On Friday, Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman gave a talk in Colorado Springs about covering social movements and the importance of independent media. At one point she rattled off airtime statistics cable news had given Donald Trump, and she noted how little coverage the campaign of Bernie Sanders has gotten in relation to others. She said a journalist who had been following her around on her book tour recently asked her something along the lines of: Why cover Sanders if he’s not going to win? You can imagine her response.
There’s a close-to-home parallel here. Before Goodman spoke, a man with long hair and a beard was going up and down the aisles handing out flyers to promote his campaign for U.S. Senate, the biggest statewide race going on in Colorado. His name is Arn Menconi, and he’s the nominee for the Green Party, which has only about 6,900 registered members in the state. While Menconi has written letters and columns about his candidacy for newspapers in Colorado, his bid has not yet been covered by a mainstream media outlet.
If this is a problem, I suppose I’m to blame as much as anyone. It wasn’t until this week that I first heard about Menconi.
Here’s how he came up on my radar: I wrote a narrative feature for The Colorado Independent about what the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity is doing in Colorado that included a little news: Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who is up for re-election and being challenged by a large field of Republicans, came out publicly against the ColoradoCare universal healthcare ballot measure. After I wrote a standalone story on the Bennet news the same day, I started seeing Menconi’s name all over my social media feeds. Something clearly was happening along a certain part of the political spectrum in Colorado. Some other recent Bennet news—as a superdelegate for Hillary Clinton he’d been heckled at the Democratic Party’s state convention last Saturday—was getting synthesized with his comments about ColoradoCare. Liberal, progressive, single-payer supporting Bernie backers were looking for someone on Bennet’s left; Bennet doesn’t have a Democratic primary challenger, but those voters had found their candidate in Arn Menconi.
This was a national politics narrative playing out in a statewide race, and when we wrote about Menconi, it turned out that people wanted to read about him.
Menconi isn’t the only third-party candidate in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, either. Lily Tang Williams took the nomination of the Libertarian Party, the third-largest political party in Colorado, during a convention in which no mainstream media showed up. And while Gary Swing, who has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on behalf of The Boiling Frog Party, won’t make the ballot, he’s the only one in the race talking about reducing per-capital consumption and mass animal die-offs—the subject of a 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Elizabeth Kolbert, who also gave a talk in Colorado this week.
Before Darryl Glenn shocked Colorado’s political and pundit class at the GOP state convention, coverage of the U.S. Senate race — my own included — focused more on conventional wisdom candidates. But 2016 is a strange election year. Voters are looking for leaders outside the traditional mold. Paying attention to that and trying to understand the movements and forces behind why that is means not ignoring people like Menconi and the reasons why he’s generating buzz.
But of course I’d say that. I once wrote a book about Alvin Greene.
Editors see media losing ground as legal advocates for the First Amendment
Oh boy. So here’s a downer: My colleague Jonathan Peters at Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project wrote about an important new study this week that found newspaper editors across the country are, in his words, “losing confidence in the news industry’s ability to fulfill its role as a First Amendment champion”— and think shrinking resources are to blame. Love to hear from any editors in Colorado who agree or disagree. Meanwhile, one of my favorite First Amendment lawyers is set to retire this year, too.
Hey, but some good news: An investigation by Rocky Mountain PBS could be getting results
Around this time last year Anina Boiko-Weyrauch of Rocky Mountain PBS published a story with this lede.
You can’t know if your favorite bar stiffs its servers, according to Colorado law. You can’t know if your future employer cheats its workers. You can’t know if your competitor underbids you by skirting labor laws.
The story went on to detail how Colorado’s interpretation of a century-old law means “All complaints and investigations of employers, even after they’ve been resolved, are confidential.” The good news? This week, a House panel unanimously voted to change that by making “citation and assessment information on wage-law violations available for inspection under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) after an employer has exhausted all appeals,” according to Jeffrey Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. One lawmaker said during a hearing, “Right now, you can’t even get the information that a wage-law violation has happened and why,” calling it, “kind of ridiculous.”
The Denver Post’s #JoeySplains series is really something to see
Explanatory Vox-style journalism with video? The Denver Post is doing it. And it’s great. I first saw one of these when politics reporter Joey Bunch casually explained why Colorado had a caucus system over a beer. This week he was cruising the grocery store aisle and slumping down with a brown-bagged bottle of booze next to a tree outside the Statehouse to explain why in Colorado you can only buy beer at the grocery store that has a 3.2 percent alcohol “near beer” content. (There could be a big fight this election season to change that.) These videos are really approachable ways to explain complex issues and Bunch does a great job. And he’s got jokes! The Denver Post’s video ninja Vince Chandler has dubbed this series #JoeySplains on Twitter.
An ex-state employee dishes about deleting e-mails related to open records requests at the DOR
So here’s one for the irony file: “A former employee of the Colorado Department of Revenue (DOR) claims he was ordered by that agency’s executive director to delete emails that discussed how the agency was proceeding with an open records request,” per Todd Shepherd at the libertarian CompleteColorado website.
The former state worker, Dan Bradley, served for decades in the FBI where he had experience with public corruption and efforts to limit it, so that’s why he’s speaking out, albeit it two years later. Shepherd goes on to explain in his story why it’s problematic for agencies to delete correspondence and other information related to how they respond to open records requests. Journalists sometimes like to circle back and ask for information about how the agency internally dealt with the original request.
Shepherd interviewed Bradley for the public affairs TV show “Devils Advocate,” which you can watch here.
What you missed on the front pages across Colorado this weekend
Did spring cleaning and hiking eat up your Sunday? Well, here are the best stories newspapers across Colorado wanted to feature on their big news day.
The Denver Post had a big A1 feature about leniency for drug-addicted healthcare workers instead of treatment. The Greeley Tribune introduced readers to the rise of Bias Response Teams at universities across the country, including here in Colorado. Loveland’s downtown is facing growing pains, according to The Reporter-Herald. Colorado wage complaints are surging, per a front-page story in the Longmont Times-Call. The Pueblo Chieftain had a piece about new cops patrolling the streets. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted an A1 piece about local leaders addressing the economic decline of the Western Slope. Steamboat Today had a cover story about how spending a half-penny sales tax for education isn’t so easy. Boulder officials are looking to see if Boulder could be the next Portlandia— by going to Portland. The Fort Collins Coloradoan featured a big story about felony DUIs in Colorado. Vail Daily had a story about a local tax hike for road projects. It was a record-breaking trash cleanup day for The Aspen Times. Schools in the Springs are struggling with native American symbols and mascots, per The Colorado Springs Gazette.
How the alt-weekly in Colorado Springs highlighted legal marijuana issues in a military town
The Colorado Springs area is home to five military installations. And while the state’s second-largest city allows medical marijuana dispensaries, it does not allow the sale of recreational marijuana. That means those who want to buy cannabis without a medical card have to travel just over the town line to Manitou Springs, where the two recreational pot shops are making a killing. Why? One aspect that seems to pop up is the city’s reliance on and association with the military. Despite what the Pentagon has said, some Springs leaders believe allowing recreational marijuana in the city limits could ding the status of their military bases in the course of military budget cuts. (It should be noted that positive drug tests for pot at the Fort Carson base have dropped since legalization.) Now the city is trying to shutter cannabis clubs where consumers can obtain and smoke weed, and also limit home grows.
So I thought it was smart for The Colorado Springs Independent to produce a cover package this week about all this, but through the lens of what marijuana means for the local military veteran population and how the new changes in city rules would affect them.
Here’s a quote from one of the vets who reporter Nat Stein profiled:
“You see a lot of stickers and hear a lot of talk like, ‘Oh, support our troops,’ but that’s kind of where it ends,” DeFino says pointedly. “Council doesn’t know anything about cannabis other than it’s a scary drug. Their views don’t match the views of the new generation that’s living in the Springs now.”
In the same issue, the reporter wrote a piece for the CannaBiz section about one city councilman’s anti-pot crusade in the Springs, which also delves into the military angle.
Notes from the political beat from the nonprofit Colorado Independent
I took a deep dive into what Americans for Prosperity is doing in Colorado. When a school district in Colorado bought military-style rifles for security, and a citizen spotted the purchase on a website that tracks public expenditures, the school board president used the situation to tout the district’s commitment to transparency. “If we wanted to be opaque about it we could have been, but we chose not to be,” she told me. Colorado might scrap the caucus system and return to a primary for choosing presidents as a way to bring in unaffiliated voters (the states largest voting bloc), but it comes with a caveat— temporary registration by party. Subprime lenders were back at the Capitol last week trying to persuade lawmakers to allow them more profits. Marianne Goodland wrote about why that’s important. With few options, working parents in Colorado have to turn to friends and family for child care.
Last thing. From the follow-up file.
A few months ago I highlighted a story out of Aspen where a snowboarder was thrown 20 feet from a chairlift and a local law enforcement officer said you just can’t do something like that and expect it to be OK. Well, now the guy who did it, a 31-year-old man, is using the insanity defense.
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