Sen. Irene Aguilar discusses ColoradoCare’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week

Jose M. Cornejo poses for a portrait in his back yard in the Park Hill neighborhood of Denver Colorado on Aug. 30, 2011. Cornejo an engineer, is also a musician in the band Debajo del Agua, a band he started with his children. The band has gone on to win the Global Justice and Peace Award in 2008 for their socially conscious lyrics and has played to large crowds throughout the Colorado area. Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado
Jose M. Cornejo posa para un retrato en su patio trasero en el barrio de Park Hill de Denver, Colorado el 30 de agosto de 2011. Cornejo un ingeniero, es tambien un musico en la banda Debajo del Agua, una banda que comenzo con sus hijos. La banda ha llegado a ganar la Justicia Global y Premio de la Paz en 2008 por sus letras con conciencia social y ha jugado a grandes multitudes en todo el area de Colorado.

Irene Aguilar is an idealist. But she’s no fool. The state senator from Denver long has realized it’s “a long shot” that ColoradoCare – the universal health care plan she has been pushing for seven years – will pass in November.

“I don’t care if we win or lose,” she told The Colorado Independent in the spring. “The system, as is, is so disgusting to me, I just want to get my message out about the need to fix it.”

Aguilar admits that Amendment 69’s chances of passing grew even slimmer last week when prominent Democrats and even the liberal group ProgressNow Colorado joined corporate interests in opposing the measure.

“I’m bruised,” she said Friday. “But they poked a snake.”

Aguilar’s commitment to universal health care is both professional and personal. She’s a primary care physician whose many years at Denver Health Medical Center gave her a close look at what happens when treatable conditions go ignored because patients have no health coverage. And, after a high-risk pregnancy in 1994, she gave birth to twins who spent six weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit. The $1.5 million hospital bill would have bankrupted her family had it not been for their insurance plan.

Health care should be a right, she says, not a luxury. That’s what propelled her into the state Senate in 2010.

Aguilar has used her seat to fight for Colorado to become the first state to pass a single-payer health insurance program. When that fight fizzled in the legislature, she and other proponents opted for the direct-democracy route, collecting enough signatures by last November to qualify the amendment for this November’s ballot.

The health care and hospitality industries have sunk at least $3.7 million into killing the measure. Republicans have used ColoradoCare as a wedge issue, deriding not only Democrats who support it, but also those who stayed neutral. Governor John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, both Democrats, have cited fiscal reasons for coming out against the measure. And in July, NARAL – Colorado’s leading pro-choice group ­– opposed Amendment 69 for potentially impeding abortions in the state.

Aguilar says she never expected a big cheering section, but had hoped her fellow Democratic state lawmakers would at least stay neutral. Yet, in a year when Dems are trying to hold on to the state House and take back the state Senate, candidates from that party – especially those in tight races – have over the past several weeks come out in opposition. Most notable was a one-two punch last Wednesday when House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran and ProgressNow Colorado opposed the amendment by saying it could gut the state budget and hurt working families.

Wednesday’s anti-69 press conference came as a blow to the ColoradoCare movement and to Aguilar personally. Here’s what she had to say afterward:

Colorado Independent: The headlines suggest your party has deserted you. Do you see it that way?

Sen. Aguilar: I’m hesitating because it boils down to what you think of as “your party.” Is my party the people or is my party the elected officials? Because we went through the process of getting this issue on the platform committee and getting it on the Colorado Democratic Party platform, I feel like the activist Dems have not deserted me – not at all. Instead, the elected officials have abandoned their constituents, at least on the issue of health care, which Coloradans want addressed. What we see here are Democrats caving in to the extensive lobbying efforts of insurance companies who want this measure to go away.

Colorado Independent: When you spoke with us in the spring, you called Amendment 69 a “long shot.” After your recent setbacks, where do you now put the measure’s chances of passing?

Sen. Aguilar: Frankly, with the vim and vigor they’ve put into this opposition campaign, I‘m thinking if we win over 35 percent of the votes, we won. I guess I’m an eternal optimist.

Colorado Independent: Who, after so many Dems have come out in opposition, are you thinking will support ColoradoCare at this point? And how do presidential politics figure in, if at all?

Sen. Aguilar: When Sen. (Bernie) Sanders left the race, I said to my colleagues that my concern was apathy on the part of the people because there would be nothing on the ballot of interest to them. ColoradoCare had the potential to be that something. I saw it as a place for the Bernie people to put their energy now that Bernie isn’t there. It still could be. There are people making efforts to get him out here personally to campaign for us.

…Besides, of all the election years to try something way out there, this is it. People are pissed. People have lost total trust in government to the point of electing Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee. After all these politicians have come out speaking against us, I think we have a chance to make some people who wouldn’t otherwise like us actually embrace this idea. It could happen. I think it’s all pretty unpredictable.

Colorado Independent: Has there been talk about pulling the measure off the ballot?

Sen. Aguilar: Yes, there have been some discussions. We did sit down to talk about six weeks ago about what it would take to pull it. People need to realize that this is a measure put on the ballot by a lot of everyday citizens – activists who worked hard on this issue. And the answer from those citizens is there is nothing that would make them pull it at this point. It’s too important  … And I, personally, stand behind that decision.

Colorado Independent: There’s some concern among people who favor universal health care but think this was the wrong year to push it, that a trouncing at the polls this year will discourage anyone from floating the idea in the future. Do you think there could be that kind of chilling effect? And, if so, do you feel responsible for causing it?

Sen. Aguilar: Yes, I absolutely think there will be a chilling effect. ProgressNow managed, all by itself, to achieve that chilling effect this week.

Colorado Independent: Given that you seem pretty resigned to the likelihood of Amendment  69’s defeat in November, how do you keep getting up every day to campaign for it?

Sen. Aguilar: Morally, I know I’m right. I subjected myself to politics in the first place to try to make this happen. I’ll sleep well at night knowing I gave it everything I had.

Colorado Independent: Last time we talked, you referred to your work on ColoradoCare as “an education.” What have your learned?

Sen Aguilar: You don’t get to be a multi-million-dollar corporation by being a bunch of idiots. Corporations pay millions of dollars for consultants to figure out the best way to get people to undermine themselves. And they’ve very effective. At some sick level, I admire the games they play because they’re just so clever and they’re so smart. They’re part of that whole thing that’s happening in our society where they get people to vote against their own best interests.

Colorado Independent: What’s next for you after ColoradoCare?

Sen. Aguilar: I need to get on the bandwagon against Citizens United (the U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibiting the government from restricting independent political expenditures by non-profit groups, unions trade organizations and corporations). There’s no question, after all this, that it needs to be overturned.

[Photo courtesy of Irene Aguilar]

A recovering newspaper journalist and Pulitzer finalist. Her criminal justice reporting includes “Trashing the Truth,” with Miles Moffeit, and “The Gray Box.”


  1. Of the ACA, Nancy Pelosi said that we have to pass the bill in order to know what’s in it. I’m uncomfortable taking this same approach with ColoradoCares’ Amendment 69. Too much is left to a 2-year plus negotiation period with the Feds. As a backdrop, President H. Clinton will be working to fix the worst part of ObamaCare while Colorado negotiates. I just think that there are too many moving parts in order for Amend. 69 to be successful.

  2. Tom: it has to be certified at the Federal level, and we know it will be a platinum-plus level plan, better than any existing plan on the market at a cheaper rate. It saves the state billions and covers every Colorado resident. It’s so much better than the current profit-driven system, which continues to raise rates into the stratosphere. It will soon collapse. Don’t count on Clinton doing anything positive for healthcare. She’s owned by the wall-street war-machine.

  3. Irene, math is obviously not your strong suit as in your comment that IF you were to get 35% of the vote, you would have ‘won’. No dear, this pipe dream does not constitute a ‘win.’

    Amendment 69 is NOT the effort of concerned citizens, it’s a concerted agenda of well-heeled and connected ‘health’-care industry execs and individuals, including yourself to pad your own coffers and market a pie in the sky ‘health’ care plan that will never pass muster w/the public, nor, as it appears, w/your fellow colleagues and elected officials, including the governor.

    Irene, realize that indeed, your fellow legislators have abandoned your plan in favor of those dyed in the wool lobbyists who work on behalf of pHARMa and affiliated interest$ who have a solid quid pro quo relationship down at the Capitol and are not about to jump on board w/your ill-conceived plan.

    You also, as a legislator, appear to have a conflict of interest w/the bills you have promoted which involve usurping state-statute protected exemption rights for parents who make informed decisions re: vaccines (HB-1288); and HB-1164, whereby you gave support to the data grab by CDPHE to implement a separate database ostensibly for the collection of private student data of those children who have had vaccine injuries and/or have opted not to have vaccines as a result. This bill was killed, yet the CDPHE had already in place a new form, which is not valid, and which was rolled out in advance of the new fall 2016 school semester. It was a case of the cart before the horse. Despite local news channels interviewing Larry Wolk, head of the CDPHE, who cowardly blamed an employee for this serious faux pas, which he alone was responsible for, he continued to ignore the stern warnings from the state legislature (see Sen. Kevin Lundberg for more info) to cease and desist sending out threatening letters to families stating they had to fill out the new form by 7-1-16 or not be allowed to register their child for school. Talk about an over-reach and abuse of power. Even at a special session by Sen. Lundberg and other senators, Wolk, being the emperor wearing no clothes, consistently avoided taking on the task of reversing course and went on about his merry way. Can you say $ociopath?

    They say a person is judged by the company he keeps. Irene, being in the snake pit seems to be your home away from home.

  4. Progress Now Colorado leader Ian Silveri should disclose that his fiance is Rep. Britany Pettersen, running in a competitive Jeffco district. Rep. Pettersen chose to come out against Amendment 69. She also took a $675 honorarium from the Colorado Health Foundation, which is the reincarnation of HealthOne hospitals. Pettersen has also taken substantial donations from Colorado Medical Pac and Colorado Medical Society Small Donor Committee. All of this should have been disclosed.

  5. “Progress Now Colorado leader Ian Silveri should disclose that his fiance is Rep. Britany Pettersen,”

    As always, follow the money.

  6. “Amendment 69 is NOT the effort of concerned citizens, it’s a concerted agenda of well-heeled and connected ‘health’-care industry execs and individuals, including yourself to pad your own coffers and market a pie in the sky ‘health’ care plan”

    If Amendment 69 were the effort of well-heeled health insurance execs, then why are they spending $3.7 million and then some to defeat it?

    “are not about to jump on board w/your ill-conceived plan.”

    As always, follow the money. Yes, as they want all that insurance company dollars. As Irene said, these democratic legislators have abandoned their constituents on health care to soak up some of that luscious cash, dangling in front of them if they turn against ColoradoCare.

  7. My husband and I will vote “YES” for Amendment 69, but there are some problems that I believe need to be addressed by the writer(s) and proponents of Amendment 69, such as:

    1) Why is the “green booklet” so vague, regarding holistic/natural/alternative health?

    For example, is acupuncture, homeopathy, health food store supplements “covered” (paid for) or not, by Amendment 69?

    This vague-ness was a big turnoff for folks I know, who might otherwise vote FOR Amendment 69.

    2) Some parents of vaccine injured children worry that Amendment 69 might somehow be used to try to ‘FORCE’/’MANDATE’ vaccines to be forced onto their surviving children, &/or forced onto the parents themselves.

    3) These same parents worry about Amendment 69 possibly trying to get rid of privacy of parents (and their children), where the parents have reasonable and informed personal reasons to “opt out” of having their children vaccinated.

    If all of these concerns I’m listing, were openly addressed, and honestly dealt with, I believe that Amendment 69 could more easily get “YES” votes!

    4) Some parents of vaccine-injured children, and some parents of children injured by toxic chemical spills, etc. (like an autism cluster years ago near the Kodak company in Rochester, N.Y., that carelessly spilled toxic chemicals outdoors!) use DAN (Defeat Autism Now) type doctors, who use WHOLISTIC/NATURAL methods to help heal their children–But, Amendment 69 appears to be ignoring the big use (by parents too) of WHOLISTIC health methods, and this is turning off many parents, of vaccine-injured children, and parents of toxin-injured children, etc., to Amendment 69.

    5) Regarding the big and controversial vaccine issue, I urge Amendment 69 writer(s) and proponents, to view (see) the movie called “VAXXED: FROM COVER-UP TO CATASTROPHE”, promoted by the actor Robert DeNiro, whose son was made autistic, from bad side effects of a vaccination.

    VAXXED (the movie) is now available from, &/or, from the creators of the film VAXXED. I saw this movie, with my husband, when it was showing at the Esquire Theater, at Downing and 6th Ave., in Denver, and I agree with Robert DeNiro, when he says: “Everyone should see VAXXED: From Cover-up to Catastrophe!”

    So, to summarize,– I want Amendment 69, in principle, and I wish it could be “cleaned up” a bit, add holistic health, and not be so vague!

Comments are closed.