Brenda Stokes Files for State Senate Race

Brenda Stokes, aka Brenda Valdez-Stokes (or vice-versa)

We wrote last week about the results of a Republican vacancy committee in HD-38 (Arapahoe County) in which some dude with the pun-worthy name of Richard Champion was selected to fill the remainder of the State House term vacated by the resignation of Rep. Susan Beckman. The outcome of that vacancy committee was a surprise to some who had expected right-wing crusader Brenda Stokes to claim Beckman’s crown. At the time, Stokes vowed that she would run a primary challenge against Champion in June, but apparently she has decided on another course of action.

Stokes is now Brenda “Valdez-Stokes” and is running for State Senate in District 26, where Democrat Jeff Bridges will be running for a full-term after winning his own vacancy election last year.

Stokes…or Valdez-Stokes, or whatever her name is now, made some local headlines last May when she promoted the disastrous recall attempt against Rep. Tom Sullivan and accused him of “politicizing” the death of his son, who was killed in the 2012 Aurora Theater Shooting. She is currently the Vice-Chair of the Arapahoe County Republican Party.

At one point last year, Colorado Republicans talked about a recall campaign against Bridges; it’s probably best that they didn’t pursue this strategy after the GOP failed spectacularly at trying to recall a bunch of other Democratic lawmakers. Senate District 26 was primed to be a battleground race in 2016, but Democrat Daniel Kagan ended up beating Republican favorite Nancy Doty by 7 points. Bridges was re-elected in HD-3 in 2018 by a 22-point margin over Toren Mushovic.

Via Colorado TRACER

Colorado Voters Agree on #CoverUpCory

When Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) voted to acquit President Trump on impeachment charges, he barely bothered to come up with an explanation for how he made that decision. Gardner’s post-impeachment media tour was heavy on his absurd talking point that impeachment was actually a “policy question.”

Colorado media outlets were not impressed with Gardner’s obfuscation. As the editorial board of The Denver Post wrote, “Coloradans deserve better than Cory Gardner.”

As we can see from new polling data from Senate Majority PAC out today, Gardner’s excuses weren’t convincing to the majority of Colorado voters, either:

Large majorities of voters in these states say their GOP incumbent voted to acquit President Trump because they were voting with their party and trying to protect Trump politically, not because they actually believed Trump was innocent of an impeachable offense. The perception that these senators put party politics and Trump’s interests over principle is likely to affect the way voters assess their conduct on other issues.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Colorado:

Via Senate Majority PAC

#CoverUpCory will be appearing with President Trump at a campaign event and fundraiser in Colorado Springs on Thursday.

Trump Springs Colorado’s Most Infamous Political Inmate

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

NBC News reports:

President Donald Trump announced Tuesday he’d commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was impeached and removed from office in 2009 on corruption charges, and pardoned former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik…

“He served eight years in jail, a long time,” Trump told reporters at Andrews Air Force Base. “I don’t know him very well. I met him a couple of times. He was on for a short while on the Apprentice some years ago. He seems like a very nice person, I don’t know him.”

Trump said “many people” thought the sentence was unfair. “He’ll be able to go back home to his family,” he added.

Blagojevich, a Democrat, has been serving his term at the low-security Federal Correctional Institute in Englewood, Colorado. He’d been a contestant on Trump’s reality TV show “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010.

It’s almost too perfect–just a couple of weeks out from under his own presidency-jeopardizing corruption scandal, a period which has been dominated by President Donald Trump’s score-settling against those who testified or otherwise worked against him, Trump has freed the Illinois governor accused of “selling” former President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat! The best theory we’ve heard as to why this commutation was important to Trump is that Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence after being found guilty of official corruption was making all similarly “transactional” politicos look bad. Graded on Blago’s curve, Trump himself could in all fairness find himself looking at his own stint in the “Club Fed” of FCI Englewood.

This was Sen. Cory Gardner’s takeaway from impeachment, wasn’t it? A little corruption never hurt anybody?

Warren’s Goal Line Stand Comes To Colorado

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

As the Denver Post’s Sam Tabachnik reports, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is coming next Sunday to Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium ahead of a do-or-die Super Tuesday, where if Warren does not manage to stage a significant comeback her presidential campaign is likely to end:

Warren, the progressive senator once a front-runner in the presidential race, is looking for a shot in the arm after disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Colorado, however, remains tough to read because of a lack of public polling. The last publicly released poll in the state came in August, showing a tight race between Sanders, Biden and Warren nearly all within the margin of error. The dynamics of the race have shifted considerably since then.

The New York Times ran an insightful story today about the sobered but still hopeful Warren campaign, eyeing a path to victory despite the caucus disaster in Iowa clouding a respectable showing there, and then a tough fade in New Hampshire leaving Warren’s campaign battling to stay relevant:

Supporters and allies are doing their part to generate excitement, New Hampshire be damned. Organizations that are supporting Ms. Warren have blasted out emails with subject lines like “Warren the Warrior Wonk Returns — and people LOVE it,” sent after Ms. Warren criticized one of her favorite targets, Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and a presidential rival. On Monday, which was Presidents’ Day, Ms. Warren’s supporters helped make #PresidentWarren a national trending topic on Twitter.

“Elizabeth is third in delegates, has over a million grass-roots donors, and is drawing thousands of people to her events,” said Kristen Orthman, Ms. Warren’s communications director. “The pundits have consistently been wrong about this primary and that’s why it’s important for people to organize for and support the candidate they believe in rather than the candidate the coverage says is on top.”

Polling in Nevada shows Warren battling for third place against Pete Buttigieg ahead of that state’s caucuses next Saturday. In South Carolina, The Joe Biden “firewall” is dominating the narrative–which means Super Tuesday is the day Warren’s campaign rockets back from the abyss or gets put to bed. The flip side of the coin is that Warren is arguably the only non-billionaire contender outside the Bernie Sanders/Biden/Buttigieg “boy’s club” troika who still has a shot.

Like everything else Sen. Warren “has a plan for that,” and it involves Colorado.

Tuesday Open Thread

“A man can believe a considerable deal of rubbish, and yet go about his daily work in a rational and cheerful manner.”

–Norman Douglas

Happy Anniversary: The Stimulus Did Not “Fail”

UPDATE: Who else pushed the fictional “failed stimulus” while running for Congress in the “Tea Party” wave year of 2010? Why that would be Sen. Cory Gardner, of course! Years before Cory Gardner was making stuff up about the Affordable Care Act, the “failed stimulus” was a go-to subject for Gardner on the campaign trail for Congress. Remember how Rep. Mike Coffman said President Barack Obama ‘promoted fear’ to get the stimulus bill passed (below), and it’s time to get back to “inspiring confidence in the economy?”

Cory Gardner never got the memo. From August of 2010:

State Representative Cory Gardner was troubled by the Labor Department’s findings. “These numbers confirm what Coloradans have known for a long time now – the stimulus did fail, [Pols emphasis] the recession is not over and the situation is actually getting worse. It is time to rein in government spending and make it certain to businesses and families that the government will not raise their taxes. Without cost certainty in the marketplace, employers will not add jobs,” Gardner said.

And while attacking his opponent, then-Rep. Betsy Markey:

Democrat Betsy Markey has chosen to side with the liberal leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi on issue after issue. She voted for the failed stimulus, [Pols emphasis] the job-killing cap-and-trade bill, and the recently passed government takeover of health care. All of these policies will lead to a future of crushing debt and fewer jobs for Coloradans…

And later, talking energy with Westword in 2012:

Make no mistake, high gas prices are a symptom of [Obama’s] failed “stimulus” [Pols emphasis] policies.

If there’s one thing we know about Cory Gardner a decade later, it’s that he stays on message.

These days it’s more of a liability.


President Obama signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as Vice President Biden watches in Denver, Colo. on Feb. 17, 2009.
(White House photo by Pete Souza)

Eleven years ago today, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law in a ceremony held at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. As the Denver Post reported:

Characterizing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as the “most sweeping economic recovery package in our history,” Obama said the bill’s mix of tax cuts, infrastructure projects, energy and education investments, and aid to the unemployed and poor would create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, including roughly 60,000 in Colorado.

“We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time,” Obama said just before signing the bill at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science in front of about 250 people.

“I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems. Nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn our economy around. But today does mark the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.”

The Denver Business Journal noted the near-complete lack of Republican support for ARRA, an ominous sign of the direction American politics would take in coming years:

Obama called the stimulus legislation — which was approved by Congress Friday with almost no Republican support — the most sweeping economic recovery package in the nation’s history.

Many GOP officials have complained that the package is too big, too unfocused and overloaded with “pork” projects that will have little immediate effect on the economy.

“Now that the stimulus bill has passed, my hope is that the president will now focus on inspiring confidence in the economy instead of the fear he promoted in order to get it passed,” U.S. Rep Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, who voted against the measure, said Tuesday in a statement.


Wow Man That Was A Huge Bernie Rally

Sen. Bernie Sanders.

As the Denver Post’s Alex Burness reports, but from the look of it plenty of our readers were there:

Sen. Bernie Sanders took the stage in Denver on Sunday evening to a deafening roar from a crowd of many thousands of people who rarely let up…

Sanders spent only a fraction of his roughly 35-minute speech criticizing President Donald Trump. That segment of the speech was concise and forceful, with Sanders calling Trump “a pathological liar who is running a corrupt administration, who has no clue what the Constitution of the United States is about, who is a bully, who is vindictive, who is a racist, who is a sexist, who is a homophobe, who is a xenophobe, who is a religious bigot.”

These and many other lines drew ear-shattering applause. A significant portion of the crowd arrived hours early, and some waited in hour-long lines to buy campaign stickers and shirts. The campaign claimed more than 11,000 people attended, a total confirmed by a fire department official.

Colorado Public Radio’s Sam Brasch:

“Don’t tell anybody, but I think we’re gonna win here in Colorado!” he told supporters on Sunday.

The massive crowd packed into adjoining exhibition halls at the Colorado Convention Center responded with deafening cheers.

After narrowly winning in New Hampshire, Sanders has taken the lead in most national polls for the Democratic nomination. The state of the race in Colorado is much harder to nail down…

Westword’s Chase Woodruff:

“If we are going to bring about the fundamental change that we need in this country, we have got to address the incredible power of the corporate elite,” Sanders said. “What this campaign is about is not just beating Trump — it’s taking on the greed and corruption of Wall Street, the insurance industry, the drug companies, the fossil-fuel industry, the military-industrial complex. It’s taking on the entire one percent, the corporate establishment, the political establishment, and telling them: This country belongs to all of us.”

It will take a powerful grassroots movement, Sanders told the crowd, to enact a sweeping political agenda that includes new taxes on corporations and the rich, the cancellation of student debt, federal legalization of marijuana, and a climate-change plan that he called the most ambitious ever proposed. But this uncompromising vision is what helped draw thousands of supporters to the Denver rally, where they cheered transformative ideas like Sanders’s Medicare for All proposal, which would abolish private health insurance and replace it with a universal, government-run program.

For those keeping score, the estimated 11,000 people who turned out to see Sen. Bernie Sanders last night at the Colorado Convention Center would not physically fit inside the 8,000-seat Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, where President Donald Trump is set to hold his own campaign rally later this week. So, there’s that. Of course, those 11,000 attendees are only good for a single vote each, and with 1.1 million Democrats and 1.5 million unaffiliated voters in Colorado in receipt of Democratic primary ballots no crowd short of a Broncos Super Bowl victory parade can predict much. We do expect to see polling soon that will give us a clearer picture of the race in Colorado.

In the meantime, it was a compelling night for those so inclined to “Feel The Bern.”

Colorado GOP Leaders Will Use Stall Tactics to Kill Bills; Call HIV Prevention Coverage a ‘Feel-Good Idea’

(No peace in our times – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Speaking last month at a Republican Party fundraising luncheon in downtown Denver, all four ranking members of the GOP leadership at the Colorado Legislature said their primary strategy for this year’s legislative session is to stop proposed laws using the procedural stall tactic of demanding that the entire text of bills be read out loud.

Their plan is to wait until later in the session to deploy it for maximum effect.

As for policy priorities, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) argued vehemently against a bill to create a public health care option.

Calling it “conscription,” Neville said that while it might save Coloradans in the short term, a public option would eventually lead to the end of all private insurance plans on the exchange.

The Minority Leader also objected to another bill, one that would require insurers to cover HIV infection prevention drugs, which are considered highly effective by the Food & Drug Administration.

Neville dismissed that bill as a “feel-good idea” that would add to overall health insurance costs.


Ethics Complaint Against Hickenlooper Falls Apart

We’ve been following the silly saga of an ethics complaint filed against former Gov. John Hickenlooper by a partisan “watchdog” organization ever since allegations against the now-U.S. Senate candidate first appeared in late 2018. These charges always looked flimsy, and they are now completely dissolving as we get closer to a conclusive hearing by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission in March.

“The Public Trust Institute…acknowledged that it had no evidence…”

— The Colorado Sun (via “The Unaffiliated” newsletter, 2/14/20)

This “ethics complaint” was filed in October 2018 by an organization called The Public Trust Institute, a right-wing group headed up by the shady former Republican House Speaker Frank McNulty. Hickenlooper and allies have long argued that the complaint was nothing but a politically-motivated hit job, and it’s always been tough to disagree; The Public Trust Institute, after all, was created literally two days before it filed the Hickenlooper allegations. Subsequent reports have revealed that the information provided in the ethics complaint came from America Rising PAC, a well-known Republican opposition research firm.

Frank McNulty

Unfortunately for PTI and America Rising PAC, no amount of research can dig up facts that don’t exist. Check out this paragraph from “The Unaffiliated,” a political newsletter published by The Colorado Sun (no link available):

This week, in a little-noticed move, the commission dismissed elements of key claims made in the complaint regarding the airfare and hotel for Hickenlooper’s trip to the Bilderberg conference in Italy, the cost of a hotel during a trip to Connecticut and the use of a private airline terminal in New Jersey. The Public Trust Institute, the dark-money funded conservative political group that filed the complaint in 2018, acknowledged that it had no evidence to show those travel arrangements amounted to an inappropriate gift to the governor and the state’s Independent Ethics Commission dismissed those matters. [Pols emphasis]

From the beginning, the entire purpose of this “ethics complaint” was to generate some negative headlines for Hickenlooper that could be exploited by Republicans in 2020 — whether Hickenlooper was a candidate for President or for U.S. Senate. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) eventually ended up spending less than $1,000 on a half-assed digital advertising campaign that was abandoned just days later.

It is absurd that an “ethics complaint” supported with zero evidence could generate media coverage of any kind, but McNulty and friends worked Colorado reporters hard to squeeze out a tiny bit of hysteria by insisting that ignoring the Hickenlooper allegations was an example of liberal media bias. McNulty’s biggest success was to get The Denver Post to start referring to money allocated to Colorado through “The Bush Tax Cuts” as a “Post-9/11 Recovery Fund,” which then emboldened them to allege that Hickenlooper’s legal defense was coming from a fund meant for 9/11 survivors. This was nonsense, but it generated a few news clips nonetheless.

The editorial board of The Denver Post was correct in November 2019 when it wrote, “the most sensational accusations [in this complaint] are easy to dismiss.” Common sense should have prevailed among journalists by then, even as McNulty and pals like Suzanne Staiert furiously tried to keep the fires burning, but the hint of potential scandal in an otherwise boring U.S. Senate primary helped the story to limp along for a bit longer.

Anybody can file an “ethics complaint” with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission — you can do it yourself right now by just downloading the complaint form. The moral of this story is simple: A mere complaint doth not a scandal make.

Also, stop taking calls from Frank McNulty.

“Law and Order,” Colorado Republican Style

“We probably won’t see any relief in these kinds of robberies until these businesses aren’t forced to deal only in cash”

As Westword’s Thomas Mitchell reports, two Republican members of Congress from Colorado, Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn, have signed on to a letter to the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee Sen. Mike Crapo, asking Senate Republicans to reject the SAFE Banking Act, legislation which would allow banking institutions to serve the presently cash only multibillion-dollar retail marijuana industry:

Two Colorado members of the U.S. House of Representatives, along with ten other members of the House, have once again announced their opposition to federal banking reform for state-legal marijuana businesses. But since they’ve already cast their votes on the matter in the House, they’re looking to the Senate for help.

Less than a month after a group of representatives led by Congressman Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat from Colorado, sent a letter to Senate Banking Committee chairman Mike Crapo, urging him to advance Perlmutter’s successful House legislation that would protect banks serving marijuana businesses, another group of House members sent Crapo a letter with a starkly different stance on the bill, the SAFE Banking Act…

“The SAFE Banking Act jeopardizes public safety by legitimizing banking access for a Schedule I drug. It is important that we continue to tread lightly and consider public health concerns that surround the marijuana industry,” Buck says. “That’s why I opposed the SAFE Banking Act when it came to a vote in the House of Representatives and urge Senator Crapo to weigh these concerns when considering this legislation in the Senate.”

From the letter signed by Buck and Lamborn:

We write as Republican Members of Congress who voted against the SAFE Banking Act in the House of Representatives. Thank you for introducing a public health perspective to the question of banking for marijuana enterprises, including recreational stores that are advertising products that are appealing to children. We understand you have received significant pushback from these businesses for raising public health questions related to their business practices, and we urge you to stand strong…

We thank you again for your examination and consideration of these important public health topics. We remain opposed to liberalizing drug laws (including around banking), and we see these as some of our areas of greatest concern. We must protect our youth by preventing investment into companies that would prey upon them.

It’s important to understand that Buck and Lamborn’s objection to the SAFE Banking Act are not based in an easily-resolved technicality, but rather wholesale opposition to the legalization of marijuana. Even though they both represent a state that was the vanguard of legalization back in 2012, and has been joined by ten other states including major population centers like California and Illinois with more on the way, Buck and Lamborn refuse to allow the businesses raking in billions of dollars every year to use banking services every other legal business takes for granted.

For the cannabis industry in Colorado, the results have been needlessly tragic. Forced to operate as cash-only businesses, marijuana shops in Colorado have become lucrative targets for armed robberies–including in Aurora in 2016 in which a security guard for the dispensary was murdered execution-style. Dispensary owners have been forced to invest heavily in security and safe handling of large amounts of cash as a result.

With all of this in mind, it’s fair to ask the majority of Colorado voters who voted to legalize marijuana in 2012–what’s the bigger public safety risk here? Legal marijuana, or criminals targeting businesses forced to operate on cash? What public safety benefit is there in making an already legal industry needlessly dangerous? And where the hell is Sen. Cory Gardner, supposed best GOP friend of Colorado’s weed business? Once again, Gardner’s lip service to supporting the industry is being undercut by his fellow Republicans.

Politically, this is the sort of thing one can only get away with while holding a very safe seat–not just a safe Republican seat. It’s hard to imagine a position more opposed to the interests of the state Buck and Lamborn represent, actually supporting a status quo that invites crime against law-abiding Coloradans. Two out of three of Colorado’s GOP members of Congress were under no real pressure to sign a letter only ten other members from across the country were willing to put their name on.

It is not a principled stand. It is a slap in the face to the folks at home.

Iacino Picks Up Big Endorsement in CO-3

Gail Schwartz

Businessman James Iacino, who is running against Diane Mitsch Bush for the Democratic nomination in CO-3 (Western/Southern Colorado) announced a significant endorsement today. From a press release:

Today, former State Senator, and former candidate for the 3rd Congressional District, Gail Schwartz announced her endorsement of James Iacino ahead of the June 2020 Democratic Primary.

From 2007 until 2015 Gail Schwartz represented large areas of the district in the Colorado Senate. from Eagle to Gunnison, and as far south the San Luis Valley and New Mexico border. Expressing her support Schwartz stated:

“I’m proud to endorse James Iacino, Democrat for Congress in Colorado’s 3rd district. A proven leader on sustainability, James also has the track record and solid business experience to help build an economy that works for everyone,” said Fmr. State Senator Gail Schwartz. “Having worked his way from the loading docks to running one of Colorado’s most successful businesses, we can trust James to look out for the hardworking families of Western and Southern Colorado. It is time for a strong voice in Washington who will stand up for the values of rural Colorado. I know James Iacino, and he has what it takes to beat Scott Tipton in 2020.”

Schwartz has long been a visible figure in Democratic politics, even aside from the time she spent in the legislature and as a Congressional candidate (her husband, prominent attorney Alan Schwartz, is also a well-known fundraiser). Gail Schwartz wasn’t able to defeat Republican Rep. Scott Tipton in 2016, but she raised a ton of money and her strong campaign put in play a seat that would otherwise have been largely ignored.

Iacino finished 2019 with impressive fundraising numbers, pulling in $295k compared to just $182k for Tipton. The Schwartz endorsement is a tangible sign of real momentum for Iacino as we move closer to caucus season.

Friday Open Thread

“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

–Maya Angelou