Today is Election Day. If you haven’t voted yet, turn off your computer and get to a polling place. Now. Go. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).
TOP OF MIND TODAY…
► DON’T MAIL THAT BALLOT!!! If you still have your ballot for the 2015 election, do NOT put it in the mail. Instead, click one of the following links for more information on ballot drop-off locations. If you never received a ballot, follow the links below for information on Provisional Ballots.
► The Colorado Secretary of State has published voter turnout numbers by county. As of this morning, 911,365 ballots had been returned statewide. Turnout for the last off-year election, 2013, was about 1.4 million. In the most closely-watched race of 2015 — the Jefferson County School Board recall election — 136,554 ballots had been returned as of this morning (total turnout in 2013 was about 176,508 in Jeffco).
► Governor John Hickenlooper outlined his new budget proposal on Monday, as John Frank reports for the Denver Post:
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday outlined a $27 billion budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year that features $373 million in spending cuts and $189 million in taxpayer refunds.
The fiscal paradox — a result of more moderating economic growth and restraints in the state constitution — sets the stage for a major budget battle in the 2016 legislative session, as evidenced by the sharp reaction to the Democrat’s plan.
“If this is not the fabled death by a thousand cuts, it comes pretty close,” said Rep. Millie Hamner, the top Democratic budget writer…
…Hickenlooper’s plan represents a 0.4 percent decrease in spending compared with the current 2016 fiscal year budget, with the cuts hitting hardest on higher education, hospitals and state building maintenance. The reductions are needed to offset increased costs in K-12 education and Medicaid, the health care program for the poor — as well as to cover a projected deficit in the current year budget that could reach as high as $220 million.
Embattled Jeffco school board members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, Julie Williams (WNW).
This year’s biggest election in Colorado is only open to voters residing in the Jefferson County R-1 School District, which includes Jefferson County and a small portion of the City and County of Broomfield. Voters in this district are deciding on a recall of three right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County Board of Education: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams, in addition to two open seats previously held by progressive retiring board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper.
Please vote in our unscientific poll below. Remember as always that we’re not looking for your preference, we want you to tell us what you actually think will happen tomorrow when the polls close and votes are finally counted.
If you still have not returned your mail ballot for the 2015 election, you should head to a ballot drop-off site. Remember: Ballots must be received by the County Clerk no later than 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Ballots that are postmarked before Nov. 3 but received after 7:00 will not be counted.
We took note a couple of weeks ago when an often-quoted “independent” Colorado political pundit, former SE2 principal Eric Sondermann, had what can be best described as a sexist meltdown via Twitter during the Democratic presidential debate–deploring Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s “cackle” of a laugh, and suggesting that she and opponent Bernie Sanders “adjourn to a room upstairs” after Sanders came to Clinton’s defense.
Despite a wealth of eloquent opinionmakers available to ring for comment at any time in Colorado politics, some who might actually be plausibly considered “independent” for the purposes of fair-minded journalism, there’s a disturbing lazy tendency among local political reporters to rely heavily on two middle-aged white dudes whose opinions tend to be anything but “independent” (or, for that matter, “informed” or “useful”). We’re referring of course to the aforementioned Eric Sondermann and 9NEWS “analyst” Floyd Ciruli, who we affectionately call the “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum of Colorado politics.”
The latest example of Ciruli’s special brand of “independent” skullduggery occurred on this weekend’s edition of Balance of Power. A show that often features some of the more insightful political reporting to be had on Denver TV, Sunday’s broadcast turned into an upsettingly slanted look at the Jefferson County school board recall. It didn’t help that host Brandon Rittiman and education reporter Nelson Garcia invoked the word “union” in just about every sentence, to the point of using the word as a substitute for actually explaining what they’re talking about. But Ciruli’s over-the-top union bashing dragged the conversation into downright silliness. In Ciruli’s view, neighborhood schools are “union-run schools,” and “fundamentally” the recall election is all about the evil teacher’s union’s desire to stop every good thing happening in education today.
Apparently it doesn’t matter a bit that the union and the school board signed a contract.
Considering the parents and other stakeholders that have no “union” affiliations whatsoever and are the faces of the recall campaign, and the fact that while some by no means all, or even a majority of funding for the recall campaign is from unions, yesterday’s Balance of Power was a bizarre capitulation to one side’s talking points. For all the respect we have for the reporters involved, it was not 9NEWS’ best work.
But for Floyd Ciruli, who may have run the Colorado Democratic Party back when they lost every election but today is a wholesale shill for very much un-democratic interests, it was par for the course.
If you live just about anywhere in suburban Jefferson County, it was hard to miss the latest miles-long visibility effort yesterday afternoon from supporters of the recall election underway against the right-wing majority on the Jefferson County school board. For the third time since the new board majority was elected, a massive “Boots on the Boulevard” protest lined the county’s busiest surface street, Wadsworth Boulevard, with thousands of students, parents, and teachers–this time armed with a specific message (recall) and a “Clean Slate” of replacement candidates whose names were on every corner.
Surprisingly, there has been no press coverage of yesterday’s demonstration that we can find in any local outlet. That’s not easy to explain, but given the enormous numbers of Jeffco voters who saw these demonstrators along Wadsworth yesterday…maybe it doesn’t matter if the media decides to ignore them. In lieu of responsible press coverage, we’ve assembled some photos and video of yesterday’s event for posterity from social media:
As University of Colorado students continued their campaign for more tickets to the Republican presidential debate at the CU-Boulder campus next week, ProgressNow Colorado, the state’s largest online progressive advocacy organization, delivered a petition to CU President Bruce Benson’s office calling for 50% of the tickets to the debate to be made available to CU students.
“We’ve heard from hundreds of University of Colorado students, stakeholders, and other local citizens who are outraged that CU’s reputation for open and honest dialogue is being misused,” said ProgressNow Colorado executive director Amy Runyon-Harms. “To promote this debate on the University of Colorado campus while locking CU students out who only want to fill the arena’s thousands of empty seats is an insult to those students and our whole community.”
In August, ProgressNow Colorado called for 50% of the tickets to the October 28th Republican presidential debate be distributed to University of Colorado students. After debate organizers announced that only 1,000 of the Coors Events Center’s 11,000+ seats would be used for the debate, and that only a token number of those limited seats would be offered to CU students, ProgressNow Colorado called for an additional 1,000 empty seats in the arena to be made available for students.
“All of the excuses offered by debate organizers have fallen flat,” said Runyon-Harms. “There is no reason why 1,000 empty seats in the Coors Events Center can’t be made available to students. The cameras and broadcast equipment don’t take up that much space. Nothing about the setup of the stage for the debate makes this modest request unworkable. All that’s left is the fact that everyone knows, but debate organizers can’t acknowledge: they are afraid of what these out-of-touch Republican presidential candidates are going to say.”
“It’s not too late,” said Runyon-Harms. “Our message to the RNC, CU, and CNBC is simple: prove the skeptics wrong by opening up 1,000 empty seats to CU students. Or face the embarrassment of students being denied access to an event on their own campus overshadowing the debate itself.”
Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.
This off-year’s biggest race in Colorado by a considerable margin is the recall election underway against the right-wing majority members of the Jefferson County school board. Gabrielle Porter at the Canyon Courierwrote an excellent story last week on the “outside” groups playing in this race on both sides. For those of us familiar with the interplay between candidates, independent message groups, and the money that makes it all come together, a lot of this story explains processes you know.
But there is something a bit odd, even for those of us who follow this game regularly:
On the incumbents’ side, a nonprofit group with conservative ties has funded television ads featuring [board member Julie] Williams that toe — but do not cross — lines that would require it to disclose finances…
Stephen Spaulding, Common Cause’s senior policy counsel and legal director, said that while he hadn’t seen the ad featuring Williams, political operatives frequently take advantage of vagueness in campaign finance law.
“When a candidate is appearing in a C-4 ad, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, people can decide whether it really is a campaign ad,” Spaulding said. “Voters can really easily suss out when something looks like a campaign ad and when the rules are being exploited.”
Luis Toro, director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said considering that Williams is not restricted by donation limits in this race, the nonprofit could have easily donated funds directly to her, and she could then have run a campaign ad with a call to action. [Pols emphasis]
“Games are being played. That’s what’s going on. … It’s not at all typical and sounds like somebody’s intentionally pushing the envelope to see how much they can get away with …,” Toro said. “There’s no reason they couldn’t have just given her the money or just run an ad that just says, ‘Vote for me’ … The only reason to do it that way is to avoid disclosure.”
Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute.
What’s particularly strange about these ads featuring Jeffco school board member Julie Williams from the right-wing Independence Institute, a nonprofit charity that does not disclose its donors, is that they don’t have to be run through a independent group at all. School board races in Colorado are not subject to the same strict contribution limits that most other candidates must abide by. Whoever paid for these ads could have simply written a check to Williams’ campaign to produce them. Heck, they could have done the whole production of the ad as an in-kind contribution to Williams’ campaign. What’s more, the ad could advocate much more directly if it came from Williams’ campaign. By running this ad through the Independence Institute, its content is significantly hobbled.
Williams said the creators of the ads never talked to her about how much they would cost, and said she didn’t know how many slots were purchased.
“I was just offered the opportunity to do the commercial …,” Williams said. “I think, as a candidate, you’re not supposed to know some of that.” [Pols emphasis]
In any normal circumstance, as a candidate who is actually appearing in the ad, you would want to know these things–wouldn’t you? Williams’ response to questions about the propriety of the ad she appears in sounds incredibly bad, but part of it simply reflects the strange rules that govern this school board recall election–versus virtually every other kind of election in Colorado that involves candidates for office. Whoever is paying for these ads in support of Williams is doing it this way on purpose, so you’ll never know who they are. Because there’s no other reason to do it.
And if the funders don’t want you to know who they are, there’s usually a reason for that too.
Jeffco School Board candidate Regan Benson may not live anywhere near the district.
There was an interesting story in the Columbine Courier on Wednesday that you definitely need to read — particularly if you are a Jefferson County Voter.
Republican Regan Benson is running for a seat on the Jefferson County SchoolBoard in District 5. If School Board President Ken Witt is forced out in the recall election, Benson could end up being his replacement in District 5. This could lead to even more drama in Jeffco School Board politics, because it appears likely that Benson actually lives about 150 miles away — in Akron, Colorado.
As Doug Bell reports for the Courier:
Benson has not directly responded to repeated questions about whether she lives in Jefferson County. She told Evergreen Newspapers in 2012 that her family had moved to Akron, a town in eastern Colorado, in part because of dissatisfaction with the Jeffco school district. Since declaring her candidacy, however, Benson has said only that she is still a registered Jeffco voter in District 5.
“I don’t believe it prudent to the issues of running for a local school board position to publish my address,” Benson said. [Pols emphasis]
Beth Clippinger, assistant to Jeffco Clerk Faye Griffin, said state statute requires school board candidates to be registered voters for 12 consecutive months before the election, and that Benson registered as a Jeffco voter in November 2013.
Regan Benson could have one hell of a commute if she is elected to the Jeffco School Board.
It may not be particularly relevant to publish Benson’s exact address(es), but it is certainly worth noting if she doesn’t live anywhere near Jefferson County, which appears likely. Benson apparently answered questions from the Columbine Courier via email — the story notes that she declined a telephone interview — and says that she decided to run for Jeffco School Board even though she opposes the recall effort.
While we can’t say for sure where Benson might rest her head at night, voter registration information is a matter of public record and fairly easy to check. Benson is a registered Jefferson County voter with an address in Morrison (Willow Springs), but her voter registration record also lists an address in Akron, Colorado — about 150 miles to the east. When there are two separate residences listed for a particular voter, it usually means that the second address is the destination for mail ballots.
Benson probably collects her mail ballot in Akron, and she refuses to say if she actually lives in Jefferson County, which is a weird thing to do if she really does live in Jeffco — what would be the point of dodging that question otherwise? And then there’s this:
Benson, who said she has never before run for office, said all three of her sons have in the past attended Jeffco schools, although her youngest son now attends school in another district.
The law doesn’t mandate that Benson actually live in Jefferson County so long as her voter registration is there, but why would you want to run for a school board position in an area that is 150 miles from your home? Jeffco has seen Republican candidates for school board in prior years who home-school their children, so it wouldn’t be new for someone to seek a Board spot with no obvious connection to the school district. But this — well, we’ve got to admit that we’ve never seen this before.
Remember, all ballots must be received by the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder by 7:00 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 3. It doesn’t matter if your mail ballot is postmarked before Nov. 3 — it must physically arrive in order to be counted.
Brought to our attention by the pro-recall blog Support Jeffco Kids–former Jefferson County GOP legislative candidate and avowed white supremacist Nate Marshall, who our readers will remember very well from his spectacular self-destruction in early 2014, is skulking around once again on social media causing embarrassment for his fellow Republicans.
This time, it’s embattled Jeffco Schools board member Julie Williams, who is currently facing a recall election–and who apparently never saw fit to remove Marshall from her Facebook friends after the whole white supremacy thing! In response to a post from Williams about the upcoming recall election, here’s what Marshall had to say:
Yikes! Nate isn’t the type to mince words as you know.
Unfortunately, after the incident earlier this year when Williams “accidentally” posted a link to a hate group’s protest against a district-sanctioned event about bullying of LGBT students, Williams has locked down her Facebook page to only allow her friends to see what’s posted there. As a result, we don’t know if Marshall’s comments were deleted, condemned, or even noticed by Williams at all.
But we do know Nate Marshall is her Facebook friend. After she got, you know, selective about her Facebook friends.
And that’s a data point voters may want to fully digest.
Today is Leif Erickson Day, apparently. Go Vikings! It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).
TOP OF MIND TODAY…
► While everybody wouldn’t mind getting a little More Smarter, it would be hard to get More Dumber than Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt. On Thursday, Witt held a press conference in Lakewood to make a “big announcement,” presumably about something that had to do with the Jeffco School Board recall election. As it turned out, Witt wanted to alert the media that he was filing an ethics complaint…against himself…and he didn’t even do that correctly.
UPDATE #2: 7NEWS’ Deb Stanley with an absolutely blistering story–if you were wondering if this little time-waster of a stunt had pissed off the media as we suggested this morning, you can stop wondering.
The political posturing around the recall election for three JEFFCO Public Schools board members has soared to an absurd new level. [Pols emphasis]
On Thursday morning, embattled board president Ken Witt said he was making a “major announcement” in regards to the recall he was facing.
When the media arrived, Witt announced he was filing an ethics complaint against himself and handed out copies of what he said he was mailing to the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission…
UPDATE: We think this clip speaks for everyone who endured today’s presser:
Meanwhile, Jeffco United for Action responds:
“Ken Witt’s political stunt this morning is exactly why thousands of parents and educators are seeking to recall him. We must get politics out of our schools and today, Ken Witt further confirmed he isn’t the person to move Jeffco Schools forward,” stated Lynea Hansen spokeswoman for Jeffco United for Action.
Parents have previously filed complaints about board actions with the IEC. The IEC about a year ago told us the school board is not inside their jurisdiction and neither are open meeting laws. Jurisdiction would lie with the District Court. Even if the court was to rule in our favor that the School Board Majority did hire their personal board attorney behind closed doors, the only outcome would be to require the Board to re-do their vote in the public.
“This recall is so much bigger than one issue. Thousands of parents collected double the required signatures because the community wants these harmful politics out of their schools,” continued Hansen.
Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt.
Jefferson County School Board President Ken Witt mysteriously gave notice last night that he would make a “big announcement” this morning. Since the report aired on CBS4 Denver last night, Jefferson County politicos have been scratching their heads trying to figure out what Witt was about to announce. Would he resign from the school board? Something else equally dramatic, justifying a presser at the Denver West Sheraton and camera crews from all the local networks?
Ken Witt, board president of Jeffco Public Schools, announced at a news conference Thursday that he has file an ethic complaint against himself.
He has asked the Colorado Ethics Commission to investigate whether Witt was involved in breaking any open meetings laws.
Witt, a conservative member of the board, said the decision was in response to a recall effort seeking his ouster.
“I’m just calling their bluff,” Witt said Thursday…
That’s right, folks! Witt just self-inflicted this nigh-on unbelievable headline:
Now, the first problem here is that Witt filed his “complaint” with an entity that has no jurisdiction over school boards. Because it’s not a paid position, the Colorado Independent Ethics Commissionruled in 2009 that board members are excluded from the definition of “public officers” under Amendment 41. And if that’s not bad enough, the IEC isn’t even scheduled to meet again until after the election.
In short, this was about the most perfectly-engineered waste of the media’s time Ken Witt could have possibly come up with. If we had been a reporter suckered into showing up to this farce of a press conference, we would actually be very upset about the time and expense of dispatching busy camera crews and journalists to an event way out in the suburbs with absolutely zero news value.
The only thing we can add is that drawing attention to one of the principal allegations leveled by recall proponents against himself, especially in a way that makes him look like a uninformed clown while failing to refute anything regarding the allegation in question, is just laughably bad PR strategy. “Hey, look over here! They’re accusing me of something bad and instead of disproving it, I’m pulling this lame stunt!”
Whoever dispenses this kind of political advice needs to find a new career. Right now.
As the Boulder Daily Camera’sSarah Kutareports, Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder has joined the growing dogpile of complaints over the highly limited seating available to University of Colorado students at next month’s on-campus Republican presidential debate:
Congressman Jared Polis on Monday called the limited number of seats available at the Republican presidential debate being held at the University of Colorado next month “insulting” and urged debate organizers to make more room for CU students…
The debate venue, the Coors Event Center, can hold more than 10,000 people. Last week, a university spokesman said the limited seating is due to the setup of the stage, lighting and camera equipment.
In his letter to CU, CNBC, and GOP officials, Rep. Polis makes clear that he finds that excuse as laughable as we did:
This isn’t about politics – whether you’re right, left, or center, if you’re a member of the University community you should have every opportunity to meaningfully participate in one of the biggest political debates of the past four years. That’s why I’m urging you to work closely with the RNC and CNBC to allocate drastically more tickets for the University community. I know this is something the University is capable of, as demonstrated in 2012 when your campus hosted a campaign rally for President Obama that was attended by more than 13,000 students and community members.
I’m no expert, but I’ve never seen video cameras so big that it requires taking up thousands of seats in an arena to get good shots from multiple angles. [Pols emphasis]
7NEWS ran a story (video after the jump) about CU students organizing to demand more seating be opened up in the mostly-empty Coors Events Center–this coming after the CU student government passed a resolution last Thursday calling for a “drastic” increase in tickets made available to CU students:
A group of students have formed an online social media campaign called ‘Student Voices Count,’ with the intention of pushing for more student representation.
“This event was initially announced as a really good opportunity for students to be involved in something huge and as it turns out, we’re not,” said Julian Taranow, who is part of the movement.
Students tell 7NEWS they are puzzled why the Republican Party would hold a debate on a college campus and then not connect with the students.
As we fully expected and predicted weeks ago, this situation is rapidly deteriorating for both CU and the Republican Party. Where hosting a GOP presidential debate in the liberal stronghold of Boulder, Colorado might have seemed in a brainstorming meeting to be a stroke of genius, today it increasingly looks like a fool’s errand. Lurking just beneath the excuses is an obvious fact that no one can deny: the current slate of Republican presidential candidates are highly unlikely to resonate with the average CU student. The problem isn’t with the students, either, though your state of denial view about that may vary on partisan lines.
The problem is with the candidates. The problem is Jeb! Bush telling voters that black people vote to get “free stuff.” The problem is Ben Carson saying a Muslim can’t be President. The problem is Carly Fiorina making crazy stories up about harvesting live fetal brains. The problem is…well, more or less everything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth.
Attempting to benefit from CU’s reputation as a leading center of scholarship while simultaneously preventing GOP presidential candidates from getting close enough to the CU student body to offend them may never have been a workable proposition. We have to attribute some of that hubris to longtime GOP kingpin and CU President Bruce Benson personally, given Benson’s near-obsession with fostering a “politically inclusive” climate at CU. It’s not much of a stretch from Benson’s eager foisting of a “visiting conservative scholar” on the university, which if you didn’t hear ended rather badly, to imagining that this clown car of GOP presidential candidates could come to CU and not face major embarrassment. Especially when you have to essentially hide them from the student body.
At this point, the damage from the story of excluding CU students from this debate is at real risk of overshadowing the debate itself. If this continues, by the day of the debate we expect a very large and news-cycle captivating protest outside the Coors Events Center. If we were in a decision-making position at the Republican National Committee, we would honestly consider throwing open the doors and filling this arena with every student who wants to be there. If there is any chance of a reasonable Republican presidential candidate emerging from this pack, there’s an argument that a crowd of non-GOP party faithful is better equipped to recognize and respond to that than a hand-picked conservative audience.
Unless, of course, nobody wants that. In which case maybe this is a train wreck that can’t be stopped.