img
This story first appeared on The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition website.

Six months after a controversial, contentious meeting of the Elbert County Commission, county residents are still waiting to read the meeting minutes.

Jill Duvall, who lives in Elizabeth, said she and others have made multiple requests for the minutes of the Nov. 18, 2015, commission meeting, at which several employees and elected officials called for the resignations of two county commissioners.

The Elbert County News described what happened that day as “an open rebellion” and “an organized uprising” against Commissioners Larry Ross and Kelly Dore. The atmosphere was “Jerry Springer-like,” one county resident told the newspaper.

But the minutes—the county’s official record of the five-hour meeting—apparently don’t exist, according to an April 4 letter Duvall received from the county in response to a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request.

“Please be advised that there are no records in the possession of Elbert County which are responsive to your request(s),” the letter says. It adds that Elbert County officials and employees “support the principle of ensuring that we maintain an open and accessible governing body.”

Anyone can download PDFs of commission meeting minutes on the county’s website going back to January 2013. The most recent meeting minutes available for download are those of Mar. 30, 2016. But the minutes of Nov. 18, 2015, weren’t on the website as of Friday morning. The agenda for the Nov. 18 meeting wasn’t there, either.

Colorado’s Open Meetings Law (the Sunshine Law) requires that minutes be taken at any local public body meeting “at which the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation, or formal action occurs or could occur.” The OML’s minutes requirement was in effect for the Nov. 18 meeting because the commissioners considered resolutions as well as the proposed placement of the county attorney on paid administrative leave.

The Sunshine Law also says that minutes shall be “promptly recorded, and such records shall be open to public inspection.”

“The statute says they have to post the minutes in a timely fashion,” said Duvall, chair of the Elbert County Democrats. “To me, it’s a violation. The website has minutes from December and January and February. We still don’t have November. Why not?”

The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition tried via telephone and email to ask Clerk and Recorder Dallas Schroeder about the minutes, but he did not respond.

Dore told the CFOIC that she and fellow Commissioner Ross also have been asking for the meeting minutes. She said Schroeder finally provided a transcript to commissioners in late April but the document likely won’t be made available to the public until the commissioners approve it during an upcoming meeting.

“He (Schroeder) just kept saying he didn’t have time to work on them,” Dore said. “The hard part for us is that he’s an elected official so we have no recourse over that department.”

Duvall said some county residents are meticulously transcribing an audio recording of the meeting, which they obtained from the county under CORA. If the minutes eventually are released, Duvall said she wouldn’t be surprised if they depict “a whitewashed version” of what actually happened.

She said several armed sheriff’s deputies were in the back of the room that day as Schroeder and other elected officials criticized Dore and Ross, whom Duvall described as “the commissioners who are trying to get something done in the county.”

She suspects the minutes haven’t been made available because Schroeder and the other elected officials on his side “don’t want the public to know what they did. They know it was embarrassing and humiliating, and it wasn’t successful.”

Dore and Ross, she noted, did not resign.

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page.

Photo credit: Jeff Ruane, Creative Commons, Flickr

img

Our friend Gavin Dahl, who just took a job in the Roaring Fork Valley as news director of the community radio station KDNK, interviewed our very own Kelsey Ray about her story, “The invisible plume: Why coal mine methane is worth looking at.

 

Check out Dahl’s interview with Ray here.

img

 

Republicans and Democrats alike said they wanted Colorado to have a presidential primary after a messy caucus night in March. With no legislative solution this session, a handful of Republican senators have formed an unofficial organization, the Colorado Elections Study Group, to look at whether Colorado should bring back a presidential primary.

The group includes Sens. Laura Woods of Arvada, Ray Scott of Grand Junction, Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud. The group will hold its first meeting at 1 p.m. on June 11 at the Capitol.

“Our experience with the primary bills showed that finding consensus on this topic isn’t easy, given the wide array of opinions and interests involved, but we think more progress can be made,” Grantham said in a statement.

Woods told The Colorado Independent that there were a lot of unhappy people around the state after the demise of the two primary bills. Many asked lawmakers to hang onto the caucus system. “So we decided the best thing to do was to put together a study group and listen to the people,” she said.

The study group can look at topics such as whether to let unaffiliated voters participate.

Woods said the group intends to reach out this week to Democrats, Libertarians and members of the Green Party, American Constitution Party and other political parties and unaffiliated voters.

“We want input from the whole state. Not just one party,” she said.

The group plans to hold five meetings in Grand Junction, Pueblo and Fort Collins, plus another meeting in Denver. All should be completed before Election Day in November, Woods said.

Scott and Sonnenberg are the chair and vice-chair, respectively, of the Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which killed a bipartisan proposal to create a primary in the last days of the legislative session.

Sonnenberg offered to turn the bill, which called for a presidential primary that would have allowed unaffiliated voters to participate, into a study. The bill’s Senate sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver, rejected that, saying there was plenty of time before the 2020 presidential elections to work out the details.

Guzman’s bill would have allowed unaffiliated voters to participate in the primary by temporarily joining with a major party. That affiliation would revert back to unaffiliated 30 days after the primary.

A second bill, sponsored by Lundberg, would have done much of the same, except that unaffiliated voters who participate in the primary would have to affiliate with a party and then ask that their registration revert back to unaffiliated. That bill died in the Senate, too.

GOP Party Chair Steve House told The Colorado Independent the state party is not officially involved in the effort, although the party does intend to provide input. However, Woods noted that the state party’s executive committee last week appointed a taskforce that will “assist and observe” and report back to the executive committee.

The Libertarian Party of Colorado has encouraged its members and supporters to be at the June 11 meeting.

The Colorado Democratic Party has not made any public statement about the study group. Calls to party Chair Rick Palacio were not returned.   

 

Photo credit: Ally Aubry, Creative Commons, Flickr

img

The state’s largest labor union, the Colorado AFL-CIO, is not endorsing incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet for re-election, showing just how much the issue of trade could play in the 2016 elections.

The lack of an endorsement has also allowed a third party candidate challenging Bennet to capitalize on the move.

The Colorado AFL-CIO represents more than 300,000 union members and families in the state. Over the weekend, its political committee met after interviewing candidates in the closely watched Colorado U.S. Senate race.

One issue dominated the discussion when it came to endorsements: Trade.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership weighed heavily on our affiliates’ decision to remain neutral in the U.S. Senate race,” said Sam Gilchrist, director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, in a statement. “We deeply respect Senator Bennet, and all he has done for Colorado’s working families. However, the affiliates present at our convention could not reach the two-thirds majority needed to endorse.”

Bennet has not yet taken a public position on TPP.

But Bennet voted on a measure giving Obama the authority to “fast track” negotiations for it and other global trade agreements, and Bennet has drawn fire from the AFL-CIO for his stance on trade before. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have come out against TPP.

That the state’s largest labor group took a pass on Bennet this year isn’t to say he’s lost union support in Colorado or nationally. At least 10 organized labor groups from the Sheet Metal Workers to Air Traffic Controllers to the Rural Letter Carriers Association have contributed to his campaign.

“Michael’s proud to be supported by a majority of union members across Colorado and in the Senate he’ll continue fighting for middle-class families and working to get things done for Colorado,” says his campaign spokeswoman Alyssa Roberts.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade agreement backed by President Barack Obama among some countries that corner the Pacific Ocean and is geared toward reducing trade barriers among them.

“But it will do a lot of other things, too,” writes Vox.com in an explanation of the deal. “The agreement could require countries to adopt stricter labor and environmental rules, provide stronger legal protections to drug companies, lengthen the term of copyright protection, give foreign investors a new way to challenge countries’ laws and regulations, and much more.”

The Colorado AFL-CIO, which endorsed Bennet in 2010, is angry about the trade agreement.

“The trade deal as a whole is very concerning for us,” Gilchrist told The Colorado Independent in an interview, adding that it should have had more public input. “[Bennet] voting for fast track allowed that process to be expedited and that’s where our concern was,” he said.

Gilchrist added, however, that he felt Bennet is being thoughtful about where he’ll ultimately come down on the deal. Being on the top of the ticket, though, “he bore the brunt of our delegates anger on trade,” Gilchrist said.

Despite the labor group’s neutrality in the Colorado U.S. Senate race, the state’s Green Party candidate, Arn Menconi, who was interviewed by the AFL-CIO, says it’s a plus for his campaign.

“This is great for me to hear that they’ve taken a pass on this because it shows that the unions have realized that the Democratic Party is not fighting for unions,” Menconi says. “We’ve seen that steady decline.”

Once one of the more powerful forces in Democratic politics, organized labor is seeing its electoral might challenged by environmental groups with big money and organizing efforts at the national level.

A recent New York Times story detailed a rift between the two interest groups over turnout efforts, which has caused headaches for the Democratic Party during this election cycle.

The AFL-CIO extended an offer to all candidates to respond to their questionnaire and give an interview for a potential endorsement, Gilchrist said. No Republicans in the U.S. Senate race accepted that invitation.

The group will do another round of endorsements after the June primaries.

Photo credit: AFL-CIO America’s Union, Creative Commons, Flickr

Business group asks Guv to reconvene lawmakers over the Hospital Provider Fee

The legislative session may have ended, but the fight over the Hospital Provider Fee continues. A group of business leaders wants the governor to call a special session so lawmakers can revisit the issue.

img

 

The pro-business group Colorado Concern wrote a half-page letter in Sunday’s Denver Post encouraging Gov. John Hickenlooper to call a special session to reclassify a hospital provider fee as an enterprise to free up hundreds of millions in the state budget.

The legislature shot down this proposal during the regular 2016 session, which ended earlier this month.

The state’s hospital provider fee program requires hospitals to pay a fee for each overnight patient and the number of outpatient services provided. That money is currently used, among other things, to pay for low-income residents’ health care.

Democrats and some Republicans argue that money is needed to pay for education and transportation.

Hickenlooper told reporters after the session ended that he might bring lawmakers back to the Statehouse to reclassify the fee this year.

The letter encouraging him to do so stated: “We recognize that the charged political atmosphere of the times can make collaboration difficult; still, we believe the legislature has an obligation to forge real solutions to matters of public concern.”

Lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a Boulder Democrat, have attempted for two years to convert the fee into an enterprise.

Senate President Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican, announced before the session started, that the legislature’s attorneys said such a conversion would be unconstitutional. But the state’s current Attorney General, Cynthia Coffman and her predecessor, John Suthers, both Republicans, argued the conversion would be allowed under state law.

The letter lists more than 100 organizations, including city governments, colleges, medical providers, and liberal and conservative groups that want a special session.

“The governor saw the ad,” said his spokesperson Kathy Green. “He has no set timeline on the special session decision.”

Of dozens of lobbyists and organizations that weighed in on the 2016 proposal to reclassify the fee, only one opposed it: Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group founded by billionaire industrialists, David and Charles Koch.

In February, Senate President Cadman celebrated his party’s alliance with Americans for Prosperity.

“AFP is a partner of ours…I don’t think I’d be the president of the Senate if it wasn’t for the efforts of you and yours in the previous elections. We look forward to continuing our partnership with you,” he said.

Cadman steadily led the charge against reclassifying the fee and will likely do so if an extra session is called.

 

Photo credit: Colorado Senate GOP

Wiretap: Gun violence victims are mostly poor, often black

…and more news from around the internet.

img

Real faces

The real faces of gun violence — the shootings you rarely hear about outside the communities in which they happen, where the victims and the shooters are mostly poor and often black. Via The New York Times.

Accepting Trump

You’ve seen the polls, which show Trump gathering support from the great majority of Republicans. Adam Gopnik writes in The New Yorker that this acceptance of Trump is more dangerous than you might imagine. “If Trump came to power,” Gopnik says, “there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over.”

Big fixes

E.J. Dionne: While the presidential campaign seems to be all about “populism,” it was Barack Obama who just made overtime pay an issue and Elizabeth Warren who laid out a model for what amounts to a bill of rights for those working in the “gig” economy. Via The Washington Post.

Trump era

James Fallows and the Age of Trump: Graham, Madison and Hart weigh in. Yes, that’s Gary Hart, writing in his blog on the fraying of civility and how Trump was “simply clever enough to stand outside, watch the storm gathering, and then give it voice.” Via The Atlantic.

Civil war

A National Review take on the Democratic “civil war.” Maybe Bernie Sanders will run as a third-party candidate.

Early predictions

The early polls that show Trump leading Clinton may not mean much in the presidential race in November, but they say a great deal about the Republicans’ chances of holding the Senate. Via The National Journal.

Immigration backlash

It’s an immigration backlash that’s driving the Brexit fight in which Britain would leave the European Union. The immigrants, for the most part, are not refugees, but come from Eastern Europe. Via The Washington Post.

New empire

Two takes on Facebook: Frank Bruni says the problem is not the unseen puppet masters on Mark Zuckerberg’s payroll. It’s us. Ross Douthat writes that Facebook is not just the king of social media. It’s the new media empire. Via The New York Times.

Photo credit: Bart Everson, Creative Commons, Flickr

img

Debbie Gurley moved to Douglas County for its school system. Now, because of the school system, she’s moving out.

She and her husband bought their Highlands Ranch home in 2012 so they could enroll their soon-to-be-kindergartener in the high-performing district where they hoped he’d be educated until college.

Gurley is an Army veteran and stay-at-home mom with a U.S. flag waving on top of her garage in the Westridge subdivision. She volunteers in the elementary school lunchroom, knows all the kids’ names and seems to have snacks and Band-Aids always at the ready. She’s the kind of parent any school would be lucky to have involved.

That is, unless the system doesn’t want much involvement, or scrutiny, in which case things can – and did – get ugly.

It was just a few months into her son’s kindergarten year when Gurley started wondering why the teachers were so scared, distrustful and jumpy? Why was there so much turnover among the staff? And how did this all jibe with DougCo’s school board’s efforts toward “Reinventing American Education”?

“I’m not political. I didn’t come to this with any big vision of what I think the school or the district or the world should be run like. I just wanted to know how this ‘reinventing’ thing was going to be good for my kid,” she tells The Colorado Independent.

It was a red flag when, accompanying her son’s class on a field trip one day, she asked his teacher, “What’s going on in the district?” The teacher stopped and let the students stroll down the path of the nature center before she broke into tears.

“I can’t talk about it,” she told Gurley. “But it’s horrible.”

Gurley started asking more questions about high attrition and low morale in the district, whose all-Republican school board had put in place massive changes. It let its teachers’ union contract expire, instituted market-based pay and set up the nation’s first suburban school-voucher program. The district also required academic standards that were purportedly a more challenging substitute for the Common Core, which Superintendent Elizabeth Fagen has derided as “the Common Floor.”

Teachers, in the meantime, struggled to balance buzzwords and paperwork with their responsibilities to students.

As Gurley came to see it, the reforms were bringing chaos, not progress. She noticed that the inclination among teachers, administrators, bus drivers and parents was to be guarded and suspicious until someone would assure them “she’s on our side.”

“I’m in the building and they feel like they have to vet me before they can talk to me. The teachers don’t know whom to trust. It feels that Big-Brotherish, an elementary school. It’s crazy. I’ve never lived anywhere like this – so ruthless.”

In May 2014, Gurley finally had enough.

I would like you to know that all is not well in the district,” she wrote Fagen and the board of education.

“I see teachers and principals leaving in seemingly unsustainable numbers. These people aren’t just making a statement.  They are making life-altering, tear-filled decisions to resign and go teach in other districts. Please explain to me your view of these departures,” she wrote. “I want you to know that there is a groundswell of opposition to the way you are leading the district. It is not just a few parents on the fringes that are upset.”

“We are going to find a way to make you hear us.”

Fagen wrote back in roughly 20 minutes, setting up a meeting with Gurley, the school board president, the district’s attorney and the heads of elementary schools and human resources. Gurley says they all seemed more interested in defending the board’s massive reforms than in listening.

“I was like, five administrators to meet with me? Really? It was clear right from the start they were trying to intimidate me into silence.”

But she has spent the next two years being anything but silent.

Even after the board of education cut a public comment period in their meetings down to one minute, Gurley waited until late at night for her 60 seconds to speak on the record about district-wide discontent. She worked around administrators’ efforts to stonewall her from seeking public information. And, sidestepping the district’s attempts to muzzle its workforce, she launched a district-wide survey to gauge teachers’ feelings about their jobs.

Of the 350 surveys teachers returned last summer, less than a dozen were positive about the reforms. Most were scathing indictments of a regime teachers said was devaluing education and prioritizing conservative dogma over teaching kids. Teachers – who, even in affluent parts of the county, have to scrape for copy paper and other supplies – poured their hearts into surveys filled out with red ink and impeccable penmanship.

“Morale is extremely low. Stress is extremely high because everyone feels unsafe. There’s a prevailing message that nobody cares. In fact I don’t know why I’m taking  so much time to do this survey because I’m pretty convinced nobody cares,” wrote one teacher who attached six type-written pages to her survey.

Most teachers in the district didn’t respond. Many said they were too scared of retribution and being pushed out of their schools like dozens have been over the past four or five years. Neighbors who are teachers would speak freely with Gurley at social events, but not in public.

“The teachers in my building who speak up are run out,” wrote one teacher with 14 years in the district.

“I need to pay my mortgage,” wrote another.

Gurley’s husband Jeremy grew impatient with her activism, likening her efforts fighting for teachers to the U.S. involvement in Iraq. This isn’t your fight, he told her. They need to stand up for themselves.

She tried several times to pull back. She held her tongue with friends who told her they were voting to re-elect the conservative school board members last fall because it was the Christian thing to do. She tried keeping quiet earlier this year when the district armed administrators with long rifels.

“Keeping my distance didn’t work as long as our child’s in this district. For now, this is, in fact, our fight,” she says.

Gurley was outraged last month when school board members overtly tried to intimidate a Ponderosa High student out of staging a demonstration against the rampant turnover at that school. Sixteen-year-old Grace Davis had recorded board members Judith Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn threatening her and her parents. Gurley spent three days transcribing the audio. The transcript triggered a groundswell of parents calling for ouster of the board members.

Interviewed this week in the “#istandwithgrace” T-shirt she had printed in solidarity with Davis, Gurley said she’s pessimistic about the grassroots attempts to turn around the district. She’s especially disheartened by the most recent tactic conservatives are taking to hold on to their control: Potentially parting ways with Fagen to make it look like they’re responding to parents’ complaints about the district. A video of former school board member Justin Williams speaking earlier this month spells out that political strategy. After the November 2015 election, the conservative majority retains its control by only one vote.

“They’re gearing up for the 2017 election by changing the narrative, but not making any real changes to the root of the problem. It’s a tactic I can see working. And I’m not sure, at this point, they can be stopped or that things can be turned around,” Gurley says.

She describes a sense, especially in Douglas County’s more affluent communities, that parents will compensate for shortcomings in the system by paying for tutors or sending their kids to public schools.

“I’ve given it my honest try, but I feel like it’s unwinnable without more parents and teachers coming forward and speaking out,” she says. “If the voters here want this for their county, they can keep it. I just don’t want to be a part of it.”

Gurley’s frustration turns into tears at the thought of selling the house whose walls she has hand-stenciled – the home where she and her husband had hoped to raise their son. They broke the news to 8-year-old Carson last Friday that they’ll be moving to a new home and new school district.

“At first, he took it pretty well. But then he realized what he’d be losing. ‘What about Carter?’ he asked. “What about Harris? What about Caedmon? What about Brogan? What about Sydney? What about Mallory?” she said, listing the kids she and her husband had hoped would grow into tweens and then teens and then young adults alongside Carson.

Some of those kids’ parents have, like the Gurleys, been unhappy with the district. Some are just starting to see problems as their children rise up in grades. Some have spoken out publicly. But most haven’t, either because of fear or apathy or pressures within their churches or social circles or political parties.

“This would be over in a heartbeat if the teachers and parents stood up as a whole and said this is not good for our kids,” she says. “I hope they find their collective voice because no change will be made until they all stand up together as a group.”

Gurley aims to have moved out of the community she loves by summer’s end, having enrolled Carson in another school and district that want parents involved and paying attention.

“My husband fully expects me to stop fighting it when we leave,” she says. “The fight will continue among some folks, I have no doubt. But it won’t be my fight anymore.”

img

Democrats are freaking out, which sounds about right. They were freaking out at exactly this time eight years ago.

You remember. Hillary Clinton was on the losing side then, and recriminations were running high. Clintonistas wouldn’t vote for Barack Obama. Latinos wouldn’t vote for Obama. Women wouldn’t vote for Obama.

Except that they all did, and everyone lived happily ever after, if you can call the last eight years in any way happy.

In any case, this year it’s Bernie who’s losing. And it’s the Bernie supporters who say they won’t vote for Clinton or for any Democrat basically because the system is rigged and Clinton is a Wall Street tool and Nevada convention officials called for a voice vote when a roll call would have been so much fairer.

OK, history doesn’t really repeat, although, as the saying goes, it does rhyme. And I’m going to pretty much guarantee – which is short of a guarantee, but it’s in Nate Silver’s 90 percent range — that these divisions, as ugly as they are, will heal.

Because Donald Trump is uglier. Much uglier. And I don’t mean his looks. I mean him. The ugliness of Donald Trump allows for only one result — the saner half of America will have to unite to forcibly reject him.

I have faith in the American people, by which I mean I have faith in about 55 percent of them. I’ve lost the other group, which not only nominated Trump but which, according to latest polls, seems ready to embrace him. According to The New York Times/CBS News poll, 67 percent of Republicans think Trump represents their values and 62 percent find him honest and trustworthy even though, by my count, he’s at least 94 percent con man.

In 2008, Clinton did bow out gracefully at the very end and even nominated Obama at the convention. And her supporters followed, even though she didn’t have the same kind of pull with hers that Sanders does with his and even though the opponent was John McCain and not Donald Trump.

The Bernie-ites began as a cult and have morphed into a religion, which isn’t to say they’ll follow Sanders everywhere, but most — because what choice do they have? — will not go to Trump, not when Sanders is saying he’s probably the most dangerous person ever to get this close to the presidency. I don’t expect Bernie to look happy supporting Clinton. And I doubt you’ll see a real truce soon. But Sanders will be out there hammering Trump and he won’t be alone. So will Obama. So will Elizabeth Warren. So will everyone but Tim Robbins (I’m thinking even Susan Sarandon will come around).

In fact, the biggest danger is not that Democrats will fracture in the end, but that they’re fracturing now, which leaves Bernie, I’m afraid, looking very much like a sore loser at the same time he has pulled a magnificent victory.

Sanders’ near victory represents the biggest push by the Democratic left since McGovern, and the great news is that won’t end in a McGovernite disaster.

People, even smart people, are saying that this campaign will redefine the Democratic Party, which is overwhelmingly young and overwhelmingly minority (and, yes, even those minority voters who completely resisted Bernie’s charms will almost certainly be open to his message).

Real change has happened, but real change is not throwing chairs onto the stage in Las Vegas or Tweeting the ugliest kind of misogynistic garbage at the Nevada Democratic chair. That’s Trump-like goonery. And where Sanders made a huge mistake was in not forcefully condemning the behavior, which led one pundit to call the Sanders movement the Sour Grapes Revolution.

I’m guessing Sanders will stay until the end of the campaign — as Clinton did before him. But that won’t be the last act. I’m guessing Democrats will concede him a bunch of stuff in the platform. I’m guessing he’ll get a prime-time speech. I’m guessing Sanders, as angry as he might be at slights perceived and otherwise, has to care about his own legacy and, more to the point, the success of his campaign. He’s not going to win the nomination. And he’s not going to overthrow the Democratic Party. If he wants to reform the party, though, he can’t afford to lose the non-Bernie reformist wing.

The real danger in this campaign, as I’ve written before, is that the Trump candidacy will come to be considered normal and not a historical anomaly that will haunt the Republican party for a generation. We’re already seeing it happen on the Republican side, even if the intellectual right is still resisting and even if suburban women are almost certain to desert the party in November.

But how the country responds does depend, in part, on what Sanders and his supporters do. You can call Trump a demagogue, a xenophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, a sexist, an authoritarian, a boor, a  crypto-fascist and the least-prepared person ever to be nominated by a major party, but, in the end, it’s just a list of words.

We hear in each presidential campaign that this year’s election is the most important of our lifetimes — and we’ve heard it so often that no one believes it anymore. And why should they?

Except this time is different. And not just because the stakes are high, because, let’s be honest, the stakes are always high.

This time is different because Donald Trump is different, and he’s so hugely different that the Democratic feud looks very small.

 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr

What’s up with this messy GOP US Senate primary in Colorado?

GOP faithful: #COSEN primary is ‘eerie,’ Darryl Glenn is exciting, and it’s ‘one fiasco after another’

img

 

Talk to enough county GOP chairs across Colorado about the U.S. Senate primary, and themes emerge: Darryl Glenn is everywhere, things are quieter than usual, and the drama that has brought public attention to this race is also hurting Republicans.

Indeed, one county party chair interviewed — we’re withholding his name for his own sake — couldn’t immediately recall the names of all five GOP candidates on the June 28 primary ballot vying to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in the fall.

Asked what she’s been hearing lately about Colorado’s top statewide race, Joy Hoffman, chair of the Arapahoe County Republicans, said, “Not a damn thing. It’s eerie. It’s just very odd. Everybody’s waiting to see what the courts are going to say.”

With just a few weeks before ballots drop, that’s likely not something the five candidates want to hear. After all, it’s already been a turbulent race.

The Colorado Republican U.S. Senate primary turned into a courtroom drama when the Secretary of State blocked three candidates trying to petition their way onto the ballot for not having gathered enough signatures. The race had already been unusual for Colorado in that so many candidates skipped the traditional caucus-assembly process to petition onto the ballot.

The four of them were ex-NFL quarterback Jack Graham who was a registered Democrat just 18 months before announcing his candidacy; former lawmaker Jon Keyser who quit his first term in the legislature to run for U.S. Senate; businessman Robert Blaha who was found to have accepted excessive campaign contributions; and ex-Aurora City Councilman Ryan Frazier, who is on the ballot with the provision that he might have to withdraw from the race.

Only one candidate, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, earned his way onto the ballot by going through the caucus-assembly process where he knocked out six others after delivering a rousing speech at the GOP’s April 9 state assembly.

Since then the primary has ripped apart at the seams, earning national ridicule and rankling Republican officials in Colorado.

In March, Graham, who seeded his campaign with $1 million, turned in more than enough petition signatures to get on the ballot. But those who followed — Keyser, Blaha and Frazier — did not, according to the Secretary of State. So what’s a blocked candidate to do? Sue the Republican Secretary of State, Wayne Williams, which they did, successfully lawyering their way onto the ballot. One candidate, Frazier, has taken his case to the State Supreme Court where he is attacking Colorado’s strict rules that govern the signature-gathering process. In an unusual move, a judge put the candidate on the ballot provisionally, ruling Frazier must drop out if he fails to persuade the high court.

That was not the worst of it.

“One fiasco after another,” is how Richard Hollabaugh, chairman of the Fremont County GOP, described the turn of events in a recent interview.

Once the three Senate candidates were out of the courtroom, one of them, Keyser, wilted under the glare of TV lights after reporter Marshall Zelinger found at least 13 forged signatures on petitions that helped him get on the ballot. Making matters worse, the Secretary of State announced his office had found the name of a dead voter among Keyser’s petitions, and also that election officials there had known about the issue for a month before it became public. 

What has all this meant for some Republicans in Colorado who are following this race?

“It turns me off,” says La Plata County GOP chair Travis Oliger. “I don’t think that’s a good thing to have. Sounds to me like something the Democrats do. I don’t care for that, just having signatures from people who are dead. It doesn’t turn me on, that’s for sure. It’s not that hard to get that many signatures.”

But apparently it is.

Candidate campaigns are allowed to pay private companies that hire subcontracted workers to gather signatures to get a candidate on the ballot. That’s 1,500 signatures of registered Republican voters in each of the state’s seven congressional districts. A voter may only sign for one candidate. If one person’s signature is found on multiple candidates’ petitions, the first one counted by the Secretary of State is the only one that counts.

The candidate petition process came in with progressive-era reforms at the beginning of the 20th Century. But in recent years, a cottage industry of petition-gathering firms on both sides of the partisan divide in Colorado have sprouted up to sell their services for as much as $200,000 to candidates. Some of these companies, apparently, don’t do the best job.

“Now we have a phenomenon that did not exist at all 50 years ago where people just skip the assemblies,” says Robert Loevy, a political science professor emeritus at Colorado College.

Petitioning onto the ballot traditionally offended Colorado’s grassroots base, loyal party members who participate in the precinct caucuses, county and congressional assemblies and the state convention, and some of that resentment still remains. 

“I think there is a legitimate feeling that the petitioning process allows the money people to bypass the grassroots,” says Bob Jenkins, current chairman of the Pitkin County GOP.

In 1980, then-Secretary of State Mary Estill Buchanan successfully petitioned her way onto the Republican primary ballot. Later, Bruce Benson, a wealthy oil man who is now the president of the University of Colorado, won a three-way GOP primary for governor in 1994 through the petition process.  At the time, doing so was so unusual that a chapter in a book by Loevy about the 1994 governor’s race that deals with Benson’s decision to petition on is titled “Not Your Ordinary Candidate.”

In 2014, however, Bob Beauprez successfully petitioned onto the ballot in the GOP governor’s race. Congressman Mike Coffman and former Congressman Tom Tancredo have also used the petition process.

“It’s ramped up. I think this is actually a pretty new trend,” says Beauprez’s 2014 campaign manager Dustin Olson. “But I think it could swing back the other way.”

Fast forward to 2016, and four out of the five candidates on the U.S. Senate ballot in Colorado petitioned on. But for three of them, getting there has taken a brutal toll, and has made it likely that the real legacy of this race will be a full examination of Colorado’s petitioning system. While Frazier is fighting the state’s petition rules on constitutional grounds in the state Supreme Court, Blaha has called on Secretary of State Williams to resign because of the controversy.

Out in Montezuma County, the chair of the Republican Party there, Danny Wilkin, has been wincing at the mess this whole petition process has caused this year.

“The part of us eating our own, if we don’t pull back … it’s going to kill us in the general election,” he says.

Wilkin once tried to petition onto a local ballot himself when he ran for county commissioner, so he knows the process. He says if you want to be in politics you have to understand the game and how it’s played.

“It turns me off when people go after the system,” he said in an interview, adding later, “As Republicans we have to be responsible for our own actions.”

The grassroots and Glenn  

Walden, Colorado, is a small town about 140 miles northwest of Denver.

“It is very difficult to get any candidates here to Jackson County, a very remote ranching valley,” says the county GOP chairwoman there, Wendy Larsen. Her town has “nothing else around us.”

In Walden, Republicans are paying more attention to local races, like those for county commissioner and a local policy fight over lifting a moratorium on marijuana sales, than the big U.S. Senate race, she says.

But folks in the local Republican circles in which Larsen travels told her they’d love to see Darryl Glenn if Larsen could bring him to Walden. That was after Glenn’s winner-take-all victory and his now-famous speech at the April 9 state convention in which he earned 70 percent of the vote from Republican activists. Larsen asked Glenn if he might be interested in visiting Walden. He said he’d come to speak there on Saturday, May 21.

“For our delegation to get him here, I was actually very surprised to hear [he’d come],” Larsen says. As a county party official, she can’t support one candidate over another. When people ask her about Glenn, she says she just plays them a video of his speech.

That Glenn is willing to travel out to Walden on a Saturday to meet a handful of rural Republicans doesn’t surprise party officials across Colorado who have seen him campaigning through their own counties for more than a year.

“I think the one who has been here the most is probably Darryl Glenn,” says Richard Hollabaugh, the Fremont County Republican Party chair.

“I think Darryl Glenn is probably the favorite around here,” says Oliger in La Plata. “He’s done a good job, he’s been down here I think four times.”

Out in Mineral County, a rural part of Colorado with about 250 registered Republicans, the former mayor of Creede and the county’s current GOP chairman, Eric Grossman, isn’t afraid to speak his mind about his enthusiasm for Glenn, a candidate he has met in person at least six times.

“I appreciate the other candidates. They’re all great men, but they all got into the race late,” he told The Colorado Independent. “Why they don’t rally behind (Glenn) is astonishing to me.”

Grossman says the Republican electorate this year is fueled by the anti-establishment sentiment behind Donald Trump. Republicans are sick of mainstream politicians, he says, knocking Glenn’s four rivals for going outside the caucus-assembly process and paying companies six figures to gather signatures for them.

“I don’t have a lot of sympathy for those candidates who want to sue a Republican Secretary of State,” he said, adding later, “There’s a wave and an obvious trend happening, and the fact that the mainstream is not acknowledging that is astonishing.”

‘Is there going to be a bombshell?’

There was a time when Michael Bennet was considered the most vulnerable incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator in the country. Early in the primary, when there were some 15 candidates, Republicans said the large field proved how beatable Bennet is in the fall — and how much appetite there was to be the Colorado Republican who could do it.

That has changed.

When it came to file for the office, Colorado’s crop of top-tier Republicans decided to take a pass on the race, from Congressmen Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton to Arapahoe-area District Attorney George Brauchler.

“We don’t have a bench. We don’t even have a folding chair,” says Jon Caldara, a Republican who runs the libertarian Independence Institute.

For the candidates who did get in the race, the petition drama is widely seen as a drag on this primary as the five-person field comes into focus for the June ballot. “Are Republicans blowing their chance in the Colorado Senate race?” asked The Washington Post in a recent headline. Roll Call ran a piece titled “How Michael Bennet got lucky.”

Add into this mix the chaotic aftermath of the Colorado Republican state convention on April 9 in which Ted Cruz swept the state’s delegates. That led Donald Trump to breath fire at the state party, claiming they ran a rigged election. For some, such focus on that chaos dimmed excitement for down-ballot races like the one for U.S. Senate.

“It seems to me that the presidential campaign had sucked so much air out of the room that people now are just starting to look at the Senate candidates,” says Jeremy Weathers, an executive committeeman for the Colorado GOP and chair of the Yuma County Republican Party.

“At this point I think there’s just kind of a lot of uncertainty,” says Phillips County Republican Party Chairman Steve Young. “We still don’t know a lot about some of the candidates.”  

In Garfield County, the GOP chairman there, David Merritt, says Republicans he talks to are following the Senate race.

“I would say that as a group they haven’t gravitated toward any one candidate,” he says. “Some folks prefer different individuals.”  

How exactly Republicans will decide on who can beat Michael Bennet might come into sharper focus in the next few weeks. Ballots begin dropping June 6th, and the election will be June 28.

Big bucks candidates like Graham and Blaha are likely to run TV spots.

But out in some counties, which aren’t served by the Front Range TV markets, candidates would have to air ads in New Mexico to get them in front of Republican Colorado voters. Voters in La Plata, for instance, won’t see the televised debates on their TVs, either.

This will also be the first big contested Republican primary for U.S. Senate in which voters will be able to cast their ballots entirely by mail. Arapahoe County’s GOP chair Joy Hoffman says Republicans will hold onto their ballots longer than they might if it were a general election. They’ll want to see if something is going to happen between June 6 and June 28 before voting and mailing their ballots in.

Their thought will be, “Is there going to be a bombshell?” Hoffman said in an ominous tone.

Given the current state of the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Colorado, that is one very good question.

 

[Photo credit: NCVO London via Creative Commons on Flickr]

img

Colorado’s Commissioner of Education announced Thursday he is quitting after just four months in the position. The job was more than Rich Crandall could handle, according to a joint statement from the board and him.

Crandall’s resignation takes effect immediately, according to a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Education, although it must still be formally accepted by the Board of Education. That will likely happen Friday, when the board meets to appoint an interim commissioner, according to a department news release.

Crandall officially stepped into the job on January 19 of this year, after being named the sole finalist by the board earlier in the month. The board approved his hiring on a 7-0 vote.

Crandall is a former Arizona state senator who served six years before resigning to take the helm at the Wyoming Department of Education, a job he started in July 2013, overseeing 91,000 students statewide. Crandall was appointed by the governor but the state’s Supreme Court said in January 2014 that the governor did not have the authority to appoint what had previously been an elected position. Crandall left Wyoming in April, 2014 and returned to Arizona, where he owns a nationwide company that provides consulting dieticians to assisted living and long-term care facilities.

The Colorado Board of Education hired Crandall despite his lack of significant management experience in education. Prior to his time in Wyoming, Crandall’s most-closely related educational role was as chair from 2005 to 2008 of the Mesa Public Schools (AZ) Board of Education, a district with 69,000 students. He acknowledged in his job application he has never worked as a teacher or principal.

In announcing his departure, Crandall cited family responsibilities and the demands of the job.

“The realities of my large family being out of state, including school age children, as well as the demands of the position and the time required to fully serve a state as diverse and expansive as Colorado, lead me to this decision,” Crandall said.

That same news release included a statement from board Chair Steve Durham, which said that while he appreciated the importance Crandall put on family needs, he also recognized his own “professional and personal limitations in this demanding position.”

According to Chalkbeat Colorado, Crandall’s resignation comes on the heels of a number of departures in the department. A year ago, it lost its deputy commissioner, associate commissioner in charge of assessments, its top administrative officer and its communications chief. The department still has not filled several of those positions.

The board’s chair in 2015, Marcia Neal, also quit a year ago, citing a “dysfunctional” board.

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, told The Colorado Independent Thursday that the appointment of an interim commissioner will be critical in the days to come.

The lack of experienced staff in some areas is a huge problem, Dallman said, particularly with implementation deadlines looming, some tied to the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind.

 

img

Story updated, 5/20/16

A mysterious $50,000 donation from a Texas holding company to a Democratic campaign committee has a surprising source: Franklin Azar, a personal injury attorney whose ambulance chasing ads blanket daytime court TV shows.

The committee Citizens for a Strong and Fair Public Advocate has been raising money this election cycle to back any Democrat running for the Denver District Attorney’s seat, currently held by Mitch Morrissey.

But on Monday, campaign filings with the Colorado Secretary of State showed the committee had changed its purpose from backing any Democrat to backing just one: CU Regent Michael Carrigan.

Carrigan is one of three Democrats running to replace the term-limited Morrissey.

The other two candidates are state Rep. Beth McCann and Kenneth Boyd, a senior deputy district attorney in the Denver District Attorney’s office.

Citizens for a Strong and Fair Public Advocate is an independent expenditure committee. Under state law, it can advocate for a candidate but cannot coordinate with that candidate’s campaign. So far, it’s brought in $67,201, as of its Monday filing.

Donors include Denver personal injury attorney Michael Sawaya, with $5,000. Another $1,000 came from attorney Norm Brownstein of Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber & Schreck, one of Denver’s best-known and most politically-connected law firms.

The biggest donation, $50,000, came in February from a Texas holding company, FDJR Holdings, Inc. of Houston.

According to the Texas Secretary of State, FDJR Holdings is one of a group of holding companies owned by Azar and/or his wife, Jeanette Renfro Azar.

So why would a personal injury lawyer care enough about who gets elected Denver District Attorney to hand over $50,000? A call to Azar’s spokesperson was not returned.

To date, the committee hasn’t spent down much of its bank account. All but a few dollars out of the $8,000 spent have been paid to committee agent Carrie Steele of Western Wins, a political consulting company.

Steele told The Independent, We have a number of donors who support the committee’s work for a strong and fair people’s advocate,” but would not discuss individual donors.

Azar, Brownstein and Sawaya have also made direct donations to Carrigan’s campaign, all in the maximum amount of $400 each. Brownstein also gave $200 to McCann’s campaign.

The primary race is becoming a big-money contest. Total contributions exceed $1 million, including the $67,000 raised by Citizens for a Strong and Fair Public Advocate.

Carrigan leads the pack with $441,613 raised. McCann is a distant second with $266,905 and Boyd has brought in $235,949.

Friday, McCann’s campaign manager, Dan Aschkinasi issued a statement on the donation.

“The campaign contribution limits in this race are meant to prevent more powerful interests from leveraging their influence for one candidate. ” The $50,000 check from Azar to Citizens for a Strong & Fair Public Advocate indicates Azar “believes he found a way to buy a district attorney in Denver, Aschkinasi added.

“If Mr. Azar is trying to ‘Strong-Arm’ his way into this race, why would he go through the trouble of hiding the money through a Texas corporation? Beth McCann isn’t afraid of a fight and powerful interests that oppose her are rarely on the winning side; just ask the NRA how their opposition to Colorado’s gun laws went.”

Carrigan shot back several hours later.

“I am focused on listening to and talking with Denver voters about their hopes for the district attorney’s office —like expanded juvenile diversion programs, better mental health services and bringing a smart, modern approach to the D.A.’s office. If there are individuals and groups who agree with my platform it is their right to express them. I’m beholden to no one but the residents of Denver I hope to serve,” Carrigan said.

“Rep. McCann needs to take a hard look in the mirror before making wild accusations – a large portion of her own campaign donations came from lobbyists, PACs and other special interests in the health insurance industry she regulated. I’ve personally heard from lobbyists who felt strong-armed into giving her donations before the legislative session started last January.” And Carrigan pointed out that McCann had “conveniently forgot” that she personally asked Carrigan to “donate to an independent group that would advance her legislative career.”

According to McCann, the committee in question is the House Majority Project, a political party committee that raises money to back Democratic candidates for state and local races. McCann said she doesn’t recall ever receiving any financial support from the committee.

The winner of the June 28 primary will face off against independent Helen Morgan of Denver, who to date has raised about $52,000 for her bid for the office. Morgan is the Chief Deputy District Attorney for the Denver County Court.

 

Photo: I am Frank Azar

Ex-Denver Post editor was briefly a candidate for The New York Times public editor position

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media for the week of May 17

img

Wins and losses for open government this legislative session: Mostly losses. Mostly meh.

For an end-of-session wrap up on the topic of transparency, let’s go to the guy who tracks this stuff more than anyone in Colorado, Jeffrey Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. (You might recall a profile I wrote on Roberts earlier this year for CJR.) So, how did this session fare on the open government front?

“Colorado lawmakers in 2016 rejected an opportunity to bring the state’s open-records law into the 21st century,” Robert says.

Grrreat. Sooo, what happened specifically?

They … decided that wage-law violations should remain “trade secrets” and that internal affairs files on judicial branch employees should remain confidential, which isn’t the case for other state government workers. On matters affecting public information, the General Assembly did little during this year’s session to improve access. The most significant legislative win for government transparency doesn’t actually affect governments. That would be SB 16-038, which requires financial disclosures and state audits for nonprofits that get millions of dollars of taxpayer money to coordinate services for Coloradans with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Read more from Roberts about this latest session’s failures here.

A progressive media watcher lists the “Best reporting on the state legislature in 2016”

Jason Salzman, a former Rocky Mountain News media critic and progressive consultant in Denver, rounded up some of his favorite reporting of the legislative session for his BigMedia blog this week, featuring journalism from The Denver Post, The Colorado IndependentRocky Mountain Community Radio, The Durango Herald, FOX 31 Denver, and The Colorado Statesman.

“The press corps is threatened and depleted but continues to crank out quality journalism,” he writes. “Let’s hope we can say that next year.” Find out what specific stories tickled Salzman’s fancy here.

Speaking of … want to become a better reporter or editor?

The Colorado Press Association has you, shall we say, covered. The group is holding a May 26 morning webinar free for CPA members and $75 for non-members. Here’s what editors Randy Bangert of The Greeley Tribune and The Pueblo Chieftain’s Steve Henson will discuss:

What are some best practices when conducting interviews? How about writing stories? What are some tips to ensure your stories are accurate? What’s the difference between a hyperbolic lead and a good lead?

Interested reporters and editors can register for the event here.

Meanwhile, Denver7’s Marshall Zelinger is one Colorado reporter who is buh-lowing up

During big elections, sometimes one reporter’s work stands out as exemplary, usually when they get ahold of a storyline and just own it from start to finish. Colorado news junkies are watching that happen to Marshall Zelinger of Denver’s ABC station. I’d mentioned his work in last week’s newsletter— and it just keeps getting better. Zelinger hadn’t been able to get a comment for his earlier reporting that uncovered potential fraud in the signature-gathering process that put 34-year-old Republican Jon Keyser on the June primary ballot in the U.S. Senate race. But last week the reporter caught up with the candidate for a cringe-worthy video interview during a break in a candidate forum. What happened next was brutal, and in the era of 24/7 news coverage and social media could wind up a campaign killer. Keyser twice calls Marshall “Mitchell,” accuses the reporter of “creeping around my house,” doing “the Democrats’ work,” and mentions the size of his “huge” and “very protective” 165-pound Great Dane, asking the reporter, “Did you get to meet my dog? … he’s bigger than you are.”

There’s been some of talk about whether the candidate threatened the reporter with his dog. I saw it more as just awkward, nervous banter and Keyser trying to talk about anything other than the issue Zelinger wanted him to discuss. But still, as Associated Press reporter Nick Riccardi rightly pointed out, “you don’t want that to be a question.” Later, this candidate for a national political office told The Denver Post he invoked his dog because he thought the reporter crossed a line by knocking on his door — in the middle of the afternoon. Really.

Zelinger’s “great, amazing, shoe leather reporting” made a lengthy segment on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, bringing even more national attention to this statewide Colorado race.

Ex-Denver Post editor was briefly a candidate for The New York Times public editor position

Halfway through a Michael Calderone media piece in HuffPo about who will be the next public editor of the The New York Times, was this Colorado nugget:

The Times’ search committee cast a wide net for this influential perch and approached a number of prominent journalists. One candidate was Greg Moore, who led The Denver Post for 14 years before resigning in March. He withdrew early in the process, and told HuffPost recently that he was flattered to be considered but plans to remain in Colorado.

Moore recently left The Denver Post, just before news broke of byline counts, 26 buyouts, and a major re-organization of the newsroom.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado this week

Did you eat more than the recommended dose of a cookie edible at a party Saturday night and end up too fuzzy to peruse all the front page stories this Sunday? I’ve got you covered.

The Longmont Times-Call had a story about equity concerns in local school fundraising.The Greeley Tribune reported on an invasive new beetle—the emerald ash borer—creeping into Colorado. The Loveland Reporter-Herald wrote about expensive potential changes for a school facility. The Pueblo Chieftain ran a headline “Hospital Fee Bill Failure Worries Some.” Steamboat Today had a piece about future management of reintroduced wild wolves. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a big headline “Nothing Doing” about the anemic legislative session. The Colorado Springs Gazette went with a question: “Why Did Session Break Down?The Fort Collins Coloradoan had an enterprise story about “education at 8,500 feet” and what it looks like for three mountain schools. The Boulder Daily Camera had a piece about Boulder hosting the nation’s first “YIMBY” conference. Vail Daily ran a piece about an upcoming local vote over money for trails and open spaces. The Durango Herald fronted a piece on “The Obstacles of Going Solar.” In “The End of the Mine,The Denver Post looked at the collapse of the coal mining industry in the North Fork Valley.

Will the governor really drag lawmakers back to Denver for a special session? 

On Friday I went to hear Gov. John Hickenlooper speak to a group of about 600 at a luncheon sponsored by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. I came away with what I thought might be a little news: He casually said he’s considering calling lawmakers back to Denver for a special session to try—again— to pass a key budget strategy (reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee into a standalone TABOR-exempt enterprise), which Republicans blocked this year.

That trial balloon seems to be taking off. On Sunday, The Denver Post’s editorial board urged him to do it, following an editorial urging the same in The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Then The Aurora Sentinel chimed in. Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman tweeted “The inevitability is palpable. You could see this coming, and I predict the plot thickening…”

A Google News search on Sunday of “Hickenlooper special session” brought a kind of hilariously depressing roster of headlines.

How a high-school student’s secret recording led to calls to oust school board members

Grace Davis is a “typical high school student in many ways. She studies, plays golf, volleyball and sings in the school choir,” according to Colorado Public Radio. But she might also be atypical for a 15-year-old in knowing Colorado is a one-party state when it comes to recorded conversations. As long as one person in the conversation knows the conversation is being recorded— and that can person can be you— it’s OK to record it. So when the school board president of Davis’ district and another board member asked to meet with her in private after Davis had announced plans for a school protest, Davis secretly recorded the meeting. After she released audio of the meeting in which she later said she was bullied and intimidated, it sparked calls for the ouster of the school board members. CPR has the tick-tock from this story here.

NPR’s “All Things Considered” host is heading to Colorado to talk about the future of water

Michel Martin, the weekend host of NPR’s “All Things Considered” will discuss “the evolving legal, ethical and social conversations that have made water such a hot topic in Northern Colorado and around the country” at the Lory Student Center Theater at Colorado State University, Fort Collins on May 24 at 7 p.m. The event is part of NPR’s event series in partnership with local NPR station KUNC.

For this week’s #BurdickWatch section 

Last week I told you about former Denver Post deputy features editor Dave Burdick’s hiring spree for his Denver news startup. One of those reporters, Adrian Garcia, has also been selected as one of this year’s 12 journalists to join ProPublica’s Data Institute.

Last thing. I tried to cover the end of session differently. Tell me if you think it worked

Since I started writing about state politics in December for the Denver-based nonprofit newsroom The Colorado Independent (like our work? Please consider a donation), I’ve tried to cover a legislative session differently, writing explainer pieces on policy and process in the style of Vox.com as much as I could. Continuing with that out-of-the-box effort, I tried something new for a legislative wrap-up. Instead of a typical straight news end-of-session piece, I tried to tell the story of 2016’s four-month legislative session through the experiences of a fictitious family in Colorado. Think it worked? Someone on the right griped that the piece flipped JFK’s axiom of “what government can do for you” on its head, while another on the left complained to me about parts of it being “anti-government.” Id love to hear your thoughts though.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post misspelled the first name of a Denver7 TV reporter. His name is Marshall, with two Ls. 

[Photo credit: samchills via Creative Commons on Flickr]

img
This story first appeared at the Colorado Freedom of Information website.

 

Name the one place in Colorado where someone who isn’t a lawyer can look at digital images of civil court documents on file anywhere in the state.

The Colorado Supreme Court’s law library in the Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center in downtown Denver.

That’s right. There’s only one location where a non-lawyer can view and request copies of all civil court documents from ICCES, the Integrated Colorado Courts E-Filing System.

Attorneys who subscribe to ICCES can look up civil court documents on their laptops, but you can’t. You certainly can’t get them on your phone, either. And even though many courthouses around the state have public terminals, those only let you call up civil filings from that particular district.

Say you want to look at criminal court documents. You can’t. Not on the terminals at the Supreme Court’s law library, nor on your computer. Not unless the documents concern a high-profile matter like the Aurora theater shooting and the court has elected to post documents on its “cases of interest” web page.

Such limited public access to Colorado court records in 2016 doesn’t sit well with Paul Chessin, a former senior assistant state attorney general who specialized in consumer protection issues.

Chessin made a proposal last Friday to the Colorado Judicial Branch’s Public Access Committee: Let anyone look at Colorado court documents – for free – on public library computers throughout the state.

“I don’t need to tell this committee about our country’s long tradition of public access to our judicial system,” Chessin said. “It is one of the founding pillars of our democracy. And I don’t need to explain the benefits that increased public access to court records has on our judicial system. Among other things, it increases the public confidence in our system.”

Chessin can think of lots of circumstances in which Coloradans would pull court records on free library terminals. Someone who lives in Yuma County or Moffat County, for instance, might want to look at recent Denver District Court decisions on ballot access in the U.S. Senate race. A teacher might assign her students to look up cases around the state for a class project. A student might want to research Colorado’s judicial system.

Journalists for years have been asking Rob McCallum, public information officer for the judicial branch, when Colorado will provide online access to court records – both civil and criminal filings.

“It’s an ongoing request,” he said. “When are we going to get a PACER-like system? That’s the larger question.”

PACER, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, is a 24-hour online service that lets anyone with a computer call up documents from federal appellate, district and bankruptcy courts. It’s inexpensive – 10 cents a page with a cap of $3 for access to any single document. Fees are waived if you spend less than $15 in a quarter.

No state has “one-stop shopping” for electronic court records, but some are expanding remote public access, said Bill Raftery, an analyst at the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. For example, a phased-in project in 59 Florida counties, including Manatee, is making certain court records viewable online.

Colorado Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Jones, who chairs the Public Access Committee, suggested the group discuss Chessin’s proposal at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Sept. 21. The committee isn’t authorized to pursue such a system for Colorado, but it can make recommendations.

Cost is likely to be the foremost issue. But there are legal, security and privacy concerns as well, especially if criminal court records are to be posted online.

Criminal filings often contain information that must be suppressed for one reason or another. In the theater shooting case, McCallum said, the judicial branch had three levels of review before documents were allowed to be posted in the “cases of interest” section of the 18th Judicial District’s website.

Another consideration: Would providing widespread court records access violate judicial branch agreements with vendors such as LexisNexis? That company operates CoCourts.com, a fee-based service that provides online access to the “register of action” in court cases (e.g. case number, case type, parties to the case, scheduled events). CoCourts doesn’t provide actual court documents.

“I don’t think a for-profit company ought to stand in the way of a citizen using a state-owned and state-operated system…to gain access to the state’s judicial system,” Chessin said.

 

Follow the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition on Twitter @CoFOIC. Like CFOIC’s Facebook page.

Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr

img

Hanging on

The New York Times is reporting that Bernie Sanders and his campaign are unworried about the prospect of hurting Hillary Clinton’s chances in November and intend to stay aggressive in the race against her until the finish.

Middle road

Andrew Prokop writes in Vox that he doesn’t believe Sanders is out to destroy the Democratic Party and that he will strongly support Clinton once he’s mathematically eliminated.

Winning chances

For those who think Trump doesn’t have much of a chance in November, there’s a new Fox News poll out that shows Trump beating Clinton by three points and losing to Sanders by only four. Yes, it’s six months out, and, yes, this is just one poll, but Trump’s numbers have jumped significantly since the last Fox poll. Via The Washington Post.

Trump towers

Trump isn’t just winning the GOP nomination for president, but, according to financial disclosure forms, his businesses are booming even as he runs. Via The Washington Post.

Rape accusations

Meanwhile, Trump was on Hannity calling Bill Clinton a rapist. Via New York Magazine.

Like Obama

Jamelle Bouie: The almost hilarious thing about this election is that Donald Trump is actually everything that Barack Obama’s right-wing critics accused him of being. Via Slate.

American beauty

George Will: America, this Bud’s for you. Via The Washington Post.

Equal opportunity

Facebook plays host to a group of conservative pundits and politicians in order to try to mend fences. It’s business, after all. Via The New York Times.

Kangaroo confirmation

Democratic senators hold a confirmation hearing on Merrick Garland that wasn’t a confirmation hearing, but sort of seemed like one. Via Politico.

 

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr

Anti-fracking activists: Give us back local control

Celebrating worldwide month of action, demonstrators push Colorado-specific demands

img

Hundreds of activists and families from across Colorado gathered in Thornton Saturday to protest hydraulic fracturing near schools and neighborhoods.

Braving gray skies and frigid temperatures, demonstrators used songs, chants and signs to urge Colorado to “keep it in the ground,” the rallying cry of groups across the world who demand an end to fossil fuel extraction.

Bill McKibben, renowned author and founder of climate action group 350.org, gave words of encouragement to a crowd of roughly 200 attendees in the early morning. Throughout the day, participants danced, played music — stationary bikes provided power to the PA system — and eventually spelled out “Break Free CO” in yellow umbrellas painted to look like suns.

(Photo by Anders Carlson)

(Photo by Anders Carlson)

The event was part of a global month of action to “break free” from fossil fuels. Encouraged by an alliance of environmental groups led by 350.org, thousands of protesters worldwide have targeted coal mines, power plants and rail lines in recent weeks in what has been called the ‘largest ever global civil disobedience’ against carbon-based energy sources.

In Colorado, the demonstrators added a state-specific demand to their global message: the rights of communities to regulate oil and gas drilling.

“We’re here today because not only do we not want fracking on our public lands, we also don’t want fracking in our neighborhoods and communities,” said Micah Parkin, executive director of the climate action group 350 Colorado.

Demonstrators addressed the public land issue last Thursday, when hundreds of activists showed up to disrupt an oil and gas lease auction at the Bureau of Land Management in Lakewood. Saturday’s participants, gathered in the middle of a field from which they could easily see both Silver Creek Elementary School and a large drilling site, focused on local control.

The Colorado Supreme Court dealt a blow to anti-fracking communities earlier this month when it struck down local government prohibitions on the natural gas extraction method. Preexisting state law, the court ruled, invalidates both Longmont’s fracking ban and Fort Collins’ moratorium.

The decision also puts existing prohibitions in Boulder County and elsewhere at risk and leaves communities concerned about environmental and health risks powerless to keep fracking out.

The last line of defense, Saturday’s organizers said, comes in the form of two hopeful ballot initiatives. Proposed Initiative 75 would grant local governments the constitutional authority to impose regulations on oil and gas development within their borders, including bans and moratoria. Initiative 78 would require all new oil and gas operations to be at least 2,500 feet away from schools, homes and other occupied structures.

“These are the most concrete things that are happening in the country for fracking right now,” activist Suzanne Spiegel said of the measures.

Spiegel says it will be an uphill battle to pass the initiatives, expecting industry opposition in the form of both money and political influence.

“But what they don’t have,” she said of the opposing side, “is the hearts of the people.”

Proposed initiatives in Colorado currently need almost 100,000 petition signatures to earn a slot on the ballot. Spiegel hopes that an active grassroots campaign and a committed volunteer base will get the job done — because by the next election, it could be too late.

That’s because yet another proposed ballot initiative hopes to make it harder for Coloradans to amend the constitution.

Proposed initiative 95, also known as “Raise The Bar, Protect the Constitution,” would require future ballot initiative petitions to get signatures from 2 percent of the population in each of the state’s 55 senate districts. Once on the ballot, such initiatives would require 55 percent of the vote to pass.

Supporters of the initiative say it’s a way to ensure that smaller, rural districts have a say in the lawmaking process.

“The populated urban areas around Denver dictate access to the ballot. Meanwhile, the rest of the state, including rural Colorado, deserves a voice when it comes to placing Constitutional questions on the ballot,” the initiative’s website writes.

But Razz Gormley, co-founder of Frack Free Colorado, says such a change will simply keep grassroots movements out.

“Only well-funded, monied interests could afford to run a ballot initiative under the guidelines they’re trying to pass,” said Gormley. “It would essentially give any county in the state veto power over any initiative.”

Proponents of the Raise the Bar initiative call for a halt to what they see as an overabundance of amendments to the state’s constitution. Indeed, Colorado sees more ballot initiatives than almost any other states.

But Colorado 350’s Parkin says the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling against fracking bans makes ballot initiatives more important than ever. For those who seek regulation against fossil fuel extraction, she says, it and nonviolent direct action are the only options left.

“We’re left now with the ballot initiative process and putting our bodies on the line, and that’s it,” said Parkin. “We’ve done everything else we could do.”