More National Ink for Michael Johnston

State Senator Michael Johnston just keeps adding to his profile as something of a legislative wunderkind, yesterday earning the loftiest of encomiums from Forbes magazine.

From a piece entitled (we kid you not) “The Best Speech About Education — Ever:”

Mike Johnston (Mississippi Delta ’97) – State Senator, Colorado from Teach For America Events on Vimeo.

Every now and then a speech comes along that reminds me why public speaking is still essential and why I said back in 2003 that the only reason to give a speech is to change the world.

I had tears in my eyes by the end of the speech, and you will too. Johnston’s dedication to education and the real progress he has been able to make deserve to be celebrated.  Watch the speech and reaffirm your faith in teaching and teachers – and most of all students.

[T]his speech will have you standing up and cheering for education by the end.  It’s 21 minutes that are worth spending on the future of our children.  Watch it, and tell everyone you know about it.  And thanks, Mike, for your service to education.

It would, of course, be more surprising if Johnston didn’t give a good speech. After years as a state senator, high school principal, and three Ivy League degrees, he should know exactly what to say and how to say it.

Still, this particular Forbes write-up, alongside a 2010 column by Waiting for Superman director Davis Guggenheim proclaiming him one of the “world’s most powerful educators,” only underscores the fact that Johnston’s political star is rising faster than almost anyone else in Colorado state government.

Where it shoots to next is anybody’s guess. His close ties in the Obama administration offer Johnston the opportunity to shape national education policy if the president scores a second term, but Johnston may just opt to stay in office here in Colorado.

Doing so puts him on the short list for CD-1 — although incumbent Diana DeGette probably has at least a decade left on the hill — and gives him the chance to keep pushing for reforms in Colorado.

Which, while exceedingly controversial at home, should earn him plenty more national press — not to mention keynote addresses.

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The Irony in Michael Hancock’s Opposition to Amendment 64

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock last week announced his opposition to Amendment 64 — the regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act — citing fears that Colorado may lose valuable tourism money if Denver is perceived as a “marijuana capital.” He then waxed emphatic about the link between marijuana, hard drugs, and the cost of legalization on society:

“You can argue that with a lot of the things that are illegal, right — if you know that it’s occurring and where it’s occurring and where it’s allowed. The realities are this: I think the cost to society with people who graduate from marijuana to harsher drugs is exponentially higher than any benefit that someone may try to calculate that you’ll get from a…regulated marijuana industry,”he said. “I just find it very hard. Those of us who grew up where the advent and introduction of some of the harsher drugs, whether it’s heroin, whether it was PCP, crack cocaine, we know a lot of our family members and neighbors started with recreational use of marijuana.”

Hancock’s anecdote on the topic is compelling, and his personal history probably should inform his professional take on drug policy. But it’s hard to reconcile his belief in the pitfalls of marijuana use with some of the most prominent content on his city website.

Hancock dismisses comparisons between alcohol and marijuana use, telling Westword that “We’re talking marijuana, so I’m not going to talk about the comparisons with alcohol.” Fair enough.

Still, for someone who’s proud to showcase his pride in Denver’s beer, Hancock would do well to remember some of the arguments made in favor of prohibiting that substance.

Here are a select few quotes from temperance leader Billy Sunday:

Listen! Seventy-five per cent of our idiots come from intemperate parents, 80 per cent of the paupers, 82 per cent of the crime is committed by men under the influence of liquor, 90 per cent of the adult criminals are whiskey made.

Archbishop Ireland, the famous Roman Catholic of St. Paul, said of social crime “that 75 per cent is caused by drink and 80 per cent of the poverty.” I go to a family and it is broken up and I say, “what caused this?” Drink! I step up to a young man on the scaffold and say, “what brought you here?” Drink! Whence all the misery and sorrow and corruption? Invariably it is drink.

The saloon is the sum of all villainies. It is worse than war or pestilence. It is the crime of crimes. It is parent of crimes and the mother of sins. It is the appalling source of misery and crime in the land and the principal cause of crime. It is the source of three-fourths of the taxes to support that crime. And to license such an incarnate fiend of hell is the dirtiest, low-down, damnable business on top of this old earth. There is nothing to be compared to it.

It is the moral clearinghouse for rot, and damnation, and poverty, and insanity, and it wrecks homes and blights lives today. The saloon is a liar. It promises health and causes disease. It promises prosperity and sends adversity. It promises happiness and sends misery.

There’s nothing wrong with Hancock’s opposition to Amendment 64 — there are a few compelling reasons, practical tourism interests included, to keep marijuana illegal at a state-level in Colorado.

Hancock, however, shouldn’t be blind to the irony in preaching “slippery slope” talking points about marijuana and other drugs while at the same time highlighting Denver’s beer culture on his government website.

There are other practical realities at play, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of the arguments he uses against marijuana, after all, were first employed to prohibit the beer he’s holding in his hand.  

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In Case There Were Any Questions About Labuda’s Ties to Payday Lenders…

State Representative Jeanne Labuda, a lock to win her last-ever reelection campaign against quixotic Republican opponent John Kidd, caught flack during her divisive primary with activist Corrie Houck for comparing payday-lending customers to “alcoholics.” One of five Democrats to vote against the ultimately-successful bill to limit payday loan interest rates, Labuda has always been seen as something of an ally of the payday lending industry as a whole.

And, if her campaign finance reports are any indication, industry leaders are all too happy to return the favor.

Among contributions from Speedy Cash executives and the America Cash Advance Centers PAC, Labuda last month received a maxed-out check from William Allan Jones, the CEO of Check Into Cash and a trailblazer in the payday lending business credited with “pioneering the retail concept of providing short-term cash advances for a fee.” The so-called “founder” of payday lending has also been criticized for his “predatory loan shark” practices and esurient lifestyle — he owns a 400-acre home, a 223 acre ranch in Wyoming, a 157-foot yacht, and a private regulation-sized football field.

It’s hard to find a starker contrast between a business owner and his patrons anywhere.

Of course, ignoring the criticisms levelled against his industry’s practices, it’s fair to say that Jones wants to continue doing business in Colorado and personal contributions allow him to support candidates that will keep Check Into Cash locations open across the state. Indeed, over the past ten years the company has spent over $10,000 here supporting legislative candidates and leadership PACs.

Jones injected himself personally into Colorado politics for the first time this year, however, writing checks to HD-18 Republican candidate Jennifer George, SD-19 Republican Lang Sias, and, of course, HD-1 Democrat Jeanne Labuda. Unlike those Republicans, however, Labuda isn’t in a competitive race that could determine the partisan makeup of the Colorado legislature or the future of payday lending. She’s going to win with or without Jones’ support.

His contribution, then, looks less like an effort to protect his business from regulation and more like a reward for Labuda’s loyalty over the years.

Those are bad optics for the Denver Democrat. Labuda claimed to have voted against payday-lending regulation because she wanted to “see if existing procedures work.” That may be true, but whatever her intentions, accepting this contribution makes it appear as though she’s in the pocket of one of the most reviled leaders of the payday lending industry.

Too bad for Corrie Houck that Jones didn’t contribute during the primary.

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Hancock’s Cabinet Now Complete

After more than 460 days since his swearing in, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has finally filled out his cabinet, today announcing the appointment of Rocky Piro as Denver’s Manager of Community Planning and Development.

From Hancock’s office:

In his capacity as manager, Piro will be responsible for implementing visionary city planning and ensuring safe, responsible, sustainable building throughout Denver.

“A smart, 21st century planning department depends on innovative ideas,” Mayor Hancock said. “Rocky brings with him the knowledge to enact a global vision for Denver to help spur economic development while reinforcing the city’s goals around sustainability and livability for our neighborhoods.”

The Department of Community Planning and Development is in charge of managing, planning and building within Denver, including designing and implementing citywide and neighborhood plans, establishing construction and design standards, coordinating revitalization efforts, managing historic preservation and performing code enforcement and education.

Supervising “managing, planning, and building within Denver” is obviously critically important in shaping the city, so some may question the wisdom in waiting fifteen months to find the right candidate. And, if Piro is responsible for “implementing visionary city planning and ensuring safe, responsible, sustainable building throughout Denver,” what kind of development, exactly, has been going on since last June?

The flip side of the argument is, of course, that Hancock took the time to pick the perfect guy for the job.

That must’ve been one hell of a long interview.

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The 80s Called, Celeste Gamache. They Want their Video Back.

HD-9 Republican Celeste Gamache has always been a bit of a novel candidate. A former JAG officer and veteran of two tours in Afghanistan, Gamache is generally regarded as a smart, articulate, and up-and-coming community leader. In any other district, her resume combined with a smart campaign would make her a serious contender for the State House. Denver’s HD-9, however, leans so far to the left ideologically and in terms of registration that Gamache hasn’t been the beneficiary of Republican efforts to keep the speaker’s gavel — her defeat at the hands of Democrat Paul Rosenthal is a foregone conclusion.

Just because Gamache has the potential to be a great candidate, however, doesn’t mean that she knows what she’s doing. Take, for example, the campaign commercial she released on the web a few months ago. That is to say we think it’s a campaign commercial and not Gamache’s entry to an 80’s video dating service.

Seriously, was this thing filmed and edited in 1987? That tacky synth music at the beginning is a nice touch, as are the words that soar across the screen. Jobs, taxes, seniors: If this is a dating video, we’re not sure those interests would earn Gamache much attention. And is that the Papyrus font? Woah, dude, sleek.

Then, for whatever reason, Gamache appears in a little box surrounded by a neon green background. Here’s a piece of advice for anybody ever making a commercial, political or otherwise: Do not use neon colors. In hindsight, they were barely cool in the 80s and they’re certainly not cool now.

Surrounded by her campaign logo, her website url, and a cell phone number, it’s almost impossible not to mistake Gamache’s spiel for a dating video. She introduces herself as “running for state representative in House District 9,” but it’s just as easy to imagine Gamache saying that she’s “looking for a life partner who she can talk to deep into the night and have fun with.”

We’re not sure why, exactly, Gamache decided to produce this video. Maybe she has a nephew, or more likely, a “tech-savvy uncle” with an old camcorder, who offered to make her a really slick campaign advertisement. Voters aren’t going to see it, which in this case is probably a good thing, but maybe Gamache thought that using innovative new technologies like the YouTubes would get the youth on her side.

In her defense, Gamache’s 84 year old campaign manager probably thought this was a really groundbreaking use of cutting-edge technology.  It certainly was when she was in her fifties!  

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Presidential Candidates in Denver This Week

Just three weeks after they faced off at the University of Denver’s Sturm Hall, presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will concurrently be making a late-game sweep of the Denver metro area this week.

Romney and running mate Paul Ryan will, perplexingly, be hosting a “Victory Rally” at Red Rocks tomorrow evening, fewer than 24 hours after the Republican sits down with the president for their third and final debate this cycle. The GOP ticket will be joined on stage by country musician Rodney Atkins and “rapper” Kid Rock. Although (paradoxically) Mitt Romney counts a few endorsements from those in the porn industry, his appearance with Kid Rock likely marks the first time he’ll ever appear on stage with someone who features prominently in a sex tape. Tickets are free, and if you consider yourself an “American Bad Ass,” you can pick them up here. Doors upen at 4:00 PM and the event begins at 6:30 PM.

President Barack Obama will also be in Denver this week, visiting City Park for a rally on Wednesday afternoon. Tickets are available for that event here and doors open at 12:00 PM.

Although Colorado is still very much in play this year, with only a few weeks left until polls close, this very well may be the last chance to get an up-close and in-person glimpse of either presidential candidate. There are other swing states, you know. It certainly marks the last time both will be here simultaneously.  

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Denver Line Updated

With two weeks until election day, we’ve updated the Denver Line to the left to reflect the most recent shifts in the HD-3 race between Democrat Dan Kagan and Republican Brian Watson.

Yes, we know HD-3 technically isn’t a Denver race, but, as per usual, there aren’t any competitive state-level campaigns that fall within city limits this year.  

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Cheap Tricks In Denver Schools Bond Issue Race

UPDATE: A reverse IP lookup proves that “MarySeawell.com” is indeed the handiwork of Guerin Lee Green, close associate of DPS board member Andrea Merida and publisher of the obscure website The Cherry Creek News:

We’d say Green should have covered his tracks a lot better than this.

—–

Taking a brief moment to cover Ed News Colorado’s report yesterday:

Denver school board President Mary Seawell is investigating her legal options after an opponent of the district’s proposed $466 million bond issue sent emails to thousands of DPS staff members criticizing the proposal – and linking the criticism to Seawell.

On Tuesday, DPS employees and some community members received a lengthy email purporting to be sent from “dpsboardpresident@maryseawell.com” and stating district claims about its financial health are false.

It also echoes statements made by various critics of the bond, such as “53 percent of bond funds, or almost $250 million, will go to charter schools, while just 21 percent of DPS students attend these schools.” The organized opposition to the bond, No on 3B Denver, strongly denies any involvement…

Denver’s Question 3B is a $466 million bond issue being run together with a smaller mill levy override, Question 3A. Question 3B is supported by pretty much everybody–from the Denver Classroom Teachers’ Association and Great Education Colorado to the conservative-leaning group Stand for Children. As for the opposition…well, it’s complicated.

Actually, it’s not that complicated. It’s Andrea Merida and a crew of usual suspects.

As some of our readers know–some a bit too well–DPS board member Merida heads up an insurgent wing of the Board, which has been decidedly critical of DPS superintendent Tom Boasberg and his predecessor, now-Sen. Michael Bennet. Merida helped organize a failed recall attempt against fellow DPS board member Nate Easley, and discussions of that recall attempt became particularly nasty and personal in the comment sections of this blog.

To be perfectly honest, it’s the small-minded perniciousness and bitterness in these intra-DPS spats that make them so interesting to outside observers like ourselves–which of course doesn’t make it credible, just interesting. The petty rage from the Merida insurgency on the DPS Board, and the various actors in support of her campaigns against the majority, makes her notorious even though we’re not aware of a single one of these that has actually succeeded.

Merida’s opposition doesn’t even speak for the teacher’s union, which is on board with 3B. Apparently, as you can read in the fake email that’s the subject of Ed News’ story, there’s a fear that charter schools will receive a disproportionate amount of funds, but supporters tell us that’s totally unfounded. A loss on these ballot questions would be a serious problem for DPS’ future plans, and by extension Boasberg and others among Merida’s long list of enemies. But Merida’s opposition, without the support of traditional allies in the DCTA and elsewhere, has had to resort to Republican-style tax and debt arguments that seem a bit out of place in Denver.

The only thing we have left to add here is the possible identity of the fake domain at the heart of the latest controversy–maryseawell.com (which now displays a broken page result). The other reference to this domain we were able to find comes from this October 2nd story on a low-traffic website called The Cherry Creek News, owned by longtime Merida ally Guerin Green. It’s referenced in such a way that it’s quite clear the website is, if you will, a team effort.

The aforementioned prior dealings with Mr. Green make us happy to bring this to your attention, as well as those investigating DPS Board President Mary Seawell’s legal options.

Originally posted at Colorado Pols.

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Breaking: Shots Fired at Obama Denver HQ

Shots were fired earlier this afternoon at the Obama for America campaign office at 77 W 9th Ave in Denver, according to a report from 9News.

Denver police are looking for a person who shot at a field campaign office for President Obama in Denver Friday afternoon.

Police say there were people inside at the time of the 3:00 p.m. shooting, but no one was hit.

This particularly violent incident follows the destruction of the Colorado Democratic Party’s windows just a few months ago.

We’ll update with more information as it comes in.

More coverage at Colorado Pols.

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No Wal-Mart at 9th and Colorado After All

If there’s any takeaway from the controversy surrounding the proposed Wal-Mart development at 9th and Colorado, it’s that democracy works. Weeks of sustained and organized opposition from Congress Park residents, after all, has led the developer to pull the plug on the project.

From Fox31:

After several heated meetings where residents near E. 9th Ave. and Colorado Blvd were very vocal about their displeasure with a proposed Walmart in the area, Tuesday was a different story.

Cheers filled a room at Palmer Elementary School where residents gathered for a meeting in which Mayor Hancock confirmed the store withdrew from consideration for the site.

Walmart released this statement:

“While Walmart will not be part of the planned redevelopment of the former University of Colorado Health Sciences campus, we will continue to evaluate other opportunities to serve Denver area customers and expand access to affordable groceries.

With Wal-Mart’s withdrawal, the issue then shifts to an inquiry in what will instead be developed in its place. The developer still pledges to transform the space into a mixed-use shopping center, but given the difficulties one big-box retailer encountered, it’s unclear whether any other national chain would be willing to subject itself to the same community scrutiny.

Which raises yet another question. If any major chain development raises this level of acrimony, is there any incentive to occupy the space at all? Wal-Mart may stir a special breed of ill-will, but there needs to be some sort of anchor store — most likely a national chain — on the expansive site in order to make development worthwhile.

If Wal-Mart isn’t acceptable, what is? Is a derelict hospital better than a store whose values are at odd with the neighborhood?

The answer for now, at least, is yes.  

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PSA: Unable to Register to Vote Today? Clerk Debra Johnson Has Your Back.

Denver City Clerk Debra Johnson, who’s famously sparred in the past with Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler over “inactive voters, “is offering some relief for those Denver residents unable to register online through Gessler’s portal.

From Johnson:

Due to intermittent outages in the GoVoteColorado.com website Denver residents who wish to register to vote are asked to download the PDF voter registration form.

Fax form to: 720-913-8600

Scan and e-mail it  to: voterregistration@denvergov.org

Hand deliver or mail to Denver Elections Division (must be postmarked October 9, 2012)

Our address is 200 W. 14th Ave. Suite 100, Denver CO 80204 (Corner of 14th Ave. and Bannock)

The failure of Gessler’s system so close to a deadline, of course, only adds credibility to Johnson’s argument and legal contention that elections are best managed locally. If Gessler can’t even handle registration properly, why should he be able to dictate who’s allowed to vote on municipal issues?  

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Romney, Obama to Campaign in Denver Before and After DU Debate

President Barack Obama will ostensibly be sleeping in Denver on Wednesday night, pivoting from his DU debate against Mitt Romney on Wednesday night to an event at Sloan’s Lake Park early Thursday morning.

Tickets are free and available to the public.

From the Obama campaign:

Find out how to see President Barack Obama in West Denver

Thursday, October 4th

Doors open at 7:30 a.m.

Sloan’s Lake Park (Northeast Corner)

West Byron and Vrain Street

Denver, CO 80212

Republican Mitt Romney is also stumping in Denver in advance of Wednesday’s debate, hosting a free victory rally at Wings Over the Rockies this evening.

You’re Invited to a Victory Rally with

Mitt Romney

and the Republican team

Monday, October 1, 2012

Doors Open 4:45 PM | Program Begins 6:45 PM

Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum

7711 E. Academy Boulevard, Denver, CO 80230

For questions, contact us at: (720) 443-1517 or TeamCO@MittRomney.com

For Important Campaign Updates:Text (CO) toGOMITT (466488)

With just five weeks until election day, these events, in conjunction with the DU debate, are likely some of the last major visits for either candidate in the Denver metro area.

So snag those tickets as soon as you can if you haven’t yet been lucky enough to Instagram a photo of a presidential candidate!

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Why Politics and Friendship Don’t Always Mix

Political patronage is as old as our current conception of democracy itself. That’s because there’s nothing necessarily wrong with awarding jobs to friends and supporters upon taking office — those who have continually offered their support, after all, are also capable of offering sage advice and grounding a candidate once they’re elected.

In the case of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s friend and former staffer Wayne McDonald, however, lies an important lesson: Don’t appoint friends to political or advisory positions unless you’re confident they’re both capable of doing the job well and positive that they won’t paint your administration in a bad light. McDonald, Hancock’s college classmate, was dismissed from his position as the mayor’s “special projects” coordinator after allegedly sexually harassing a female Denver police officer with whom he had a professional relationship.

McDonald now plans to file suit against the city to clear his name, but neither that potential litigation nor the circumstances surrounding McDonald’s dismissal were sufficient cause for Hancock to end their personal friendship, according to a recent report at Westword.

From Sam Levin:

McDonald is a longtime friend of the mayor; he was appointed as a “special projects coordinator” but fired in May, after allegedly making inappropriate comments in front of a female Denver police officer. His legal team has filed a notice of claim, and plans to file the official lawsuit in the next month or so. In addition, his attorney, Anne Sulton, has also filed an Ethics Board complaint, on view below. Sulton says he asked for an investigation before he was fired, and is now requesting one via the upcoming lawsuit and the ethics complaint.

But questions of unemployment benefits are not the only concerns Sulton raises when she is asked to respond to the mayor’s comments.

“I know that since my client has been fired, [Hancock] has been calling [McDonald] and his wife and sending text messages to my client,” she said.

In our brief chat yesterday, Hancock told us he has not spoken to McDonald in a while, and that may be true, Sulton said, pointing out that to the best of her knowledge, McDonald has not responded to any of the mayor’s messages.

“I think it’s highly inappropriate for the mayor to be calling the man’s wife and sending texts to my client,” she said.

By Sulton’s estimate, the mayor has reached out to McDonald and his family at least three times with texts and calls — mostly in the immediate aftermath of firing him. When pressed on the matter back in June, Hancock told reporter, “We’re still friends.” [POLS Emphasis]

This story has always contained an element of the absurd. A close friend of the mayor’s, appointed to a relatively senior position within the administration, allegedly harassed a female police officer. It’s a compelling story for a lot of reasons, chief among them is the fact that Hancock should’ve dealt with this issue on a personal level. Nobody knows went on behind closed doors, but if Hancock had made a personal appeal rather than assigning two functionaries to tell McDonald, as Levin reports, to resign or “be fired,” there’s a good chance the latter could’ve left with both his personal and Hancock’s professional reputations intact.

Unfortunately, the time for personal appeals was over the second McDonald was forced out of his job. Hancock may believe that he and McDonald are “still friends,” but they aren’t. Their “friendship” ended when their professional involvement did. Setting aside the lawsuit, McDonald became toxic to the administration when he was fired for inappropriate conduct. Even if Hancock would like to stay friends, he certainly can’t do it publicly without calling into question his rationale for hiring McDonald in the first place. It’s an unfortunate reality in politics that sometimes “friends” get in the way of governing. That’s certainly the case here.

No matter how guilty Hancock felt about having to let his friend go, or rather, having his staff let his friend go, he should not have attempted to communicate with McDonald after the fact. Period — no texts, no phone calls, no e-mails. By staying in touch with his old college pal, Hancock directly links himself to what should otherwise be a personnel issue.

Reaching out makes Hancock look like a guy reluctantly forced to end a relationship with an old flame: “Listen, you can’t work here anymore, but we can still be friends, right?” Hancock almost seems guilty for what he had no choice but to do.

If Hancock wanted to keep McDonald as a friend, he shouldn’t have hired him in the first place. This far in, however, he can’t simultaneously maintain the friendship without jeopardizing his image as mayor.

That would seem like common sense to most politicians, but with Hancock, it’s just another piece of evidence that he hasn’t yet figured out what he should and should not do in his position.

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At Least He’s Not Your “Rising Political Star…”

Pols Update: According to a report from Lynn Bartels at the Denver newspaper, Watson claims to have paid back a portion of his outstanding taxes and disputes the number and amount of liens levied against him.

That certainly changes the story, but unfortunately for Watson, it won’t change the potency of the attack.

—-

Bad news for Republicans in the race against Democrat Dan Kagan and what many consider their best House pickup opportunity statewide.

From Fox31’s Eli Stokols:

DENVER – The Republican candidate looking to unseat a Democratic state representative, in a race that could determine which party controls the statehouse, owes nearly $280,000 in unpaid property taxes, FOX31 Denver has confirmed.

Brian Watson, a businessman who is running to unseat Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Denver, has Republicans excited about their chances to win a Denver district that was re-drawn in their favor during reapportionment earlier this year; and state GOP chairman Ryan Call considers Watson a possible rising star in the party.

But FOX31 Denver has found that there are nine tax liens pending against Watson for unpaid taxes on various properties that add up to $279,657.

An outside political action committee supporting Kagan, the Colorado Accountable Government Alliance, is now highlighting Watson’s unpaid property taxes in a new mailer.

Kagan himself told FOX31 Denver he has had nothing to do with the mailer and hasn’t been raising the issue when he talks with constituents.

Three of the liens, for a total of $147,506, are on Aspen Moving and Storage, which Watson explains in a 2010 letter to investors, “suffered approximately a 70 percent decline in income between 2008 and 2009.”

The timing of this particular revelation is going to hurt. Ballots go out in a few weeks, and you better believe the “Colorado Accountable Government Alliance” and other independent expenditure groups are going to hit Watson hard on this issue — even if Kagan doesn’t touch it himself.

This is one of those issues that’s precisely as bad as it looks. Watson has been so successful in his bid thus far because he’s been able to frame his campaign around his business record. This tax issue, then, calls his number one qualification into question. On his website, Watson discusses his desire, if elected, to create “predictable and reasonable regulation and fair taxation.” Seems like the Republican isn’t really the best guy to be discussing what’s fair, is he?

Even worse, as Stokols points out in his article, Watson defends the debts as resulting from the economic downturn and “mismanagement” in the company that his firm, Northstar Commercial Investments, acquired. Fair enough. That doesn’t change the fact that Northstar contributed $500 to the Colorado Republican Party. The investment firm, it would seem, has money enough to facilitate Watson’s candidacy but not enough for taxes. Hell, Watson himself wrote a check to a small donor committee “supporting Republican candidates and Republican members of the Colorado House of Representatives for election and reelection.”

If you’re a candidate for public office, and you owe back taxes, it’s probably not a good idea to be writing checks to anyone or anything other than the IRS.

At the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney has already driven the issue of tax responsibilities into the national spotlight. With this development, Watson’s going to have to defend his own background down ballot as well.

Dan Kagan couldn’t have gotten better optics if he had asked for them.  

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No on 3B Campaign Very Angry About Lots of Things

We received a rather odd press release today from Earleen Brown, ostensibly the spokesperson for the No on 3B campaign organized in opposition to the Denver Public Schools proposed bond and tax override measures. In it, Brown, a known education gadfly associated with anti-reform group DeFENSE Denver, complains about the “ways in which opposition to the 466 million dollar bond has been stifled.” Brown’s objections aren’t necessarily without merit, but they’re presented in such a way that frames the No on 3B group as, well, a little amateurish.

From Brown:

1 – As of today, September 25, 2012, the only way to clarify which initiative is associated with the mill levy and which initiative is associated with the bond is through a direct phone call to the Denver Elections Division, or by visiting the No on 3B Denver website.  The distinction is not published on the Denver Elections Division website, on the Denver Public Schools website, or on the Yes on 3A/3B website.  The lack of access to information makes it nearly impossible for voters to properly educate themselves about the separate initiatives.

2 – A call to the Denver Public Schools communication office, to clarify the initiatives, was met with a suggestion to visit the Yes on 3A/3B website – once again, that website makes no distinction between the two initiatives. DPS, as a publically-funded entity, should not be directing voters to a CAMPAIGN website rather than providing that information, itself, or referring voters to the Denver Elections Division.

3 – After the ballot language for 3A and 3B was submitted to the Denver Elections Division for final approval, attorneys for Denver Public Schools called the Elections Division to reverse the order of the initiatives on the ballot – this was verified by the Elections Division.

4 – The last minute shuffling of the initiatives, and withholding of documentation clarifying which initiative is associated with the mill levy and which is associated with the bond delayed the formation of our group which is opposing the bond.

5 – Upon confirmation that the bond initiative is 3B, an issue committee was formed and the registered agent reached out to the League of Women Voters to take part in the forum last night.  Our request to participate was denied for the stated reason that our issue committee was not formed in time.

6 – The opponent, who was selected by the League of Women Voters to present the “con” position, is from Lakewood and has a relationship to Denver only as a renter. She publicly stated, during the debate, that she assumed she was being asked to speak about Jefferson County’s 3A and 3B initiatives. Being as it was, no legitimate oppositional voice was made or heard during the debate last night.

Our position is NOT about whether or not we agree with a tax increase, it is NOT about whether or not we believe that taxpayers should provide money for education, it IS about the voters of Denver having a clear understanding of the issues on the ballot, and having the opportunity to hear both sides of the debate.

This release leaves out a ton of details, but here’s what we were able to piece together:

1) Last night, the League of Women Voters hosted a forum on 2012 ballot initiatives.

2) The No on 3B campaign was unable to participate in that forum because their issue committee was formed too late to meet the LWV’s deadline.

3) The No on 3B committee would’ve been formed earlier had DPS not reversed the order of initiatives on the ballot.

4) DPS is actively campaigning for 3A and 3B.

5) The woman selected to enunciate the opposition argument at last night’s forum was pretty confused about what was going on.

6) The No on 3B campaign is very, very mad.

Brown and her group are on safe ground with most of their grievances. DPS probably shouldn’t be directing inquiries about the bond and mill measures to a campaign website, though there’s no question that the district supports the effort to pour more money into their coffers. Similarly, the League of Women voters should’ve allowed representatives from the Denver opposition campaign to speak at a nonpartisan forum instead of assigning their spot to a woman who clearly showed up to the wrong event.

At issue, then, is the fact that this is the first interaction the No on 3B camp has had with the media. This “press release” was sent to nearly every political journalist in the greater Denver area. If the opposition group had instead sent out a standard release with information about their effort and a few quotes from sympathetic community leaders, they probably would’ve gotten some attention in the local market. At the very least, they would’ve set the stage for future coverage.

Instead, 50 Denver reporters received a strange and verbose e-mail filled with complaints from a campaign effort they’ve never heard of. That makes the 3B opponents seem like amateurs at best and an irate and ill-organized group of pseudo-activists at worst.

Neither outcome is desirable, and both could’ve been avoided had Earleen thought a little more deeply about how she wanted to introduce her effort to the press.  

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Dave Misner Memorial Tomorrow

Dave Misner, the late partner of State Senator Pat Steadman and a Denver political favorite in his own right, will tomorrow be memorialized at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

From Steadman:

On Sunday, September 16, 2012, my beloved partner Dave Misner ended his battle with a devastating cancer.  He died quietly in the early hours of morning at our home in Capitol Hill where we have lived the past 8 years.  We first met in the summer of 2000, and we had been deeply in love ever since.  

A Celebration of Life and Love, honoring the memory of Dave Misner will be held on Monday, September 24 at the Denver Botanic Gardens, 1007 York Street, Denver.  Friends are invited to join us for a program beginning at 10:30 am in Mitchell Hall, and a reception afterwards in the gardens. [Pols Emphasis]

Misner passed away a week ago following a four-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 48.

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Cinemark to Reopen Century 16 Cinema

In the wake of the mass shooting at the Century 16 Theater in July, the City of Aurora last month conducted a survey asking its residents what should be done with the theater. According to yesterday’s report from 9News, a majority of that poll’s respondents believed that the theater should be reopened. In response, theater owner Cinemark today announced its plans to renovate and eventually reopen the Century 16 cineplex.

From the Aurora Sentinel:

The company that owns and operates the theater where a gunman killed 12 people and injured 58 others says it will reopen the venue.

A letter obtained by The Associated Press Friday from Cinemark President and CEO Tim Warner to the city says the theater will be re-configured and ready to reopen by the beginning of 2013.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan in a letter asked Cinemark to refurbish and reopen the theater based on request from victims and victim’s advocates.

That a majority of city residents and others affected by this tragedy want the theater reopened as means of moving on, it would seem, gave Cinemark the quarter it needed to answer one of the uncomfortable questions that has lingered since July.

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Hancock as Huddles: It’s the Narrative that Matters

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has never been one to conceal the personal narrative driving his political ambitions. He relied heavily on that narrative during his mayoral bid last year, seamlessly weaving his decades of history growing up in Denver into his plan for Denver’s future. Indeed, Hancock’s compelling personal story humanized the candidate — something Chris Romer, the privileged son of a governor, always struggled with — and likely cemented his win during the run-off election.

That story became even more compelling this week, with ESPN’s revelation that Denver’s mayor once served in an arguably higher-profile role: as Huddles, the mascot of the Denver Broncos.

From Michael Roberts at Westword:

During ESPN’s pre-game build-up to last night’s error-filled Broncos loss to the Falcons, past Westword profile subject Rick Reilly hosted a segment featuring Denver mayor Michael Hancock talking in greater detail than he has since being elected (and maybe ever) about what’s arguably his greatest accomplishment:

Serving as Huddles, the Broncos’ mascot.

The bit opens with Reilly on the 16th Street Mall, where he corrals passersby and asks if they recognize Huddles, a long-abandoned mascot far less tough and virile than the current model, Miles. No one does, beyond figuring out that he boosted the Broncos.

Reilly’s also got a photo of Hancock dating back to his old Denver City Council days. When he reveals that the pics of the mayor and the mascot feature the same person, the folks with whom he’s chatting are shocked, and no wonder: While Hancock hasn’t hidden his Huddles past, neither does he make a big deal of it…as he absolutely should!

Then comes the background. Hancock was part of a Broncos youth group in 1986, when he was seventeen…and he was subsequently cajoled into portraying Huddles. As he told Reilly during a sit-down in the mayor’s office, the job’s pay ($25 a pop) was more attractive than the potential dangers (Hancock says Huddles had been smacked with snowballs and set on fire).

Michael Hancock will never be John Hickenlooper, but that’s a good thing. After all, Hancock is able to play the whole “hometown mayor” angle in a way that Hickenlooper never could. If Hick was reluctantly mayor, Hancock’s the guy fulfilling a childhood dream.

The ESPN story is the first major piece of national press Hancock has received since his advisors made boosting his political profile a priority over a year ago. As it turns out, letting Hancock earn organic attention by just being himself is probably the most effective strategy possible.

Effective, that is, as long as there’s an advisor alongside to make sure Hancock doesn’t go too far off message.

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The Best Case for 2A? Current Budget Cuts.

Last week, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock unveiled his proposed budget for 2013, and with it, $94 million of cuts to the police department, libraries, and transportation infrastructure — in addition to five furlough days for city employees. It’s not as if he had any choice but to propose cuts, however: for the fifth year in a row, the city is mired in a steep revenue shortfall that can only be filled by trimming spending.

It’s a smart, balanced budget. Services have been drawn back, of course, but Hancock’s once-nebulous “Peak Performance” initiative is paying off, as strategic cuts have been made throughout the city to eliminate redundant expenditures and to enable current employees to work more broadly.

Beyond the numbers, Hancock smartly used this particular budget to advocate for the de-Brucing measure facing voters this fall, emphasizing that, though the city is capable of doing more with less, Denver would be able to do a lot more if it were’t required to return revenue to the taxpayers.

From Hancock:

While my 2013 budget proposal is balanced, it does not reflect the great city I know Denver can be. These short-term measures are not long-term solutions.  For this reason, I am asking voters in November for permission to retain revenue currently being returned to taxpayers because it exceeds TABOR-mandated limits.  If approved, this proposal – in conjunction with our efforts to operate the city more cost-effectively – would eliminate Denver’s budget deficit, allow us to recover more quickly from the recession and enable us to catch back up on essential services lost over the past four years.

Specifically, Measure 2A would allow us to catch back up on essential services in the following areas:

Public Safety ($4 million)

• Recruit 100 police officers and firefighters, something the city has not been able to do for four years.

• Replace and service the aging fleet of 1,000 police and fire vehicles, many of which have 175,000

miles or more on them.

Streets ($4 million)

• Repave 300 lane miles of city streets that are in the worst shape, many of them neighborhood streets

that have not been resurfaced in 20 years.

Libraries ($3 million)

• Restore and increase service at all library branches from an average of 32 hours a week to a minimum average of 48 hours a week.

Children ($7 million)

• Provide free access to city swimming pools and recreation centers to all school-aged children living in Denver.

• Restore and preserve child-care for 3,000 low-income children.

• Double the number of children served by afterschool and summer programs from 8,000 to 16,000.

Seniors/Disabled ($1 million)

• Increase the city’s property-tax payment credit from $186/year to $372/year for 4,000 low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

Economic Development & Job Creation ($500,000 minimum)

• Provide a focused, four-year exemption from the Business Personal Property Tax to companies that expand or add jobs.

• Double the city’s Business Incentive Fund from $500,000 a year to $1 million to bring new companies and new jobs to Denver.

Parks ($500,000)

• Begin a six-year effort to restore park maintenance and upkeep that has been cut by 30 percent due to the recession, including mowing, tree trimming, trash pickup and graffiti removal.

Other Services ($24 million)

• Eliminate furloughs for city employees.

• Restore city reserves to better protect against another economic downtown and maintain the city’s strong bond rating.

In submitting this budget proposal, Hancock is making the best possible case for voters to approve the 2A measure in November. He’s showing that his administration isn’t opposed to cutting down the size of government while at the same time declaring, poignantly, that Denver needs more money to deliver the level of services its people expect.

Denver needs more money to hire police officers. It needs more money to pave streets, to enable access to libraries, to provide child-care for low-income children, to beautify parks, and to create jobs.

In a political climate where complaints about big government are bandied about as often as accusations of socialism, Hancock’s bringing a powerfully simple message home to voters: the city needs more money to continue providing the services that directly impact lives and have made Denver a great place to live.

It’s the point he’s needed to make since taking office.

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Dave Misner, Partner of State Senator Pat Steadman, Dead at 48

Dave Misner, the longtime partner of State Senator Pat Steadman, died this morning after a four-month long battle against pancreatic cancer.

From Steadman:

It is my sad duty to report that Dave Misner died this morning peacefully at home. His disease and suffering have ended. He fought the cancer as much as he could, but it wasn’t really a fair fight. Pancreatic cancer is a horrible monster, and Dave showed up armed with only his gentle spirit and beautiful smile, and some doctors and a lot of nurses. He was sorely outmatched. We mourn this loss but remember a loving father and caring man. He was loved by many, many people and he will be greatly missed.

Charismatic, affable, and well-liked, Misner was a favorite fixture of Denver political events. During this year’s fight over Steadman’s civil unions bill, Misner spent hours at the capitol, supporting both his partner and the legislation.

Doubtless Steadman’s tenacity in pushing for civil unions year after year spawned in no small part from his relationship with Misner. Indeed, their partnership always idealized why the state should allow civil unions: there’s no reason why a deeply-committed, deeply-in-love same sex couple shouldn’t enjoy the same legal rights as heterosexual Coloradans. It’s tragic that Misner won’t see Steadman’s work codified into law, but there’s no question that civil unions is on track for passage in an upcoming session.

That’s, perhaps, the greatest memorial Misner could have.

More coverage at Colorado Pols.  

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Mike Johnston Now Delivering Groceries

Since his appointment to the chamber in 2009, State Senator Mike Johnston has always gone the extra mile in service of his constituents. He funds and staffs a community office out of his own wallet – especially remarkable, considering he’s a Denver senator with a district not far from the golden dome itself – and is widely recognized for his accessibility both during and outside of session. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Johnston has added yet another constituent service to his repertoire.

From Johnston:

Senator Johnston and King Soopers are teaming up to help combat the food desert in North Park Hill.

Since 2006, North Park Hill has been trying to get a grocery store built in the area. Now, King Soopers is offering to help: you can order groceries through the store’s online delivery service and have your goods delivered to our community office for free!

Here’s how it works: if you’d like to buy groceries, you can visit our community office Monday, Wednesday, or Friday between 1 and 3pm to order food from the King Soopers website using our office computers. For a delivery charge of around $10, King Soopers will deliver groceries directly to your home (or our office can pick them up and deliver them to you for free). To schedule a different time to order groceries or to ask questions about the program, please contact Leslie Colwell at 720-432-4735 or lcolwell@mikejohnston.org.

Johnston is a rather unique member of the Senate. A prominent and Ivy League-educated expert on education issues, his connections across the country and in the Obama White House could propel him to nearly any position he wanted in Washington, D.C. Many, in fact, expected Johnston to join the administration after Obama’s swearing-in nearly four years ago. Yet he stayed in Denver, appointed to the Colorado State Senate to fill Peter Groff’s seat when the latter took a choice position with the Department of Education. Since first taking office, Johnston has dedicated himself entirely to his duties as state senator, as evidenced by the fact that he’s now delivering groceries.

Seriously, this guy is so committed to his job he’s almost a parody of a straight-laced public servant. It’s easy to imagine him walking up to a Park Hill house with his blazer slung over his shoulder and a bag of groceries in his left hand, reaching out for a handshake with his right and smiling when the door opens, “I’m Mike Johnston. I work for you.”

Johnston burned bridges with many members of his own caucus following the late-night passage of his teacher effectiveness bill in 2010, so questions remain as to whether or not he will ever ascend to leadership. And perhaps leadership isn’t even the best fit for Johnston. The less time he has to spend whipping votes and playing internal politics, the more time he can allot to working directly for and with constituents.

And that, it would seem, is where he’s making the biggest difference.

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John Hickenlooper…er…Michael Hancock to be brewmaster at Denver Beer Fest

In one of his first steps into the national spotlight at the Democratic National Convention last month, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper — whose Wynkoop brewery is largely credited with starting the microbrewery craze — proudly announced that he was the “the first governor since Sam Adams to get his start brewing beer.” The “former brewer” angle is one of those quirks of Hickenlooper’s personality that, oddly, give him national potential. It’s charming, right? Hick is the guy who accidentally became governor after he accidentally became mayor after he accidentally revitalized a city by brewing beer after he lost his job as a geologist. He’s the reluctant politician, the governor who’d rather be slinging craft brews than speaking to cheering throngs. And who doesn’t like beer? Well, aside from Mitt Romney.

Following in Hickenlooper’s footsteps is admittedly rough for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. His last elected predecessor works across the street, after all, and as one of the most popular governors in the country, Hick clearly knows how to make both voters and the media swoon. It’s probably the beer angle.

Still, Hancock is committed to making his own mark on the city, no matter how tempting it would be to emulate John Hickenlooper. It’s far too early to determine what Hancock’s legacy will be, but as far as mayors go, he’s the perfect guy to succeed Hickenlooper: the administratively-minded former city councilman who’s lived in Denver for all his life and has always dreamt about being mayor. Hick had his quirks, Hancock has his narrative. Both are compelling on their own.

When Hancock does something that’s more in line with Hick’s personality, then, it can’t help but seem a little forced. Take, for example, the recent announcement that Hancock would be “brewmaster” at the upcoming Denver Beer Fest:

The Great American Brew Fest revealed Friday September 14, that Mayor Michael B. Hancock will be tapped as the brewmaster for Specialty Denver Brew which will be launching the Denver Beer Fest 2012.

Mayor Hancock will be showcasing his mad skills with the hops, malted barley and yeast on September 19, 2012. His special brew will be served while supplies last throughout Denver Beer Fest at the Denver Beer Company.

It’s not that Hancock shouldn’t be participating in events like this: presiding over a “beer fest” is one of those perks of being Denver’s mayor. And it’s not like Hickenlooper has a monopoly on mixing politics and beer. But by acting as “brewmaster,” Hancock invites direct comparisons between him and his predecessor. And, if Hancock wants to be celebrated on his own right and not as the “mayor after Hick,” he should avoid letting those comparisons be drawn.

Even if that means missing out on a beer fest or two.

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Hancock to Unveil 2013 Budget Today

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock will today be unveiling his 2013 budget, just days after he kicked off the campaign to funnel a few more dollars back into the city’s coffers.

From the mayor’s office:

Mayor Hancock to Announce 2013 Budget Proposal

DENVER – Mayor Michael B. Hancock will announce his 2013 budget proposal for the City and County of Denver tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 12.  The balanced budget proposal will present the Mayor’s fiscal priorities for the coming year, including jobs, children and youth programs, public safety and safety net, sustainability and making city government more effective and efficient.

IMPORTANT – Prior to the announcement, Deputy Mayor and Chief Financial Officer Cary Kennedy and Budget Director Brendan Hanlon will hold a media briefing to discuss details of the Mayor’s 2013 budget proposal. This briefing is for informational purposes only and details discussed will be embargoed until 9:30 a.m.

Who: Mayor Michael B. Hancock

What: 2013 Budget Proposal Announcement Press Conference

Where: Parr-Widener Room, 3rd Floor, City and County Building

Media Briefing: 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012

Announcement: 9:30 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012

In the wake of the disastrous week he had at the DNC, Hancock’s focus on the budget should earn his administration some positive press. Though he’s patently not ready for any national attention, Hancock’s eight years of experience on the Denver City Council have prepared him well for the finer details of local governance. His budget presentation last year went off without a hitch, after all, and while Denver is still in a financial pinch, Hancock can now pivot to promotion of this year’s “de-Brucing” measure when questions of the city’s financial stability are raised.

It also helps that Hancock’s budgetary advisors are the best around: former State Treasurer (and now Denver CFO) Cary Kennedy knows not only how to craft a budget, but how to present one too.

It’s a shame, really, that Hancock can’t staff his entire operation with people like Kennedy. If he could, maybe the national spotlight wouldn’t seem so far out of reach. He certainly would be making fewer mistakes.  

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Michael Hancock Faceplants in Charlotte

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was in Charlotte this week for the Democratic National Convention, taking part in the DNC not as a delegate but instead to “attend meetings and to promote Denver.”

And what better way to celebrate the Mile High City — where the first debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will be held next month — than attacking the President whose convention you’re attending?

From Eli Stokols at Fox31 Denver:

But Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, in an interview with FOX31 Denver, went off the script, openly criticizing the Obama campaign for its sustained effort to pressure Romney to release his tax returns.

“It’s unfortunate that this campaign has gone all over the place where we’re talking about someone turning in their tax returns, things that really don’t matter to me,” Hancock told FOX31 Denver. “Someone else’s tax returns are not going to put food on the table of my neighbor who may have been unemployed for a year.”

The answer came in response to a question that had nothing to do with tax returns: [Pols Emphasis] “how do you think the president is going to win Colorado?”

“If you talk about the issues that matter to me the most: my safety, my children, my education, my jobs, my health care, now you’ve got my attention, and I’m going to tune in. So we want to turn that conversation back to the things that matter most, and the president’s been doing it. We want him to get more on that platform, and I think you’ll see more of that in this convention.”

Asked to clarify whether he was truly disappointed in the Obama campaign’s focus on Romney’s tax returns, Hancock said this:

“I think it’s my role as a Democrat, as a mayor who supports the president, to say to the president and his people, ‘Listen, it’s not about Romney; it’s about the American people’.

“And that’s just part of being an adviser and a friend and someone who supports you.”

What?!?

Hancock has absolutely no obligation to mirror Obama campaign talking points about tax returns or any other matter, but as the elected mayor of the largest city in a critical swing state — and as someone who thinks of himself as a potential national star — he should understand that his comments have consequences. There’s no excuse for Hancock, a Democrat who has previously applauded much of Obama’s work in the White House, to go so far off message, especially when the reporter isn’t even prodding that kind of response.

Seriously, Fox31 threw the Mayor one hell of a softball question: “how do you think the president is going to win Colorado?” He wasn’t asked about the economy, about job creation, about bond yields, or anything cerebral or specific. All Hancock had to do was say something to the effect of “Colorado voters understand that Barack Obama’s policies have brought the economy back from the brink and created jobs in Denver and across the state.” Instead, he took that softball and decided to use it to criticize Obama during the freakin’ Democratic National Convention.

We don’t have any reason to believe that Hancock consciously intended to hurt Obama’s re-election campaign. Rather, his asinine remarks are a stark reminder that he is nowhere near ready for primetime politics. This was absolutely an avoidable and inexcusable mistake that Hancock walked into completely on his own. Hancock is one of the highest-profile Democrats in Colorado, but we’d venture to say that just about every other lower-tier Democrat would have been smarter about this.

As stupid as it was for Hancock to unnecessarily criticize Obama, it’s not his fault exclusively. Apparently nobody from the Mayor’s press team went with him to Charlotte. That’s right: the elected, Democratic leader of a major American city was sent into one of the biggest media frenzies of the decade without anyone to assist him. This was an incredibly irresponsible mistake by Hancock’s staff and the Mayor himself.

Hancock can certainly recover from this, but make no mistake — this is the type of high-profile error that can dog a politician for years. This is a silly, amateurish mistake that makes Hancock look vulnerable to a challenge in 2015. It’s the kind of mistake that creates the wrong perception for such a high-profile politician. And as we all know, in politics, perception is everything.

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Churches and synagogues mark Labor Day vowing to curb wage theft

This weekend, dozens of metro area churches and synagogues are taking action to help their members and other Coloradoans recover wages their employers stole from them.  Congregations ranging from Jewish to United Methodist will be saying prayers, conducting wage theft surveys, directing impacted congregants to the appropriate government agencies and legal services.  At least two Unitarian Universalist communities will be taking up special collections to support the cause of ending wage theft.  

“This Sunday, I will reflect on Deuteronomy 24:14-15, which states in part: ‘You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers,'” stated Rev. Daniel Klawitter of Burns Memorial United Methodist Church in Aurora.  

Wage theft is a national problem and Colorado is no different.  Every year, US workers lose $19 billion in unpaid overtime alone.  Employees of all different income levels, industries, and parts of the state are impacted.  Wage theft takes many forms, including willful violations of minimum wage laws, failing to pay overtime pay, forcing employees to work off the clock, withholding an employee’s final paycheck, withholding earned tips from restaurant workers or complete nonpayment for labor performed.

Wage theft is already illegal under Colorado law.  Unfortunately, the legal system is inadequate for addressing this problem.  “The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment aids employees who are victims of wage theft; unfortunately they have only a few employees to help the thousands of workers who file claims for owed wages every year.   That’s why faith leaders are joining with employment lawyers, nonprofit organizations and others-to help these workers and level the playing field for ethical businesses that do the right thing and pay their workers what they should,” stated Klawitter.

“Half of my congregation has been impacted by wage theft, either personally or has a family member who has had wages stolen from them,” stated Rev. Anne Dunlap, a United Church of Christ pastor in Aurora.  Dunlap testified in favor of a bill, sponsored by State Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont) to improve wage theft enforcement during the 2012 legislative session.  That bill died in the House Judiciary Committee.  “This issue is too important to quit now.  My congregation is joining with congregations across the state to make sure that 2013 is the year we fix our system for victims of wage theft and for the honest businesses that suffer when lawbreakers aren’t forced to pay,” Dunlap vowed.

“This is my top personal priority for the 2013 legislative session.  This isn’t about stealing a TV or stealing a car, but about stealing someone’s ability to have a home or to have enough food to put on the table,” stated Singer.

This is the fifth annual Labor in the Pulpits Sunday in Colorado, according to Klawitter who organizes the event every year.  Klawitter leads Interfaith Worker Justice Colorado which educates, organizes and mobilizes the religious community to sustain workers’ lives with dignity, fair pay, and family-supporting benefits.  Interfaith Worker Justice Colorado is a project of FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities.  FRESC is a nonprofit organization that advocates for an economy that works for everyone.  

“Given the religious community’s focus on wage theft over the past few years, it was a simple choice to focus this year’s Labor in the Pulpits event on wage theft. Every congregation member who learns about wage theft, fills out a personal impact survey, or puts a dollar in the collection plate is getting us closer to a Colorado where all workers receive what they are entitled to,” remarked Klawitter.  

“This campaign is a critical part of FRESC’s mission of rebuilding the middle class.  When businesses that follow the law have a level playing field and workers receive every penny of their hard earned pay, everyone wins,” said Kevin Abels, Executive Director of FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities.    

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