Senate Republicans Block LGBT Member of Civil Rights Commission

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.

A strange and ugly incident in the Colorado Senate this morning, as the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports:

In an unusual move Friday, Republican state senators blocked an LGBT advocate from continuing to serve on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission — which she chairs — by rejecting re-appointment to the group by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Heidi Jeanne Hess‘ appointment was voted down 18-17 in a party-line vote before the full state Senate. Her nomination had earlier won a recommendation for approval from the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Republicans argued, in rejecting Hess’ appointment, that she advocates for suing business owners…

Hess is the Western Slope field organizer for One Colorado, an organization that promotes and protects the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Colorado.

Sen. Owen Hill.

Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, responded angrily in a statement:

“Heidi Hess — who is One Colorado’s part-time, Western Slope Field Organizer — has served on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission for over 4 years, and currently as its chair. She has done exemplary work for the LGBTQ community and has advocated for Colorado’s most vulnerable populations time after time.

“It is extremely rare for a governor’s appointment to not be confirmed. In fact, when she was first confirmed in 2013, current senators Baumgardner, Crowder, Grantham, Hill, Lambert, Lundberg, and Marble all voted for her. [Pols emphasis]

“As a proud, out lesbian, Heidi’s work has been crucial in building public support for civil unions and the freedom to marry on the Western Slope. Over the past decade, she has been responsible for building a connected and robust community of LGBTQ people and allies in her community. She is a committed advocate for LGBTQ equality, not only in Grand Junction, but in all corners the state. These things make her preeminently qualified to serve on the Civil Rights Commission.

“This vote reaffirms why the Colorado Civil Rights Commission exists in the first place — LGBTQ discrimination continues to exist, even in the branches of our own government. Currently, at least four of the commissioners are members of groups who have been or might be discriminated against because of disability, race, creed, color, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, or age. Without Heidi on the commission, people living on the Western Slope will no longer have a voice or seat at the table. We call on the state senate to reconsider their vote and confirm Heidi who has been instrumental in achieving so much for Colorado.”

For Senate Republicans to refuse to reconfirm the chair of the Civil Rights Commission renominated by the governor is a very serious act of belligerence, against both the governor as well at the LGBT community that Heidi Hess was appointed to represent. With no more information from Republicans on specifically why they opposed her reconfirmation, we’re left to assume that the objection Hess supports “suing business owners” refers to the Civil Rights Commission’s duty to review appealed cases of discrimination and advise the legislature and governor’s office on the issue.

Meaning Senate Republicans are retaliating against Hess for doing her job.

Hopefully One Colorado’s request for the Senate GOP to reconsider their decision goes somewhere, because this would be a very nasty way to end the legislative session.

Get More Smarter on Friday (May 5)

Remember, kids: Don’t put the guacamole in your tortilla-chip hat until just before you are ready to leave the house. 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…

► As you may have heard, Congressional Republicans finally passed a bill on Thursday related to the repeal and destruction of Obamacare. Republicans toasted to the (poor) health of Americans at the White House last evening, but the political blowback is already underway. From CNN:

The Cook Political Report, a non-partisan campaign handicapping service, changed the ratings on 20 GOP-held districts Friday morning — all of them moving in Democrats’ favor in advance of the 2018 midterm election…

…Two of the 20 changes affected members who actually opposed the AHCA: Leonard Lance of New Jersey and Mike Coffman of Colorado. Of Coffman, Wasserman wrote: “Coffman ended up voting against the AHCA, but his hesitation to announce his position likely won’t assuage voters who want to send a message to President Trump next year.” [Pols emphasis]

Think about the changes the Cook Report made this way: To win back the House majority, Democrats need to gain 24 GOP seats. Twenty Republican seats just moved toward Democrats — in less than a day and with a single congressional vote.

That’s a big deal.

Aurora Republican Mike Coffman did indeed vote “NO” on Trumpcare 2.0 on Thursday, but it doesn’t appear as though Coffman is going to get any real political cover from the decision. Coffman’s vote on Thursday won’t extinguish the memory of his longstanding support for repealing Obamacare, including the fact that he was one of the biggest cheerleaders of the failed Trumpcare bill in March of this year.

 

► The healthcare legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate, and its future is as uncertain as ever. Republican Senate leaders are already questioning the wisdom of the House passing a bill that many members never even had a chance to read first.

Check out this video of a reporter asking Republican Members of Congress if they had read the healthcare legislation — that’s Rep. Ken Buck (R-Greeley) who walks quickly away from the question near the end of the clip.

 

► Other than Mike Coffman, Colorado’s Congressional delegation voted along party lines on Trumpcare 2.0. Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) had been coy about his support for the latest healthcare bill, but as the Grand Junction Sentinel reports, Tipton is drinking all of the GOP Kool-Aid:

The most recent version of the American Health Care Act passed the House on Thursday with U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., saying it met his test of making insurance more affordable.

“As the House developed the American Health Care Act, I was adamant that the replacement plan needed to ensure people with pre-existing conditions would have access to affordable health insurance,” Tipton said in a statement after the vote. “The bill provides these assurances.”…

…Critics took immediate issue with Tipton, among them ProgressNow Colorado, whose executive director noted Tipton’s comment to The Daily Sentinel in February that, “Every policy is still going to be in effect. People are not going to be left without coverage.” Tipton broke his promise to constituents with his vote, said Ian Silverii.

Tipton’s comments are complete and utter nonsense. It has been widely reported that the GOP healthcare bill would all but eliminate the requirement that insurance companies don’t penalize people with pre-existing conditions.

 

 

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So Basically, You’re Never Going To Be Happy

Beauvallon, a Denver construction-defect horror story.

The Denver Post’s John Aguilar reports on final passage of House Bill 17-1279, the hard-fought bipartisan compromise legislation to address developer concerns about liability for defects in the construction of new condominium developments.

A compromise that builders are already declaring insufficient:

Now that state lawmakers have passed the first measure in years to abate construction-related lawsuits against condo builders, new developments should start sprouting across the metro area like so many spring flowers.

Right?

Not so fast, says Home Builders Association of Denver CEO Jeff Whiton.

House Bill 1279, which stipulates that legal action against a builder for alleged construction flaws can only proceed when more than half of all homeowners in a condominium complex agree to it, is “not the cure-all” for what has become an anemic number of condo starts in Colorado.

More needs to be done to reduce the number of lawsuits filed against condo builders, which he said drive up insurance rates and chase developers from the state.

“The job’s not done yet,” Whiton said. “There’s still plenty of heavy lifting to do to give builders confidence to build condominiums and not be harassed by lawsuits.”

As anyone who has followed legislative politics in Colorado in recent years knows, the builder industry has been clamoring for “reform” of construction defects laws in our state for a long time. The industry’s lobbyists insist that a downturn in new condo development projects in the state is the direct result of the ease with which builders can be sued for defects in construction–and have demanded sweeping changes in the law to force homeowners in condo developments into binding arbitration over defect claims, and taking away power from homeowner’s associations to file suit.

The compromise legislation approved this year requires a majority of homeowners to initiate legal action, not the HOA board–and requires homeowners be informed about the potential effect of litigation on the ability to sell their properties. For homeowner groups and lawyers who represent them, that’s as far as they see the need to go. Opponents of the homebuilders in this fight argue that the real solution is for developers and builders to stand by their work–avoiding construction defects to begin with, and fixing problems in good faith quickly when they occur.

With all of this in mind, it’s revealing that builder lobbyists are already declaring their intention to return next year to push the same bills that died this year. It’s long been suspected that builders are misusing Colorado’s hot housing market to extract concessions from lawmakers, and blaming liability over construction defects for many other factors that have led to a shortage of affordable housing in this state. After years of complaining, now even after a bipartisan compromise has passed, it’s time to ask the question: is anything short of stripping homeowners of their legal rights to protect their biggest investment going to make the developers happy?

Because if not, maybe it’s time to tell them enough is enough.

Lawmakers Announce For-Reals Hospital Provider Fee Fix

Sausage factory. Don’t look inside unless you want to lose your appetite.

As the Colorado Independent’s Marianne Goodland reports, the long-sought bipartisan deal to fix a vexing budgetary problem in Colorado that would free up hundreds of millions of dollars, reclassifying the state’s Hospital Provider Fee program to no longer count against revenue limits under the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), is apparently close to fruition.

This week, negotiations between the bill’s sponsors became very tense over a provision hiking Medicaid co-pays for prescriptions and both inpatient and outpatient visits. Democrats led by House Majority Leader K.C. Becker and Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman insisted they never agreed to that, and would not–while co-sponsoring Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg demanded that the copays increase as part of the deal.

As of today, as Goodland reports, Republicans appear to have successfully extracted their pound of flesh:

Two House lawmakers and two Senate leaders have reached bipartisan agreement on a high-stakes and hard-fought state finance deal that fell apart as many times as it came together.

The bill, which centers around reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee into a government-owned enterprise, seeks to reverse a $264 million cut to hospitals statewide, which was part of the $26.8 billion budget sent to Gov. John Hickenlooper Wednesday. With just five working days left in the 2017 session, lawmakers fear what would happen to hospitals if an agreement couldn’t be reached.

If approved, the measure, “Sustainability of Rural Colorado,” would save close to a dozen rural hospitals, fund rural schools, give small businesses a break on business personal property taxes, and set aside money for long overdue transportation projects. But perhaps its most sought-after achievement — at least by Democrats — lies in reclassifying the hospital provider fee. The fee helps cover the cost of medical care for low-income Coloradans and is matched by federal dollars. Reclassifying it moves roughly $600 million to $700 million out from beneath state constitutionally-mandated revenue limits set by the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR).

So that’s the good news–a long-sought fix for the Hospital Provider Fee that prevents its growth from impacting other areas of the budget. But here’s what Republicans got in return:

The last major sticking point was whether to require Medicaid recipients to pay a little more for prescriptions and outpatient care. Democratic Rep. Becker of Boulder indicated that was a non-starter for her caucus, while Republican Sonnenberg of Sterling said it was not something he would back away from.

Under the agreement, the cost for prescriptions for Medicaid recipients would double from $1 to $2; outpatient copays would also double from $2 to $4. Both may vary slightly based on family income. A previous agreement also called for patients to pay more for daily inpatient hospital stays, but to appease Democrats, that provision was nixed…

What remains unchanged: The $200 million reduction in the state’s TABOR limits, currently set at about $13.3 billion. The reduction is meant to counterbalance the removal of provider fee revenues – about $656 million in 2017-18 – from the state’s revenue limit into a government-owned enterprise. TABOR allows for enterprises. Among the largest: college tuition , which pays for college costs, and fees paid at state parks, which pay for the operations of those parks.

Also unchanged: State agencies would be required for the 2018-19 fiscal year to submit budgets to the governor’s budget office showing a 2 percent across-the-board cut.

In addition, the deal includes a small business property tax cut that Republicans have wanted for some time. The added burden on Medicaid patients is the highest-profile “victory” that Republicans can claim in this deal–and given Sonnenberg’s unwillingness to compromise over costs that sound trivial to, well, everyone but poor folks on Medicaid, they can’t claim anything like the moral high ground. Other purely ideological “victories” like across-the-board cuts do nothing good politically for Republicans outside their own base voters.

As for Democrats, they accomplished significantly more of their own long-standing objectives despite some painful concessions. Whatever the momentary sticking points were in the negotiations, Republican backs were against the wall. The peril of rural conservative Republican lawmakers with hospitals in their districts that may have closed without this deal, more than any other factor, is what kept Sen. Sonnenberg and Rep. Jon Becker at the bargaining table.

In short, this deal is probably as good as you’re going to get with right-wing activist group Americans For Prosperity calling the shots in the Republican-controlled Colorado Senate. With everything weighed in the balance, Democrats got some long-sought things accomplished–and the hospitals in Jerry Sonnenberg’s district that will stay open constitute an objectively good outcome.

If you want a better deal, your next step is the 2018 elections.

Health Care Repeal in Colorado Dies Quietly

Sen. Jim Smallwood (R-Parker)

We’re still waiting to see if Congressional Republicans can muster enough votes to attempt to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Trumpcare 2.0. But here in Colorado, there is no such mystery surrounding GOP efforts to dismantle the Colorado Health Benefit Exchange.

As 9News reports:

Senate Bill Three was one of six bills highlighted in the opening day speech by Senate President Kevin Grantham (R-Cañon City)…

…The bill to repeal the state’s health benefit exchange is dead. It’s not unusual for a Republican bill to die at the hands of Democrats, but this one is simply being abandoned. We wanted to ask the Senate leadership or Sen. Jim Smallwood why this priority has gone unprioritized, but no one wanted to talk.

Sources around the Capitol have suggested this bill essentially died when Republicans in Washington, D.C. could not agree on a way to repeal Obamacare.

Colorado Republicans have had a heck of a time keeping their talking points straight on why they would want to eliminate the state health exchange, which has been kicked down the road to next week just about every week in the last month (9News includes the sequential images of SB-3 getting booted). Senator Jim Smallwood of Parker was charged with promoting this legislative turd, which was first heard in committee on Feb. 7 and then not again until April 6.

Smallwood once laughably said that his bill had “nothing to do” with partisan rancor over Obamacare. He was half-right on that statement; as it turned out, even Republican legislators wanted nothing to do with it.

Bipartisan Triumph Over “Rolling Coal”

The soon-to-be-illegal practice of “rolling coal.”

After three tries in two years, we’re delighted to note for the record what the Colorado Statesman’s John Tomasic reports:

Senate Bill 278, sponsored in the House by Fort Collins Democrat JoAnn Ginal and in the Senate by Durango Republican Don Coram, passed a final reading in the House today by a wide margin, 40-25.

This is the second version of the bill this year. The first version was killed in a Republican-controlled Senate committee by members who thought the proposed law might net agricultural workers and freight haulers and lead to stricter general vehicle emissions laws. The new version made the behavior and type of vehicles targeted by the law more explicit.

Rolling coal has caught on as a form of defiant cultural protest in the era of climate change and emissions-free vehicles. Drivers pass unsuspecting cyclists and electric car drivers on the road and unleash clouds of toxic black smoke. Coal rollers often post videos of themselves in the act.

The Colorado bill would make rolling coal a traffic infraction and subject drivers to a $100 fine.

Although the bill still could not obtain Republican majority support in either chamber, the support and persistence of Sen. Don Coram was instrumental in getting the second iteration of this bill out of the GOP-controlled Senate. Frankly it’s difficult to understand what the objection to this bill ever was–unless way down deep in your heart, you just think people should be allowed to billow clouds of toxic smoke at hybrid cars, protesters, bicyclists, or whoever else makes the mistake of sharing the road with you.

Thanks to Colorado Democrats and just enough thoughtful Republicans, we can breathe the free air again.

Transparency and Accountability? Yes, Please

The Colorado legislature is scheduled to end its 2017 session one week from today, which has both the House and Senate scrambling to check off items on their “to-do lists.” One of the pressing issues that is causing much hand-wringing in the final days of the 2017 session revolves around trying to figure out how to administer two poorly-written ballot measures approved by voters last November. As Brian Eason writes for the Denver Post, this includes trying to figure out how to administer two poorly-written ballot measures approved by voters in 2016:

The dispute stems from propositions 107 and 108, ballot initiatives approved by Colorado voters in November that open partisan primary elections in the state, including a re-established presidential primary, to unaffiliated voters.

Differences over how to effectively administer the new primaries have become a broader fight that’s partly motivated by politics. The procedure the state ultimately devises could affect how many unaffiliated voters decide to participate in next year’s gubernatorial primaries and beyond…

…As the legislative session nears its close on May 10, lawmakers are rushing to introduce legislation to set up new election procedures needed to implement the two initiatives. They will also require more funding — an estimated $5 million to $7 million in presidential election years.

Some of the decisions — such as how to format the ballot — will be left to the secretary of state’s office to manage through administrative rule-making.

The legislation, which Sens. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, plan to carry, is still being ironed out.

Proposition 108, which passed with the support of 53 percent of the voters in 2016, was created to allow Unaffiliated voters in Colorado to participate in partisan primaries. In theory, this would prompt more people to vote in primary elections (including Presidential primaries, which is where Proposition 107 enters the picture). But because Prop. 108 was so vaguely-written, the legislature and the Secretary of State’s office are now scrambling to figure out how to implement these changes without creating a rash of spoiled ballots and ultimately making our elections less transparent than they are already.

If you are a registered Democrat or Republican in Colorado, you will automatically receive a ballot for your party’s primary election in June 2018. This is not particularly complicated. But if you are an Unaffiliated voter who can now vote in one of these primary elections, this becomes much more confusing. Unaffiliated voters can only cast votes on one partisan primary ballot; if a voter marks a name in both a Democratic and Republican primary, for example, then their vote is “spoiled” (a fancy word for “not counted”).

County clerks could send Unaffiliated voters separate ballots for each partisan primary, but you still need to convince these voters to return only one ballot. This would be a huge waste of time and money, of course, and the county clerks hate the idea; counties are only reimbursed financially for every ballot that is returned by Election Day — not for every ballot that is mailed to a voter. Colorado could also decide to create a super-gigantic consolidated ballot for Unaffiliated voters, which would look something like this humongous mess that is sent out in Washington state.

This is only part of the issue that is creating fresh controversy in the legislature. Some supporters of Prop. 108 are aghast at the idea that election officials would make note of which partisan primary ballots were chosen by Unaffiliated voters. It seems fairly obvious that we need to account for all of the ballots that are received on Election Day, as the Colorado Independent notes in a separate story about the controversy:

Jeffrey Roberts, who runs the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition and who watchdogs open records and open government in the state, says the privacy interests are obvious but the public interest aspect for disclosure might be harder to see.

“Many people are listed as unaffiliated voters because they want to be perceived as independent and don’t want to be bugged by operatives from any political party during an election cycle, although that may be unavoidable,” he says. But, he adds, people concerned about the integrity of elections might want that information to make sure all the numbers add up after the ballots are cast.

“It could help the public ensure that votes have been counted accurately, and it would provide a more complete picture of voting in a primary election,” says Roberts.

DaVita CEO Kent Thiry

Keep in mind here that your vote is still secret no matter how it is classified, but there is nevertheless a nonsense belief that Unaffiliated voters should get to be more secretive than partisan voters. Let’s go back to Eason’s story in the Denver Post:

And it’s not just the parties that have been trying to persuade elections officials. Kent Thiry, the DaVita chief executive and a potential Republican candidate for governor, met with Williams last week to voice objections to the plan and pledged to fight provisions that would allow partisan tracking, according to the secretary of state’s office. Thiry bankrolled the open primary ballot initiatives to the tune of $2.4 million last year.

“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,” said Suzanne Staiert, the deputy secretary of state. [Pols emphasis]

Thiry did not immediately respond to requests for comment left with two spokespeople. But the concern among critics is that tracking independent voters by party could deter participation by a growing block that prefers not to declare an affiliation with one party or another.

Thiry is a likely candidate for Governor in 2018 who bankrolled Propositions 107 and 108 in part because he believed he could better win a primary election — Thiry is a registered Republican — if Unaffiliated voters were allowed to cast votes. Some of this belief is driven by the nonsensical argument that Unaffiliated voters are all just a bunch of “moderates” who don’t choose a political party because they are too centrist to fit into a specific bucket.

The idea that most Unaffiliated voters are completely independent and not influenced by partisan politics is hogwash; studies have shown that most Unaffiliated voters tend to regularly support candidates from one party or another regardless of their stated affiliation. Anybody who has ever made calls or knocked on doors of Unaffiliated voters can tell you that they are often as partisan as anyone else. Sure, there are some Unaffiliated voters who really vote all over the ballot in every election — there are also plenty of Democrats and Republicans who do the same.

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.

New Poll Shows Tough 2018 Road for Colorado Republicans

Magellan Strategies, a Colorado-based polling firm that is known to lean-Republican, released a fresh new batch of polling numbers in Colorado today. For Republicans hoping to see better results after an awful Keating Research poll in March…

Well, let’s just say that things are looking up — but only because Republican numbers are essentially upside-down.

Magellan Strategies polled 502 “likely 2018 General Election voters in Colorado” on April 26 and 27, and the results are pretty dismal for Republicans. Take a look at some of the “key findings” as presented by Magellan:

♦ Among likely 2018 voters, 47% approve and 49% disapprove of the job Donald Trump is doing as President. Among unaffiliated voters, 40% approve and 53% disapprove of the job he is doing.

♦ The generic Congressional ballot shows voters prefer the Democrat candidate to the Republican candidate by a 5-point margin, 39% to 34% respectively. Among unaffiliated voters, the generic Democrat candidate leads the generic Republican candidate by a 13-point margin, 34% to 21% respectively.

♦ Among all respondents, 34% approve of the job the Republicans in Congress are doing and 58% disapprove.

♦ Among likely 2018 voters, 40% approve of the job Senator Cory Gardner is doing, 37% disapprove, and 23% do not have an opinion. Among unaffiliated voters 37% approve of the job Senator Gardner is doing and 35% disapprove.

President Trump’s approval ratings are definitely upside-down in Colorado. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) is right on the precipice of being flipped on his head, but remember here that Magellan Strategies generally tilts rightward in its poll results.

Gardner should also be worried that he continues to poll far below Trump among likely Republican voters. In the Keating Research poll from March, Gardner had a 63% approval rating among Republicans compared to 83% for Trump. According to Magellan Strategies, Gardner has a 59% approval rating among Republicans compared to 85% for Trump. In short, Gardner is losing support among Colorado Republicans at the same time that Trump is slowly gaining favor.

There are a lot of reasons why Gardner is losing favor among voters, including Republicans, and it starts with his disinterest in speaking with constituents. It doesn’t help that Gardner is getting splinters in his pants from regularly riding the fence on issues while he bends over backward to show deference to Trump on subjects that are supposed to be right in his wheelhouse.

The only good news for Trump and Gardner is that they won’t have to appear again on a Colorado ballot until 2020. But for Republicans campaigning in 2018, these numbers must be absolutely terrifying.

Get More Smarter on Monday (May 1)

If someone left a bouquet of May Day flowers on your front door today, we want to hear about it. Seriously. 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…

► Congress has come to agreement on a budget proposal that will keep the federal government funded through September. As the Washington Post reports, President Trump got absolutely rolled on the negotiations:

Perhaps the best negotiators are not the people who tell everyone that they are the best negotiators.

A spending agreement was reached last night that will keep the government funded through the end of September. This will be the first significant bipartisan measure passed by Congress since Donald Trump took office.

The White House agreed to punt on a lot of the president’s top priorities until this fall to avert a shutdown on Friday and to clear the deck so that the House can pass a health-care bill…

…But Democrats are surprised by just how many concessions they extracted in the trillion-dollar deal, considering that Republicans have unified control of government.

 

► Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are casting this week as the last real chance to approve a potential plan to repeal Obamacare. The White House is taking its usual blustery stance about having enough votes from Republicans to pass a bill out of the House, though the outlook is not so rosy when you ask Congressional leaders. It is unclear whether House Republicans have enough support from moderates to pass something along to the Senate, and there is little reason to believe that any potential legislation could move at all if it were to land in the Senate.

The main sticking point in the current healthcare negotiations revolves around pre-existing conditions. Trump maintains that any new Obamacare repeal “will be every bit as good on preexisting conditions as Obamacare.” But in order to gain the support of right-wing Republicans, such as the Freedom Caucus, Congressional Republicans are actually trying to gut protections for pre-existing conditions.

 

► By the end of the day today, there will be little evidence left of a weekend snowstorm in the Denver metro area. But it did snow — quite a bit, in fact — and the weather didn’t stop a huge crowd from turning out in Denver in support of efforts to combat Climate Change. Thousands of people showed up at Civic Center Park on Saturday to take part in a march and rally that was also happening simultaneously in more than 300 cities around the world.

 

► Republicans in the State Senate are crowing about a new budget proposal in an effort to pretend that they are actually interested in governing. From John Frank of the Denver Post:

Colorado’s top lawmakers are negotiating a far-reaching measure in the final days of the legislative session that is designed to save hospitals from major budget cuts, generate $1.8 billion for road repairs and lower the state’s spending cap.

Senate President Pro Tem Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, unveiled the details early Monday after days of closed-door negotiations with top Democratic lawmakers. But moments after he announced an agreement on the legislation, an aide passed him a note from Democrats that declared no deal.

We don’t doubt that many Democrats aren’t happy with this latest funding proposal, considering some of the nonsense included in Sonnenberg’s bill:

The latest negotiations include requiring the maximum federal co-pay for Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for people with low-income, as well as a cut to the business personal property tax for small business owners, up to $25,000. Other provisions would change how TABOR refunds are issued and funnel more money to rural schools.

Republican lawmakers continue to insist that there is plenty of money hidden away in government coffers that could pay for everything if they could just move some decimal points around here and there. Note also how Republicans would include a tax cut for businesses alongside a big new financial burden for low-income Coloradans.

 

 

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Sen. Ray Scott Celebrates His Love For Donald Trump

Sen. Ray Scott (R).

With President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in the books, local Republicans are hoping to put their positive spin on what is generally agreed to be an historically unproductive start to Trump’s administration–here’s Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction putting his best face on Trump for the Colorado Springs Gazette:

For a new president who never enjoyed the traditional “honeymoon” but instead had to swim upstream from Day One against a relentless tide of negativity, naysaying and tantrum-tossing from an embittered opposition, the media and from a Washington establishment that refuses to change, I think Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office have been nothing short of a triumph. [Pols emphasis]

While his predecessor enjoyed the longest “honeymoon” in presidential history, at eight years and counting, the hate-a-thon that greeted Trump makes his early accomplishments all the more impressive.

Trump is the first president in decades to put out a federal budget that includes actual cuts, rather than reductions in projected spending increases, which is how Washington traditionally defined a “cut.” His budget concedes the need to make choices, by paying for increases for one department by making cuts in another. That’s a major improvement over the customary practice of upping funding for virtually everything, making no trade-offs, then using printing presses to pay for the resulting deficits and debt…

Trump has been good for Colorado. He not only called a halt to the war on coal, which is good for Colorado’s coal communities and energy consumers, but he’s backing the Jordan Cove project, a major potential jobs-generator for the Western Slope that appeared doomed during the Obama years. He lifted another cloud hanging over Colorado by shelving Obama’s heavy-handed and constitutionally dubious Clean Power Plan, which smacked of the Washington-knows-best arrogance Americans are tired of.

Scott concludes:

No one can argue that Trump hasn’t fulfilled the mandate he had to shake things up. And the courage and conviction he has shown, in doing what he said he would do, is a welcome change for Americans accustomed to seeing candidates promptly abandon promises once elected, as they get swallowed by the swamp.

And there you have it, folks–the defense of a President with the lowest approval rating in history after 100 days in office. Scott’s central issue as a lawmaker is support for energy development, and that’s obvious from his effusive praise for Trump on energy issues.

Even factoring that, you can see the “reality gap” between Trump’s supporters and the rest of the nation is very, very large.

Yes, THAT Tony Sanchez

Tony Sanchez is like the Winter Olympics of Colorado politics: He re-appears every four years to a lukewarm reception, and most everything he does is fairly confusing. This snapshot from Sanchez’s Twitter feed tells you everything you need to know about his return to Colorado politics:

Tony Sanchez last appeared on Twitter in Oct. 2014

Colorado political observers will recall that Sanchez emerged out of nowhere (also called “California”) when he announced in 2014 that he would seek the Republican nomination for State Senate in SD-22 (Lakewood). Sanchez was a recent arrival in Colorado, but he somehow convinced conservative groups such as Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) to back him in a GOP Primary against the more moderate and better-known Mario Nicolais.

Sanchez pulled off a surprise victory over Nicolais in a bitter primary fight that caused much consternation among Republicans; Democratic incumbent Andy Kerr went on to defeat Sanchez in the General Election for a seat that Republicans thought they had a decent chance of winning. Kerr was a probably a better candidate than either Nicolais or Sanchez, but the general opinion at the time was that Republicans might have had a shot at capturing SD-22 with a less-extreme candidate who actually had some sort of personal history in the area.

Kerr will exhaust his term limits in the state Senate in 2018 (he’s running for Congress in CD-7), and Sanchez is back to take another shot at the legislature. It is not clear yet who will be the Democratic candidate for SD-22, but the presence of Sanchez won’t exactly be a deterrent for anyone considering the possibility.

BREAKING: Beauprez Group Guilty of Violating Campaign Law

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

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

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

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

—–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political gadfly Matt Arnold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get More Smarter on Wednesday (April 26)

Get ready for the rain. Or perhaps snow. Or maybe just sun. 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…

► Congressional Republicans, at the urging of President Trump, are attempting to revive efforts to repeal-and-maybe-replace Obamacare…or at least hoping to pretend that they are sorta trying to repeal the health care law. From the Washington Post:

An influential group of House conservatives threw its support behind a new Republican plan to revise the Affordable Care Act, shifting the political pressure to GOP moderates to determine the effort’s fate.

The House Freedom Caucus, which thwarted Republicans’ first attempt to overhaul the health-care system under President Trump, announced its support for an amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) allowing states to opt out of certain rules under Obamacare.

“The MacArthur amendment will grant states the ability to repeal cost driving aspects of Obamacare left in place under the original [Republican plan],” the Freedom Caucus said Wednesday in an unattributed statement.

“While the revised version still does not fully repeal Obamacare, we are prepared to support it to keep our promise to the American people to lower healthcare costs,” the statement said.

The decision came as three conservative advocacy groups — the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Heritage Action for America — declared their support for the plan, even as they also admitted it does not fully repeal Obamacare. [Pols emphasis]

We’ve reached the point in the healthcare debate where Republicans are signing onto a deal to “repeal Obamacare” that doesn’t actually repeal Obamacare — though they still don’t appear to have enough GOP support to approve legislation.

 

► Meanwhile, as Sarah Kliff reports for Vox, Congressional Republicans are considering protecting Obamacare access for themselves even if they somehow repeal part of the law:

House Republicans appear to have included a provision that exempts members of Congress and their staff from their latest health care plan.

The new Republican amendment, introduced Tuesday night, would allow states to waive out of Obamacare’s ban on preexisting conditions. This means that insurers could once again, under certain circumstances, charge sick people higher premiums than healthy people.

Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff. A spokesperson for Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), who authored this amendment, confirmed this was the case: Members of Congress and their staff would get the guarantee of keeping these Obamacare regulations. Health law expert Tim Jost flagged this particular issue to me.

 

► President Trump is rolling out his tax cuts for billionaires plan tax reform proposal with a one-page document that doesn’t bother to include any specific policy information. Details, shmetails.

 

► State legislative efforts to find funding for transportation and infrastructure upgrades have been officially dashed thanks to three Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee. Elsewhere, legislators are entering the final few weeks of the 2017 session with a number of high-profile items on their to-do lists.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

(more…)

Sen. Tim Neville Abuses Armenian Genocide To Grind Gun Axe


Earlier today in the Colorado Senate, Sen. Tim Neville (R-MGO) spoke in support of SJR17-042, a resolution honoring victims of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government during World War I. But simply honoring the victims of genocide wasn’t enough for Sen. Neville, who turned the discussion into an argument against “gun control.” As the story went from Neville, the Turks confiscated the guns of the Armenian population, which left them “defenseless” when the Turks started rounding Armenians up and forcing them on death marches through the Syrian desert.

A little Googling will reveal the story that Turkish gun control laws “left Armenians defenseless” in the face of genocide is an article of faith among American gun rights supporters. Similar arguments are made about the Nazis’ supposed gun control campaign before the Holocaust–a campaign Politifact says never happened. The truth is, there is little evidence to support the idea that small arms would have made any difference with regard to either the Armenian or Jewish genocides of the 20th century.

This is a photograph of Armenian partisans defending themselves from Turkish forces in 1915.

Note the guns.

In reality, Armenians were confronted with overwhelmingly superior military force, against which small arms afforded little more than token resistance. Armenians had no means of resisting Turkish forces employing artillery and other heavy weapons against them. The myth of small-arms resistance against a modern military force simply breaks down in the face of this reality. In response to the regular suggestion from pro-gun politicians and pundits that could could have saved the Jews from the Nazis, the Anti-Defamation League is unequivocal:

The Anti-Defamation League “has always strenuously objected to the use of Nazi analogies to advance any kind of political debate, including the gun control debate,” said Deborah Lauter, the group’s civil rights director. “We believe it’s historically inaccurate and incredibly insensitive, particularly to Holocaust survivors and their families.”

Beyond that, she said, it’s just a false comparison.

“In no way could armed people have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi state,” she said, noting that some European Jews had access to a small number of firearms. “There could be symbolic resistance, as we saw in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but it would not have stopped the Nazis.”

Look, we understand that these kinds of historical myths are very seductive to Americans looking to apply them to contemporary political questions. That’s because when it comes to human tragedy on the scale of 20th century genocides, most Americans don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. We apply these events from world history to our political debates without proper context, or even a rational basis.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to transport Sen. Neville back to eastern Turkey in 1915–so he can see for himself how ridiculous these militiaman fantasies really are.

Republicans Kill Transportation Funding Bill

No road repairs for you!

As John Frank reports for the Denver Post:

A bipartisan measure backed by Colorado’s top lawmakers to seek a sales tax hike for transportation reached the end of the road Tuesday.

A state Senate panel defeated the proposal to pump $3.5 billion into improving the state’s highways along party-lines with the three Republican members citing ideological opposition to increasing taxes.

The outcome became clear a week earlier when the Senate’s bill sponsors hastily announced an impasse in the negotiations on the term’s No. 1 priority, a major setback for legislative leaders and Gov. John Hickenlooper.

“This is a statewide solution bill,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Cañon City. “Yes it contains things both sides may cringe at. … But we must start looking at some of these things.”…

Most supporters urged the Senate Finance Committee to allow the measure to reach the Senate floor, where it has the votes to pass, and emphasized the need to take action. [Pols emphasis]

But the bulk of opponents criticized the tax hike and suggested lawmakers cut spending elsewhere to prioritize money for transportation, suggesting everything from reductions in spending on libraries to selling an airplane used by the governor.

As Frank notes, there were enough votes in the Senate as a whole to get this transportation legislation out of the Upper Chamber and onto the Governor’s desk…but three partisan Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee refused to allow the bill to advance (despite support from Senate President Kevin Grantham). Senators Tim Neville (R-Jefferson County), Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs) and Jack Tate (R-Centennial) did the bidding of the Koch-funded group Americans for Potholes Prosperity, making the same tired old argument that we can just find enough money in the couch cushions of various state offices if we look hard enough.

For partisan Republicans like Neville, Hill, and Tate, it’s easier to just say “NO” to everything than it is to try to actually come up with solutions.