Journalists should ask specific questions in candidate questionnaires

(Ken Summers backed “Personhood?” Bet he wishes that had stayed in the memory hole – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Publishing the basic positions of candidates, on specific issues and ballot questions, falls into the basic public-service function that journalism shouldn’t let go of, despite the hard times.

But if The Denver Post–or Fox 31 or 9News or KOA or any news outlet–is going to publish candidate surveys (and someone should), please ask specific questions that allow voters to compare candidates in the most meaningful way.

Here’s an example of what a huge difference specificity can make.

In 2008, both the Rocky Mountain News and The Post published candidate questionnaires.

The Rocky’s, which was far superior, asked four broad questions about why the candidate was running for office and his or her priorities. This was followed by a series of very specific yes/no questions, including queries on the death penalty, Roe v. Wade, illegal immigration, and vouchers, as well as questions about whether the candidate supported each of the ballot questions facing voters in the 2008 election.

The Post, on the other hand, asked broad questions about transportation, education, health care, and natural resources, as well as a “wild-card” question.

Among the Rocky’s questions, two were focused on a women’s right to choose.

The first addressed Roe v. Wade.

Here’s how Ken Summers, who was running for HD 22, answered the question:

The Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Do you agree with the decision?

Summers: No

In the candidate’s words: Even if abortion is held to be legal, to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest, it is difficult to view it as a constitutional right. I have always viewed constitutional rights as those that are commonly exercised and essential to a free society.

For comparison, in his response to the Rocky, here’s how Ali Hasan, who was running for HD 56 answered it.

Hasan: Yes

In the candidate’s words: It is important to note that I agree that the federal ban against 7- to 9-month abortion should always be upheld.

Another Rocky question addressed personhood, which would outlaw all abortion and common forms of birth control.

While Shawn Mitchell declined to answer, Summers responded as follows:

Do you support Amendment 48? It would ban abortion by defining personhood as beginning at fertilization.

Summers: Yes

In the candidate’s words: A new baseline for this issue is needed. Clarifications will be needed.

Ali Hasan stated flatly in his questionnaire that opposed Amendment 48.

The closest thing The Post’s 2008 questionnaire had to these fun and exciting questions (and answers) was a broad question on the role of state government in providing health insurance, which is important, to be sure, but fails to illuminate narrow, and easily comparable, views on health insurance issues generally, and, specifically, on the topic of a women’s right to choose. In fact, not Summers, Mitchell, nor Hasan voluntarily brought up abortion issues in their answers. The Post’s question, which has unfortunately been removed from its website, was:

Health Care: What role do you see for the state in providing or ensuring health insurance for every Coloradan? What policies do you propose to achieve your vision of health care coverage in Colorado?

So, obviously, The Post’s question is important, but the Rocky’s approach had to have been of more use to voters.

I’m hoping that this year the Rocky’s 2008 “Ballot Builder” will be a model for journalists.

John Hickenlooper’s Great Idea: TBD Citizen’s Summit

I spent Saturday at TBD — a very lame name for a pretty cool idea. Governor Hickenlooper wanted to bring together one thousand civic leaders from all over the state, educate them on the basics of the budget process in Colorado, and give them ample opportunities to talk to each other about how best to move forward, in a completely nonpartisan environment.

The name TBD means “To Be Determined”, which I am told, refers to the fact the completed program still does not have a permanent name. When I was initially invited to join the group, the name was daunting — despite a vague description on a website, I had no idea what I was in for.

TBD took place over two weekend half-days in various regional locations, and culminated in a day-long Summit in Denver. Two other cities in CO joined the Denver group by Skype. The main content of the workshops revolved around five key areas previously chosen by a “framing committee”: transportation, health care, state workforce, education and the state constitution. These key areas became the framework for discussion and debate.

Lt. Governor Joe Garcia attended the full day Summit with us, and Governor Hickenlooper attended the last portion of the Summit, giving closing remarks, and inviting all of us to stay  involved on state matters. I overheard the Governor say to someone at one point, “That’s a very interesting idea. Why don’t we go for a beer and talk about is some more?”

During the course, participants were given reading materials, an overview of how the budget process works, and how TABOR, the Gallagher Amendment and the Colorado Constitution interact. Every step of the way, we were given questions to answer about our personal values, which were tabulated electronically in real time using college test-taking hand units. After each participant voted on a question, the results were displayed immediately on a large screen, sometimes prompting further discussion. During the Summit, we transferred those values into the State Budget using the Backseat Budgeter. As you would imagine, balancing Colorado’s budget is much harder than it looks, and almost every attempt resulted in a smack against the infamous “Wall of TABOR”.

I found the whole process to be fascinating. Logistically, the program clearly had some bugs — there were questions that didn’t make sense at first glance and needed to be clarified, and there were times when our small groups did not understand what was being asked of us. Sometimes the pace seemed very rushed; other times a little slow. Because this was the first year for TBD, I’m confident will be worked out for future year’s workshops. The high-tech classroom worked well for the most part, and clearly furthered Hickenlooper’s brand as the geeky but lovable Governor who thinks outside the box.

Because the room was filled with municipal and county leaders rather than elected officials, I found it refreshing to talk honestly to people without partisan politics getting in the way. The participants were from a wide range of geographical areas, political affiliations and demographical groups, and I learned a great deal about why people vote the way they do. I also gained a better understanding of the mechanics that make balancing the state budget so complex (and frustrating).

TBD was presented through a private organization and paid for through contributions to a 501C-3. No state dollars were used to pay for any of it. Summaries of the statewide discussions and votes can be found on the website: http://tbdcolorado.org/

I strongly encourage my fellow activists and blog readers to apply to the program the next time it rolls around. The time commitment is minimal, the educational opportunity is great, there are free meals, you meet interesting people from all over the state, and when the temperature is 103 degrees outside, the air conditioned classroom is a godsend. And maybe the best part of all … the opportunity to see the Governor’s face when the vast majority of the room expresses their serious reservations about fracking.

Hard To Argue With That

A joint press release from Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado (D) and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (R):

Senators Mark Udall and Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK) today will introduce a bill that would prohibit the use of Presidential Election Campaign Funds (PECF) for party conventions in the elections occurring after December 31, 2012.  Additionally, it would allow funds dispersed before that time to be returned to the U.S. Treasury for the purpose of deficit reduction.

“Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to maintain the integrity and fairness of the presidential nomination process,” Udall said. “Over the past several decades, political party nominating conventions have become elaborate celebrations devoted to partisanship.  The American taxpayer should not be responsible for footing the bill for these partisan events.  I chose to cosponsor this bill because it is a common sense, bipartisan proposal that will save taxpayers millions of dollars at a time when we need to exhibit more fiscal discipline.”

…Despite our $15.6 trillion national debt, political parties received a $36.6 million check ($18.3 million per party) from taxpayers to pay for the costs of political conventions occurring this summer.  The funds that are used to cover these conventions come from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF).  According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “Federal law places relatively few restrictions on how PECF convention funds are spent, as long as purchases are lawful and are used to ‘defray expenses incurred with respect to a presidential nominating convention.'”  Besides funding the event itself, the money is used to pay for entertainment, catering, transportation, hotel costs, “production of candidate biographical films,” and a variety of other expenses.  These events will be weeklong parties paid for by taxpayers, much like the highly maligned GSA conference in Las Vegas.

It’s fine with us, Denver just had a convention and the one before that was 100 prior. It’s safe to bet that we won’t be getting another one anytime soon. It’s also pretty hard to argue with this as an example of a place to show some fiscal discipline–at some point, a convention that actually involved some drama would probably change that. For now, political conventions really are a taxpayer-subsidized party, even if private funds pay many of the bills.

This does not mean we’re ungrateful for 2008, however. Our local economy still thanks you all.

Fernando Sergio scores coup for KBNO and local Spanish language radio audience with Obama interview

by Michael Lund, Big Media Blog

When was the last time a sitting president greeted Denver on the airwaves of a Spanish language radio station?  

This was the first question that popped into my head when I saw KBNO Fernando Sergio’s Facebook post that he’d be interviewing President Obama Tuesday morning at 10 am.  

Obama spoke to Colorado Hispanics … in English.  And what did he say?

Campaigns, political consultants, wonks and analysts use a single word for a community that factors heavily in determining their fates in this upcoming presidential election.  Whether it’s “Hispanics”, or “Latinos”, one word is used to identify an extremely diverse community, represented by entire spectrums of social, geographical, professional, cultural, socioeconomic, and generational identities.  Hispanics, contrary to what our oversimplified nomenclature might suggest, are not monolithic as a cultural group.  So, as an interviewer, which questions do you ask?  And as a candidate, how do you connect?  

Obama chose the right venue – a locally respected and established radio station, chatting with a familiar and well-known host.  

Fernando Sergio’s interview followed the expected talking points, and Barack Obama responded articulately and personably, off-script and on.

Here’s a quick summary of the highlights:

The Economy  

Conservatives will not be disappointed with President Obama starting his response by blaming the previous administration for the mess he inherited, with some prompting by Mr. Sergio.  But Fernando pressed Obama for specific examples of policies which improved the economy in his first term.  Obama cited saving the auto industry, “doubling down on clean energy”, and creating and saving American jobs by passing the Recovery Act.  He gave statistics which demonstrated successes, while reminding the audience of the hard work remaining, and warning of the lingering effects of depressed housing markets, continuing foreclosures and the looming European economic crises.

Healthcare

The President boldly promoted the Affordable Healthcare Act as a needed relief to families, which often lack health insurance despite holding multiple jobs.  He highlighted the extended coverage for children (extended to 4 million more immigrant minors, and coverage up to age 26 on parents’ plans).  He also cited improvement for seniors, particularly in coverage for prescription medications, and prohibiting insurance companies from excluding coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Jobs, Education, and Wall Street reform

Obama warned against returning to policies in the financial industry “where Wall Street Banks get to do whatever they please”.  On jobs, Obama noted the need to get construction jobs back on line, “rebuilding our homes, rebuilding our schools”.  He noted that in Colorado, we have “some great schools” in substandard buildings, because the growth of the population hasn’t been matched with new school construction.   He spoke about his goal for educational opportunity and affordable college for all children.

Immigration reform and drug trade

Fernando Sergio suggested that executive order by the President could resolve the current political stalemate on immigration policy.  Obama pointed to his administration’s increasing success in securing the borders and directives to ICE in targeting criminals for arrest and deportation instead of students and hard working families.  But he also pointed to the lack of cooperation from Republicans to formulate comprehensive, compassionate, and permanent solutions to U.S. immigration policy, and he criticized Mitt Romney for praising Arizona’s immigration laws as a model for the country.  In a lighter moment of the interview, the President commiserated with Fernando Sergio about their personal liabilities should profiling become a keystone of federal immigration reform.

Obama also called for maintaining cooperative efforts with neighboring countries to curtail organized illegal drug trade and violence while respecting their sovereignty, and curtailing the demand for drugs in the U.S. and the transportation of arms over our border.  

Support for Small Businesses

President Obama noted that small business growth among Hispanics is three times faster than in the general population, and he recognized the entrepreneurial spirit of the Hispanic community.  His policies would bolster financing and training programs for small business owners, increase opportunities for small businesses to bid on government contracts and focusing on minority owned businesses.  He said his tax policy has allowed for 17 tax cuts which were favorable to small businesses in his first term.  

Connection with the Hispanic Community

Obama distinguished himself from Romney as a candidate who cares about and believes in Latinos.  He cited his appointments of Hispanics to cabinet positions in the Labor and Interior Departments, as well has his appointment of a Latino women to the Supreme Court of the United States.  He summarized his stances, while reiterating his awareness of the issues which affect Hispanics most.

And of course, to make the connection with Colorado Hispanics all the more personal and real, President Obama predicted that barring injury, Peyton Manning would complement the Broncos’ lineup and bode well for a winning season.  

   

New Ad Turns Gas Prices Back On Tipton

From DC-based Public Campaign, on air today hitting freshman Rep. Scott Tipton:

A new television ad by campaign finance watchdog Public Campaign, called “Connect the Drops,” will begin airing in Colorado today to highlight Rep. Scott Tipton’s (R-Colo) votes to maintain wasteful oil subsidies at the same time he was taking campaign contributions from the oil industry donors.

“Gas prices are soaring and oil companies are raking in record profits, so why does Congress keep voting to give Big Oil handouts at taxpayer expense?” asked David Donnelly, national campaigns director for Public Campaign. “One reason might be all the campaign cash oil industry donors are doling out to Scott Tipton and his colleagues.”

The U.S. House has voted repeatedly in the 112th Congress to maintain wasteful oil subsidies. Pending transportation legislation may include a vote to end or continue the subsidies in the coming weeks. Oil and gas interests have donated $7.8 million to federal elected officials already this election cycle, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Rep. Tipton received at least $103,000 from oil and gas industry donors in 2011, according to Public Campaign analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission and CRP.

Democrats should be relieved to see ads up early hitting back against the use of gas prices by Republicans as a political cudgel. As we discussed last month, and seems more prescient daily as the rote attacks over speculation-induced high gas prices take shape, legitimate market forces aren’t driving this election-year increase–and profits are soaring, not production costs.

Given Tipton’s lackluster fundraising elsewhere, we suppose he’s lucky they’re doing so well.

DeGette Leads “Women’s Health Wednesday” Smackdown

UPDATE: Senator Michael Bennet joins the fracas. Press release after the jump.

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Via the Colorado Independent:

DeGette’s remarks as delivered differed slightly from the prepared version sent out to members of the media and reprinted below:

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to announce the Inaugural Women’s Health Wednesday. Starting today, and continuing for every Wednesday, Members of this distinguished body will take to the floor to stand against the unceasing attacks on women’s health care levied by my colleagues across the aisle and the extreme right wing across the nation. [Pols emphasis]

Mr. Speaker, I would like to kick off this first Women’s Health Wednesday by reminding everyone this is 2012, not the Dark Ages. Let me say that again: This is 2012. Yet because of the actions of this Congress, and straight up to the positions of their candidates for president, we are actually debating birth control. Birth control. 99 percent of women have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of Catholic women, and 1.5 million women rely on it for non-contraceptive purposes to treat a variety of medical conditions.

The Institute of Medicine has determined, based upon science, that birth control is a fundamental part of women’s preventive care. Yet, here we are debating birth control.

Mr. Speaker, everywhere I go women stop me to express their disbelief and outrage that we are actually debating birth control. Birth control saves lives, helps prevent unintended pregnancies, improves the outcomes for children, and reduces abortion. Those are all good things for women; for their families; for our nation. So why on earth would my colleagues across the aisle and their party launch a massive effort to limit access to birth control? This is 2012. We all know better.

Rep. Diana DeGette’s being kind with that last, since apparently, some of them do not.

Press release from Sen. Bennet’s office:

Bennet Statement in Opposition to Blunt Amendment Restricting Access to Contraception

Bennet: Women Don’t Need to Be Told by the Government How to Make Their Own Health Care Decisions

Washington, DC – On the floor of the United States Senate, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today voiced his opposition to an amendment, introduced by Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, that would restrict access to contraception and other preventative health care for women. The Senate voted down this amendment 51-48.

“I have a wife and three daughters…, and one thing I know is they don’t need to be told by the government how to make their own health care decisions, nor do the 362,000 Colorado women who would be affected immediately if this amendment passed. This amendment is written so broadly that it would allow any employer to deny any health service to any American for virtually any reason, not just for religious objections.

“In my home state of Colorado, I have held hundreds of town hall meetings in red parts of the state and blue parts of the state…. They want to know why we aren’t spending our time working on how to create more jobs for them…, how to fix this nation’s debt and deficit or how we pass a bipartisan transportation bill that creates immediate jobs and fixes a crumbling infrastructure.

“[It’s] another case where political games are risking our ability to provide more opportunity, not less, for the next generation of Americans. And instead over the last several weeks, we’ve continued to debate about women and whether they should have access to the health care services they need and whether they should be the ones that are able to make the decisions about the health care services they need. And we sit here and wonder why the United States Congress is stuck at an approval rating of 11 percent. Maybe it’s because we’re talking about contraception in the context of a transportation bill.”

U.S. House Passes Absolutely Ridiculous “Energy Legislation”

As the Colorado Independent’s Troy Hooper reports:

A bill designed to encourage oil shale development cruised through the House on Thursday evening. But a wind production tax credit didn’t fly, and now layoffs and abandoned projects loom…

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, bundled the energy bills into a broader transportation package, most of which still hasn’t made it out of the House. Despite a century of failed efforts to make oil shale profitable, along with a Congressional Budget Office report that projects oil shale leases will total less than $100,000 annually over the next decade, Boehner has said energy drilling will fund his $260 billion transit package. The Congressional Budget Office report, however, projected Boehner’s bill would, over 10 years, leave the highway trust fund $78 billion in the red.

“Oil shale will not fund a single road or bridge repair,” said Matt Garrington, the Colorado-based deputy director of the Checks and Balances Project. “I’m afraid the Speaker and Rep. Lamborn have sold Congress on a plan that will actually increase the national deficit. Oil shale is a failed resource which will generate zero revenues, and Americans will have to pay the price.”

…Indeed, it was a good week in Congress for fossil fuels and a bad one for renewable energy.

An extension of the wind production tax credit was initially folded into an earlier version of a plan to extend the nation’s payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance bill. But when a deal was reached Thursday, the wind production tax credit was left out. All of Colorado’s congressional delegation except Lamborn support the extension of the wind tax credit, which debuted in 1992.

We’re trying to figure out how the U.S. House of Representatives could have possibly delivered a more confused or out-of-touch message on energy policy than the items they passed, and didn’t pass, in the last week. Rep. Doug Lamborn’s bill to “boost” oil shale production, ostensibly to fund transportation projects as part of a larger package from Speaker John Boehner, was estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to have basically no value over the next ten years. Along with Rep. Scott Tipton, who has pushed “snake oil” shale development with similar grandiose forecasts and blanket condemnation of the Obama administration and who backed Lamborn’s bill, this was a substitute for effective action on energy–a political exercise that only works if the target audience doesn’t understand the facts.

Meanwhile, the wind energy production tax credit that didn’t make it into the final payroll tax-cut compromise–supported by every Colorado member of Congress except Doug Lamborn–has to wait, and an industry responsible for thousands of Colorado jobs waits in the lurch with it.

Seriously, folks, could they have done any worse for Colorado’s actual energy economy?

#oilshalefail – Another boondoggle by Lamborn

( – promoted by Colorado Pols)

Speaker of the House John Boehner is bringing his controversial highway bill (H.R. 7) to the floor this week. The Speaker has included Rep. Doug Lamborn’s oil shale boondoggle (H.R. 3408) as one of his funding sources.

Since oil shale doesn’t actually generate any money, we thought pointing out the truth behind Boehner’s and Lamborn’s bills was worth a new Checks and Balances Project video.

It’s bad enough that Lamborn’s bill actually creates a new subsidy for oil companies by setting “bargain basement” royalty rates for oil shale. And that it would hand over two million acres of public land to oil companies for the sake of oil shale speculation and mandate commercial leasing on 125,00 acres of public lands even though there is no commercial oil shale industry.

But now the Speaker is saying that we will pay for millions of dollars’ worth of repairs to highways and bridges with revenue from oil shale.

The problem with that plan is that oil shale creates zero revenue. And for that matter, zero energy and zero jobs.

In 100 years, oil shale has never been commercially developed in the United States despite billions in taxpayer-funded research and development handouts to industry.

In fact, Shell Oil, which is recognized as a leader in oil shale research, says the earliest that commercial oil shale technology could be available is next decade, and possibly later.

“A commercial decision would be in the middle of the next decade and possibly later depending on the sequence and outcome of research activities.” – Shell Oil website

Last week, the Congressional Budget Office reported “the legislation would not affect revenues” and projected zero revenue between 2012 and 2022.

Even Lamborn admitted to Allison Sherry at the Denver Post that oil shale “is not a real contributor to the highway transportation needs we have.”

So in addition to our video, I sent a letter to Speaker Boehner and Rep. Lamborn. In the letter I asked a very simple question:

“We respectfully request an explanation to the American taxpayer of this disconnect between fact and rhetoric.”

I’m hoping to hear back from the Speaker or Rep. Lamborn soon, but I’m not holding my breath.

The facts are clear. If America tries to fund highway repairs with oil shale revenues, we’re just looking at an increase in deficit spending. We need to spread the word, so people are educated. Watch our video. Share it with your friends.

And whenever you’re tweeting or facebooking, use the hashtag #oilshalefail. If we work together and make enough noise, maybe we can drown out the spin and rhetoric politicians are putting out there on oil shale.  

2012: The War On Women’s Bodies, and How To Respond Legislatively

Pro-zygote, anti-woman bills are being presented all across the nation, in an effort to awaken the evangelical Republican base before the election of 2012. Most of these bills have been written by, or championed via Personhood USA.

In Oklahoma, our not-so-distant neighbor, Senate Bill 1433 states a fetus “at every stage of development (has) all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state.” If Senate Bill 1433 becomes a law, all forms of abortion and various forms of contraception could potentially be considered murder, and therefore illegal.

Democratic State Senator Constance Johnson, attempting to make a point, attached

an amendment to the Oklahoma bill that would ban the spilling of semen in any location other than a woman’s vagina. Unfortunately, Senator Johnson then withdrew her amendment, which would have made masturbation illegal.

A like-minded State Senator, Democrat Jim Wilson, also added an amendment to the same bill, requiring the biological father of the child to be financially responsible for the mother’s welfare during the entire pregnancy (put your money where your mouth is, conservatives!), including housing, utilities, food, transportation, and all medical care expenses. As you may have guessed, this amendment also failed.

A similar bill to Oklahoma SB 1433 was defeated at the polls in Mississippi in November, 2011. Clearly, the point still needs to be made, and not just in Oklahoma.

In CO, their strategy is a little different. Personhood USA is once again attempting to amend the Colorado constitution through a statewide initiative, similar to the earlier Amendment 62. Amendment 62, in a nutshell, said a fertilized egg is legally a separate and distinct human being, and aborting one is murder. We know from previous elections in Colorado, this initiative will probably not pass. Voters have resoundingly defeated similar bills twice.

Still, Coloradans are concerned about what is happening all over the country, and it is merely a matter of time before our state legislature will be handed an anti-choice bill here. According to NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, which released a 2012 study of pending legislation all over the United States:

The report shows that states enacted more than twice as many anti-choice measures in 2011 as the previous year, and the legislative landscape could open the door to even more attacks in 2012.

“The findings in this report should spur every American who values freedom and privacy into action,” Keenan said. “Last year, we predicted that our opponents would ignore the public’s call to focus on the nation’s immediate challenges, such as the economy. Sadly for women, our predictions came true at near-record levels. Lawmakers waged a War on Women, and as a result, women in many states will see more political interference in their personal, private medical decisions. In some cases, women could lose access to reproductive-health services they currently have.”

Keenan said 26 states enacted 69 anti-choice measures in 2011, the second-highest number since the organization started tracking such data in 1995. The record is 70, set in 1999. Since 1995, states have enacted 713 anti-choice measures.

Keenan said two pro-choice governors, Mark Dayton of Minnesota (D) and Brian Schweitzer of Montana (D), vetoed anti-choice bills and kept 2011 from breaking the record for state-level attacks. NARAL Pro-Choice America dedicated the publication to these gubernatorial champions.

The outcome was quite different in other states. For instance, while former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas (D) vetoed eight anti-choice bills over the course of her tenure, her successor, Gov. Sam Brownback (R), signed five anti-choice bills into law in his first year in office. Kansas tied with Arizona and Florida for enacting the most anti-choice measures this year.

Colorado needs to stand together to defeat the latest incarnation of Amendment 62, and be ready when the next pro-zygote bill is presented at the state legislature, as well. As a concerned citizen, I respectfully offer the following tips to our state legislators, when faced with a piece of anti-choice legislation.

Attach any of these as amendments: 1) The mother is allowed to claim the zygote as a dependent on her taxes, 2) Give the zygote a vote beginning with the next election, as interpreted by the mother (pray for twins ladies — you’ll get three votes), 3) Give the zygote the right to collect Social Security, food stamps, and other “entitlement” resources, 4) Give the zygote residential status beginning at conception, 5) Attach an amendment saying fathers owe child support beginning at conception.

The persistence of the evangelical right to strip women of their personal, private decisions regarding the health of their own bodies is not funny. Personhood USA, and its supporters, are incredibly persistent. As progressives, we need to also be persistent in protecting the rights of women everywhere. Sometimes, it takes a little humor, or a little shock-value, to wake some people up to the serious ramifications of ill-thought out legislation. In this regard, Colorado is at least as clever as her neighbors, is she not?

Doug Lamborn: Useless

UPDATE: But wait, there’s more!

It seems Lamborn has his own legislation in which he proposes to lease federal land for oil shale development in order to fund transportation projects. But as The Grand Junction Sentinel notes, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that Lamborn’s plan would not produce a single cent in the 5-year time period he proposes, in large part because nobody has any idea how to develop oil shale:

The Congressional Budget Office scoring shows leasing of oil shale would reduce the deficit by $5 million in 2016, but would generate no revenue until then [Pols emphasis]. It would cost $5 million in 2022, the edge of the time frame for the budget office.

To recap, Lamborn won’t support extending wind energy tax credits that have already been proven to create jobs and revenue, but he’s pushing his own energy-related legislation that won’t do a damn thing.

It’s hard work being this useless.

—–

Kelcie Pegher, an intern in Washington DC writing for the Durango Herald, reports today:

Members of the Colorado congressional delegation are calling to extend the wind-energy production tax credit as part of the payroll tax extension.

Eight members of the delegation, including Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, as well as Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis signed a letter to the chairmen of the conference committee.

Also included are Republican Reps. Cory Gardner, Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman. Coffman joined the other members of the delegation late Tuesday in their letter. The wind-energy production tax credit gives wind-energy farms a 2.2 cents-per-kilowatt credit on their taxes each year for the first 10 years and will expire at the end of the year.

That’s both Colorado U.S. Senators, all three Democrats in the congressional delegation, and even three conservative Republicans. So who’s missing? Colorado Independent:

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado, is the lone holdout in the state’s bipartisan push.

Lamborn clarified that he supports wind energy as part of an “all-of-the-above energy plan” but that he is in favor of removing regulatory barriers for the industry as opposed to encouraging its development via tax breaks.

“My preference is to help industry grow by reducing federal regulations and mandates as opposed to carving out special interests in the tax code,” Lamborn wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent on Tuesday.

The thing is, we strongly suspect that if you ask the three Republicans who did support the wind power tax credit, they would tell you their preference is also to “grow the industry” by slashing regulation like Lamborn says. Despite this, Reps. Cory Gardner, Scott Tipton, and even Mike Coffman (though after a bit of polling deliberation) signed on in support of extending the wind power tax credit. After all, the oil and gas industry still gets all of their tax credits. Republicans, especially in Colorado, have no rational basis with which to oppose wind energy tax credits–and many reasons to support them. As in, our economy:

Colorado generates the third highest percentage of power from wind of any state in the nation and is home to several major wind energy developers and wind turbine manufacturing facilities.

Estimates show that wind energy employs upwards of 6,000 workers statewide.

Once again, Rep. Doug Lamborn proves the lengths to which a safe seat can be abused, and occupied by a representative openly hostile to the interests of the state he represents. As you can see, this is now an argument that can be made on an objective, nonpartisan level.

J’accuse, Colorado Springs.

Let Those Bridges Fall (2012 Edition)

7NEWS reports:

Rep. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs is bringing his tag fee repeal to a Republican House committee Wednesday. The GOP-controlled House approved the idea last year, but the lower fees were rejected in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Baumbgardner’s bill would lower late registration fees from $25 a month to a flat fee of $20 total. It would also repeal an exemption from the late fee for a vehicle that has expired temporary registration number plates, tags or certificates.

Each year since the 2009 passage of the FASTER vehicle registration fee increases to pay for repair and replacement of decaying and obsolete bridges around the state, Republicans have splashily introduced legislation to repeal all or part of the program. Rep. Randy Baumgardner’s new proposal to reduce late fees may be a little more restrained than other wholesale repeals attempted before, but it still won’t fix the bridges that FASTER is paying to fix. The bill’s fiscal note estimates it will reduce available revenue for these repair projects by $12 million per year.

As of this month according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, of the approximately 120 bridges in Colorado rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, and rated ‘poor,’ meaning they qualify for funds under FASTER, 18 projects are now completed–with 16 under construction, 13 with completed designs, and 44 in design right now. Here’s an updated list from CDOT of FASTER projects by county with anticipated completion dates.

We were thinking maybe Rep. Baumgardner will tell you which ones shouldn’t be completed.

Even More “Gun-Grab Prevention” Nonsense

Among the 135 bills introduced into the legislature on Wedesnday is HB12-1064, sponsored solely by Majority Leader Amy Stephens. Addressing the critical issue of firearms confiscation.

Because as you know, firearms confiscation in Colorado is right around the corner:

The bill prohibits the state or any political subdivision of the state (state), during a declared state of emergency, from prohibiting or restricting the otherwise lawful possession, use, carrying, transfer, transportation, storage, or display of a firearm or ammunition; seizing or confiscating a lawfully possessed firearm, except in specific, described circumstances; or requiring registration of a firearm or ammunition for which registration is not otherwise required by law. An exception is made for the commercial sale of firearms if an authorized authority has ordered an evacuation or a general closure of business.

In short, this bill would prohibit the state or local governments from restricting firearms during a declared state of emergency. It’s an outgrowth of a national campaign to whip up hysteria over something called the UN Small Arms Treaty, and other legislators like Sen. Greg Brophy have introduced similar totally superfluous bills addressing various aspects this “problem” in the past–usually by creating a conflict with federal law. And for those of you who didn’t know, the state of Colorado has never attempted to confiscate firearms during a state of emergency.

Perhaps the only thing notable about this bill, sure to die unceremoniously, is that Stephens is carrying it. We see how it might be useful in her “Tea Party” primary against Rep. Marsha Looper, who is making a big splash today with her bill to repeal “AmyCare.”

Well forget “AmyCare,” says Amy Stephens. Obama Hickenlooper wants to take your guns!

BREAKING: Judge Rules In Favor Of Lobato Case Plaintiffs

UPDATE #3: Ed News Colorado:

“We think it’s a great day for the children of Colorado,” said a jubilant Kathleen Gebhardt, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, who was giving a presentation on the lawsuit at the Colorado Association of School Boards convention when she got the news. “We’re calling on the legislature to step up immediately and fix the problem.”

Mike Saccone, spokesman for Attorney General John Suthers, said, “We are going to consult with the governor in the coming days on this decision. However, if you read the opinion, the judge clearly invited an appeal and, at this point, an appeal is likely. The attorney general is disappointed in the ruling but not surprised. It was clearly very tempting for the judge to wade into what is a public policy debate.”

The lawsuit did not include a dollar figure or ask Denver District Judge Sheila Rappaport to order the state to pay up or provide a specific amount. Instead, it asked the court to decide whether the state school finance system fails to meet constitutional requirements and if the legislature should be ordered to come up with a new one…

Studies done for the plaintiffs estimate that “full funding” of Colorado schools could cost $2 to $4 billion more a year than the state spends now. Such increases would wreck the state budget and decimate other programs say Gov. John Hickenlooper, a defendant, and Suthers, who oversaw the state’s defense.

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UPDATE #2: A meaty but by no means comprehensive excerpt from Judge Sheila Rappaport’s massive tome of a ruling follows–read the whole decision here, and get comfortable because it’s going to take awhile. Please liberally post excerpts of your own (it’s public domain after all) from any part of the decision you find noteworthy. And the bottom line on page 182:

The Court finds that the Colorado public school finance system is unconstitutional. Evidence establishes that the finance system must be revised to assure that funding is rationally related to the actual costs of providing a thorough and uniform system of public education. It is also apparent that increased funding will be required. [Pols emphasis] These are appropriately legislative and executive functions in the first instance. Thus, the Supreme Court has directed that this Court shall “provide the legislature with an appropriate period of time to change the funding system so as to bring the system in compliance with the Colorado Constitution.”

Read it again. This really is that big.

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UPDATE: FOX 31’s Eli Stokols:

In a landmark case over education funding, a judge has sided with a group of parents and school districts and ruled that the state of Colorado is underfunding its schools, possibly by billions of dollars…

The decision will likely be appealed by the state, which said before the trial began that a ruling for the plaintiffs would force Colorado to direct roughly $4 billion in additional funding toward schools, leaving little money in the general fund to adequately fund other needs like transportation, corrections and health care.

The state already spends close to half its general fund on education, although per pupil funding has been in steady decline over the last decade with Colorado now spending $2,000 less per student than the national average.

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Details coming: a few minutes ago, Denver District Court Judge Sheila Rappaport ruled in favor of plaintiffs in the landmark Lobato vs. Colorado lawsuit filed by rural school districts–which charged that public education funding in the state of Colorado is not meeting the “thorough and uniform” test prescribed in the state constitution. Though subject to appeal, this is a major development that could well result in sweeping changes to Colorado fiscal policy.

We’ll update shortly with coverage and statements.

Page 158: The State introduced testimony from several members of the State Board of Education and other witnesses for its case-in-chief. However, the Court notes that much of the State’s testimony actually bolstered Plaintiffs’ arguments in this case, and certain other contrary testimony lacked factual support…

Page 176: The Court has found that in 1993 the General Assembly adopted HB 93-1313 that committed the State to develop and implement standards-based education as the anchor to the educational accountability system. HB 93-1313 was the foundation for the transformation of public education in Colorado. In 1994, the General Assembly adopted the Public School Finance Act of 1994 (the PSFA), the centerpiece of the school finance system. The PSFA established the basic funding mechanism for school district general fund (operating) revenues that has been in place since then. From this contemporaneous starting point, the two systems, which were not aligned to begin with, have radically diverged.

The following findings are essentially undisputed: When the PSFA was enacted, the General Assembly set the statewide base funding amount by working backwards from the total funding that it intended to appropriate and carrying forward preexisting school district expenditure levels. There was no effort to analyze the relationship to the actual costs to provide an education of any particular quality. The failure to do any cost analysis and to provide for funding based on such an analysis demonstrates the irrationality of the existing school finance system. Montoy v. State of Kansas, 102 P.3d 1160, 1164 (KS 2005).

In the past two years, the General Assembly, through the implementation of a negative factor, has actually decreased public school funding by what now totals nearly one billion dollars. The amount of the budget cuts and the method by which they were implemented are completely unrelated to the costs of providing the mandated standards-based education system. The budget cuts have aggravated the irrationality of the finance system by arbitrarily reducing funding with no educational rationale whatsoever…

Recent amendments to the standards-based education system have substantially increased the costs of public education. In 2008 the General Assembly adopted CAP4K, that mandated a complete revision of state content standards, programs of instruction, and assessments all aligned to accomplish universal student proficiency and postsecondary and workforce readiness. This was followed in 2009 by the Education Accountability Act that established accreditation standards for school districts based upon meeting the goals of CAP4K and imposed sanctions up to and including district closure for failure to meet those goals within fixed time frames. Most recently, the 2010 effective teachers amendments (SB 10-191) imposed new teacher and principal evaluation systems founded in student growth as measured by achievement on CSAP and other standardized tests…

The evidence also establishes that funding for categorical programs and for capital construction are completely unrelated to the actual costs of providing the services and facilities necessary to meet the mandate of the Education Clause. Capital construction funding in particular is now and has always been totally dependent on highly unequal local property tax wealth. For many school districts, particularly those in rural, poverty areas this method of funding capital needs has proved to be fundamentally inadequate, inequitable, and irrational. The recently adopted BEST program provides limited assistance, but is not sufficient to overcome generations of statutory underfunding. The deplorable conditions of numerous rural schools bears witness to this proposition.

The Court therefore concludes that the entire system of public school finance, including the PSFA, categorical programs, and capital construction funding, is not rationally related to the mandate of the Education Clause.

Page 177: The public school finance system falls short of providing sufficient funding to meet the mandate of the Education Clause and standards-based education.

Defendants contend that it is not possible to analyze the costs of meeting the mandates of the Education Clause. If that argument were accepted, the Education Clause and the directives of the Supreme Court would be meaningless. To the contrary, the standards-based education system provides a comprehensively detailed model of education standards, programs, assessments, and achievement goals. The costs of meeting those mandates can be rationally estimated.

Page 178: Due to lack of access to adequate financial resources, the Plaintiff School Districts and the school districts where Individual Plaintiffs reside (collectively, the “School Districts”) are unable to provide the educational programs, services, instructional materials, equipment, technology, and capital facilities necessary to assure all children an education that meets the mandates of the Education Clause and standards-based education.

The Court finds that due to the irrational funding system and significant underfunding, rural and urban poverty School Districts are unable to hire, compensate, and retain effective, highly qualified teachers and administrators; to provide the curriculum, technology, textbooks, and other instructional materials necessary to meet student performance expectations; and to construct, maintain, renovate school buildings and facilities. Many of these School Districts are relegated to obsolete textbooks and materials, lack of necessary computers and internet connectivity, and dilapidated and unsafe classroom and other facilities. These School Districts have been for many years and are today unable to respond effectively to the changing demands of standards-based education.

Page 182: The Court finds that the Colorado public school finance system is unconstitutional. Evidence establishes that the finance system must be revised to assure that funding is rationally related to the actual costs of providing a thorough and uniform system of public education. It is also apparent that increased funding will be required. These are appropriately legislative and executive functions in the first instance. Thus, the Supreme Court has directed that this Court shall “provide the legislature with an appropriate period of time to change the funding system so as to bring the system in compliance with the Colorado Constitution.”

Txting and Driving: Is There a Policy Solution?

This morning, I spent a couple minutes on David Sirota’s morning show weighing in on the topic of texting and driving. As many of you know, I was hospitalized by a distracted driver a couple of weeks ago, so I was more than eager to participate in the discussion.

Here’s the podcast if you want to listen to the whole discussion.

I mentioned that texting and driving is illegal in Colorado as of the summer of 2010. But, as I have said consistently since, I doubt that the ban on texting and driving will make much real impact on the number of accidents caused by distracted drivers. Because just like the “left lane is for passing only” law, the general public is either ignorant of its existence or willfully ignores it.

More after the jump…

And the issue extends far beyond texting. On my way to work today, for instance, I saw a woman using the mirror to apply makeup on the highway at 65mph. At that speed, you travel the length of a football field every three seconds, so your eyes should never leave the road. Yet, at any given moment, drivers on every road are eating, or texting, or doing any number of other activities that take their attention away from the road in front of them, often resulting in collisions.

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation http://www.dot.gov/

…cell phone distractions cause some 600,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, and 3,000 deaths. This works out to more than 1,643 crashes, 904 injuries, and 8 deaths each day.

Full DOT statistics about distracted driving here.

So my question to you all is: Do you think there is a public policy solution to this problem, or does it have to be a cultural shift, similar to Denver’s water conservation efforts? (“This is how much you use… This is how much you need”)

In other words, is there anything the government can (or should) do about the problem of distracted driving?

Endnotes on “Fruity” Math


“Economic expert” Eric Fruits. (photo via Twitter)

The latest installment in the amusing story of conservative economist Dr. Eric Fruits, who has watched kind of haplessly as a study he authored on the economic impact of Colorado’s Proposition 103 is subjected to enthusiastic misinterpretation by local conservatives. Bloomberg reported this weekend:

Proposition 103 would increase the income-tax rate to 5 percent from 4.63 percent and the sales and use levy to 3 percent from 2.9 percent for five years, according to the Legislative Council, a nonpartisan research arm of the Colorado General Assembly. Supporters of the measure gathered 142,000 signatures to place it on the ballot…

About $200 million in cuts in the 2012 fiscal year forced some of the state’s 178 school districts to fire teachers, suspend textbook purchases, institute transportation fees, freeze salaries, lower graduation requirements and reduce the school week.

In Jefferson County, the state’s largest district with about 86,000 students across 780 square miles, administrators trimmed almost $40 million from this year’s budget. About 206 teachers, support staff and administrators lost their jobs as a result. The district also reduced funding for capital projects by $3 million, closed two elementary schools and increased class sizes.

“If Proposition 103 doesn’t pass, we will be looking at another $35 million in cuts,” said Cindy Stevenson, the district’s superintendent, in a telephone interview. “We’re beyond the bone.”

…Raising taxes over five years would slow Colorado’s economy and lead to 27,000 fewer people working by 2016, according to a study by Eric Fruits, president of Economics International Corp. in Portland, Oregon. [Pols emphasis] He was hired by the Colorado-based Common Sense Policy Roundtable, a research organization with several business leaders on its board.

“Raising taxes is always going to be like throwing an anchor behind you,” Fruits said. “It will always create a drag on the economy.”

Now the first thing you should notice is Dr. Fruits’ bottom line–to be distinguished from the absurd figure of “over 119,000 jobs lost” persistently bandied about by the GOP Senate Minority and various right-wing pundits, all allegedly quoting the same study. As we’ve patiently explained over and over and now Dr. Fruits confirms in this story by citing the “correct” figure, the wild prediction of over a hundred thousand “jobs lost” came about by way of a boneheaded arithmetic error–locals erroneously compounding numbers from Dr. Fruits’ charts.

We realize that once you deal with this math error, you’re still left with the claim from Dr. Fruits that restoring 1999 sales and income tax rates in Colorado–from 2.9% to 3.0% and 4.63% to 5% respectively–would result in “27,000 fewer jobs,” or for that matter a single “lost job.” It’s not our intention to take issue with Dr. Fruits’ dense formulas for determining the number of “jobs lost” if these tax rates are restored, since it’s generally a mistake to get into the formulaic weeds with conservative economists. It’s where they trap and eat their skeptics.

We’d simply ask you this: is Colorado better off now than when these taxes were cut in 1999?