other co-ops would follow its lead, and that as Tri-State’s aging plants were shut, power generated by local co-ops would provide a smooth transition. But Tri-State and its co-ops never took Delta-Montrose’s approach seriously. It ran counter to the traditional business model. 

Federally directed and financed electrification, working through small locally controlled co-ops, rescued rural America from literal darkness and deep poverty in the 1930s and 1940s. It is a glorious history. But with time, the co-ops’ focus on local economies was replaced by loyalty to the ever more centralized and large scale system that kept those lights on. Cheap, reliable electricity, generated in huge power plants with the host communities getting all the jobs and property taxes became the system’s business model.

But solar and especially wind are now competitive with central-station power. The Delta-Montrose co-op’s area is rich in sunlight, falling water and large flows of methane out of its coal mines. Thanks to a visionary former general manager named Dan McClendon, the co-op board came to see rural electrification as a path to a rejuvenated local economy. It successfully resisted extending its contract with Tri-State.

But even without an extension, the contract was good through 2040, and it blocked Delta-Montrose from expanding its area’s jobs and tax base. Then came freedom: the commission’s 2015 order allowing Delta-Montrose to use local renewable power.

Delta-Montrose also hopes that its use of cheap local renewables will fend off the same threat the commission’s order poses to Tri-State. Just as Tri-State fears losing its 43 co-ops, Delta-Montrose fears losing its customers to rooftop solar and cheaper batteries.

Meanwhile, Tri-State, rather than adapting to a new reality, is appealing the commission’s decision for the second time. Because the decision applies to all of the nation’s 840 co-ops and 65 power suppliers, this dispute — begun by a small rural co-op — could engage the entire system and end up before Congress.

Ed Marston is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an opinion service of High Country News

Photo credit: Gebhard Fugel, Wikimedia Commons

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Sunshine and water

Conservationists in California had a novel idea for tackling that state’s water woes: requiring water agencies to reveal how much water businesses like golf courses and farms are guzzling. The bill started out as an ambitious attempt to shine light on the amounts of water and electricity that are used by companies and public institutions in a time of drought and climate change, but later was limited just to water. The newspaper industry and other freedom of information advocates loved the idea (as do we at The Independent). But California lawmakers scuttled even the pared down version last week. Via The Desert Sun.

 

Senator’s daughter becomes the latest Big Pharma pariah

Remember when Martin Shkreli became the nation’s most reviled businessman for jacking up prices on an AIDS drug from $13.50 a pill to $750? Well, consumers have a new big pharma exec to revile for skyrocketing prescription prices: Heather Bresch, is the head of Mylan, the drug company accused of jacking up price of the EpiPen, which treats severe allergic reactions. As it happens, she’s the daughter of Joe Manchin, a Democratic U.S. senator from West Virginia and the state’s former governor. Hillary Clinton chimed in about the EpiPen price hike Wednesday, callingit “outrageous.” On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging asked Bresch to turn over information used by Mylan’s board of directors related to the price increases. As national ire grows over drug price hikes, this is a story to watch. Via Bloomberg

 

Silver linings

Wanda Witter, a homeless woman in D.C. , long has told anybody who’d listen that the Social Security Administration has been ripping her off. Nobody much listened. That is, until a social worker took the time to hear Witter out and comb through years of un-cashed Social Security checks written for the incorrect amount. Witter’s claims weren’t as crazy as they sounded. “If I just cashed them, who would believe me that they were wrong?” Witter told the Associated Press. The feds, as it turns out, owe her $99,999 – enough not only to vindicate Witter, but also do get her off the streets and into an appartment. Via The Associated Press.

 

A new type of forest dweller

Speaking of homelessness, The New York Times takes a look at the growing number of people for whom national forests are a retreat of last resort. Colorado’s national forests are a case in point, as we saw last month when the 600-acre Cold Springs fire was started by wanderers camping out on U.S. Forest Service land near Nederland.

 

Take two Tylenol before reading this

We’re all well aware of Facebook’s enormous power. But John Herrmann writes about a strange new kind of media outlet that’s overtaking political discourse at an alarming pace. The title of Hermann’s reported essay, “Inside Facebook’s (Totally Insane, Unintentionally Gigantic, Hyperpartisan) Political-Media Machine,” speaks volumes. Be warned: this must-read could make your head hurt. Via The New York Times.

 

Plus, here are your front page headlines across Colorado for Thursday, Aug. 25:
The Greeley Tribune has a piece about how the oil and gas slump in Colorado is causing concern for school districts in Weld County. SPOILER: “A substantial decrease recently in natural gas resource production affected the assessed valuation of the district in a very negative way.”

The Boulder Daily Camera fronts a piece about a local ballot measure that county staffers say might violate state law.

The Pueblo Chieftain has a story about a local traffic fix for Pueblo West.

The Fort Collins Coloradoan runs an A1 piece about a local contractor paying thousands for a fish kill on the Big Thompson River. “Something went wrong that day.”

The Loveland Reporter-Herald has a story about how hard it can be to identify local voters who can vote on local ballot measures that affect them.

The Boulder Daily Camera runs a story about an overnight manhunt to capture a bleeding gunman on the loose. (They found the 34-year-old suspect, who might have shot himself in the head.)

The Durango Herald fronts a story about a local school district ramping up security. Locks, buzzers, stuff like that. (The online story comes with a video.)

The Canon City Daily Record has a story about Republican State Treasurer Walker Stapleton touring the area in opposition to the ColoradoCare universal healthcare ballot measure.

The Aspen Times fronts a local debate over building a new City Hall and what to do with the old one. (A fight over new and old Aspen, apparently, with a joke for a lede.)

The Denver Post has the backstory to a deadly February shootout with Martin Wirth, a man a local sheriff’s office was trying to evict. (“Multiple threats made.”)

The Gazette in Colorado Springs has Gov. John Hickenlooper on the front page today, with a headline saying he might “order ambitious cuts” in Colorado’s carbon emissions.

 

Photo credit: Global Panorama, Creative Commons, Flickr 

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Listen first, then take action. That’s how Denver Public Schools officials said the state’s largest school district plans to respond to a recent report that found its African-American teachers feel mistreated — and feel as though the needs of black students are being ignored.

“To truly figure out how to make transformational and systemic change, it’s going to take the entire community,” said school board president Anne Rowe.

In a district that has faced criticism for forging ahead with decisions without first soliciting feedback, the approach is significant. The district’s plan includes discussing the report with DPS employees in a series of forums this month, and setting up a steering committee and several working groups to come up with a long-term strategy.

The groups will begin their work in September, but DPS Chief of Human Resources Debbie Hearty said the district hasn’t yet identified an end date.

“Instead of guessing how people are feeling,” she said, it’s valuable to have those who are directly affected sitting at the table saying, “‘This is what we need to do about it — and what would actual progress look like?’”

But some African-American community leaders said that while they agree it’s crucial to gather input, they worry the process could get bogged down in meetings.

“We want something that’s more tangible than committees,” said Elbra Wedgeworth, a longtime civic leader and DPS graduate. “Talking is talking, but you can also do things at the same time.”

The district commissioned the report in response to concerns from black educators about how they and their students are treated. Black teachers made up just 4 percent of the teacher workforce last year, while black students comprised about 14 percent of the nearly 91,500 students. That percentage has been shrinking since the 1973 court decision that directed Denver to desegregate its schools, a trend the report partly attributes to gentrification.

The 70 African-American teachers and administrators interviewed reported feeling isolated and unaccepted. They said black educators in DPS have had difficulty securing promotions.

“African-Americans in DPS are invisible, silenced and dehumanized, especially if you are passionate, vocal and unapologetically black,” one educator told the report’s author. “We can’t even be advocates for our kids. It feels a lot like being on a plantation.”

The educators also reported poor treatment of African-American students. While some objective indicators point toward progress — dropout rates are down and graduation rates and test scores are up for black students — the educators said many DPS teachers seem afraid of black students, which leads to them being disciplined more harshly than their peers.

And they said that the district’s more recent intense focus on providing services to English language learners has overshadowed the needs of African-American students.

“I don’t see any policy that’s been established to help African-American students … that benefits them, that is unique to them, that is special to them,” another educator said.

DPS leaders called the findings painful.

“It’s extraordinarily difficult to live in this country and not realize the enormity of the challenges we face around race and social justice,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg said at a school board work session last week, at which board members discussed the report. “You can’t solve problems until you recognize them. That’s what this report does.”

Board member Mike Johnson said “everybody in the community needs to be aware of the depth of concern” expressed in the report. He said he’s of two minds in terms of how to respond. “I have all kinds of thoughts about what we should do immediately,” he said, “but at the same time … I’d like to hear from those who are affected about what they would like to do.”

The district has hired Allen Smith, a former DPS principal who left for a job in the Oakland school district and recently returned to Denver, to oversee the committees and working groups.

As the groups come up with recommendations, Hearty said the district will continue several initiatives already underway, including attempts to recruit more teachers of color and efforts to provide racial bias and cultural responsiveness training to employees.

Board member Lisa Flores said that while “it’s a tragedy that there was need for this equity report,” she’s hoping this is the first of many times the district will respond this way.

“I am really proud that DPS has taken a step back and instead of coming in with a game plan already outlined, they are taking their cues from the community,” she said.

Sean Bradley, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, has participated, along with Wedgeworth and others, in discussions between DPS and prominent African-American community members about the issues highlighted in the report.

He said he commends the district for recognizing the problem.

But he echoed Wedgeworth in calling for the district to take immediate steps, such as forming an African-American parent and teacher organization, while it gathers more feedback and ideas.

“It’s obvious that black teachers just don’t feel comfortable in the district,” Bradley said. “We need to make sure teachers are treated well, treated fairly. And that there are recruitment and retention efforts to make sure we have high-quality African American teachers in the classroom … all over the country, but especially in DPS. We have to make these jobs interesting again.”

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

Photo credit: alamosbasement, Creative Commons, Flickr

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In March, Colorado’s chaotic caucuses caused confusion for caucus-goers. Say that one 10 times fast.

Joking aside, the messy, party-run early nominating contests for president led to plenty of questions about whether Colorado should change the way voters here pick presidents. Should we have a primary? Should unaffiliated voters who can’t participate in the Democratic and Republican caucuses have a say?

Well, voters will have a say this November, since two measures that deal with the process just made the ballot.

From the Colorado Secretary of State’s office:

Initiative No. 98 allows unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections without having to declare being a member of a certain party, as is the current law. However, Republicans and Democrats could decide to forgo having a primary election and instead choose their general election nominees at the assembly or convention, providing that 75 percent of the party’s state central committee agrees.

Initiative No. 140 restores a presidential primary to be held before the end of March in presidential election years, and allows unaffiliated voters to participate without declaring to be a member of a political party.

“Both measures amend state law, rather than the state constitution,” reads a statement from the Secretary of State.

So far, that means there will be seven initiatives on the ballot for Colorado voters to decide on Nov. 8. That number could grow as the state continues to count signatures on other citizen measure’s submitted by petitioners.

In March, supporters of Bernie Sanders led to a record number of Democratic caucus goers in Colorado, which meant long lines and hundreds turned away.

On the Republican side, party leaders cancelled their presidential straw poll so their delegates could go to the national convention unbound. The move prompted the party’s eventual nominee for president, Donald Trump, to say Colorado ran a “rigged” election.

“Colorado voters value independence and want elections that encourage participation,” said Kent Thiry, the campaign chairman for the ballot measure effort, Let Colorado Vote, in a statement. “Only 5 percent of voters participated in the March caucuses, which is not a sign of a healthy democracy. Our initiatives will fix that and allow more than 1 million unaffiliated voters to participate in elections that they currently pay for, but thus far have been excluded from.”

Unaffiliated voters are the largest group of voters in the state with more than a million registered.

Also, no need to remember these initiative numbers. They will change after Sept. 9.

Photo by Ally Aubry from Creative Commons on Flickr.

Why newsrooms throughout Colorado are debating the word ‘suicide’

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media for Aug. 24

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Covering suicide has long been tricky for journalists. Some newspapers have a policy not to report on them, which, in the era of social media, can be maddening for some local reporters who find their Twitter and Facebook timelines filled with questions from readers when a suicide happens in their community and the word is out.

Here in Colorado, a different debate over the “S” word is rippling through newsrooms: How to describe a ballot measure voters will consider in November that, if passed, would allow patients with a terminal illness to legally obtain prescriptions for drugs that would end their lives. Should journalists call that assisted suicide?

This week I looked into this ongoing discussion among Colorado journalists for a piece at Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project.

Advocates here, like Holly Armstrong, running PR for the Yes campaign and a board member of The Indy, call the ballot measure in question “aid in dying” or “right to die” or other terms, and they say reporters describing it as “assisted suicide” is offensive

After talking with multiple newspaper, wire service, and public radio editors around Colorado, I found not everyone agrees on the terminology. In a broadcast, Denver 9News reporter Brandon Rittiman threw down the gauntlet, explaining why the station will continue to use the word suicide. The Coloradoan’s editor wrote her own column about the paper’s choice in phrasing.

An excerpt from the CJR piece:

Like abortion, immigration, or even the estate tax before it, the movement for what is sometimes called “death with dignity” has sparked a debate over political terminology. Newsrooms around the state are discussing the issue right now—but so far, there is little consensus.

Find the whole story here. I hope you’ll read and share it widely. And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Editor’s note: The Colorado Independent’s policy is to use the term “aid-in-dying.” The reasoning: Suicide is, in part, a legal term, and it’s against the law, says editor Susan Greene. Aid-in-dying— which has several safeguards built into its language— would, by definition, be legal.

Looks like former Denver Post editor Greg Moore found his Second Act

The longtime editor of The Denver Post took himself out of the running for a chance to become the public editor of The New York Times. (Former CJR editor Liz Spayd has that job now, btw.) So what is he doing since he abruptly stepped down from the paper in March prior to another round of buyouts and layoffs? Teaching a class this fall called “Deadlines and Disruptions: New Issues in the News,” at CU-Boulder, the college announced.

The seminar “will tackle the challenges facing public service journalism in an era that demands 24/7 coverage at the same time it is resource-starved,” according to the university. “With a mixture of class discussion, lectures, readings and visits from professionals, Moore will cover both the right way to produce quality high-impact public journalism and the difficult realities.”

One Colorado reader had an alternate name for the course when I shared this news on Twitter Tuesday: “Training more people to be unemployed.” Ouch.

Have an open records dispute in Colorado? Get ready to lawyer up. How we compare to other states. 

Thanks to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, we now have a comprehensive look at how each state handles appeals to open records responses and what reporters and citizens can do when they have a problem prying public information from the hands of bad bureaucrats. CFOIC asked Matthew Aeschbacher, a DU Sturm College of Law grad, to look into it, and released a report this week. Bottom line in Colorado? “Litigate or pay up.” (Another reason Colorado scored so horribly with a grade of ‘F’ in the category of public access to information during the latest State Integrity Investigation on which I worked.)

But, according to this useful CFOIC report, “At least 26 states offer some sort of dispute-resolution process as an alternative to suing the government when violations are alleged.”

You can read the whole paper, “Freedom of Information: State-by-State Evaluation of Alternative Dispute Resolution Processes,” here.

But hey, one of our state lawmakers actually wants to do something about this…

Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins told his local newspaper this week that he is, in the paper’s words, working on a pitch that involves “the creation of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, such as a mediation board, to allow for appeals of CORA denials.”

Let’s keep an eye on that.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado 

Where you riding the train from Denver to Glenwood Springs and back all weekend and neglecting to read the important news fit for the Sunday front pages of newspapers throughout Colorado?

Well, The Longmont Times-Call ran a feature about the city’s increasing use of SWAT teams. The Loveland Reporter-Herald fronted a story about a competitive corn-eating event. The Steamboat Pilot Today & Sunday put a local startup on the cover. The Pueblo Chieftain had chile farms on A1 (Headline: “It’s still August, but it’s chile out there!”). With “A calling to Arm,” The Greeley Tribune had a big package on local gun culture, the rise in carry permits and firearms buying. The Denver Post ran a story about heroin use in southern Colorado (Print headline “It’s everywhere”.) Vail Daily fronted a piece about a summit of stem cell doctorsThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins had a feature about the county’s growth vs. vanishing farmlandThe Boulder Daily Camera ran a story about ex-members of Resurrection Church warning incoming students about a cult-like campus ministry. The Gazette ran a story looking into a potential shadow government in Colorado Springs. And The Durango Herald reported on a $12 billion backlog in national park maintenance.

Is a U.S. Senate candidate blacklisting Colorado’s largest newspaper?

Wednesday afternoon, Denver Post politics reporter John Frank wrote on Twitter about an exchange he had with the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, Darryl Glenn, who I can say in my own experience was perhaps the most accessible candidate in the dozen-or-so-candidate primary. That changed when he became a general election candidate.

I reached out to Glenn’s campaign spokeswoman about this, but haven’t heard back.

Innovative idea: The Coloradoan lowers its paywall for certain stories 

The Gannett-owned newspaper in Fort Collins, which has a metered paywall that allows readers to check out a handful of online stories before you hit a wall asking you to pony up, has decided to remove its meter on stories related to the upcoming November elections.

“This means those who don’t have a digital subscription (or those that aren’t logged into their Coloradoan.com accounts) will be able to access all election-related stories, photos and videos,” wrote editor Lauren Gustus in a column this week. “With such a significant ballot upcoming, we want to be sure we’re allowing for any and every opportunity to engage. Including with those who might not be subscribers.”

Talk about a public service!

Last thing. Accountability coverage number of the week: 30. But also 54.

Thirty percent. That’s how often voters take the advice of a state panel that reviews judges and and recommends whether a justice in Colorado is unfit to stay on the bench, according to an analysis by Denver’s 9News. Furthermore, “on average, a judge deemed unfit to stay on the bench will win re-election in Colorado with 54 percent of the vote,” the station’s reporter Brandon Rittiman reported.

Read the full piece, headlined “Colorado judges win elections despite bad reviews,” here.

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

 Photo by jfcherry via Creative Commons on Flickr
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It might come as a surprise, but the Colorado legislature unanimously approved a measure in this year’s session. Yes, approved by every single member.

Amendment T, which would strike from the state constitution an exception to Colorado’s ban on slavery, sailed through the General Assembly. The exception, in Article II, Section 26, reads: “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” It was written in 1876.

One hundred and forty years later, state lawmakers voted to excise from the constitution the notion that slavery or involuntary servitude would be acceptable under any circumstances in Colorado. The amended language would end that particular passage at the word “servitude.”

Next step? Getting the go-ahead to amend the constitution from voters in November. The campaign to do just that kicked off Tuesday morning on the western steps of the state capitol. The multi-faith organizing group Together Colorado, and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers gathered to celebrate the amendment’s success in the legislature and gear up for “Yes on T” drive. 

State Rep. Jovan Melton, a Democrat from Aurora and sponsor of the bill,  said the exception simply didn’t track with Colorado beliefs. “We all know that slavery is wrong in any and all forms,” Melton said. “So why do we have an exception in our constitution? It just doesn’t make sense to the people of Colorado.”

The exception has been used in the past to justify unpaid labor by prisoners and to hold individuals without due process, Together Colorado says.

But Tuesday’s rally focused primarily on the symbolic value of removing the exception. Will Dickerson, lead organizer of Together Colorado, told The Independent that the issue is personal for him. His father was the great-grandson of a slave and “it hurt him. It hurt him to know that there was still this exception. So I’m doing this for him and I’m doing it for me.”

“Words matter to all of us in Colorado,” Melton told the gathering of about 100 people.

Dickerson led the crowd in song, celebrating with the Civil Rights movement anthems “Woke Up This Morning” and “Oh Freedom!”.

The former includes a line that reads, “And before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave”. Rep. Kent Lambert, a Republican from Colorado Springs, echoed that sentiment, declaring, “Any mention of slavery in the Colorado constitution deserves to be buried in its grave.” 

The Yes on T campaign is officially supported by Together Colorado and the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance. No groups have opposed it.

Photo Credit: Eliza Carter

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This weekend, while Donald Trump supporters geared up for the next two months, a group of influential Latino Democrats rallied around presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on the metro area’s north side.

The group of about two dozen gathered elbow-to-elbow at La Casa Del Rey restaurant in Commerce City. They also heard from Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas, who stopped by during a whirlwind tour through Colorado on Saturday.

The Latino leaders are a who’s who in Latino Democratic politics, including Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver, former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, former state Rep. Polly Baca of Denver and former Denver City Councilwoman and Democratic National Committeewoman Ramona Martinez. Adrienne Benavidez, a candidate for House District 32 who has spent more than two decades in public service, and Katherine Archuleta, a long-time Latina political leader who has served in two presidential administrations, are also members.

Garcia said the purpose was to galvanize Latino leadership in the Democratic party in Colorado, to remind folks not to take anything for granted and to turn out the Latino vote — while thanking voters for what they’re already doing. “We have to stay organized, stay on message,” 

Garcia, who left the Hickenlooper administration earlier this year to become president of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, noted the importance of keeping the Democratic majority in the state House and taking back the state Senate. Should that happen, he said, it will be historic, with two Latinas in charge: Guzman as Senate President and House Majority Leader Cristanta Duran of Denver as Speaker of the House.

But the task at hand, he stressed, is to elect Clinton, whose policies on education are crucial for minority students. Garcia noted that his own career has been dedicated to increasing educational opportunities for Hispanics and people of color. “A lot of us are in the positions we’re in because of education,” Garcia said. Nowadays, he said, too many people don’t have those same opportunities.

Colorado has the highest number of college graduates in the country, but that’s a number that mainly reflects the white population, 50 percent of which holds college degrees. There’s a huge gap for Hispanics, he said: Only 19 percent graduate from college. Those who don’t graduate often leave worse off, with student debt.

“The white workforce is getting grayer and older, but the future workforce is getting browner,” Garcia said. “We need to make sure they get an education.”

Castro then spoke briefly to the group, encouraging them to continue their efforts to mobilize Latino voters. He’s rumored to be planning a 2018 run against former GOP presidential candidate and current U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, though he demurred when asked if he plans that run. His focus, he says, is on helping Clinton win in November.

Castro made stops during his Saturday visit to the opening of Sen. Michael Bennet’s campaign office in Commerce City and to a nearby campaign office for state Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora, who is running for the 6th Congressional District seat against incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora.

Castro spoke to The Colorado Independent about what will motivate Hispanics to vote, particularly the younger set — 44 percent of the Latino voting population is under the age of 30.

IMG_2391“You talk to them about what’s at stake,” Castro said, “and whether in the coming years this country will still be a place of opportunity, with political leaders, including a president, who respects them and treats them with dignity.” Young voters are focused on whether they can still afford to go to college without massive debt and buy a home, he said. Older Hispanics are concerned about whether they will have the peace of mind to retire. “These are issues important to all Americans,” he said.

“The decisions made today will impact their lives for decades to come,” Castro continued. “We need to have a voice in choosing our leaders…if you get the wrong set of people in Congress and the legislature, those people will erode opportunity.” He cited the potential loss of college affordability and a threatened Social Security system as particularly troubling. “All of these things at every stage of life is at stake in this election.”

In Castro’s mind, Clinton will make sure America is a prosperous place for people regardless of ethnic background or faith. “She will uplift this country,” he said.

 

Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent