New Firestone Findings, Second Explosion Deepen Gaspatch Crisis

Two new and concerning stories going into Memorial Day weekend promise to keep the controversy over oil and gas drilling in proximity to homes and other surface development in Colorado red-hot–the first being a frightening update from the Firestone neighborhood where a home exploded last month after unrefined gas from a leaking flowline seeped into the structure:

Two high concentration pockets of flammable methane gas have been found underneath a street in Firestone’s Oak Meadows neighborhood, where one house already exploded, according to the state’s vapor test findings.

Mitigation is underway, with PVC venting and extraction systems set up in both locations, Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission spokesman Todd Hartman confirmed.

“Monitoring point data indicate that methane in soil is not migrating to occupied residences,” a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission presentation says…

Both sites are located along a flow line attaching the oil and gas well linked to the house explosion and its production collection battery to the west.

The presence of additional seeps of methane in the immediate area of last month’s home explosion could be seen as confirmation of residents’ worst fears–mitigated by the fact that authorities are already on the scene dealing with the previous disaster, which could be the only reason these new seeps were detected. Testing continues to determine if other gas seeps are present in the area, and to what extent they could threaten the neighborhood built over the wells.

The second story? Another fatal explosion yesterday, this one just a few miles north of Firestone at an Anadarko-owned storage facility, as the Colorado Independent reports:

One worker was killed and three injured near Mead when an oil tank battery exploded [Thursday] afternoon.

The facility, which stores extracted oil and gas awaiting transport, is owned and operated by Anadarko Petroleum, which also owns the improperly abandoned gas flowline that investigators say caused the deadly house explosion in Firestone last month…

Mountain View Fire Battalion Chief Roger Rademacher said three workers working near the tank battery were injured and transported by ambulance. One has serious injuries and the two others are moderately injured. Sheriff’s officials confirmed early this evening that a fourth worker was killed in the blast.

By 6 p.m., police cars had blocked all access roads to the facility. A family, accompanied by a man in a hardhat, could be seen weeping near a road next to the site of the blast. They asked to be left alone and not to be photographed.

The unfortunate fact is that accidents involving oil and gas workers are much more common than disasters like last month’s home explosion in Firestone. Each year there are fatalities from accidents like the one at Anadarko’s storage facility in Mead yesterday. But coming so quickly after the Firestone home explosion and relatively close by, yesterday’s fatal explosion only adds to a freshly growing sense of unease among the public.

Against the backdrop of these events you have an energy industry working overtime to contain the public relations damage, and to mitigate possible regulatory responses that could impact profitability of energy producers. Energy industry PR responses to these events closely parallel lobbying by the gun industry following mass shootings: affected sympathy for victims, followed by expressions of futility in preventing such accidents.

To which we can only say, much like in 2013 when horrific mass shootings finally motivated Colorado lawmakers to take action on gun safety, there comes a point when the body count overcomes the lack of political will.

And that day may be fast approaching.

Senate GOP’s Civil Rights Commission Idiocy Gets Bypassed

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

The Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby updates the strange story of Heidi Hess, the chair of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission who was denied reappointment to the commission by the Colorado Senate GOP’s one-seat majority under circumstances that seem suspiciously like bias against Hess as an LGBT representative on the panel–that, or a comedy of errors that makes the Senate Republicans look incompetent to say the least:

Gov. John Hickenlooper chose to keep her on the commission, a move his office said is legal but one Senate Republicans question.

Republicans, who have a one-vote majority in the Senate, were surprised to learn from The Daily Sentinel that she was still on the seven-member commission. Regardless, Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said such rejections of governor appointees happen so rarely that he was having his staff investigate the matter.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, however, agreed that while the governor has the legal right to keep her on the panel until he finds a replacement, even until her new term expires in 2021, he said Hickenlooper is violating the spirit of the Colorado Constitution, which requires consent from the Senate on such appointments.

“It is ridiculous, but apparently that is within his purview and within his right to do so, to go around the Senate that way,” said the Sterling Republican, who led the effort to reject Hess’ confirmation. “It absolutely is against the spirit of the Constitution, but I think it’s completely inappropriate for the governor to wave his middle finger at the Senate.”

As Ashby reports again in this story and we’ve recounted in detail in this space, here’s what happened: Hess was erroneously listed on a website for the Colorado Civil Rights Commission as a “business representative,” despite the fact that in every other description we can find of her role she is listed as an at-large community representative. On the basis of this misidentification, Republicans led by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg turned on Hess during what should have been her routine reappointment, declaring that she supported the “sue your boss” bill–a reference to workplace discrimination legislation passed in 2013.

Although it was quickly determined afterward that the listing of Hess as a “business representative” on the commission was erroneous, we haven’t seen any acknowledgement of that error from Republicans who voted against her reappointment. Given Hess’ role as chair of the commission as well as representative of both the LGBT community and the Western Slope, voting to remove her from the commission is not something that her friends and supporters–not to mention the governor’s office–took lightly.

What happens next? Well, Hickenlooper says in Ashby’s story that it could take a very long time to find a “replacement” for Heidi Hess–maybe even all the way though the end of her would-be second term in 2021. Colorado Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman has washed her hands of the situation, saying only that there might be a legislative remedy to consider in an upcoming session if GOP Senators don’t like Hickenlooper’s response to their misguided vote.

In the end, we rather doubt Republicans are going to push the matter any further under Hickenlooper’s administration. Whatever their motives were for this action–which we’ve heard credibly attributed to revenge over a vetoed bill, Tony Gagliardi’s outsize influence on the caucus, and yes, straight-up bigotry against LGBT people given a rare moment to lash out–it has definitely backfired. There’s nothing to be gained by perpetuating a conflict caused entirely by their own incompetence or enmity (or both).

Time to walk away.

Get More Smarter on Monday (May 22)

Happy Victoria Day! It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► President Trump is in the midst of his first major overseas trip since he took office (or as Trump calls it, “my big foreign trip“). Trump is in Israel today after spending the weekend in Saudi Arabia, where he put his hands on a glowing orb and generally enjoyed not talking about scandals involving Russia.

But then, Trump being Trump, he made sure to bring up “that Russia thing” in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As Chris Cillizza explains for CNN:

“Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel’,'” Trump told reporters in Jerusalem. “Never mentioned it during that conversation. They were all saying I did. So you had another story wrong. Never mentioned the word ‘Israel’.”

The story Trump was reacting to was this one, which ran a week ago in the Washington Post. And the thing about that story is that, well, the word “Israel” is never mentioned. Not one time…

Trump is the denying an allegation that, literally, no news organization made. He’s also implicitly confirming that, yes, he did talk to the Russians about classified information. [Pols emphasis] While the president has total freedom to de-classify material, the White House has urged media organizations — including CNN — not to report on the specific information Trump passed along due to how highly sensitive it is.

In a separate story, Cillizza also notes that Trump is regularly contradicting himself on foreign policy. The Washington Post notes the same phenomenon.

 

► Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is expected to invoke his fifth amendment right to not incriminate himself in response to queries from the Senate Intelligence Committee regarding his interactions with Russian officials. From the Associated Press:

Attorneys for Michael Flynn say that a daily “escalating public frenzy against him” and the Justice Department’s appointment of a special counsel have created a legally dangerous environment for him to cooperate with a Senate investigation.

That’s according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press that was written on behalf of the former national security adviser under President Donald Trump. The letter, sent Monday by Flynn’s legal team to the Senate Intelligence committee, lays out the case for Flynn to invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and his decision not to produce documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

The letter says that the current context of the Senate’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election threatens that “any testimony he provides could be used against him.”

 

► The Supreme Court has ruled that Republicans in North Carolina illegally disenfranchised African-American voters in the state’s last round of redistricting. From the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature unlawfully relied on race when drawing two of the state’s congressional districts.

The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly predominated in redistricting decisions by Republican-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Some involved congressional districts, others legislative districts…

…In the split decision, Justice Clarence Thomas joined the liberal justices in saying race improperly predominated the drawing of the district. New Justice Neil M. Gorsuch was not on the court when the case was heard, and took no part in the decision.

 

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“Blowhard Brauchler” Out Over His Skis Once Again

George Brauchler.

On Friday, Gov. John Hickenlooper pardoned Rene Lima-Marin, a Cuban immigrant who had endured a terrible legal ordeal after being released mistakenly, re-incarcerated years later, ordered released again, then picked up by federal immigration agents for deportation as a legal immigrant who committed a felony. Hickenlooper’s pardon removes the underlying basis for Lima-Marin’s deportation, but it remains an open question whether the Trump administration will honor the pardon and halt his removal from the country.

In response to Hickenlooper’s pardon, GOP gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler launched into a Twitter tirade attacking the decision, later issuing a press statement asserting that Hickenlooper’s pardon was not legal–despite the fact that Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly had asked for it.

That’s where the Denver Post’s Danika Worthington picks up the story:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper responded Saturday to criticism from District Attorney George Brauchler of his pardoning of Rene Lima-Marin, rejecting claims that he had acted improperly and broken the law in his haste to act.

The governor’s office said it had given proper notice to the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s office, even receiving a lengthy letter in reply. Additionally, the office said it was within the governor’s authority to skip the standard seven-year waiting period typically required for pardons.

But Brauchler responded later in the day to counter Hickenlooper’s claims — another war of words between two frequent rivals, especially now that the district attorney is campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor in 2018.

Brauchler said his office received a clemency application for Lima-Marin, not one for a pardon, as required by law… [Pols emphasis]

The Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning goes down the process rabbit hole with Brauchler…and comes up empty:

Brauchler acknowledged Lima-Marin had filed an application for a commutation of his sentence, and his office had provided input on that to the governor’s office earlier this week.

“But a commutation of sentence is very different from a pardon,” he said. “We never had the victims consulted about a pardon. We never had input with the governor about a pardon. I was caught completely unaware the governor was considering a pardon…”

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican who sponsored legislation last month calling on Hickenlooper to grant clemency to Lima-Marin — the Legislature approved the resolution unanimously — dismissed Brauchler’s complaints. [Pols emphasis]

“Reuniting Rene with his family is the right thing to do for him, his wife and his children,” Hill told The Statesman Friday night.

And the truly absurd part? Brauchler says he supports the hoped-for outcome of Hickenlooper’s pardon. Post:

Brauchler was careful to clarify that he believes Lima-Marin should be released and he opposes the move to deport him to Cuba — even as he objected to the pardon decision. [Pols emphasis]

Again, the reason Hickenlooper had to move quickly is Lima-Marin is by all accounts on a fast track for deportation. Without the pardon, his deportation is more or less automatic as long as the host nation of Cuba is willing and able to receive him–and they say they are. Recent changes to immigration policy toward Cuba and the general warming of relations between the two nations ironically makes it more likely that people in Lima-Marin’s situation, having come to America as children and knowing no other home, will be kicked out.

As for Brauchler, this is just shallow grandstanding. The governor’s constitutional authority to grant pardons supersedes Brauchler’s objections, and Brauchler concedes the moral high ground to Hickenlooper by agreeing that Lima-Marin should be freed. Brauchler clearly wants this to be a political fight over crime and immigration, not process questions–but he’s hiding behind the latter in an attempt to have it both ways.

And except for a few haters who need no encouraging to vilify immigrants, this isn’t going to help Brauchler become governor.

Hick Declines Oil and Gas Lawsuit Appeal; Coffman Goes Rogue

Attorney General Cynthia Coffman.

Important news today from the Denver Post’s Bruce Finley, Gov. John Hickenlooper has come out against an appeal of an important recent court court decision obliging the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to stop issuing drilling permits pending a review to ensure their activity doesn’t impact he environment, public health, or climate change:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has ordered state authorities not to fight a court ruling requiring protection of public safety, health and the environment by the state as a precondition before allowing oil and gas drilling…

Hickenlooper late Wednesday sent an e-mail message to Deputy Attorney General Laura Chartrand instructing state attorneys not to proceed with an appeal of the ruling, which reinterprets the mission of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, according to a letter sent Thursday to Hickenlooper by Coffman.

The COGCC on May 1 decided to fight the ruling. Hickenlooper contends that decision, based on a unanimous vote, was “only advisory” and that the COGCC lacks statutory authority to challenge a court’s interpretation of its mission.

But in a twist we might have seen coming, Colorado’s Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman isn’t going to cooperate with Gov. Hickenlooper’s request:

[Attorney General Cynthia] Coffman now is arguing that Hickenlooper is legally incorrect in trying to stop the COGCC, whose members he appointed…

“I understand that sentiment runs high surrounding oil and gas development in our state, even more so in the wake of the tragic house explosion that claimed two lives,” she wrote. “This appeal is not intended to be a statement on complex energy policy issues. Rather it is a legal challenge to a court decision that stands to have a profound effect on regulation and administrative decision-making by government entities.”

It’s a significant development for Hickenlooper to override a unanimous decision by the COGCC and recommend this case not be appealed. And since energy-friendly Gov. Hickenlooper is no “fracktivist” seeking to halt oil and gas extraction in Colorado, we have to assume that his recommendation to not appeal the decision means there would be a path for the industry to comply with the ruling and whatever remedy it prescribes.

Unless, of course, the industry has an even more energy-friendly Republican AG they can turn to! In the wake of the recent home explosion in Firestone blamed on neglected oil and gas well pipelines, Coffman’s stubbornness could be as politically damaging to her as it is beneficial to Hickenlooper to not be a part of it.

Everybody Hates Matt Arnold…While He Collects GOP Heads

Matt Arnold.

The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reports on yet another win for Republican political gadfly Matt Arnold–this time against a so-called “social welfare nonprofit” fronted by former Colorado Republican Party chairman Ryan Call:

A state judge in Colorado has fined a nonprofit $23,000 for coordinating with local campaigns and not registering as a political committee.

The fine represents the largest campaign finance violation in the state, according to Matt Arnold, whose company Campaign Integrity Watchdog filed the complaint and prosecuted the case before an administrative law judge.

At issue were a half dozen flyers a group created and distributed during a May 2016 board election for the Woodmen Hills Metropolitan District in the small community about 15 miles northeast of downtown Colorado Springs. The five-member board is a quasi-municipal political subdivision that handles things like water and utilities for residents.

According to the ruling from Administrative Law Judge Matthew Norwood, during last year’s election season a nonprofit 501(c)4 “social welfare organization” called Citizens for Reasonable Rational and Responsible Governance (CRRRG), paid for the flyers that negatively targeted candidates for the board. “CRRRG also coordinated in producing the flyers with candidates,” the judge wrote.

You’ll recall a few weeks ago when Arnold won a similar case against a much higher-profile 501(c)(4) organization, Bob Beauprez’s Colorado Pioneer Action. In that case, Arnold was able to convince an administrative law judge that Pioneer Action existed more or less solely to attack disfavored Republican candidates. Organizations like Pioneer Action are allowed to play in elections, but they cannot engage in what’s defined as “express advocacy”–and their “primary purpose” can’t be electoral politics.

In both of these cases, Arnold tripped up fellow Republicans who had pretty wantonly disregarded the rules governing these types of organizations. There are many 501(c)(4) groups on the ground in Colorado, but the smart ones can point to a range of activities that demonstrate their primary purpose is not to influence elections. Whatever motivations Arnold may have for going after these groups are irrelevant, although with Pioneer Action it’s clear that the group’s red-on-red attacks on incumbent Republican lawmakers are what motivated Arnold to take action. The point is that he’s right to go after them, and policing this type of organization with their inherent ability to conceal sources of funding is a good idea on general principles.

But by far the best evidence of how furious the Republican Party elite in Colorado is with Arnold can be found in the retaliatory actions of the state’s biggest conservative media mouthpiece, the Phil Anschutz-owned Colorado Springs Gazette. Both the spouse of the Gazette’s editorial page editor and a quasi-news writer for the paper failed to disclose tens of thousands of dollars they had been paid by Beauprez’s group, even as they repeatedly attacked Arnold’s credibility in the pages of the Gazette and elsewhere. Those attacks stopped cold on the day Arnold won his case against Colorado Pioneer Action, but there has been no sign of any further action against these Gazette employees for what could amount to the biggest breakdown of journalism ethics in Colorado in many years.

Bottom line: Arnold has his issues, but he’s proven he is a force to be reckoned with. He’s winning big cases, and he should not be ignored. Any time you see the media and the whole political establishment crapping with such ferocity on a guy like Arnold, take a closer look at what he’s doing.

You’ll often find there’s more going on than meets the eye.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 11)

Humpty Dumpty done fell off the wall. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

President Trump and White House officials are falling all over themselves trying to explain away Tuesday’s surprise firing of FBI Director Jim Comey. As Greg Sargent writes for the Washington Post:

For all the talk about the unusual nature of President Trump’s decision to fire James Comey, it actually fits comfortably into a well-established pattern that has defined this presidency from its very first day. Trump makes an emotional, impulsive assertion or decision — and then his underlings are forced into a wild scramble to produce a rationale or justification for it.

In this pattern, the decision or assertion often originated in the same place — deep in the recesses of Trump’s entangled megalomania and sneaking dread of the illegitimacy of his presidency. And the Comey firing, it turns out, may not be an exception to this.

This conclusion is bolstered by some great new reporting this morning on the Trumpian thought processes (if you can call them that) leading to the firing of the FBI director. The reporting reduces the White House’s original spin on the firing — that Trump decided to fire Comey after Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, presented a case rooted in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails — to a pile of smoking rubble. [Pols emphasis]

Meanwhile, media accounts are increasingly portraying President Trump as isolated and trapped in his own “cable TV news bubble,” which is probably not good.

Here’s another indication of how bad this thing has become: Press Secretary Sean Spicer is literally hiding in the bushes outside of the White House.

 

► Arizona Sen. John McCain said after the Comey firing that he expected “more shoes to drop,” and the footwear indeed appears to be falling. As Politico and other news outlets are reporting, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a surprise appearance on Capitol Hill today:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was seen arriving at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s secure office spaces Thursday afternoon. Sources told POLITICO Rosenstein had requested to meet with the Intelligence Committee leaders, Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), who both hastily left an open, televised committee hearing for what Burr said was a meeting “we can’t push off.”

Rosenstein’s request for the meeting came after President Donald Trump unceremoniously fired FBI Director James Comey, citing a three-page letter from Rosenstein questioning the director’s fitness to serve. It also came amid reports that Rosenstein, a well-regarded federal prosecutor, was furious over the White House’s characterization of his apparent recommendation and even threatened to quit.

That sound you hear is the collective tightening of sphincters at the White House. It’s hard to see how this entire situation doesn’t get worse for Trump and defenders like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma). At the very least, Comey’s firing has sucked all of the oxygen out of the room for Republicans trying to talk about anything else.

 

► The 2017 Colorado legislative session is complete. Er, finished. You know what we mean. As John Frank and Brian Eason report for the Denver Post:

The bipartisan agreements included measures to preserve the hospital provider fee program, avert potentially catastrophic cuts to rural hospitals, find new money for highway construction, increase per-pupil education spending, and make it harder to sue for construction defects.

For each bill, the final result is less than what lawmakers hoped to accomplish but represented significant progress after failing to reach accords for years.

 

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Get More Smarter on Monday (May 8)

May the Eighth be With You…yeah, that doesn’t work at all. It’s time to Get More Smarter! If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday about her warnings to the Trump administration that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn could be “blackmailed by the Russians.” From NBC News:

“We were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done,” Yates told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

Yates declined to go into specifics, which she said were classified, but she essentially confirmed news media accounts about what led up to the firing of Flynn in February. Flynn misled officials, NBC News and others have reported, by saying he hadn’t discussed Obama administration sanctions on Russia, when in fact he had.

Yates said she conveyed the information to White House counsel Don McGahn on Feb. 26, two days after Flynn was interviewed by the FBI on Feb. 24. McGahn asked Yates how Flynn did in the interview, she testified, “and I declined to give him an answer to that.”

NBC News also reported today that former President Barack Obama personally warned President Trump about hiring Flynn to be his National Security Adviser. Concerns about Flynn’s connections to Russia prompted him to resign from the Trump administration in February after just a few weeks on the job.

Chris Cillizza of CNN tries to understand why Trump ignored the advice of so many others who warned against hiring Flynn:

The question now is why. Why, after being told by the outgoing president that Flynn was bad news — in the sense that his name was all over the ongoing Justice Department investigation into Russia’s attempts to hack the 2016 election — did Trump ignore that advice within a week?  And why has Trump continued to  publicly defend Flynn in the face of repeated warnings — from then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates among others — that his ties to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak represented a major problem?

 

► The Colorado legislature will wrap things up for the 2017 session on Wednesday, also called “Sine Die” by the cool kids. We’re still not sure how to correctly pronounce “Sine Die,” but this Merriam-Webster audio doesn’t sound right at all.

Anyhoo…John Frank and Brian Eason take a look back (and a peek forward) on the 2017 session for the Denver Post.

 

► Colorado lawmakers are forging ahead with legislation to require the oil and gas industry to publicly disclose “flowline information” in the wake of a deadly home explosion in Firestone last month that killed two people and badly injured two others. Republican Rep. Lori Saine, who represents Firestone residents in the legislature, is actively opposing these efforts as what she calls a “knee-jerk reaction.”

 

 

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Trump Administration Blows Sunshine Up Hick’s Kazoo

Hick got played?

As the Denver Post’s Jason Blevins reports: last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper came away from a meeting with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke “reassured” that Colorado would not part of a “review” of national monuments ordered by President Donald Trump. Via Facebook:

Governor Mead, Governor Sandoval, and I, met with Secretary Zinke yesterday in Washington, DC. As a result of our long conversation, I have been reassured that it is unlikely any of Colorado’s monuments will be reviewed. Our meeting as a whole was very positive, and the Secretary committed to working with governors as equal partners.

Public lands protection is a key driver of our outdoor recreation industry, which generates over $34 billion in consumer spending and over 350,000 Colorado jobs. Tourism supports 1 in 9 jobs in our state and our beautiful public lands are a major reason that Colorado has become one of the top vacation destinations in the US. More than that, though, our public lands are a fundamental part of our identity as Coloradans and as Americans. Based on my conversation with Secretary Zinke, I am confident that the federal Administration will work with the State of Colorado and our federal delegation to ensure our national monuments remain protected.

But Blevins reported this weekend–so much for that:

Despite assurances from Gov. John Hickenlooper that Canyons of the Ancients would not be part of President Donald Trump’s nationwide analysis of presidential national monument designations made since 1996, the southwestern Colorado monument is one of 27 under review…

On Friday the Interior Department issued a list of 27 national monuments that would reviewed, including Canyons of the Ancients. The department announced that for the first time the agency would be soliciting public comment on the national monument designations. Public comment is not required when presidents create monuments under the Antiquities Act.

“Today’s action, initiating a formal public comment process finally gives a voice to local communities and states when it comes to Antiquities Act monument designations,” Zinke said in the announcement. “There is no pre-determined outcome on any monument. I look forward to hearing from and engaging with local communities and stakeholders as this process continues.”

We certainly can’t blame Gov. Hickenlooper for relaying in good faith what appears to be false information from the Department of the Interior. The Trump administration has earned a reputation in just a few months in office for contradictory public pronouncements on important issues, officials who aren’t in the loop talking as though they are, and sometimes just plain deception where it suited their purposes.

Which one do you think this is? And what’s the next promise to Hick we should expect to be broken?

Sessions Backing Off Marijuana Crackdown?

Molon labe.

That seems to be what the Denver Post’s Alicia Wallace writing at The Cannabist thinks based on comments from Gov. John Hickenlooper, who met this week with Attorney General Jeff “Reefer Madness” Sessions:

Following a face-to-face meeting with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said he doesn’t think a federal crackdown is imminent for his state or others that have legalized cannabis…

Sessions was receptive to keeping the lines of communication open, Hickenlooper said, adding that a policy position appears to be in the works.

“He’s obviously reviewing the Cole (Memo),” Hickenlooper said. “(They’re working on) a version of that that makes sense for this administration. We’ll have to see how far they go.”

Hickenlooper described Sessions as “direct,” “straight-forward” and “honest.” And while the attorney general “couldn’t have been more emphatic” about legalization being a bad idea, he also understood that Colorado’s marijuana regulations came to be because of the will of the voters.

As such, Hickenlooper said, he doesn’t believe Sessions will come down on legal marijuana states from an enforcement standpoint.

Sessions’ rhetoric against legalized marijuana since his appointment as Attorney General, not to mention for many years before as a U.S. Senator, left Colorado’s billion-dollar marijuana industry very nervous about the future. It’s interesting that Hickenlooper came away from this meeting with a different impression of how Sessions intends to proceed, but we think it will take more words–or at least more time–before the industry is comfortable. And even if Sessions allows the status quo to continue, many issues like banking for marijuana businesses remain unresolved.

Until we definitively get the word that DEA stormtroopers will not be raiding dispensaries and cuffing stoners, we would advise continued caution. It’s possible that President Donald Trump has decided to restrain Sessions on this issue, or will decide to do that–but until you see it in writing, don’t count on it.

BREAKING: Beauprez Group Guilty of Violating Campaign Law

THURSDAY UPDATE: Prescient from the Denver Post’s Megan Schrader earlier this month–and keep in mind that Schrader is a former Colorado Springs Gazette employee:

Caught in the middle — and asked to testify — are two former employees of [Beauprez’s] nonprofit: Dede Laugesen, the wife of Colorado Springs Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen, and newly hired Gazette political blogger Dan Njegomir.

In an interesting display of questionable ethics, both the Gazette editorial board and Njegomir wrote negative pieces about Arnold in the months leading up to the administrative law court case last week. Neither disclosed their connection to an entity Arnold was suing. At least not until a separate media outlet disclosed that the nonprofit paid Njegomir for his services. And even then, using the word “disclosure” in this context hardly fits. Instead, Njegomir wrote an odd blog post about the fact he had been subpoenaed by Arnold in the case and blamed Arnold of engaging in “plain-old payback.”

Njegomir has the plausible (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek) defense here that he couldn’t have known Arnold had filed suit against someone who had once hired him as an investigative reporter — after all Arnold is involved in that many lawsuits. But still, it looks really bad.

—–

We wrote last summer about an unusual red-on-red fight pitting Colorado Republican kingpin Bob Beauprez against a slate of Republican candidates and incumbent lawmakers. The intent appears to have been to “purge” the Colorado General Assembly of Republicans Beauprez considered too off message, and was partially successful–the group spent against losing Republican incumbents like Janak Joshi and Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, but was less successful against other incumbents like Rep. Lori Saine.

One thing Beauprez’s Pioneer Action campaign against fellow Republicans did do smashingly well was infuriate allies of the Republicans targeted. In due course, longtime Republican gadfly Matt Arnold filed suit against Pioneer Action alleging that its activities were incompatible with the organization’s tax status.

And here’s where it gets interesting. Another Republican political operative, former Colorado Senate staffer Dan Njegomir now employed by Phil Anschutz’s Colorado Springs Gazette, wrote a series of articles at the Gazette’s political blog slamming Matt Arnold. And as the rival Colorado Springs Independent reported last month, Njegomir had thousands of reasons:

Dan Njegomir has earned his bread and butter via his political firm, NewsSpeak Media LLC.

This outfit has worked for various political causes, including opposing oil and gas regulations in 2014…NewsSpeak was paid $20,000 for that. More recently, NewsSpeak was paid more than $20,000 by Colorado Pioneer Action, a politically active organization run by former gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, according to Matt Arnold, who runs Campaign Integrity Watchdog website. [Pols emphasis]

The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reported earlier this month about the testy exchange between Njegomir and Arnold in court:

Njegomir said he produced content about the lawmakers that Colorado Pioneer Action posted online. He stressed that he was hired to look into their conduct as sitting public officials — not as candidates for office — and hold them accountable. He said he was hired to “cover them as journalists would.” For instance, he looked into a charity Klingenschmitt ran, he said, that “we thought over time seemed to raise ethical questions.”

Njegomir said he also worked with an entity called Colorado Government Watch, a group run by a Colorado Springs-area political consultant named Dede Laugesen. Asked if he was paid by that group, Njegomir said he did not know.

…Arnold repeatedly asked Njegomir if Klingenschmitt and Joshi were “candidates.” “Knock it off with the candidate stuff,” Njegomir responded, his voice rising, “because part of my stock and trade [was] not getting involved in politics with that project, and you’re not going to box me into it.”

Political gadfly Matt Arnold.

So we’re clear, folks, the odds that Dan Njegomir was not aware that Janak Joshi and Gordon Klingenschmitt were candidates at the time they were targeted by Pioneer Action are somewhere in the neighborhood of 0%. In fact, it’s patently ridiculous. If Njegomir, a longtime Colorado Republican political operative, really did not know that Joshi and Klingenschmitt were running again, he should never work in Colorado politics again–let alone write for a major newspaper’s political blog.

And that’s at least part of the reason why, as Arnold triumphantly reports today on his blog:

Putting an exclamation point on months of pre-trial proceedings and days of hearing evidence and witness testimony, the case against “Both-Ways Bob” Beauprez’ political action committee (by another name) ‘Colorado Pioneer Action’ (CPA) resulted in a Final Agency Decision (FAD) released today finding the organization guilty of multiple violations of state law.

CIW’s Complaint alleging Colorado Pioneer Action’s failure to register with the Secretary of State as a “political committee” violates state law requiring federal entities (CPA is registered as a 501c4 “social welfare organization” enjoying tax-exempt status) acting to “support or oppose” candidates for elective office to register and disclose campaign activity in Colorado was found to be meritorious, and the group has been ordered to register as a “political committee”, file reports disclosing the organization’s finances (including the identity of CPA contributors) and pay penalties in the amount of $17,735 (a 90% reduction from the amount allowed by statute, which would have totaled $177,350).

The Administrative Law Judge found the explanations of Bob Beauprez that CPA’s activities were not intended to support or oppose candidates “not persuasive” – noting that Beauprez “admitted that CPA and its contributors found certain candidates acceptable and others not” – in finding that CPA’s “major purpose” was indisputably focused on influencing elections. [Pols emphasis]

In other words, Pioneer Action was found guilty of exactly what Arnold accused them of, and exactly what Njegomir denied on the witness stand. It’s an enormous credibility hit to Dan Njegomir and Bob Beauprez, and a major vindication for Colorado’s premiere political gadfly.

And this ruling might not be the end of the story. An ugly ulterior motivate for Njegomir’s columns attacking Arnold has been exposed here. That Njegomir was paid $20,000 by Beauprez’s group should have prompted Njegomir to hand off “coverage” of the Arnold case to somebody else. The eye-popping conflict of interest in Njegomir being paid by Pioneer Action, followed by relentless attacks on Arnold in Njegomir’s official capacity at the Gazette, raises fundamental questions about that paper’s journalistic ethics.

Arnold got more than he bargained for when he turned over this particular rock. Stay tuned for more fallout.

Republican Field for Governor Grows Vaguely Larger

Doug Robinson, the whitest man in Colorado.

Republicans have a new candidate for Governor in 2018: This guy!

“This guy” is Doug Robinson, a nephew of former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Aside from the fact that one of Robinson’s parents is a sibling of Romney — and that Robinson was a co-chair of Romney’s finance committee in Colorado — we can’t tell you much about the guy. John Frank of the Denver Post has a short story on Robinson’s candidacy that doesn’t say much of anything — the initial version of Frank’s story said that Robinson’s campaign declined to respond to repeated requests for comment, which is a strange way to roll out a statewide campaign — but does include some of the text from Robinson’s announcement letter sent to Colorado Republicans:

The Denver investment banker declared his candidacy for the 2018 race in a letter sent to Republican activists and launched online advertisements directed to a new campaign website [Pols emphasis]. His campaign launch is scheduled for Friday…

…His letter touts himself as a “committed Republican my entire life.” And he highlights his business background, noting that he founded his own company and then worked in technology investment banking for KPMG. “My background is in business — not politics,” he said.

A businessman, not a politician. How inventive.

If you are wondering why Robinson made such a cryptic announcement today, touting a website that says absolutely nothing, the bolded line in the Denver Post story above may provide a clue. Robinson’s campaign appears to have launched online advertisements before bothering to register as an official campaign committee, which is not exactly legal; someone may have panicked and realized that Robinson needed to make his campaign official before he started spending money on said campaign.

The only other thing we remember about Robinson is from a Mitt Romney appearance in Colorado during the 2012 election. Halfway through the clip below, Robinson says something off-camera and then gets a shout-out from Romney:

So, anyway, the GOP race for governor is getting crowded. Maybe it’s time to gas up the 2016 Republican Senate clown car for another tour through Colorado.

Fractivists Roll “Frackenlooper” At Denver March For Science

Again via the Colorado Independent’s Kelsey Ray, we’re obliged to give the treatment Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper received at yesterday’s March for Science in Denver a mention–navigate to 13:00 in the video above to watch what happened:

As soon as the Governor took to the stage in Civic Center to address a crowd of thousands, a group of at least a dozen protesters marched up the steps with anti-fracking signs and banners, chanting, “Frackenlooper, don’t frack our future.”

Event security attempted to remove the protesters from the stage but most remained, partially blocking the crowd’s view with large banners.

Hickenlooper, who was introduced to both applause and boos as having “endeavored to make Colorado the most pro-business state with the highest environmental and ethical standards,” upheld the message of the March for Science.

“Science doesn’t need to be political, and politics doesn’t necessarily need to drown out other voices,” he said, through the chants. “I think the agenda that we’re facing in Washington now is trying to prevent science from getting the facts in the first place, and they’re looking at an unprecedented rollback of laws to protect our air and water.” He spoke about the importance of funding climate research and upholding the Paris Climate Accord.

Let’s be perfectly frank: Gov. Hickenlooper’s support for fossil fuel development in Colorado, especially natural gas as a so-called “bridge fuel” to renewable sources and as a means of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, is very likely the most divisive issue amongst Democrats in our state today. Hickenlooper’s attempts to make peace between the energy industry and the coalition of environmentalists and local communities threatened by drilling have not succeeded and sometimes backfired–and this will likely go down as the greatest failure of his administration.

With that said, there is a huge difference between Hickenlooper’s nuanced position on energy development, which fully acknowledges the reality of climate change and sees renewables as the long-term solution, and President Donald Trump’s utter disregard for climate science–and contempt for anything other than science in pursuit of profit. This is much like the criticism Sen. Michael Bennet and gubernatorial candidate Mike Johnston come in for on education from the left, deserved even in the context of their own opposition to radical education policies espoused by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Bottom line: there’s room for disagreement among overall allies, but it shouldn’t even be in the same ballpark as the greater common enemy on any of these issues. You might have fundamental disagreements with Gov. Hickenlooper on energy policy, but you can’t deny that as governor, he’s taken plenty of actions in support of remediating human-caused climate change too. He’s not the environmental left’s ideal champion, but he’s no Rick Perry either.

With all of this in mind, we”ll turn it over to readers: did Hickenlooper deserve to get drowned out yesterday?

Hick’s Most ‘Merican Bill Signing Ever

Via the Denver Post’s John Frank, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 17-1179 today–a bipartisan bill to grant immunity for persons who forcibly enter a locked vehicle to save a child or a pet from dying in the heat.

At the signing ceremony today, a quintessential display of what matters most in American politics:

Babies and golden retrievers! Frank’s right, any politician would kill for this photo-op.

Victor Mitchell Seeds Gubernatorial Campaign with $3 Million

Victor Mitchell (totally not Dracula).

As Ernest Luning reports for the Colorado Statesman, Republican gubernatorial candidate Victor Mitchell has indeed written his campaign a $3 million personal check — as Mitchell has promised he would do:

Douglas County Republican Victor Mitchell, an entrepreneur and former state lawmaker, plans to report that his gubernatorial campaign banked just over $3 million in the first three months of the year, nearly all of it in the form of a loan from the candidate, The Colorado Statesman has learned.

And Mitchell says he’s prepared to pour plenty more into his campaign.

Mitchell, the chairman and CEO of Lead Funding LLC, a company that finances real estate development — it’s only the latest in a series of companies the Castle Rock resident has started and run over nearly three decades — said in February when he announced he was running for governor of Colorado that he would write his campaign a check for $3 million, and according to documents his campaign intends to file with the Colorado secretary of state’s office, that’s just what he did.

The bigger news from Luning’s story may be that Mitchell seems prepared to spend plenty more than $3 million — and he’s well on pace to do just that:

In total, Mitchell’s campaign brought in $3,005,278, his campaign finance report shows, including $3,002,700 from the candidate. (He told The Statesman he paid for some initial set-up costs for the campaign’s operation before writing the $3 million check.) That means Mitchell’s campaign raised $2,578 from outside donors, contributions his campaign said came in via the candidate’s website without any effort at fundraising.

After expenditures totaling $200,184, Mitchell’s campaign plans to report $2,805,094 cash on hand at the end of the first quarter. [Pols emphasis]

“It’s going to cost $5 million to win this primary and probably another $5 million to win the general election,” Mitchell told The Statesman on Wednesday. Mitchell added that he’s prepared to loan his campaign whatever it takes, although he also noted that the Republican nominee likely won’t be lacking in sufficient resources from state Republicans and national organizations that will target the seat.

Mitchell has only been an official candidate for Governor since February, but he’s already spent more than $200k? Are his campaign buttons made out of solid gold?

Critics will say that Mitchell wasn’t able to raise any real money in actual contributions, but in a crowded Republican Primary race, this is just semantics. The last time that Colorado had an open race for Governor, in 2010, the three major candidates combined only spent about $5.5 million. Being able to self-finance a campaign gives Mitchell a lot more time to spend doing other things while his opponents (including Arapahoe County D.A. George Brauchler) are locked in a room making money calls all day.