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.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Hickenlooper Pardons Rene Lima-Marin While Brauchler Fumes

UPDATE: Bad news via 9NEWS’ Marshall Zelinger:

—–

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The Denver Post’s Kevin Simpson reporting, Gov. John Hickenlooper took swift action this afternoon to prevent the deportation of Rene Lima-Marin, a Cuban immigrant whose criminal case became a cause célèbre for state legislators before they realized he was subject to deportation:

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Friday he has issued an extraordinary pardon for Rene Lima-Marin, who was mistakenly released early from a long prison sentence only to be sent back after he had forged a productive new life as a husband and father.

Lima-Marin was freed from his Colorado prison sentence earlier this week and then held by federal immigration authorities. State lawmakers, Lima-Marin’s family and others had urged the governor to act quickly to prevent what they feared would be imminent deportation to his native Cuba…

“We thought it through well,” Hickenlooper said, pointing to bipartisan unity in the state legislature resolution that called for clemency. He added that it would be a “terrible symbol” to snatch away Lima-Marin’s freedom once again.

Asked what he hopes happens to Lima-Marin now, the governor said: “I hope he doesn’t get deported.”

The governor added that with the pardon, he has done everything he can at this point to stop deportation.

We noted yesterday how at least one GOP lawmaker was still fighting for Lima-Marin’s freedom even after it came out that he was subject to deportation for the crime he originally committed–though we were waiting to hear from others to know if this was as unanimous as the original resolution calling for Lima-Marin’s release was.

Post-pardon, GOP gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler is making it painfully clear he does not approve:

So…we assume there’s a big disagreement here between Brauchler and the entire Republican caucus in the Colorado General Assembly? That’s what we have to assume until we see some more statements from Republican lawmakers. It’s going to be difficult for Brauchler to make much political hay out of this unless a bunch of silent Republicans who were in support of Lima-Marin’s freedom come out with a different opinion now.

As for Gov. Hickenlooper, it’s true that he has now done everything he can. If President Trump wants to make a political martyr of a man who has already been through a bizarre and painful mistake in the criminal justice system, it’s his fire to play with.

And now, George Brauchler’s too.

Report: Ultra-conservative Wisconsin foundation takes aim at Colorado public education, labor unions

(Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R).

Recent reports have revealed that the Wisconsin-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation has quietly descended on Colorado in an effort to undermine teachers unions and public education.

The information comes from documents that were swiped from the foundation’s servers by international hackers last year.

In Wisconsin, the Bradley Foundation has helped bolster Gov. Scott Walker’s conservative agenda, including dramatic cuts to public education and the passage of the state’s anti-union “Right to Work” law. Now, Bradley is apparently looking to expand that success in swing states, starting with Colorado and North Carolina.

Reports from the Center for Media and Democracy and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel show that the Bradley Foundation has funneled $1.45 million to the Independence Institute, a conservative Denver think tank, in recent years. A chunk of the money was specifically allocated for “aggressive education reform,” which includes “neutralizing the power of Colorado’s teachers’ unions by defunding them at the local school district level,” according to a 2015 Independence Institute grant proposal record obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy.

With the help of Bradley’s contribution, the Independence Institute has assisted the Douglas County school board in enacting a series of measures to put an end to collective bargaining, teacher tenure, and automatic dues deductions for teachers unions. In 2016, the board attempted to implement a countywide school voucher program for private and religious schools, but the program was struck down in court.

The Independence Institute did not return a call for comment.

Sam Gilchrist, Executive Director of the pro-union Colorado AFL-CIO, said in a press release that “wealthy corporations and the organizations that serve them need to stop rigging our political system against hardworking people like the teachers who keep our public education system running,” and he called the Bradley Foundation’s efforts “disgusting.”

In addition to funding anti-union and school choice advocates, the Bradley Foundation gives financial support to conservative non-profits nationwide.

Beneficiaries include the Competitive Enterprise Institute, an adversary of environmental regulations, and the Ruth Institute, which, according to its website, seeks to “[help] young people avoid the poisonous personal consequences of the Sexual Revolution” and address “the crazy behaviors encouraged on campuses” and “young people’s unwillingness to get married.”

Get More Smarter on Friday (May 19)

The sun will come out tomorrow, according to weather forecasters. 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 leaves the country today for his first big overseas trip as Commander in Chief. The Washington Post has a preview of Trump’s jaunt to the Middle East and Europe:

President Trump’s learning curve on matters of foreign policy and national security was steep even before the bombshell report this week that he had blurted secrets to Russian diplomats.

Trump’s first foreign trip as president, which begins in Saudi Arabia this weekend, is a test of the lessons he has learned about geopolitics as well as whether he can reset his chaotic administration…

…Trump will also visit the West Bank and is expected to again tout his efforts to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Trump has backed away from a decades-old U.S. commitment to a sovereign Palestinian state, but held a warm meeting at the White House with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

From there Trump goes to Europe, for the NATO summit, a protocol-laden visit to see Pope Francis at the Vatican, and a gathering of the Group of Seven economic powers in Italy.

Meanwhile, longtime Washington D.C. observers can’t help but notice the historical parallels with a foreign trip taken by former President Richard Nixon in the midst of the Watergate scandal:

Those of us with long memories can’t forget President Richard Nixon making a similar trip to the Middle East in early June, 1974, at the very time the Watergate special prosecutor was in court seeking the actual White House tapes of presidential conversations and Congressional committees were looking into his possible impeachment.

Back then, ironically, Nixon visited leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Israel in an unsuccessful attempt to strengthen the ceasefire agreement that halted fighting in the Yom Kippur, Arab-Israeli war.

Nixon returned home to challenge and lose his Supreme Court argument over the tapes that set him down the path to resigning the presidency.

 

► Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made another visit to Capitol Hill on Friday to brief lawmakers on his decision to appoint Robert Mueller as a special counsel for investigating allegations of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign for President. But as the Washington Post notes, Rosenstein has left many important questions unanswered:

Rosenstein had briefed senators on Thursday at an event that left several key questions unanswered, including what Trump said to Rosenstein when he told him Comey would be fired and to what degree congressional investigators will maintain access to witnesses and documents given the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel.

These matters did not appear to be resolved on Friday.

Here at Colorado Pols, we’ve added a new feature to keep you updated on the latest news involving the Trump/Russia scandal: “The Daily D’oh!”

 

► Attorney General Cynthia Coffman again demonstrated her loyalty to the oil and gas industry in Colorado by ignoring Gov. John Hickenlooper’s order to NOT appeal a court ruling requiring protection of public safety, health and the environment by the state as a precondition before allowing oil and gas drilling.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 18)

Snow? Again? What is this, Russia? 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…

Mueller!

It is not difficult to picture a sullen President Trump shaking his fist and softly mumbling the name of  former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the man who will lead a special investigation into potential Trump ties with Russia. The White House issued a bland statement last night in response to the news of Mueller’s appointment, but it wasn’t long before President Twitter took to social media to vent his rage.

From the New York Times:

President Trump lashed out on Thursday, saying he was the target of an unprecedented witch hunt, a day after the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between his presidential campaign and Russian officials.

In a pair of early morning tweets, Mr. Trump cited, without evidence, what he called the “illegal acts” committed by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the campaign of his former opponent, Hillary Clinton — and said they never led to the appointment of a special counsel.

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special councel appointed!” Mr. Trump wrote, misspelling counsel.

Moments later, Mr. Trump added, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

And yet, the bell tolls.

As Chris Cillizza summarizes for CNN:

Republicans — from Donald Trump on down — will now live or die by what Mueller finds out.  Full exoneration is now possible. But so too is full guilt or blame.  Republicans’ political fate — in 2018 and perhaps 2020 as well — is now largely in Mueller’s hands.

► Oh, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly expressed concern last summer that Trump was on Russia’s payroll. From the Washington Post:

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

 

► Colorado Republican officials had been largely quiet about President Trump as his administration unravels, but the appointment of Robert Mueller as special prosecutor appears to have finally shaken many of their media malaise. As Jason Salzman writes, Trump talk is also dominating the Republican gubernatorial primary.

 

► The oil and gas industry is directing millions of dollars to Colorado Republicans as concerns grow about the safety of drilling practices near communities. According to a new report, the amount of money pouring into GOP coffers from O&G interests provides the industry with enormous political clout — much more than had been previously considered.

 

 

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REPORT: Anadarko, O&G Industry Funneling Massive Amounts of Money to Colorado Republicans

The remains of a home in Firestone following a massive explosion on April 17.

Anadarko Petroleum said on Tuesday that it is permanently disconnecting several oil and gas pipelines around the Firestone area, where a home exploded in late April killing two people and seriously injuring two others. But as a staggering new report from the International Business Times details today, Anadarko is spending obscene amounts of money to ensure that Colorado Republican lawmakers disrupt legislative attempts at regulating the oil and gas industry in Colorado:

Days after a gas line linked to an Anadarko Petroleum well ignited a deadly home blast in Colorado, the company’s chief executive said the “terrible tragedy has left all of us with heavy hearts.” But even asinvestigators were picking through the wreckage, the company moved to fight a new bill that would have forced it to tell Colorado homeowners how close they live to oil and gas operations.

State records show that while CEO Al Walker said “the families and their loved ones are in our thoughts and prayers,” Anadarko was deploying its lobbyists to press Colorado lawmakers to block a transparency measure as it pursued plans for hundreds of new wells in the northeastern part of the state.

After Anadarko’s lobbying blitz, Republican legislators filibustered the bill, which would have required energy companies to disclose maps documenting the locations of their gas lines and wells. The GOP lawmakers killed the legislation a few months after Anadarko donated to a group backing their election campaigns. [Pols emphasis]

The sequence of events that unfolded after the Colorado explosion demonstrates the political power of the Texas-based company, which is Colorado’s largest oil and gas producer and has flooded Colorado politics with campaign cash. An International Business Times/MapLight review of campaign finance records found the firm gave more than $7.2 million to political groups operating in the state during the 2016 election cycle — an average of roughly $10,000 every day for two years. [Pols emphasis]

Rep. Lori Saine and Sen. Vicki Marble represent the Firestone area.

The April 17 explosion in Firestone created a new urgency to debates over drilling safety in Colorado — even longtime fracking advocates like Gov. John Hickenlooper demanded changes. Republican lawmakers killed off a proposal earlier in the 2017 session intended to increase minimum setback requirements for drilling locations, but the Firestone tragedy prompted a late-session bill (HB-1372) to provide more public disclosure of “flowlines” in and around residential areas. Despite the public outcry, Republicans were able to successfully filibuster that bill to its death.

Before the “flowlines” legislation was squashed, we noted in this space the disgusting indifference to transparency suggestions from Firestone Republican Rep. Lori Saine. Given the extraordinary amount of money that Anadarko and the O&G industry are directing toward Colorado Republicans, it’s hard not to be cynical about Saine and her upper-chamber counterpart, Sen. Vicki Marble. Let’s go back to today’s story from the International Business Times:

On the surface, state records suggest Anadarko’s contributions to Senate Republicans have been relatively modest. In 2016, the company gave only $50,000 to the Senate Majority Fund, the primary fundraising apparatus of the Senate GOP. But those records do not detail Anadarko cash that has flowed to “dark money” organizations, or nonprofits that are not required to disclose their donors. [Pols emphasis]

For example, the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund (CELF) played a pivotal role in helping Senate Republicans retain their majority in the 2016 election — and little-noticed corporate filings reviewed by IBT/MapLight show Anadarko gave generously to CELF…

…CELF spent more than $372,000 to help re-elect Jack Tate, R-Centennial, and elect Kevin Priola, R-Henderson. The two senators represent swing districts seen as critical to preserving the Senate Republican majority that provided the votes to kill the regulatory bills. The fund also spent $37,500 to help State Sen. Randy Baumgardner in his 2016 re-election race. Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, is the vice chairman of the specific Senate panel that quashed the setback bill, which lost in committee by a single vote.

While it is impossible to know how much of CELF’s total operating money came from oil and gas companies, Anadarko and Noble Energy in 2016 together gave the group $535,000 — or 75 percent of the total amount that CELF spent on Colorado elections in 2016. [Pols emphasis]

Colorado Republicans would almost certainly not have a one-seat majority in the State Senate without these massive financial commitments. Money from the O&G industry isn’t just a piece of the pie for Colorado Republicans; without this cash infusion, there is no pie.

Every election cycle, tens of millions of dollars are spent by various groups with their own agendas — benefitting both Republicans and Democrats. But as the International Business Times demonstrates today, no other industry in Colorado so thoroughly dominates political spending on one side of the aisle like the the oil and gas lobby. The industry may have every right to exert such financial influence on the state legislature…but Colorado voters have every right to wonder whose interests Republican lawmakers are truly protecting.

Get More Smarter on Tuesday (May 16)

Greetings, comrades! Let us commence with today’s lesson plan. 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’s administration is crumbling faster than Cory Gardner can flee a constituent. As Chris Cillizza writes for CNN, news that Trump passed highly-confidential information to the Russians just might be the proverbial back-breaking straw on this here camel:

In a number of conversations Monday evening with Republican House members and GOP strategists, there was a widespread feeling that this time Trump might have gone too far…

…consider the following five things Trump has done since coming into office: 1) Twice failed to enact a travel ban 2) Engaged in an extended argument over crowd size at his inauguration 3) Falsely accused then-President Barack Obama of wire-tapping Trump Tower during the election 4) Took 18 days to get rid of national security adviser MIchael Flynn after being informed Flynn was compromised by the Russians 5) Fired Comey, even as he was overseeing the Russia investigation.

Any ONE of those are the sort of thing that would be a major slip-up in any other administration — and might lead to defections from within the president’s own party.  All five of them — plus the new revelations regarding classified information being shared with two top Russian officials — is something close to an avalanche of political malpractice.

How much more can — or will — congressional Republicans take?

If you’re looking for answers as to why Trump would have divulged such sensitive information to the Russians, there aren’t a lot of plausible answers.

If you’re looking for a response to this growing crisis from Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma)…well, good luck with that. But Gardner has certainly painted himself into a corner with his previous bold declarations about national security.

Actually, if you’re looking for a response from any Colorado Republicans, you’re not alone.

 

► Things would have to improve at the White House before you could even begin to use the word “disarray.” From the Washington Post:

This time it did not even take 24 hours for Donald Trump to throw his staffers under the bus and contradict their denials.

The president revealed highly classified (code word) information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during an Oval Office meeting last week, potentially endangering a coveted intelligence asset, compromising a crucial alliance and undermining the war effort against the Islamic State.

After The Post broke the story, senior White House aides quickly denied it. “I was in the room. It didn’t happen,” said national security adviser H.R. McMaster. “This story is false,” added Dina Powell, his deputy.

Then, on Twitter this morning, Trump essentially acknowledged that The Post’s reporting is accurate, defended his decision to share the information and complained about the leak that allowed what he’d done to get out.

Working for Trump at the White House certainly appears to be nothing short of awful. It can’t help that Trump’s approval ratings continue to drop and the public is demanding a special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.

 

► Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, also the second-longest-serving Attorney General in Colorado history, is apparently no longer on a short list to become the next FBI Director. We’re sure Suthers is absolutely (not) despondent to learn that he won’t be next in line to manage this particular shit show.

 

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World’s Smallest Violin Plays For Legislative Loser Jon Caldara

Jon Caldara.

Media analysis of the 2017 Colorado legislative session, which ended last Wednesday, has given both parties a lot of credit for hammering out a deal to make a small but important bookkeeping change to the state’s Hospital Provider Fee program–reclassifying HPDF revenue is an “enterprise” to free it (and by extension the state budget) from revenue caps imposed by the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

The deal was not without cost to Democrats, who made painful concessions like hiking Medicaid copays and giving Republicans a long-sought business property tax break, but the freeing of hundreds of millions of dollars under the TABOR revenue limit is a big help now and in the future. Colorado’s Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman signed off on the legality of the move, and today there is lots of bipartisan credit being taken.

Among those not happy with the deal include Colorado’s foremost far-right ideologue, the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara–writing a petulant op-ed titled “The grand betrayal of Colorado Senate Republicans” for this weekend’s Denver Post:

In 2005, then soon-to-be-term-limited Gov. Bill Owens broke party lines and joined Democrats to craft and sell [Referendum C]. For that the outgoing guv was rewarded gobs of “really maturing in office” praise from the media, this newspaper especially, and earned lots of “good will” from the business interests supporting the “yes” vote, with whom he’d be fishing for private-sector work soon enough.

The small-government party faithful were understandably livid. To this day in many corners the name Bill Owens elicits the same response as the name Dick Nixon.

What Republicans just did on Senate Bill 267 makes Owens look like Barry Goldwater.

The “grand compromise” of SB 267, something worse than Ref C and Ref D and without a public vote, is the largest “grand betrayal” from Republicans I have ever witnessed in my more than 25 years in Colorado politics. And that says a lot.

As our long-time readers know, Caldara is nothing if not devoted to over-the-top rhetoric. Caldara blamed “dildo art” displays for the state’s budget problems back in 2005, claimed that Obamacare would kill his child, exploited disabled children in campaign ads, and crassly used the 2013 Front Range floods to squeak out of voter fraud charges related to another stunt. Caldara’s loss in the Referendum C fight began a slow but steady erosion of TABOR’s chokehold on the state budget, as courts have applied TABOR’s literal wording to mitigate some of the most onerous restrictions–and now fixing the Hospital Provider Fee with backing from the state’s GOP attorney general.

And folks, Jon Caldara is so mad:

You might want to think twice before bringing Senate President Kevin Grantham or Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg with you to haggle over your car purchase…

I am left wondering why Grantham, who pronounced this raiding of the Hospital Provider Fee/tax dead on arrival at the beginning of the session in multiple outlets, including on my Colorado Public Television program, and to my face privately at least twice, “matured” on the issue.

What he and eight other Republican senators did fully earns them the title of “politician.”

Eight others, not seven? Owen Hill voted for SB 267 in committee, but went all Pontius Pilate on the Senate floor and voted against, something I’m guessing will come up in his primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.

It should be noted that the Independence Institute’s influence has been on the wane at the Colorado Capitol for several years, in significant part due to the expansion of national conservative advocacy group Americans For Prosperity. AFP’s slicker, better-funded influence has grown as Caldara’s has flagged, and Caldara’s very public battle with Rocky Mountain Gun Owners in 2015 over a “compromise” bill to increase but not fully repeal gun magazine limits was an unsuccessful mistake that cost Caldara further support on the right.

How many more losses does Jon Caldara get before the donors who keep his organization going put him out to pasture? If it’s a simple return-on-investment question, there’s a pretty good argument that it should have already happened.

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.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Winners and Losers of the 2017 Colorado legislative session

THE WINNERS

Rural Colorado

After years of debate, a crisis over funding for rural hospitals and Medicaid recipients brought Republicans to the bargaining table to fix a small but important glitch that could have cost Colorado hundreds of millions of dollars. Thanks to a bipartisan compromise brokered by House Majority Leader KC Becker and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman that took most of the session to hammer out, rural hospitals are safe.


House Speaker Crisanta Duran (D)

2017 needed a leader who knew how to negotiate with the other side effectively, and Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran was more than up to the challenge. Colorado’s first Latina House Speaker successfully navigated through numerous thorny issues that had plagued the General Assembly for years, from construction defects to the rural hospitals and transportation. And she stopped dozens of terrible bills from the GOP-controlled Senate from becoming law.


Senators Don Coram and Larry Crowder (R)

An outbreak of bipartisan good faith and cooperation this year helped lawmakers accomplish more than expected from a divided legislature. Rural Republican Senators like Don Coram of Montrose and Larry Crowder of Alamosa pushed back against right-wing ideologues and special interests, and proved instrumental in getting key bipartisan agreements through the Colorado Senate. More like this, please.


First-time homeowners

Thanks to the dedication of patient negotiators like Rep. Alec Garnett, a deal was forged on the issue of construction defects in condo construction that might solve yet another issue Colorado has wrestled with for years. Bad proposals from developer lobbyists sought to take away homeowner rights to sue over defects in construction. Rep. Garnett kept all parties at the table until a deal that protected homeowners while alleviating industry concerns was hammered out.


Everyone with lungs

Lawmakers have tried for several years to pass a law outlawing “rolling coal,” or modifying a diesel truck to spew giant clouds of toxic smoke on purpose. Democratic Rep. Joann Ginal teamed up with GOP Sen. Don Coram to try again this year—and after their first bill died, the second try made it through.


Sen. Kerry Donovan and Rep. Barbara McLachlan (D)

Colorado’s Western Slope is so fortunate to have two of the very best representing them at the state capitol: Sen. Kerry Donovan, who helped fight for public lands and rural broadband, and Rep. Barbara McLachlan, who worked tirelessly this year on addressing the critical shortage of teachers in our state.


Senator Leroy Garcia (D)

Sen. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo continued to be Pueblo’s champion in the Colorado legislature. In 2017, Sen. Garcia worked on expanding passenger rail service along the Front Range—an important issue as Pueblo works hard to bring Amtrak service to the city. Sen. Garcia bucked his party occasionally, questioning fee hikes on hunters and fishermen. Garcia remains a great representative for all the people of Pueblo.


Connect for Health Colorado

With uncertainty in Washington about the future of health care reform and polls showing public opposition to dismantling President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform law, Colorado Republicans plowed ahead with an ill-advised attempt to repeal the Connect for Health Colorado insurance marketplace. Running into a buzzsaw of opposition, Republicans were forced to postpone the bill repeatedly until finally killing it at the end of the session—great news for thousands of Coloradans who depend on the marketplace for their health coverage.


Far-right obstructionists

It was a successful legislative session, but many important issues were left unaddressed—mostly because of intense pressure from far-right advocacy groups like the out-of-state-billionaire-backed Americans for Prosperity. Because of their endless attacks on any attempt to raise revenue, or find legitimate fixes to our budget mess, Colorado won’t even get the chance to vote this year to improve our state’s outdated transportation system. The far right won that battle, but the rest of Colorado lost.


Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)

After years of obstruction under former Colorado Senate President Bill Cadman, a ray of hope emerged from the less combative, more thoughtful style of leadership shown by Kevin Grantham in 2017. While by no means perfect, Grantham’s willingness to engage across the aisle with Speaker Duran produced several of the session’s biggest wins. Grantham also fought bravely against Americans for Prosperity and intransigent lawmakers in his own party for a deal on transportation funds, but was not successful in persuading his caucus to go along.


 

THE LOSERS

Business and transportation lobbies

In 2016, business interests spent lavish amounts of money to elect Republican members of the Colorado General Assembly. In return, Republicans shot down one of the business community’s most important priorities: a deal to fund transportation infrastructure. A healthy business climate is more than just low taxes, and “pro-business” lawmakers do more than just say no.


Working families and needy Coloradans

Although the legislature hammered out some tough compromises this year, some of the battles won were not necessary to fight at all—and many good bills died because of the one-seat right-wing control of the Colorado Senate. The deal to save rural hospitals included painful fee increases on the poorest Medicaid patients at the insistence of Republican lawmakers. Another bill to provide family medical leave died in the Senate after receiving overwhelming public support and passing the Colorado House.


Senator Tim Neville (R)

State Sen. Tim Neville’s run for the U.S. Senate last year fell flat, and Neville set himself up poorly for a difficult re-election in 2018 after sponsoring some of the worst legislation to be introduced in Colorado this year. Tim Neville supported legislation to ban abortion, weaken common-sense gun safety laws, and even to make it easier for unvaccinated children to attend Colorado public schools.


Representative Phil Covarrubias (R)

During debate on legislation to oppose unconstitutional roundups and other actions by the Trump administration, freshman Rep. Phil Covarrubias made national headlines when he defended the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Covarrubias later apologized, but the incident once again tarnished Colorado’s reputation on a civil rights issue of national importance.


Senator Beth Humenik (R)

Sen. Beth Humenik of Adams County represents a closely-divided swing suburban district, but in 2017 she caved to the extremists in her caucus pushing legislation to support the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. At the same time, Humenik crossed her own party on a number of key votes—ensuring she lost friends on both sides of the aisle. Bewilderingly, Sen. Humenik voted against the much lauded and bipartisan Hospital Provider Fee deal, essentially printing mail pieces for her opponents in the 2018 election.


Representative Dave Williams (R)

In 2016, Rep. Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt repeatedly brought shame on the state of Colorado with his bizarre, hateful diatribes. Unfortunately, Klingenschmitt’s successor in House District 15 Rep. Dave Williams, is, if anything even worse. Williams sponsored some of the worst anti-immigrant legislation of the year—bills that would make Donald Trump himself blush. Williams, who represents Colorado Springs, even tried to insert an amendment into the budget concerning fetal tissue—the same false charge that provoked the tragic mass shooting at Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood clinic.


LGBT and West Slope Coloradans

Just before the session ended, the Colorado Senate killed the re-appointment of the chair of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission on a party-line vote. This highly unusual move threw a highly qualified LGBT representative and the Commission’s only representative from the Western Slope off the body that oversees workplace discrimination complaints.


Firestone, Colorado

After a massive explosion caused by disused oil and gas flowlines near a Firestone home killed two people, Republicans in the state legislature filibustered and killed a bill to require such lines be mapped and the data made public—including Firestone’s own representative in the Colorado House, Rep. Lori Saine. Even after tragedy, oil and gas profits come first to the industry’s political supporters.


Senate President Kevin Grantham (R)

Both a winner and a loser in 2017, Senate President Kevin Grantham’s fiery speech to his caucus in favor of legislation to put a tax question on the ballot to fund transportation projects will be remembered as a great moment of bipartisan cooperation. Unfortunately, thanks to the efforts of out-of-state attack groups like Americans for Prosperity, Grantham’s words fell on deaf ears. Colorado needs more than ideological rhetoric to solve our long-term challenges, and Grantham knows it—but he can’t do anything about it.


Petition forgery artists

After a scandal rocked the Republican U.S. Senate primary in 2016 when ProgressNow Colorado uncovered forged petitions submitted by Jon Keyser, the legislature passed a law this year requiring that ballot petition signatures be verified by the Secretary of State’s office before a candidate qualifies for the ballot. It won’t help Keyser, who moved out of Colorado after the petition fraud scandal wrecked his campaign—but it closes a loophole that may have been exploited by unscrupulous campaigns for years.


Get More Smarter on Wednesday (May 10)

It’s still early, but President Trump hasn’t fired anybody today. 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 on Tuesday fired the man in charge of the investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. If you’ve watched, read, or heard any news since last evening, you are probably aware that FBI Director James Comey is out of a job. As the Washington Post reports, Trump’s decision to fire Comey is backfiring bigly:

To put it mildly, the optics of firing Comey are terrible. Trump looks like he does not actually want to get to the bottom of Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and the potential wrongdoing of his own staffers.

In one of the hastily-arranged damage-control interviews, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made an especially revealing statement that underscored why so many people are worried. Asked by Tucker Carlson on Fox News how Comey’s termination will impact the Russia investigation, she replied: “I think the bigger point on that is, ‘My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?’ It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there.” “It’s time to move on,” she added. “Frankly, it’s time to focus on the things the American people care about.”

As Sanders pretended on Fox that the Russian probes have found nothing, CNN reported that federal prosecutors – as part of the ongoing Russia probe – have now issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

President Trump is apparently steaming mad about all of this. Trump supporters have been busy trying to spin Comey’s firing as totally-not-a-scandal, though nobody is really buying what they’re selling (see: Anderson Cooper with Kellyanne Conway on CNN Tuesday night):

cooper-eyeroll

 

► Colorado Democrats, including Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver), are calling for a special prosecutor to take over Comey’s Russia investigation. Colorado Republicans, meanwhile, have been relatively quiet about Comey’s firing. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) finally issued a statement Wednesday morning that was almost entirely focused on finding the next FBI Director. From the Denver Post:

Gardner, a Republican, thanked Comey for his service and said there were thousands of immensely qualified FBI agents.

Uh, okay…but how about the fact that Trump just fired the man in charge of investigating him? Anything on that, Senator?

Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) also declined to call for a special prosecutor/investigator, but did manage to admit that the timing of Comey’s ouster is a little weird while pointing out that the sky is blue and the grass is green:

“I think it may create the appearance that Comey was fired due to his role in the investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

“I think it may create the appearance…” You figured this one out all by yourself, eh?

 

► The Colorado legislature has reached the end of the 2017 session. We’ll have plenty of wrap-up coverage on the legislative session here at Colorado Pols, including rundowns on charter school funding, the Hospital Provider Fee, and who is pointing fingers at whom.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Get More Smarter on Tuesday (May 9)

Golfball-sized hail is just God cleaning out his ice maker. 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…

► Legislation introduced last week that would seek to compel oil and gas companies to provide public records of “flowlines” — pipelines that carry natural gas from wellheads to a collection point — has been defeated in the state legislature after a Republican filibuster. House Bill 17-1372, sponsored by Reps. Mike Foote (D-Lafayetter) and Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton), was essentially killed when House Republicans extended their arguments toward a midnight deadline for the bill to move along to the State Senate.

 

► State Sen. Jim Smallwood (R-Parker) officially killed his own legislation intended to eliminate the Colorado Health Exchange. As Ed Sealover reports for the Denver Business Journal:

The move was met by applause from Democrats on the Senate floor and groans from Republicans.

Smallwood said afterward that he wanted to spend the summer working on the bill in ways that could bring meaningful change to the state-chartered exchange, which has struggled financially. That could mean finding a way to garner bipartisan support for the measure, or it could mean finding a way for Connect for Health to attract more insurers and to make more significant steps in slowing the growth of health-care costs in Colorado, he said.

Senate Bill 3 was introduced early in the 2017 legislative session as a priority for Senate Republicans, but the GOP made little effort to actually move forward with the bill after encountering still opposition from vocal Coloradans amid Congressional blundering on repealing Obamacare.

 

► The Director of the FBI, James Comey, has apparently stepped in the mud (again). As CNN reports:

FBI Director James Comey erroneously told Congress last week that former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin “forwarded hundreds and thousands” of emails to her husband’s laptop — and the bureau is looking for a way to clean up his error, according to officials familiar with the matter.

According to Comey, Clinton’s emails had been forwarded to the computer of Abedin’s husband, former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. But US officials told CNN last fall the majority of the thousands of emails reviewed by the FBI got to Weiner’s computer via a backup system for Abedin’s phone.

In Comey’s testimony, however, he suggested “hundreds and thousands” of emails had been deliberately sent directly from Abedin to Weiner’s computer. While some of those emails may have been sent directly from Huma in order to be printed, officials told CNN, the number was far fewer than the amount Comey described.

 

 

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GOP Rejection Of LGBTQ Civil Rights Appointee Gets Even Dumber

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

Following up on a story we posted last Friday, in which the Colorado Senate GOP majority blocked what should have been the routine re-appointment of Heidi Hess as chair of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission–as the Denver Business Journal’s Ed Sealover reports on the confusion and finger-pointing in the wake of their decision:

Colorado Senate Republicans rejected a proposed appointee to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission today, a rarely used blockade that was done after business groups complained about not having a voice on the board.

Heidi Jeanne Hess of Clifton, a West Slope organizer for the LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado, had served on the commission since 2013. Records show that she was appointed as at-large member in 2013 and nominated for reappointment in March by Gov. John Hickenlooper as a member of the community at large…

As we reported on Friday, LGBT advocacy group One Colorado reacted with anger to Hess’ rejection, saying the move by Senate Republicans reaffirms why “LGBTQ discrimination continues to exist, even in the branches of our own government.”

But as the Grand Junction Sentinel reported Saturday, Republicans claimed in response to questions that their retaliation against Hess had nothing to do with the fact that she is openly lesbian and an employee of One Colorado:

The rejection of a governor’s appointment came as a surprise for most, since such things rarely occur regardless of what party controls the governor’s office.

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said he recommended rejecting Hess because she was listed as a representative for small business on the commission, [Pols emphasis] but had recently advocated against business interests…

On the floor of the Senate on Friday, Sonnenberg made a motion to vote on Hess’ reappointment, recommending a “no” vote, saying she supports legislation promoting ways to sue employers.

So the objection to Hess appears to stem from the passage in 2013 of House Bill 13-1136, legislation that extended the same discrimination protections already covering most employees in federal law to employees of small businesses. As an organizer for One Colorado, Hess would have naturally supported that bill along with just about every other activist and group working on workplace discrimination issues.

But there’s still another twist–Sealover:

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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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Thiry’s Theory: They’re MY Ballot Measures, So Do What I Want

“I think the difference between what he wants and what we want is that we’re interested in elections and he’s just interested in getting elected.”
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert (Denver Post, 5/1/17)

The Colorado legislative session will come to a close on Wednesday, but things are getting nasty in the final days of the 2017 session.

A big television advertising blitz started this weekend as part of a last-ditch effort to convince lawmakers to go in a different direction on legislation implementing Proposition 108 — the shoddily-crafted 2016 ballot measure that would allow Unaffiliated voters to participate in partisan primaries. We wrote last week about this deep-in-the-weeds political battle, which revolves around DaVita CEO Kent Thiry’s gubernatorial aspirations and his misplaced belief that Unaffiliated voters are the magic carpet that will carry him through a crowded Republican primary next June.

Thiry spent millions of dollars bankrolling Prop. 108 (as well as Prop. 107, which creates a Presidential Primary in Colorado); both measures were approved by Colorado voters, but because they were so vaguely-worded, it is up to the legislature and the Secretary of State to figure out how to implement these changes. Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators Kevin Lundberg (R-Larimer County) and Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) is attempting to bridge this gap, but Thiry doesn’t like a central idea that election officials would make note of which partisan primary ballots were chosen by Unaffiliated voters.

DaVita CEO Kent Thiry is making it rain for GOP consultants.

Thiry is concerned that tracking this information will scare off Unaffiliated voters from participating in primary elections, but as we wrote on Wednesday, the more important concerns here should be about transparency and accountability:

The choices on your ballot are yours, and yours alone, and that’s not going to change. But transparency and accountability should supersede all other interests when it comes to our elections. If we can’t track which ballots were cast in general, then there’s no way to know if your vote was even counted. If we don’t know how many people actually returned ballots in each particular primary, then we are living in a Banana Republic where we just have to assume that everything was on the level because some election official (or rich guy) told us it was cool.

From what we hear, Thiry bankrolled a $50,000 television ad campaign that began on Friday in an effort to get Lundberg and Fenberg to do what he wants instead of what they (and Secretary of State Wayne Williams) believes is in the best interest of Colorado voters. Thiry hired infamous right-wing rock-thrower Ben Howe  the RedState guy whose previous clients include Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. John Cornyn, and Citizens United — to produce the TV spot below (click on the image to watch the ad):

It is certainly not unprecedented to see TV ads targeting specific legislation under the State Capitol, but it doesn’t happen often…and definitely not in the final days of a legislative session. This is also an odd way to go about trying to get what you want in Thiry’s case — a millionaire businessman who sponsored ballot measures with a goal of trying to increase his chances of being elected governor is now hoping to convince voters that a bipartisan group of lawmakers is going rogue on a complicated issue that the average person isn’t likely to understand (or care about) one way or the other. If Thiry wanted Prop. 108 to be administered in a specific way, then he should have made sure that the ballot language was crystal clear on the implementation front.

Thiry just wants lawmakers to do what he says. He spent millions of dollars on this idea and he can threaten to throw around plenty more cash — which GOP consulting firms are more than happy to collect — but that doesn’t make him right. Lawmakers and the Secretary of State are trying to implement the wishes of voters in a manner that maintains the integrity of Colorado’s voting process and reduces the likelihood of ballot spoilage in the event that voters inadvertently check the wrong box on a ballot.

We’ll take transparency and accountability over the wishes of Thiry in this case. We don’t doubt that voters will agree.