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Dr. Chaps gets results 

Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt has been all over the headlines (and the subject of Mike Littwin’s most recent column), for saying that the feticide in Longmont earlier this month “is the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”

The Colorado Springs Republican was roundly criticized for his remarks not just by liberals but also by conservatives and members of his own caucus, who scolded him on the House floor today.

And yet, in a certain way Klingenschmitt’s antics appear to be yielding results. In the same episode of his televangelist series “Pray in Jesus Name,” Klingenschmitt called for legislative action on the issue of fetal homicide in spite of the fact that the legislature passed a bill against the “unlawful termination of a pregnancy” in 2013, punishable by up to 23 years in prison. However, the measure did not create a murder charge, in part to protect women’s reproductive rights.    

 

Hello budget 

After months of work, the Joint Budget Committee today released the state budget bill, also known as the “long bill” because it’s both long and takes a long time to debate and pass. This, the only bill lawmakers are constitutionally mandated to approve, will guide the state’s spending next fiscal year and shape lawmakers’ debates in the days and weeks to come as they fight over the $5 million in new spending allotted to each chamber. Here are a few highlights from the $26 billion budget:

– Higher education could see a $264 million boost, bringing total spending in that sector up almost $4 billion. While that’s a significant chunk of state dollars, JBC members tell us it’s only enough to slow the growth of tuition costs, not freeze them.

– $25 million is slated to be spent buying down the debt the state owes to public K-12 education, otherwise known as “the negative factor.”

– Nearly $20 million is on the table for Coloradans with developmental disabilities, with budget makers saying the priority is on reducing and even eliminating the waiting list to live in community housing.

– The budget for Colorado’s prison system is set to increase by 7.4 percent this year (the education budget, by contrast, will increase 2.8 percent). Lawmakers point to high recidivism rates as a driving factor in the department’s nearly $900 million budget, and also to increased reform-minded spending such as adding 23 mental health staffers to correctional facilities housing mentally ill and developmentally disabled prisoners.

– The compromise struck in this year’s immigrant drivers license debate — that the state would allow spending to dispense the special licenses in three DMV offices around the state as opposed to one or five — will carry over into the next fiscal year as well. That means one of the most contentious issues of the session will not be a factor of debate when it comes to the state budget.

 

Photo of Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt by Tessa Cheek. 

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According to Orthodox Jewish law, a woman only can be divorced from her husband if he agrees to give her what is known as a “gett,” a religiously sanctioned document that’s necessary if the marriage is to be dissolved. If the husband refuses, the woman cannot be divorced.This religious provision, which is part of Israeli law, can lead to heartbreak and frustration when a recalcitrant husband chooses to deny his wife’s request.This is the background for the powerful Israeli movie Gett: The Trial of Vivian Amsalem, a sobering courtroom drama about one woman’s efforts to obtain a divorce from her reluctant husband.

Ronit Elkabetz plays Viviane, a woman who hasn’t lived with her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) for three years. Viviane supports herself as a hairdresser, and still helps pay off the family mortgage.

As possessive as he is pious, Elisha won’t budge. As the movie unfolds, we learn about what appears to have been a loveless marriage in which Viviane became increasingly miserable. The couple had four children, only one of whom remains at home.

It’s instructive that the opening images are presented from Viviane’s perspective. She’s seated in the courtroom, which means the camera is looking up at the men who will decide her fate. Further elaboration seems unnecessary.

Vivian’s lawyer (Menashe Noy) persuasively argues her case, but can’t disguise his growing exasperation. Elisha is represented by his brother (Sasson Gabai). A three-judge panel is led by a rabbi played by Eli Gorstein.

Gett takes place almost entirely in an unadorned courtroom, where Elkabetz subtly and more directly reveals her reactions to the proceedings or to witnesses who testify during hearings that wind up spanning an agonizing five years.

Co-directed and co-written by Elkabetz and her brother Shlomi Elkabetz, the movie raises issues that range from legally and morally substantive to highly personal. In this context, marriage — no matter how unhappy — is deemed of greater importance than Vivian’s individual fulfillment.

What are the grounds for divorce? asks one judge.

She doesn’t love him anymore, says Viviane’s attorney.

A lack of love is not sufficient grounds for a divorce, replies the judge.

Not surprisingly, there are moments when this battling husband and wife, both originally from Morocco, look at each other with a bone-chilling contempt that amplifies the meaning of a familiar phrase, “If looks could kill.”

Elisha says his wife’s secular ways interfered with his religious observance and wrecked their 30-year marriage.

But the couple became engaged when Vivian was only 15, well before she legitimately could have known what she wanted from life.

Gett proves compelling because its clash of values is deeply felt and because the movie takes place in a hot-house atmosphere in which Viviane’s smoldering emotions are never far from the surface. Elkabetz’s performance is quietly vivid, expressing both Viviane’s long-suppressed sexuality and her mounting disdain for a lop-sided court proceeding.

It’s impossible, I suppose, for a secular American audience not to take sides in this dispute. The judges aren’t necessarily committed to saving the marriage, but they must obtain an outcome that conforms to religious law.

Still, law favors the stony-faced Elisha. At one point, the judges encourage Viviane to return home to try to work things out. She does, but the situation proves intolerable.

Without being preachy, Gett presents one of the best cases ever made in a movie for civil law, not as a means of opposing religion — those who choose to follow religious law should be able to do so — but as a way of protecting vital human freedoms for those who want to live otherwise.

 
Read more reviews at Denerstein Unleashed.

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Bombing Tikrit

The New York Times editorial board calls Obama’s decision to bomb the Iraqi city of Tikrit a dangerous escalation “without providing a shred of evidence showing how it could advance American interests, or what happens once the bombs stop falling.”

Horrible, Awful, Terrible, but not Murder

Boulder DA Stan Garnett will not charge the woman who carved another women’s fetus out of her womb in Longmont with murder. It’s complicated, but fetuses in Colorado aren’t legal humans, as the Colorado Independent famously reported.

Colorado’s Texas Developer Blues

They did it. The U.S. Forest Service is going to green light a 30-year-running proposal submitted by B.J. “Red” McCombs to build The Village at Wolf Creek – hotels, townhouses, condominiums and restaurants — a “year-round community” at 11,000 feet elevation at Wolf Creek Pass. Via Durango Herald.

Polis Gets Grief on the Potential Partnership

The Sierra Club, longtime supporter of Boulder Congressman Jared Polis, targets him in guilt-trippy love letter ads asking him not to support the TransPacific Partnership trade deal, another version of NAFTA, which turned out great for the environment, so long as you don’t live in Mexico. The Boulder Daily Camera.

Or you could ask Siri

From the Readymade American Movie Script news file: The Texas couple moved here after he lost his job drawn by the state’s legal weed. They stopped in Black Hawk on the way and gambled away all their money. She Googled how to rob a bank. They robbed a Fort Collins bank and, in their gold PT Cruiser, led cops on high speed chase before driving over police-laid road spikes at the Wyoming border. It was fun while it lasted. Woo-hoo! Via The Coloradoan.

Pre-Clown-Show-Debate Debate

A 2016 brawl breaks out on the Senate floor, where presidential hopefuls go to war over the defense budget. Paul calls Rubio and Cruz “reckless” and “irresponsible” for opposing his amendment to pay for increased defense spending with corresponding cuts. The amendment was voted down, 96-4. Via Politico.

Swing Districts for Gay Marriage Bennies

The toughest Senate vote in the budget vote-a-rama for the GOP may have been on same-sex marriage benefits: If you’re in a tight race for Senate re-election, you probably voted yes. If you’re running for president, no. The amendment passed, 57-43.

Couples do Better

How do you prevent a disaster like Germanwings Flight 9525? You start with always having at least two people in the cockpit. Via the Washington Post.

No Sharp Objects, No Demons, Please

Vox asks whether more pilot mental health screenings would make a difference.

Keeping Pilots Happy

James Fallows writes in the Atlantic that it’s unlikely any new regulation or device would stop someone who was determined to crash a plane.

And Cigars!

Why is Monica Lewinsky back in the news? To tell us about our online empathy crisis. Via the New Yorker.

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Funding the felony DUI 

With only $5 million in new spending available to each legislative chamber because of this year’s expected TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) refunds, bill-pitching quickly has turned into a fiscal defense as much as a policy debate.

Reps. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, and Beth McCann, D-Denver, seem to know how it’s done. They got their pricey felony DUI bill through the finance committee on Wednesday after changing the policy so that the felony kicks in on an offender’s forth DUI rather than the third. That brought the cost of the policy down by a $1 million to $1.4 million in the first year. Here they are, making their pitch:

 

Sen. Steadman has a plan for your pot taxes 

Due to the mind-boggling intricacies of TABOR, lawmakers are gearing up to ask Colorado voters/ taxpayers if they can keep revenue from recreational pot taxes for the third time. Joint budget committee member Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, took the lead on this one. He’s drafting a bill that would put the pot tax question on voters’ ballots and tell them exactly what the state would do with that $58 million if they get to keep it.

Steadman previewed the bill on Wednesday in a discussion that was as much about strategizing around voters’ perceptions as it was about how to spend the money. So far it looks like at least $40 million would go to school construction, a move voters already approved when they voted for high sales taxes on recreational weed in the first place.

 

It’s always ladies’ month at #Coleg 

March is women’s history month and lawmakers are using the opportunity to point out that Colorado women in politics are making history.

 

Photo by Nathan Rupert

Deja vu all over again on prolonged prison isolation

SC Justice Anthony Kennedy: “Solitary confinement literally drives men mad.”

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In the 1820s, the American penal system sought to end mutilating, amputating and putting convicts to death by housing them alone in isolation cells. The theory: that introspection would lead them to repent.

The morally progressive social experiment didn’t work.

Marinating in longterm solitude led less to repentance than madness. After touring an American prison in the 1840s, Charles Dickens described prolonged isolation as a “slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain immeasurably worse than any torture of the body.” “There is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom,” he wrote.

The dangers of solitary confinement were underscored nationally by the case of James Medley, a Colorado man who had been sentenced to death for killing his wife and housed in a solitary unit. The U.S. Supreme Court freed Medley in 1890, recognizing the psychological harm living without human contact had caused him.

“This matter of solitary confinement is not … a mere unimportant regulation as to the safe-keeping of the prisoner,” the court ruled. “A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

Most U.S. prisons stopped using solitary confinement in the mid- to late-1800s on grounds that it was torture. The policy was presumed to have gone the way of beheadings.

But prisons instituted the practice again a century later when the Reagan-era “get tough on crime” ethos led to the construction of several “supermax” prisons.

Colorado has its own supermax — Colorado State Penitentiary — where inmates are held for years in cells not much larger than king-sized mattresses, without meaningful human interaction, or even going outside. The federal government’s tightest security supermax, known as “ADX,” is just down the road in Florence, Colo. ADX houses inmates justice department officials describe as “the worst of the worst,” including drug kingpins, terrorists and serial killers. It also houses non-violent mentally ill inmates who, because they cut off their own body parts or smear their feces on walls, are deemed unfit for general population prisons.

The federal Bureau of Prisons and Colorado’s Department of Corrections long have defended themselves in cases asserting their use of solitary confinement amounts to torture. ADX is the subject of a civil rights lawsuit in Colorado’s U.S. District Court advocating for mental health treatment. The suit has prompted some reforms in the BOP. At the state level, legally besieged corrections officials are working to reduce the numbers of prisoners housed year after year in solitude. They shut down a second state supermax less than two years after it opened.

Just as it did 150 years ago, momentum is building against longterm isolation. The 8th Amendment bases determinations on whether a punishment is cruel and unusual on what it calls calls the “evolving standards of human decency.”

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy gave voice to those standards this week. It was deja vu all over again in the discussion of what forms of punishment we, as a nation, consider decent.

“This idea of total incarceration just isn’t working — and it’s not humane,” Kennedy testified Monday before the House Appropriations Committee, which is considering a 2016 budget that includes funding for isolation cells. “Solitary confinement literally drives men mad.”

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Doing Better for the Vets

Glenn Haggstrom, principal executive director in the office of Acquisition and Construction for the Department of Veterans Affairs, has resigned. Trouble has plagued construction at the 182-bed Denver VA hospital in Aurora. Project delays and overruns have been at the center of news reports and congressional scoldings for months. Calls for heads of the people in charge by the members of the Colorado congressional delegation grew after project spokespeople announced a new estimate of $1.73 billion.

Looking at Poor People

How poor are the poor? Tom Edsall asks the question and gets a variety of answers, most of them starting with “It depends.” Mostly, it depends how you measure being poor. Absolute poverty is not as bad as it used to be. Relative poverty — the distance from those at the bottom of income distribution to the middle — is clearly worse. The answer is important. And which measure you use may depend on whether you believe in the continuing need for a safety net.

But also Rural Child Poverty

This week, Colorado Children’s Coalition reported that the state’s overall child poverty rate dropped by a single percentage point in 2013 — the first decrease recorded in five years. But not all of Colorado is experiencing progress: “The economic recovery hasn’t necessarily hit our rural communities, and we certainly hear that when we go talk to folks,” president of the nonprofit Chris Watney said. Via the Gazette. 

Journalist, Do Not Look Away

Journalists are tapped out on Campaign finance stories and that is not OK. The absurd corrupt and corrupting system in place is the biggest story in contemporary politics. Or as Paul Waldman puts at the Washington Post: “It’s often said that when it comes to campaign finance, the real scandal is what’s legal, and I’m sure most reporters think that’s true. So they ought to treat that story the same way they treat the rest of the things (often trivial) that we give the name ‘scandal.’”

From Childhood to Death… in Prison

Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett is breaking ranks with the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council by publicly backing Rep. Daniel Kagan’s recently introduced bill that would give judges in the state reduced sentencing options for juveniles convicted of Class 1 felonies. In 2012, SCOTUS ruled that mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders is unconstitutional, yet there are still around 50 people in Colorado prisons doing life for crimes they committed as teenagers. This bill would make those inmates eligible for re-sentencing, which Garnett calls a “step in the right direction” but which CDAC executive director Tom Raynes calls too severe and aggressive. Via the Daily Camera.

Way Off Track

Bad train week in Weld County: A coal train en-route to La Junta derailed Sunday near the town of Hudson in eastern Colorado, spilling tons of coal and damaging part of the track. Not more than a day later, a Union Pacific train carrying fertilizer pellets partially derailed near Highway 85. Investigations are ongoing. Photos of the first via FOX31 and of the second via the Coloradoan.

More Leaning on Activist Judges

Republicans may actually be beginning to put together a plan to replace Obamacare. The first part of the plan begins – where else? — in the Supreme Court. Via the National Journal.

Desertion Decision

Why the Army is charging ex-POW Bowe Berghdal with desertion: According to the Atlantic, it was either a court-martial or an honorable discharge. That doesn’t mean Berghdal will end up being court-martialed.

The Cruz Plan

E.J. Dionne: Ted Cruz knows what he’s doing. He’s going hard after the conservative vote. And if it works out for Cruz, it’s bad news for Scott Walker and very good news for Jeb Bush. Via the Washington Post.

It’s Not Personal, Bibi

It’s not Obama vs. Bibi. It’s Obama’s policies vs. Netanyahu’s policies. And apologies won’t help. Via the New Yorker.

No Name Cops

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has to decide by Monday whether to sign a bill that would keep the names of cops involved in serious shootings confidential for 60 days. Even in Arizona this is controversial. Via New York Times.

Fossil Fuel Break

Costa Rica went 75 days without using any fossil fuels for electricity. Which doesn’t mean that larger, richer countries could do the same. Via Vox.

 
Photo by DVIDSHUB via Flickr.

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Wayne New got some bad news today. As The Colorado Independent reported earlier, Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint with the Denver Elections Division about this City Council candidate. The political watchdog said New’s promotional materials and banners promoting his run for Denver City Council violate campaign finance law.

“This is the first time I’ve run a campaign, and I’ve made an honest mistake,” he told The Independent.

His mistakes were small, he said. He failed to report in-kind contributions from Paradise Cleaners, the company he plans to pay for printing his banners.

“All that was paid for by the committee, and we have all the receipts,” he said. “We just missed that in the regulations. We’re correcting it now.”

New also failed to print on his banners and other promotional materials the names of who had funded them.

“I have to go back and do that,” he said.

New, who said he has provided consulting and analytical work for 43 children’s hospitals, assures voters he is ethical, competent and meticulous, and that his campaign has complied with the regulations – until this blunder.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Colorado Ethics Watch

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The budget looms

Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, has a bill, stuck in the appropriations committee, designed to fund a statewide, high-tech fire-and-flood-prediction system. It will cost at least $2 million in the first year. After three years at the Capitol, she knows this season well: the prebudget frenzy. Throughout the session, lawmakers have angled and cajoled for their bills, some of which even have bipartisan support. But when it comes to the state’s budget – constitutionally-mandated to be balanced – it’s not about passing bills. Now, it’s time to make sure the state has enough money to pay for them.

“There’s five million dollars per chamber, so decisions will have to be made,” said Kraft-Tharp of this year’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights-sapped budget. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, TABOR, doesn’t just give Coloradans the right to vote on tax hikes, it also puts a cap on how much money the state can spend, even through fee-funded programs.

When it comes to fighting fires, Kraft-Tharp is trying to make sure there is a good return on investment. “We spend billions on fires every year … If you spend two million dollars up-front, then the return on investment will be great because we’ll know exactly where to send our planes, our fire fighters.”

That said, Kraft-Tharp pointed out that she’s not just fighting her colleagues for a chunk of her chamber’s $5 million; she’s also competing with herself. She has a workforce development bill and a tax refund for small Colorado businesses that research and design clean technology and medical devices. The state can’t afford them all, and she knows it.

“We have to be creative and have a little patience,” she said of the looming funding frenzy. “I have a belief that bad bills tend to go away and good bills tend to get taken care of.”

Thank you for smoking

Despite being among the top 10 healthiest states in the nation, it turns out Colorado is lagging when it comes to taxing and regulating tobacco products. The state ranks 34th for cigarette taxation. According to Tobacco-Free Kids, Colorado spends nearly $400 million Medicaid dollars each year directly on smoking-related health issues. Yet a bill passed back in 1986 penalizes local governments that set their own taxes or regulations on tobacco.

 

Colorado ranks 18th in the nation for adult smokers. Data via AmericasHealthRankings.org

Colorado ranks 18th in the nation for adult smokers. Data via AmericasHealthRankings.org

Today the legislature is considering a bipartisan bill, HB 1257, to remove that old provision. The big-tobacco lobby is out in force.

Just relax

A sure sign that the long days of the legislature are upon us: Lawmakers flocked to the Old Supreme Court chambers today for a few minutes of complimentary massages. Lucky them.

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Leading image by José Feliciano Cerdeño

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An unvaccinated infant rides in a grocery cart where she risks contracting whooping cough. She crawls through her day care nursery, a possible Petri dish for mumps. She goes to Disneyland where the threat of measles looms around her. The message: old-time killer diseases — the kind most people figured modern medicine had whipped –- are back, and our kids are susceptible.

“As a parent, nothing is scarier than watching your child get sick – especially when it’s preventable,” John Hickenlooper says in the video above.

“I know firsthand. When our son was an infant, he spent two nights in the hospital after being exposed to pertussis or whooping cough. This is a very real and very dangerous disease. We’re seeing outbreaks nationwide, even here in Colorado.”

The governor understands the threat. He was talking about it in public service announcements back in 2012. But Colorado’s anti-vaccination rates are still cause for alarm, especially given a 2014 Centers for Disease Control report listing Colorado as the state with the lowest immunization rate among kindergarteners nationwide.

As the Colorado Independent reported Monday, lawmakers at the Capitol are all but throwing up their hands, citing ideological roadblocks, undiminished public misconceptions and misplaced concern about the science of immunization.

Eyes are turning to Hickenlooper. Will he dive into a grassroots public health campaign? Does he have something else planned? Or is he opting out?

Photo by: Jeffrey Beall

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Denver City Council candidate Wayne New’s ads claim he is “neighborhood friendly” and “development smart.” The ads are also in violation of campaign finance law, charges Colorado Ethics Watch.

The organization’s accusation: He has failed to disclose expenses or in-kind contributions on his campaign finance report in relationship to four public signs. As exemplified above, these signs do not state who paid for them.

The political watchdog organization has asked the Denver Elections Division to determine whether or not his campaign violates municipal code. He will have 10 days to update his report and disclose who paid for the ads on the signs. If he does not, Ethics Watch will ask the Elections Division for a hearing to investigate.

New was not available for comment.

 

Former Colorado House Majority Leader Amy Stephens on women in politics and facing down fear, threats, stalking

‘I would think about my secretary, an exit strategy for her baby… I would think about those things at night.’

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In Colorado over the past few election cycles, partisan sniping and ideological battles have moved beyond distracting and annoying to become scary. Exaggerated and ugly political speech has reduced political opponents to stereotypes and has helped make them targets for abuse.

Former Democratic Senate President John Morse, quoting Robert Kennedy, famously referred to the deluge of ugliness and threats that came during the 2013 session around a suite of gun-control bills as evidence of “a sickness in our souls,” which drew even more abuse.

“We’ve experienced hatred and vitriol that I haven’t seen since I was on the street as a police officer,” said Morse in the speech. “It has included wishing rape, torture and death on legislators and their families. Sickness,” he said.

Samples of the kinds of messages Morse referred to are still available online. The messages are inarguably ugly and sick. Some of them drew criminal investigation.

On Tuesday, Colorado Independent reporter Tessa Cheek wrote about an anti-harassment bill being weighed this year at the Capitol. In her report, she briefly quotes former Republican House Majority Leader Amy Stephens, who was besieged with threats for sponsoring the controversial bill that established Colorado’s Connect for Health Obamacare insurance exchange. Stephens was talking at an event on women in politics held by the Colorado Independent and her recounting of the experience was riveting and sad.

“I had death threats, I was being followed for running the [Obamacare state-exchange] bill. Did you know we had to have people out in front of my office every day at the Capitol?” she begins. She says she most feared for the women on her staff, one of whom was pregnant. She said she was kept awake at night considering different evacuation routes from the building, about how she could move her staff out safely.

She begins talking about the experience at 11:45 roughly and starts again at 21:00. The other women on the panel are former state Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald and filmmakers Meg Froelich and Laura Hoeppner, who are producing “Strong Sisters,” a documentary about the rich history of elected women in Colorado.

Excerpts:

We had people call my office to say they were going to kill your boss to my aides.Did you know, it was awful? There were crazies, and the honest thing is, that it’s sad. It’s really sad to me because… I’m a Republican, I’m a conservative, a states’ rights person, and so to me running a bill like that, the exchange, so that Colorado could control its own destiny, to me it made absolute sense. But when there are hot issues like that… People are just ‘la-la-la’ — they can’t hear — you can’t even get through to some people in talking about it… So during that time, you just had to say, ‘I know who I am. I know why I’m here. I know how my district would vote…’

I saw a different light of people, because social media is in the age of the angries and the nasties and the trolls and people who just are haters in general. I had to just not read it. I had to just carry on. It didn’t mean my son didn’t hear things and my husband — my husband it grated… He was worried all the time, because he was really concerned for my safety. Look, when you walk to your car, when someone isn’t watching — I had to be aware all the time during that period, and it’s very emotionally and physically draining…. I’ve been followed….

There’s a difference between waking up in the morning and saying ‘I have to put my big girl’s pants on because if you want to be in this game, that’s what’s gonna happen.’ Now, that happens to some men. But I predominantly have seen people think it’s freer and they’re able to take aim at women in ways they wouldn’t to men. I don’t care if you’re Annie Oakley, frankly. They will still do it, and I think it’s a shame. It speaks again about our society and sometimes how we view women in power and in office, and to me it was a big learning lesson.

The only time I really would cry is when I thought about my staff… I was very worried about my staff because the door through the Majority Office — there is a secretary there and an aide there and I would — you know, when crazies are calling, that’s what it is, crazies, and you don’t give them place — but I always had to think ‘What do you do in an emergency? How are we going to respond?’ and those were the things for me — I was like, ‘Okay, do I go to Home Depot and buy the thing that goes over the window?’ This is what would keep me up at night. I would lay awake going ‘[Secretary’s name] has a baby on the way. Oh my god, what if something happens?’ You know, my other aide had just applied to go into the Army and wanted a bright future there. Those were the things that I can remember weeping over, just, you know, during that time, because I just really wanted to secure the safety of our people there… So I hear you about thinking about an exit strategy for a baby, because I would think about those things at night.

[Photo of Amy Stephens by John Tomasic.]

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Blowing Steam

Michael Roberts, at Westword, pulls no punches slamming The Gazette in his critique of the Pulitzer Prize-winning paper’s series “Clearing the Haze.” Roberts describes the four-part look at the legal marijuana industry as “a beautifully presented but woefully one-sided anti-weed screed” and details author Christine Tatum’s long history of anti-pot advocacy.

No Show

More evidence of the dipping prominence of the evangelical presence in southern Colorado: A recent Gallup poll places Colorado among the bottom ten states when it comes to regular church attendance. Via The Gazette.

Fight Club

Greeley District 6 teacher-contract talks have become a major wrestling match. The union has filed a lawsuit against what they say is bad-acting on the district’s part. The district points out that the suit comes just before mediated talks were set to begin and a new negotiations sunshine law was about to take effect. Via the The Greeley Tribune.

Death Match

Aldo Svaldi leads his Denver Post story about the city’s cutthroat housing scramble with the following: “Denver’s tight housing market has morphed into a version of “The Hunger Games,” with buyers scrounging for whatever weapons they can find to remain the last bidder standing.”

Windfall Coming?

Black Hills Energy wants to construct a massive wind farm in Huerfano County, reports Peter Roper of The Pueblo Chieftain. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission turned down the project. Conservation and social justice groups are asking the CPUC to reconsider its position.

Signature Here

If the U.S. can get a nuclear deal with Iran by month’s end, there may still be at least one thing missing: an Iranian signature. Via The New York Times.

The Day the Music Died

Americans changed in many ways after 9/11. Ted Cruz reveals how it changed him: He stopped listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Via Politico. In other news, Cruz is signing up for Obamacare. No, really. Via Vox.

Phoenix Rising

How a murdered Afghan woman — beaten and burned by a mob that had falsely accused her of burning a Koran — became an unlikely champion for women’s rights. Via the Washington Post.

First Place

The Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College will be awarding progressive journalists Naomi Klein and David Sirota with the Izzy Award, reports Common Dreams. Jeff Cohen describes the duo: “Naomi Klein and David Sirota are the journalistic heirs of I.F. Stone, taking on the most powerful forces in society – from Wall Street to Big Oil & Gas – and giving voice to the victims of predatory capitalism.”

Firing Squads

Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed off on legislation permitting the state to use firing squads as a backup method for execution, reports Deseret News. Lethal injection remains the state’s killing method of choice.

 

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Private education tax credit launches a flurry of education amendments

For years, Senate Republicans have been trying to pass a tax credit for private K-12 education. Now that they’re in the majority, they have brought the tax credit to the floor. Democrats used the opportunity to discuss a slew of education issues, many of which had already died in committee this session.

The Democrats proposed to make student loans tax deductible, to create a state-run tuition plan, to make private schools subject to the same standardized tests and evaluations as public schools, and to postpone funding private education until public kindergarten and preschool have full funding.

In the end, one amendment did pass with unanimous support. Carried by President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, the amendment made the tax credit refundable. That means families too poor to pay income tax could still get a check from the state to fund their children’s private education.

Cadman said he supported the move because it would help kids who need it the most.

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, who sponsored the amendment earlier in the debate, rallied his caucus to support it for a different reason.

Gun debate: What we talk about when we talk about “success” 

On the surface, lawmakers were fighting over a repeal of universal criminal-background checks for all gun purchases. In practice, they were debating how to measure the success of the existing universal background-check law.

Democrats in favor of retaining universal background checks for all firearms purchases — including private, or peer-to-peer sales — said the policy’s success should be measured by how many people were prevented from legally buying guns because they couldn’t pass a criminal background check. That’s nearly 6,000 would-be gun buyers since the law went on the books in 2013.

Republicans advocating a repeal of universal background checks focused on the peer-to-peer sales the bill was intended to cover, pointing out that only three people have been caught and convicted for privately buying a gun without a background check.

This disagreement about how to measure or even talk about the law’s success was never settled. The ships-passing-in-the-night debate lasted several hours. In the end, everyone voted as expected: 18 Republicans shouted “yes” to repealing the background-check law, and 17 Democrats shouted “no”.

Salazar still mulling the mascot debate

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton spoke with us about his provocative bill to make American Indian school mascots subject to approval by a board of tribal members. The debate hasn’t left his mind, specifically the arguments of GOP lawmakers.

“That is the essence of institutionalized racism right there, that we don’t trust American Indians enough to allow them to make decisions about themselves,” said Salazar.  “Anything that you do, we still have to approve like you’re a bunch of children.’ That’s what really got to me, and I wish I had said so more clearly yesterday.”

As for his controversial introduction of the bill, which deployed other racial stereotypes and slurs to demonstrate how Indian students feel when confronted by names like “redskins,” Salazar said he has no regrets.

“This bill challenges social mores and norms, and we meant for that to happen,” he said. “We’re watching a sociology experiment take place with this bill … this is what our republic was set up for.”

“Debating Society” by Isaac Cruikshank, public domain.

Under threat: Lawmakers work to end digital harassment

With two death threats reported at the Capitol each day, Colorado lawmakers weigh digital harassment legislation.

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Lawmakers and their families face frequent threats; death and rape top the list. Former state lawmaker Amy Stephens, R-Monument, knows this well. In 2011, when Stephens ran an insurance exchange bill, she found herself in the crosshairs of opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

“I had death threats and was being followed when I ran the exchange bill,” Stephens told an audience at a recent Colorado Independent women-in-politics forum. “Did you know that we had to have people in front of my office every day at the Capitol? Did you know that people called my office to say, ‘We’re going to kill your boss,’ to my aides? Did you know that it was awful?”

Stephens is not alone in her experience of threats.

“Death threats? I think we’re up to one or two a day … we’re reporting about one a week to State Patrol,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.

When contentious issues hit Salazar’s desk, threats pour in. “There are those who like to bring family into it, which is an absolute no-no,” said Salazar. “My family doesn’t take the votes. I do. People will mention my girls or mention my wife. I get very concerned about my family. For myself, it is what it is. I kind of accepted that as a legislator.

“I’m sure there’s a number of other Republicans and Democrats who get all kinds of nasty threats as they go about their legislative careers,” Salazar continued, “but it saddens me that people really think that physically threatening someone is supposed to influence legislation.”

To combat pervasive electronic harassment, Salazar co-sponsored HB-1072, an update to the harassment code. He supports the bill, both for its primary intention to curb cyberbullying among kids and because it would cover repeat harassment and threats made “indirectly” through social media.

Salazar distinguishes trolls from terrorists and appreciates that the bill acknowledges the difference.

“Here are the trolls,” he said, pointing to a printout of an online article. “This is Colorado Peak Politics. They call me ‘Jackass Joe.’ Apparently that’s the name they wanted to run with.”

Does he love the nickname? No. Does he think it should be reported to State Patrol or that HB 1072 will make it illegal? Also no.

“Yes, the First Amendment talks about civil discord,” said Salazar, “but the death threats? The physical threats? No. That’s the line.”

That line and which side of it the cyber-harassment bill falls on are less clear for Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone.

In 2013, Saine ate fried chicken in a legislative task force about poverty in response to a Republican colleague who had said racially insensitive things about foods black people eat.

Commenters criticized Saine for silently protesting in defense of the racially-charged comments.

“I was receiving tweets, phone calls, Facebook messages and they’d be in the nature of, ‘I hope you die,’ and ‘I hope you die this way,” remembers Saine. “It was a semantic workaround. They didn’t actually threaten to kill me, so that’s the difference.”

Saine voted against the electronic harassment bill because she thinks it’s overly broad and would limit free speech.

“If people want to call me names, I’ll defend their right to do so as long as it doesn’t cross that line to: ‘I’m coming over to your house right now, and I’m going to do this,’” said Saine. “If every politician was able to use this bill to say, ‘You’re harassing me,’ that’s really going to chill free speech.”

The Senate is scheduled to debate the bill on the floor today.

Photo by Jonas Seaman

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This is what political denial looks like in Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott has allegedly banned state officials from uttering the term “climate change.”

Video from a Senate committee hearing finds Bryan Koon, head of Florida’s emergency division, dancing around the term as he responds to questions about the climate change disaster-mitigation plans the federal government has required Florida to prepare.

On one hand, it’s absurd and awkward and funny. On the other, it’s tragic and Orwellian. How long can Republican politicians keep this up?

Colorado U.S. Senator Cory Gardner last fall during his campaign for office was asked in a Denver Post debate to respond with a one-word answer on the matter of whether he believed that (a) climate change was happening and (b) was caused mostly by human activity. But Gardner didn’t want to say “yes” or “no.” Moderator Chuck Plunkett, politics editor at the paper, was forced to explain. “These questions are meant to be answered yes or no because they should come from a core belief that you hold.”

To no avail.

“These are important issues that should be addressed seriously,” Gardner said, before rapidly plunging on. The audience oohed and awed.

This dodging on climate change is the kind of thing that makes for great video — the kind of video that outlives the people it features. The one below from 1994 concerns a different matter and it features corporate CEOs, not the people they pay to run for office, but the effect is the same.