COLORADO SPRINGS — People too poor to pay fines will no longer work off their debts by sitting in Colorado Springs jail cells, and the city will pay thousands to those who were wrongly locked up.

That’s thanks to the ACLU of Colorado, who in October accused Colorado’s second-largest city of running modern-day debtors prisons, a practice declared unconstitutional by the Colorado and United States Supreme Courts. 

In Colorado Springs, it worked like this: When the court fined someone for violating a minor, non-jailable city ordinance, the court converted the fine into a jail sentence when the defendant didn’t pay.

The state’s ACLU chapter had spent a month or so investigating last year and found hundreds of cases where defendants had their fines converted to jail sentences; the majority of them were for non-jailable offenses.

The accusation last fall stung city officials and the top judge at the municipal courthouse. City officials said they took the allegations seriously and would look into it.

Two months later, Colorado Springs officials drove to Denver to meet with the ACLU in person to discuss the issue. Following the meeting, neither side explained in detail what they’d discussed, but they put out similar-sounding statements about working together toward a resolution.

In March, the Colorado Springs City Council officially put a stop to the practice of converting fines to jail time.

Now this.

Today, the ACLU held a news conference in the Springs where the civil liberties group announced it had settled with city officials over the matter. The city agreed to stop its practice and will compensate those already affected by it to the tune of $100,000, divided among those who had been wrongly jailed.

One victim, Shawn Hardman, who goes by the nickname Q-tip, will receive roughly $11,000 for being wrongly jailed for panhandling.

“We asked the City to stop this unconstitutional practice, to repeal the ordinance that arguably authorized it, and to set up a fund to compensate defendants who had been sentenced to jail for non-jailable offenses,” Mark Silverstein, the ACLU of Colorado’s legal director, said in a statement. “The City Attorney’s Office, to its credit, promptly agreed and worked collaboratively with the ACLU of Colorado to reach the finalized settlement agreement that we are proudly announcing today.”

Asked if Colorado Springs was running debtors prisons, Mayor John Suthers, the state’s former Republican attorney general, told NPR, “You could say that in the sense that people were getting jail time for offenses that should only carry a fine.”

A statement from city spokeswoman Jamie Fabos, said there are some remaining steps in the agreement. They include “the creation and implementation of a training program and training materials on this topic, which will be mandatory for all prosecutors, judges and contract defense attorneys.” Fabos said the ACLU has agreed to work with Colorado Springs to develop that curriculum and “will have an active role in providing the training.”

Those who were wrongly jailed in Colorado Springs are eligible for $125 for each day they spent in the slammer. The city and the ACLU are still looking for about 65 others who are owed money, but since they’re homeless they’ve been hard to find.

As NPR reported: “The next time one of these men or women gets picked up by police in Colorado Springs, they might find out they’ve got some money coming to them.”



A proposal to allow the state’s largest subprime lender to improve its bottom line on loans was killed Wednesday by Colorado’s House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, despite efforts by the bill’s sponsor to water it down just to keep it alive.

But even if the measure had passed the House committee, Senate Bill 16-185 would have almost certainly been shot down by Gov. John Hickenlooper, who vetoed a similar effort last year.

Subprime loans allow people with poor to fair credit ratings to obtain loans between $1,000 and $25,000, with finance charges varying from 15 percent to 36 percent, depending on the amount borrowed. Loans are to be repaid within five years.

The bill would help the state’s largest subprime lender, One Main, which claims it’s not profitable to do business in Colorado.

There are two types of loans marketed to people with lower credit ratings. For those with the poorest credit ratings, or none at all, payday loans of up to $500 are available. They have to be repaid within six months and come with interest rates of 200 percent or more. They’re also marketed as a short-term emergency solution, not for long-term financial decisions.

A subprime loan is available to those with poor to fair credit ratings, for amounts up to $25,000. They carry interest rates between 15 percent and 36 percent. These subprime loans can be used to consolidate debt or to pay for long-term financial needs.

The proposal originally stated the amount financed would be adjusted annually for inflation, with that adjustment taking into account inflation dating back to 2000. 

Rich Jones of the left-leaning Bell Policy Center explained how that would work: The finance cost for a $5,000 loan, paid over 36 months, would increase from $2,098 to $2,338, a 26.9 percent hike.

The Bell Policy Center led the opposition in Wednesday’s hearing, pointing out that those with poor or fair credit shouldn’t be hit harder for finance costs.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jovan Melton, a Denver Democrat, said only one subprime lender remained in Colorado, after a series of mergers. That lender, One Main, has closed 24 locations statewide in the last few years, because the company isn’t making money here.

Melton acknowledged critics who point out that One Main is profitable nationally. “That may seem a compelling argument,” Melton said, “but what matters is the local market. If you’re not profitable in a state, you pull out,” and that’s what’s happened here.

Melton said the bill was not an attempt to appease a company that’s threatening to leave the state.

In response, Jones said that if people want the loans, and qualify for them, “they can get them. We haven’t found evidence that credit isn’t available.”

Melton’s district has only one One Main branch in his district but 12 payday lenders.

If that one subprime option shutters its doors, people will turn to payday lenders, Melton said to the committee.

Opponents disagree. They said payday and subprime loans are completely different products, marketed to different consumers.

Increasing the finance costs on subprime loans would hurt both older Coloradans and small businesses, said witnesses.

Tim Gaudette of the Small Business Majority said small business owners often turn to these types of loans to finance their companies.

A poll released this week by the Small Business Majority shows that 90 percent of Colorado’s small business owners would oppose similar legislation, he said. Most who responded would be likely customers of such loans.

The bill is bad for Colorado’s economy, Gaudette told the State Affairs committee.

Bill Hitz, an employee of One Main, said the market has seen a 74 percent decrease in lending in Colorado during the past few years, despite the state’s growing population.

The need for credit hasn’t gone away, Hitz said. Instead people are turning to online subprime lenders for loans, which undercuts job growth. One Main brings jobs to Colorado, with employees in branches around the state.

Julie Anne Meade, the Administrator of the Uniform Consumer Credit Code, a deputy attorney general, said the bill would increase finance costs for anyone who buys merchandise on credit from a retailer.

Meade also said that while One Main is certainly the largest subprime lender in Colorado, it is not the only one. There are more than 500 such lenders in the state, she said.

Melton offered to turn his proposal into a study, to bring together stakeholders to determine whether people struggle to take out these types of loans. The committee voted his amendment down.

Melton said he tried to work with the bill’s opponents and come up with options, “but they were unwilling to compromise,” he said.

The measure died on a party-line vote, with the committee’s majority Democrats voting against and Republicans in favor.

Hickenlooper told reporters his opposition to the bill was clear, and that this year’s bill would have to be very different to avoid a veto again.

In his veto letter to lawmakers in 2015, Hickenlooper cited testimony from the Attorney General’s office, which said that nothing in their analysis indicated “this type of consumer credit is not available or that changing the rates would make it more available.”

When informed last month that the measure could impact anyone with a retail credit card, Hickenlooper said the bill might have “a steep hill to climb” to pass through the legislature.


Photo credit: Pictures of Money, Creative Commons, Flickr


Colorado voters this fall will have a chance to finally put an end to legalized slavery.

Wasn’t there a Civil War about that? And wasn’t there an amendment to the U.S. Constitution about that too?

Yes, and yes. But 19th century references to legal slavery still exist in Colorado’s constitution.

Article 2 of the state constitution says that “there shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

And this clause is still used today to justify prisons run by corporations, according to representatives of the No Slavery, No Excuses campaign and the social justice group Together Colorado.

“I think it is a travesty that there are corporations that are being allowed to prosper because of the punishment of an individual. That’s out of sorts. That’s out of balance,” said Pastor Del Phillips of the Greater Denver Ministerial Alliance, at a January gathering of clergy trying to strike slavery from state law.

”If it’s possible for a business to make money from an industry inside a prison, then they should have to pay for that work that’s being done behind those closed walls,” said Phillips.

Democrats Sen. Jessie Ulibarri of Westminster and Reps. Jovan Melton of Denver and Joe Salazar of Thornton put together a measure to send to voters, asking them to eliminate language on legalized slavery from the state constitution.

The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 16-006, received unanimous support from both State, Veterans and Military Affairs committees in the House and Senate, and unanimous votes from the Senate and House, which passed the measure Wednesday.

The resolution, which will appear on the November 2016 ballot, strikes everything after the word servitude, leaving simply “There shall never be in this state either slavery or involuntary servitude.”



Photo credit: Cliff James, Creative Commons, Flickr


Go to traffic court, and you’ll see a crowded room of undocumented immigrants nervously awaiting their hearings, and weary judges trying to find workarounds so that the accused can set an appointment with the Department of Motor Vehicles for a driver’s licence.

Sometimes it takes months, even years, for that appointment.

Now, it will be at least another year before undocumented residents of Colorado will find it any easier to get a driver’s license under a program authorized in a 2013 law.

Republican lawmakers on the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee rejected a measure that supporters hoped would lighten the long wait for those who seek driver’s licenses but face months and sometimes years of waiting.

In 2013, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 251 to allow up to six Division of Motor Vehicle offices across the state to handle undocumented residents driver’s appointments and process licenses. The program was intended to be self-supporting, paid for by the fees charged to those residents. The program’s first phase allowed five offices to handle the online application process.

But last year, Republicans on the Joint Budget Committee blocked an effort to use $166,000 in fees collected from those who had already purchased their licenses. The JBC action effectively limited the program to just three DMV offices, in Denver, Grand Junction and Colorado Springs.

The cost of a driver’s license for an undocumented immigrant is about $79, compared to $25 for a documented Colorado resident.

The logjam has led to abuses, such as scammers selling appointments to the highest bidder. In January, Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman announced an investigation into the practice, noting that some appointments cost as much as $1,000 on the blackmarket, although those appointments are actually free, she said.

And the situation is about to get worse.

The Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute estimated in February that more than 160,000 are waiting to get in line for an appointment. The three DMV offices can process just 93 applications per day, total.

Despite the backlog, the number of offices that provide those documents is expected to drop from three to one in about 18 months, based on action adopted by the 2015 General Assembly.

During last year’s budget process, lawmakers approved a footnote to the budget bill that would close the Grand Junction and Colorado Springs offices once the Department of Revenue, which manages the driver’s license division, has issued 60,000 driver’s licenses or related documents, such as temporary permits. The Department estimated it would hit the 60,000 limit in November, 2017.

That would leave the Denver location at 1325 West Mississippi as the only driver’s license office in the state allowed to accept appointments and issue those licenses.

This is more than an immigration issue, said Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Longmont Democrat, who carried the proposal in the House. It’s also about public safety.

“When I think about getting on the road, I have a reasonable assumption that everyone else knows the rules of the road. That’s for my safety, my family’s safety and my constituents’ safety.”

But the bill failed to garner even one Republican vote on its trip through the Democratic-controlled House, which passed it on a party-line 34-31 vote on April 25.

The proposal’s assignment to the Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, was a death sentence for the proposal.

It died on a 3-2 party-line vote on Wednesday.


Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr

Wiretap: Think Trump can’t beat Clinton? Think again.

…and more news from around the internet


No confidence

For those Democrats confident that Clinton would easily beat Trump, Howard Fineman offers seven reasons why they shouldn’t be confident at all. Via The Huffington Post.

President Trump

Wondering what a President Trump would actually look like? The Donald sits down with The New York Times and explains his plans for his first 100 days in some — if not a whole lot of — detail.

What now?

Now that Trump has won the GOP nomination, a lot of people in his party are wondering what to do next. Certainly there’s no lack of confusion. Take New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, who faces a tough race for re-election. She has declared that she’s going to “support” Trump, but that she won’t “endorse” him.  Expect to see a lot more where that came from. Via The New York Times.

In shock

America must preserve the shock of Trump’s nomination for the next six months, E.J. Dionne writes in The Washington Post. He says we can’t allow the media or the parties to normalize an election with Trump this close to the presidency.

Two roads

David Frum writes in The Atlantic that Hillary Clinton faces two choices in how she runs against a weakened Trump. She could run to the center and possibly win a landslide victory, although at the risk of alienating every Bernie Sanders supporter. Or she could run to the left and send a lot of wavering Republicans back into the arms of the Donald.

After party

David French writes in The National Review that “the party of Lincoln is in ruins.” Like George Will before him, he says that conservatives should stay firm in their opposition to Trump, even against Hillary Clinton.

Self defense

Jonathan Chait asks what Republicans can do to protect themselves in the likely event of a Trump election-night disaster. Via New York Magazine.

Low roads

On the first night of Trump’s presumptive nomination, the media already fails the false equivalency test. Chuck Todd says that Trump and Clinton will follow the same “low road” in their campaigns. Via Erik Wemple and The Washington Post.

The Odyssey

Chris Cillizza takes us on the Donald’s 323-day odyssey to the GOP nomination. Via The Washington Post.

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr


Most candidates for the state House and Senate won’t face off until fall, but a handful of primary races are already shaping up to be big money affairs.

In the state Senate, fives races will determine who makes it past June 28, the day of the primary election.

All five of those races are in districts that are solidly Democratic or Republican, so the results of those primary elections will likely determine who comes to the Capitol as a Senator next January.

What distinguishes these primaries from the general election is that fundraising is borne primarily by the candidates rather than relying on state or county political parties or the outside organizations that will pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the general election.

In several races, candidates are relying more on personal bank accounts than donors. 

The biggest race, at least in terms of the amount of money being raised, is in the Senate district being vacated by Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver, who is term-limited. The three-way race is among Rep. Lois Court; Erin Bennett of 9 to 5, the working women’s association; and Dr. Steve Sherick.

The most recent campaign finance filings on the race show the three candidates collectively have raised more than $290,000. Sherick has led the pack, raising more than $132,000, followed by Court with $123,000 and Bennett with just under $38,000.

Sherick raised more than $30,000 in the first quarter of 2016, but that included $12,000 of his own money used to cover expenses. Court raised about $11,000 in the first quarter, including a $400 contribution from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and $200 from Lieutenant Governor-to-be Donna Lynne. Bennet raised $10,633.

The race to succeed term-limited Democratic Sen. Michael Johnston, also of Denver, has prompted six-figure fundraising, too. The primary race is between Rep. Angela Williams and Jon Biggerstaff, who works in finance for a local non-profit.

One of the dividing lines in this race: presidential endorsements. Williams has endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president, while Biggerstaff, who was unaffiliated until recently, supports Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in that race.

Williams has a commanding lead on the fundraising, based on recent campaign finance filings, with more than $90,000 raised. Biggerstaff has brought in just under $17,000.

Two Democratic lawmakers are vying to succeed Sen. Morgan Carroll of Aurora. Reps. Rhonda Fields and Su Ryden are both-term limited in the House but looking to extend their legislative careers.

Fields so far leads the fundraising battle, with more than $60,000 raised to Ryden’s $36,000. However, at the end of the quarter, the two are neck-in-neck on what they have left in the bank.

There are two hotly-contested primary races in safe Republican districts.

The most visible hotly-contested primary race in a safe Republican district is between Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt and former Rep. Bob Gardner, in Colorado Springs. 

Fundraising has so far favored Gardner, who has raised $64,000 to Klingenschmitt’s $45,000. However, at the end of the first quarter of 2016, Klingenschmitt has much more cash on hand, about $21,000, to Gardner’s $9,700. But Klingenschmitt has also pumped $21,000 of his own money into the race, including $15,000 in the first quarter of 2016.

The other Republican state Senate primary is in Parker over the seat currently held by Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel, who is term-limited.

The race to succeed Scheffel features three political newcomers. Jess Loban is a small business owner and veteran. Veteran Ben Lyng, who is well connected politically through the Leadership Program of the Rockies, is also running for his first elected statewide office. He’s married to Michelle Balch Lyng, who served as a contract communications director for the Jefferson County School District during last year’s tumultuous recall election. Insurance agent James Smallwood, Jr. also is vying for the Senate seat, winning his way into the primary through the petition process.

Smallwood has so far led the pack in fundraising, with almost $60,000 so far raised. But more than $47,000 of that is in loans he’s made to his campaign. Lyng raised $32,000 in the first quarter of 2016, although more than $25,000 of that was money out of his own pocket.

Loban has raised just under $5,000, with about half of that from his own funds. He’s also received a  $400 contribution from Ed McVaney, the co-founder of JD Edwards, who is well known for making large-dollar contributions to conservative school board candidates throughout Colorado.

Photo credit: Mike Poresky Creative Commons, Flickr


Although nonprofits serving people with disabilities in Colorado won’t be subject to the state’s open-records law, it appears they will be required to provide the public with certain financial information and other documents.

The latest version of SB 16-038 has the state auditor conducting a performance audit of each community-centered board that receives at least 75 percent of its funding from public sources. That covers all 20 of the state’s CCBs, which get anywhere from 82 percent to 94 percent of their revenue from federal, state or local tax dollars.

As amended by the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee on Tuesday, the bill also requires CCBs to post on their websites board meeting agendas and minutes as well as other documents, distributed to CCB board members, that aren’t protected from disclosure by privacy laws.

RMHS_smallAlso to be posted on the internet are financial audits, recent form 990 tax returns and recent CCB contracts with the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing or the state Department of Human Services. If a request is made, CCBs would have five business days to provide copies of annual budgets, annual summaries of revenues and expenditures and financial policies and procedures.

Additionally, each community-centered board must allow for public comment at its board meetings and provide direct email addresses for each board member.

“I think it’s a good outcome,” said Maureen Welch, an Arapahoe County resident who has an 8-year-old son with Down syndrome.  “It’s a good start for us to get a window into the operations of the CCBs.”

Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, introduced SB 16-038 in response to financial problems at Rocky Mountain Human Services, a Denver-based community-centered board.

Denver City Auditor Tim O’Brien last year found “unreasonable spending and poor accounting practices” at RMHS, such as overcharging the city $650,000 for administrative expenses, reimbursing staff members for home internet service and providing staff with annual Costco memberships.

Parents, advocates and service providers also have complained about problems getting information from other CCBs so they can be assured that tax dollars are appropriately spent on services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Welch worked with legislators and other stakeholders on a compromise version of SB 16-038, which passed the Senate in April after Aguilar agreed to remove a provision making CCBs subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).

Two members of the 13-member House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee voted against the bill Tuesday because they want the CORA provision reinstated.

“I’m still concerned that the public is not getting the same level of transparency that the (state) auditor would get,” said Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, R-Colorado Springs. ”And I think it’s great that the auditor is getting a look into the books…But if 75 percent of the money is being allocated by the public, the public should have that same right.”

But Rep. Lang Sias, an Arvada Republican who is co-sponsoring the bill in the House, said the Senate will not sign off on a version of SB 16-038 that includes CORA.

“I think that would wind up killing off what is a very good initiative here with this bill,” said Sias, who worked with Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, on the legislation. “Let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the very, very good.”

Alliance, an association of CCBs, did not support the bill until the CORA provision was taken out. Other nonprofits that receive government money also lobbied against an open-records mandate.

SB 16-038 still must be approved by the full House, which sent the bill to the Appropriations Committee late Tuesday. For the bill to pass by the time the legislative session ends next week, both the House and Senate must agree on a version.

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

Visit CFOIC’s legislature page to track bills in the General Assembly that could affect the flow or availability of information in Colorado.

Vitamineor, Creative Commons, Flickr.

An Aspen reporter got drunk for journalism— and the cops bought his drinks

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news and media for May 4



Best assignment of the week? Maybe for Aspen Times reporter Jason Auslander who penned this lede for an April 30 front-page story:

On Tuesday, my job was to get drunk.

This being Aspen, I know some of you might be vaguely familiar with the concept, especially now that spring offseason is upon us.

However, day drinking is not my usual professional routine, so the invitation to imbibe made me hesitate at first. But, hey, pretty good work if you can get it, right?

Indeed. Auslander writes that not only did his boss sign on to his daylong bender, but “enthusiastically” supported it. What’s more, the local police bought his drinks. The perks! The reporter’s story was about local cops getting re-certified for field sobriety testing and how they use volunteers.

More buyouts hit The Denver Post— plus a big new reorganization of the newsroom

When editor Greg Moore abruptly left The Denver Post last month he was asked during his announcement if it was true the paper was looking to cut 30 jobs. He pondered, then said it wasn’t. Welp, turns out the number is 26. That’s how many buyouts are being offered to Post journalists who have worked there for 10-20 years. The Denver Business Journal and the alt-weekly Westword had that news.

Some disheartening context: If everyone takes a buyout, the newsroom of The Denver Post will have been slashed by one third in the past year alone. During a Thursday meeting, reporters grilled the publisher about the longterm goal of the Post. Buyouts aren’t the only big change, though. Post journalists say the paper is reorganizing its newsroom, breaking up traditional desks like features, metro, and business to create four divisions: Now, Enterprise, Productions, and Obsessions. (Obsessions will be for reporters to write about their own passions outside of their journalism jobs.)

The Colorado Statesman’s new editor covering politics is … a Tea Party activist?

At the start of this year’s legislative session, The Colorado Statesman released a slickly produced video stating how the paper “has been providing non-partisan reporting on political news” for generations. “The great thing about The Statesman is it’s not partisan,” said Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in one video testimonial.

In the past year the subscription-based publication has undergone a revamp, bringing on a former Republican lawmaker as its publisher, updating its website, and locking digital content behind a paywall.

This week, progressive consultant and media watcher Jason Salzman pointed out on his BigMedia blog how The Statesman’s new executive editor, Jennifer Kerns, is a Tea Party activist. She’d recently penned a front-page story for The Statesman about a Democratic U.S. Senator up for re-election (about whom she’d recently opined negatively on the radio)— a piece that included “an inaccurate conservative attack” against him, which was later removed from the story.

Salzman spoke with publisher Jared Wright, who told him he thinks advocates can make good journalists and expects the outside political work Kerns also does to end soon.

More from Wright:

“It’s important to have journalists but also to have people who have been very active in politics, and of course the only place you are going to find those people is on one side of the aisle or the other. So as long as we have a balance of those people on the team, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

There’s more in the Salzman item, which is pretty illuminating.

How Green Mountain Falls’ Google News results became a complete disaster

Do a Google News search for “Green Mountain Falls” right now (or just click here) and you’ll see dozens of headlines from big outlets from as far away as the U.K. about how this small Colorado town suddenly lost its entire police force. I went there for a story in The Colorado Independent and found the alarmist desk-bound aggregation and coverage was way overblown. The police force was one full-time employee and three volunteers. The town had been without a local marshal before. It wasn’t the end of the world, and likely did not deserve breathless coverage in TIME magazine.

So how did we get here? Colorado Public Radio was nice enough to invite me on their Colorado Matters program Friday to talk about it. You can listen to the interview here. A few days later the little town got hit— again— with more misleading headlines, this time from a nearby TV station.

What you missed on the front pages across Colorado

It was housing, housing, housing on the front pages of at least five Colorado newspapers this snowy Sunday, making up more than 25 percent of the front page real estate. They ranged from stories about red-hot markets to infilling dense neighborhoods with tiny homes, incentive programs, and the seeming impossibility for some millennials to become homeowners.

It’s “almost impossible” for millennials to buy homes in Boulder County, according to The Longmont Times-Call.  The Greeley Tribune had an A1 story about a homeowner’s incentive program one year laterThe Boulder Daily Camera reported on a neighborhood looking to “gentle infill,” find room for “tiny homes, accessory units and plain-old smaller homes tucked around existing houses on lots that have room.” The Colorado Springs Gazette reported the area real estate market is “red hot”— the 12th hottest in the nation. Vail Daily reported how real estate sales in the Vail Valley are bouncing back. Meanwhile, a Berthoud family searches for a home for an antique carousel, per The Loveland Reporter-HeraldThe Durango Herald wrote more about the EPA reimbursements for the Gold King Mine spillThe Aspen Times fronted a fun piece called “When drinking helps police.” In “Food Stamp Fiasco,” The Fort Collins Coloradoan had a cover story about thousands of Colorado food stamp recipients forced to pay money backeach year because of agency errors. The Pueblo Chieftain fronted pieces about heroin and gangs. Steamboat Today had a cover story “Ringing the bell” about local efforts to embrace a national awareness of football-related concussions. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel had a piece about potentially re-using methane gas from coal mines. The Denver Post had an enterprise human interest story about a new law allowing access to birth certificates for adult adoptees.

The Denver Post busts a congressman for letting his biggest donor write legislation

Reporter Mark K. Matthews, who watchdogs Colorado’s congressional delegation for the DP, did just that this week, blowing up Republican Congressman Scott Tipton for allowing his largest donor— an oil-and-gas company— to write a piece of draft legislation for him. We hear a lot of criticism about money in politics and there’s always the question: what does it look like in practical terms for those who give big bucks to politicians?

From the piece:

In an interview, Tipton confirmed its origin, and documents obtained by The Denver Post show that Tipton’s draft legislation duplicates — word for word — entire sections of the proposal offered by SG Interests.

That’s like the grown-up version of a state lawmaker allowing a lobbying group to run its PR talking points under his own byline as an op-ed for the local newspaper.

Speaking of Colorado energy issues… have you seen The Invisible Plume?

So, Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine in Colorado is the state’s “single biggest methane polluter,” wrote my colleague Kelsey Ray this week for The Colorado Independent. “It spews more of the greenhouse gas each year than the state’s largest oil and gas operator – enough to power almost 30,000 homes. A proposed expansion would push its already massive methane emissions even higher. So why is the otherwise tough-on-methane Hickenlooper administration supporting it?”

From her piece:

Gov. Hickenlooper was hailed as an environmental champion in 2013 when he passed his “zero tolerance” policy on methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Colorado became the first state to impose such a rule, which requires drillers to capture 95 percent of all methane and to find and fix all gas leaks.

But the governor’s low tolerance for methane doesn’t apply to the coal industry. Colorado, like the federal government, doesn’t regulate coal mine methane beyond mandating that large polluters report their emissions to the EPA.

Read Ray’s whole story on it here and about how she trekked out to the mine with a group and an infrared camera to film the methane venting on public land.

Alt-weekly spotlights Anschutz ownership of The Gazette during a local land-swap controversy

In an alt-weekly Colorado Springs Independent cover story last week titled “Philip Anschutz’ influence knows no bounds,” reporter Pam Zubeck covered the press-shy Denver billionaire’s juice in Colorado Springs amid a controversial land-swap deal between the Anschutz-owned Broadmoor hotel and the city. Her piece raised a concern from one local activist, Richard Skorman, which the reporter said was “voiced by many during the land swap process.

“I have concerns about Anschutz owning the major daily newspaper when there are controversial issues like this [that] they have a stake in,” Skorman says.

Prior to the cover story, Zubeck had questioned why the paper had held a story about houses near the Broadmoor being built in landslide zones.

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

Trudy Lieberman, who writes about healthcare coverage, explains how the failure of Obamacare healthcare “co-ops” hasn’t been covered enough, but is starting to see some stellar reporting in the business press. Deron Lee asked whether readers will pay for local news, and how one investigative journalism startup in Tulsa is betting that they will. Timothy Pratt writes about how one woman’s “hyperlocal C-Span” is bringing transparency to politics in Georgia. Jackie Spinner explains how two brothers are using Instagram to “engage new audiences for investigative and accountability-minded reporting” in Chicago. And I wrote about the South Carolina alt-weekly where I got my start being sold to a daily newspaper.

Last thing. Want to know the future of hyper-local newspapers?

Colorado’s own Amy Maestas, the senior editor at The Durango Herald, is one of this year’s Knight-Wallace fellows where she’ll work on a project about that topic.

*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: Carles Escrig i Royo via Creative Commons on Flickr]


Denver’s music and culture scene has boomed in recent years, and the nonprofit media entrepreneurs at Denver Open Media are launching a radio station showcasing local talent that goes live June 3 — if they can raise the money for the project.

(Disclosure: The Colorado Independent rents office space from Denver Open Media.)

DOM 104.7 FM plans to use open source software to allow listeners to upvote favorite shows focused on music, culture, neighborhood news, events, comedy, talk radio and education.

DOM’s director Tony Shawcross, dubbed by Westword as the savior of public access television, hopes the rabid fans of Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, DeVotchKa and The Flobots, among other local bands, show up in droves to support the idea.

With 61 hours to go, the campaign had only raised $7,525 of a $25,000 goal. If they don’t reach the full amount, they get nothing.

Shawcross worries the crowdsourcing campaign is thousands-of-dollars shy of his all-or-nothing goal just days before it ends at 12 a.m., May 7.

“It didn’t seem like an expansive goal. Maybe we were naive,” Shawcross said.

Jamie Laurie, of the internationally renowned hiphop group The Flobots, understands Shawcross’ anxieties, but is confident that it’s not too late for Denver music and culture fans to rally to fund the cause.

Said Laurie: “It would be a real shame if Denver’s vibrant music scene did not seize the opportunity to have our very own all local radio station.”

If you are interested in supporting this project, you can donate here. For more information, watch Denver Open Media’s video about the project below.

Photo credit: Denver Open Media’s Kickstarter video.


May 4, 2016: This story has been updated to reflect that John Kasich has left the race.

I’m not sure which is worse – that Donald Trump has become the presumptive GOP nominee or that, soon enough, it will all come to seem normal.

It’s not normal, of course. Not the idea of it and certainly not the fact of it.

But with his win in Indiana, Trump has all but ended the GOP nomination process. Ted Cruz has dropped out. John Kasich, proving he has some grasp on the real world, dropped out the next morning.  And so it is real, pinch-yourself real, no-more-chance-of-riots-in-Cleveland real, nationalism-is-the-new-ism real, and we’re all just going to have to live with that, especially those Republican Party leaders who, in horror, watched Trump expose the truth of their party’s message.

No one thought Trump could get this far. Certainly I didn’t, having cleverly predicted that the Donald would would drop out before a single vote was cast. Trump, the reality-TV-star-cum-demagogue, began his campaign as a joke line, a buffoonish short-fingered vulgarian who made the debate stage a place to defend the size of his, uh, you know. And yet now that it has happened, the countless would-be explanations you’ll read in the papers or see from TV pundits won’t come close to truly explaining it.

What’s clear is that a campaign based on fear, insults, sexism, xenophobia, race-baiting, nativism, narcissism and a dozen other repugnancies can work. Trump won the approval of half the nation — whatever his huge poll-number unfavorables tell you — by beating back the GOP establishment, the Koch brothers, the #neverTrumpists and the entire staff of The National Review.

The facts are strange enough. Trump won against a large field that featured nearly every one of the GOP’s so-called bright lights, including those who were expected to shine but didn’t. And he won by not only attacking women and Muslims and Mexicans, but also the Republican establishment that still can’t decide what to do with him.

Some are calling it a Joe McCarthy moment – and that everyone will remember who lined up with Trump and who lined up against him. My guess is that most of the establishment is unworried about history and more concerned by the fact they have no idea what to do with Trump. My guess is they’ll pretend to embrace him just long enough to see him lose in November and hope no one remembers.

My own poor explanation for Trump’s rise is that his nomination is the inevitable result for a party that has exploited working-class anger while offering nothing more than tax cuts for the rich and the cheapest cuts of red meat for everyone else. Trump saw that anger worked — this campaign actually started, you’ll recall, with the Donald’s leading role in the birther movement — and his authoritarian-style rallies gave his supporters license to “knock the crap” out of anyone who objected.

Trump, meanwhile, did his own bullying, quoting Mussolini along the way. And so it should come as no surprise how the campaign ended — with Trump somehow linking Cruz’s father to the Kennedy assassination. Yes, seriously. The slander was so deliciously incredible – ripped as it was from the pages of The National Enquirer —  that no one even bothered to say they believed it. Even the cable-TV-news Trump enablers were calling it ridiculous. And then, boom, Trump swept Indiana and whatever grassy knolls exist there.

That morning, Cruz was calling Trump an immoral, pathological liar and “narcissist on a level I don’t think this country has ever seen.”  By that night, a humiliated (if not humbled) Cruz was giving his concession speech, never mentioning Trump by name or whether he would support him.

Could Cruz support Trump? Of course he could if he figured it would help his career. I mean, it’s difficult to feel sorry for Lyin’ Ted, who had cynically praised Trump for most of the nomination process. It was only when it suited him that he told voters that Trump was leading the country to the “abyss.”

So now, as if doubling down on the abyss line, all the pundits are saying don’t blame the media and that, anyway, Trump can’t win in November. And, yes, he trails Clinton by 10 points in the polls and Sanders by more than that. The electoral map trends Democratic even without someone like Trump running. He may, as many are suggesting, go down in the Goldwater/McGovern tradition of candidates overwhelmingly rejected by voters. And yet. And yet.

As one of two candidates left (OK, one of three, if you’re a die-hard Bernie person), Trump could conceivably win. That’s why they play the games, even when the games become as dangerous as this one. And has anyone played the games any more successfully than Trump? I mean, Trump wins and Clinton is still trying to shake Bernie.

I’ve already seen the Trump/Clinton jokes on Twitter, but they’re not actually funny. Clinton has flaws aplenty — well documented flaws — but last I heard, she’s not advocating more nukes in Asia or bans on Muslims or double-secret plans to destroy ISIS. Hillary is not the Donald, or even remotely so.

That’s why George Will writes that it’s every conservative’s duty to ensure that Trump not only loses, but loses all 50 states. That’s why leading Republican operatives are hashtagging #imwithher, even though Clinton has been a dirty name for Republicans for 25 years. That’s why Eric Erickson says he’s staying home on Election Day.

And it’s why, bringing a message to the Bernie wing of the Democratic Party, Elizabeth Warren fired off a Facebook post Tuesday night saying that she would do everything in her power to stop “Donald Trump’s toxic stew of hatred and insecurity” from reaching the White House.

Maybe the funniest moment of the campaign came when Trump, after playing one of his bully-boy games, said he could act presidential whenever he chose. It would be funny unless, that is, we actually get to find out if it’s true.


Voters may be months away from being asked whether grocery stores can sell full-strength beer and wine, local governments can ban hydraulic fracturing or the state will increase the minimum wage. But state campaign contributions are already rolling in by the millions to committees fighting for these issues.

In the first quarter of 2016, campaigns, whether for candidates or issues, took in more than 29,000 contributions totaling $22.7 million. These amounts do not include contributions made to presidential, U.S. House or Senate candidates.

Monday was the deadline for filing first quarter campaign finance reports. Most of the money is coming from the oil and gas industry, which is shelling out big bucks to fight ballot measures that would allow local governments to ban fracking.

The anti-fracking group Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy Independence pulled in the biggest first quarter contributions, $6.3 million from Jan. 1 through April 27. 

Anadarko Petroleum wrote the biggest checks, totalling $2.65 million, with Noble Energy coming in close second at $2.5 million. PDC Energy, an independent natural gas and oil company, threw in $500,000.  

The biggest checks written by the committee went to Pac/West, an Oregon-based government relations firm that provides consulting services to political action committees. The firm received more than $1 million in the first four months of 2016 for consulting services.

Pac/West’s biggest client in Colorado is Coloradans For Responsible Energy Development, which runs anti-fracking, pro-oil-and-gas commercials.

Mark Truax, who manages the Denver office for Pac/West, joined the firm in January after spending three years with Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, which was set up by Anadarko and Noble Energy.

Pac/West raked in another $2.5 million in the first quarter of 2016 from Your Choice Colorado, which supports a potential ballot measure to allow full-strength beer and wine sales in grocery stores. Your Choice Colorado pulled in $4.2 million in cash and noncash contributions in the first four months of this year.

Those who oppose full-strength beer and wine sales aren’t exactly hurting for cash. The group Keep Colorado Unique is backed by a coalition of the state’s largest liquor stores. Another opponent to full-strength beer and wine sales in grocery stores, Keep Colorado Independent, also known as Keep Colorado Local, kicked in $1.1 million in the last quarter. Large retailers such as Applejack Liquors in Wheat Ridge contributed $250,000.

The largest expense, $3 million, went to Joe Slade White Communications in New York for advertising design and buys. White was named the national Democratic strategist of the year in 2014. He’s worked for then-U.S. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and on a successful 2008 campaign to defeat a right-to-work ballot measure in Colorado. White may be best known as the media strategist for Vice President Joe Biden, for whom he has worked for the past two decades. Biden’s sister, Valerie, is the executive vice president at White Communications.

Those who support a metro-Denver area ballot measure to reauthorize the Scientific, Cultural and Facilities District donated more than $1 million toward that effort. And every contribution to Citizens for Arts to Zoo came from an SCFD organization, although most of the money came from the five groups that get the bulk of SCFD funding.

The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, a Tier 1 group, put in more than $250,000. The Denver Zoo contributed $243,000. The Denver Art Museum donated $208,000. The Denver Center for the Performing Arts gave $182,000. And the Denver Botanic Gardens gave $118,000.

The largest expenditures, totaling $26,000, went to Ciruli & Associates, headed by pollster Floyd Ciruli.

A committee working to defeat Amendment 69, known as “Coloradans for Coloradans,” received more than $1 million in the first four months of 2016. The biggest contributions came from healthcare giants such as Anthem, SCL Health and Davita, totaling more than $700,000. That included a $10,000 contribution from Children’s Hospital.

Coloradans for Coloradans wrote its biggest check, $58,000, to Global Strategy Group of New York City for research.


Photo credit: Andrew Magill, Creative Commons, Flickr.





GREEN MOUNTAIN FALLS — On Monday, a Colorado Springs TV station carried this headline: “Burglary spree in Green Mountain Falls.”

For some in the small mountain town of fewer than 700, it was deja vu all over again.

Last week the town made international news when outlets aggregated local coverage about the “entire police force” resigning. That police force, however, consisted of just one full-time marshall and three volunteers. And as we reported last week, it wasn’t the end of the world for a town that’s been without a marshal before.

Related: Sure, the ‘police force’ in Green Mountain Falls resigned. So what?

The May 2 KRDO report about a “burglary spree” in Green Mountain Falls that didn’t carry a byline but credited The Associated Press as a contributor was misleading, says El Paso County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby, who was a source for the story.  

“It gave the impression that these burglaries happened since the police force resigned,” she told The Colorado Independent. “That is not accurate.”

Kirby said the sheriff’s office took its last burglary report before the town marshall resigned.

“I will tell you all of these burglaries happened several weeks prior to the resignation of the police,” Kirby said.

Oh, and they also happened in Chapita Park, the next town over, and in surrounding areas — not Green Mountain Falls. The KRDO headline was later changed to reflect that. The station stuck with its coverage, dispatching a reporter to the area, where she clarified for a local broadcast, “this department resigned after the string of break-ins.”

On the job just two weeks, the new mayor of Green Mountain Falls, Jane Newberry, is already used to overblown coverage of the little town she now runs. On Monday, she allowed The Colorado Independent into her town’s locked-up police station to snoop around and inspect records of incident reports, daily field logs and other files left in the weeks before the marshal resigned.

The bottom line: Plenty of of traffic citations, verbal warnings and not much else.

On the ex-marshall’s desk was also a letter, dated April 14, to the new mayor and the town board of trustees.

“Currently, to the best of my knowledge, GMF is very quiet,” the letter began. “Our patrols have been preventative and designed to provide visibility and in hopes of observing activity in GMF and preventing criminal activity as well as traffic violations.”

On another desk was a phone with more than 20 new voice messages. People from as far away as New Jersey had been calling once they had heard the worldwide news about a sudden resignation of a small town’s police department. They were looking for jobs as cops, if any were available.

Standing near a filing cabinet in the vacant police office, Newberry lamented the latest news about burglaries in the surrounding area. She worries someone might be shopping these stories to reporters who might not provide the best context for readers and viewers.

“It means some really negative publicity and exaggeration of things that just aren’t quite so,” Newberry said. “There have been 18 burglaries, but they’ve been in the entire Ute Pass area. They’re not just Green Mountain Falls. And they’re prior to [the marshall] leaving.”

On April 20, Colorado Springs TV station FOX 21 had cited an “anonymous source” when it reported the “entire department quit over policy and unhappiness with the new mayor.” By the next day, the story had gone viral.

Now, after the latest headlines, Newberry — who came on as the new mayor with a slate of three new board members who ousted a majority of incumbents during an April 5 election — wonders if some in the town are sour, perhaps purposefully trying to stir up trouble.

“It starts to feel like they’re doing this to try and hurt the new board,” she said. “And you know what? In the big picture it doesn’t hurt the board. It just hurts the citizens.”

Newberry said she promised during her campaign to swear the marshall in if she was elected mayor and that his job was safe. But she said there had been discussion during the campaign about whether Green Mountain Falls should keep its local marshal.

“There are citizens who want them and citizens who don’t,” she said of a local police presence. “But part of the statutory obligation is to at least have some sort of law enforcement. That doesn’t necessarily mean 24-7 coverage, but it means that we take it seriously that the town is covered.”

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is currently providing law enforcement coverage to Green Mountain Falls.

Asked if the new mayor would open the police files to anyone else who wanted to inspect them, she said, “To be honest, after the burn that I’ve gotten, the drama, part of me wants to say, yes, and part of me wants to say, ‘I’m so done.’”

The Green Mountain Falls town board will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. International media are invited to attend.




Eastern Plains farmers, ranchers and homeowners will go to the mat to protect their water rights. Last week at the state Capitol, some of the ground water management districts that defend those rights lost a dogfight with former Gov. Bill Owens and the water-hungry developers and municipalities his companies represent.

Owens and the developers victoriously opposed a bill that would have slashed legal costs when farmers and ranchers tussle with developers in the courts over who holds water rights.

The water wars between ag and development go like this: When towns and developers need water, they turn to cash-strapped farmers and ranchers and buy their water rights. Without irrigation, fields dry up and crops die. The ag community considers these “buy and dry” deals to be predatory, a death sentence for Colorado agriculture.

Some developers and municipalities are trying to dodge the expenses of buy and dry deals and are using the courts to try and snatch up water from rural communities without paying for it. Farmers are spending tens-of-thousands of dollars defending their rights.

Take Dan Farmer, a third-generation farmer who formerly was on the Upper Black Squirrel Creek ground water management board in El Paso County. In recent years, the ground water district has had to fight a local municipality over rights to water managed by the district. The legal fees from having to repeatedly defend the district’s water rights have devastated his community.

Upper Black Squirrel Creek is one of eight ground water basin districts along Colorado’s Front Range and Eastern Plains. Those districts, each managed by local farmers and ranchers, draw water from underground. Generally, farmers and ranchers own those rights to irrigate crops.

“Your family notices when you spend $100,000 to defend your water rights,” Farmer told a Senate committee considering a proposal to limit the kinds of evidence that would be allowed upon appeal of decisions made by the state water court or Ground Water Commission. “This is no more than an effort by municipal districts to find any loophole they can to get water, and they’ll go to ridiculous lengths to get that water without having to pay for it.”

Under a proposal recently by the Senate Judiciary Committee, those who want to go to district court to appeal the Ground Water Commission or water court decisions would not be allowed to use evidence that wasn’t presented in the original case.

The case cited by Farmer, involving the Meridian Service Metropolitan District, is the most recent example of the problem. The district, which oversees water, parks, a recreation center and sewer issues, serves a housing development, Meridian Ranch, that started to run out of water.

Meridian asked the state water court to allow it to collect “surface water runoff,” basically, rainwater, put it into a reservoir and use it to irrigate the development. The development would then file for a junior water right, although that water technically belongs to the Upper Black Squirrel Creek ground water management district because rainwater drains into the local aquifer.

The Ground Water Commission, which protects aquifers from being overtapped, denied Meridian’s claim. The water court also ruled against Meridian and ordered the municipality to pay legal costs, calling the case “frivolous.”

So Meridian took their claims to El Paso County District Court and then to the Colorado Supreme Court, where justices once again ruled in favor of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek district.

But at the District Court level, Meridian changed its arguments and brought forward new evidence on why it should obtain those water rights. Bringing a new case is not allowed in any other kind of court appeal in Colorado. But for the past 40 years, Ground Water Commission cases have been the exception. Only twice in those 40 years have such cases resulted in a decision against a ground water management district.

The rarity of cases is the argument for keeping the process as is, according to Owens’ lobbyist Kathy Oatis. Not allowing new evidence at the District Court level would eliminate the only check and balance that could ensure a fair process for everyone involved, according to a position paper on the issue from Oatis and as reported by The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

But allowing a whole new set of facts jacks up legal costs for the ground water districts, which are forced to hire attorneys and engineers to start all over with new defenses. Those costs can soar above $100,000 in cases that reach the Supreme Court.

Don Booker, president of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek district, said that in such cases, 80 percent of the district’s money pays for legal costs and no money is left for much needed water conservation projects, including refilling aquifers.

Former Gov. Owens runs several firms helping developers and municipalities buy up agricultural land and water rights. Legacy Water, Inc. which lists Owens as its CEO, lobbied against the bill heard this week, House Bill 16-1337. Owens also serves as managing director of Renew Strategies, a “water and land resources development“ company that shares an address with SW Resources, which also lobbied against the measure. Owens is listed as SW Resources’ CEO in filings with the Secretary of State.

Owens used his influence with Senate Republicans to kill the bill, which the House greenlighted earlier this month on a 60-5 vote, the proposal’s sponsors, Republicans Rep. Don Coram of Montrose and Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, told The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.

Last year, Owens lobbied against a similar bill that also was defeated.

Last week’s hearing in the judiciary committee featured testimony from a long line of farmers, ranchers and other supporters including the Colorado Farm Bureau, the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and the Colorado Wheat Growers.

The proposal’s opponents complained the Ground Water Commission, where the cases begin, is stacked with agricultural representatives, not lawyers, and that creates a conflict of interest.

Lisa Thompson of the Upper Black Squirrel Creek District argued water rights largely belong to farmers and ranchers, who should rightly comprise the majority on the commission, being that they have the most to lose.

The proposal would maintain the authority of the Ground Water Commission, she said, as well as the authority of the local ground water management districts.

The committee killed the proposal on a 5-0 vote, infuriating its sponsor, Scott, who dubbed Owens a “water speculator,” a choice term for a predatory outlaw aiming to snatch up water rights without showing how they will be used.


Correction: 5/4/16 Owens lobbying firm corrected to Legacy Water, Inc.

Photo credit: Luke Peterson, Creative Commons, Flickr


Gag order

A Washington doctor, who charged that her hospital has violated her rights by forbidding her to speak publicly in defense of abortions after the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood killings, has filed a civil rights complaint. The question: Was it a gag order or a reasonable precaution against anti-abortion violence? Via The New York Times

Winning Indiana

Remember when Ted Cruz was saying that winning Indiana was critical in stopping Donald Trump? He’s not saying that anymore after two recent polls show Trump winning by double digits. Here’s what Trump says: “If we win Indiana, it’s over. They’re gone.” Via The Washington Post.

Trump international

Donald Trump is not simply an American phenomenon. Europe has Trumpists wherever you look. Via The New Yorker.

Danger game

The Republican establishment can’t decide who is the bigger threat — Trump or Cruz. Via The New York Times.

Hard hitters

In a Clinton-Trump matchup, don’t expect Clinton to be the counter-puncher, Peter Beinart writes in The Atlantic. He says you can expect her to hit first and to hit hard.

Rat race

Or to put it another way: If you judge by the numbers, Clinton will be the most disliked nominee ever — except for Donald Trump. And it’s not even close. Via Vox.

Fueling the right

In The New Republic, they argue how fracking money funds the radical right — and sets the terms of the debate.

Skin game

In The National Review, they argue that the way to solve the student-loan bubble is to make colleges put “skin in the game.”


Photo credit: Charlie Day, Creative Commons, Flickr