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The Democratic Party National Convention in Philadelphia began Monday with Bernie Sanders delegates — angered by the release of hacked emails confirming the national party was undermining Sanders’ presidential bid — booing speakers. Over the last couple of days, delegates say, it has been a rollercoaster of tears, pride, jubilation, protest – and a gradual, if begrudging, coalescence behind Hillary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee of a major party. Colorado’s 78 delegates have been capturing the scene and have shared some of their pictures with The Indy. Take a look-see. It’s the next best thing to being in Philly (and without the lines, the $10 hotdogs, or the drunk delegate behind you who keeps asking you to shoot pics of him in his silly hats).

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump will hold his campaign rally in Colorado Springs at 2 p.m. Friday at the Gallogly Events Center, on the northeast side of the CU-Colorado Springs campus.

In a communique to campus employees Wednesday, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak said that as a university, “we do not endorse a specific campaign or political agenda … we make our facilities available for lease” when not in use for educational or athletics purposes.

The Gallogly Events Center is normally used for basketball games and other indoor athletic contests, concerns and community meetings. Its largest room can seat up to 1,500. That’s well below the 3,600-seating capacity of a ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center, where Trump spoke to attendees at the Western Conservative Summit earlier this month. In that speech, his first campaign event in Colorado, the ballroom was just slightly more than half full.

The Trump campaign will handle ticket distribution, according to Zalabak’s email. Those arrangements have not yet been announced by the campaign.

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It was around dinner time at the Democratic National Convention in Philly. The party was in the process of nominating Hillary Clinton, its first female standard-bearer for president. Cameras swung from one delegation to the next as states shouted out the votes for Clinton and her onetime rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders.

When the cameras panned to Colorado, the state’s party chairman, Rick Palacio, read the results: 41 for Sanders to 36 for Hillary with one abstention.*

It wasn’t long after the final vote when the phones of Sanders delegates started buzzing with text messages. Something was happening. There was talk of a possible walkout among Sanders delegates. Or maybe a sit-in.

“We knew we wanted to do something, we weren’t sure what it was,” says Nita Lynch, 74, who cast her Colorado vote as a delegate for Sanders. “The word got out. Now it’s time to go.”

Sanders delegates from around the country began making their way out of the convention into the hallway. Some wore black bandanas or tape over their mouths as symbolic gags. With the train of delegates growing longer, they made their way toward the media tables outside.

Lynch was one of them.

“They talk about loyalty, I’ve been a Democrat. I’m 74 years old. I’ve been a Democrat for a long time. My loyalty is not to the Democratic Party, it’s to this progressive movement,” she told The Colorado Independent Wednesday from Philly. “But we’re not being heard, even by our own Hillary delegates.”

No one should be surprised some Sanders delegates feel this way, especially in Colorado.

During the record-breaking March 1 caucuses here, Colorado’s Democrats went for Sanders over Clinton by 19 points. That was despite the backing of Clinton by the Democratic Party elite and its superdelegates — from the entire Democratic congressional delegation to Gov. John Hickenlooper.

But, by the time of the convention, Sanders had suspended his campaign and endorsed Clinton for president. He expected, and urged, his nearly 1,900 delegates to vote for him in Philly during  their respective roll calls — a symbolic act. On Wednesday, Sanders moved to nominate Clinton by acclamation, drawing an emotional response from his followers in the convention hall.

Some of his supporters wanted more. An estimated 15 to 20 of Colorado’s 41 delegates took part in the protest, multiple delegates told The Independent.  

Joe Salazar, a Colorado Democratic House member from Thornton, and a Sanders delegate, was outside the convention center getting a Polish sausage when the sit-in started.

“When I came back they were pretty much all gone,” he said the following the day by phone.

Salazar missed the sit-in because he was seeing what Green Party nominee Jill Stein was doing at a Democratic Party convention. She quickly gathered an entourage, he said.

For his part, Salazar says he is following Sanders’ lead in supporting Clinton — as difficult as he finds that. “Bernie’s been my general,” he said. “I was [one of] the original Bernie eight [of lawmakers who supported him early] … And I followed this guy. He asked us to do this. He asked us to vote for her. So, I am going to follow him. He’s a visionary leader.”

Still, Salazar said, switching gears won’t be easy before Election Day. He is still hoping to see an end to the superdelegate system and a full rejection by the party of the Trans-Pacific Partnership global trade agreement. Not helping matters: Hacked emails released by WikiLeaks during the convention reveal an effort by the Democratic National Committee to undermine Sanders.

“This walkout started because we’re trying to spotlight the fraud that has been committed by the DNC and how Bernie and his supporters have been consistently marginalized and really just rejected by the party and really ignored,” said delegate Sarah Moore, 30, from a restaurant in Philly Wednesday morning. Moore, who lives in Broomfield and works in IT, took part in the sit-in.

“We had to do something to show the world and all those who voted for us and donated to us that the Colorado Bernie delegates are not just rolling over and letting them portray us as a Hillary state,” said delegate Kona Morris, another protest participant.

Not all of Colorado’s Sanders delegation took part in the protest even though they knew it was happening.  

JoyAnn Keener-Ruscha, another Sanders delegate, had earlier told The Independent she felt the Democratic Party’s unity message was a bit heavy-handed. She wasn’t sure what to expect in Philly, but gives the DNC props for focusing on issues.

“I went from crying when Sanders moved to nominate Clinton by acclamation to crying because we just nominated a woman to be president,” she says. “It was very emotional. But myself and three other delegates got up to get sandwiches, not because we were going to go protest. And judging by the lines at the bathrooms and the food stands, we were not the only ones.”

Keener-Ruscha posed for a photo holding a Clinton sign, while her Clinton-supporting friend Evie Hudak held a sign for Sanders.

“Some of us delegates are really trying,” she says. “Moving forward, finding things [in] common, and being a good steward of the campaign. All of us were in tears when Sanders moved to nominate Clinton by acclamation … but not everyone wanted to burn the house down.”

Too much focus on protests at the convention is something Mike Maday, a Sanders delegate from Colorado Springs, was hoping wouldn’t materialize. He has memories from the 2008 convention of reporters looking for conflict.

“The media is always trying to find a problem,” he said by phone Wednesday morning.

Maday didn’t notice his fellow Coloradans had taken part in a Tuesday evening sit-in.

Maday is wearing an Obama button and a Joe Biden button today because they’ll be speaking.  Tomorrow, he’ll keep his Sanders button on, but he’ll add another.

“I’ll be wearing a Hillary button and a Bernie button,” he said. “That’s where our country’s going. I hope.”

 

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the delegate tally between Sanders and Clinton in Colorado.

[Photo credit: Cortland Coffey]

Something’s in the water in southern El Paso County

A foam fire retardant used Peterson Air Force Base is suspected to be the source of toxic PFCs found in water supplies in Fountain, Widefield and Security

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Water contamination in southern El Paso County – likely caused by the upstream Peterson Air Force Base – has triggered fear and outrage in the community, and made national headlines in the process.

As reported this morning in The New York Times, the contaminants have leached into the drinking water of an estimated 80,000 people in the communities of Fountain, Widefield and Security. The perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, are an especially alarming public health challenge. Boiling water doesn’t eliminate them, and only certain filters can remove them.

PFCs can cause kidney cancer — a condition that residents in these municipalities suffer from in higher rates than the rest of El Paso County. They can also cause heart disease and lower birth weights, making them especially risky for pregnant women.

Alarms reportedly started sounding in May, when the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it was lowering its standard for safe levels of PFCs in water supply. Some parts of Security had PFC levels over 3 times the new federal advisory level.

Families in the affected communities are worried about their safety. Some 800 people attended a community meeting on July 7th at Mesa Ridge High School to voice their concerns. Regional utilities directors have shut off contaminated wells and are pumping in water from other parts of the state – a strategy they say is expensive and unsustainable in the long-term. Charity groups have also been distributing bottled water, and an online petition for free bottled water garnered 2,000 signatures.

The Air Force has spent $137 million assessing the problem and plans to spend much more to clean up the water supply.  It has also spent $108,000 on bottled water for affected residents.

That water only meets demand for human consumption, though. Businesses that rely on clean irrigation are out of luck. Venetucci Farm had to suspend operations beginning July 22 until its water, soil and crops can be tested – a significant blow to its loyal customer base. Many community members have for years and even decades relied on Venetucci for produce.

PFCs in water supply have caused health problems before, but they are usually a consequence of chemical or plastic manufacturing. In this case, the PFCs leached into the water as a result of a substance called Aqueous Film Forming Foam, which the Air Force base uses to fight fires. It was originally conceived by the Navy as an agent to fight petroleum fires on ships.

Perhaps most astonishing is that some residents have been living under the assumption that their tap water is unsafe since long before the PFC levels became national news.

 

Who’s behind ‘decline to sign’ efforts?

Energy giants are pulling out all the stops to prevent anti-fracking initiatives from making the ballot.

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The 30-second television ad reeks of ominous.

A handheld camera shows a faceless young man with dark skin, wearing ratty cargo pants and wielding a pen, knocking on a front door with a petition in hand. “Professional signature gatherers are hired guns who get paid when you sign their petition,” the male narrator says. A montage of doom flashes by: charts of red-arrowed economic downturns and a harried couple struggling with their bills. The narrator warns of the economic catastrophe that would follow any restrictions on oil and gas development. “Your signature is incredibly valuable,” he says. “Don’t just give it away to some petitioner on the street.”

As the ad’s obligatory “Paid for by…” disclosure appears on the screen with a colorful “Protect Colorado” logo, the narrator concludes: “Here’s your chance to show you do care about Colorado’s future. Decline to sign.”

Your “valuable” signature is the one that could end up on citizen-backed petitions to place two fracking-related initiatives on the November ballot. They’re initiatives that the energy industry vehemently – and expensively – opposes.

The first measure, Initiative 75, is a response to the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling in May that invalidated restrictions and moratoria on fracking put into place by local communities like Longmont and Fort Collins. If passed, it would give local governments more say in citing and regulating oil and gas activity in their jurisdictions.

The second, Initiative 78, seeks to respond to growing scientific concerns that hydraulic fracturing – a controversial industrial process used to unlock deep reserves of oil and gas – affects public health, air quality and the quality of life of residents near gas extraction facilities. It proposes mandatory 2,500-foot setbacks between certain energy development and houses, schools and water sources.

Petition organizers have until 3 p.m. on August 8 to present 98,492 signatures for each ballot initiative to the Secretary of State for validation.

Both proposed ballot measures seek to address citizens’ ongoing concerns about the breakneck speed of oil and gas development, especially in residential communities along the Front Range. Those concerns are being amplified as supporters of the fracking initiatives increasingly experience the force of the industry’s public relations machine.

Documents obtained by The Colorado Independent show that the “decline to sign” campaign is part of an orchestrated, multi-year effort by both Colorado-based and national energy giants. One of their front groups is Protect Colorado, which funded the petition-gatherer-of-doom TV ad and is actively seeking to thwart citizens from qualifying the two measures for the ballot.

Protect Colorado is but one wellhead in the energy industry’s fields of public relations strategies. In a transcript of a speech before the annual meeting of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission’s (IOGCC) in September 2015, Mark Truax of PAC/WEST Communications laid out a playbook for the industry response to Colorado’s anti-fracking groundswell that took the industry by surprise a few years ago. By 2013, despite being outspent by industry by a large margin, community rights laws had passed from El Paso County near Colorado Springs to Lafayette in Boulder County.

“That was the wake up call for the industry to go, ‘uh-oh,’” Truax told the crowd. “We’ve got some big problems that we have to correct.”

That correction effort, as spelled out by Truax, began with a $10 million media war chest as starter money and is now taking form in efforts such as the “decline to sign” campaign and other ads designed to undermine Initiatives 75 and 78. The campaign strategy goes beyond just propaganda efforts to influence public opinion. It also seeks to manipulate regulatory agencies, stack local governments with supporters of energy development and undermine citizen efforts to seek further accountability and safety measures from the industry.

“This is a sophisticated and well-resourced effort,” said Jessica Goad, spokeswoman for environmental advocacy group Conservation Colorado. The organization officially endorsed Initiative 75 earlier this week but has no official position on #78.

“I think we’re going to see even more examples of how large this ‘decline to sign’ movement is as we get closer to the deadline,” Goad adds. “The oil and gas industry is willing to pour millions of dollars towards trying to snuff out democracy.”

Truax’s speech details how industry giants Anadarko and Noble funded much of the effort by forming CRED, or Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, beginning in late 2013. The organization is a non-profit 501c(6), similar to a trade group, and has cast its goal as a “continual multi-year education effort.” That effort includes extensive research, polling, mail and phone testing, as well as digital testing. Truax boasted that the industry created a database of 3.9 million Colorado voters, knocked on 1.7 million doors and conducted nine statewide surveys – all of which came at an undisclosed cost.

Much of the research pointed to a tough PR hurdle: 88 percent of Coloradans knew about fracking, and a lot of them didn’t much like the sound of it. As well pads, truck traffic and industrial sites started creeping deeper into residential developments in Weld, Adams, El Paso and Boulder counties, residents who weren’t the usual tree-hugging suspects became activists and started making noise. One key question this growing alliance posed was whether the environmental impacts of fracking were adding up faster than scientists were able to quantify them.

“This movement has been driven by moms, dads and grandparents fighting to protect the health and safety of their loved ones, homeowners defending their property values, and scientists, engineers and medical professionals,” said Razz Gormley, a campaign director for Frack Free Colorado, which is involved in the initiative fight.

All these residents, Gormley said, recognize that a slew of emerging, peer-reviewed scientific papers prove that fracking “has no place near our homes, schools, playgrounds and water sources.”

As groups like Frack Free Colorado and others were gaining traction, Truax’s speech outlined another problem: the prospect of an increasing number of cities and counties mobilizing to enact fracking moratoria or other restrictions on land where energy companies could site their facilities.

“It’s the year of the whack-a-mole,” Truax said. “…We have this increased opposition and all these groups have popped up in the last 12 months.”

Seemingly alarmed by mounting losses against populist anti-fracking groups, the industry pulled out all the stops and launched its new campaign for CRED on September 5, 2013, which coincided with a Broncos-Ravens Thursday night football game. The “tease campaign” kicked off with a tag line that raised the group’s profile immediately: “Are you ready for some fracking?”

“We were 0 and 5 going in to this and we really needed to change the tide,” Truax said, referring to the successful citizen efforts in Lafayette, Longmont, Boulder, and Ft. Collins to tighten the reins on energy development. “All of this really kind of changed the way that we work.”

With $10 million dollars in “media reserve” in late 2014, CRED ran ads in the U.S. Senate race between Mark Udall and Cory Gardner and mobilized industry foot soldiers to canvass when any new towns started signaling that they, too, might want to pass moratoria on drilling.

In 2015, the industry group made “a preemptive strike in Fort Collins,” which involved “making sure that the right city council members got elected to the city council to stop a potential fracking ban,” according to the transcript.

in February 2015, after photographer John Fielder organized an anti-fracking rally in Denver, the industry “took the wind out of [the anti-fracking movement’s] sails in about a total of seven days.” Truax went on to tout that “We then elected a pro city council” in Denver – a boast that showed a disregard for the fact that at least some people would find such blatant industry intervention in the political process offensive.

“We’ve been able to keep municipal ballots and municipal ballot measures off in every city and county across Colorado in 2014,” Truax said.

The 2015 transcript, obtained by the environmental group Greenpeace, shows that Truax looked ahead to 2016, anticipating that the “opposition” was going to run some statewide ballots – as has, in fact, turned out to be true.

“We have to be ready for that strike in the event that they do play that card,” Truax said.

In his speech, Truax went on to admit that he had spoken to Matt Lepore of the Colorado Oil and Conservation Commission (COGCC) on numerous occasions, strategizing on how to get more Coloradans to have a more positive image of fracking. To critics of the COGCC – a state agency that has ultimate power over approving gas development – this revelation of a cozy relationship between COGCC and the industry is hardly surprising. Just last week, the commission approved a drilling site in a retirement community in Battlement Mesa near Grand Junction despite overwhelming objections from the residents. After the decision, Doug Saxton, with the Battlement Concerned Citizens group declared flatly that the COGCC’s system for listening to residents’ complaints and making balanced decisions has been an “utter failure.”

The Battlement Mesa group isn’t alone in its perception that COGCC is playing with a marked deck.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and they’ve never said no to an oil and gas location,” said Matt Sura, an attorney who represents municipalities and private homeowners in their negotiations with energy companies. “The COGCC gives the public the ability to comment on their website and the ability to suck it up. That’s it.”

Perhaps the oddest claim in the recent “decline to sign” television ad featuring the dark-skinned signature gatherer is the narrator’s assertion that “special interests are trying to reshape our Constitution to suit them,” as a copy of the Bill of Rights is shown burning like the beginning of the old “Bonanza” television show. Karen Crummy, CRED’s director and also spokeswoman for the ad’s funder, industry front group “Protect Colorado,” repeats this claim with the assurance of somebody on a script.

These so-called grassroots groups are backed by out-of-state and international organizations whose mission is to ban responsible oil and natural gas development. They are extreme and out-of-step with the majority of Coloradans,” she says.

Crummy might want to tell that to Paddy McClelland, a Denver real estate agent and self-described mom who has been out gathering signatures to qualify 75 and 78 for the ballot on her own time and her own dime. McClelland scoffs at the industry’s portrait of her and her fellow signature gatherers as outsiders and extremists. She simply feels that the industry has become too powerful in Colorado and has systematically ignored the voices of residents like her who’d like to see some common sense regulations such as keeping round-the-clock, mini-gas refineries away from schools and housing developments.

“It’s as dirty and sick as it gets the more you find out,” she says, referring both to the impacts of the industrial activity and the industry’s public relations tactics.

Teams of people like McClellan have volunteered for free to gather signatures at neighborhood events, in public parks and at other venues. Small nonprofit groups like Food and Water Watch and Coloradans Resisting Extreme Energy Environment (a CREED to respond to the industry’s CRED) have recently begin hiring signature gatherers in the final weeks before the August 8 petition deadline.

Some of these signature gatherers say they’re experiencing what appear to be organized efforts to make their jobs more difficult. Carina Tennessen, a 36-year-old single mom and former schoolteacher living in Denver, took a $13-an-hour job gathering signatures for 75 and 78. Like McClellan, she objects to the characterization by the industry that she’s some “out-of-state interest” with only her pocketbook as motivation.

“This is my home,” she says, noting that the fracking issue resonates with her because she’s a former schoolteacher, and her “heart goes out” to teachers and students who have to work and learn a thousand feet from active gas wells emitting chemicals like benzene and humming with non-stop compressor station noises and thrumming truck traffic.

“It must be just horrifying for teachers in these communities,” she adds.

Tennessen doesn’t have a lot of time to donate for free since she’s struggling to get by. Her paid signature-gathering gig has been an opportunity, she says, “to do something I’m passionate about.”

Last Sunday, Tennessen was gathering signatures in Denver’s Civic Center Park when a group of five people in their early 20s approached her aggressively and got in her face, screaming, “You’re taking our jobs! You’re taking our jobs!”

Tennessen has been trained to simply walk away from such confrontations, and she did. But the group followed her, eventually even pulling out a camera to film her during her break. When she started asking her harassers some questions about the “jobs” that these people had in the industry, none would answer. “They were just there to follow us around. We were being targeted by these people,” she said.

“Honestly, it was really scary. I almost didn’t want to come back to gather more signatures today,” she said the day after her encounter. Then she paused. “But I did. This is too important.”

The energy industry has promoted a signature gathering effort of its own – for Initiative 66, which would change the way initiatives can be placed on the ballot in Colorado. The so-called “Raise the Bar” effort, if it passes, would make it even more difficult to get ballot measures like 75 and 78 on the ballot.

Initiative 66 is being spearheaded by Blitz Canvassing and EIS Solutions, both of which are registered in the state of Colorado as petition-gatherers. The petition entity license for both groups is signed by Jake Zambrano, who has worked for some of the state’s more conservative elected officials, such as former Governor Bill Owens and former Western Slope Congressman Scott McGinnis. Critics say that, like the “decline to sign” effort, “Raise the Bar” is another example of ways the industry attempts to thwart direct democracy.

There are other signs that the initiative wars are heating up.

Last week, organizers of a campaign to gather signatures for a ballot measure that would have relaxed the so-called TABOR (Taxpayers Bill of Rights) law suspended their efforts. TABOR, which passed by ballot initiative in 1992, restricts how tax money can be gathered and spent. The initiative’s main proponent, Colorado Priorities, issued a statement that there was simply too much noise in the system to get the traction they needed.

“The crowded ballot has made it difficult to secure the resources necessary for us to win in November,” wrote Colorado Priorities’ co-chairmen, Dan Ritchie and Al Yates, both of whom have more access than most to move political causes.

The availability of resources seems to be no obstacle to the energy industry, which continues expanding its anti-regulation strategies in ways that are both visible and invisible. The industry has even made efforts to keep its “decline to sign” campaign’s public face a little lighter – and even funny. It has hired people to dress up as yellow, life-sized pencils, complete with pink eraser tops, to wander the streets of Denver with signs that say, “Decline to sign #75 & #78.”

In one video clip sent to The Colorado Independent, an unidentified pencil guy is being asked how much he gets paid and whether there were other jobs like his to be had. Pencil guy pulls out his phone and gives the name and phone number of the ad agency that hired him.

When The Independent called that number, a woman answered the phone, then turned the phone over to her boss. He called his client to ask them how to handle the media inquiry. The ad man suggested we call Karen Crummy at Protect Colorado.

The pencil guy admits his gig has its downsides.

“It feels like shit to fucking wear this thing,” he says. “But it’s 25 bucks an hour.”

Photo credit: Katie Camosy

Littwin: DNC Day 2 – Billary, the love letter

If Bill – who is famously all too human – can’t humanize his wife, then no one can.

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To begin with, let’s agree that Bill Clinton did not give the speech of his life.

For once, he gave the speech of Hillary’s life. Not that he didn’t play a role, but it wasn’t the starring role this time. It was the first-spouse role. And so it begins.

“In the spring of 1971,” Bill Clinton says on Hillary’s big night, “I met a girl.”

It’s the oldest story in the world, told and retold and told again. In the spring of the year that time began, or so the bible would have us believe, Adam met a girl, and a million plot lines were born.

But in this boy-meets-girl, when the rakish boy at Yale Law is suddenly made too shy to tap the girl wearing the owlish glasses on the shoulder, it’s not just any cute meet. It’s Bill and Hillary, Billary, whose love story, we’ve always been reliably told, has relied less on love than on ambition and opportunism, as if anyone really knows.

All marriages are mysteries, but few have offered up such public humiliation suffered by a would-be president. And so this, the most famous political marriage of our time, desperately needed a reframing. For those who don’t trust Hillary, and the polls tell us that most people do not, it didn’t begin with Hillary. It began with Billary.

And so Bill would take the stage, as he always does. And though there is every reason to mistrust him, we get, well, seduced by the story he tells and how he tells it. It’s one of his many talents. When Hillary says she’s not a natural politician, like her husband or Barack Obama, this is what she means. When Bill Clinton spends the night saying that Hillary’s willingness to do the hard work of governing is the more important job, that was the story he came to tell.

The job of this convention, of course, is to make people trust Hillary Clinton, at least a little. If her untrustworthiness numbers improve, she will almost certainly become the first woman president.

And so Michelle Obama, in what will surely be the speech of the week, tells us to trust Clinton with our children’s future, because she does. And Bernie Sanders says you can trust Clinton to continue – or at least not quash – the revolution, because he does.

But it was up to Bill Clinton to seal the deal. It’s what he does. His 2012 convention speech famously helped to rescue Barack Obama. He has rescued himself – often with Hillary’s help – too many times to count. If Bill, who is famously all too human can’t humanize his wife, then no one can.

Thus it is that a boy met a girl in the spring of ’71. And he chased her – no, he stalked her – for years while the girl was off doing amazing things, the do-gooder stuff that a certain kind of person does, registering Mexican-American voters, investigating segregation in the Deep South, working on children’s issues. She’s a change-maker, as Bill would call her, changing more things, he said, by the time she was 30 than most politicians do in a lifetime.

From the beginning, he said, he was awed by how smart she was, by how much she longed to get important things done, and, in what was a love letter to his wife, by how much he admired her.

Finally, we’re told, after Hillary twice refused his marriage proposal, there was a marriage. There was a baby. There was a life full of ups and downs. In the telling, the camera goes to Chelsea, who smiles, and back to Bill, who relishes each detail. If that’s not love, it’s close enough.

And if Bill, in his year-to-year tour of their lives and careers, somehow skipped much of 1998, the year of Monica and of impeachment, he did make the promise that “She will never quit on you,” because he knew that we would know what he meant. She had never quit on him.

Clinton knew the ground he had to cover. He had to make Hillary human, so he told the story of the mother on her hands and knees in Chelsea’s college dorm room finding one more drawer to put the liner paper in. He told the story of Clinton’s years in the Senate, her years as Secretary of State, detailing her successes (no mention of emails) and selling the notion that, in a year in which voters are begging for something new, that Hillary always wants to move the ball forward.

It was “Black Lives Matter” night at the convention, which explains the need to move the ball forward. The Democratic Party has moved forward from the Clinton years and DOMA and punishing prison sentences and breaks for big banks. Hillary Clinton spent the entire primary season trying to make her campaign a bridge to the mid-21st century – if, as she was often reminded, a bridge lined with dollars from Goldman Sachs.

But for Bill, the job was not to reclaim his legacy. It was to make the case that the Fox News version of Hillary, the GOP-convention version of Hillary, the Benghazi-committee version of Hillary was “a cartoon,” a two-dimensional caricature of the person he knows.

“How does this square with the things that you heard at the Republican convention?” he asked. “What is the difference in what I told you and what they said? How do you square it? You can’t. One is real, the other is made up. You have to decide which is which.”

The real one, he would say, is the one the Democrats just nominated for president. And if you believe him, you’ll probably give Hillary Clinton a chance Thursday night in her acceptance speech to see if she can prove him right.

Some residents can’t get Colorado news on TV. The FCC could fix that.

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news and media for July 26

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TV viewers in Durango might live in Colorado, but their news comes from Albuquerque, New Mexico. That’s because La Plata County is what’s considered an “orphan county.” It’s too far away from Denver to have broadcasts beamed in. But apparently it’s not impossible. According to a story in The Durango Herald, DISH Network says bringing Front Range news to Durango TVs is “not technically unfeasible.” But, county staff in the area have to petition the feds.

From The Herald:

Over the next several months, county staff will be assembling a petition for market modification to the Federal Communications Commission that demonstrates the need for in-state programming. Market modification is the process by which the FCC can modify a television broadcaster’s market boundaries, and a rule authorizing the local petitioning process took effect early this year. Before the rule’s establishment, only broadcast and satellite companies could petition the market.

Once this Colorado county sends a petition, the FCC will have 120 days to decide whether Colorado residents can be able to get Colorado news. If they say yes, “satellite operators must then reach agreements with each affiliate station,” such as ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS.

For years, county staff and lawmakers in the area have been trying to get Colorado programming on the TVs of residents in these so-called orphan counties. One county commissioner in La Plata told the paper straight up: “Access to Denver TV is one of the highest priorities when I talk to people in the community.” The Herald has more on this effort and what it means here.

Gazette noted for not saying the spouse of its opinion page editor got money from a candidate

The liberal Media Matters for America group followed The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly this week in noting how The Gazette’s editorial page hadn’t mentioned that the spouse of that page’s editor got at least $3,000 from the campaign of a candidate whose praises the editorial page has sung. The alt-weekly in the Springs reached out to the op-ed page editor, but it doesn’t look like they got a response.

A Springs source pointed out to me that The Colorado Springs Independent hasn’t always made appropriate disclosures itself in coverage, like when reporting on the Trails and Open Spaces Coalition, a board on which its publisher sits and the paper itself describes as “influential.” The paper has disclosed its publisher’s board role in some stories mentioning TOSC, but not all, and its editor tells me disclosures are “a subject that the Independent always has taken seriously.” (Disclosure: I’ve written for The Colorado Springs Independent.)

CLAIM: “Colorado is no longer a battleground state.” And why that could be bad for local TV stations

This week, one of Colorado’s most quoted pollsters and political analysts, Floyd Ciruli, made the above provocative and definitive statement in a blog post. The CliffsNotes version is this non-blue-collar state has gone to the Dems in the last two presidential cycles, is growing with millennials and Latinos, and has a Republican Party base that’s un-friendly to Donald Trump.

“The implications of this shift are not good for Colorado Republicans, local TV stations and people who would like to see Donald Trump between now and the election,” Ciruli wrote and left it at that.

So… why would it be bad for TV stations? Because battleground status means more political advertising, which means more revenue for in-state TV stations. Those revenues have increased in recent campaigns, as — thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and other trends — a greater share of ad buys come from super PACs and other third-party groups, which can be charged whatever the market will bear. (Official campaigns are entitled to buy air time at the lowest rates offered to other advertisers.) In 2013, CJR published a piece titled “Snow Job,” in which Sasha Chavkin tracked an avalanche of ad spending for Denver broadcasters and where that money went. (As I’ve written, Colorado campaign ad spending can be tough to track.)

What you missed on the front pages of newspapers across Colorado on Sunday

Did you spend all day hiking to the summit of your local 14er just to prove all the snow hadn’t yet melted so you wouldn’t lose your office pool and neglect to read all the news fit for the Sunday front pages of Colorado’s largest papers? If so, I’ve got you covered.

The Longmont Times-Call had a piece about the city debating whether to relax a tasting limit at liquor stores. With “Greeley or Bust,” The Greeley Tribune detailed how the area is attracting more tourists. The Loveland Reporter-Herald fronted a profile of Steve Adams, the new city managerThe Pueblo Chieftain asked if legalized pot has changed the feel of the city (“Here’s a spoiler alert: There isn’t a simple answer to the question of whether legalized pot is a blessing or a curse”). Steamboat Pilot & Today Sunday had a cover story about new area trails in the worksThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel ran a story about options for area elderly who want to age in their own homesThe Gazette reported on some hangups in the red-hot real estate market of Colorado SpringsThe Fort Collins Coloradoan has a cover story on Thomas Sutherland, a University of Colorado professor who died.  The Boulder Daily Camera fronted a story about the city’s negotiations with a utility to get off of coalVail Daily had a cover story about a 500 cyclist bike raceThe Durango Herald had a piece about area delegates for Bernie Sanders sticking with him at the DNCThe Denver Post looked at what’s next for the Gold King Mine a year after the spill.

ProPublica’s ‘Delayed, Denied, Dismissed’ FOI project had a Centennial State connection

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom of Information Act, ProPublica reporters shared some of their most frustrating public record failures. One of them came from Sandra Fish, a Colorado data journalist who also does follow-the-money reporting in New Mexico.

From ProPublica:

When Sandra Fish, one of our volunteers, sought to take pictures of election results in Park County, Colorado, she was told that state law banned phones and computers from the clerk’s office (it doesn’t). She eventually got the results, but only after filling out a form, waiting several days and paying for them.

Fish, who was on an assignment from the group Open Elections, wrote  a blog post likening her troubles in getting precinct-level results to that of a “goofy cartoon,” replete with plenty of South Park references.

Ex-Denver Post owner Dean Singleton’s autobiography is apparently in the works

This week I found a little media tycoon nugget buried in a Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Q-and-A with Colorado nonfiction author Dick Kreck, who recently published a new book about the state’s historical high society titled Rich People Behaving Badly. Apparently he’s also helping former Denver Post owner Dean Singleton pen his autobiography.

From the Sentinel

What are you working on now? Kreck: I’m in the very, very early stages of interviews and research for an autobiography I am signed up to co-write with former Denver Post owner and publisher William Dean Singleton, a pivotal figure in the modern history of American journalism who started in the newspaper business as a teenager in Texas and continues to be a major voice today. The book is probably two or three years down the road.

Kreck is a former reporter for The Denver Post. Singleton, known as a shrewd businessman and empire-building entrepreneur who started his media career as a paperboy in Texas and bought his first newspaper at 21, owned The Denver Post from 1987 until a few years ago when Digital First Media, whose primary owner is a New York City hedge fund, took it over. At one point Singleton owned the second-largest newspaper company in America.

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

My colleague Deron Lee writes how a reporter’s arrest is just the latest reason to worry about press freedom in Missouri, and about an investigative reporter in Kansas who was laid off for the third time. Susannah Nesmith explains how a regional newspaper pulled off a national investigation into sexual abuse by doctors, and about how none of Florida’s newspapers are unionized but that it could change. CJR’s press freedom correspondent Jonathan Peters looks at whether Facebook Live could change the way courts think about privacy law. Jackie Spinner writes about a joint investigation that complicates old narratives about public housing in Chicago.

Denver journalist David Sirota is taking the lead on a big national healthcare story

Earlier this month my colleague Trudy Lieberman at CJR, who reports on healthcare coverage, highlighted the work of Denver journalist David Sirota, the investigations editor at the International Business Times. Sirota had published a blockbuster exposing potential conflicts of interest by Connecticut’s insurance commissioner who was reviewing a major national healthcare company merger deal, and followed up with multiple pieces advancing the story. Since then, the DOJ has filed a lawsuit to block the merger between Cigna and Anthem, an ethics regulator suggested officials misled the public, and the deal has slowed.

“There’s a lot of focus on Washington accountability on the part of journalists,” Sirota told Liberman for the CJR piece, about why he submitted the open records request that kicked off his reporting, “but comparatively little on state officials who have a huge amount of power and get little public scrutiny.”

Since Sirota’s big report, the International Business Times has laid off half the newsroom. Let’s be happy he’s still there.

Last thing. Like our state really needed this

Colorado is growing, and fast. People want to move here. And last week, these two headlines out of Colorado did plenty to keep the allure alive: “Beer rains onto I-25 after semi-truck overturns,” and “Colorado town finds THC in its water.”  Buuuuuut about that second headline. Once it bounced around the internet — you know why it might go viral — the Colorado Bureau of Investigation threw cold water on the claim. A next round of news stories walked back the weed-in-our-water narrative with the local sheriff’s office saying the initial test kit results are now believed to have been false positives. Looks like that one was just too good to be true. Even for Colorado.

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

[Photo credit: Alan Klim via Creative Commons on Flickr]

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You might have been too distracted by how well crafted Michelle Obama’s game-saving speech was on Day One of the Democratic convention to have noticed the subtext, but, believe me, it’s a doozy.

This was Michelle Obama saying that America, right now, is the greatest country on earth and not to let anyone (read: Donald Trump) tell you otherwise.

And this was the same Michelle Obama who, eight years ago, was deep in one of Fox News’s circles of hell for saying that “for the first time in my adult life” she was really proud to be an American. You may remember how well that went over. For having the nerve to praise America for moving toward electing its first black president, she was accused of hating America and of hating white people and, well, you know the rest.

And, eight years later, here was Obama not only embracing patriotism, but using the nearly eight years her family has lived in the White House to demonstrate just how great America can be and challenging the dystopian-minded Trump to prove her wrong.

You don’t have to be an Obama critic to think it was audacious. And you don’t have to be a Democrat to see how well it worked.

It worked because Michelle Obama is now so widely admired that Melania Trump would, uh, quote her at length. And the speech worked because it effectively told a story of a mother and her two children and how she would entrust their world to only one candidate, their friend – as Obama called her – Hillary Clinton. And it worked because the speech, in point after telling point, made the obvious divisions in the Democratic Party seem small in comparison.

I don’t know if Obama’s words calmed the troubled waters at DNC any more than Paul Simon’s somewhat troubled rendition of the song did. I doubt it. There will be a roll call today, Sanders voters will have their say, and it will almost certainly get rowdy again. The divide between the Bernie revolutionaries and the Democratic establishment is real and wouldn’t be covered over by any number of Obamas or even by pleas from Warren and Bernie Sanders himself.

Sanders, who went all in for Clinton in his night-closing speech, gave the game away earlier in the day when talking to his delegates, some of whom actually booed him. “Brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters,” he said. “This is the real world that we live in.”

No wonder they booed. The Sanders people didn’t come to Philadelphia in search of the real world. They wanted Debbie Wasserman Schultz out – and they can thank WikiLeaks and a long list of compromising emails for that. And they want Bernie in, even if Bernie doesn’t want Bernie in any more, even if Bernie texted his supporters begging them not to be disruptive because the disruption only served Trump, even if Warren would be heckled by a few in the crowd for her supposed betrayal of the cause. The Bernie people wanted a Ted Cruz moment. Instead, their own guy was asking for silence. You’d almost think that’s why some taped their mouths shut.

But the success of the convention, begun in chaos, will not be measured by how many of the Bernie-or-busters are converted or whether, in Sarah Silverman’s words, they stop being “ridiculous.” Most Sanders supporters will inevitably vote for Clinton anyway.

It will be measured by the collective force of the arguments – both against Trump and for Clinton. And it’s in both places where Michelle Obama excelled. When she spoke, you could almost imagine a time, say on Thursday night, when Hillary Clinton wouldn’t get booed.

Obama never said Trump’s name, but we still got the idea. She described a thin-skinned politician who sees the world in black and white and usually in the space of 140 characters. Mostly Obama spoke of the experiences she and Clinton shared – as women raising children in the White House glare, as women who have had to explain to their children, in Obama’s words, anyone (guess who?) who goes on TV and uses “hateful language” and “acts like a bully.”

She did for Clinton what no Republican could effectively do for Trump. She explained why, in human terms, she was with Clinton. She praised Clinton for her perseverance, for having “the guts and the grace to keep coming back and putting those cracks in the highest and hardest glass ceiling until she finally breaks through, lifting all of us along with her.”

That’s where the speech soared and where everyone was forced to pay attention:

“That is the story of this country. The story that has brought me to the stage tonight. The story of generations of people who felt the lash of bondage, the shame of servitude, the sting of segregation, but who kept on striving, and hoping, and doing what needed to be done. So that today, I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters — two beautiful, intelligent black young women — playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.

“And because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters and all our sons and daughters now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”

This one pretty much brought the house down. Obama took her story – which is the story of the country – and asked those watching to understand it in terms of the Clinton story. Did it work? Well, she got the expected standing ovation. And Donald Trump, live-Tweeting the convention, never mentioned her name.

[Photo credit:thierry ehrmann via Creative Commons on Flickr]

 

 

 

 

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A Greeley waitress broke from the modern expression of racial resentment, coded language and red-herring-ism by using explicit hate speech on Twitter. (This, by the way, isn’t an Onion article.)

Megan Olson was working at the Texas Roadhouse in Greeley earlier this month when, in response to an unsatisfactory tip, she turned to the Twitterverse, writing, “If we had a real life purge, I would kill as many Mexicans as I could in one night.” She followed her statement with a hashtag that contained profanity and a racial slur.

The tweet provoked outrage online, with many condemning its racist nature, and some simply admonishing Olson for not accepting lower tips as an occupational hazard in restaurant work.

Maria Handley, executive director of Generation Latino, blamed Donald Trump’s divisiveness for the hateful language.

“We have seen a fear-mongering campaign that has legitimized racist comments like this across all social media networks,” Handley said. “This vitriol and hate that we are seeing in our communities is real and the man leading that is running for president.”

Olson’s manager reportedly was mowing his lawn when he was alerted of the Tweet. He told her to hit the road.

“This employee has been terminated as discrimination of any sort is not tolerated at Texas Roadhouse,” reads the chain’s Facebook page.

Rest assured, Colorado: Olson won’t be serving any more Cactus Blossoms, Rattlesnake Bites or “Kenny’s Cooler’s”— blue adult beverages “inspired by Kenny Chesney’s island lifestyle,” according to the Roadhouse’s website— to anyone, regardless of race, creed, color or tipping tendencies.

[Photo credit: Nicholas Eckhart via Creative Commons in Flickr]

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In 2015, Danny LeDonne published a series of articles criticizing his former employer, Adams State University. The school retaliated with a “No Trespass Order” banning LeDonne from campus. It justified its decision by characterizing LeDonne’s writing work as “harassment” and “terrorism.”

Today, ASU rescinded its “No Trespass Order” and agreed to pay a $100,000 settlement in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado. The ACLU argued that the university’s actions had violated LeDonne’s free speech and due process rights.

“By summarily banning Danny from a public campus and falsely labeling him a security threat, without providing any opportunity to rebut the false allegations, the university deprived him of due process and unjustifiably retaliated against him for his constitutionally-protected criticism of university practices,” ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a statement. 

LeDonne worked at the university from May 2011 to June 2015 teaching in the Mass Communications program and producing videos. In September 2015, after his employment at ASU had ended, he launched WatchingAdams.org, whose purpose was “to communicate information, conduct investigative journalism, and facilitate discourse about Adams State University (ASU), a state-supported liberal arts university in Alamosa, Colorado.”

The order banning him from campus came Oct. 14 of last year, after LeDonne posted a series of articles that suggested the university had violated the Colorado Open Records Act when it responded to a request 40 days late. He also exposed the university’s egregiously delayed paychecks in violation of the as well as the Colorado Wage Act. Later that month, LeDonne also questioned large disparities in salary for administrative versus academic staff. He found that, while athletic and administrative staff made 120 percent or more of industry benchmarks, academic faculty made 80 percent or even less.  

LeDonne responded to the No Trespass Order in a letter that questioned the lack of due process and absence of a policy violation.

The ACLU of Colorado filed suit in February of this year challenging the campus ban. According to its press release, “the parties participated in a mediation before a former federal judge that resulted in a settlement agreement, which was finalized and signed last week.”

In other words, the case never made it to trial.

LeDonne expressed triumph, as well as a conviction to continue his work watchdogging Adams State.

“I sought this legal action to challenge the university’s heavy-handed attempt to discourage me and others who disagree with the administration from speaking out,” he said via a statement from the ACLU. “I am very satisfied with the settlement and look forward to continuing my work in this community.”

 

[Photo credit: Michael Dorausch via Creative Commons in Flickr]

 

Is Colorado still a battleground state? Top pollster and analyst says no.

The Clinton campaign temporarily stops buying TV ads in Colorado

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This week, one of Colorado’s most quotable pollsters and political analysts dropped a bomb.

“Colorado is no longer a battleground state,” wrote Floyd Ciruli on the blog for his Ciruli and Associates consulting firm.

As he tells it, Colorado has dropped its battleground status for several reasons. Here’s his thinking, verbatim:

  • Colorado is not a blue collar, depressed manufacturing state. Its growing Hispanic and Millennial population makes it a much more diverse and likely to vote Democratic.
  • The Colorado Republican Party is not Trump friendly. Ted Cruz dominated the Republican base in the state (he won the nomination ballot, got his Senate candidates nominated with a third of vote). At the just completed Republican Convention, it was the Colorado delegation that was the most obstreperous.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans seemed to roll their eyes at the Ciruli statement.

“We’re going to win in ’16, I have no doubt about it,” Republican Party Chairman Steve House told GOP voters at a recent event in Colorado Springs— not that a chairman of either party would say otherwise.

But the political breakdown of Colorado is still pretty evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. While Democrats controlled the Capitol just a few years ago, it’s now a split legislature where Republicans control the Senate by just one seat. This November’s legislative elections could change that.

As The Colorado Independent recently reported, there are now more registered Democrats in Colorado than registered Republicans for the first time in 20 years. But, digging into those numbers shows about 8,400 more “active” registered Republicans in the state. That said, Colorado’s largest voting bloc is unaffiliated voters — more than one million of them— which is where elections are won and lost in this state.

Related: Are you one of Colorado’s 611,000 inactive voters? Here’s how to find out

Meanwhile, sources close to the Trump campaign expect him to make a visit to Colorado as early as this week, and do not expect his operation will abandon the state. The Trump team has recently been organizing here, hiring Patrick Davis of the Springs as state director and bringing on wealthy former U.S. Senate primary candidate Robert Blaha as a co-chair.

“We do have to win Colorado,” Trump himself said during a July 1 speech in Denver. “I will be back a lot, don’t worry about it. I will be back a lot.”

Voters in Colorado went for Democrat Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012, and elected a Democrat as governor for the past decade. Republicans got a rare win on a statewide ballot in 2014 when Cory Gardner unseated Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Udall.

David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, a Republican-leaning Colorado public affairs firm, wouldn’t make such a definitive statement about Colorado’s battleground status.

“The bottom line is that Republicans have been successful on down-ballot stuff, but other than Cory that’s really the only top tier place we’ve won going back to 2004 when Bush carried the state,” he says. “That’s a fact.”

But Flaherty says that doesn’t mean in the past 12 years Colorado has gone deep blue. His firm does post-election surveys, and he says he has found Colorado is still an all-things-equal state when it comes to likely voters.

“Demographically, we are bleeding,” he says. “However, don’t discount the fact that nearly 50 percent are choosing to be independents. That doesn’t mean they are totally Democrats in disguise.”

One aspect of being a battleground state is the amount of political ad spending that comes with it, especially after third-party election spending exploded following the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision. Whether that spending will rise to the level it did in 2012 remains to be seen, and might be an indication of how closely the national campaigns agree with Ciruli’s claim.

On that note: According to Politico, the Clinton campaign is pulling TV ads in Colorado, “at least temporarily, after building a sizable and durable lead in the traditional battleground state.”

But as data journalist Sandra Fish points out…

So there’s that. Battle on.

[Photo credit: Andrew E. Russell via Creative Commons in Flickr]

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Take a leak

It’s hardly shocking that the Democratic National Committee got Wikileaked. That’s what Wikileaks does. It’s not surprising that the leaked emails reveal some really embarrassing information. And it’s no stunner that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced out of her job. But what is astounding is that that Donald Trump’s buddy, Vladimir Putin, might very well be at the center of the whole controversy. Via The New York Times. 

Behind the curtain of the DNC

The leaked emails embarrass the Democratic Party by showing how the DNC actually works. Via The Washington Post.

Hillary’s three big hurdles this week

Clinton has at least three big challenges at the Democratic National Convention. And it won’t be easy for her to pull off any of them. Here’s why. Via The Los Angeles Times.

The white Dude HRC wanted all along

Tim Kaine may be everything that Bernie Sanders supporters don’t like about the Democratic Party, but he was Hillary Clinton’s choice all along. Via Vox.

The “responsibility gene”

Kaine is the “responsible” pick, many say. But is that such a good thing? Via The Atlantic.

Boring like a fox

Glenn Thrush: Everyone says Kaine is boring — even Kaine says he’s boring — but, in truth, he’s boring like a fox. Via Politico.

That other “Fox,” mongering fear

Roger Ailes may have been fired at the same time that Donald Trump was officially named the GOP nominee. But the convention was still very much a Fox-fest, writes The New Yorker’s David Remnick, of fear-mongering.

Fox after Ailes

Now that Ailes is out, the question is whether Fox News will remain Fox News. Via The New York Times.

Doubling down

Maybe after listening to Trump’s acceptance speech, you thought that Trump was rolling back his proposed Muslim ban. Actually, he’s expanding it. Via The Washington Post.

A sore winner

Byron York: Donald Trump won, and he just can’t get over it. Via The Washington Examiner.

 

Photo credit: DonkeyHotay, Creative Commons, Flickr

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After months of public outcry against Douglas County school board members Judith Reynolds and Meghann Silverthorn, conservatives are marshaling a cheerleading effort for the embattled school “reformers.”

The show of support is buoyed by alumni of Leadership Program of the Rockies, an organization that trains conservatives on public policy and how to win – and keep – elected office. The program’s alumni are a Who’s Who of Republican elected officials and political activists in Colorado, some who are trying to help Silverthorn, a fellow alumnus, firm up her hold in office after critics tried to force her and Reynolds out.

DougCo’s seven-member board has been plagued by controversy since a conservative majority was elected in 2009. But tensions escalated this year after Ponderosa High School sophomore Grace Davis organized a student protest over high teacher turnover last March — and accused Silverthorn and Reynolds of bullying her to try to stop it. Both members were caught on an embarrassing audiotape in which they tried to intimidate Davis into cancelling her rally.

Related: DougCo school district meeting erupts in protests

The flap over two board members strong-arming a fresh-faced, 15-year-old choir singer and church youth-grouper caused such a stir that in April the board discussed seeking an independent investigation to get to the bottom of it. The district hired the law firm of Sherman & Howard to conduct a probe for which taxpayers spent as much as $720 an hour. Some $164,000 later, attorney Gordon “Skip” Netzorg issued a report last month that cleared Silverthorn & Reynolds on grounds that there’s no district policy specifically prohibiting adult-to-student bullying. Seriously.

Netzorg’s hiring was controversial, given his ties to Alex Cranberg, an oilman who bankrolls conservative education reforms, serves on Leadership Program of the Rockies’ board of directors and was the biggest contributor to Silverthorn’s and Reynolds’  2013 re-election bids. Netzorg has represented Cranberg in several legal cases and just recently finished up seven years of service on the board of directors of Cranberg’s ACE Scholarship program.

At a particularly raucous meeting June 21, critics of the board’s conservative, anti-union, pro-voucher majority packed the room and shouted at Silverthorn and Reynolds to resign. The board ended the meeting early in reaction to the protest.

This month, the embattled duo and their backers were intent on quieting the tenor. The school district announced changes in district policy whereby anyone who disrupts a school board meeting will be removed or even cited by law enforcement.

Critics are deriding the new policy as a gag rule.

On the Facebook page “Speak for DCSD,” the policy caught flak from several members for what they said is an attempt to silence the public. “This is a joke,” said one member.

In the meantime, the conservative infrastructure has gone to work on a public relations effort to try to bolster the school board’s narrow majority. The Douglas County GOP and the Douglas County Tea Party took to social media this week asking members to show up to Tuesday’s meeting to counter the protests from those who still want Silverthorn and Reynolds out.

It worked. Eight of the 21 community members who signed up to speak Tuesday evening supported the two controversial members and their two conservative allies on the board. They blasted the district’s teachers as troublemakers who are seeking to incite chaos in the district.

At least three of the speakers Tuesday have, like Silverthorn, completed the Leadership Program of the Rockies.

The first, Laurie Bratten, is a well-known Republican political operative from Highlands Ranch who’s involved with Republican liberty groups in Colorado. She has been a legislative aide to Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch and Sen. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs, and also worked for the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, an ad hoc body of conservative lawmakers at the state Capitol.

Bratten lauded the teacher reforms marshaled by DougCo’s conservative school board – specifically the district’s newly enacted merit pay system. She criticized teachers whom she said resisted change and who are creating “chaos that doesn’t benefit our children.” Bratten also had criticisms for the three minority board members – Wendy Vogel, David Ray and Anne-Marie Lemieux, whom she accused of participating in a witch hunt against Silverthorn and Reynolds. If anyone “should be asked to resign,” she said, it should be those three.

Next at the microphone Tuesday was Kim Monson, a conservative radio talk-show host who blasted protesters for their use of “union talking points” against school choice, pay for performance and market-based pay in favor of collective bargaining. The board majority ended its collective bargaining relationship with the teachers’ union in 2012.

“I’m very concerned that what has happened is a sideshow trying to create chaos instead of focusing on kids,” said Monson, and also suggested that Grace Davis – the student activist – is a puppet of union leaders and teachers.

Charcie Russell, representing pro-school choice group Great Choice Douglas County, took the podium to criticize Vogel, Ray and Lemieux. Russell helped organize the 2009 effort to elect the conservative majority, including Silverthorn and Reynolds, to the school board. She also was on the task force that come up with DougCo’s Choice Scholarship voucher program, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Colorado Supreme Court and is currently awaiting U.S. Supreme Court review.

Russell serves alongside Cranberg on Leadership Program of the Rockies’ board of directors.

Tuesday night’s meeting was supposed to be the first opportunity for the public to weigh in on the costly investigation of Silverthorn and Reynolds. Board members had hoped that Netzorg, the report’s author, would attend to discuss it, but he didn’t show. According to school district attorney Rob Ross, Netzorg would not discuss the report except behind closed doors.

“Mr. Netzorg’s position is that he was engaged to provide a report, which stands for itself,” Ross told the board. If there were to be any questions about the report, Netzorg would address them only in executive session, which Ross said was unacceptable to the board.

Related: Parents’ group questions independence of DougCo board investigation

 

Judge for yourself: Was Joe Valverde surrendering when killed by Denver cop?

Mother of man gunned down by a Denver cop in 2014 says her son’s death is an example of why SWAT officers need body cams.

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If only life moved in slower motion.

That’s what nags at Isabelle Padilla every time she watches images of Denver police gunning down her son, Joe Valverde.

Padilla has a video of the 2014 shooting that she plays on her laptop, sometimes several times a day. She has watched it so much that the footage replays in her head, split second by painful, agonizing split second. If only she could press pause, she wishes. Or rewind. Or edit it.

“I can’t turn it off,” she says. “I can’t stop wishing they had done it different. What they did to Joe was wrong.”

Valverde’s killing didn’t make headlines. That’s partly because he pulled a gun out of his pocket while officers moved in on him during an undercover drug bust. Not only was his shooting deemed “justifiable,” but the officer who pulled the trigger was commended.

Padilla immediately had doubts about the police version of her son’s killing. She felt certain he wouldn’t have pulled a gun on cops. Then she saw the video, which she says confirms her suspicions.

Taken from an overhead camera near Overland Pond Park in South Denver, the footage from the afternoon of July 2, 2014 shows 32-year-old Valverde – the man wearing the backpack closer to the bottom of the screen – talking to an undercover narcotics detective. The detective then used his phone to alert a SWAT team, which had put Valverde under surveillance.

The unit deployed a “flash bang” device, and the detective immediately threw himself to the ground.

Valverde stepped toward a white sedan parked next to the sidewalk, then reached into his pocket with his right hand, pulled out a gun, and quickly tossed it under the car, presumably to hide it.

Padilla is haunted by what happened next.

After tossing away the pistol, her son lifted his arms as if to surrender. And then, almost instantly, police fatally shot him in the chest.

As Padilla sees it, his hands-up-don’t-shoot motion made him an unnecessary target, especially given that he had tossed away his gun.

“I don’t understand how they didn’t see him raise his hands. I don’t see how they could justify this,” she says.

She’s not alone in those concerns.

Sarah Fidler is a professional dog walker who was close by in the park at the time Valverde was shot. She was startled by the SWAT team’s flash explosion and started running. When she looked back, she saw officers quickly moving in on Valverde, their guns pointed at him.

“It all happened so fast. They just were advancing right toward this guy so quickly,” she told The Colorado Independent.

Fidler is especially suspicious of claims by Denver police Sgt. Justin Dodge that he saw Valverde pull the gun from his pocket. She notes there was smoke from the flash and that the air was foggy.

More than two years later, she said she still thinks about the shooting every day.

“I still go to the park once a week and say prayers,” she said, in tears during a phone interview. “It has been a long couple of years. I’ve just felt in my heart that it wasn’t right what they did to him.”

Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey’s report on the incident shows Valverde had a history of criminal convictions. SWAT officers were on the scene for added protection because police feared he would be violent and dangerous.

Morrissey ruled that Dodge’s rapid succession of gunshots was justified because Valverde had had a gun. Morrissey went the extra step of patting the officer on the back.

“…Sgt. Dodge acted to save his own life and the lives of the other officers approaching Valverde from Valverde’s imminent use of a deadly weapon,” reads the DA’s report. “As such, Sgt. Dodge is to be commended for his bravery and the leadership he displayed.”

The Denver Police Foundation awarded Dodge a medal of valor for what it described as his “genuine and unequivocal heroism as he actively sought to protect civilians and fellow officers.” The foundation asserts that “after the suspect refused to comply with an order to drop his weapon, he continued toward officers with a raised gun.”

That last part – about Valverde advancing toward the police officers with his gun raised – is questionable.

The Independent has slowed down footage of the shooting.

At least from the angle at which this piece of video was filed, it looks like Valverde had already tossed his gun under the car before he advanced toward the police. He was unarmed when shot and his arms were up, as if he was surrendering.

“Justin Dodge jumped the gun and had to cover his ass by saying my son advanced towards them,” Padilla says. “He won an honor under false pretenses, and the video proves that. I want them to pull that award back from him because he lied.”

Fidler agrees.

“The officer’s account doesn’t match up with what the video shows,” she says. “Why he’d be commended for shooting Joe is very, very upsetting.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration hasn’t returned inquiries about the shooting. We’ll update this story if it does.

As a result of a long string of questionable use of force cases, the Denver Police Department this year has launched a program requiring officers to wear body cameras. The devices are believed to help curb police violence and also to document incidents in which police are threatened. The department is in the process of training 800 officers to wear the cameras on duty.

A notable exception, though, is that members of the city’s SWAT units won’t be required to use them. Police Chief Robert White has said use of the cameras would risk divulging the unit’s secret tactics.

SWAT units are involved in some of Denver’s deadliest maneuvers. If Dodge had been wearing a body camera at the time of Valverde’s shooting, Fidler says, “We could have seen what his point of view was and could have know if it was really justifiable to have killed him.”

“I think we absolutely need as many cameras as we can get on as many officers as possible,” she says.

As Padilla sees it, “if cops know that everything’s being filmed, they wouldn’t do a lot of things they’ve been getting away with.”

“Body cams make the cops think before they shoot. They slow them down. Those cameras save lives,” she says. “But for Joe, of course, it’s too late.”