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The absence of three of its seven members Tuesday evening prompted the Lafayette City Council to postpone its vote on a controversial proposed Climate Bill of Rights and Protections. Still, the crowd that packed the council chambers was a clear sign that the proposal is striking a nerve with Coloradans across the Front Range.

More than 100 residents, activists and industry representatives showed up to the meeting to make their voices heard. Most had to wait outside a set of glass doors because the small room simply couldn’t hold them all.

The Climate Bill of Rights was introduced by Council two weeks ago, and would codify the right to a healthy climate and environment into Lafayette’s Constitution. It would also legalize civil disobedience when residents feel that right is under threat. The rights to free speech and assembly are constitutionally protected, but various forms of nonviolent direct action can lead to charges of trespassing, disorderly conduct or disturbing the peace. The proposed measure would protect protesters from such charges.

After the Colorado Supreme Court ruled last May that cities do not have the right to regulate or ban fracking, many environmentally-minded Coloradans feel that civil disobedience is their last remaining option to push back against the oil and gas industry. If the measure passes, Lafayette will become only the third local government in the nation to legalize nonviolent direct action. Two small Pennsylvania townships recently passed similar measures when faced with proposed wastewater injection wells.

Opponents of the measure, including a few Lafayette residents and representatives from the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Farm Bureau, called the proposal “overly broad,” “unconstitutional” and “plainly illegal.” Some expressed fears that the measure’s vague writing could lead to neighbors protesting neighbors for activities such as barbecuing and driving cars.

A COGA community liaison asked the council to address community concerns over fracking through “existing mechanisms,” not new ordinances. Mark Matthews, who provides outside legal counsel to the industry group, said the measure “clearly conflicts with state law.”

Longtime environmental activist Phil Doe disagreed, arguing that the Colorado Constitution grants all Coloradans the right to self-govern, and that this sovereignty cannot be overruled by city or even state law. The majority of supporters, however, didn’t refute the notion that the Climate Bill of Rights would go against the state Constitution; instead, they said it was necessary. Many recalled the words and teachings of activists like Martin Luther King Jr., who said that citizens have a “moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

Big-picture concepts like morality, justice, responsibility and the rule of law underscored the testimonies of residents not only of Lafayette, but also Erie, Broomfield, Centennial, Boulder and Denver, to weigh in on the issue. One opponent that such an ordinance, if passed, could lead to war, and called its supporters “radicals.”

Cliff Willmeng, a longtime Lafayette resident and active member of his nursing union, took offense with the term, noting that such words long have been used to discredit union workers fighting for fair wages and reasonable working conditions. Several speakers noted that some states still had laws prohibiting women’s suffrage, gay and interracial marriage and other civil rights until surprisingly recently.

During his own statement, Willmeng motioned to those in the audience who had spoken on behalf of the oil and gas industry. “They’re paid to say those things,” he said. Then he paused, raised his pointer finger in the air, and swiveled to face them. “We’re not afraid of you!” he shouted.

At the end of the public comment period, the glass doors were opened and a small group led many others in song. It was a rendition of an old union number: “Which side are you on?”

The proposal’s vote will be rescheduled for a time when at least six council members can attend. The exact date has not yet been set.

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This week, Colorado’s 2018 Democratic primary race for the governor’s seat officially took off.

Mike Johnston, a 42-year-old recently-departed senator who represented northeast Denver, launched his campaign with all the bells and whistles: A splashy speech, a message of “Frontier Fairness,” a slick video, top-notch consultant, and a bold proposal complete with echoes of Bernie Sanders and FDR.

Johnston is the second name to announce, following the more muted entrance of Denver entrepreneur and Intertech Plastics CEO Noel Ginsburg early this month. They are just two in what could be a sprawling field for the first really open Democratic primary for governor in a long time.

What’s his background?

Johnston, who grew up in Vail, is a nationally known figure in the education reform movement.

He is a Teach For America alum who wrote a book about his time teaching in rural Mississippi, and later served as a high school principal for six years. He went to Harvard. He went to Yale. He’s a big fan of the HBO series “Game of Thrones.” He advised President Barack Obama on education policy. The New York Times might have predicted his run last year by calling him one of 14 young Democrats to watch. He and his brother operate the Christiania lodge at Vail.

Where does he fit along the spectrum of the Democratic Party in Colorado?

As a former state senator, he might not have the high statewide profile of former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, or former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, or current Congressman Ed Perlmutter of Golden, three other names swirling around in Democratic circles as potential successors to the term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Johnston said he reached out to others he respects who might be thinking of running and told them he was doing it. “No one has tried to persuade me not to run,” he said. 

Other Democrats looking at a possible run are El Paso County Sen. Mike Merrifield and Thornton Rep. Joe Salazar.

Related: An early look at the 2018 Democratic primary for governor

Last March, Colorado’s Democratic base turned out heavily for Bernie Sanders, and the Vermont democratic socialist crushed Hillary Clinton in our caucuses, beating her by about 20 points. The state’s political elite was firmly behind Clinton while the activist base clearly was not. Clinton supporters dismissed the caucus loss by saying caucus-goers make up a slim margin of Democrats statewide; Clinton rallied the base and beat Donald Trump in November in Colorado.

“I supported Hillary in the caucus,” Johnston told The Colorado Independent. But he frames himself as someone “with big and bold ideas who is able to bridge those divides to actually get results and build the coalitions it takes to get things done.”

For instance, he says that in the legislature he worked on criminal justice reform with activists from the progressive left and with Republicans on immigration issues. He talks about the ASSET bill, which allowed undocumented students to get in-state tuition, and the CLEAR Act to limit racial disparities in the criminal justice system and help those released from jail back into the workforce and into housing.

In a nod to Sanders, he promised not to take any money from political action committees in his campaign.

Johnston will have to navigate with dexterity the valley between Democrats who think the party should move more to the left and those who think that because Clinton won here it should stay the course. If Sanders supporters Merrifield or Joe Salazar enter the race, each will come at him from the left. If Ken Salazar, who would have led Hillary Clinton’s White House transition team, jumps in, he will be hard to out-flank on the Clintonian side.

Johnston will have great help along the way since he hired Craig Hughes, a top Democratic political consultant who handled the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and the Colorado efforts for Obama.  

Where might he draw his support?

“I think that’s a really interesting issue about where his base comes from,” says Jim Carpenter, a Democratic operative who managed Ken Salazar’s successful 2004 campaign and was chief of staff to former Gov. Bill Ritter. “I think that all of these candidates have to figure out and do some pretty cold hard calculations about where they go, particularly if there’s primary.”

One constituency Johnston might connect with is young professionals and millennials, says Curtis Hubbard, a partner at OnSite public affairs.

Following Johnston’s Tuesday announcement, he planned a two-day tour of Colorado. As a former state senator, he has a geographical base around Denver, and being from Vail will get him attention out there. He has ties to the national education reform movement, which could potentially help tap into big money and networks. Like Ken Salazar, he has ties to Obama.

But if Salazar gets in the race, it would be hard for anyone to overcome his statewide name recognition and donor network that comes with running multiple successful Colorado-wide campaigns over so many years. Johnston would have to do something to stand out. 

So what’s this big, bold proposal?

It is big. And it is bold. And this is it: “The Lifetime Opportunity Promise,” a plan to subsidize education for workers pushed out of jobs by automation and globalization that has hints of a free-college-tuition Sanders idea and the Civilian Conservation Corps from FDR’s New Deal.  

The Colorado Independent asked Johnston to describe how the plan would work by imagining someone for whom his proposal would benefit. So he did:

Think of a 35-year-old man whose only job since high school was driving a truck, he said. As more driverless big rigs come on the market, het gets laid off. He always liked computers but he never had any training in how to use them in a career. The laid-off truck driver would enroll in a state program that would help him pick from options in a handful of growth industries involving computers. Maybe a tech company in his home county needs coders. He could attend a community college in Denver, enroll in a coding boot camp at a nonprofit like Galvanize, or an online program at CSU to get the training and certification he needs. Maybe it would cost $6,000. Maybe the truck driver could only afford $2,000 and would have to load up on $4,000 in debt. Well, the state would cover the $4,000. But in return, the truck-driver-turned-coder would commit to do service work for the state of Colorado for the next few years. That could include five or six weekends a year doing anything from helping with disaster relief to anything else he could handle. That would save the state money from having to pay for workers. 

“It’s almost like a merger of a job-training program and a national service program at the state level with the focus on long-term investment of workers and long-term investment in the state,” Johnston says. He says he doesn’t know of another state-based program like it elsewhere in the country.

How might a new primary system we just passed affect a Johnston candidacy?

No one knows yet but it could benefit a candidate who does not come from the far left wing of the party more than one who does.

Because voters approved ballot measure Prop 108 on Nov. 8, Colorado’s next governor’s race will be the first year unaffiliated voters will be allowed to have a say in whom the Democratic Party nominates for governor. Democrats will still caucus for their candidates at precincts around the state — and unaffiliated voters cannot participate in those — but once candidates land on the primary ballot, either by coming out of caucuses or petitioning on, unaffiliated voters could be allowed to vote.

This would mean (if the law ends up going into place as planned without a lawsuit) that in the 2018 governor’s race, mailed ballots will be sent to unaffiliated voters with the names of Democratic and Republican primary candidates. Voters can chose one party or the other to participate in.

One aim of Prop 108 was to water down the voting power of the activist base in each party by broadening the electorate to include more voters in party primaries. Proponents of the measure saw it as a way to lessen the chances of Colorado nominating extreme candidates on either side.

Any potential buzzsaws for Johnston?

Sure.

Education reform can be extremely controversial and Johnston hasn’t been immune. When he was asked to give the 2014 commencement address at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, dozens protested his selection as speaker. According to The Washington Post at the time, protesters said Johnston “embraces a vision of education reform that relies heavily on test-based accountability while weakening the due process protections of teachers.”

But Johnston met with the protesters for two hours the day before his speech, and “received a standing ovation after his remarks the next day.”

In the Colorado legislature he pushed laws to require that half of teacher evaluations come from standardized testing. “It also remade the state’s teacher tenure law — a controversial form of job protection that a California court just struck down — making it easier to fire veteran teachers and changing how teachers are reassigned to new positions, prompting a lawsuit from the Colorado Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union,” reported the digital news magazine Ozy in 2014.

If Perlmutter does not run, then Sen. Merrifield will get in the primary, says a source close to the progressive Democrat. Merrifield has butted heads with Johnston on education bills in the legislature, so those two in a statewide race could get scrappy.

Tyler Sandberg, a Colorado political operative who works in conservative and Republican circles, had this take about Johnston’s gubernatorial announcement.

For now, the Colorado Education Association, the state’s teachers union, is staying out of it.

“Our next governor will play an enormous role in school funding, state assessment, educator evaluations and many other areas critical to educators and the success of our students,” CEA President Kerrie Dallman said in a written statement. “We need to hear from all of the candidates on their ideas to provide our students with the schools they deserve and look forward to having these conversations with every person running for our state’s highest office.”

Johnston says he expects strong support from teachers across the state.

In 2013, Johnston lost a statewide ballot measure fight when voters shot down a school-finance proposal he championed, called Amendment 66, because it would have raised taxes by a billion dollars. It’s that last part that’s a ready-made sound byte for his opposition.

 

Photo by Allen Tian

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Could the next Republican secretary of education soon be visiting Denver Public Schools, a popular destination for the last two Democrats who’ve held the job?

Democratic U.S. Sen Michael Bennet of Colorado extended the invitation to Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing Tuesday. But not before drawing a stark contrast between Denver’s approach to school choice and what has played out in DeVos’s native Michigan.

Bennet said that in Denver, “without exception we demanded quality and implemented strong accountability. And as far I can tell, Detroit has followed the opposite path.”

DeVos said she’d “love to” take Bennet up on the offer to visit Denver, but disputed the former DPS superintendent’s characterization.

In the time he was given to question DeVos, Bennet said he supports giving parents choices among high-quality public schools, including charter schools. However, Bennet said his goal has never been “school choice for its own end,” but high-quality public schools for every child from every neighborhood.

He then cited Denver’s strategy of authorizing charter schools, creating innovation schools that operate with many of the same freedoms as charters, and strengthening traditional schools.

DeVos said she looked forward to “correcting some of the record” about Detroit schools and disputed that Michigan lacks school accountability, characterizing that as “false news.”

The state of Michigan’s charter sector has emerged as central to the debate over DeVos’s qualifications to serve as education secretary. The billionaire philanthropist has been a leading architect of free-market-style school choice policies in Michigan that have proven divisive in Detroit, where the public schools are in dire straits.

Critics assert that Michigan charter schools can open wherever they want, shut down without notice and operate with less oversight than charters in some other parts of the country.

DeVos defenders say she’s created educational opportunities for families that otherwise wouldn’t have had them, noting that Detroit charter school students on average do slightly better on state exams than their district school peers.

In an interview Tuesday after the confirmation hearing, current DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg echoed Bennet in contrasting the Colorado and Michigan charter sectors’ differences in quality and accountability.

He said that as a result, charter schools are better integrated into the Colorado public school system on issues such as fair enrollment systems and serving special education students.

Recent data show students with mild to moderate special needs are now served equally in district-run schools and charter schools, and Denver’s charter schools lack some of the barriers to entry that distinguish charter schools in other urban districts.

Critics of Denver charter schools say they lack adequate financial transparency, get credit for serving students who are more likely to succeed and don’t offer a true choice because a lack of transportation prevents many families from enrolling.

Boasberg and Bennet have known each other since childhood, and Boasberg joined DPS in 2007 as chief operating officer during Bennet’s tenure as superintendent.

Told of Bennet’s comments, Boasberg said his guess is what Bennet “was trying to point out is that you can have a very strong charter sector in which there is a very clear set of opportunities and accountabilities and very intentional efforts to make sure that our charter schools maintain a high degree of autonomy in their academic program, and at the same time function as public schools in every sense of the word.”

Bennet later lamented the restrictions on the confirmation hearing:


Outgoing Secretary of Education John King and his predecessor, Arne Duncan, both visited Denver schools.

 

Photo of Sen. Michael Bennet by Jennifer Cogswell 11 via City Year on Flickr: Creative Commons

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Eric Gorski on January 17, 2017. Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar contributed to this report. 

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

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Obama’s last clemency push includes Chelsea Manning. It’s fair to say that the move was controversial. Via The Atlantic. In some corners, it was extremely controversial. Via The National Review.

Joe Biden, looking backward and forward: “I wish to hell I’d just kept saying the exact same thing.” Via The New York Times.

If you thought Donald Trump was going to defer to Hill Republicans on policy, don’t feel bad. So did Paul Ryan. Now he’s not so sure. Via Politico.

Trump has bared his fangs to Angela Merkel. The Guardian writes that this will do untold damage to Europe.

Depending on your point of view, Betsy DeVos is either a bold education reformer or clearly unfit to be secretary of education. Via The Washington Post.

Watch: Bernie Sanders asks DeVos the $200 million question. Via Vox.

Milbank: Reporters have been working from the White House for over 100 years. Is Donald Trump ready to end that tradition? (Hint: It sure looks that way.) Via The Washington Post.

Jack Shafer: Trump is making journalism great again. No, really. Via Politico.

Lonnie Ali: What Thomas Merton and Muhammad Ali had in common besides a street corner in Louisville, Kentucky. Via The New York Times.

Philip K. Dick’s vision for resisting fascism in America. And why it matters today. Via The New Yorker.

 

Photo by smuconlaw via Flickr: Creative Commons

The Home Front: From panhandling in Pueblo to graffiti in Glenwood Springs

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

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The Pueblo Chieftain reports the city’s hands are tied on panhandling. “The courts have determined that panhandling is a form of free speech,” City Attorney Dan Kogovsek said during a City Council work session, according to the paper. “And Colorado courts in particular have been liberal in protecting the rights of people to ask you for money on the street.” The Chieftain reports “Council hasn’t been much concerned about begging but periodically the issue crops up. The increase in homeless people coming to the area in recent years also has translated into more beggars — standing at roadsides, on medians or approaching people in parking lots.”

“With as many as six or seven local tax initiatives possibly heading for the ballot in 2017, some community groups are starting to take steps they hope will prevent a case of tax heartburn in the electorate that dooms them all,” reports The Steamboat Pilot & Today. “I think everyone recognizes that if we all go with a (tax) question, there’s a likelihood most, if not all of us, would not be successful,” a local school district superintendent told the paper.

“Loveland City Council members broke established practice Tuesday night when they responded to public comments on a familiar topic: the employment status of Loveland police detective Brian Koopman,” The Reporter-Herald reports. “Commenters in the council chambers Tuesday night alleged negligence on the City Council’s part for its inaction to fire the detective they accuse of lies and misconduct. Several commenters called for council members to be taken off their ‘pedestals’ and to be recalled by voters.”

The Longmont Times-Call carries a dispatch from a city council meeting last night. The open forum “offered residents the chance to spout off about anything they wanted, and they did on everything from retail marijuana to inconsiderate motorists. But one topic came up far more than others — fracking.”

Meanwhile, “Lafayette’s City Council on Tuesday night voted to table an anti-fracking ordinance that could impede oil and gas development within Lafayette through sanctioning acts of civil disobedience and non-violent protest,” The Boulder Daily Camera reports. “The decision, which was stalled on first reading to an unknown future date due to a lack of council members in attendance, came in front of an emotional and unwavering standing-room-only crowd that battled for nearly three hours of public comment over the future of fracking within Lafayette. “We are not afraid of you — none of these people out there are afraid of you,” one resident told representatives of Colorado Oil and Gas. “We can’t avoid this fight,” he added, according to the paper. “It’s in our living room right now. It’s not one of those times in history where being afraid is going to help you.”

The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reports on local progressives who are feeling a post-election urgency.

“Future city council members and mayors in Greeley will earn a little more money for their work for the first time since 2004,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “The Greeley City Council on Tuesday approved a 25 percent raise for each position, but none of them will see that money unless they’re re-elected. In Mayor Tom Norton’s case, as well as council members John Gates and Sandi Elder, they may never see that money. They’re all term-limited. “I just want to clarify, most of us will not see these increases,” Council member Robb Casseday said. “We’re not voting ourselves raises.” That setup is thanks to the city charter.”

The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has a bizarre story about a local motorist suing a jet pilot who buzzed him while on the road, slicing through power lines and causing the motorist permanent hearing loss and injuries to his hands and wrists from gripping the steering wheel so tightly in fear.

A graffiti spree swept Glenwood Springs, and police are looking at video to find out whodunnit, The Post-Independent reports. “First the Glenwood Springs Freemasons discovered Monday morning that their lodge had been tagged with graffiti that appeared intended to be satanic. Investigators suspected the perpetrators were also responsible for a couple more small incidents of spray-paint graffiti nearby. The 86-year-old Masonic lodge was marred by a giant red star painted on the front doors, and a blue pentagram and the words “Hail Satan” were painted on a second-story door. By Tuesday morning, several more locations were hit, including Glenwood Springs High School, the Glenwood Springs Post Office, some businesses and the Christian Science church. Police Chief Terry Wilson said authorities didn’t have any suspects in the vandalism Tuesday but are reviewing security camera footage.”

The Durango Herald reports how Democrats in the Colorado House of Representatives “came under fire Tuesday from their Republican counterparts for assigning several bills to a committee with a reputation for being the place where legislation is sent to die.” A release from the House GOP said, “House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, has already departed from her bipartisan commitment by sending seven Republican-sponsored bills to the heavily Democrat-weighted House State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee – better known as the kill committee,” the paper reports. “The list includes bills that focused on Second Amendment rights, free exercise of religion and several that govern tax exemptions in Colorado. In response, Duran said, ‘every bill introduced this session, in every committee, will get a fair hearing and get an up or down vote.'”

“About 18 months after landslides started shaking and destroying 27 Colorado Springs homes, a rewrite of the city’s geological hazards ordinance was deemed Tuesday to be ready for a vote,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “City Councilmen Don Knight and Tom Strand have spent six months working on the law, chiefly to ensure that state geologists get more say on how to build appropriately in the landslide susceptibility zone. Knight initially called for a moratorium on building in that zone west of Interstate 25, citing a culture that valued developer rights over residents’ safety.”

The Cañon City Daily Record reports on the re-opening of old wounds in a cold case murder of a 17-year-old girl, Candace Hiltz, that rocked the town in 2006 now that evidence from it was found in the personal storage unit of a sheriff’s employee.

Vail native Mike Johnston is running for governor, reports Vail Daily. The Democratic state senator announced Tuesday in Denver. “Colorado was built on a sense of ‘frontier fairness,’” Johnston said, according to the paper. “That hard work under the right conditions leads to opportunity, that opportunity allows us to define our own future. It’s time to make real the sense of frontier fairness that will carry us through the next 150 years.”

The Aspen Times reported on local women preparing to march on Washington, D.C. this weekend in protest to Donald Trump.

“Nurses and doctors seeking professional licenses in Colorado would have to pass fingerprint-based criminal background checks — a requirement in most states — under a proposal backed by state regulators,” The Denver Post reports. “The Department of Regulatory Agencies is pushing for the change. Rep. Janet Buckner, a Democrat from Aurora, is the primary sponsor of the legislation the state agency is backing.”

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The scene could not have been more damaging for a public official: A TV camera rolling as Congressman Mike Coffman ducks out a side door of his own public event, fleeing around 100 members of the public— many of them there to grill him about what will happen if he successfully repeals Obamacare.

“He snuck out, and he snuck out early,” two women are heard saying in a video for a broadcast on Denver’s 9News that captured a crowd of frustrated Coloradans wanting to talk to the Congressman but left without access, nor answers to their concerns. Some shouted “open the door,” and “This is what democracy looks like,” when Coffman declined to meet with everyone at once. 

Since the story about Saturday’s event in Aurora, the news of a Republican congressman from Colorado being confronted loudly at a public event by people concerned about Obamacare repeal has spread into national media.

The question moving forward is what Saturday’s strife might mean in the broader context of a brisk effort in Washington to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Republican members of Congress have started taking early votes to gut the law. Last week Coffman, along with Colorado’s three other GOP congressmen, penned a newspaper column urging repeal.

The scene in the Aurora Central Library has political observers wondering about the potential of a broader movement against repeal. What if a mirror image to the Tea Party movement – which grew out of town hall meetings in 2009 when critics of health care reform blasted Congressional Democrats who were trying to pass it – is afoot? What if there’s a backlash to the backlash?

Despite flaws with Obamacare, plenty of Americans from all sides of the political spectrum benefit from parts of it, especially the provision requiring companies to insure people with pre-existing medial conditions.

“I do think there’s a really good chance that as constituents all over the country contact their local representative, what happened in Colorado I could easily see it being replicated in different parts of the country,” says Lawrence Glickman, a Cornell University professor who specializes in American political history and has studied protest movements.

In the days following the Aurora incident, Coffman has offered various reactions to a situation he clearly did not expect.

At first he was defensive.

In a prepared statement to media, the congressman characterized the event as one disrupted by the “antics” of “partisan activists” who were “angry at the election results” and the “impending repeal of Obamacare.”

But speaking to The Colorado Independent Monday following a speech in downtown Denver, Coffman softened his tone. He said he thought the problem was really just the size of the venue. The meeting was scheduled as a one-on-one for constituents who had questions, he said, and he indicated he was more than willing to hold a broader town hall meeting in the future that could accommodate as many as 300 members of the public. He said he is in the process of securing a “very large venue” and trying to “really get the word out for people to come.”

While plenty of citizens did not get a chance to speak with Coffman Saturday – he allowed small groups to meet with him for a few minutes at a time – about 70 people did, according to 9News.

Nan Shannon, a university professor and musician from Centennial, was one of them. She brought photos of her husband who has cancer, as well as photos of their medical bills. She is worried about what might happen to people with pre-existing conditions, but she said she left with few answers.

“He doesn’t have a lot of empathy, at least with this situation,” is how she characterized the conversation with Coffman. She said when she mentioned a single-payer option he made a dismissive comment about the department of Veterans Affairs.

Shannon worked to help elect Morgan Carroll, Coffman’s unsuccessful Democratic opponent in November, and says she considers herself active in politics, though not an activist. She described the people at Coffman’s meeting Saturday as a quiet group in a situation that started to gather steam as the crowd swelled and they learned from Coffman’s staff that it was not a real town hall meeting. There was a sense of real frustration, she said.

After her few minutes with Coffman, Shannon followed news of the event as it snowballed into a national story. A 9News reporter’s tweet of Coffman bolting out the side door minutes before the event was scheduled to end was re-tweeted nearly 3,000 times:

People outside Colorado were taking note.

Since Saturday, the local story generated items in Slate, New York magazine, Time, The Hill, and even TeenVogue, among others. A Huffington Post headline by the site’s D.C. bureau chief read “This Local News Segment Shows The Obamacare Danger Ahead For Republicans.”

Such a prediction, and the broader national reaction to this story out of her home state, has people like Shannon energized.

“That’s why I was so excited to see that it went viral,” she told The Colorado Independent over the phone Monday. “I’m just hoping that enough people read it. People like us. Just standard everyday people.”

Of course, there is a question about whether the crowd that packed into Saturday’s event were, in fact, those people. Just how unorganized or organic the Aurora backlash was has unsurprisingly become a thing.

Coffman was quick to frame the situation as a partisan stunt. And in the wake of negative news stories rippling from it, some of his social media supporters blamed organizers on the left, without evidence, of staging the event for media altogether.

Consider this exchange between a Colorado reporter and the Twitter account of an anonymous conservative Colorado politics blog.

Others, using their real names, took the view that those present were not constituents in Coffman’s 6th Congressional District, which is anchored by Aurora and encompasses the Denver suburbs south to Highlands Ranch and east a few miles past DIA.

It is true that in the week before Coffman fled his own event, local activist groups like ProgressNow had been organizing protests around Obamacare repeal. Two took place in Denver and Greeley outside the offices of Colorado’s Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, who last week presided over a late-night budget vote to repeal Obamacare.

“That undeniably was us,” says ProgressNow director Ian Silverii. “We sent out things on our email lists, we did a lot of social media.” But he says his group did not organize the Coffman event at the Aurora Central Library Saturday. Silverii wasn’t there, but he called it a “natural, grassroots outpouring of frustration.”

Steve Krizman, who was there, shares that view.

“I think it was ordinary people,” Krizman said of the crowd, adding the vast majority seemed to want to talk about healthcare reform. He said it reminded him of the dawn of the Tea Party.

Krizman’s Twitter bio states that he is “Helping orgs get their story out in traditional and non-traditional media; health marketing consultant; professor of PR and Journalism.” He is, in other words, exactly the kind of person a Coffman-supporting Twitter troll might believe would tell the press the backlash was organic.

But Krizman told The Colorado Independent he heard about Saturday’s event while looking for the next time Coffman would hold a public meeting. He is part of a closed group on Facebook with about 100 members and he says last week he discussed health care and Coffman’s event at a meeting of the group.

Shirley Proppe, who works at a local nonprofit dedicated to helping people with vision loss, was at that meeting, and that’s where she first heard that Coffman would be holding an event.

She says typically she wouldn’t go to such a forum like the one on Saturday, but was in the area and thought she’d drop by. She went early. She wasn’t there to talk to Coffman about Obamacare herself, but says plenty were. Despite a public online listing saying the event was scheduled as a one-on-one for constituents, she says people she met there thought it would be a town hall. She doesn’t understand why Coffman didn’t just turn it into one. There might have been one belligerent man, she said, and the crowd became chaotic at times, but it was not an angry mob.

“We didn’t want it to turn into something like that,” Proppe said Monday. “We didn’t want to scare the guy. We wanted to talk to him. And his people just simply said no.”

Proppe is also one of the attendees who helped alert media to the scene. She says she pinged the local TV station on social media and helped connect a reporter to certain people in the crowd. A thread on Facebook shows people who were there, in real time, were excited to learn local media was on the way.

Proppe characterizes the frustration pervasive among the crowd as something that was largely fueled by the decision by the Congressman and his staff not to address everyone at once.

“I was pretty infuriated by his comments making it out like a planned event,” she says.

Proppe, like others who have heard that Coffman plans to hold a real town hall to accommodate a broader audience, is likely to have to fight for space if she shows up again.

Glickman, the political historian, says if a potential protest movement against Obamacare repeal does start to bloom it could be in line with other backlash efforts against plans to end federal programs.

One close parallel might be the Office of Price Administration, created by President Franklin Roosevelt during World War II to prevent inflation and control prices. When an effort to phase it out launched after the war, a movement to keep it boiled over into protests that were a mix of organic uprisings and activist-based organizing.

“This reminds me a little bit of that,” Glickman says about Obamacare and any protest effort that might arise against its repeal.

“It’s not abstract. When you have a government program that’s working on your behalf, however flawed it may be, it’s different than the promise of some future program that nobody has at the moment,” he says. “I think what you’ll see is a combination of, yes, there will be organizations trying to get popular mobilization but there will also be a lot of people willing to be mobilized because these are very much bread-and-butter issues.”

 

Photo by Chris Isherwood for Creative Commons on Flickr.

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Mike Coffman, Marine, is now the national poster boy for Republican panic over those protesting the GOP plan to repeal Obamacare.

News9 got the video as Coffman leaves a constituent meeting early — or, as the headline writers would have it, “flees” or “sneaks away” or is “overwhelmed” or “can’t take the heat” or (this is mine) begs his staff to get him the hell out of there before he is forced to actually answer a question.

It’s quite the scene. There are “constituents” or “activists” or just “unhappy people” — depending on who is describing them — crowding the Aurora Central Library for a routine Coffman event that suddenly became reminiscent of 2009 Tea Party anti-Obamacare activism, except with much less shouting and much more singing.

But the really memorable moment has the cops putting up crime-scene tape (do with that as you will) as Coffman sneaks out the back door and into a waiting car.

The video has gone viral. And Coffman has done it again.

He is Mr. Viral Video, after all. There was the infamous birther video in which Coffman told constituents that Obama was not an American in his heart. There was the infamous apology video in which he responds to 9News reporter Kyle Clark’s list of questions about Coffman’s birther video by repeatedly, and bizarrely, saying, “I stand by my statement. I misspoke and I apologize.” There was the Coffman campaign video in which he more or less disavows Donald Trump, saying he doesn’t like him much, after which he would tell people he still might vote for Trump anyway, after which he said Trump should “step aside,” after which, when Trump was elected, he was seen with a Make America Great Again cap and saying he was “excited” to work with Trump.

So, yeah, it’s not exactly like he’s the boldest politician anyway, so you can’t be surprised that Coffman ran away from angry constituents rather than just withstanding a tough round of questions. Somehow, the crowd of people took him by surprise — even though he had co-penned an anti-Obamacare op-ed that morning in the Denver Post — and he was not at all prepared to handle it. After all, Democrats have spent years avoiding any real defense of Obamacare. That was then. This is now, with Obamacare in real trouble, when even Bernie Sanders saying we have to defend Obamacare from Republicans before moving on to a better plan.

The next day, Coffman, finally coming up with a strategy, told Indy editor Susan Greene at the MLK Marade that he would soon hold a meeting at a sufficiently large venue to let everyone have his/her say on Obamacare repeal. I guess we should put the clock on that.

On the other hand, you can’t altogether blame him, because what exactly was Coffman going to say?

As Republicans rush to repeal and allegedly replace Obamacare, they have no replacement plan they can even begin to agree on. And then there’s the Trump Factor. As you may have heard, Trump told the Washington Post that Trumpcare will mean “insurance for everybody,” which sounds a lot like universal health care, which Trump once supported and which conservatives generally see as pre-Putin-style Russian communism.

One thing is sure: There won’t be insurance for everyone. It’s what Vox called “the long con.” But now that Trump has said it, any Republican plan will be measured by that standard.

Trump also said that cost won’t be the issue and people won’t be denied insurance because they can’t afford it. And, again, you look at the Trump campaign plan — which would cause 21 million people to lose their insurance — or the many Republican House plans, which, let’s say, don’t exactly see health insurance as a right, and you wonder what Trump might be talking about.

Of course, there’s a lot of that going around. New polls out today show Trump with historically low numbers for a president-elect and with Obamacare showing the best numbers — 47-46 against repeal — in its rocky history. And now there are pro-Obamacare rallies, which are also anti-Trump rallies, and you can see a trend beginning.

The problem for Trump is that he has no good answer here. Among those most likely to suffer from a repeal or a replacement are the older, whiter, blue collar workers that are at the core of the Trump constituency — those convinced that Trump would come up with something better than Obamacare, something “terrific.”

The problem is so bad that CNN has reported that Tom Price — Trump’s now-troubled pick for Health secretary (a little thing about healthcare stocks and allegations of insider trading) —has been kept out of the loop on formulating a healthcare replacement plan because Trump’s team didn’t want him having to answer any questions about it during his Senate confirmation hearing.

This is the same Price who has been a leading anti-Obamacare voice and who actually has a plan — although one so conservative that it would never get through the Republican House, much less the filibuster-ready Senate — to replace Obamacare. But now they’re too afraid to even let him speak.

Coffman, who represents, of course, the competitive 6th Congressional District, understands the problem well. It’s hard to hold, say, a town hall on replacing Obamacare when there’s no sign of a plan in place and when there’s absolutely nothing you can say to explain it. So you duck and cover — it’s worked before — and just hope that no one asks again.

Photo by Sarah Blume. Rep. Mike Coffman at the Denver Marade on Monday, Jan. 16, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Home Front: Enviro group fights a natural gas compressor, housing for artists, and more

Your morning roundup of news on the front pages of Colorado newspapers

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The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent reports on an environmental group that’s appealing a “recent Bureau of Land Management decision authorizing a new natural gas compressor west of town.” That would be Wilderness Workshop, which says “the storage field that serves the compressor station has the potential for large methane leaks such as one in Southern California in late 2015 and early 2016 that resulted in mass home evacuations,” according to the paper. “The organization filed notice that it plans to appeal the BLM’s decision last month that would allow Black Hills Energy to add a new compressor at the Crystal River Compressor Station, located a few miles west of Carbondale off of Garfield County Road 108.”

“A developer thinks his company could create a broadband network for Grand Junction that would attract enough customers to make it viable,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel today. “Grand Junction City Council had a first look at some of the numbers for the first of a three-pronged broadband plan Monday night during a workshop. The city is in a contract with SiFi/Nokia for a preliminary engineering study and Think Agency for a demand survey to determine if building a fiber network in Grand Junction would work.”

When The Steamboat Pilot & Today asked the local city council president whether he really said something he was quoted as saying in a recent news release, the president, Walter Magill, said he said it. But when the paper pressed him after doing some digging, he changed his tune. “Having heard the council president speak regularly with fewer superlatives at public meetings, Steamboat Today questioned whether Magill actually said those words,” the paper reports. “Magill initially insisted the quote was his, and he had resolved to speak with more superlatives and excitement in the New Year. But a day later, when the newspaper presented him with evidence that his quote appeared to be copied almost word for word from a years-old Steamboat Ski Area promotional pamphlet that had been produced by new city PR manager Mike Lane, Magill ‘fessed up and said Lane wrote his quote for him. ‘Mike wrote it, and I approved it,’ Magill said. ‘I should have spoken up. I didn’t get a great feeling out of it. I thought the message was something I supported, and I wanted to get behind the team and not make a big issue with this. Lesson learned,’ Magill continued.”

The Loveland Reporter-Herald reports on what the area’s House and Senate lawmakers, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, and Rep. Hugh McKean, R-Loveland, plan to do this year at the Capitol. Lundberg’s emphasis will be on the state budget, he told the paper, while McKean wants to help the Secretary of State’s office clarify reporting requirements of charities. Education, transportation and insurance all get a mention, too.

“Reprimands of Weld County commissioners, conflict of interest accusations and the Weld County Council’s role as middle man in a dispute between Commissioners Sean Conway and Barbara Kirkmeyer nearly overshadowed the growing scope of impending performance audits requested by the council for commissioners and the county’s clerk and recorder office,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “During a question and answer session with potential auditors at the Weld County Council’s meeting Monday night, councilors said they wanted the audit to look beyond current clerk and recorder Carly Koppes, and encompass part of former clerk — and current commissioner — Steve Moreno’s tenure. The audit’s scope, councilors Michael Grillos and Brett Abernathy said, should include the year before Moreno left office to see what policies were in place before Koppes took office.”

The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reports on the city eying safe, affordable housing for artists. “We see our artists living and working in substandard conditions so it’s not an unusual thing. Safety doesn’t come to the top of people’s consciousnesses until tragedies like (the Ghost Ship fire) in Oakland,” said Wendy Holmes, “the senior vice president for consulting and strategic partnerships at Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that builds affordable living and working spaces for artists. Artspace has turned its sights to several Colorado communities, including Fort Collins.”

“Plans for a high-density apartment complex in the heart of Erie’s suburban core have drawn an unusual amount of resistance from surrounding locals within the growth-oriented town,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “The proposed Copper Ranch Apartment development — 13 multilevel buildings comprising 216 apartments spread across 13.5 acres of vacant land north of Erie Parkway and west of County Line Road — seeks to address a much-needed supply of affordable rental housing. The issue is amplified by the town’s population boon.”

The Durango Herald offers a dispatch on a local Martin Luther King Day march at Fort Lewis College.

A Fremont County sheriff’s lieutenant is on administrative leave after evidence from a 2006 murder case was found in his personal storage unit, The Cañon City Daily Record reports.

The Gazette in Colorado Springs reports on a looming TV contract dispute that could disrupt the way locals watch football. “The dispute comes less than a week after DirecTV dropped KRDO-TV, the local ABC affiliate, from its channel lineup and is part of a battle between local television stations and television providers that has left viewers caught in the middle, unable to watch their favorite programs or sporting events,” the paper reports. “KRDO and 24 other stations owned by its parent company, News Press & Gazette Television, remain out of DirecTV’s channel lineup, but negotiations continue, said KRDO General Manager Tim Larson.”

Colorado Democrats aren’t going to let the state’s Republicans repeal Obamacare without a fight, The Denver Post reports.

Denverite covered the MLK Day Marade in Denver.

ColoradoPolitics reports how caucus leaders at the Statehouse are taking different routes to “find common ground on transportation.”

 

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They came in ski hats and waders, trudging through the wet morning snow that blanketed Denver’s City Park. Some carried kids on their shoulders or signs in their hands as they worked their way toward a statute of the man whose legacy drew them.

“Like Diana Ross sang it, ‘No rain nor winter’s cold can stop me, baby,” said Jade Reese of North Denver, whose hot pink snow boots got her to the Marade warm and dry.

If the morning was gray, the crowd was multihued – thousands of Coloradans with hundreds of skin tones, representing dozens of faiths and multi-generations to honor the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Some were there for the man himself.

“For me, almost 20 years of coming to the Marade, race is the same color, same blood, same everything. So we’re humans. When they say, ‘What race are you?’ (I say) ‘human race’,” said Maria Alaniz, who came wearing a sombrero and carrying a framed picture of Dr. King, the man whose dreams of racial unity she shares.

Some had come to make noise about other dreams: ending police violence or homelessness, LGBTQ equality, a $15 rather than a $12 minimum wage.

Some had come for what they said was a much-needed bright spot in a week when Barack Obama leaving office and Donald Trump taking it has them feeling blue.

Reid Reynolds of Denver, 75, was a graduate student in the ‘60s-era deep South where, after watching King give a speech in Raleigh, he was roughed up by Ku Klux Klan members. Reynolds stood quietly at the side of today’s march holding a sign reading “Honor Representative John Lewis.” He said the recent interchange between the Congressman and the President-elect “really hit me in the gut.”   Lewis said he would not be attending the inauguration because he does not view Trump as a “legitimate president.” Trump replied, in part, by tweeting that Lewis was “All talk, talk, talk — no action or results.”

“I was a bit player in the Civil Rights Movement and Lewis was one of the leading lights of it,” said Reynolds, who has been attending Denver’s Marade for decades. “This year, I thought I’d make a sign, with my wife’s help. Honoring Lewis… was what’s on my…mind.”

“Anything John Lewis said, I stand in support of,” said Wellington Webb, Denver’s first African-American mayor, and the force behind creation and placement of the MLK statue in the park.

Congresswoman Diana DeGette has served for years with Lewis. “I love John. He’s my inspiration, and my friend,” she said.

This year’s Marade, whose name is a melding of the words “march” and “parade,” was more of the latter than the former. It was noticeably more chill than last year’s Marade at which Black Lives Matter and other groups commandeered the event from Mayor Michael Hancock, Denver’s second African-American mayor, and drowned out his speech. Protesters brought mock-headstones to commemorate those killed by Denver officers.

This morning’s event, as Hancock told it, was about unity. “That’s the way I like it,” he said, linking arms with Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Michael Bennet as the parade started its slushy path out of the park. Beth McCann, a week into her job as Denver district attorney, was part of that front line of dignitaries. She won office on a reform agenda promising better communication and closer collaboration with Denver’s communities of color.

Denver Police Chief Robert White, who had dispatched a large contingent of uniformed officers to the Marade, was giddy that, despite the cruddy streets, things were going so smoothly.

“It’s far better for me,” White said, comparing this morning to the tumult of Marade 2016. “Last year, I had all those people with the headstones going kind of postal on me.”

Header photo and video by Sarah Blume

PHOTOS:

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Indy reporter Marianne Goodland, a longtime legislative reporter, joined KMGH anchor Anne Trujillo on Sunday to talk about what Coloradans can expect from the 2017 General Assembly. They talked about the state’s need to come up with money for roads and bridges, the threatened repeal of state’s health exchange, and a ban on fake pee. Yes, fake pee.

Check the show out below:

The Home Front: Will a Colorado town legalize civil disobedience against fracking?

Your daily digest of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“An anti-fracking ordinance aimed at hobbling oil and gas development within Lafayette through sanctioning acts of civil disobedience and non-violent protest will go in front of city leaders Tuesday,” The Longmont Times-Call reports. “The vote comes just two years after a Boulder District Court judge tossed out the town’s voter-approved fracking ban and marks a return to form for the truculent community.” The ordinance would “legalize non-violent direct action protests — such acts can include sit-ins, strikes, workplace occupations or blockades — [and] would target drilling activity and allow protesters unprecedented immunity from arrest or detainment,” The Boulder Daily Camera previously reported.

The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reports on the closure of a biogas local waste-to-energy plant because of bad smells. “Nobody expected North America’s biggest trash-to-treasure operation to smell like roses,” the paper reports. “But they didn’t expect the dizziness, headaches and eau de ‘scorched manure,’ either. Weld County’s Heartland Biogas facility, a $115 million anaerobic digester that turns cattle manure and food waste into renewable biogas, was supposed to be the 21st century’s answer to a burning question: What the heck do we do with all our waste?”

A man who bought a storage unit at an auction contacted The Cañon City Daily Record to tell the paper what he found inside. “A bloody rope, an ax and boxes of paperwork were among the items of evidence found in the storage unit” that belonged to a local county sheriff’s lieutenant and were part of evidence in a 2006 murder. He told someone in law enforcement and the former owner of the storage shed caught wind. So did the sheriff, the paper reports. “I was told to not tell anyone about the shed,” the new storage unit owner told the paper. “Why would they have all of this old murder evidence?” The Fremont County sheriff’s office says it is cooperating with the state police agency in an investigation.

A high school teacher in Glenwood Springs started a program for students building tiny homes for teachers, reports The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “First and foremost, this is about creating a hands-on, multidisciplinary learning experience for the kids,” he told the paper. “It’s a perfect program for the Design/Build class — they’re learning about electrical, plumbing, structural elements, and so much more. Right now, while the weather is still cold and snowy, we’re working indoors to build the house’s interior components. Once things warm up, we’ll move outside and start building the exterior structure on a trailer donated to us by Alpine Bank.” There is a housing crisis for educators in the Roaring Fork Valley.

The Greeley Tribune profiles a mobile tattoo removal service run by Jesus Bujanda and his wife Gayedine who wanted to help young people in detention centers before they start looking for work. “He now makes trips into … some facilities as a contractor with the state to start removing ink before folks are released,” the paper reports. “He calls his business TattooEmergency911 and he’s been operational since August. He lives in Denver and travels around the state in the ambulance. He still teaches full time, so he fits removals in after hours and on weekends. It’s a lot of work, but he loves it. Growing up in Denver, he saw the havoc gangs could wreak on people’s lives and how difficult it was to survive if you struggled to get a decent job.”

“A company that holds a federal oil shale lease in eastern Utah says it appreciates the royalty-rate flexibility in new lease rules released by the government last week,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “The Bureau of Land Management unveiled federal oil shale regulations on Tuesday establishing that royalty rate structure set in 2008 will now serve as a floor for rates, with the discretion of the Interior secretary to set higher rates on a lease-by-lease basis. The agency rejected royalty options that included a minimum 12.5 percent rate, the rate it imposes for conventional oil and gas leases. The 2008 rate structure included a rate of 5 percent of the value of production for the first five years of commercial development of a lease, increasing by 1 percent in subsequent years and a half percent in the 13th year, to a maximum of 12.5 percent.”

The Loveland Reporter-Herald fronts a piece today about a local woman who is speaking at the Women’s March on Denver Friday during the inauguration of Donald Trump. “Jacki Marsh won the world’s first women-only road racing competition, the Crazylegs Mini Marathon, in New York City in June 1972, just a few weeks before the passage of Title IX.”

A Boulder County family is trying to raise money to combat a rare neurodegenerative condition called Batten disease afflicting a child named Mila. “It is a disease without a known cure and leaves children blind, unable to walk, talk or swallow,” The Boulder Daily Camera reports. “No child has survived Batten disease and the particular type that Mila has means she is currently unlikely to reach her late teens, her mother Julia Vitarello said. Because the disease is hereditary, there is a 25 percent chance that Mila’s 2-year-old brother may also have the disease.”

The Durango Herald profiles a local chief district judge and former Olympian speed skater who recently retired.

“For millions of Americans, Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration at the Lincoln Memorial spoke to the power of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on those same steps,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs for a story about local leaders reflecting on Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. “Eight years later, as the country marks the slain civil rights leader’s birthday, many are questioning how America went from seemingly realizing King’s dream with the election of the first black president to the racially divisive campaign that put Donald Trump in the White House.”

The Denver Post reports on a Sunday rally in Denver where Democratic politicians urged Obamacare supporters to fight efforts to repeal the national healthcare law. “Republicans in Congress are preparing to repeal the law but so far have presented no plan to replace it,” the paper reports.

Denverite looks back at Martin Luther King’s last stop in Denver.

ColoradoPolitics has a video of two Capitol reporters talking about talks of bipartisanship in the legislature this year. But how long will it last?

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Donald Trump says his replacement for Obamacare will offer “insurance to everybody” and that “Congress can’t get cold feet.” Is he serious about that? Would Paul Ryan and the Republican Congress go along? Here’s what we know so far: Trump didn’t reveal any details of the plan. Not a single one. Via The Washington Post.

Trump did have a replacement for Obamacare. It was the one he campaigned on. And, according to experts, it would cost 21 million people their health insurance. Via Vox.

The biggest changes Obamacare made and the ones that may not survive its replacement. Via The New York Times.

Many blacks see Trump’s attack on civil rights icon John Lewis as an attack on those who fought to bring civil rights to African Americans. Via The New York Times.

Michael Gerson: Trump’s twitter hit job on Lewis is the essence of narcissism. And a lot of other bad things, too. Via The Washington Post.

Trump gets no honeymoon. What he does get is unprecedented poll numbers, showing him with the lowest approval ratings of any president-elect as measured by Gallup. Via The Washington Post.

Don’t kid yourself, writes Matthew Cooper at Newsweek, Trump is winning. In fact, whatever his poll numbers say, he’s winning bigly.

From The National Review, Cory Booker and Betsy DeVos were once old allies in the school-choice fight. Where will Booker stand on her nomination as Secretary of Education?

Great piece from New Yorker’s Pulitzer-winning TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, on how jokes won the election. How do you fight an enemy who’s just kidding?

Billy Barr: the Rocky Mountain hermit who inadvertently shaped climate-change science. Via The Atlantic.

 

Photo illustration by KAZ Vorpal via Flickr: Creative Commons

Greene: Mitch Morrissey leaves his fingerprint

“All you ever talk about is DNA”

 

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It was a year ago this week, and noon hour at the Brown Palace. Members of Denver’s City Club lunched on pork loins with cherry demi glace, then greeted their speaker.

With 12 months left of his 12 years in office, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey was facing unprecedented criticism. A growing chorus of judges, civil rights groups and journalists had been blasting his charging decisions. And a day earlier, a crowd of his critics had commandeered the Martin Luther King Parade, chanting for his ouster.

If Morrissey felt bruised or beleaguered, it didn’t show as he neatened his tie and stepped to the podium. His topic that day would be decidedly upbeat: his legacy as a DNA superhero.

He started by admitting he got a D in high school biology, noting the irony that forensic science propelled his legal career. He went on to describe the traces of blood, skin cells and body fluids he culled from crime scenes, and how he harnessed their genetic coding to throw the book at rapists and murderers. His work with DNA, he said, enabled him to file charges in upwards of 120 cold cases, “more than anywhere in the world.”

The business chiefs, power brokers and other City Club members seemed wowed by Morrissey’s achievements, either unaware of or unconcerned about the discontent outside the wood-paneled banquet room. One admiring City Club member wondered out loud if the DA would also speak at his country club.

Morrissey looked buoyed by the warm reception. After all, he’d told the crowd, “My wife always criticizes me because she says, ‘All you ever talk about is DNA.’ ”

She was right.

As Morrissey was term-limited out of office this week, he left a legacy that spans far beyond his work with DNA and, in many aspects, warrants less praise. What he didn’t say in that luncheon speech or other public appearances is that the field of cases requiring DNA analysis is only a sliver of his office’s load. Most cases pivot not on whodunit crime solving but on the trickier work of weighing criminality against factors such as mental illness, addiction and poverty.

In his preoccupation with DNA, Morrissey’s many critics say he failed to take a nuanced look at what it means to keep the city safe. In his assertions that his charging practices were “color blind,” he turned a blind eye to the fact that, statistically, they weren’t. In his unwavering allegiance to law enforcement, he squandered public trust. And in his zeal to fight and compulsion to win, critics say he lost touch with his main responsibility: to do justice.

“The reverberations of what this DA has done, the harm that over time he has caused in our communities is probably incalculable,” said Lisa Calderon, who co-chairs the Denver chapter of the Colorado Denver Latino Forum and also works in and studies Denver’s criminal justice system.

“There will be a special place in hell for Mitch Morrissey.”

 

The good guys

Morrissey wouldn’t grant an interview for this story. Nor for my last story about him. Nor, for that matter, for any of my reporting since 2007. The DA who won office pledging “openness” and “accessibility” has made himself available mainly when it benefits him.

It’s no wonder, then, that nearly all profiles written during his dozen years in office have suggested he was predestined for the job. They noted that his grandfather was Colorado’s U.S. Attorney during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and that his dad, former state representative Mike Morrissey, had a long career as a prominent Denver lawyer. Morrissey himself worked 20 years in the Denver DA’s office before being elected to lead it in 2004.

The articles typically mention his wife Maggie and the money she has raised for domestic violence causes. They depict him as a martyred workaholic who, in the name of the city’s safety, has a habit of putting off well-earned vacations. They note how proud he says he has made his parents. Several of the profiles referred to Morrissey’s tennis game or lovely home in Denver’s Country Club neighborhood or the beat up old blue Miata convertible that seemed incongruous with his station in life. It’s unclear what, exactly, these details were supposed to tell us about the man who had more direct power over people’s lives than anyone in the city.

Morrissey took care to advertise that power. He’d insist on being interviewed in front of a wall of law books. He kept a double helix model on his desk as a totem of the cases he won using DNA as his weapon. Occasionally, he’d sport a tie emblazoned with DNA coding. “It’s important,” I once heard him say, “to let the bad guys know we’re outsmarting them.”

Morrissey has done commendable work with genetic fingerprinting. In an era when only a handful of prosecutors nationwide were working with DNA, he tried and won his first case involving DNA evidence in 1989. In 2003, he, Denver Police Lt. Jon Priest and Gregg LaBerge from Denver’s crime lab founded the city’s Cold Case Project, which has helped him solve well over 100 cases dating back to 1980. He won millions in federal dollars for DNA projects, including a state-of-the-art crime lab that affords Denver police and prosecutors the luxury of not having to wait for the state lab to analyze their evidence. That, he has said, helps him yank the “bad guys” off the street sooner.

“There are any number of members of our community who probably can sleep a lot better at night because our office and the (Denver Police Department) were pioneering” DNA projects, said attorney David Lamb, a former Denver prosecutor whose wife still works in the office.

Lamb’s first impression of Morrissey stuck with him. It was in court, watching him prosecute a rape trial. Lamb remembers his ferocity cross-examining defense witnesses and the compassion for the victim he conveyed to the jury. “He always cared about the victims and the victims’ families, probably just as much or more than anybody I worked with. That says a lot about his work as a prosecutor.”

Before his retirement, investigator Dan Chun worked for five elected district attorneys, including Morrissey and his two predecessors. As Chun tells it, former Denver DAs “Norm Early and Bill Ritter were always walking around shaking hands and hugging people and telling people they loved you.”

But not Morrissey.

“He didn’t glad-hand or act like he was always running for something. He’d come by once in awhile and ask how your cases were going. He left people alone to do their job and people liked that,” Chun said.

Helen Morgan has worked 24 years as a Denver prosecutor, first as Morrissey’s colleague and then as one of his top managers. In her dozen years as chief of the office’s county court division, she says he never reviewed her performance.

“Personally, I would have liked that input and think it’s necessary,” said Morgan, who ran to replace Morrissey in the November election but lost to State Rep. Beth McCann.

Given Morrissey’s well-known my-way-or-the-highway approach toward those who challenge him, McCann has raised eyebrows in the office by asking Morgan to stay. “That’s a way women do things differently: We get over it, we can get along,” said McCann, who swore in Tuesday as the city’s first female district attorney.

She has told deputy district attorneys Doug Jackson, George Poland, Alfredo Hernandez, LaMar Sims that they’ll not be part of her administration. In courts of law and courts of public opinion, Morrissey relied on all four to defend his decisions.

 

“Raging anger machine”

In 2015, Denver’s chief district judge learned that Morrissey had decided not to prosecute a sheriff’s deputy for attacking a shackled inmate.

The incident involved a suspect named Anthony Waller, who politely was asking another judge a question in her courtroom when Deputy Brady Lovingier suddenly yanked him by his body shackles and slammed him against a glass wall. The attack was captured on a courtroom videotape. Internal affairs investigators deemed the use of force unprovoked. Yet Morrissey didn’t charge Lovingier, the son of former sheriff’s department head Bill Lovingier.

Chief Judge Michael Martinez took the rare move of ordering Morrissey to court to explain why he hadn’t pressed charges. But the DA didn’t show, citing personal travel plans. In his place, he sent one of his top deputies.

Doug Jackson told the judge he believed Lovingier’s account that Waller had lost his balance and that Lovingier helped “ease Waller to the ground.” Hitting the courtroom wall, Jackson said, “was sort of a confluence of momentum that occurred.” (See the video, linked here.) Jackson went on to say he took the word of three other sheriff’s deputies who witnessed the incident and told him Lovingier did nothing wrong. He acknowledged that the DA’s office never questioned Waller or the judge who witnessed the attack and considered Lovingier’s handling of the inmate excessive.

Judge Martinez didn’t conceal his disgust for the weakness of the DA’s review and for Jackson’s slanted interpretation of the attack.

“To my mind and from the evidence before me, there’s no reasonable excuse for the District Attorney not to (have prosecuted for) third-degree assault. That should have been done, and it wasn’t done,” he scolded Jackson from the bench.

The judge had hoped to order Morrissey to press an assault charge against the deputy or to call for a special prosecutor who would do so, but the statute of limitations had run out. It was too late.

In cases involving killer cops, Morrissey relied on LaMar Sims as his go-to guy. The office has an uninterrupted record of clearing Denver’s uniformed officers for fatal beatings and shootings committed on-duty. The city doesn’t make public how many took place under Morrissey’s tenure, but there have been several high-profile cases.

Under Sims’ review, Morrissey justified sheriff’s deputies’ 2010 killing of Marvin Booker, a frail, homeless street preacher who presented no physical threat. Likewise, when Denver police killed unarmed 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez in 2015, Morrissey relied on Sims’ review to deem her shooting justified. Again last year, the office cleared deputies for fatally restraining Michael Marshall, a mentally ill homeless man who died choking on his own vomit because of the spit guard they put on his mouth.

Those are only a few of the officer-involved killings Sims justified in Denver. He also took his justifications on the road, testifying on behalf of the Cleveland police officer who gunned down and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Sims told the grand jury reviewing the case that killing a child holding a pellet gun was “reasonable.”

Policing is dangerous, and, understandably, prosecutors are bound to apply higher standards when deciding whether to criminally prosecute officers for using force on duty. Morrissey and his office aren’t alone statewide or nationally for tending to clear law enforcers in those cases, nor in their daily reliance on officers to provide testimony and win convictions.

“I trusted Mitch. I had complete trust in how he made his decisions and how he went about his business,” said Nick Rogers, president of Denver’s Police Protective Association. “In that important position, Mitch Morrissey has taken the job to another professional level, to a position where I respect everything he’s done.”

What set Morrissey apart from other big-city DAs was his record of never pressing charges in a high-profile use-of-force case, his unwillingness to discuss those decisions, and, most notably, his refusal to hear out the community’s frustrations.

“Under Morrissey, the police were always right,” said the Latino Forum’s Calderon. “We couldn’t go to our DA for justice. We didn’t get justice from him.”

In 2009, Alex Landau survived an assault by three Denver police officers whom Morrissey didn’t indict. The city paid out a $795,000 civil settlement – a clear indication that the officers were out of line. Landau sees Morrissey’s “collusion with police” as his most lasting legacy. “He has turned a blind eye to their criminal acts, abuses, their violence, and sold out the people in the process,” he said, rattling off a list of people beaten or killed by Denver officers or who died because of their negligence.

Paul Castaway and Michael Marshall in 2015. Ryan Ronquillo, Brandon Schreiber and Seryina Trujillo in 2014. Patricia Lucero and Philip White in 2012. Jamal Hunter in 2011, Mark Ashford, Marvin Booker and Irene Rodriguez in 2010. Michael DeHerrera, Arash Jahanian and James Watkins in 2009, John Heaney, Jared Lunn, James Moore and Juan Vasquez in 2008. Alberto Romero and Eric WInfield in 2007. Amy Shroff and Emlly Rice in 2006…

Landau co-founded the Denver Justice Project, a watchdog group that organized a petition drive to oust Morrissey from office in 2015. The more than 20,000 signatures it gathered fell short of the 53,925 required to qualify a recall measure for the ballot. Morrissey was galled by the attempt. City officials who asked not to be named described times during the recall effort when he blew up in meetings. Fist pounding, apparently, wasn’t infrequent in the DA’s office.

“Mitch is not perfect. I think Mitch, even before he became the elected (DA), had a reputation for having a bit of a temper. There’s no question about that,” Lamb said. Asked to elaborate on that reputation, he used the terms “hotheaded” and “raging anger machine.”

Lamb added that he never saw Morrissey abuse his power.

“There may be a perspective out there that decisions were made for the wrong reasons. I’m sensitive to that. But I watched Mitch make decisions in very, very closely-watched cases and not a single time did I get a sense that they were based on anything other than the facts and what he felt was right.”

 

Right and wrong

What felt right to Morrissey often felt bitterly wrong to the people and communities his decisions affected most. It didn’t help that, when challenged about his decisions, he’d tend to lean in and twist the knife.

Such was the case after Marvin Booker died in 2010 when five sheriff’s deputies piled on, choked and Tasered him in the city jail’s booking room. The incident was videotaped. The DA’s office reviewed the use of force on the 137-lb street preacher who posed no physical threat, and deemed it warranted. When Booker’s family cried foul, the DA’s office and other city officials publicly smeared them, saying the family was trying to profit from the case. City brass also cited Booker’s drug record and criminal record to blame Booker himself for deputies’ response.

A federal jury handed Booker’s family a $6 million civil award, ruling that officers used excessive force, destroyed evidence and lied about the killing. The case is the subject of a documentary, “Marvin Booker was Murdered,” premiering tonight.

“Mr. Morrissey was complicit in killing my brother by letting those deputies get away with murder,” said Booker’s brother, the Rev. Spencer Booker. “My brother’s blood drips from his hands and he will live with that for the rest of his life.”

There is perhaps no case in which Morrissey’s charging decisions seemed more unreasonable than that of Clarence Moses-EL, who was sentenced to 48 years for a 1987 rape he said he didn’t commit. The only evidence against him was the victim’s claim that his identity as her assailant came to her in a dream.

From prison, Moses-EL won two court orders allowing the evidence to be DNA tested, and raised $1,000 to pay for the lab work. But police tossed the evidence in a dumpster. The case stood out not only for authorities’ negligence, but also for the curious way Morrissey continued to handle it.

In 2006, he trumpeted his use of DNA to solve the 1993 cold case rapes of a mother and daughter at knifepoint. He identified their assailant as LC Jackson, who was the first man the victim in Moses-EL’s case said attacked her. Morrissey refused to acknowledge the connection and reopen Moses-EL’s case. He even defended the city’s destruction of  DNA.

In a 2007 interview – my last directly with Morrissey – I asked if he could put himself in his Moses-EL’s shoes. No, he answered, saying he doesn’t have a criminal record and has never been to prison. “I’ve never raped anybody.”

He kept fighting Moses-EL’s innocence claim years later when Jackson confessed. Morrissey said that wasn’t new evidence. Though Jackson said DAs tried intimidating him from confessing in court, he did so anyway and, after years of legal wrangling, a judge finally lifted Moses-EL’s conviction in December 2015.

That was a month before Morrissey’s speech to the City Club – the one about the power of DNA and his tireless work championing the truth.

A wrongful conviction is, after all, also a cold case. Yet Morrissey forced an innocent man to linger in prison for an attack by a man he had proven was a serial rapist.

The DA could have backed off, yet kept dangling charges over Moses-EL’s head and insisted on retrying the case. One after the next, his witnesses – including the victim – tripped over their stories. Jurors acquitted Moses-EL, now 61, in November, and now he’s free of the nightmare that robbed nearly half his life. He declined comment about Morrissey, intent upon looking forward, not back.

Morrissey’s handling of the case belies the narrative he tells about himself as a crackerjack cracker of cold cases, a DNA hotshot, a let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may defender of truth and justice. It reveals him, instead, as a man for whom facts matter unless they get in the way of winning cases or shaping his legacy, in which case mythmaking serves him far better.

 

“Mitch’s style”

Morrissey’s predecessor, Bill Ritter, made a priority of holding town hall meetings, coffee klatches and private conversations throughout the city where people frequently yelled at him. They may not have liked his charging decisions, but they appreciated his ear and availability – a quality that helped Ritter win the governor’s office in 2006.

That same year, Morrissey started dismantling Ritter’s outreach programs in the DA’s office. When he met with members of the public, some noticed that he’d doodle or check his phone, seeming not to hear or care about their concerns. These tended to be the black and brown people of the city, or the poor, or the families of people whose addition of mental health struggles kept landing them in his sphere.

They weren’t the folks who attend luncheons to learn how criminal justice works.

In Morrissey’s third term, news events and shifts in public opinion didn’t look kindly on DAs with a habit of ignoring the communities most affected by their decisions.

Nearly all the victims of high-profile killings by Denver officers have been people of color. Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately represented in Denver’s jails, where they make up 60 percent of inmates compared to 45 percent of the city’s population. Many inmates come from the broader metro Denver region, whose racial makeup is only 27 percent non-white. Morrissey hasn’t made public annual reports on how his charging and sentencing practices have related to race. He always said his office was “color blind.”

“Mitch would make assertions that were patently false and then refuse to talk to people or satisfy our need for basic dialogue,” Calderon said.

McCann says she’ll reengage the DA’s office with the public to address racial inequities and consider ways of keeping more kids, addicts and the mentally ill out of the system. That, she said, “hasn’t necessarily been Mitch’s style.”

She also is joining the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, a statewide group Morrissey quit years ago without explanation. Council past president George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial district attorney, said he sees most of his counterparts monthly, but has “never had a drink or even breakfast with Mitch.”

“I’ve got to be honest that it has much to do with his isolation,” Brauchler said. “Denver has a reputation of being isolated.”

Brauchler, like McCann, replaced an unpopular predecessor – Carol Chambers, around whom swirled persistent accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, including in death penalty cases. Brauchler was the first outsider to lead that office since 1968. In Denver, he noted, “Beth represents a similar break from a long string of DAs that have come up through the office.”

“If you’re looking for the biggest single positive to term limits, it’s the idea that you can break with the old ways of doing things,” he said. “Beth is new blood, and that’s the only way the people of Denver can put their mark on how things are done.”

At his farewell Friday, Morrissey blamed term limits for what he said was his premature departure. He had managed years ago to extend the limit for his seat from two to three terms. More recently, he fished around Denver City Hall for permission to try to stretch it to a fourth, but council members said no. He told coworkers and friends on Friday that, if he’d been allowed to run again, he was certain voters would have re-elected him.

Morrissey hasn’t said what he plans to do next. He offered scant cooperation with McCann in the two months between her win in November and her swearing-in Tuesday.

“We haven’t talked much. We met once. He hasn’t been, um, well, he hasn’t offered much help,” she said Sunday, choosing her words carefully.

“About Mitch, the transition, and Mitch himself, I think, uh, I think this has been hard for him.”

Photo courtesy of Denver DA’s office

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The Jefferson County Board of Education, for a second time, turned down an application for a charter school with ties to the Walton Foundation.

The board voted 3-2 Thursday evening to reject the Great Work Montessori School (GWMS) application. Board members said they worried the charter would not have enough students to open the school and expressed concern about the school’s ties to Walmart’s Walton family and family foundation. One board member accused the charter’s backers of deceiving the board about those ties.

The charter school, which would be located near the intersection of South Sheridan and West Alameda in east Lakewood, plans to be a preK-8 school, with a maximum enrollment of 270 students. In its first year, it would enroll preK through third grade, and add another grade every year until it reaches the eighth grade.

The school board initially denied the charter application in November. In its denial the board said the budget was too heavily dependent on grants and $1,500-per-month tuition for its pre-kindergarten program, which would serve three- and four-year olds.

Related: Jeffco board rejects Walton-backed charter

After being denied by the Jeffco board, the GWMS board took its application to the state board of education, and last month, the state board ordered the Jeffco board to work with the charter on the budget issues and to reconsider its decision. Over the past 30 days, both board members and charter backers worked extensively on the budget, and complimented each other for the collaborative process. But it wasn’t enough.

Related: Rejected Jeffco charter gets second chance from state board of education

Thursday night’s board meeting was packed with supporters and opponents of the Great Work school, as well as those who wanted to chime in on what the board should do with Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee. The board ultimately voted unanimously to begin a national search for a new superintendent.

Related: Jeffco school board vote to launch search for new superintendent

Opponents of the GWMS application, such as Alex McDaniel of Lakewood, asked the board to once again turn down the charter. McDaniel and his family said they supported the Jeffco board and blasted the state board of education.

“During the appeal, the Colorado state board suggested that failure is a part of taking risks. We are ashamed that they would view a probable failure, such as Great Work, as an acceptable risk where real Jeffco students will pay the lifelong price,” McDaniel said during public comment. “Great Work claims to bring us the gift of choice. But just remember, the Trojan Horse was also a gift.”

Beverly Wadman, a teacher at Denison Montessori who represented the school’s families and staff, also asked the board to turn down the application. GWMS has claimed it would serve low-income students in a diverse neighborhood where Montessori education is not available. But Wadman pointed out that Denison, a Denver Public School that is about a mile from the GWMS site, has been in operation for more than 30 years, is tuition-free and serves the same diverse population. The school accepts students from Jefferson County.

Jennifer Ramsey of Lakewood wants to enroll her children in the charter, if approved. “A solid Montessori education should not be limited to those who can afford an expensive education,” she told the board. “Diversity in our school is what helps children to learn.” And Chase Bongirno, a Jefferson County resident, said the waiting list for other Montessori charter schools in the county is a year long, showing the demand for that education is strong.

But the charter’s backers last night weren’t able to demonstrate that the demand for Montessori has extended to Great Work. Amy Malick, the charter’s “head of school,” said that while it had 60 letters of intent to enroll for the pre-kindergarten, a survey it did earlier this month showed it had only 19 commitments for grades one through three. The board expected at least 161 letters of intent for kindergarten through grade three, with a 50 percent dropout rate, which is standard for charter schools, according to Jefferson County staff.

There’s also the matter of the ties between Walton and the charter. James Walton is the owner of Great Work, Inc., which in turn owns another company, TGNA. TGNA  purchased land for the school with money from the Walton Foundation. The charter board has insisted Walton’s only connection was a $250,000 grant from the Foundation, but an investigation by The Colorado Independent found that James Walton was among those who conceived of GWMS. The Walton Foundation boasts that it has funded one-quarter of the nation’s charter schools.

Jeffco school board President Ron Mitchell on Thursday accused the GWMS board of deception about its ties to Walton. A crossover between a public and private school is a concern, Mitchell said, adding that he doesn’t like “national chain for-profit charters.

“I feel like our board has been deceived…when I ask about who owns the property, I get answer that is not satisfying…I think I could prove that the home office of that organization is somewhere down in Arkansas,” where Walmart and the Walton Foundation are based. (In fact, Great Work, Inc. lists as its principal address the same one listed by the Walton Foundation.)

Malick did not respond to Mitchell’s accusation.

Related: Proposed Jeffco charter finds it isn’t business as usual with school board

The Jeffco board’s decision Thursday night does not come without risk. Prior to the vote, several board members pointed out that if they denied the application again, GWMS could again appeal to the state board of education. The state board could just order the Jeffco school district to accept the charter, and on that, the Jeffco board would not have a right of appeal. The state board  in July ordered the Aurora Public Schools to renew the contract of a charter network, Hope Online, after the school district decided to shutter five five Hope learning centers for poor performance.

That clearly weighed on the minds of the board as it voted, but the financial issues and below-acceptable enrollment projections weighed more. 

GWMS is expected to appeal to the state board of education, although it will be a slightly different state board than the one it met with in December.

November’s election put the state board under Democratic control for the first time in decades, with the board now at four Democrats and three Republicans. It previously had been three Democrats and four Republicans.

But it’s not a given that the board will vote much differently than it did in December. The new board chair, Democrat Angelika Schroeder, voted with the board’s four Republicans in December, in a 5-2 vote, to remand the GWMS application back to Jefferson County.

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Colorado’s junior U.S. Senator, Republican Cory Gardner, appeared impressed with Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, following a nine-hour confirmation hearing this week.

Tillerson is the former CEO of ExxonMobil with no previous formal diplomatic or government experience. His ExxonMobil PAC gave money to Gardner, as well as every other Republican and one Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that screened him Wednesday. Gardner took in the most cash from the PAC with a $23,000 haul, tied with Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, The Daily Beast reports.

Speaking on Fox News, Gardner said he was impressed by how Tillerson faced questions for so long without notes, a briefing book, or “without a pen and paper to write questions down or ideas down or cheat sheets down,” and instead “did it all from his experience and understanding of the world.”

Tillerson faced tough questions about Vladimir Putin and Russia from Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, a harsh political foe of Trump during the 2016 presidential primary. The New York Times reported the ExxonMobil oil company “has billions of dollars in deals that can go forward only if the United States lifts sanctions against Russia.”

So naturally questions about Russia took up plenty of oxygen in the hearing. One exchange making headlines following the Wednesday hearing is when Rubio asked Tillerson if he would characterize Putin as a war criminal. Tillerson said he would “not use that term.”

Appearing on Fox News following the hearing, Gardner said he personally considers Putin a war criminal and looks forward to Tillerson independently reviewing information from experts at the State Department and calling Putin’s actions what they are.

Here’s Gardner’s appearance on the show “Fox and Friends”:

According to a live blog of the hearing at CBS News, Tillerson and Gardner had an exchange during the hearing, which led the could-be-Secretary of State to say, “Diplomacy will be ineffective if it’s not backed up by the threat of force.”

In the Fox interview, Gardner declined to say if he would vote for or against Tillerson and that he had more questions for him. His office did not respond to a voice message before this story was posted, but on Thursday, Gardner went on Colorado talk radio and said he appreciated Trump’s private-sector cabinet picks. He said he was impressed with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who faces hearings as Trump’s nominee for United Nations ambassador, and Betsy DeVos for Education Secretary. Asked if he planned to support Tillerson, he told the radio host, Dan Caplis, “I think at this point that he is somebody that the president should be able to have on his cabinet.”

Rubio hasn’t yet committed to voting for Tillerson, which could derail Tillerson’s confirmation. Republicans only control the committee by one member.

As Slate reports, “The Senate can then bypass the panel and bring his nomination to the full chamber for a vote, where he would need only a simple majority. There, his nomination would be likely, but not guaranteed.”

As for Colorado’s Democratic U.S. senator, Michael Bennet, who is not on the screening committee, he “takes the Senate’s advise and consent role seriously and does not want to prejudge nominees without a full vetting,” said his spokeswoman Laurie Cipriano. “He hopes to meet with Mr. Tillerson before his confirmation vote,” she continued. “Based on his hearing, Michael continues to have concerns about his judgment on Russia, sanctions policy, and overall independence.”

Photo by Gage Skidmore for Creative Commons on Flickr.