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Over the weekend, Colorado’s Libertarian Party, which saw its membership swell in the run-up to the presidential election, rallied for its state convention.

This year’s theme was “Liberty City”— if you could start from scratch, how would you create your Libertarian utopia?— and took place at the Westin in Westminster.

The state’s third largest political party had a good year in 2016, seeing its membership crack more than 1 percent of registered voters statewide as Coloradans looked for candidates and affiliation outside the two major parties.

Because of that, the Libertarian’s 2016 U.S. Senate nominee, Lily Tang Williams, was allowed to participate in the first general election debate, held in Grand Junction by the West Slope business group Club 20.

On Election Day, the Libertarian presidential nominee, Gary Johnson, snagged 5.18 percent in Colorado with 144,121 votes— one of his best showings of the cycle in a swing state.

Since the election, though, membership in the state party here has actually dipped. By November 1, 2016, the party counted 43,511 members in its ranks. As of the beginning of this month it had 43,441, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

That said, “We had probably the best convention we ever had,” says Castle Rock real estate broker Wayne Harlos, who was elected chair of the state party this weekend. “We had more participation in this off-year convention than we had last year in an election year.”

Harlos attributes the turnout to the convention’s content and promotion. Seminars included “Tactics for Defending Your Business from the Regulations,” “The Failed War on Drugs,” “Liberty and the African American,” and “When Helping is Hurting: Prostitution.” Speakers included former Libertarian presidential candidate Steve Kerbel and Libertarian Nebraska Sen. Laura Ebke.

As for leadership changes, the party— and Colorado— lost two of its most prominent figures. Its former chairman, Jay North, is moving out of state, Harlos said.

And Williams, a Chinese immigrant who crisscrossed the state in 2016 as the party’s fiery U.S. Senate candidate, is leaving Colorado for New Hampshire. She has joined the Free State Project, she says, which is a political migration movement urging 20,000 Libertarian-minded people to flock to the Granite State.

“I think maybe I could be more effective here,” she told The Colorado Independent from New Hampshire, saying it can be hard to compete in a state as populous and politically diverse as Colorado. (Williams earned 3.62 percent of the vote in the 2016 U.S. Senate election, with 99,277 voters casting ballots for her in the race.)

“I know the Libertarian Party is doing great in Colorado,” she said. “They have a new board and are showing strong leadership. I think they will do great things.”

Unlike neighboring Nebraska, Colorado’s state legislature doesn’t have any Libertarians. But the party does count Beau Woodcock, the mayor of Milliken, in its ranks.

The national Libertarian Party was founded in Colorado Springs in the early 1970s.

 

Photo of Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson campaigning for president in Colorado by Corey Hutchins

MAP: How much money could your hospital lose next year?

If a $264 million cut to the Hospital Provider Fee is approved, almost every Colorado hospital loses.

Click on the graphic at the bottom of the story to see how much.

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Hospitals across the state are rejoicing today over legislation Colorado Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg introduced Monday night to reclassify the Hospital Provider Fee.

The bill would eliminate the need for a proposed $264 million cut to the fee — a cut many hospitals say would be devastating.

“If this (fee cut) goes into effect, we’ll be in the red by about $350,000 to $500,000 next year,” says Trampas Hutches, administrator for Melissa Memorial Hospital in Phillips County, which netted a small net operating income in 2016 thanks to the fee.  “It’s really going to hit us pretty hard as far as our bottom line, and our ability to offer services and provide care for the uninsured.” 

The Hospital Provider Fee (HPF) is a fee levied on health care providers, which is then collected, matched with federal dollars and redistributed to help hospitals with the costs of Medicaid and coverage for uninsured patients.

RELATED: Colorado’s Hosital Provider Fee, explained

The fee helps hospitals, particularly those in rural areas, offset the costs of serving low-income and uninsured populations who would otherwise be a burden to their bottom lines. The downside is that the HPF currently counts towards the state’s revenue limits under TABOR — the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — and any excess revenues will have to be taken out of state coffers and returned to taxpayers.

To combat an expected $500 million budget gap, Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed cutting the HPF by $195 million for the 2017-2018 fiscal year to keep state revenues below TABOR limits. That proposed cut has now grown to $264 million.

Sonnenberg’s bill would reclassify the fee so that it does not count towards TABOR limits, eliminating the need for the cut. The Colorado Hospital Association strongly supports the effort.

Hospitals and health care providers have also widely praised the bill, saying it will allow them to continue providing quality care, to move forward with construction projects and, for a few particularly vulnerable rural hospitals, to keep their doors open.

Hutches says that without Sonnenberg’s bill, offerings on the chopping block could include optometry services, dental services, chemotherapy and several procedures such as colonoscopies and joint replacements.

Large providers like Denver Health and UCHealth aren’t exempt from the cut’s negative impacts.

“As a safety net hospital, our net operating income is very small — anywhere from 1 to 4 percent — and we are especially vulnerable to any changes in funding,” says Josh Rasmussen, a spokesman for Denver Health.

UCHealth spokesman Dan Weaver says the UCHealth system is Colorado’s largest inpatient Medicaid provider, caring for nearly 20 percent of all Medicaid discharges in the state. “The Hospital Provider Fee really helps us take care of those Medicaid patients,” he says.

But it is perhaps the small, rural, critical access hospitals which are most vulnerable to the proposed changes.

Haley Leonard Saunders, a spokeswoman for Southwest Memorial Hospital in Montezuma County, says the HPF cut would make the difference between them being in the red and the black, too, and could force the hospital to scale back services.

“We’ll continue to operate, but there will be a point when we’ll have to make some really, really tough decisions,” she says. “The last thing you want to do is impact patient care. We can’t do that — we won’t do that.”

Just how much do Colorado hospitals stand to lose if the Hospital Provider Fee is cut by $264 million?

Check out the interactive map below.

Map created by Kelsey Ray with data from the Colorado Joint Budget Committee using BatchGeo. Click here to view in full screen.

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Efforts by Democrats to allow transgender Coloradans an easier path to change their birth certificates went by the wayside Monday afternoon for the third year in a row.

But the measure’s Senate sponsor, Democratic Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, vowed he will bring back legislation every year until he gets the votes to pass it.

Monday, the Republican-majority Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, on a 3-2 party-line vote, dismissed a bill that would make the process for changing a birth certificate less intrusive.

Under current law, a transgender person who wants to change their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity must go through sex reassignment surgery and make that petition to a judge in open court. Transgender Coloradans and medical personnel say that the surgery isn’t always appropriate, especially for minors. It’s also expensive and for some people, just not an option. And some say asking a judge to order a change in the birth certificate is a violation of their privacy.

Related: Transgender Coloradans hope third time’s the charm for change in birth certificate law

The bill would allow a transgender Coloradan to request the birth certificate change with the state registrar, which is under the Department of Public Health and Environment. The request would include a written statement from the person seeking the change or, if a minor,  from a parent. It also must include a declaration from a medical professional that the person has either undergone surgery or other treatment for gender transition, or that the professional opinion is that the change is appropriate. The state registrar would then issue a new birth certificate rather than an amended one.

Testimony Monday ranged from the heartfelt to the bizarre. The Department of Public Health and Environment supports the bill, according to Michael Nicoletti, the department’s lobbyist. “We have no concerns about potential fraud,” he told the Senate’s State Affairs committee. What’s more worrying, he said, is that current law makes it more difficult for transgender Coloradans to use their birth certificates in obtaining housing, employment and health care.

Opponents claimed, without evidence, that if the bill passed, men would be allowed to go into women’s locker rooms, play on sports teams of the opposite sex and commit fraud. That included testimony from former U.S. Attorney Mike Norton, who now represents the Colorado Freedom Institute and Colorado Family Action, an affiliate of Focus on the Family; and testimony from the conservative American College of Pediatricians, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a hate group.

The hearing also marked a return to the Capitol by Rosina Kovar, who testifies against LGBTQ legislation, often in graphic terms. On Monday, she claimed hormones that people take to change their gender, which she called dangerous, have become so prevalent in Boulder Creek that the fish are “intersex.”

But transgender Coloradans and their families dominated the testimony. Jack Teeter, a Democratic staffer, said he began his transition after coming to work at the Capitol in 2013. For anyone to suggest they would do this to play on a sports team is absurd, he said.

Jude Clinchard and her mom, Jenna, who testified last year, also spoke of Jude’s transition. She’s now 10, and Jude told the committee that her Social Security and passport documents now reflect her true gender, and asked the committee to change the law so all of her documents match. “It’s just not fair” that people should have to hide, she said.

But her pleas, and that of the other transgender Coloradans, failed to persuade the committee’s Republicans. Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs called the birth certificate little more than a historical document. “I don’t see how it’s our task to change [the document] after the fact…a birth certificate reflects a past event.”

 

Photo credit: pridefest.com

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Whatever you might have heard, nothing much has changed on the sanctuary-city front except that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wanted to make sure that Denver is taking the exercise personally.

In threatening once again to withhold federal grant money from so-called sanctuary cities, he name-checked Denver for a case in which city officials say the attorney general got his, uh, facts wrong (although ICE officials dispute that contention). In any case, you might have spotted a trend there. But there’s another trend worth noting.

For all the talk on sanctuary cites, despite the executive order on sanctuary cities, even with Sessions’ latest now-I-mean-it pronouncement on sanctuary cities, the Trump administration hasn’t actually done anything on sanctuary cities.

Just as it hasn’t accomplished anything on repealing Obamacare. Or on building a wall. Or on making Mexico pay for the wall. Or on getting several iterations of a travel ban targeting citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries past a judge. Or on, well, much of anything.

The list of non-accomplishments is long and growing longer, unless you count executive orders to harm the environment as accomplishments. As political guru David Gergen says, Trump is well on his way to putting together the worst first 100 days in modern presidential history. And though it’s early, you might want to start lining up your bets for the second 100.

In fact, the most likely reason that Sessions made his quick appearance during Monday’s White House press briefing session was to provide cover. By changing the subject, he gave beleaguered Sean Spicer something to talk about other than trying to defend Trump’s decision to walk away from reforming Obamacare — the law that Trump calls a disaster and predicts will either implode or explode or, in a first, both — after 17 grueling days of trying.

In a revealing Vox explainer, we learn that if you look closely at what Sessions said, it was to back away from a probably unenforceable executive order on sanctuary cities by changing the definition. A sanctuary city — a term Tom Tancredo helped make famous — is generally considered one that won’t help to enforce federal immigration law. But in this latest effort, as Vox explains, Sessions would deny grants only to those cities and states that actually violate the law by refusing to give any information to ICE officials.

Denver is not one of those cities. Denver officials, who have been very careful not to officially proclaim Denver a sanctuary city for clearly legal reasons, were pretty confident the original order didn’t apply to them. And they’re just as certain that this interpretation doesn’t either.

Maybe it would work in dealing with hard-line cities like San Francisco or New York, but New York officials make the case that it seems unlikely the federal government would deny policing funds to the city that is ground zero for terrorism. And San Francisco, meanwhile, is leading an effort to challenge the executive order in court. Denver has joined the effort.

The stakes are large. In Denver’s case, it could be tens of millions of dollars in federal grants that aid in city law enforcement. In other words, in our continuing discussion of the theory that, in TrumpWorld, up really is down, Sessions says that he’s targeting sanctuary policies because they make cities less safe. And then says he would deny the very funds that actually help make those cities safer.

Forget the studies that show that so-called sanctuary cities aren’t any less safe than any other cities, because this is not about facts. This is about the Trump campaign and its claim that “bad hombres” from Mexico are on a rampage of rape and murder in America. And while the Trump administration has been slow on sanctuary cities, it has clearly shown it is willing to make life tougher for the most vulnerable among us, pushing immigrants without documents further into the shadows. And in its border policy, it is threatening to separate children from parents caught crossing the border.

But how did Sessions come to name-check Denver?

It’s the case of Ever Valles, whom Sessions described as “an illegal immigrant and a Mexican national … charged with murder and robbery of a man at a light rail station.” He was released from a Denver jail, Sessions said, “despite the fact that ICE has lodged a detainer for his removal.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Hancock’s spokeswoman Amber Miller said that Session had it all wrong, that ICE, which was aware that Valles was in the city jail for two months, could have issued a warrant for Valles at any time, but didn’t. And she said ICE didn’t issue a “detainer,” but asked instead for a notification of release.

The city says it provided the notification. ICE says it got the notice an hour after Valles was released.

But the story here is less in the disputed details than it is in the politics. Polls have shown that a majority of people oppose defunding sanctuary cities, but, of course, the offending cities are mostly heavily Democratic. And yet, denying these funds would mean Trump would have to go after cities in states that he just recently won from Democrats. And, if he tries to apply it to Colorado, it would mean going after Denver and Aurora and Boulder and other cities in our swing state as we head inexorably toward the 2018 midterms.

Is this a battle — withholding funding for police departments — that the Trump administration really wants to fight? Or, and this is my guess,  is it a battle it just wants to talk about fighting?

Photo by Jonathan McIntosh via flickr: Creative Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aurora’s city council held a special study session Monday evening to examine its perceived status as a “sanctuary city.” This comes amidst increased scrutiny from the White House, which recently included the Aurora Detention Center in a list of jurisdictions with policies that limit cooperation with ICE.

Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz said his department will not help ICE agents with immigration roundups, but will certainly arrest immigrants if they commit a crime. Writes 9News, “He said the policy is clear: Officers are prohibited from proactively investigating, detaining or enforcing immigration just for determining a person’s status.”

In other words, “We don’t get involved in sweeps,” said Mayor Steve Hogan. “We don’t randomly stop people and check their papers. We value this relationship, and it’s for public safety. It’s for everybody’s safety.” Hogan has previously rejected the sanctuary city label for Aurora, though he acknowledges that the term has no legal definition.

The council discussed a potential resolution using terms other than “sanctuary city” to convey that immigrants are welcome, 9News reports.

The session was open to the public, but no public comment was permitted, which prompted a press conference by the Colorado People’s Alliance outside the Aurora Municipal Center prior to the meeting.

“We are here to tell city council that this is not ok,” said Lizeth Chacon, Executive Director of Colorado People’s Alliance. “Work with us on the issues as our organization has done so for years. Our organization has a history of working with the Aurora Police Department on immigration and with the Arapahoe County Sherriff’s department, so we ask the same of the city of Aurora.”

Jeff Sessions formally announced Monday from the White House that cities and states risk losing federal grants by providing sanctuary to illegal immigrants.“Some states and cities have adopted policies designed to frustrate the enforcement of our immigration laws. This includes refusing to detain known felons,” he said during the press briefing. “Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets.”

City council members discussed Aurora’s policies, which officials say are similar to many neighboring law enforcement agencies and do not break any federal immigration enforcement laws.

Aurora is certainly in good company: All of the Colorado’s 64 county sheriff’s departments currently refuse to comply with federal “detainer orders” without a warrant signed by a judge. This practice is fairly widespread, and many critics and cities alike define “sanctuary cities” as those who follow it.

But Sessions’ characterization of sanctuary cities, reports Vox, is misleading. The Trump administration is defining sanctuary cities less broadly than expected, not simply as those which do not enforce federal immigration laws, but as those with policies restricting communication with ICE. And while it’s unclear how many cities will be targeted under this narrower definition, this tactic could actually benefit the President.

“The Trump administration’s decision to define “sanctuary cities” in a limited way makes it possible they might win a court battle — or at least drag it out long enough that cities lose their political appetite for a fight,” Vox reports.

Kelsey Ray contributed to this report. 

Cover image: Lizeth Chacon, Executive Director of Colorado People’s Alliance, addresses press ahead of an Aurora City Council special session on immigration enforcement policy. Photo by Daniel Sauvé.

 

 

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Two years after a controversial student health survey sparked protracted debate at the State Board of Education, questions about the survey’s value have moved to the state legislature — and could mean a loss of $745,000 in state funding for the biennial data collection effort.

Funding for the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which comes primarily from the state’s Marijuana Tax Cash Funds, was not included in the proposed state budget earlier this spring and may not return despite requests by the state health department to restore the money.

The health survey is given to a sample of Colorado middle school and high school students in scores of districts every other year. It asks about topics ranging from nutrition to risky behavior, and proponents say it’s crucial for tracking trends and crafting interventions when trouble spots arise.

In addition to $745,000 in state dollars, the survey is funded with $89,000 in federal money. State health department officials said determining whether the survey could continue in a slimmed-down form if state money is stripped away depends on the federal budget.

“The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey is the only comprehensive survey on the health and well-being of Colorado youth,” Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement. “Without funding, we won’t be able to provide the kind of credible health information schools, community groups and local public health agencies need to improve the health of the young people they serve.”

The state Senate is expected this week to debate the state’s budget. The House will debate the budget after the Senate completes its review.

The health survey became the focus of a debate by the State Board of Education and dueling opinions from the state attorney general’s office in 2015 after some parents raised concerns about the explicit nature of questions on sexual behavior, drugs and suicide.

In addition, critics argued that parents should have to give advance written permission — called active consent — in order for their children to take the survey. Over the survey’s 26-year history, most districts have chosen passive consent, which means students are asked to take the survey unless parents sign a form opting them out.

Ultimately, neither the state board nor State Attorney General Cynthia Coffman mandated substantive changes to the survey or consent rules. State officials emphasized throughout the controversy that the survey is anonymous and voluntary. After the state board uproar over the survey, most districts continued to participate.

On Monday, Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican who helped write the state’s budget, said of the survey, “I think enough of us felt that it was just intrusive. I just don’t think it collects good data.”

Not all on the budget committee agreed.

“I support the survey,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, a Frisco Democrat. “Our school districts rely on that information for other grant programs. It is possible in the budget process we’re able to restore that.”

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Ann Schimke on March 27, 2017Chalkbeat Colorado’s deputy bureau chief Nic Garcia contributed to this report. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

 

Photo by alamosbasement via Flickr:Creative Commons.

The Home Front: Suspect in custody for vandalizing the Fort Collins mosque

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

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“A 35-year-old Fort Collins man has been arrested in connection with vandalism Sunday morning at the Islamic Center of Fort Collins,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. He was arrested Monday “after being identified as a suspect in the 4 a.m. vandalism incident at the Fort Collins Islamic Center, at 925 W. Lake St. Footage from the incident showed a man overturning benches, breaking windows and tossing a Bible into the building that was found vandalized Sunday morning.” He “faces charges of felony criminal mischief, misdemeanor third-degree trespassing and committing a bias-motivated crime, also a misdemeanor.”

“Nearly a week’s worth of negative feedback from political leaders, developers and constituents was enough to push the Johnstown Town Council to reverse its decision on the Colo. 402 interchange and commit the full $6 million to the project in partnership with Loveland, Larimer County and Weld County,” The Greeley Tribune reports. “A standing-room-only crowd attended Monday night’s special meeting, called for the purpose of reconsidering the council’s March 21 decision to contribute $1.2 million. Every person who spoke, including two Loveland City Council members, was in favor of a $6 million commitment.”

“President Trump delivered the final blow Monday to a new Bureau of Land Management planning rule backed by conservationists but panned by critics including some western Colorado counties,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “Trump signed a congressional resolution to undo what was known as the BLM’s Planning 2.0 rule, which was developed under the Obama administration and designed to update decades-old planning regulations for developing local resource management plans. The agency had promoted the rule as a way to streamline the process for creating such plans, get more public collaboration and input, and adopt more of a landscape-level planning approach.”

“Recent suicides in Lafayette have shed light on a mental health crisis that has quietly enveloped Boulder County, according to police, who along with city leaders will roll out an outreach campaign dubbed “Because We Care” over the next few weeks,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “Two violent and public deaths that occurred within Lafayette — the first, when a man shot himself in front of police outside Flatirons Community Church earlier this month, and another on Sunday as dozens of horrified shoppers looked on while a man set fire to himself and his car in a Walmart parking lot — have left residents in the quiet east Boulder County city at a loss for answers.”

“Glenwood Springs police should not be involved with rounding up undocumented, noncriminal immigrants, and the city should do what it can to make sure immigrant residents feel welcome and protected, candidates for three Glenwood City Council seats tend to agree,” reports The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “But that’s not to say the city should follow the lead of Basalt and other towns around the country, large and small, that have formally declared themselves a “safe harbor” or “sanctuary” from strong-handed immigration enforcement, most of the candidates also said.”

“The city and county of Boulder stand to lose a small amount of budget funding if the Justice Department makes good on Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s threat to withhold grant money from so-called “sanctuary” communities,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “In a short appearance at Monday’s White House press briefing, Sessions said the Justice Department would require cities seeking some of the $4.1 billion available in grant money to verify that they are in compliance with a section of federal law that allows information sharing with immigration officials. Boulder, a self-proclaimed sanctuary city, is slated to receive DOJ funding this year, as in 2015 and 2016, in grants that go toward the salaries of two officers through the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) office. The amount of federal money the city receives in this three-year arrangement decreases over time, so while Boulder received about $152,000 from the DOJ in 2015 and about $92,500 in 2016, it’s been planning on somewhere between $23,000 and $25,000 this year.”

“Blue ribbons, banners and pinwheels are starting to pop up in and around Fremont County in recognition of Child Abuse Prevention Month in April,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “Several community agencies and organizations have partnered to bring awareness to the issue and how it can be prevented.”

“Colorado State University is paying its female full professors almost 5 percent less than males and minority associate professors 5.4 percent less than their white counterparts this fiscal year, according to a report from its Salary Equity Committee released Monday,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins.

Stores across Colorado Springs will be stocked with Blue Bell ice cream again, The Gazette reports. Texas-based Blue Bell began reintroducing its ice cream Monday into stores across Colorado. In April 2015, stores in 10 states stopped selling the brand after a listeria outbreak that was linked to the ice cream. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 10 people were hospitalized and three deaths were reported in Kansas.”

“Colorado lawmakers introduced a $26.8 billion state budget bill Monday that offers a modest increase in state employee salaries and education spending at the expense of cuts to hospitals and other programs,” The Denver Post reports. “The spending measure for the fiscal year that begins July 1 represents a 4 percent increase from the current budget and came together after significant consternation about how to address the state’s fiscal crunch. The state Senate will hold the first votes on Senate Bill 254 and related budget measures Wednesday, and the attention will be on who gets the $10.6 billion in discretionary spending.”

A media s#!tstorm is brewing in Colorado Springs

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

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A swirl of local media news gathered all at once this week and headed for the fan blades just as I was finishing up this newsletter. So please forgive the lack of depth into this as I hope to have more in the next edition. But here’s the quick background with links so you can follow along:

A new progressive-moderate political group, Together for Colorado Springs, whose co-founder also founded and chairs the city’s alternative weekly, The Colorado Springs Independent, protested outside The Gazette newsroom, railing on its coverage of the local city elections. The Gazette covered the protest. Then the alt-weekly’s reporter, Pam Zubeck, herself a former Gazette reporter, wrote a piece headlined “Writers in Gazette have history of political consulting.” Part of it mentions this item in The Gazette’s ColoradoPolitics.com by one of the publication’s politics writers about how he was recently subpoenaed in a lawsuit against a nonprofit group he worked for that’s mission is “advancing conservative policy.”

If that wasn’t enough, Ralph Routon, a former Gazette reporter who is now the executive editor of Colorado Publishing House, which owns The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly, published a column headlined “Beware the Gazette after blatant editorials, mistakes.” In it, Routon rips The Gazette’s editorial page for, among other things, “three ridiculous editorials, two hatchet jobs,” and “making stuff up or distorting the truth” about candidates in the city election. (Candidates the alt-weekly endorsed and whose opponents were endorsed by The Gazette.) The column also takes aim at an error about someone’s name in The Gazette’s news coverage that was corrected with an odd note. Speaking of mistakes, the alt-weekly itself had two retractions this month, including one that retracted an entire blog post. The first retraction involved coverage of the city elections, the second involved its coverage of The Gazette.

A judge said no to a gag order request for the ex-Colorado GOP leader accused of voter fraud

Hoo boy. The former chairman of Colorado’s Republican Party, Steve Curtis, was in court this week over charges he illegally filled out his ex-wife’s ballot. She said she was only married to the guy for nine months and told KDVR she wanted to vote now that she lives in South Carolina. But elections officials in Colorado said she already voted here, she said. So officials did a little investigation and charged Curtis, the former Republican Party chair of Colorado, with forgery and voter fraud.

From KDVR reporter Rob Low:

In court, Curtis’ defense attorney asked the judge to impose a gag order to keep prosecutors from talking to the media about the case. The judge declined. After the hearing, Curtis’ defense attorney asked Weld County Sheriff Deputies to escort him to his car in order to avoid any more questions from the Problem Solvers.

No, Denver Problem Solvers is not some cheesy company that advertises private investigator work on the wall above bar bathroom urinals, it’s the name of the local TV station’s investigative journalism unit. On Twitter, KDVR’s Joe St. George called Low’s approach a master class “in interviewing people who don’t want to talk to you.” Watch the clip here.

Meanwhile, here’s another kicker in this already-ironic Republican talk-radio host voter fraud case.

From Denver7:

Curtis spoke about voter fraud ahead of last year’s election. “It seems to be, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but virtually every case of voter fraud I can remember in my lifetime was committed by Democrats,” he told KLZ 560.

In-person voter fraud in the U.S. is extremely rare, by the way.

Why a publisher of Colorado’s BizWest subscribed to The Washington Post

If you’re like Chris Wood, the publisher of BizWest, which covers business in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado, you might know how to jump a few newspaper paywalls. Switch your browser, hit the Escape key before a splash page launches, you know the drill. And maybe you have a similar justification, as he explained in a recent column: “While I’ve known since the beginning of the Web that creation of quality content isn’t free, I was comfortable in my hypocrisy on a national level, knowing that I did subscribe to innumerable local publications.” But Wood isn’t freeloading anymore, at least not from The Washington Post. He bought a $14.99 monthly subscription. Why?

From his column:

What changed on a national basis was the recurring line of attack against the “fake-news” press by the Trump Administration, and his branding as “the enemy of the people” major national media outlets such as CNN and The New York Times. Add presidential adviser Stephen Bannon’s tirade that the press should “keep its mouth shut,” as well as adviser Stephen Miller’s warning that President Trump’s national-security actions “will not be questioned.” Add also the petty slights of major media outlets by press secretary Sean Spicer, and attack after attack from other administration officials, and The Washington Post’s monthly profit-and-loss statement will now show an additional $14.99.

“It’s a drop in the bucket, of course,” he continued, “and The Washington Post seems on an upward trend all on its own, with plans to hire dozens of additional reporters … But for me, the $14.99 is a statement of support for quality journalism on the national level, for journalism that will not ‘keep its mouth shut,’ for journalism that will challenge the centers of power no matter how nasty and loathsome the attacks.”

Nice guy! If you want to do something like that, consider becoming a member of CJR or donating to The Colorado Independent.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call reported how parents of dyslexic students want earlier identification and supportThe Greeley Tribune wrote about a new way developers are getting funding through metro districts. A fire damaged a local home, The Loveland-Reporter Herald reported. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported how the federal department of interior acts to rescind a rule about energy valuation. The Pueblo Chieftain looked back a fatal tornado that swept through town 10 years ago. The Boulder Daily Camera reported how the big wildfire reignited a debate about homelessness. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins continued its series “Race to Retirement,” this time about seniors living alone. The Gazette asked if sharp elbows and dark money is the new normal in Colorado Springs city elections. The Durango Herald reported on “food forests.” The Denver Post covered how an oil rebound “pushes drilling rigs deeper into Colorado neighborhoods.”

Department of Two’s a Trend: This newsletter got some love in the news this week

The first mention came from Denver’s 9News anchor Kyle Clark who moderated our nine-person panel about “fake news,” which aired on KUSA’s Facebook live channel and racked up 18,000 views:

“I read your newsletter and it often reads like a police blotter of self-inflicted wounds by journalists. But are journalists truly to blame for America’s fake news obsession?”

I might have dodged the thrust of Kyle’s question, but you can judge for yourself here.

Next was Gavin Dahl of KDNK community radio in Carbondale who had me on his show to talk about Sunshine Week. He sourced me in part as:

…author of the fantastic weekly newsletter Colorado Local News & Media.

I started this humble newsletter in the fall of 2015 with just a handful of subscribers, and you’ve now grown past 400. So thanks so much for reading each week! And thanks Kyle and Gavin for the airwaves plugs.

Aaaaand speaking of community public radio…

Trump’s budget takes a whack at it, zeroing out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. How would that affect public radio in Colorado? The Denver Post is on it.

From the Post [emphasis mine]:

Federal funding from CPB typically accounts for 15 to 20 percent of Colorado Public Broadcasting’s annual budget, spokeswoman Pam Parker said. The cuts likely would affect programming in fiscal 2018, although she speculated it would hurt the national programs more. Colorado’s rural and inner city communities would be particularly affected, she said, as people rely on them for pre-school programming, such as Sesame Street. Federal funding accounts for 5 percent of Colorado Public Radio’s budget, which comes out to $893,000, CPR spokeswoman Lauren Cameron said. To prepare for these types of situations, CPR started to include annual budget surpluses to offset any loss of CPB funding six years ago.

Read the rest of the story here.

The Chieftain promises to look at local opioid addiction— and not just from the viewpoint of cops

From a note on a recent story in The Pueblo Chieftain:

This article is one of several that will appear over the next several weeks, as The Pueblo Chieftain takes an in-depth look at the opiate epidemic and its effects on Pueblo, not just from a law enforcement point of view, but also from the perspective of the individuals, families, social services and health care providers who deal with the tragedy on a day-to-day basis.

Sounds like a good idea.

Public records retention in Colorado is still all out of whack

Jeffrey Roberts, who runs the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, sure stays busy. Crappy local government responses to the state’s open records laws probably mean enough job security for him for as long as he wants it. Here’s the latest bone-headed municipal maneuver chronicled on his CFOIC blog: The city of Sheridan’s response to citizen Paul Houston’s request for emails that mentioned 10 specific search terms was to charge him $20,000 with a $6,750 deposit.

From CFOIC:

The Sheridan clerk’s response to Houston’s records request highlights an all-too-common scenario: Emails can vanish with the click of a mouse, and the cost to recover them can be prohibitively expensive in some government jurisdictions, especially smaller ones with modest budgets for information technology.”

George Orlowski, who recently retired as state archivist, put it bluntly in an interview last year with the CFOIC,” Roberts wrote. “Retention of government emails in Colorado is “really sort of an honor system thing. The senders and recipients of emails have to decide whether there’s something important that needs to be preserved.” Grrrrreeeeaat.

But some good news: Amy Goodman and David Simon are coming to Colorado

Want to feed your soul? The Colorado Independent is co-sponsoring the kickoff of Amy Goodman’s and DemocracyNow!’s 2017 “The Media Is Not The Enemy Tour.” The event is April 7. 

More from The Indy:

The reception is from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., followed by a talk by Amy from 7:30 to 9 p.m., both at Denver’s historic Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center, 721 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO., 80204.

If that wasn’t enough, reporter, author and all-around journalistic badass David Simon, who created HBO’s “The Wire,” will be honored by The Denver Press Club on March 31. “If newspapers weren’t run into the ground, I’d probably still be at one,” Simon told Joanne Ostrow for The Colorado Independent this week.

The Coloradoan newspaper is still kicking it on the community engagement front

This Gannett-owned Fort Collins paper is at the forefront of keeping its readership engaged beyond the printed page. And now it’s adding fundraising into the mix. The paper is inviting members of the public into its community room the evening of April 13for an event called April Brews & News: The First Amendment & You.

Form The Coloradoan:

[W]e’ll share the tools and strategies we use to request public information both in Colorado and from federal agencies. We’ll open up our reporting processes, including how to obtain documents using the Colorado Open Records Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

“We host these monthly but this is the first time we’re layering in a fundraising element,” says editor Lauren Gustus. Proceeds will go to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

Death of a paperboy

I like to say I got my start in journalism when I was 11. I was a paperboy. And I loved it. It was the early 1990s in Upstate New York and all I wanted was a Raiders Starter jacket and a skateboard. Dad said get a job. I did. Two years later The Times Union quit delivering paper bundles to our driveways and we had to go pick them up. Bummer, I was too young to drive. I wrote a letter to my customers about it, giving a good swan song and saying I had to quit. Some even cancelled their subscriptions. People can love their paper carriers. And that’s true today given a recent write-up in The Gazette in Colorado Springs about the death of 56-year-old paperboy Howard Pudder.

From the piece:

“He just went above and beyond, and he did that for everyone – not just me, but our whole neighborhood,” said Warrell, whose Kissing Camels home was on Pudder’s route for at least a decade. “He did a job that, I’ll bet you, 90 percent of the high school students with a driver’s license would think beneath them, and he did that job with so much pride and was so careful, always being respectful of the job and of his customers.” Vicki Cederholm, The Gazette’s director of operations, said Pudder was an independent contractor with the Gazette for about 30 years. Since his death, she said, condolences and testimonials have poured in.

When he died, his brother told The Gazette, he had “every holiday card his customers gave him.” I bet he did.

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

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Today, the state Senate began the process of reviewing a $26.8 billion* budget that will cover the operations of state government for the year beginning July 1.

That $27 or so billion represents every penny the state is expected to collect and every penny it expects to spend from July of this year through June of next.

Under the proposed spending plan, for every dollar you pay in income and sales taxes, almost 40 cents would pay for K-12 education, a little more than a quarter goes to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (which pays for Medicaid), not quite a dime would go to higher education and 8 cents goes for the Department of Human Services, which provides services to the disabled and runs the state’s mental health and youth corrections facilities.

What’s left, not quite 20 cents per dollar would pay for state government operations for 21 state agencies, including the Department of Revenue, which collects income and sales tax, the Division of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Public Safety, which operates the state patrol.

By law, Colorado’s budget is required to be balanced, although lawmakers fudge it by covering shortages with “borrowed” funds that almost never get paid back. Two years ago, the General Assembly borrowed $20 million from severance tax funds to cover shortfalls in the 2015-16 budget. Severance taxes are taxes that oil and gas and mineral companies pay. That money is intended to pay local communities for the impact of those activities, such as wear and tear on roads caused by heavy truck traffic. Some of those dollars also pay for water projects. Over the past half-dozen years, the General Assembly has “borrowed” $400 million from the severance tax fund to cover shortfalls.

The budget basically breaks down this way: Out of that $27 billion in revenue, the largest chunk, more than $10 billion, comes from Colorado taxpayers in the form of income and sales tax. The federal government kicks in the second largest chunk, about $8.3 billion, which includes matching dollars for health care costs. The federal government also covers most of the budget for the state Department of Public Health and Environment and about half the funds spent by the Department of Labor and Employment.

Another $7.5 billion comes through what are known as cash funds — that includes the money that comes from such things as state park admissions fees, severance taxes, college tuition, and the much-debated fee hospitals pay, which is matched by the above-mentioned federal dollars and then used, among other things, to cover healthcare costs for low-income patients. Cash funds are restricted, and are supposed to go back into program funding. 

As the state Senate begins discussing year’s the new spending plan, two major topics are expected to dominate. The first is how to get more money to education.

The state cut funding for education by about $1 billion in 2010, a move that was unsuccessfully challenged in court. The state has paid back only a small portion of that funding, and this year because they didn’t fully fund education as required by law, that amount that is supposed to go to education grew, from about $831 million to $881 million.

Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker, the Senate Majority Leader, pointed out that funding for public schools will increase by $185 per student in 2017-18. But that is still less than is required by a 2000 law approved by voters that requires school funding to be increased annually according to the state’s population and the state’s cost of living.

The second big issue is what to do about the hospital provider fee. The money that fee brings in, about $700 million, is counted as revenue under the voter-approved Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which has caps on how much money the state can bring in (and therefore spend). In order to keep from hitting the cap, and triggering the tax refunds that come with it, the proposed budget instructs hospitals to reduce the amount of revenue they send in by $264 million. But losing that money also means sacrificing the matching federal dollars and would represent a significant cut in the funds to the hospitals, many of them rural, that rely on the provider fee dollars. That isn’t sitting well with the hospitals nor rural lawmakers.

One way out is the path Democrats long have been clamoring for: reclassifying the fee so that it no longer counts against TABOR limits. Last week, they were joined in that call by a surprise ally: Republican President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.

Sonnenberg, who has 11 rural hospitals in his district, said he intends to sponsor a bill to reclassify the provider fee. His announcement won praise from the Colorado Hospital Association. The association called the proposed cuts “unsustainable” and said they would force some hospitals to reduce services and eliminate jobs, while others may have to close.

Related: Republican Senate leader to back hospital provider fee change

“There is growing consensus among Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and House that doing nothing would have broad and devastating impacts on very basic hospital, road and education programs, especially in rural Colorado,” said Kevin Stansbury, CEO, Lincoln Community Hospital in Hugo.

The Senate is expected to debate the state budget on Wednesday and vote on it Thursday. It then heads to the House.

 

*An earlier version of this story said the state budget is $28.3 billion, but that included double-counted funds that are no longer being used in the state’s calculation.

Photo credit: Pictures of Money, Creative Commons, Flickr. 

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A bipartisan group of legislators is backing a bill to give Colorado consumers more protection from unsavory debt collection tactics.

The bill would extend for 11 years the state Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which provides consumers with certain protections against debt collectors. It also would  limit the ability of so-called zombie collectors — those who bundle, buy and sell spreadsheets of debts like commodities — to gain default judgments in Colorado county courts.

The legislation aims to help people like Pilar Chapa, a consumer advocate with her own story of debt collection abuses. She learned about a year ago that some debt buyer had taken her to court when her employer notified her that her wages were being garnished for a $706 debt that, with court costs and added fees, came to $1,001.30.

To this day, she said, she is dumbfounded by the court’s default judgment. Nobody served her with a court date notice. She doesn’t know what the original debt was, or whether it was hers. She doesn’t know who the original creditor was. She paid it off anyway, fearing lasting damage to her credit rating.

“They didn’t tell me anything. You don’t know where this comes from. It was out of the blue,” she told The Colorado Independent. But “you can’t argue the point once the court rules against you.”

Debt collectors have become the number one source of consumer complaints to the state attorney general’s office, and their leading grievance is that some company is trying to collect a debt they do not owe.

The new legislation follows the recommendations of the state Department of Regulatory Agencies, which reviews laws that could expire under the state Sunset Law.

The sponsors are Sen. Bob Gardner, a Republican, and Democratic Reps. Susan Lontine and KC Becker. A hearing is scheduled for April 3 in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I think we have to be regulating collection agencies because there’s a potential for abuse,” Becker said. “They have the ability to garnish wages for sometimes very small amounts, damaging a person’s credit history and life.”

If enacted, the bill would:

— Forbid collectors to pursue consumers in court when more than four years have passed since the last payment.

— Require debt sellers to “include all relevant documentation” about each debt and to notify buyers if the debt is disputed.

— Give consumers who win monetary judgments against collectors the right to seek payment from bonds collectors post for licenses.

— Prohibit selling debts that have been paid.

The Independent previously reported that the Center for Responsible Lending found just four debt-buying companies accounted for nearly 40,000 Colorado county court cases in three years. A broad sample of these cases showed most ended with default judgments. No defendant was represented by a lawyer.

The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that debt buyers receive documentation on as few as 6 percent of their accounts, commonly credit card debts sold by banks. Buyers trade these debts for pennies on the dollar, in some cases for a decade or more in the gamble they can get the past-due consumer to pay up. Hence the industry nickname zombie debt — the debt that never dies.

Consumer advocates in Colorado say the fair debt collection bill has taken on added importance because the Trump administration is threatening to dismantle the federal Consumer Financial  Protection Bureau, which offers similar protections nationally and has been raking in complaints.

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen with consumer protections at the federal level,” said Michelle Webster, research director at the Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

At a preliminary hearing, lobbyists for the debt collection industry objected that Colorado is duplicating federal law and the proposed amendments would jack up the costs of pursuing people who fail to pay debts. Tom Romola, of the Associated Collection Agencies of Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, suggested repealing the entire Colorado law. “Let’s get rid of the statute and sunset it and move on,” he said.

A coalition supporting the bill, on the other hand, applauds the proposed changes but sees room for improvement. Basically, the coalition wants debt collectors to provide documented proof in court of each claim.

Rich Jones, policy and research director at the Bell Policy Center, said collectors seeking default judgments need to show they own the debt, the alleged debtor is the right person and the amount owed is correct.

In states like North Carolina, which enacted time limits on collection efforts and imposed stricter court standards, “it has reduced the volume of all these cases,” he said. “It’s effective. It’s working.”    

 

Lead photo by CafeCredit.com via Flickr: Creative Commons. Inset photo of Pilar Chapa courtesy of Chapa

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Who’s to blame for the failure-beyond-failure that was Trump/Ryancare and the inability to even get the bill to the floor of the House for a vote? Well, there’s much blame to go around. Donald Trump first blamed the Democrats, then took a shot at Paul Ryan and finally, briefly, tried out the Freedom Caucus.  The New York Times notes how Trump was entangled by the long-running GOP civil war. The National Review says Trump had no idea what exactly he was trying to sell. And Politico put it on the Freedom Caucus’s secret pact. And that’s just the beginning.

If there’s one thing to read on Trump and Ryan and their twin defeat and what it means for Trump’s chances of getting his agenda through the GOP Congress, it’s Robert Draper’s long read in The New York Times magazine. In brief, it’s not going to get any easier.

Following the Trump/Ryancare disaster, Trump says he is moving on to one of his other big promises — tax reform. One problem. The experts say it will be just as hard, and maybe even harder, to pass real tax reform as it was to repeal Obamacare, and for many of the same reasons. Via Forbes.

Trump is prepared to put Jared Kushner, his son-in-law, in charge of fixing the government, bureaucracy and all, using business principles. Two possible problems: Kushner has no government experience. And his main business success has come in inheriting his wealth. Via The Washington Post.

Did Trump really hand Angela Merkel a bill for $300 billion for Germany’s shortfall in defense spending per NATO agreement? He did, if you can believe The Sunday Times of London. Or maybe they do fake news in Britain, too.

In trying to shield Trump, David Nunes may have made it possible for Trump critics to get their wish of a bipartisan select committee to do the kind of job that Nunes’s intelligence committee clearly doesn’t want to do. Via Vox.

Meet Indivisible, the young progressive group that is leading the opposition to Donald Trump. Via The Los Angeles Times.

Jeffrey Toobin: Neil Gorsuch didn’t answer any questions of substance during his confirmation hearing. But he didn’t have to. Gorsuch’s ample record shows he’d be at least as conservative as Samuel Alito. Via The New Yorker.

Democrats have a point about Republicans being hypocritical on Merrick Garland vs. Neil Gorsuch. But, Carl Cannon asks in the Orange County Register, how far back does the hypocrisy go?

Who killed the Iceman? Clues are beginning to emerge from the coldest of cold cases — this one dating back to somewhere around 3300 BC. Via The New York Times.

Image by J E Theriot via Flickr:Creative Commons

 

The Home Front: In Fort Collins, an overwhelming community response to a vandalized mosque

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

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The Loveland Reporter-Herald covered the overwhelming community response to vandalism at a Fort Collins mosque. “Early Sunday morning, a lone man tried every door to get into the Islamic Center of Fort Collins. Finding none unlocked, he picked up rocks and threw them through the center’s glass doors, shattering the glass and leaving shards that prevented morning prayers,” the paper reports. “Then he threw a Bible through the hole in the glass and left, leaving no clues or other message. Within the course of a day, however, hundreds of area residents left a message of their own, however, that such actions will not be tolerated. Several hundred residents of many faiths gathered Sunday afternoon in a hastily called rally to demonstrate their solidarity with the faithful who use the Islamic Center. There were so many, in fact, that the public address system reached only the closest couple of hundred — those outside hearing range joined in the clapping, chanting and singing when those in front started.”

There were about 1,000 who showed up, The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reports. “About 1,000 Fort Collins community members gathered outside the Islamic Center of Fort Collins on Sunday evening to show solidarity after a vandal targeted the Muslim house of worship earlier in the day. ‘No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor,’ was the overarching message on signs held by people of all faiths in the crowd. Attendees cheered as Sen. John Kefalas and President of the Islamic Center Tawfik AboEllail read the same in Spanish and Arabic. The damage at the Islamic Center was first discovered when people arrived for the first prayer of the day about 5:30 a.m., AboEllail said.”

“Drilling applications and investments by oil and gas companies are surging in Colorado after crude prices partially rebounded from their collapse in recent years, pushing the industry deeper into residential communities largely unaccustomed to drilling,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “Major companies operating in the Denver-Julesburg Basin expect to more than double the number of oil and gas drilling rigs in Colorado, from 10 last year to 21 in 2017, The Denver Post reported Sunday. The Denver-Julesburg Basin is the source of more than 90 percent of the oil produced in Colorado and much of the states’ natural gas production. Applications to drill are up in Adams, Arapahoe and Larimer counties and southwestern Weld County. Meanwhile, seven of the largest companies operating in central and eastern Colorado plan to spend almost $4 billion this year, up from $2.3 billion for 2016.”

The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent reported on a rise in heroin ODs and how law enforcement is responding. “Though it has been slower to arrive in Garfield and neighboring counties, local law enforcement agencies are putting measures in place to be ready when it does,” the paper reported. “We continue to see heroin much more than I ever have in my 20 years with the department,” Bill Linn, assistant chief at the Aspen Police Department, told the paper. “Back when I started with the department, we never saw heroin, and now it just continues to build. We’ve really started to really hear about it over the past five years.”

“Revenues from a public-safety sales tax in Mesa County would go to the Sheriff’s Office and the district attorney, but those agencies still would have to compete for general-fund money, Mesa County Commissioner Scott McInnis said,” according to The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “He is working with others to draw up a proposal the commission will consider for the November ballot, McInnis said. Many details remain to be worked out, but McInnis has made it clear that the measure will seek a sales tax increase that can be used only for the Sheriff’s Office and for prosecutors.”

“As spring and summer fall upon Lyons, the Boulder County sheriff’s sergeant overseeing the town is bracing for an increase in traffic volume and other public safety issues,” The Longmont Times-Call reports. “In the midst of flood recovery, neighborhoods have been seeing spillover from the main routes as motorists attempt to evade lines of vehicles backed up during rush hours, Sgt. Bill Crist said. ‘It becomes very busy and inherently, the volume becomes an issue,” Crist said. “Along with volume, you have traffic violations of running stop signs, speeding and so on.'”

The Cañon City Daily Record reports on the Paper Patriots of Fremont. “Local artist Dakota Rogers decided last year she wanted to do something to show her appreciation to members of the military, but she wanted it to be close to home,” the paper reports. “After a couple of months of phone calls and Internet research, she finally made a connection with Operation Homefront and learned that at any given moment there are 35 to 45 recovering troops on the Army base at Fort Carson. She formed Paper Patriots of Fremont County and once every three months, a group of volunteers meets to decorate cards for wounded soldiers who are recovering just 45 miles from here. ‘We wanted to make cards of gratitude for these people to let them know we appreciate their service,’ Rogers said. ‘I just appreciate what they do for us — I have a lot of freedom because these people keep me safe.'”

“Plans to redevelop Erie’s treasured Wise Farm property should be significantly scaled back to reduce impacts on the surrounding rural aesthetic, according to neighboring residents, many of whom have signed a petition calling for town leaders to halt an ordinance approving such plans,” reports The Boulder Daily Record. “Trustees will meet on Tuesday to hear public comments and consider an ordinance to change the zoning to allow an increase in the density of homes that could be built on a portion of the 176-acre property south of Jasper Road and west of 119th Street. If approved, the proposal would add scores of low-density housing to primarily rural acreage, which, under the current zoning, allows for agricultural/open space and rural residential.”

The Durango Herald profiled a man leaving a local environmental advocacy group. “In Dan Olson’s line of work, there’s never a good time to leave,” the paper reports. “‘With issues that involve the environment, it’s not something you fix,’ Olson said recently from the San Juan Citizens Alliance’s office in the Smiley Building. ‘It’s an ongoing community dialogue about what is the right balance between economic development and environmental protection, and that work will never be done.’ In early May, though, Olson will step down from his role as executive director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, a Durango-based environmental advocacy group, and relocate with his family to Portland, Oregon. ‘It’s super mixed emotions,’ Olson said. ‘There’s plenty of work left unfinished, but in the last three years we have really rebuilt a very strong platform for the alliance.’ Olson, 38, is leaving so that his wife, Emily, can attend graduate school for nursing and midwifery in Portland. Emily Olson works in the Durango office for Chama Peak Land Alliance. The two have a pre-school aged son, Henry.”

The Gazette follows up on lasting damage from a July storm in the Colorado Springs area. “The roof-pounding, window-shattering, car-crunching hailstorm that pummeled the Pikes Peak region July 28 lasted only a few hours. But the storm’s aftermath is entering its ninth month, with little end in sight. Weary businesses – some of which stopped advertising because they had too many customers – continue to reroof homes, replace gutters, and smooth out car bodies as fast as they can. And while they wait for repairs, some homeowners still rely on duct-tape patches to cover holes in their pockmarked siding.”

“The three-day Denver March Powwow has come a long way from when it started as a one-afternoon event 43 years ago, Master of Ceremonies Lawrence Baker said,” reports The Denver Post.

Denverite explains a United Airlines leggings controversy at DIA.

ColoradoPolitics has a look at this week at the Capitol.

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As candidates lay the groundwork— and begin to file official paperwork— Colorado’s 2018 governor’s race is getting off the ground.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar’s decision not to run has started a chain reaction.

On the Republican side, state GOP chairman Steve House says he doubts Salazar’s departure made much impact on his side of the potential primary field. But new names have been circulating in recent weeks, adding to what could be a robust primary race.

Colorado has only elected one Republican governor since John Arthur Love left office for the Nixon administration in 1973, and that was Bill Owens, who served from 1999 to 2007. (When Love left, his Republican lieutenant governor filled out the last two years of his term, leaving office in January 1975. So another way of putting it is that Colorado has only had one Republican governor in the last 41 years.)

With Gov. John Hickenlooper term-limited, 2018 will be the first time in eight years when Republicans will have an open seat over which to battle.

Conversations with Republicans over the past few months illuminated some key players and issues at stake, hinting at how the field might shake out in Colorado on the road to 2018, and how a new primary system might affect the race.

Republicans are already floating names, potential candidates are talking about running, and trial balloons are in the air. The potential field is likely to draw from a pool of establishment Republican stalwarts, statewide officeholders, law enforcement circles, and rebel insurgents. Of course, in the Trump era, there could be an opening for a non-politician businessman or businesswoman who could break through.

“I expect a big field,” says Chairman House, who ran for governor in 2014, considered running again this time, but ultimately decided against it.

All right, let’s get to the names

The first prominent Republican to announce is former lawmaker Victor Mitchell, who said he would shell out $3 million of his own money for the race and did not vote for Donald Trump for president. He has said he will focus on college tuition and healthcare, and sees himself as a “longshot, outsider candidate.”

Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter also announced his intent to run. His campaign will “center around bridging the gap between the urban and rural counties of the state, part of his three-prong approach under his campaign slogan to ‘Move Colorado Forward.'”

In conversations with several Republican consultants and activists in Colorado, plenty of other names emerge.

They are Denver-area District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooter and has become the state’s most visible proponent for the death penalty. Another top name is State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a first-cousin to George W. Bush and a candidate who could likely raise plenty of money from the Bush world. Secretary of State Wayne Williams is in the mix. So are Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, Western Slope Sen. Ray Scott, and Kent Thiry, the maverick CEO of the Denver-based multinational kidney dialysis company DaVita. Brian Watson, the founder of Northstar Commercial Partners, is also a name in circulation.

Businessman Doug Robinson, nephew of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, has expressed some interest in a possible run for governor, as has Colorado Springs entrepreneur Barry Farah, according to GOP Chairman House. (Neither returned phone messages before this story was posted.)

Some wonder if former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General John Suthers, now the mayor of Colorado Springs, might want to run. When The Independent asked him at this year’s legislative barbecue on the State Fairgrounds in August if he thought a race between him and Ken Salazar might settle the question of whether Colorado is a swing state, Suthers laughed and said “No.” Elsewhere he has said, “I would seriously consider it if they would move the capitol to Colorado Springs. That’s all you’re getting on that.”

Williams, the current secretary of state who has spent the past year crisscrossing Colorado speaking to county clerks and other groups, repeatedly gets asked to run for governor while on the road, says his spokeswoman Lynn Bartels. A Democratic county clerk even asked him to throw his name in the hat.

“I have sat at lunches when people have begged him to explore the idea,” Bartels says, but adds that while Williams is flattered by the requests, he has filed to run for Secretary of State again.

Asked by The Colorado Independent on Feb. 9 about a potential run for governor, Stapleton demurred, saying he was focused on the legislative session and doing his job as treasurer. Asked if he could make just as much impact on the state’s economic policy issues as governor as he could as treasurer, he said “absolutely,” and that’s why it’s important to stay focused on being treasurer. “It’s hard enough to get people to agree on fiscal policy issues,” he said. “As soon as you’re an announced candidate for something, you know, you suddenly have terrible body odor and nobody wants to be around you.”

Coffman told The Colorado Independent on Feb. 9 she was asking questions regarding a potential run.

Representatives for Thiry say he has been busy, but told The Independent to “stay in touch.” Watson did not return phone messages.

Retired banker Joanne Silva of Loveland says she filed for governor as a Republican because she would like to see a more conservative Colorado. Jim Rundberg, who also filed paperwork to run, did not return a phone message.

Three potential stump speeches?

While none of these three have said they are running for governor, Stapleton, Coffman and Brauchler all gave brief policy speeches during a Feb. 9 news conference for the group Americans for Prosperity at the state Capitol. So if they do run, what might a taste of their potential stump speeches sound like?

Stapleton ripped the state legislature for not addressing Colorado’s fiscal policy issues from funding infrastructure to paying for Medicaid expansion. He gave himself a pat on the back for his role in derailing a universal healthcare ballot initiative, tore into Colorado’s state health exchange as an “unmitigated disaster,” and warned of a ballooning state pension liability that could bankrupt cities across the state.

Coffman touted her office’s defense of a lawsuit against the state’s revenue-limiting Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights amendment and pledged to take it all the way to the Supreme Court if she got an unfavorable ruling from a federal judge. She attacked President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan initiative and talked about how she fought it. She said she enjoyed being an attorney general who could fight for individual rights and state sovereignty.

Brauchler said “Colorado conservatives” are different and special.

“We are more liberty minded than others and that’s what drove us up hill one mile to live in an arid place where the sun beats on you harder than it beats on you anywhere else, where you have to breath deeper just to sustain life, and where we get the vigorous part of all four seasons— sometimes over lunch,” he said. “Colorado is special. You recognize that. These great people around me recognize that. Stay focused on that. Don’t subscribe to what takes place down hill. Let’s raise it up and make them match what we do here.”

Is anyone openly talking about it other than those who announced?

A few are, yes.

One of them is George Brauchler. Never shy with media, the photogenic president of the Colorado District Attorneys Council has been talking with friends, family, and political advisors and doing the due diligence involved in scoping out a potential bid for governor in 2018.

“I am seriously thinking about running for it,” he told The Colorado Independent in an interview.

Voters in Colorado, he said, are no longer looking for career politicians. Brauchler hopes for a diverse field of candidates who represent all aspects of the Republican Party, arguing that robust primaries make general election candidates stronger.

“I want them to be able to hear from different folks, whether that’s three folks, nine folks, or whatever,” he said of voters.

Brauchler said he’ll shy away from political labels. He sees himself as a district attorney who is a Republican rather than a Republican DA. “I’m a George Brauchler Republican,” he said.

Similarly, House said shortly after the November election that he might take another shot at it. But by late January he made up his mind. He said in a statement he would not run for governor, nor would he run for re-election as state Republican Party chair. Instead he said he would help the GOP nominee for governor in 2018 raise money.

“2018 is going to be a turning point for our state, and I want to ensure that as a party we do the fundraising necessary so that our general election candidate will win,” House said.

Another who says he’s contemplating a run is state Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction. He told The Independent he thinks it’s time for a chief executive from the Western Slope, someone who understands the needs of rural Coloradans.

Joanne Silva says she’ll focus on state infrastructure and be a champion for raising the gas tax. She moved from California to Colorado in 2003 and got active in GOP politics in Colorado fairly recently. “Donald Trump inspired me,” she told The Colorado Independent. “I really sort of got caught up in Donald Trump’s campaign.” She belongs to a Boulder Women’s Republican Party group and is an associate member of the Larimer County GOP. Most of her campaign so far is being conducted via Facebook, she said. She has never run for public office before but thinks this is the year to do it because people are fed up with politicians. “My heart’s really in this,” she says.

The 2018 gubernatorial primary could be the first in which unaffiliated voters can participate given the passage of Proposition 108 on Nov. 8. (Thiry was one of the big backers of this measure.) But the measure faces a potential lawsuit from the state parties asserting their status as private organizations not obligated to open up their nominating system to non-party members.

House said as long as he’s chairman he has no intention of filing a lawsuit that would “straight up thwart” Prop 108 because the voters have spoken. But, he said, he intends to let the state know he plans to legally challenge its authority to set the times and dates of party caucuses. That’s something that should be up the parties, which are private organizations, he said, and he wants the new system to reflect that.

What might the Republican primary look like in two years?

How the power dynamics shape up will have a lot to do with what a Trump administration looks like by 2018. Midterm elections are typically bad for the party in the White House, and Trump has made big promises to a new coalition of voters who swept him into office. How will they feel if he doesn’t deliver?

Colorado was also a hotbed of the NeverTrump movement and a state that gave all its available delegates to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. But enough Republicans here rallied around Trump after he snagged the nomination to keep him within 5 percentage points of Clinton on Election Day.

One of the lead organizers of the movement to stop Trump’s rise was Colorado GOP activist Kendal Unruh. The movement didn’t last, Unruh said.

“There’s not an organized NeverTrump movement here,” she said. “And I think we saw that certainly after the convention.” Unruh said she personally knew about 20 hardcore NeverTrumpers in Colorado, All but three, she said, have since fallen in line with Trump.

So as of now the NeverTrump movement looks as though it could be a non-factor in the 2018 race. But if by then it turns out Trump is a disaster, a movement could re-emerge to back its own candidate for governor.

On the flipside, “If Trump is riding high by 2018 he will probably have some candidates for governor he likes more than others and would certainly be able to influence the election,” says Daniel Cole, a Republican consultant in El Paso County.

Another question is what kind of candidate can connect with the unaffiliated— and maybe even Democratic— voters who swung Trump’s way in places like Pueblo, a traditional Democratic stronghold.

Tom Lucero, who ran Latino outreach for the Trump campaign in Colorado, said there’s no way Trump won in Pueblo without Hispanic support. Throughout the campaign in Colorado, “cracking down and getting tough on immigration” was a message that Lucero said he found resonated with Latinos in places like Pueblo as much as it did with white working class voters. “They know it impacts their ability to find a job,” he said.

A campaign focused on getting people back to work and sidelining special interests would likely play well, Lucero said, adding, “One way a prospective governor would approach that would be through some public works projects, especially for those of us in northern Colorado who have to drive I-25 every day.”

While he wouldn’t name a name, Lucero said he would like to see someone run who has done well in a life lived outside politics and who is willing to rock the boat.

“I would think, this early, running anti-establishment is a pretty good place to launch a campaign from,” he said.

Dustin Olson, a Denver-based political consultant who managed the campaign for Colorado’s previous GOP gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez, sketched out his own hope for the next candidate, whoever it is.

“What I’d like to see is a strong leader, somebody who can work with both parties that has core beliefs that can actually move the state forward and continue to build on the strengths of Colorado and continue to make it an economic powerhouse,” he said. “[Someone] who can work on affordable housing, educational choice, and the regulatory environment.”

How will the new primary system we just passed affect the 2018 governor’s race?

No one knows yet. But if an open primary system is in place by 2018, it will have a big effect. And perhaps that’s why the idea of bipartisanship and working across the aisle came up multiple times in conversations about the next governor’s race.

If Prop. 108 does what voters intended, it will mean that in the 2018 governor’s race, ballots will be mailed to unaffiliated voters with the names of Democratic and Republican primary candidates. Voters can choose one party or the other to participate in. One aim of Prop. 108 was to moderate the voting power of the activist base in each party by broadening the electorate. Proponents of the measure saw it as a way to reduce the chance of Colorado nominating extreme candidates on either side.

Republicans will still caucus for their candidates at their neighborhood precincts around the state — and unaffiliated voters cannot participate in those — but once candidates land on the primary ballot, either by coming out of caucuses or petitioning on, unaffiliated voters could be allowed to vote.

The caveat here is that legislative work remains to enable the new law, and then there’s that potential lawsuit. Another caveat: Prop. 108 allows the parties to forgo the primary process and nominate candidates through the caucus-assembly. The Republican Party will have the option in October 2017 to hold a vote by its leadership to see if it wants to go this route. Three-fourths of the party’s central committee must agree.*

Republicans might wonder if the proposition had been in effect before El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn won the U.S. Senate primary whether the outcome might have been different. Glenn was the most conservative of the group of five Republicans who made the primary ballot and he ran an underfunded ground-game campaign aimed at grassroots activists. One of his rivals, Jack Graham, a moderate, pro-choice Republican and former CSU athletic director, spent a million dollars to air TV ads, likely seen by plenty of unaffiliated voters who couldn’t participate in the primary. Will the new system cater to a less conservative choice in 2018?

One of the backers of Prop. 108 thinks so.

“This is not your grandfather’s Democratic or Republican primary,” said Curtis Hubbard, a partner at OnSite Public Affairs and the lead consultant to the Let Colorado Vote Campaign who helped pass the initiative. “And candidates are going to have to realize that it will be open to a million-plus unaffiliated voters and they’ll have to figure out ways to communicate and engage that group.”

 

NOTE: This story, originally posted on Nov. 17, has been updated to reflect the changing field.

Marianne Goodland contributed to this report. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated what committee would take up Prop 8. 

Photo by Benh LIEU SONG for Creative Commons on Flickr.

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The defeat was, of course, humiliating — for Donald Trump, for Paul Ryan, for every Republican who had ever promised to repeal Obamacare, meaning every Republican not named Lincoln.

It was, after all, a defeat that will launch a thousand is-Trump-tired-of-winning-yet tweets.

It was a defeat that punctuates, with an exclamation point, the long string of defeats, nearly all of them self-inflicted, that have marked Trump’s first two months in office — from the first week wasted in debating his inaugural crowd size to the last few weeks wasted in cajoling and threatening and Mar-a-Lagoing his way to a defeat on Trump/Ryancare.

But this was mostly a defeat for a party that had defined itself in opposition to Obamacare. For seven long years, Republicans had vowed to rid America of this scourge. For seven long years, they had campaigned against the plan, winning the House, the Senate and the presidency in the process. For seven long years, they contended they had something better to offer. The House voted more than 60 times to repeal Obamacare, and when they finally had a president who would sign repeal legislation, they had nothing. Actually, what they had was worse than nothing.

It was a given that Donald Trump would have no plan. He promised something beautiful that would cover everybody, but anyone paying attention knew that his secret health care plan was no more credible than his secret plan to defeat ISIS. Trump doesn’t do policy. He said, to his embarrassment, that no one (meaning him) had any idea that health care was so complicated. You could almost laugh if it weren’t for the millions of lives at stake.

But then there was Speaker Paul Ryan, the great right conservative hope whose ideas, we’ve been told, would reshape the nation. Trump punted to Ryan, and Ryan promptly fumbled.

Ryan didn’t just fail. Since he had never bothered, in seven long years, to prepare a viable real-world healthcare plan, he had to cobble one together in days. Trump wouldn’t wait. After all, the president had promised to repeal and replace Obamacare immediately after taking office. Ryan’s plan was was so poorly conceived that it was opposed by doctors, by hospitals, by think tanks, by left, by right, by virtually everyone.

Where to begin?  As the CBO scoring noted, the plan would rob 24 million Americans of coverage, and that was basically the game. But there’s more. And less. It would rob $880 billion from Medicaid, a program Trump had promised would go untouched. It would allow insurance companies not to provide essential health benefits in their plans, as in essential health benefits. It would literally, as the CBO also pointed out, take money from the poor and the elderly to give to the rich and the healthy. It would remove the hated mandate — and replace it with a 30 percent penalty for those whose insurance is discontinued, with that 30 percent going to, yes, insurance companies. No wonder no one liked it.

But even worse than the Trump/Ryancare plan and even worse than its defeat was the post-humiliation analysis from the leading parties themselves. Donald Trump, whose party has a 44-vote majority in the House, blamed the defeat on — wait for it — Democrats, who, shockingly, didn’t contribute a single vote to the cause of dismantling their most significant legislative achievement of the last decade.

This is what Trump told The Washington Post’s Bob Costa in his first interview after he pulled the bill: “Hey, we could have done this,” he said. “But we couldn’t get one Democrat vote, not one. So that means they own Obamacare and when that explodes, they will come to us wanting to save whatever is left, and we’ll make a real deal.”

It was strange enough that Trump’s first two phone calls after the debacle were to the enemies of the people, The Washington Post and to The New York Times. Stranger still was his position to walk away from healthcare altogether. “Enough already,” he said. Sean Spicer said Trump had “left it all out there on the field,” but Obamacare took many months to complete. Trump/Ryancare went down in weeks. Trump barely made it out of the locker room.

Where, you ask, was the self-described closer who won the presidency on the notion that he alone can make the deals that will fix our dysfunctional system? He, alone, did try for a while, but he couldn’t sell the plan to his own party because 1) factions of his party violently disagree; 2) he had no idea of the details of his own plan; 3) he threatened that it was this plan or nothing; 4) after conceding issue after issue to the right-wing Freedom Caucus, they still wouldn’t vote with him.

So now Trump says he’ll wait for Democrats to come begging, which is apparently his entire Plan B. Meanwhile, he’ll do his best to sabotage Obamacare, which covers millions of citizens of the country he leads. You could almost call it a betrayal of the American people, but, fortunately for Trump, the FBI already has other possible betrayals to investigate.

Then there was a humbled Ryan, who said Obamacare was the law “for the foreseeable future.” He also conceded that Republicans were still learning how to govern. It was good of him to admit this, but it was a gift to Democrats, just as the failure to repeal Obamacare was a gift. Ask Mike Coffman, who supported the plan because he didn’t have the nerve to do anything else, and will now be facing ready-made attack ads in 2018 for his troubles.

When Ryan came to the Oval Office to tell the president they didn’t have the votes, Trump was, naturally, upset. He had assumed Republicans would fold before his deal-making prowess. When they didn’t, he told Ryan he wanted the vote to proceed anyway.  He wanted revenge against those who dared to oppose him. He wanted names named.

Over a lunch of chicken, brussels sprouts and twice-baked potatoes — as The New York Times reported — Ryan begged him to pull the plan, arguing that a vote would compound the GOP disaster. Trump finally relented — presumably it was the potatoes — telling Ryan he could pull the doomed bill.

Let it be noted: It was the closest either Trump or Ryan came to victory all day.

Flickr photo by alanagkelly.

 

 

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The Boulder Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to approve new oil and gas regulations aimed at protecting unincorporated county residents from health and environmental effects of fracking.

The vote followed a contentious and well-attended meeting last week, during which the commissioners heard passionate testimony from dozens of residents.

The majority of those who testified spoke out against fracking, calling on the county not only to pass stricter regulations but to ban the practice entirely. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which represents fracking interests, wrote the commissioners to oppose the new rules, calling the rules “overly broad” and in conflict with existing state regulations.

The regulations will go into effect May 1, the same day the county’s most recent short-term fracking moratorium is set to expire. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled last May that long-term or permanent fracking bans are preempted by state law and are thus illegal in Colorado.

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, recently sued Boulder County over the temporary ban. Coffman has accepted tens of thousands in campaign contributions from oil-and-gas interests.

During deliberations, Boulder’s county commissioners rued their inability to do more to control oil and gas development at the local level.

“We and the State of Colorado do not agree on where the authority over local drilling operations should lie,” said Commissioner Elise Jones. “While we wish we could completely control or prevent all aspects of oil and gas development within Boulder County, we are doing everything we can under the current law to protect our local air, water, public health, and the environment with these new regulations.”

Perhaps most notably, the new regulations will require all new oil and gas permits in unincorporated Boulder County to undergo “Special Use Review,” a process used by the Boulder County Land Use Department to determine whether proposed development projects are compatible with surrounding areas.

Under the review process, regulators will consider the hours of a project’s operation, the level of traffic, light, noise and odor pollution it will generate, how adjoining property owners will be affected and whether operators have attempted to reduce the impact of the project.

According to a statement the commissioners released, the new regulations are also:

  • “Comprehensive – They ask for detailed information and plans from operators in order to fully evaluate impacts and assess site-specific circumstances related to each oil and gas development application. They ask for alternative site locations.
  • Inclusive – The regulations require extensive notice to surrounding landowners, provide multiple opportunities for public input, including a neighborhood meeting and public hearings in front of the Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners.
  • Protective  – The regulations will closely scrutinize all proposed oil and gas development and hold operators to a high standard. The county will use 17 criteria to evaluate potential impacts on the surrounding area and the environment.
  • Specific – The regulations provide details on conditions of approval and mitigation measures that the county may impose to reduce the impacts on neighboring landowners and preserve the county land and environment.
  • Enforceable – all approved oil and gas development will be subject close monitoring and operators will be required to comply with all requirements and mitigation measures.”

The commissioners say they will discuss additional options to control local oil and gas development during an April 25 meeting.

The full draft of the regulations is available here.

 

Photo by Ted Wood, The Story Group