Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."


Everybody’s heard how tough it’ll be to snag a seat for the Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate at CU-Boulder. Tickets are scarce. And few locals – especially non-Republicans – will be getting in.

But don’t freak. The Colorado Independent has an event for political junkies hankering to discuss the cattle car of GOP contenders, the smaller pack of Democratic contenders, the question marks hovering over Colorado’s U.S. Senate race and the key role our square, swing state will play in the 2016 election.

On October 29 — the evening after the debate — we’re hosting a dinner and discussion with Mike Littwin, Colorado’s most beloved columnist, to chat about what Mike chats about best: Politics.

Whether you’re itching to discuss the impact of the presidential race on Colorado’s 2016 Senate fight, who else the GOP might float to challenge Michael Bennet, why Bernie Sanders may or may not get a shot, or just how The Donald became the surprise leader in the polls, this night’s for you.

Join us at 6:30 p.m. for cocktails, a White House-worthy dinner and an engaging night of political analysis with Mike and our staff.

Seats for dinner are limited and sure to fill quickly. To reserve your spot, please make a tax-deductible donation of at least $200 to the non-profit Colorado Independent and email us so we can exchange more details about specifics.

See you on the 29th!

Us at The Indy


Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr

Littwin: How many shootings will it take for us to stop gun violence?

“…somebody, somewhere, will comment and say, ‘Obama politicized this issue.’ This is something we should politicize. … This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.” — Barack Obama


There is much to be said in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, of yet another mass school killing, of yet 10 more gun deaths, of yet another emotional Obama speech, of yet more charges of politicizing a tragedy, of yet more unserious hearings on the intersection of mental illness and gun violence, of yet another candle-light vigil, of yet another politician asking us not to use the killer’s name, of yet more magical thinking in that knowing the details, the name, the motive, the costs to the victims and their families and friends will somehow change anything,

There is much to be said, but, of course, it has all been said before. And knowing that it has all been said before — and each time ignored — the hardest part is to not give in to despair.

Politicians aren’t allowed to despair. You could have asked Jimmy Carter after his malaise speech. And so, instead, Barack Obama gave in to anger. It was a good choice.

He said we’ve become “numb” to these shootings – and that numbness is not an option.

He said that the reactions to mass shootings have become “routine,” and no one has a better claim to understanding that. By one count, it was Obama’s ninth speech following a mass shooting. By one measure — if a mass shooting is defined as at least four people injured in the event — there has been at least one such shooting in every week of Obama’s presidency. Yes, every week. You could look it up on ShootingTracker.com.

“As I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” Obama said, his voice rising. “It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. It does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.”

What’s routine, he said, “is that somebody, somewhere, will comment and say, ‘Obama politicized this issue.’ This is something we should politicize. … This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America.”

It’s a political choice. It’s our choice. We are the ones who let our elected officials let the NRA get away with saying that what we need are more guns, not gun laws, even if the data shows the lack of logic behind every word.

As Obama put it, “Does anybody really believe that?”

I know people who do. We all know people who do. These are the same people, in general, who can’t answer the question of why we demand that unsafe cars be recalled but insist that there’s no point in even discussing how to reduce gun violence. Instead, they talk of the 2nd Amendment and “freedom,” as if we shouldn’t have “freedom” from seeing our children shot and killed.

Mother Jones just published a letter written after Newtown to Joe Biden from the sheriff now leading the investigation of the Umpqua Community College killings. Sheriff John Hanlin was one of nearly 500 sheriffs who wrote letters protesting any new laws in the wake of the deaths at Sandy Hook. He said he would not enforce any laws “offending the Constitutional rights of my citizens.”

There’s no shortage of statistics on shootings in America. Gun violence is actually down, along with all crime numbers. And, in any case, mass shootings are a very small part of a much larger problem. But The Washington Post quotes Harvard professor David Hemenway, whose research shows, he says, that young people between 15 and 24 are 49 times more likely to be shot and killed in the United States than in so-called peer nations. And what can be routine about that?

Politically, the story is mixed. In a Vox explainer on polls and guns, they show that since Sandy Hook, those supporting gun rights over gun control has actually risen. But if pollsters ask about individual changes in gun laws, as Pew has done, everything changes. We may not want more gun laws in general, but it seems we do want more in particular. Polls show that many proposals have strong support — universal background checks, a federal database to keep track of guns, a ban on semi-automatic guns, a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, a ban on online ammunition sales.

I wrote after Sandy Hook that it was our last, best chance to do something. We weren’t numb then. We were shocked beyond belief. These were first-graders, after all.

But that moment passed, and I might have written something along the same lines after Charleston. And then that moment passed. Or maybe it was Lafayette. Or Chapel Hill. I know at least once I mentioned that the issues wasn’t guns so much as it was gun violence, and how could we not do something about that.

It’s no wonder that the story lines run together, pointless gun deaths followed by periods or grieving and then periods of inaction. And then the cycle starts again. As Obama said in his speech, he wished he could guarantee that there wouldn’t be more moments like this, but that he knew there would be.

“Each time this happens, I’m going to bring this up,” he said. “Each time this happens, I’m going to say that we can actually do something about it.”

It’s a long shot, but it’s the only shot we have. And maybe there will be a time, after who knows how many times, that we’re actually ready to try.


Photo credit: Greta Ceresini, Creative Commons, Flickr


So, now the action finally begins. Tim Neville is in, sending shudders throughout the GOP establishment. George Brauchler will presumably be next, and, after that, it’s anyone’s guess. (Did I mention Robert Blaha? He’s the Colorado Springs businessman who lost to Doug Lamborn in a 2014 primary and who’s also in the race. Do I have to mention him again?)

We don’t know for sure about Brauchler, who says he will make his decision soon, but it seems like a safe assumption.

We’ll assume it because someone has to run, and those in the Republican establishment, on both the state and national levels, have determined that Brauchler is the best they can come up with in a bid to take Michael Bennet’s Senate seat.

We’ll assume it because since the end of the James Holmes case, Brauchler has done little to discourage the speculation, up to and including telling anyone who would listen that he has made a decision which he will announce in early October.

And, finally, we’ll assume it because — and maybe this is just me – if you’re a district attorney contemplating a major jump to run for the U.S. Senate, you’d have to be pretty arrogant to set up an announcement to say you’re not running.

But whatever Brauchler has been thinking — and I don’t see how this could be an easy decision for him — I’m pretty sure he has no choice now.

Once, state Republicans were desperate to find someone to run against Bennet. Now they’re desperate to find anyone to run – anyone who’s not Neville, that is. If the pressure on Brauchler was extreme before Neville got in the race, it has to be at the point of breaking several of the Geneva Conventions by now.

Neville, the state senator, is one of those Nevilles. One son is a state representative, another lobbies for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. His sister-in-law is Julie Williams — yes, that Julie Williams, one of the Jefferson County school board members facing recall. It’s Colorado’s version of the Duck Dynasty.

The pros will tell you that politicians of the Neville variety have real problems raising money, but Neville won’t have any problem attracting media attention. He may not have a serious chance to win, but he has to be taken seriously. I’m just saying that Republicans are sufficiently worried that they’ve even reached out to Frank McNulty as a fallback.

How could Brauchler say no?

It’s a strange thing, but in the brief time since Cory Gardner rearranged the political map in Colorado, Republicans have done everything they could do to put it back in play. There was, of course, the embarrassingly public Cynthia Coffman-Tom Tancredo attempted coup of their own guy, state GOP chair Steve House. But that was just so much housekeeping.

The real problem was the embarrassingly public state Senate session, in which Republicans, knowing that none of the bills had any chance to become law, used their one-vote majority to remind everyone that the culture wars still raged in Colorado. Pick a topic, any explosive topic. You can start with abortion, birth control, medically unnecessary ultrasounds, fetal homicide, personhood and the anti-vaxxers’ Parent’s Bill of Rights. It’s the kind of nightmare agenda that John Boehner best understands.

In other words, they tore up the Gardner playbook — which called for every play to be at least faked up the middle — and went back to the model that had put the state GOP on a 10-year losing streak.

And Neville was in the middle of nearly every battle. And if Brauchler does decide to run, he’ll have Neville running right — yes, right – beside him, forcing Brauchler to debate all the issues that Gardner somehow managed to avoid. Personally, I can’t wait for another round of constitutional carry.

I can understand why Brauchler is tempted to get in. He’s young, he’s ambitious, he’s articulate, he’s being wooed. The polls look promising. Bennet is vulnerable. The national party is hot for this race. And Brauchler wouldn’t just be running against Bennet, he’d probably be running against Hillary Clinton, too. And although we don’t really know what kind of candidate Brauchler would be, he has every chance to be better than Ken Buck. What I mean is, he probably wouldn’t call for repealing the 17th Amendment.

But if you happen to overhear Republicans talking among themselves about this race, they’re far from confident. It’s a presidential year, meaning a higher Democratic turnout, and that’s without the possibility of a government shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood. And if Bennet barely beat Buck, the story doesn’t end there. Gardner, in the race that made him a GOP hero, won by not quite two points over Mark Udall. Brauchler is not exactly a blank slate – there are apparently right-wing radio interviews for the oppo-research guys to peruse – and, in any case, Bennet’s money machine will be working to define Brauchler before he can define himself.

If you ask me – and Brauchler definitely has not – the smart move for a young GOP pol on the make is to wait for 2018 and run for the open governor’s seat. But I’m thinking it’s too late for that. It has been explained to him, I’m sure, that somebody has to run against Bennet – someone, anyone, not named Neville.

Photo credit: Colorado Senate GOP, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Littwin: Goodbye Boehner, hello anarchy in the GOP


Some things in Washington are utterly transparent. And so it is with the House coup that forced John Boehner to retire as speaker. It was exactly what you’d expect it to be — another stupid and futile gesture on somebody’s part.

By all accounts, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, will succeed Boehner as speaker, and McCarthy, as far as we know, is another conservative moderate in the Boehner mode — except he doesn’t smoke, cry or change colors with the seasons. He definitely isn’t a bomb thrower.

If the revolutionaries have won, the question is: What does it get them, other than Boehner’s scalp? If you think the answer is a long period of anarchy and an easy target for Hillary Clinton or Joe Biden, then you’re probably right. Not that it matters to the winners. They won. That was enough.

This move — stunning as it was — is exactly in line with the anarchy that defines the Republican presidential race, in which, as the TV pundits remind us on the hour, the three leaders — Trump, Carson, Fiorina – have never held elective office.

The party line is that politics don’t work, and the the right wing of the party seems determined to prove that it’s true. Not that anyone who has watched Congress these last few years would have any doubt. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) put it plainly enough — that this was a sure sign that “the crazies have taken over” the Republican party.

In the GOP, it’s hard to be an outsider and still be of or anywhere near Washington. Even the Tea Partiers are at risk of getting sucked in. But the fight with the party establishment, led by Ted Cruz from within and Donald Trump from without, tends to focus the mind. And so you see headlines already following the Boehner resignation asking whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is next.

In Boehner’s resignation speech, he said he wanted to avoid what he called the “turmoil” of a GOP revolt. Turmoil is a gentle term for what would have been, if Boehner had fought the coup attempt, a GOP civil war in the middle of a presidential race. It’s not clear if he resigned for the good of the party or for what’s left of his sanity.

As expected, Cruz, who loves turmoil, was gracious in victory, gleefully telling activists at a meeting of the Values Voter Summit, “You want to know how much you terrify Washington. Yesterday, John Boehner was speaker of the House. Y’all come to town, and somehow that changes. My only request is: Can you come more often?” (Cruz was on a roll. He also jokingly called Obama a communist. And Cruz later vowed that a vote for him was a vote for the Iran’s ayatollah to meet up with his “72 virgins.” What more could you want from a values voter summit?)

This is one of those defining moments in which nothing changes and everything changes. Boehner sticks around long enough to get the budget through with the help of Democratic votes and without the defunding of Planned Parenthood. He leaves in October before the next vote, which could come as early as December when the defunding will almost certainly be back. And it will be left to McCarthy, if elected speaker, to somehow both appease the right wing and to avoid a government shutdown. I’m sure Boehner has already wished him luck.

Meanwhile, Boehner looked like a guy who had just found his best friend. He was crying, of course, which meant he was, well, happy. Certainly relieved. In any case, at one point he broke into Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, which has to mean something.

Boehner did relay a touching story on his departure eve about a meeting with the pope. It was Boehner who had invited the pope to speak to Congress. That Francis became the first pope to address Congress was probably the high point of Boehner’s tenure (low points are more competitive).

As Boehner tells the story, he and the pope had a brief private meeting after the speech, in which the pope had asked him to pray for him: “The pope puts his arm around me, and kind of pulls me to him and says, ‘Please pray for me.’ Well, who am I to pray for the pope? But I did.”

Boehner said he did. And almost certainly prayed for himself as well.

And as he woke up the next morning — the day after hearing the pope warn the Congress against polarization and to “guard against the simplistic reductionism which sees only good and evil” – he decided he’d had enough. The Boehner era would soon be over over. It may not have been good or evil. Boehner was just trying to make it through without finishing on his knees.


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons, Flickr

Littwin: The Bernie Sanders pope praises and rebukes Congress

Pope Francis gently praised the United States and then softly rebuked the policies of both Republicans and Democrats who respectfully stood and applauded.


Maybe the most telling moment of Pope Francis’s address to Congress came when he finally got to abortion. This would be, at last, the Republicans’ turn to glow in the papal light.

Sure, the pope had come to chide them — if in the gentlest of tones — on immigration, on climate change, on poverty, on political dysfunction, even, obliquely, on the Iran nuclear deal. Everyone knew what was coming. The pope had tipped his hand long before pulling up to the Capitol in his anti-Trumpmobile Fiat.

And so when the pope, while invoking the Golden Rule, finally preached that it is “our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development,” Republicans rose to their feet to applaud. Democrats had no choice but to follow. And if the pope didn’t say abortion exactly, he had used the code words — “protect” and “life.” It was clear what he meant.

But then came the next line: “This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty.”

Yes, the death penalty. “Every life,” he would say, “is sacred,” as if to ensure that we saw the contradictions. It was that kind of speech.

And if the pope didn’t come to score political points, he did come to tell his version of the story of what makes America great, and let’s just say it’s a narrative that not everyone embraces.

No one questions the church’s — or the pope’s — views on abortion, of course. The church’s recent role in the debate has overwhelmed its longstanding social-justice message. But the pope’s speech, which skipped lightly over same-sex marriage and the other battles in the culture wars, made clear that he thinks a pro-life philosophy doesn’t begin or end with abortion. It must have been only a sad coincidence — for those who hoped the pope’s words had changed anything — that later in the day, the Senate would hold yet another futile vote on defunding Planned Parenthood.

But it was no coincidence that the presidential candidate most effusive in his praise of the pope’s speech was the Jewish democratic-socialist from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, who called Pope Francis “one of the great moral and religious leaders of our time and in modern history.”

It wasn’t just the liberal tenor of the speech. It was how the pope framed the issues. In his address, he name-checked four Americans whose lives had touched his own. He began with Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., which aren’t exactly controversial choices, even if King’s message has been de-radicalized over time.

The next two names were neither familiar to many nor were they de-radicalized. I’m sure that many in the House chamber hadn’t heard of either. But it was no wonder Sanders was thrilled, particularly with the pope’s choice of Dorothy Day, a socialist who founded the Catholic Worker Movement during the Depression. There was a time when some in the church had asked her to remove “Catholic” from the “Catholic Worker” name. It may have been around the time the FBI began its file on her. In more recent times, it has been suggested that she be canonized.

The other noted by the pope was Thomas Merton, a Trappist Monk who was an influential Catholic writer, a leading presence in the Vietnam anti-war movement, a strong proponent of non-violence who created dialogue between Catholics (he, like Day, was a convert) and other religions.

Pope Francis used these voices to tell the story of the hard work of social justice and to ask those in Congress to listen to other voices telling other versions of that story. Abortion wasn’t the only time Pope Francis spoke of the Golden Rule. He used it, too, to suggest how we should treat immigrants – he didn’t say we should choose between legal and illegal — who have come to America and those who would follow.

He, too, was the child of immigrants. And so he could say, We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners.”

We must not be taken aback by their num­bers,” he went on, “but rather view them as per­sons, see­ing their faces and listen­ing to their stor­ies, try­ing to re­spond as best we can to their situation. We need to avoid a com­mon tempta­tion nowadays: to dis­card whatever proves trouble­some.

Again, there was applause from politicians who have left immigration reform unsettled and worse. This would be a slam — if Pope Francis did slams — on Trump and Cruz and the other anti-immigrant voices heard from the GOP. It was more of a plea, and not just to Republicans. We remember too well when Obama wasn’t exactly welcoming to the children who had come to the border from Central America. They, too, were troublesome.

And after the speech, Pope Francis would go back to his anti-Trumpmobile Fiat and leave the Capitol for a lunch date at Catholic Charities, where he would give voice to the Washington voiceless, some 300 described in The New York Times “as homeless, felons, mentally ill, victims of domestic violence, substance abusers or combinations thereof.” He arrived, as expected, at noon. The cameras were all waiting. And I guess that was actually the most telling moment.

Photo credit: DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, Flickr.