Colorado Week in Review: 9/22/17

Your deliberately oversimplified glance at what happened in Colorado this week.

Colorado Election System Was Targeted by Russian Hackers

President Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 10 at the White House.

Ernest Luning has some breaking news this afternoon on Russian election hacking attempts in Colorado:

Russian hackers tried without success to get into Colorado’s computerized voter system before last year’s election, officials with the Colorado secretary of state’s office said Friday.

The Department of Homeland Security informed Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ office in a phone call before noon that Colorado was among states targeted last summer by hackers earlier identified as Russians — contrary to what DHS officials told Williams earlier this year — but stressed that the hackers didn’t get into the state’s electronic voter data system, Gary Zimmerman, chief of staff for the secretary of state’s office, told Colorado Politics.

“They confirmed we are one of the 21 states where intelligence sources — they didn’t tell us what those were — advised they detected scanning activity here in Colorado,” Zimmerman said. “The analogy would be if somebody went to your home and jiggled the windows and the door handles to see if any were unlocked. That’s what scanning is. At the same time, DHS also confirmed there is absolutely no evidence they penetrated our systems or network.”

The DHS official who informed Zimmerman of the attempted breach only found out Colorado was among the targeted states “an hour or so before we did,” Zimmerman said. “Apparently this information was known in September or October of lat year,” he added, although he couldn’t say whether anyone within DHS had that knowledge.

We’ll update this story as necessary; here’s more from NPR on how and why DHS today informed the 21 states about hacking concerns.

Get More Smarter on Friday (September 22)

Welcome to the first day of Autumn. 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.



► Arizona Sen. John McCain appears to have torpedoed the last best hope for Republicans hoping to repeal Obamacare before a budget reconciliation deadline of Sept. 30. From the Huffington Post:

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Friday that he doesn’t support the latest Obamacare repeal bill, all but ensuring Republicans’ last-ditch effort to gut the Affordable Care Act is dead in the water.

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” McCain said in a statement.

“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” he said. “Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it. Without a full [Congressional Budget Office] score, which won’t be available by the end of the month, we won’t have reliable answers to any of those questions.”

As multiple news outlets are reporting, McCain’s statement of opposition to the Graham-Lindsey healthcare bill all but ensures the legislation’s demise. The major flaws in Graham-Cassidy were too much for McCain to ignore. While this is another blow to Senate Republican leadership, it also provides a convenient exit strategy for Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), who had absurdly claimed that he was “undecided” on the legislation when he is more worried about angering major Republican donors.

Coloradans such as Sarah Metsch can also exhale — for the moment, anyway.


► Colorado Republican opposition to a “special session” called by Gov. John Hickenlooper is getting more and more ridiculous by the day.


► The Washington Post reports on escalating rhetoric between President Trump and North Korea. If you’re looking for a silver lining here, at least Americans are learning a new word.


► The Trump administration is making changes to its “Don’t Call it a Muslim Travel Ban. From the New York Times:

President Trump’s ban on travelers from six majority-Muslim countries is set to be replaced as soon as this weekend with more targeted restrictions on visits to the United States that would vary by country, officials familiar with the plans said on Friday.

The new restrictions, aimed at preventing security threats from entering the United States, could go into effect on Sunday after the conclusion of a 90-day policy review undertaken as part of the administration’s original travel ban. Though the restrictions would differ for each country, people living in the targeted nations could be prevented from traveling to the United States or could face increased scrutiny as they seek to obtain a visa.

As part of the review, administration officials said that the Department of Homeland Security initially identified more than six nations that were failing to comply with security standards that could block terrorists from entering the United States. Officials notified the governments in those nations that travel to the United States could be severely restricted if they did not increase those standards. It was not clear which countries would be targeted under the new restrictions or exactly how many would be affected.


Get even more smarter after the jump…


BREAKING: McCain Kills “Graham-Cassidy”

Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham.

New York Times, so much for that:

“I cannot in good conscience vote for the Graham-Cassidy proposal,” Mr. McCain said. “I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried. Nor could I support it without knowing how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

It’s very difficult to see how the latest attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act known as the Graham-Cassidy bill can pass without the support of Sen. John McCain–and that’s before other swing Senators like Sen. Lisa Murkowski follow his lead, which is likely now. McCain’s move also puts highly vulnerable Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada in a very bad position going into next year’s elections after Heller backed this latest effort.

And with that, once again, it’s all over but the shouting. We’ve certainly learned our lesson about calling “Trumpcare” really most sincerely dead through more mulligan attempts than we would have predicted. But for a host of procedural and political reasons, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is now, well, deader than ever before.

Keep your zombie-hunting gear handy though.

Special Session: This Is Completely Ridiculous, Kevin Grantham

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman reports on one of the most bizarre and outrageous spectacles we’ve seen from the one-seat Republican Colorado Senate Majority–and that is no small statement:

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Cañon City) has a message for the governor about the special session scheduled to start in less than two weeks: call it off.

“In this case, the toothpaste can be put back in the tube,” Grantham said in an interview Thursday for Balance of Power. “He should rescind the order.”

…Asked if he need to take Grantham’s suggestion seriously and consider calling off the special session, Hickenlooper said he wants to talk it over with the parties involved.

To briefly recap the situation, a key bipartisan fiscal stabilization bill (SB17-267) was passed this year and signed into law to protect rural hospitals from possible closure. Unknown to either its Democratic or Republican sponsors, the bill contained a drafting error that has had the effect of eliminating marijuana sales tax revenues collected by special tax districts around the state–two of the better examples being Denver RTD and the Denver metro’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SFCD). RTD alone stands to lose millions of dollars in uncollected revenue between now and when the legislature reconvenes in January, which is why Gov. John Hickenlooper called the special session to deal with the problem now.

And that’s where this all gets, well, rather infuriating:

“We’ll certainly talk to the special districts of course,” Hickenlooper said, adding that he wants to discuss Grantham’s concerns in depth. “I don’t understand where this is coming from, but obviously there must be some reason, so I’ll obviously want to sit down and talk to him.” [Pols emphasis]

…As for the special session, no one meant to cut off special districts from marijuana taxes—a fact Grantham freely admits.

However, he and his fellow Republicans do argue the special session is unnecessary and that the fix can wait until the next regular session of the legislature in January.

As we first reported late last week just as Republican objections to the special session were starting to make the news, GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (a prime sponsor of SB267) has already filed draft legislation for the 2018 session that would fix the error created by leaving special tax districts out of SB267. There’s no disputing the nature of the problem, and Sonnenberg’s bill shows how simple the fix would be. A special session of the legislature costs approximately $25,000 a day, so accounting for the minimum time required for legislation to pass the General Assembly means a total cost of under $100,000.

To save special districts from millions in lost revenue. How is this not a no-brainer, you ask?

…But it does inconvenience the 100 members of Colorado’s part-time legislature. Members are back at their day jobs or traveling in the off period.

“Certainly it bugs me,” Grantham said. “It bugs a lot of folks that are in the legislature, Democrat and Republicans, that we had to do this right here and right now.”

That’s right, folks! Senate President Kevin Grantham is annoyed about doing his job. The only thing that Grantham can hope for here is bigger political news driving this story down the page, because it is hugely embarrassing for Grantham and the one-seat Senate majority. Under the hood, political insiders understand that Republicans were divided on the passage of SB267, with outside agitators like the Independence Institute basically calling the deal a crime against the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights up against rural lawmakers like Sen. Sonnenberg who couldn’t stand by while hospitals closed. Sonnenberg himself has been mentioned as a possible congressional candidate in the event Rep. Ken Buck doesn’t run again, and aggrieving the TABOR purists in the Colorado GOP isn’t an auspicious way to enter a Republican primary.

But none of that really matters. What matters is that lawmakers on both sides made a simple mistake–and rather than take the equally simple action needed to rectify that mistake before it costs millions, Senate Republicans are refusing to do their jobs. Their ulterior motives are irrelevant, because there’s just no excuse for this based on their stated rationale–or lack thereof. It is absolutely, irredeemably contemptible.

And for the tenuous Republican majority in the Colorado Senate, it could be political suicide.

Protect Medicaid: Sarah’s Story

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Sarah Metsch is not afraid. She’s fired up.

As the U.S. Senate considers yet another bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid, Americans who depend on Medicaid in-home services to get through their daily lives are speaking out. Earlier this year, a group of brave protesters with disabilities occupied the offices of Sen. Cory Gardner, dramatically calling the nation’s attention to the threat faced by Americans who rely on Medicaid services.

The latest “Graham-Cassidy” legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act would reduce federal support for Medicaid overall, phase out Medicaid expansion funding completely by 2027, and cost the state of Colorado alone $6 billion in reduced Medicaid funds. The bill would leave states with the burden of providing for Medicaid populations with reduced funding relative to current law. Colorado, a state with heavy constitutional restrictions on revenue growth and spending, would be hard-pressed to make up the difference.

Take a moment to listen to and share Sarah’s story. Then Call Sen. Cory Gardner at (202)224-5941, and tell him to REJECT Graham-Cassidy–and any other health plan that cuts Medicaid.

Friday Open Thread

“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

–John F. Kennedy

George Brauchler Tweets Himself Into Oblivion

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler is growing increasingly desperate as his campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination sputters along.

Brauchler is running a campaign built on half-truths and doublespeak, neither of which appear to be doing much to help his fundraising efforts. Brauchler had an awful first fundraising quarter in Q2, and from what we hear, things aren’t going much better as the Sept. 30 quarterly deadline approaches. Brauchler sent out a fundraising email earlier this week that caught the attention of journalist David Sirota, which led to this exchange on Wednesday evening:

George Brauchler

Universal healthcare must be stopped!


Brauchler likes to fashion himself as a beacon of conservatism, and that’s fine. But why would you say thisWe’d bet a hefty sum that there are not a lot of Colorado voters who wish that college was more expensive and healthcare less accessible.

Sirota later Tweeted this about Brauchler’s reply — which was subsequently re-tweeted by The Hulk himself (actor Mark Ruffalo, who has 3.5 million followers on Twitter).

This is not the first time that Brauchler has gotten into trouble with Twitter, nor is it the first time that Brauchler had his ass handed to him by a journalist on Twitter. This is the same guy who was admonished by a judge for Tweeting during the trial of James Holmes, the convicted killer from the Aurora Theater Shootings.

Perhaps Brauchler meant to say that he would oppose Obamacare and disagrees with a specific proposal for “free” college. Or, maybe this Tweet is perfectly accurate in describing Brauchler’s viewpoints. Either way, it’s a stupid mistake.

And they’re really starting to pile up for Brauchler.

Poll: Nobody Really Cares About Your Damn Tax Cuts

Politico reports, since at some point we’ll be done talking about health care and moving on to the rest of the Republican-controlled federal government’s alleged priorities, like ever-pressing question of “tax reform.”

Wait, that’s not a pressing question for you? Well, it turns out you’re not alone:

Republicans plan on making tax reform one of their top policy priorities this fall, but it’s far from clear that’s what voters actually want.

One in five adults said that reducing taxes for businesses and individuals should be a major focus for Congress this fall, a POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll found, with a higher percentage calling for action on items like lowering prescription drug costs, increasing the minimum wage and infrastructure spending.

Even among GOP voters, support for tax reform was rather muted, with far more Republicans interested in continuing the battle over repealing Obamacare. A third of Republicans called for taxes to be a key part of the congressional to-do list, roughly the same as wanted more defense spending and a focus on reducing federal debt. About half of Republicans want Congress to maintain its efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act…

The POLITICO-Harvard poll also suggests that GOP efforts to sell tax reform have so far fallen flat, with about nine in 10 Americans saying they’ve heard little or nothing about Republican efforts to craft a tax plan. President Donald Trump and key members of his administration have already visited several states in trying to spur public interest in his potential tax plan, though some of those visits occurred after the poll was conducted.

It’s clear from this poll that Americans have a broad variety of concerns, and it’s difficult to establish majority support for anything being top priority. With that said, it’s interesting to note how low on the list tax cuts fall in relation to other priorities even among Republicans–only 34% of Republicans polled calling the issue their “an extremely important priority.”

Of course once the issue of tax reform comes to the fore these numbers are likely to move, and solidify more closely along partisan lines. But even that will only show the degree to which voters can be agitated into prioritizing tax cuts over the range of other important issues on Congress’ plate, not how much the issue really matters to them. What is evident from these numbers is that American voters don’t consider themselves particularly “overtaxed” until you tell them they are.

And for as good as Republicans feel politically being on the side of ever-greater tax cuts, there’s a danger in these numbers of finding themselves out of touch with what voters really want.

Does Gardner still think Cassidy-Graham “could result in a 42% increase” in CO health funding?

You have to wonder if U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) is going to produce new information about the latest GOP bill to kill Obamacare–something that might make it, at least, look more appealing to Colorado, which stands to lose billions of dollars in federal health care dollars and to see a spike in the number of people uninsured.

Asked about about the bill, called Graham-Cassidy, last month, on Aug. 2, by KDMT 1690-AM’s Jimmy Sengenberger, on his “Business for Breakfast” show, Gardner hinted that he might have some information that no one else has.

Gardner: “But I certainly am interested in it. And I think it’s the right direction… So, it is something that I am very intrigued by. I’d have to understand how the formula works a little bit. And they’re being very quiet about how the formula would work. But it does sound like it could result in a 42 percent increase in funding for the state of Colorado. And so, I just need to learn more about it.”

Gardner did not say a 41 percent increase, nor did he say a 43 percent increase. It was precisely 42 percent, making it appear as if someone whispered a specific numeral in his ear, and the numeral emerged later from his mouth on the radio.

But where or where did Gardner get this figure?

Adam Fox, a spokesman for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, speculated that the 42-percent figure might have come from U.S. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), the sponsor of the legislation. He was circulating numbers weeks ago showing that some states would benefit from his bill, but his work was discredited, and he’s not produced new numbers, Fox said.

“Multiple studies have slightly different numbers, but they show drastic cuts, especially in states like Colorado that expanded Medicaid. Cassidy-Graham penalizes states like Colorado that covered more people,” said Fox.

“All outside analyses show that Cassidy-Graham will hurt Colorado and devastate our state budget,” Fox said.

Listen to Gardner here:

GOP Healthcare Bill WILL NOT Protect Preexisting Conditions

Senate Republicans have until September 30 to advance legislation to repeal Obamacare under the “budget reconciliation” rules, which allows the GOP to pass a bill with 51 votes in the Senate rather than the normally-required 60 votes. The current method for repealing Obamacare is through legislation called “Graham-Cassidy,” in reference to its sponsors, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA). It’s not clear whether or not the bill has enough support to make it through a floor vote sometime next week — nor is it clear that Republicans even really understand what the bill does other than allow them to tell right-wing constituents that they repealed Obamacare.

What we do know about Graham-Cassidy is that it would eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions, one of the most popular features of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma)

As the Washington Post explains, Vice President Mike Pence made it clear in an interview on “Fox and Friends” that Graham-Cassidy will not guarantee protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions:

What the bill says it would do on paper for people with preexisting conditions and what it would do in practice for people with preexisting conditions are very different. [Pols emphasis]

Technically, this bill says health insurers can’t refuse sick people insurance like they could pre-Obamacare. If states ask the federal government to let insurers stop charging sick and healthy people the same amount, they have to explain how they’ll provide affordable coverage to sick people. But the bill doesn’t require states to follow through on it. It says if states request a waiver, the government has to grant it.

That would allow insurers to jack up the prices on sick people, something health-care analysts say insurers almost certainly will do given the chance, since covering sick people isn’t cheap…

…Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), author of the bill, focused on the regulation that, technically, insurers must provide people with preexisting conditions coverage. “More people will have coverage and we protect those with preexisting conditions,” he said Wednesday on CNN.

But if you ask that question a slightly different way to the bill’s supporters — can you guarantee people with preexisting conditions will get coverage — you get a totally different answer.

Senate Republicans continue to trot out the line that Graham-Cassidy will be great because it will give states more flexibility in deciding how to deal with healthcare coverage. That’s not entirely untrue, but it is an overly-broad message that skips right on on past reality.

As explains, under Graham-Cassidy, the individual market would become more expensive for the sick:

Graham-Cassidy would allow states to waive out of two key Obamacare policies that protect sick Americans: a ban on underwriting and requirement to cover all essential health benefits.

The Affordable Care Act outlaws a practice called underwriting, where insurance plans tether their premiums to the expected health costs of a specific patient. Health plans would charge low premiums to healthy, young individuals but higher ones to those who are sicker or older.

This all brings us back to Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who said previously — in no uncertain terms — that pre-existing conditions must be protected in any new healthcare legislation. Graham-Cassidy WILL NOT protect pre-existing conditions.

Sen. Gardner has a choice here. He can keep his word and refuse to support Graham-Cassidy, or…not.

Elections Matter, Sex Ed Edition

Bad sex ed.

As the Denver Post’s John Ingold reports:

A Denver-based program that helps school districts with sex education and works to prevent teen pregnancy is closing, after the Trump administration ended its main grant early.

Colorado Youth Matter received 75 percent of its funding from the federal grant, about $750,000 per year. The grant had been scheduled to run through 2020, but the Trump administration ended the federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants as of next summer for all of the 84 organizations around the country that received them. The administration cited concerns about whether the programs were effective, a rationale critics have questioned. [Pols emphasis]

Regardless, without its main source of money, Colorado Youth Matter would have struggled to make its budget work, said Andrea Miller, the group’s executive director. Another private foundation also ended its grant with Colorado Youth Matter after the Trump administration announcement, worried that the organization would be too diminished without the federal money, Miller said.

“It would be difficult to regain some of that ground,” she said.

As Ingold reports, Colorado has been a leader for some years now on reducing the rate of teen pregnancy–most notably for a program to distribute long-acting reversible contraception to young women, but also due to educational initiatives like the federally-funded program described above.

Reports from other states about the loss of these grant funds trace the decision to Valerie Huber, described as “an outspoken advocate of abstinence-only education,” was appointed by the Trump administration to head the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health. Colorado Youth Matter’s sex ed program taught both abstinence and common sense about sexuality and safety.

And Donald Trump can’t have that! The reasons why, while keeping this a family show, run the gamut.

Thursday Open Thread

“Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.”

–Lord Acton

At Least She’s Not Your Legislator (All Lives Splatter Edition)

State Rep. Lynne DiSanto (R-SD).

USA TODAY connects us to the story of GOP Rep. Lynne DiSanto of South Dakota, who employed a most unfortunate visual to spell out her apparently visceral dislike for left-wing protesters:

A Republican state lawmaker in South Dakota faced calls to apologize Tuesday after she shared an image on Facebook depicting protesters being hit by a vehicle under the caption, “All Lives Splatter.”

Rep. Lynne DiSanto shared the image Sept. 7, less than one month after a driver plowed through counter protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 others.

The Box Elder Republican deleted the post Tuesday after it was circulated by members of progressive groups, who called on the lawmaker to apologize.

“To put up a meme that pretty much encourages violence and possibly murder, that’s inappropriate. She’s a community leader and an elected official,” said Lori Miller, a spokeswoman for the group Indivisible Rapid City. “Not only is she inciting violence, she is targeting a certain race of people.”

Here’s what she posted:

After the attack in Charlottesville, Virginia in August involving a vehicle driven at high speed into a crowd of counterprotesters against a white supremacist rally…for God’s sake, do we have to explain why this is a problem for a sitting Republican lawmaker to post something like this? Really? A short while later came this sort-of-but-not-really apology:

“I am sorry if people took offense to it and perceived my message in any way insinuating support or condoning people being hit by cars,” DiSanto said. “I perceived it differently. I perceived it as encouraging people to stay out of the street.”

Apparently we do have to spell it out, gentle readers. Apparently we do.