Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

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

By popular demand, the Littwin gov panel has reconvened for a gov primary postscript.

Now that the race is over and Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton are set to face off in the November election, we looked at a seemingly endless list of issues, looking both backward and forward. Not all that surprisingly, there’s something close to unanimity on a wide range of issues from the Littwin all-star panel, which I remind you is big-shot GOP strategist Josh Penry, principal at EIS; long-time Dem strategist and Hancock chief of staff Alan Salazar; ProgressNow progressive Ian Silverii; GOP strategist, and always good quote, Cinamon Watson, principal at Blueprint Strategies — and, of course, me.

  1. The Polis-Stapleton wins were not exactly surprising. Stapleton led for every week in the Littwin gov rankings, and Polis led for every week but two, after Kennedy’s big win at the assembly.
  2. The negative ad on Polis by the Teachers for Kennedy PAC failed. It was either Hickenlooper’s fault for calling the ad “disappointing” or it was a strategic error by the Kennedy team. Polis counterattacked with far greater resources to the point that the fact of the negative ad outweighed any message it might have conveyed. Panelist Josh Penry blamed Hick for “refusing to let any Democratic candidate mention Polis’ name without calling a press conference to condemn. If Jared Polis funds a Super PAC for John Hickenlooper’s presidential campaign, no one should be surprised.” Panelist Alan Salazar noted that nothing in the race “changed the narrative, so Jared ended strong.”
  3. Neither Polis nor Stapleton is exactly charismatic or warm (at least on screen), but it is generally believed that Polis ran a fairly mistake-free campaign (history lesson here: having money hardly guarantees competence) whereas Stapleton was consistently hammered by GOP guru Dick Wadhams for running a Stumbleton campaign. Wadhams even publicly questioned whether Stapleton was sufficiently prepared to run in the general. Penry says Polis is a slight favorite but discounts the Stumbleton factor. “Maybe if all these same wise guys hadn’t told us that Hillary was a shoe-in,” Penry said, “or maybe if Walker Stapleton hadn’t won two statewide races, someone might put some stock in all that gibberish.”
  4. Michael Johnston finished strong while Cary Kennedy barely held on to second place, far behind Polis. Kennedy has now lost two big races in a row and that’s probably at least one too many. Panelist Cinamon Watson says it’s pretty certain “we haven’t heard the last from Johnston.” The rumor mill has Johnston preparing to gear up for a run in 2020 against Cory Gardner for the U.S. Senate seat. None of the panelists seemed to predict any bright political future for any of the runners-up on the Republican side.
  5. The Trump factor. Trump is deeply unpopular in Colorado. The latest Morning Consult state-by-state poll had Trump deeply underwater at 40-56. Panelist Alan Salazar says Chris Keating of  Keating Research found “a majority 58% of Colorado voters are unfavorable toward Trump including 52% very unfavorable. Also, nearly half (46%) of Colorado voters give Trump an F on his job rating.” Salazar says Stapleton, who tied himself to Trump at every turn in order to win the GOP primary, is running with a Trumpian “leg weight” in the general election.
  6. Stapleton’s Trump campaign problem. Panelist Ian Silverii sums it up pretty succinctly. “In order to keep the MAGA crowd happy, he needs to stay aligned with Trump, but if he’s going to win a general election in Colorado, where Hillary won by 5 points before the laundry list of daily presidency-ending-for-anyone-else scandals, he’s going to need to get away from the president.” We already saw election night Stapleton dodging the question of whether he would want Trump to campaign for him. 
  7. The Boulder liberal factor. Calling someone a “Boulder tax-and-spend liberal” was once a sure-fire strategy for Republicans. Now, maybe not so much. But if Polis wins in November, he will be the most liberal Dem to win a governor’s seat or U.S. Senate seat in at least a generation. This race may tell us whether Democrats have shifted too far left. It’s my view that Republicans began to lose their way in Colorado when they shifted too far right when they politically controlled the state in the early 2000s. It’s also true that Polis is the candidate that Republicans most wanted to face. But as you know by now, Bill Owens is the only Republican to have been elected governor over the last 40 years. Does Stapleton have the talent to change that narrative?
  8. The Polis money factor. I get the feeling sometimes that I’m the only one upset that Polis could spend more than $11 million of his own money to win the Democratic primary. Isn’t there a fairness factor here? Money doesn’t always win (see: Mitchell, Victor), but it doesn’t hurt. Analyst Eric Sondermann predicted that oil and gas would spend $20 million to try to defeat Polis, and that Polis would spend as much or more of his own money in return. But others I’ve talked to from the Republican Party don’t think oil and gas may switch gears, particularly since Polis is the favorite to win the race. I’m told by more than a few people that the oil industry may try to work a compromise with Polis.
  9. The issues. Will Stapleton go all in on “illegal aliens” and “sanctuary cities”? Are those winning issues in Colorado? Wouldn’t we have a Gov. Tancredo if they were? And who wins the cross-party fracking attacks? It’s an interesting question. Will Polis attack TABOR? There’s a strong feeling that TABOR reform is increasingly possible, which doesn’t mean that attacking TABOR doesn’t hold risks. Polis has a long list of things he wants to accomplish — all-day kindergarten, universal healthcare, for two big examples — many of which cost money. Republicans will be sure to mention the costs loud and often. I have the feeling that while Dems will go after Stapleton for all the so-called missed PERA meetings, it didn’t seem to work for Republicans. Republicans will try to say that Polis is buying the election, but I don’t know how that plays for the Citizens United team. Democrats will talk Trump, Trump, Trump, with a side dish of Tancredo. Here’s the best guess, and this is pretty much unanimous: The race will be mean and ugly and expensive and by November, we’ll be very glad to see it go.
  10. The what-if factor. If Ed Perlmutter had stayed in the race, would he have beaten Polis? My guess: yes. This is not a unanimous opinion among the panelists. If George Brauchler stayed in the race, would he have beaten Stapleton? My guess: yes. This is also not a unanimous opinion. But Salazar says given that Brauchler will be running against former CU law dean Paul Weiser for attorney general (that race has yet to be declared, but it would take a miracle for Rep. Joe Salazar to pass Weiser at this point), Brauchler might have wished he were running against Polis instead. 
  11. The unaffiliateds: They came out in bigger numbers than expected. Penry said the big winner in the campaign was democracy in Colorado. As he put it: “Colorado got game.” Since neither race was close, the unaffiliateds didn’t mean much in this primary. But it is a sign for the future. As panelist Watson said, all the work done in the primary will carry over to the general. The unaffiliateds who did vote were more likely to vote Democratic, which seems to be a bad sign for Republicans.
  12. Hick. He has finally conceded that he is going to spend the summer figuring out whether to run for president. He wants to obviously, or maybe just vice-president. But here’s a prediction: He will spend the summer finding out that he’s having trouble raising money and having trouble identifying a base and will come back to Colorado for a 2020 showdown with Gardner, which, in local terms, would be so big it would rival the Trump re-election campaign.
Illustration of Mike Littwin by Mike Keefe


My friend worked at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Md. My friend is dead. Shot by a madman with a gun that, in America, madmen can routinely legally possess.

My friend worked with me for a decade at the Baltimore Sun, where I wrote a column before I came to Denver. He was a newspaper character. His big brother is a famous newspaper character. He is the kind of person who populates newsrooms, not the kind  you’re told is an enemy of the people. My friend Rob Hiaasen was, as far as I know, no one’s enemy.

I’ve worked in newsrooms all my adult life, and even before I was an adult. Newsrooms are a place for profane, off-kilter, wonderfully cynical, big-hearted, some not so big-hearted, newspaper-as-family people who, for the most part, and despite constant threats to the business, could never think of doing anything else.

A mutual friend, Michael Ollove, who worked with us at the Sun, wrote these words:  “Rob Hiaasen was a sweet soul in a hard-nosed, cynical business. There wasn’t a better colleague or friend, generous, empathetic, supportive with a whimsical sense of humor that delighted readers and pals alike. There are no  words to make this loss comprehensible.”

Rob Hiaasen was 59. The obits say he was a mentor to young journalists. I believe that. I knew him best when he was young and eager and already a very funny journalist with a decidedly quirky take on life, like the column he wrote not so long ago on a hard winter’s day about the joys of, yes, snow snorkeling. He left the Sun at some point — I don’t know the details, but I’ll assume his departure was another painful step in the long, long decline of daily newspapers — but got a job in nearby Annapolis as an editor and a Sunday mostly-humor columnist.

Threats from crazy people are part of the business, and have been so long before the Trump era. I’ve endured several stalkers during my career. When I worked at the Rocky, one man would call and leave threatening messages nearly every night at about 2 a.m. I used to laugh at these and pass them around. And then one day he told me in a message he knew my address and he knew the names of my family. I called the cops, the cops found the stalker and warned him to cut it out and he stopped. Life went on.

But not Rob Hiaasen’s life. A man was angry about something that was written about him in the paper. Not by Rob. The columnist who wrote it no longer works there. The shooter sued the paper for defamation. He lost the suit because he couldn’t cite even one word in the offending column that wasn’t true.

Six years later, he got a gun and he killed five people in the newsroom, blasting terror from a shotgun, reporters huddled under desks, one tweeting that there was no worse feeling than hiding from a shooter and hearing him reload. The shooter had barricaded the back door, leaving no place to escape. And now, for reporters already under siege, many wonder if there will be other such shootings. When it was all over in Annapolis,Capital Gazette reporters tweeted that there were would be a paper the next day. And there was.

Five dead. And in this horrible case, one of the people killed was gentle Rob, whose big brother was the gifted novelist and newspaper columnist Carl Hiaasen, in whose footsteps Rob was so proud to follow. There are no footsteps now. Just a very large and enduring footprint. 

And that’s all I can manage to say, except that the epidemic that is the mass-murder crisis in this country has hit home. Of course, it already had. In Columbine. In Aurora.

And I know how wrongly demonized the people I have worked with for nearly 50 years in newsrooms across America have been. I have a close newspaper friend in Denver whose very close friend lost a son at Aurora. And I became friends with some of the families I covered at Columbine. Next April will be the 20th anniversary of that terrible day.

And now? This is now. I mourn for a friend, I mourn for my business. And, as all of us do, I mourn knowing there will inevitably be more tears, after more shootings, after more deaths, in what has become an endlessly tragic news cycle that America has steadfastly refused to address.



Lead photo of Rob Hiaasen via Maria Hiaasen’s Facebook page. Inset photo via Rob Hiaasen’s Facebook. Ending photo via Rob Hiaasen’s Facebook. 

You can mark this date on your calendar. A calamity is now upon us.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, the last conservative on a 5-4 Supreme Court who could reasonably be persuaded to sometimes vote with the court’s liberals, has retired. You can read in many places what this could mean — for gay rights, for civil rights, for affirmative action, for the imposition of the death penalty, in easing the way for Trump to do his Trump-like worst, but let’s get down to the main issue.

If Donald Trump makes a Trump-like pick — which he almost certainly will — that could mean the end of Roe v. Wade. CNN and New Yorker court analyst Jeffrey Toobin tweeted that in 18 months, 20 states will have banned abortion. It would take five votes, and another Trump pick could make it five, depending, the experts say, on whether Chief Justice John Roberts would cast the precedent-shattering fifth vote.

It’s shocking, I know. Democrats have been warning for years that if Republicans get to appoint enough Supreme Court justices, this is where we’d be. Many Republicans, meanwhile, have been worried for quite a different reason — the concern that many of their suburban women voters would desert the party if Roe were killed.

For Democrats, who are powerless to stop any Trump appointment by themselves, despair isn’t too strong a word. A solid 5-4 Trump court means a solid 5-4 far-right Trump court, even more hardcore than the court of today which just upheld Trump’s Muslim ban and slammed public unions. Senate Republicans have sold their souls to Trump in order to get these Supreme Court picks.

Which is why Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith, who clerked for Kennedy, said Kennedy’s retirement is the most consequential event in American jurisprudence since at least Bush v. Gore in 2000 and probably since Roe v. Wade in 1973. 

Kennedy was the ultimate swing vote, a conservative Reagan appointee who, for 30 years, was persuadable on a court in which justice’s opinions are increasingly predictable long before a case arrives on the docket. He has been the justice lawyers knew they couldn’t win without.  If you’re into Supreme Court statistics, Kennedy was most often the deciding vote in 5-4 decisions in 20 of his 31 sessions on the court.

He wrote the opinion establishing same-sex marriage, striking down the death penalty for juveniles, upholding abortion rights. He also wrote the Citizens United opinion, voted against Obamacare, voted to reframe the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms and voted with the Colorado anti-gay-marriage baker.

Certainly, he was no liberal. He was also no anti-liberal ideologue. And now he’s gone, and it looks as Roberts, who is far to Kennedy’s right, would be the most moderate conservative.

And so, we’re being reminded again how we got to this place — how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t allow Barack Obama pick Merrick Garland to get a vote. And how, after Trump’s victory, Neil Gorsuch was approved by the Senate only after McConnell put in the place the nuclear option, ending the filibuster for Supreme Court picks.

Gorsuch, who famously said there are no Republican judges and no Democratic judges, has been a Republican dream pick. So, sure blame McConnell’s hardball politics or blame a country that would select Trump as its president.

But as bad as things look, there might be a way out of this predicament. The only exit door would be through Roe v. Wade. Republicans hold what is for practical purposes a 50-49 Senate majority. John McCain is home in Arizona battling brain cancer. That means that one Republican could sink any Trump pick. 

Two Republicans, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, are pro-choice and would be loath to cast the vote that ends Roe. And yet. There are at least two red-state Democrats and maybe more — we’ll start with West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Indiana’s Joe Donnelly — who might well vote for the Trump pick even if Roe is at stake.

Sometime Trump critics — Arizona’s Jeff Flake and Tennessee’s Bob Corker, who are both retiring after this session — could possibly vote along with the Democrats, pushing for a more moderate Kennedy-like successor for Kennedy. Flake was already promising to hold up Trump judicial picks if the president didn’t moderate on tariffs. Problem is, no one really expects Flake, when the moment comes, to stand up to Trump. It’s not what he does.

If there’s any hope to stop the process, it will depend in large part on the public reaction to whomever Trump picks. It will be a fight, but we don’t know what kind of fight. McConnell says he will push the nomination for a vote by the fall, meaning before the midterm elections. Democrats are already calling him a hypocrite, noting that he wouldn’t let Garland’s nomination come to vote because, McConnell claimed, of the upcoming presidential elections.

But that’s just inside baseball. Many Republican senators won’t just be looking at this vote as it affects the Supreme Court.They’ll be looking to the midterms and how this battle could affect the Democrats’ long-shot chance to regain the Senate majority. Certainly most Democrats will be running in opposition to Trump’s eventual pick. For Republicans, losing the Senate would be a disaster, particularly if Democrats, as many expect, win back the House.

In other words, yes, a calamity is upon us. But as devastating as Kennedy’s retirement will be for those who think both sides should get a reasonable hearing, it’s not altogether clear where this calamity will land.

Public domain photo from The White House via Flickr: Creative Commons. With President Donald Trump looking on, Anthony M. Kennedy, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, swears-in Judge Neil M. Gorsuch to be the Supreme Court’s 113th Justice, Monday, April 10, 2017, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C.
Polis Wins

If you’re still astonished by the amount of money — something over $11 million — that Jared Polis spent to win the Democratic primary for governor, you’ve got maybe a month to get over it.

It’s only then that you’ll begin to see the real money in action. Because the governor’s primary turned out exactly the way everyone thought it would — with Polis set to be locked in a deep-pocketed showdown versus the oil and gas industry.

Yes, if you want to be technical, Walker Stapleton did win the Republican primary Tuesday night. But let’s be honest. Stapleton, who ran a poor campaign against a weak field, will hardly matter in November.

What will matter is the money spent. Stapleton has already tried to call the race David vs. Goliath — with him playing the David role. But David, if I remember my Bible, didn’t have a shekel of oil money in his pocket.

Big oil is scared to death of Polis, he of the anti-fracking initiatives. As political analyst Eric Sondermann tweeted, he wouldn’t be surprised if oil and gas spent $20 million on this campaign. And if we’ve learned anything at all from watching Polis all these years, it’s that no one is going to outspend him.

The money will be obscene. Let’s guess $50 million and not be surprised when it goes higher. And as expensive as the race is going to be, it will probably be just as ugly.

Oil and gas will paint Polis as a tax-raising, Boulder liberal who wants to end the fracking industry, costing Colorado thousands of jobs and who know how many millions of dollars. 

Meanwhile, Stapleton will be going Trump-like against Polis with all campaign talk full of “illegal aliens” and “sanctuary cities.” Here’s a guess — and I bet oil and gas already knows this — that talk doesn’t win in Colorado except in Republican primaries.

Polis will paint Stapleton as an oil-and-gas lackey who is nothing more than a poor man’s excuse for Donald Trump. You’ll recall Stapleton’s awkward embrace of Trump during the primary campaign. Along the way, Stapleton also embraced the genuine poor-man’s Trump — Tom Tancredo himself. He got Tancredo to introduce him at the state assembly after Stapleton’s botched effort to petition onto the ballot. And Tancredo was there at the victory party saying he wanted to contribute however he could. 

You could spot the problem immediately when reporters talked to Stapleton after his brief victory speech. When asked if he would want Trump to come to Colorado to campaign for him, Stapleton did exactly what you’d guess. He dodged the question.

We’ve heard for a while that Polis is the candidate Republicans most wanted to face. It makes sense. He is from Boulder, he is easy to caricature and while he fits easily enough into the mainstream of modern progressive thought, he is anti-establishment to his core. And, if you’ve noticed, Democrats have been winning nearly every top-of-the-ballot race in Colorado since 2004 (Cory Gardner being the lone exception) by running very establishment-minded candidates.

And Republicans have had an even worse time running for governor. Bill Owens, who introduced Stapleton and mentioned it was time for another Republican for the job, is the only Republican to have been voted into the office in the last 40 years.

Republicans most feared Mike Johnston, who plays the moderate role well. But Johnston, who came on late, and Cary Kennedy, who came on early, both wound up in the end being no match for Polis and his money. But to give Polis credit, he already made a subtle move toward the center in his victory speech. He talked about his “bold vision” when he always used to say “bold progressive vision.” Has he moved to the center by a third?

But Republicans, in hoping for Polis, may have not factored in the money. Personally, I have problems with rich people buying elections. I know Polis’ argument — that by spending his own money, he’s not beholden to corporate America or anyone else. I have my own counter-argument — that having one candidate who can rely solely on his own money, while his otherwise honest opponents cannot, is not so good for democracy.

Still, I don’t see how the party of Citizens United will have any basis to make this particular argument. And even if they could conceivably find a way, they’d still have to explain how the oil and gas industry and the Koch brothers were righteous partners in this battle.

Vic Mitchell, the self-funded runner-up in the Republican primary, tried to run against Stapleton as a full-blooded member (or cousin anyway) of the Bush dynasty. But I don’t expect Democrats to go there. The president they’ll be citing is the one in the White House now. Trump lost in Colorado in 2016 by five points — one of his biggest losses in the swing-states derby. And I’m pretty sure Trump’s popularity here has not improved.

Morning Consult does state-by-state polling of Trump’s approval ratings. In the last month, Trump was so far underwater that offshore drillers couldn’t find him. He was at 40 percent favorable in Colorado and  56 percent unfavorable.

So, we can guess two things. One, Trump will never show up here. And, two, Stapleton will continue to be asked about it until he finally admits he doesn’t want Trump campaigning for him (we can start the pool on that date now).  

Meanwhile, we can count on a lull over the next month when the campaign ads slow down and the phone calls stop. You’d better enjoy it, because if you think it has been bad so far, just wait. It will be much, much worse.

Photo by Evan Semón

It’s election night, so, of course, it’s time to start our primary-night election pool. I mean, you need something to keep you awake until the end of the night. Email me your pick at mlittwin@coloradoindependent.com by 7 p.m. when the polls close.  I haven’t decided the winner’s prize, but I guarantee it will be memorable (which, by the way, may be somewhat shy of fabulous. It might be as memorable as Littwin on your voice mail.).

And be sure, of course, to tune in for the all the results on our election page at ColoradoIndependent.com. (And if you need a refresher before you vote, it’s all there on our governor’s page.)

So, we’ll start with the governor’s race. Obviously Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton are the chalk picks on the Dem and Republican sides respectively. Among Democrats, you shouldn’t be too shocked, though, if either Cary Kennedy or Michael Johnston (suddenly the hot underdog pick) wins. And on the Republican side, Vic Mitchell could have a shot. As we know, polling has been scarce, and with the unaffiliated voters eligible, we have no idea whether the pollsters have gotten their modeling right. I think it could be an exciting night, or it could mean that gazillions of dollars have been wasted.

Here’s the gov balloting for Democrats:





For Republicans:





Now we move on to the hot attorney general primary in the Democratic Party. I like this one, pitting progressive state Rep. Joe Salazar against former CU law dean, Phil Weiser. The Dem establishment really, really, really doesn’t want Salazar to win, which you can take either way. In any case, this is the progressive-establishment battle everyone is talking about and the left-middle battle that some were expecting, but never happened, in the governor’s race. No one would be surprised if this is close. And should a Democrat win, it’s also the governmental position best poised to take on the Trump administration. Republicans have already settled on George Brauchler.

The treasurer’s race has a similar split, although it has been made in a far lower key, but with more money spent than you might have expected to replace Walker Stapleton. I have exactly no inside info on either of these races, so you’re on your own. I do have the names, though:

On the Republican side, it’s state Rep. Polly Lawrence, state Rep. Justin Everett and realtor Brian Watson.

For Democrats, it’s Rep. Dave Young from the establishment side and financial guy Bernard Douthit representing the progressives.

We’ll finish with the congressional primary races.

In CD1, we have seen a surprisingly interesting race in which 11-term incumbent Diana DeGette has been challenged from the left by Saira Rao — a former Wall Street banker who supported Hillary Clinton but is now running on the establishment Democrats’ failure to successfully address social justice issues and on the party’s over-reliance on corporate money. Rao has run a good race, very much in tune with the times in a liberal district, but it’s very difficult to beat an incumbent who has done nothing in particular to offend the voters who have been electing her for years.

In CD2, running to replace Polis in the Democratic primary are former CU regent Joe Neguse and Mark Williams, who was a fighter pilot in the Air Force and a chairman of the Boulder Democrats. Neguse is thought to be the favorite. What we do know is that the Democrat will almost certainly win in November.

In the 5th district — in which the Republican will win in November — incumbent Doug Lamborn, who always faces a tough primary and always manages to win, has got a big field (which should work in his favor) running against him this time. This was the year Lamborn almost didn’t make the ballot and had to be a saved by a judge. We’ll see if he has the same luck against his long list of opponents: state Sen. Owen Hill, Darryl Glenn (you remember him), former Green Mountain Falls Mayor Tyler Stephens and former judge Bill Rhea. I’ll be particularly interested to see how Glenn does.

CD6 is the big race on the Democratic side. It’s another progressive vs. establishment race. Jason Crow was the handpicked candidate (see: House minority whip Steny Hoyer) to face Mike Coffman, who has beaten back the best the Democrats have to offer (Morgan Carroll, Andrew Romanoff) in a district that is wide open. Crow is the former Army Ranger combat veteran who is thought to be a counter to Coffman’s long years as a Marine and Army veteran. Crow is running against progressive Levi Tillemann, who is also the grandson of Nancy Dick, who was Colorado’s first female lieutenant governor. The district is rated a tossup for November.

Democrats like to think that they have a chance to upset Scott Tipton in CD3. The national political gurus don’t see it that way. But there are Dems running for the opportunity: Arn Menconi, who ran as the Green Party candidate in the 2016 U.S. Senate race, former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush and Karl Hanlon, a rancher/water attorney.

There are more races, of course, but this is plenty for our purposes. So, send in your vote, and who knows what riches await the winner. Hint: It won’t be rich by Jared Polis or Vic Mitchell standards.

Graphics by bectezy.com