Get More Smarter on Friday (January 19)

The last time there was a federal government shutdown with one party in control of both Chambers of Congress and the White House, Jimmy Carter was President. 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…

It’s looking increasingly likely that the federal government will shut down when money runs out at midnight tonight. The Senate does not appear to have enough votes to approve a Continuing Resolution (CR) passed by the House on Thursday evening. Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump, are desperately pushing a narrative blaming Democrats for a potential shutdown, but Americans aren’t buying it. As the Washington Post reports:

By a 20-point margin, more Americans blame President Trump and Republicans rather than Democrats for a potential government shutdown, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A 48 percent plurality says Trump and congressional Republicans are mainly responsible for the situation resulting from disagreements over immigration laws and border security, while 28 percent fault Democrats.

As for that House CR passed on Thursday, it would fund the government for a whole four weeks. Or as Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) said after the vote, it would give “the American people the certainty they need and deserve.” For four weeks.

More than 90,000 Coloradans will lose health coverage if Congress does not re-authorize funding for CHIP as part of a spending bill.

 

► Colorado Senators Michael Bennet (D-Denver) and Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) met with a group of reporters on Thursday to explain that they were still working on trying to construct a comprehensive immigration reform proposal. President Trump said last week that he would support a broad immigration plan if it landed on his desk, though he has since backed off from that statement. Bennet says that he will not vote for a budget resolution that does not include support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Elsewhere, federal employees in Colorado are crossing their fingers that a shutdown will be averted at the last minute. As Politico reports, the looming government shutdown is making morale even worse in the White House.

 

► According to the results of a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, President Trump now owns the record as the most unpopular President after one year in office. From NBC News:

Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Trump’s job, including a majority of respondents — 51 percent — who now say they strongly disapprove, which is a record high for Trump in the survey. That’s compared with 26 percent of Americans who strongly approve of the president’s job…

…Trump’s overall approval rating of 39 percent in the NBC/WSJ poll is lower than George W. Bush’s (82 percent), Bill Clinton’s (60 percent) and Barack Obama’s (50 percent) at this same point in their presidencies.

Trump’s job rating in last month’s NBC/WSJ poll was 41 percent.

 

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GOP Special Session Shenanigans: As Bad As You Thought

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

As the Denver Post’s John Frank reports, one of 2017 most played-up controversies in Colorado politics is ending with an anticlimactic whimper:

Three months ago, a special legislative session to fix a mistake Colorado lawmakers made regarding pot taxes disintegrated into partisan finger-pointing and blame.

Now, with a new session underway, the discord is mostly resolved and the legislation to allow special districts to collect a voter-approved tax on recreational marijuana sales — one that lawmakers inadvertently repealed in May — is poised for easy passage.

Last year’s big fiscal deal in the Colorado General Assembly, which saved hospitals in rural areas of the state by exempting funds collected through the Hospital Provider Fee from limits imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, created a toxic division within the Republican Party. Hard-right fiscal groups like the Independence Institute viciously harangued Republicans who voted for the bill, and Americans For Prosperity, linked closely to the Senate GOP’s one-seat majority, made an embarrassing about-face on the legislation over the summer after it was passed.

All of which would have likely remained inside-baseball discussion among political insiders–but then a drafting error in Senate Bill 17-267 was discovered that had the effect of cutting off specific taxes levied on marijuana sales collected by special districts around the state. Rather than wait until 2018 while millions of dollars went uncollected due to a simple and unintentional omission, Gov. John Hickenlooper called a special session for early October to fix the glitch.

And as our readers know, Republicans in the legislature threw what can be best described as a $75,000 hissy fit. Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a major player in SB17-267’s passage, had already filed draft legislation for the 2018 session to fix the error–but after Republicans turned against the special session under withering fire from Caldara, Sonnenberg was forced to disparage his own bill as unnecessary. Sonnenberg even questioned whether the bill was “constitutional,” which makes him look clueless either for introducing it to begin with or for ditching it later. Pick one.

Local liberal blogger Chase Woodruff summed up the GOP’s half-baked uprising against the 2017 special session quite well today:

This week, with lawmakers back at the Capitol for the 2018 regular session, Republicans finally admitted what everyone knew three months ago: that their tantrum over the special session wasn’t about policy or governance at all, just a spiteful political stunt…

Republicans never gave the session a chance. They signaled their intentions to block the funding bill weeks in advance, and instead used it as an opportunity to embarrass Hickenlooper and send fundraising appeals to supporters attacking him for “toying with taxpayer dollars.”

In the end, the cost of the GOP’s cynical stunt will be thankfully small; the service hit hardest by the funding glitch, Denver-area transit agency RTD, will have lost only a few million dollars out of its $478 million operating budget.

The only reason this sorry spectacle wasn’t even more damaging to Colorado Republicans was the steady barrage of headlines from Washington kept it from getting the attention it deserved. Today, with Republicans quietly allowing the fix to pass, all of the faux outrage and obstructive speculation about the bill’s constitutionality is revealed for the empty bluster it was. The tens of thousands of dollars spent on the October 2017 special session were truly wasted, and now we know who wasted them.

Like we said, in the shadow of dysfunctional Washington D.C. politics, this act of legislative bad faith and irresponsibility was easy to miss–and plenty of people did. But what happened here was every bit as spiteful and counterproductive as anything Republicans have done in Washington since Trump took office. Exactly the kind of behavior that breeds contempt for politics, differing only in scale. No matter how you feel about the “size of government,” this just isn’t the way responsible people govern.

Will it register in the polls next November? We don’t know. But morally, it ought to.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (January 16)

Cold enough for ya? 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…

► Fundraising reports for the last quarter of 2017 are due to be filed today with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. Check back here at Colorado Pols for more on the fundraising reports as they become available.

 

► President Trump is blaming Democrats for a potential federal government shutdown, but Republicans would unquestionably own any funding problem. As CNN notes, it has been nearly 40 years since the last government shutdown when one political party controlled both chambers of Congress and the White House. According to a story from NBC News, Democrats are well-prepared to push back on Trump’s blame game:

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said a shutdown would “humiliate” the country, the president and the GOP, which controls Congress.

“The only one that can allow a government shutdown is Donald Trump. And I don’t know why he would humiliate the United States, humiliate himself and humiliate his party by having a government shutdown,” he said.

“Republicans control the House, they control the Senate, and they control the presidency,” Leahy said. “The government stays open if they want it to stay open. It shuts down if they want it to shut down.”

TIME magazine provides a good rundown of several key questions and answers surrounding a potential government shutdown.

Meanwhile, President Trump Tweeted on Sunday that discussions on DACA — the program to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children — is “probably dead.” Immigration policy discussions had been a key part of the debate over a potential government shutdown.

 

► The New York Times reports that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller in the investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.

 

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Pat Neville Not So Keen On Lebsock After All

Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton).

We noted yesterday the announcement by accused serial harasser Rep. Steve Lebsock of Adams County that he would leave the Democratic House caucus, and praise he got from prominent Republicans that seemed to open the door to Lebsock seeking a haven in that party–either formally with a party change, or perhaps to caucus with the Republican Party in the House. Minority Leader Patrick Neville seemed to further crack the door open during his opening day remarks calling for “due process” for those accused of sexual harassment.

But as 9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman reports today, Republicans might not be so eager for Lebsock to join their caucus after all:

As of Thursday morning, Lebsock is still a registered Democrat, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

The move to leave the Democratic caucus is less significant. It’s little more than a symbolic protest on Lebsock’s part because party caucuses have no direct power in Colorado’s legislative process…

Inside the Capitol, the GOP doesn’t seem welcoming of Lebsock.

Republican House Minority Leader Patrick Neville told 9NEWS in a statement that it’s “highly doubtful the caucus would be supportive” if the Democrat tried to join their ranks. [Pols emphasis]

Two things to point out here: in the past few days, Lebsock has engaged in a series of actions apparently in an attempt at self-defense that have in fact severely worsened his position–including a 28-page “manifesto” distributed to the press and fellow legislators in which Lebsock luridly impugns the credibility of several of his accusers. Whatever good Lebsock was hoping to accomplish for his defense from distributing this bizarre and offensive document, which we have chosen not to share with the public, safe to say has not materialized.

In fact, it’s so vile that there are no polite words to describe the reaction it has generally received.

The second point is that Republicans have a very serious problem with sexual harassment under the Gold Dome whether they like it or not–and unlike the two accused Democrats who have been bounced from their committee chairs in the House, Sen. Jake Tate and Sen. Randy Baumgardner have received no discipline whatsoever. They continue to chair committees, and Baumgardner is in fact the prime sponsor of the Senate’s showcase transportation bill.

So yes, as nice as that seat pickup would be, maybe Republicans don’t need another harassment problem. They can start with addressing the ones they have.

Where does that leave Steve Lebsock? Sulking in a corner out of grabbing range, we hope.

Rep. Lori Saine Just Can’t Help Herself

Rep. Lori Saine (R), in custody after being arrested at DIA with a loaded gun.

Last month, Republican state Rep. Lori Saine was arrested at Denver International Airport after bringing a loaded 9mm semiautomatic pistol into an airport security checkpoint concealed in her purse. Saine was arrested after requesting an attorney during police questioning, and was released the next after a court appearance.

After an investigation by the Boulder DA, no charges were filed. Rep. Saine didn’t knowingly bring her pistol into the security checkpoint, and Boulder County DA Stan Garnett gave her the benefit of the doubt. We have no doubt Rep. Saine is relieved to have escaped without charges that could have, among other things, made it more difficult for her to own guns.

But much like ex-Rep. Jared Wright, now the General Manager of the Colorado Springs Gazette’s politics blog who left a loaded handgun in a House hearing room back in 2014, this will not go down in history as a model of responsible gun ownership.

That’s Republican donor and ex-House candidate Rick Enstrom rightly condemning Saine’s negligence after her arrest. But sometime between then and now, whatever contrition Rep. Saine may have had after her arrest for being careless with her gun seems to have evaporated:

Because Rep. Lori Saine is a prime sponsor of legislation introduced this week to repeal Colorado’s 2013 law limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds. This is the same legislation that Saine has sponsored for several years running now, part of the annual futile exercise mounted each year by Colorado Republicans to placate pro-gun voters by making a run at the 2013 gun control bills passed in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting.

Yes, Rep. Saine’s bill was always going to die in the House State Affairs Committee like it has each year. But this time, there may well be a discussion about hypocrite lawmakers who can’t keep their own guns safe. Like ex-Rep. Wright and Rep. Saine. As the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Saine will be sitting right there in testimony while her own irresponsible actions are held up as grounds for killing any bill she offers on the subject of guns.

Because to any outside observer, this is madness.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (January 11)

Your three-day weekend is almost here. 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…

► The Colorado legislature reconvened on Wednesday with much speechifying from leaders in each chamber, and a renewed focus on sexual harassment charges against several lawmakers (including another thoroughly embarrassing day for State Rep. Steve Lebsock). House Democrats outlined their legislative priorities with several early bills, while Senate Republicans are pretending to be focused on transportation issues.

Elsewhere, Governor John Hickenlooper today delivers his final “State of the State” address.

 

► Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) does not want to campaign with President Trump in 2018. Unless he does.

 

► The Trump administration is pushing the idea of work requirements for Medicaid recipients. From the Washington Post:

The Trump administration issued guidance to states early Thursday that will allow them to compel people to work or prepare for jobs in order to receive Medicaid for the first time in the half-century history of this pillar of the nation’s social safety net.

The letter to state Medicaid directors opens the door for states to cut off Medicaid benefits to Americans unless they have a job, are in school, are a caregiver, volunteer or participate in other approved forms of “community engagement” — an idea that some states had broached over the past several years but that the Obama administration had consistently rebuffed.

The new policy comes as 10 states are already lined up, waiting for federal permission to impose work requirements on able-bodied adults in the program. Three other states are contemplating them. Health officials could approve the first waiver — probably for Kentucky — as soon as Friday, according to two people with knowledge of the process.

The idea that Medicaid recipients do not already work is more of a conservative talking point than a reality.

 

► President Trump’s uncontrollable Twitter habit is causing new problems for Congressional Republicans. As NBC News explains:

Congress moved Thursday toward renewing a critical intelligence program despite a morning of confusion prompted by President Donald Trump’s tweets, in which he appeared to support significant changes that his administration had worked for months to rebuff.

The House voted on a bipartisan basis to renew intelligence agencies’ broad authority to monitor terrorist and foreign adversary communications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA; the measure now heads to the Senate for a vote…

…Though the White House on Wednesday strongly urged lawmakers to defeat the reform amendment, Trump appeared to take a different position in a tweet Thursday morning. He called FISA “controversial” and claimed without offering evidence that the program may have been used to “so badly surveil [sic] and abuse” his presidential campaign.

For nearly two hours, lawmakers and members of his own administration scrambled to explain the comment.

Trump later backtracked on his early-morning Tweet. Earlier this week a federal judge cited several of Trump’s Tweets as part of a decision to block the administration’s attempt at phasing out the DACA program.

 

 

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Lebsock Ditches Dems; GOP Welcomes Alleged Serial Harasser

THURSDAY UPDATE: Having waxed a little tongue-in-cheek about all of this yesterday (see below), we’re obliged to clarify that Rep. Steve Lebsock has not formally left the Democratic Party–at least not yet. Departure from the Democratic caucus combined with a warm welcome from Republicans makes that seem likely, but we’ll watch for the formalities to catch up.

State Rep. Steve Lebsock.

Outside the Colorado Capitol today, a protest against sexual harassment after widespread allegations rocked the Colorado General Assembly over the past few months as the Denver Post reports:

A small protest on the opening day of the 2018 legislative session calling for the resignation of a Democratic lawmaker embroiled in allegations of sexual harassment quieted doubts about whether the scandals that rattled the Colorado Capitol late last year will color the 120-day term.

The protesters outside the statehouse demanded the resignation of Rep. Steve Lebsock after fellow Democratic Rep. Faith Winter leveled accusations in November that he discussed sexual acts and grabbed her elbow to get her to leave with him from a 2016 legislative party.

But a funny thing happened today on the way to holding accused serial harasser Rep. Steve Lebsock accountable. Colorado Republicans stepped in to stand up for Lebsock:

On the opening day of the new legislative session Wednesday, Neville said he shares a sense of outrage about stories of bad behavior. However, he said that when accusations are made in the building where state law is made, due process must be followed so the complaints are fairly and objectively handled.

Minority Leader Patrick Neville’s opening statement giving Lebsock the benefit of the doubt despite accusations from nearly a dozen women resulted in what appears to be Lebsock’s departure from the Democratic House caucus. Denver7’s Blair Miller:

“There are 11 of us on record, and this isn’t a Faith versus Steve story,” [Cassie] Tanner said. “This is about acceptable behavior and standing up to bullies, and I’m honored to have these two women standing next to me today.”

Later Wednesday, Lebsock tweeted that he wouldn’t be caucusing with his own party during this year’s session, and said, referring to the moments when Duran addressed the situation in her speech: “Thank you to several Republican House members coming up to me and giving me hugs.” [Pols emphasis]

And in a move we can only call extraordinary, Colorado Republicans appear to be welcoming Lebsock with open arms:

That’s Rick Enstrom, a principal at Enstrom’s Toffee and top-tier local Republican donor cheering on Lebsock’s announcement that he will caucus with the Republican Party in the House this legislative session. Combined with Neville’s extension of a lifeline to Lebsock in his speech today, Lebsock’s immediate future in the Colorado General Assembly appears to be settled. We have no idea if the House Republicans will now give Lebsock committee assignments, or what this will mean for Lebsock’s run for Treasurer as a Democrat. But because House Democrats have a solid majority, Lebsock took his seat this morning on the Republican side of the aisle.

And now it’s a perfect fit! Democrats were outraged when they heard the news…except no, they weren’t.

With everything taking place today in the movement for accountability for sexual harassment throughout society, and an emerging gulf between Democrats aggressively policing their ranks and a Republican Party led by the “P—y Grabber-In-Chief,” we have to say that Lebsock switching to the Republican caucus makes a particularly damning kind of sense. We’d say this will do wonders for attracting the p—y grabbing vote, but let’s face it: Republicans already have that vote sewn up.

So yes, good luck to Rep. Lebsock as he leaves the Democratic House caucus of the Colorado General Assembly in order to stave off his day of reckoning. Democrats won’t be sorry to see him go, and Republicans have so much brand damage in this regard that you could argue it can hardly get any worse. But we believe this development will help voters make their choice between the parties in downballot races this November.

Because both parties have bad actors, but only one is emerging as a haven for them.

House Democrats Introduce First Bills of 2018 Session

That’s a lot of Bills

The Colorado legislature reconvened today for its traditional first-day activities of speechifying and back-patting, but there was some actual policy discussion to go along with the pomp.

House Democrats introduced their legislative priorities for 2018 with five bills, emphasizing “work-life balance, rural education, the opioid epidemic and college education credits,” according to a press release. A total of 72 bills were introduced in the House today, but these are the highlights from the House Democrats:

– HB18-1001/Reps. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Matt Gray, D-Broomfield – Creates an insurance programs that allows more Coloradans to take paid time off to care for a sick parent or loved one without having to quit their jobs, or risk being fired.

– HB18-1002/Reps. Millie Hamner, D-Dillon, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale – Enables students in the final year of a teacher preparation program to receive stipends for teaching in rural school districts with teacher shortages. The first of several bills to address the rural teacher shortage.

– HB18-1003/Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood – Authorizes grants for education, screening, intervention and prevention services to address the opioid epidemic, which is now the leading cause of accidental death among Coloradans 55 years of age and under. Part of a package of opioids bills from a bipartisan interim committee being brought by Reps. Pettersen, Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, and Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.

– HB18-1004/Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver – Extends a tax credit for donations to child care facilities to help increase the availability of quality child care providers in Colorado.

– HB18-1005/Reps. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan – Expands notification to students and their parents about concurrent enrollment opportunities, so high school students can get a jump on their college educations.

 

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (January 9)

We can’t promise that reading this will make you as brilliant as Donald Trump, but it’s a start. 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…

► The Colorado legislature kicks off its 2018 session on Wednesday. The Denver Post previews the upcoming action with a list of the eight biggest issues on tap for the next 120 days. Among them: PERA reform, addressing sexual harassment under the Gold Dome, and long, long, long battles on transportation funding.

Elsewhere, the Pueblo Chieftain examines a likely slate of bills targeting heroin abuse.

 

► The Senate Finance Committee begins confirmation hearings today for Alex Azar, the former pharmaceutical company executive nominated by President Trump to be the new Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Azar is expected to face pointed questions from Senate Democrats about his role in driving up drug prices while at the helm of Eli Lilly.

 

► Republican and Democratic leaders are scheduled to meet with President Trump at the White House today to discuss DACA reforms as another funding deadline to keep the federal government running looms on the horizon. From CNN:

Republican and Democrats involved in negotiations over the must-pass January spending deal say that DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — has become the key to unlocking any funding agreement and some are frustrated with how negotiations are unfolding. Republicans charge that Democrats have all but halted talks on spending caps until there is a resolution on DACA, which gives undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children a chance to stay, work or study in the US without fear of deportation.

“Seems to me that Democrats are holding that deal hostage for a DACA negotiation and we are meeting at the White House tomorrow on a bipartisan basis with the President to see what that might look like,” said the Senate’s No. 2, Texas Republican John Cornyn. “But I think that’s going to make the January 19 date pretty hard to hit.”

“It’s a mess,” said one person directly involved in the negotiations.

Colorado Senators Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) and Michael Bennet (D-Denver) are both expected to attend today’s White House meeting.

 

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It’s Official: The “Centrist Project” Thinks You’re Stupid

Don’t be fooled again.

A featured story today from the former Colorado Statesman’s Ernest Luning announces the rebranding of what has been known up to now as the “Centrist Project” into a vehicle to openly support the candidacies of several “unaffiliated” candidates for the Colorado General Assembly:

The nonprofit formerly known as the Centrist Project, a group working to elect nonpartisan officials nationwide, on Monday unveiled a slate of four unaffiliated Colorado candidates running this year for the Legislature in the opening salvo of its assault on the two major parties’ unbroken rule of the state’s government. It also announced it’s changing its name to Unite America and will call the state-focused organization Unite Colorado.

The slate includes challengers against the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a House Democrat — Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker, in Senate District 30, and state Rep. Matt Gray, D-Broomfield, in House District 33 — and two candidates for open House seats currently held by Democrats, in El Paso County’s House District 18 and Adams County’s House District 31. Those seats are represented by state Reps. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, a candidate for an open Senate seat, and Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, a candidate for attorney general, respectively.

We’ll start with a fundamental point, long suspected about the so-called “Centrist Project” but proven now with this announcement: this organization is fielding candidates in swing Democratic-held House districts in order to split the Democratic vote and elect Republicans. That is the only raison d’être that makes any sense based on the easily predictable outcome. From everything we can see, the inclusion of a challenge in Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert’s beet-red GOP district is a diversion meant to distract from the principal goal of this organization–to peel off swing voters who would otherwise vote for Democratic candidates in what’s shaping up to be an historic Democratic wave election.

We’re not going to impugn the motives of individual candidates or the (in some cases disaffected) former Democratic staffers working on this campaign. We’re simply being frank about what the results of this effort will be, and they are obvious enough that we have to believe at some level the backers of the “Centrist Project” are fully aware of it. From a beleaguered post-Trump GOP operative’s point of view (see: Rep. Mike Coffman’s phalanx of ex-College Republican staffers), this kind of “unbranding” of a campaign with a clearly partisan motive probably sounds like a really slick idea.

But as Luning continues, that gnawing feeling in your stomach that something isn’t right about this is dead on:

“It doesn’t really matter to voters of that bloc where you stand on the issues, [Pols emphasis] or even if you align with them on issues. It matters that you’re fundamentally different than the people in office now.”

That’s Nick Troiano, a failed congressional candidate from Pennsylvania who’s now fronting Colorado’s Centrist Project, and who describes himself as “a motivated 24-year-old fiscal conservative who adheres to the core Republican values of limited government and personal responsibility.” Troiano is running candidates in three swing Democratic House districts, campaigns in which the only “successful” outcome will be to peel off enough otherwise Democratic voters to elect Republicans.

But don’t worry, because it doesn’t matter where you stand on the issues–or even if voters agree!

Even though the quote is older than yesterday, we’re shocked that Troiano allowed himself to go on the record so cynically. The so-called Centrist Project is being sold as a “post-partisan” campaign, but by the executive director’s own admission, what we’re really talking about here is a post-values campaign. The politics of ignorance. The politics of branding and slogans over reality. In every possible way, an insult to the voters this campaign is meant to appeal to.

And we’re sorry, but it’s also the politics of President Donald Trump.

One can only hope the voters in these districts can see through the deception to the cynical bottom line.

That quote will help.

Top Ten Stories of 2017 #5: The #MeToo Movement Hits #COLeg

State Rep. Steve Lebsock and dog.

One of the biggest political stories of 2017 is almost certainly going to be one of the most notable stories of 2018 as well. The #MeToo movement that shone a new light on sexual harassment in the workplace dominated the news cycle for much of the second half of 2017, but it wasn’t until November that it broke through as a huge topic in the Colorado legislature. The topic will certainly be elevated again once the 2018 legislative session begins next week.

Bente Birkland of KUNC broke open the problem of sexual harassment in the legislature with a bombshell story in November that included several accusations against Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock – most notably from Democratic Rep. Faith Winter – about harassment dating back to at least 2016. Lebsock initially apologized for his conduct before embarking on a strange reversal culminating in a silly claim that he should be exonerated because of the results of a lie-detector test that he himself paid to be administered. Thus far Lebsock has ignored calls for his resignation – as well as invitations to switch parties — while continuing his no-hope campaign for the Democratic nomination for State Treasurer.

Lebsock was the first sitting legislator to face sexual harassment accusations, but he wasn’t alone for long. A few days later, Birkland broke news of new harassment allegations against Republican State Senators Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate; an official complaint was filed against Baumgardner shortly thereafter. Senate Republican leadership was quick to trot out a line about “zero tolerance” for harassment after the Lebsock story broke, but when faced with allegations touching their own members, Senate President Kevin Grantham went remarkably quiet, saying in a statement that they “cannot and will not be responding to unsubstantiated or anonymous allegations against members appearing in the press.” Grantham has kept his word in this regard but won’t be able to duck these questions so easily once the legislature reconvenes.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tate tried to patch up his reputation through public claims from a group of female lobbyists – all of whom have significant business interests in appeasing Tate – that he was totally not at all the kind of person who would sexually harass someone. Republican defenders of Tate even went so far as to claim that Tate did nothing more than “complement the clothing” of a former Capitol intern. Yeah, it got gross.

These sexual harassment stories faded a bit in the media in part because of distractions related to the Holiday season and the Alabama Senate election. But as we noted earlier, we fully expect the issue to be front and center once the legislature kicks off the 2018 session next week. Here’s hoping that the allegations – and the accusers – get a different sort of treatment in the new year.

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (January 3)

Thanks to President Trump, no American was eaten by zombies in 2017. 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…

► Steve Bannon is now using the “T-word” in discussing Trump contacts with Russia. From CNN:

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon called the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer purportedly offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton “treasonous,” according to a new book obtained by The Guardian.

The book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” by Michael Wolff, is based on hundreds of interviews, including ones with President Donald Trump and his inner circle. According to the Guardian, Bannon addressed the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Russian operatives that was arranged when Trump Jr. agreed to meet a “Russian government attorney” after receiving an email offering him “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate” Clinton.

Bannon was particularly pointed in discussing the role played by Donald Trump, Jr. in these discussions, saying, “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”

You won’t be surprised to hear that President Trump is absolutely furious with Bannon over these comments.

 

► Democrat Doug Jones is now officially the newest Senator from Alabama after his swearing-in ceremony this morning. To the dismay of Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, Jones did not immediately declare loyalty to the Republican party.

Minnesota Democrat Tina Smith was also sworn-in today to fill the remainder of the term vacated by the resignation of Sen. Al Franken in December.

 

► Don’t expect the Colorado legislature to do much about gun safety in the aftermath of a weekend shooting in Douglas County that killed sheriff’s deputy Zachary Parrish. As Fox 31 reports, House Republican leader Patrick Neville thinks that we shouldn’t try to act on gun safety because previous attempts haven’t stopped gun violence:

“We oppose this law,” it said. “This tragedy is another example of why thousands of gun laws passed in the last several decades don’t work.”

We also have laws prohibiting things like murder and robbery, but those haven’t stopped either crime from being committed. Let’s just change Colorado to Thunderdome!

 

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Top Ten Stories of 2017 #6: New Wave of Race-Baiting Idiots in GOP Caucus

Rep. Phil Covarrubias (R-Brighton)

There are more than 5.5 million people in Colorado, and only 100 of them can serve in the Colorado legislature at any one time. The minimum age to serve in the legislature is 25, so it isn’t a true statistical analysis to say that you have a 1 in 55,000 chance of becoming a state lawmaker, but you get the point: It is statistically unlikely that you will ever take a seat in the Colorado General Assembly.

However…if you are a registered Republican and do not possess the ability to filter out crazy thoughts before they come spewing out of your mouth, then you are significantly more likely to end up serving in the State House. At least 3 of the 28 Republicans currently serving in the lower chamber of the Colorado legislature are race-baiting, nonsense-spewing wackadoos, continuing a long tradition of GOP dysfunction under the Gold Dome.

Every time Republicans rid themselves of someone like Doug Bruce, JoAnn Windholz, or Dr. Chaps, they welcome another right-wing rambler to the fold. In 2017, State Reps. Dave Williams and Phil Covarrubias took turns making fools of themselves and their party, and just before the end of the year another reinforcement was added in Judy Reyher.

Colorado Springs Rep. Dave Williams replaced Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt in the legislature in 2017 and promptly made it clear that there would be no drop-off in irresponsibility. Williams’ idiotic “sanctuary cities” legislation was just one of his many inflammatory anti-immigrant positions that are completely divorced from reality, and the freshman lawmaker has proven elsewhere that he has no compunction about conjuring up controversies out of thin air.

Covarrubias, meanwhile, went from unknown lawmaker to national laughingstock when he stunningly defended the practice of Japanese-American internment during World War II. The Brighton Republican finished up his terrible year with a bizarre social media meltdown that included his claim that “liberals are racist against Americans.”

And then there’s Judy Reyher, who made terrible headlines even before she was sworn-in as the newest member of the State House. Reyher was selected by a Republican vacancy committee to finish the term being vacated by Rep. Clarice Navarro, and it wasn’t long afterward that we learned about Reyher’s horrible history of racist statements preserved by her social media accounts. Reyher even had the chance to distance herself from some of those comments in an interview with the Denver Post, but instead she doubled-down on racist statements such as “I hated the black half of Obama as much as I hated the white half.”

Williams, Covarrubias, and Reyher represent safely-held Republican seats that are probably immune to even the biggest of Democratic waves. Unfortunately for Republicans, these three will still inflict plenty of damage on the GOP in 2018.

Roy Moore, Meet Steve Lebsock!

Roy Moore.

The Hill reports from Alabama as Colorado political water-cooler denizens experience a strange sense of deja vu:

Republican Roy Moore says he completed a lie detector test after the Alabama Senate election concluded to prove the allegations of sexual misconduct are untrue as he seeks to challenge his loss to Democrat Doug Jones.

“Also provided in the complaint is an affidavit from Judge Roy Moore stating that he successfully completed a polygraph test confirming the representations of misconduct made against him during the campaign are completely false,” Moore’s campaign said in a Wednesday press release…

Moore, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, has defiantly refused to concede in the Senate race — despite President Trump urging him to accept the results.

Earlier this month, as our readers know all too well, accused serial sexual harasser Rep. Steve Lebsock proclaimed his innocence of the charges leveled against him by 10 or more women who worked with him in the Colorado General Assembly based on the results a self-administered polygraph examination. For Lebsock, the claim that a polygraph examination offered anything like proof positive of his innocence was quickly laughed off by every responsible media outlet in the state. Again quoting KUNC’s Bente Birkeland:

Lebsock paid $350 for the polygraph test. While he said it completely exonerates him, an expert in the validity of polygraph testing said the test “doesn’t have much credibility.”

“The tests themselves are not supported by scientific evidence,” said William Iacono, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota.

He has served as an expert witness in 50 trials and published many papers on the topic.

“They have a weak foundation in terms of their accuracy,” Iacono said, adding “and then one that is arranged by the person to serve their own benefit is one certainly that shouldn’t be trusted.”

Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton).

To be clear, we’re not trying to suggest failed GOP U.S. Senate candidate and accused child molester Roy Moore relies on “scientific evidence” for anything–and his similarly unscientific supporters, desperate for anything to justify having supported Moore, will no doubt be completely satisfied. They would probably be okay with sheep entrails if you could convince them it was a Christian thing.

As for everyone with critical thinking skills, this only shows again why Moore didn’t deserve to win.

It shouldn’t even be necessary to point out what this does for Rep. Lebsock’s credibility, especially with his (nominally) fellow Democrats, but suffice to say Lebsock now has about the most dubious company possible in his defense against allegations of serial sexual harassment. Perhaps Lebsock will now leap to Roy Moore’s defense, which would be…something.

Stay tuned, in both cases we probably haven’t hit bottom yet.

How Irrelevant Is Jon Caldara, You Ask?

Jon Caldara.

As reporter Marianne Goodland writes for the former Colorado Statesman:

The Independence Institute has named Colorado Senate President Pro tem Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican, as its inaugural winner of “Californian of the Year.”

The somewhat tongue-in-cheek award was given to Sonnenberg in recognition of his efforts “to turn Colorado into East California,” according to an Institute announcement Wednesday…

Institute President Jon Caldara said nothing exemplifies the California value of making decisions for others than the “massive tax increase” put forward by Sonnenberg and three other lawmakers during the 2017 session, in Senate Bill 17-267, also known as “Sustainability of Rural Colorado.”

To briefly recap, Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, one of the state’s more conservative lawmakers, struck a bargain with House Democrats via GOP Rep. Jon Becker on legislation early this year to reclassify funds raised via the state’s Hospital Provider Fee into an “enterprise” accomplishing the goals of the raised funds–thus exempting them from revenue caps in the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, and averting the possible closure of rural hospitals in Sonnenberg’s and Becker’s districts.

This bipartisan agreement was hailed by newspaper editorial boards across the state as a practical step to avert serious unintended consequences. That some of the worst of these consequences would play out in rural parts of the state represented by conservative Republican lawmakers like Jerry Sonnenberg was the key factor that brought them to the table. We can argue about the ethics of caring about health care funding only when your own constituents are threatened as opposed to everybody else, but at least in the face of major and fully avoidable harm to his neighbors Sonnenberg was able to act.

It’s important to remember that even right-wing advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity were internally divided on this legislation, with AFP originally scoring the bill positively in their legislative scorecards before “revising” their scorecard–just ahead of the special session of the legislature called by Gov. John Hickenlooper to fix a drafting error in this bill costing special tax districts across the state millions in lost revenue. Between the passage of SB-267 and special session in October, the Independence Institute’s attacks on Sonnenberg were enough to force Sonnenberg into a truly farcical position: even though Sonnenberg has filed legislation for the 2018 session to fix this glitch, he was forced to argue against both the special session and even his own bill so as not to give political traction to Democrats.

And after all his humiliating contortions, Sonnenberg was still awarded Jon Caldara’s booby prize.

There are three principal takeaways from this. First, when diehard ideologues like Caldara are bypassed to solve problems that need solving, they get really upset about it–enough to dive headfirst into the unproductive process of attacking their own allies.

The second is that the ideologues don’t care who they hurt. They didn’t care about Jerry Sonnenberg’s constituents last April, and they don’t care about the special tax districts losing millions of dollars due to what everyone agrees is a minor drafting error.

Which brings us to the big one: Caldara and his ilk are so far from the political mainstream that both sides should just ignore them. Much like the fringe fanatics at the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the tax-cheat felon who authored TABOR to begin with, giving Caldara’s ongoing nonsense the time of day debases us all.