Rep. Merrifield Resigns House Education Committee Chair

Resignation just happened, but was the product of this story in today’s Rocky Mountain News:

An e-mail written by the House Education Committee chairman saying there must be “a special place in hell” for charter school supporters has some top lawmakers hopping mad.

A political Web site called Face the State touched off a firestorm Thursday when it posted an e-mail written by Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-El Paso, to Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada.

“There must be a special place in hell for these Privatizers, Charterizers and Voucherziers. They deserve it!” he wrote.

Merrifield made his comments during an e-mail exchange in which he and Windels, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, discussed whether to push for a full repeal of the State Charter School Institute, provided they could get Gov. Bill Ritter’s backing.

“It shows there’s absolutely no good faith on the Rep. Merrifield’s part, who is clearly more concerned with defending a crippled and ineffective status-quo public education system then creating opportunities for all kids,” said Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver. [Pols emphasis]

Merrifield made no apologies Thursday for the e-mail…

Though he evidently did today. This was reportedly a decision made within the House majority leadership for Rep. Merrifield, though Groff’s stinging comments didn’t help him. Our understanding is that this was an email exchange from one private account to another–which most people would consider a CORA-safe venue. Guess not–as it turns out, official email addresses only forward to personal emails in many cases. If this records request campaign by GOP operator Brad Jones keeps up, it’s all but certain to be answered by a liberal counterpart–in the end, there will likely be more Reps of both parties going under the CORA bus.

64 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. GOPpundit says:

    He actually hasn’t resigned from the committee. He has resigned as chair of the committee.  -G

  2. Quique says:

    The emails were sent between a comcast account and a yahoo account — which doesn’t seem like it would be considered a public record.  The messages concerned the work as legislators, but my understanding of CORA was that the focus was on who “maintains” the record, not the subject matter of the record.  Am I misreading CORA?  Maybe the Face the State folks got the emails in some other way?

    • jadodd says:

      To clear this up, lets look at the law.  Among other things, CORA defines a “public record” as:

      Public records” includes the correspondence of elected officials, except to the extent that such correspondence is:

      (A) Work product;

      (B) Without a demonstrable connection to the exercise of functions required or authorized by law or administrative rule and does not involve the receipt or expenditure of public funds;

      (C) A communication from a constituent to an elected official that clearly implies by its nature or content that the constituent expects that it is confidential or a communication from the elected official in response to such a communication from a constituent; or

      (D) Subject to nondisclosure as required in section 24-72-204 (1).

      This definition does not include a requirment that the record be held by a public agency.  Private e-mail accounts do not protect “elected officials” from disclosure.

      • Ralphie says:

        Look at the date of the Email.  It was written in December, 2006.  The legislature was not in session at that time.  In Colorado, we have so-called “citizen legislators” who serve from January to May and have private lives in the other months.

        Calling this a public record is a stretch.

        • parsingreality says:

          Legislators are not legislators only Jan-May, Ralphie.  So, if he was already sworn in Jan 2005, he was a leg. Sorry, I’m just presuming that since he was chairman he isn’t a newbie.

          Then, pretending he was just elected, does he have any rights as as legislator-elect? 

          Grist for the political discussion mill.

  3. Aaron says:

    gained possession somehow of private e-mails between colleagues, and decided it would be appropriate to post one online in hopes of forwarding a ridiculous voucher agenda?

    How sleazy.

    • Fidel's dirt nap says:

      It does seem just a tad underhanded, dosen’t it ?

      • Haners says:

        Must be closer to an enemy than a friend…..and not even know it. 

        Isn’t politics great?

      • yevrahnevets says:

        with both your comments, and with Cuervo’s following post. I don’t like the content of the email, or what it expresses in terms of keeping an open mind regarding experimentation with our education system, but if it was from one private email account to another, I’d rather endure the inevitable fact that some public figures engage in some private communications that would deeply disturb me than to deprive them of the ability to engage in private communications at all. I don’t think creating such a stifling environment serves the public interest in the long run.

        • Haners says:

          At least I think it was a Sen.  He sent a bunch of racist jokes to people, and he got nailed for it.  While it is dumb and insensitive to do, it concerns me that such things become public.  We’re going to be breeding politicians that have never said or done anything controversial and as such will never produce any good ideas.  And the more this stuff comes out, the more desensitized the public becomes and when something really damning comes up….nobody will care.

          Merrifields comments are incredibly stupid, and it’s that kind of attitude that keeps the parties to coming to concensus. 

          • Car 31 says:

            Politicians these days need to be geeky, stright laced, goody two shoes kinds of people to measure up to the standards the media and public hold them to.  God forbid they smoke or drink or curse. God forbid we see them for the humans they are instead of seeing the masks they must wear.

            I would like to see politicians stand up and say, “yeah, that is how I feel”, “damn Democrats”, “stupid Republicans”, “wimpy enviros”, “freakass gun nuts”…

            Why can’t our elected representatives be representative of the population.  They’re just as full of shit as we are, recognize it and move on.

          • One Queer Dude says:

              It was former state Rep. Jim “This Will Lead To Men Marrying Horses” Welker….the state lost a real treasure when he retired last year!  Now Kevin Lundborg and Dave Schultheis have to carry the weight of the Stupidity Caucus without the able assistance of their buddy, the third stooge.
              As for breeding politicians who fear thinking outside the box, wasn’t it about 20 years ago that Dick Lamm got nailed for allegedly telling old and sick people “to die and get out of the way” of the young and the healthy?

            • yevrahnevets says:

              there’s one small kernal of truth to it: Our blind commitment to perpetuating human life creates the bizarre phenomenon of diverting enormous resources toward extending the lives of people in their 80’s and 90’s a few more months, and I do think that that is stupid (and I know that I will continue to think that it’s stupid when I’m in my 80’s and 90’s, as do many folks when they reach that age). I certainly believe in caring for our elderly, and the comfortable extension of their lives is preferable in and of itself. But I also believe in limited resources, that health care costs are growing at astronomical rates in part due to our ability to invest huge resources in staving off the inevitable, and that the results are not healthy for society as a whole.

              It’s wonderful that people can live longer, healthier lives than ever before. And it’s wonderful that they can continue to contribute and to share their wealth of experience and accumulated wisdom. But it’s dumb to bind ourselves in absolute, inflexible values that are untenable in practice. We’re approaching a time when we should be thinking not just about how to keep people alive, but also how to manage the end of life gracefully and with some consideration of how it is intwined with the bigger picture of our collective existance.

              • parsingreality says:

                I believe in health care rationing.  If you can afford to pay for expensive procedures, go for it.  I don’t think it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to pay for a triple bypass on a 75 year old. 

                My grandmother that lived to 103 (the other one dropped dead at 100!) came to the point that she could no longer cut her own toenails.  Medicare paid a podiatrist about $100 to come in and do that!  She would get so pissed off at this waste of taxpayer money for something an CNA could do.  Good for her.

                I’ve seen many doctors do quite well by Medicare, thank you. First, they got funds for procedures the old folks way back just couldn’t afford.  Then there are the guys like these podiatrists that set up nursing homes as their private fiefdoms.  They essentially go down the hallway and bill, in this case, $100 (even $25 would be overcharge) every ten minutes. 

                What a racket.

                I hope that when I’m old(er)I have the courage to refuse procedures that are expensive and will do me little good.  As I have often said in faith groups, “There are a lot worse things in life than being dead.”

  4. Cuervo71 says:

    …WHY in the world is Groff publicly trashing another Democrat?  especially one from Dem-deprived El Paso County?

    This is on the heels of Groff’s repeatedly and publicly trashing a huge Dem donor, Polis.

    Does Groff not want the Dems to keep control of the Senate?

  5. JeffcoBlue says:

    Who the hell allowed legislators to mingle their public and private email to begin with? That’s a nightmare waiting to happen — I’m amazed nobody thought of this last year when things were really nasty. Do these reps even realize they have exposed ALL their private email communication legally if their official address forwards to yahoo?! Jesus!

    Whatever dumbfuck is managing these things for the Legislature should be axed. And every rep with a brain should get their official address hosted by the state  tomorrow — hopefully in a way that DELETES ALL THEIR OLD EMAIL. Otherwise you might find yourself upo shito creeko when Bradley comes knocking at your door.

    • parsingreality says:

      The state supplies an email address for all the legs.  It’s a pretty clunky system.  Also, some legs try to keep that for the more official stuff and encourage the constituents to use a different address.  Many legs have their own “business” (vs. personal) email address, often as part of their own domain name.

      (The entire tech system in the capitol is pretty creaky, the result I presume of lack of funding. Only one computer in an office can be connected to the network, thus eliminating the possibility of staff using one in the office and the leg using one on the floor or in committee!) 

      Depending on how things are set up by the network engineers, the email might be deleted at the work station but not on a server.  And, of course, most folks don’t even know that “deleting” a mail usually just sends it to the Trash, sometimes staying there forever or until the hard drive dies.

      (If you really want to delete your mail, highlight and then Shift+Delete, “Yes.”) But even deleted mail is recoverable to folks like the FBI who will use electron microscopes to look at each magnetic particle!  Not likely here, though.

      Don’t know much about CORA, but it seems to me that two public officials should be able to communicate using any domain name or server and be protected if it is official business.  This event certainly stinks ethically.

      If the R’s think that they got one over on the Dems, just wait until the R emails start becoming public.  Like that damn fool in Loveland, Welker or whatever. 

      • MontesquieuianGauntlet says:

        Didn’t the Tracy Baker incident instruct that it doesn’t matter where the communication exists, no matter what domain name, computer, server, or even on hard-copy; if it is between two public officials and is about public policy it is NOT protected, and IS subject to inspection?  Not defending the ethical charge here, just trying to understand the CORA angle.

      • cologeek says:

        I would prefer that ALL discussions made by legislators concerning official business become public knowledge.  Not necessarily at the time, but certainly after decisions have been made.  We the taxpayers deserve to know all the facts and reasoning behind lawmakers decisions.  It would also serve to reveal the extremists on both sides of the political debate.

        In this case we found out that the chairman of the House Education Committee was completely and pathologically biased against any alternatives to the failures that have occurred in “traditional” public education.  His views on this matter are so far out of the mainstream that he was forced to resign his committee leadership position less than a day after they came to light.

        More sunshine and less shadow in our government operations whenever possible and we may have less to gripe about in the future.

        • puddin says:

          discussions made public?  It would lead to endless posturing with no attempts to forge real compromise and problem solving. 

          In the realm of impossible ideas,  this leads the parade.  This ranks right up there with the initiative process that has screwed the tax laws so badly.  Be proud!  You’ve moved to the head of the class.

          • cologeek says:

            in deals made in smoke filled rooms behind closed doors?  That we should never know what is going on that facilitates the decisions legislators make that affect our lives (and in this case our childrens lives)?  We should be quiet little ignorant sheep and be led to wherever our betters that we elected lead us?  Or are you just upset that this time it was a Dem who put his foot into his mouth almost up to his crotch?  I do believe in transparency in government and that legislators of both parties be held accountable.

            And maybe if all we got was posturing we would realize that the wrong people are in charge, and find people who don’t give a crap about getting their name in the paper, they just want to get the job done.

            But of course your post was about 90% posturing anyways so that probably wouldn’t suit you.

            • dwyer says:

              The danger is that the legislature will pass laws making it more difficult for ordinary citizens and media to use CORA to get public records.

              • cologeek says:

                may be a possibility, but given the evolving nature of political discourse, (ie sites like this one) it would be quickly known who was backing such a measure.  Someone who would want all of their dealings to be in the dark probably wouldn’t want the scrutiny that such a measure would bring.  And even so, we still have the citizen initiative process that puddin so loathes to change it.

            • Car 31 says:

              already provides transparency on public officials’ conversations.  Meetings must be open and recorded.  Only if in executive session, where confidential matters are discussed, the tape recorder isn’t on.

              Already the press has access to many conversations adn decisions our elected officials make.  We’re not ignorant sheep.

              If there was even more transparency, we would have fewer people running for office since there would be NO part of their lives off limits. Who wants to live like that except for the petty ones looking for their names in the papers?

              • cologeek says:

                I got a little heated on my last post.  We aren’t ignorent sheep, but there are those that seem to think we should be.  My original point was responding to parsingreality’s post about how the e-mail that started this whole thing was supposedly “private” and shouldn’t have come to public scrutiny. 

                And I have to ask the question, in modern politics, which part of a candidates life is off limits, especially to the opposition?  There is no detail too petty to be played up by those on the other side.  This applies equally to both parties.

            • puddin says:

              That’s illustrates the problem of having every legislative discussion be public.  It is so easy to escalate disagreements into major conflicts if the safety valve of being able to have quiet conversations is removed.

                I believe in transparency but also want legislators to be able to do their jobs.  As is pointed out below, we already have excellent transparency with sunshine laws and we have access to mountains of information about everything.

              Anyone who has paid attention knows what Merrifield thinks of vouchers and charters. That he opposes them ought not be a surprise, especially to charter folks.  In my opinion it was the burning in hell part that got him in trouble.  Therefore, I would argue that it isn’t the substance of his remarks but how he chose to represent that substance, his style, that caused the problem. You might disagree with that but it is how I see it.

              He made a mistake and paid the price.  But, living in fear of a PC world is turning into the worst form of censorship.  I’m not excusing what he said but it was said in confidence between only two people.  Do you really want those conversations revealed?

              I didn’t agree with Rep. Welker on almost anything but I don’t remember criticizing him for how he said things.  Besides, the positions he got in trouble for were distributed to bunches of people, not one person.  And, I didn’t defend Hanna for her mistake.  I’m not upset at all I just think it’s wrong to want every conversation behind decisions to be revealed.

              • yevrahnevets says:

                Merrifield’s remarks fall somewhere between substance and style. In a sense, the style communicates something of substance. Not only is he opposed to vouchers and charters, but he is so adamantly opposed that there is no room for conversation. I don’t know if he has communicated this *precise* position before (including the inflexiblity): If so, then you’re 100% right in everything you said.

        • Aristotle says:

          Cologeek, you wrote:

          In this case we found out that the chairman of the House Education Committee was completely and pathologically biased against any alternatives to the failures that have occurred in “traditional” public education.  His views on this matter are so far out of the mainstream that he was forced to resign his committee leadership position less than a day after they came to light.

          I doubt that he resigned his chair for this reason. I think it was because of the disparaging remarks, not that (gasp) he isn’t a fan of alternative education.

          I don’t think simply holding the views he had would be cause for resigning the chair of the education committee. It would be different if he were in the executive, say in charge of the office that oversees charter schools, where his hostility would be detrimental. In the GA or Congress it’s different – we elect the people we like and they serve on committees that hopefully correspond to their expertise. Opposition to a group who supports one route in policy isn’t a disqualification.

          • yevrahnevets says:

            rather than his opposition itself, could be seen as incompatible with chairing the committee. Committees, after all, by definition, have to be open to discussion and consideration of various options, and the chair of a committee has to be seen as willing to facilitate that discussion. It is one thing to say: “Personally, I am adamantly opposed to charters and vouchers, and will continue vigorously to argue my position in committee, while fulfilling my responsibility as chair to see that all points of view are given a fair hearing,” and another to say what he said, even minus the ad hominem attack. His remarks can certainly be interpreted to mean that his position is so strong that he cannot effectively fulfil his responsibilities to “chair a committee,” that is, wear one hat of impartiality while performing that role (and putting on his other hat as advocate for a position in alternation). Whether or not that image of what a chair does is ever realized, or even approximated, in practice, the overt admission that it will not be approximated can be cause for having to step down.

            • cologeek says:

              It is not that Mike Merrifield opposes reform in education, it is that, in his opinion, if you are for it you have no place in public discourse.  While that stance has been able to sell with the majority of voters in his district, it doesn’t sell well statewide, which is why he “resigned” his chairmanship, at least until January when hopefully we will all have forgotten about this.

    • jadodd says:

      As I noted above, all correspondence, e.g. e-mails, of an “elected official” touching in any way upon his official duties are a “public records” regardless of whether the e-mails were generated, transmitted or saved on a government or private e-mail account or server. (There are some minor exceptions to this rule.)

      Under the current Colorado law it is a felony to destroy a public record.  Therefore, I would not suggest that anyone follow JeffcoBlue’s advice.

      • JeffcoBlue says:

        Ok, after checking carefully to see if any of those “minor exceptions” might somehow apply to you, make sure you comply with the law.

        There could always be some kind of “accident” such as your laptop accidently ending up in the microwave. There are also huge electromagnets in most salvage yards, and it’s important for our elected officials to regularly inspect salvage yards for public safety purposes.

        Colorado has the #2 incidence of weather-induced power surges in the nation, right behind Florida. Did you know that?

        Does anyone have Larry Manzanares’ phone number? There’s your nuclear option.

      • Plato says:

        Actually, unless there is another statute you are referring to (other than CRS 18-8-114), it is a Class 1 Misdemeanor and then, only if one destroys a record without authority.  Since legislators have custody of their own e-mails and set their own retention policy, they have authority to delete their e-mails as they wish–although not after they are requested under CORA.

        But, I am open to correction if you have some actual legal authority (statute, case, etc.) for your assertion.

      • yevrahnevets says:

        it seems highly likely that Plato is right: It would be a horribly crafted law to prohibit the deletion of private emails on the basis of their content. What would constitute official content? Saying that charterites, etc., deserve a special place in Hell? That doesn’t sound very official to me. The degree of ambiguity in such a law violates the first precept of sound law-making: Laws must be fairly unambiguous to be useful, and work considerable mischief when they are particularly ambiguous.

        Of course, stupider things have happened….

        (And such a prohibition regarding private emails, even between elected officials, would seem to violate the 1st amendment, though I wouldn’t bet the farm on that).

      • parsingreality says:

        It wasn’t THAT string of emails that I meant to hit Shift+Delete.  Those were from my estranged wife.  Of course, a complete deletion of all parties concerned begs the question of how can anyone prove they were there or deleted? 

        And how long do these emails need to hang around?  The classic 7 years?  Forever?

        Goog thing storage keeps getting cheaper.

        • JeffcoBlue says:

          Nuked computers tell no tales.

          Unless they do, I’m not a scientist or anything.

          • parsingreality says:

            if you put a hard drive in a microwave, like any metal(ized) object, I’m sure. 

            A cheap Radio Shack bulk tape eraser should do the trick.  There are also lots of programs out there that will write all zeroes to the hard drive .  No need to remove it.

            And as a public service, I will use this response to tell folks what to do when the old hard drive starts misbehaving; won’t boot, respond, maybe makes noises. 

            Freeze it.  Yup.

            And then quickly hook it up and quickly remove the data you need before it warms up.  It’s worked for me many times, and not worked only once.

  6. Paper Bullets says:

    A clear statement that the Democratic Party in Colorado is nothing but a wholly owned subsidiary of the teachers’ union!

    Just wait until Blackboard-Bacon tries to run for election in the 14th SD. He’ll get killed. The teachers’ union has no shame or brains … and that is the problem with our education system.

    • puddin says:

      How do you tie Bacon into this incident?  I thought you guys believe the Dem party is owned by the rich?  Pick a point of view and stick with it. 

    • parsingreality says:

      It seems to me that the Dems in the pocket of the teacher’s union, as you suggest, immediately removed this man.  Sounds like just the opposite of what you claim.

    • One Queer Dude says:

      that’s hardly news………….just look at the membership of the Education Committees.  In particular, on the Senate side, there is not one single non-teacher (or retired teacher) on the Democratic side of that committee.

      • Aristotle says:

        to have, you know, professionals serving in the lege on committees that are relevant to their experience. I bet their constituents had no idea that they were voting for former teachers. Next thing you know the repubs are going to object to doctors running for the House and Senate and serving on health care committees. What’s this world coming to?

  7. Busta6 says:

    Anyone else bothered that these maniacal voucher-advocates are going after Mike while he is going through chemotherapy and can only eat through a feeding tube due to the nature of his cancer?

    I know Brad Jones. I like Brad Jones, even though I’m a D. But Brad if you read this, what you did was super shitty. This is going to start a inter-party war.

    • Go Blue says:

      Who is this person? Who does he work for?

      He seems to be causing a lot of trouble which could turn its head onto him.

    • dwyer says:

      I didn’t know the poor guy had cancer. When you have cancer, you have to tell the truth, compulsively, continually.  Lies are poison, have to be honest. I am glad to know how he feels. Lets start a real debate by people who care passionately and tell the truth.  He is damm right, the vochers, etc., will destroy the public school system. 

      I am not fighting cancer, but I will tell the truth, what I have seen of Denver Public Schools, makes me puke. I think it stinks to high heaven.It is a lousy polical mess. It doesn’t educate bright white kids, let alone anyone else…I am so sick of the mantras from the parents who have to”kiss up” and all the self-appointed “commuity” spokemen….so please don’t repeat them here…

      Economically, the money the public system get per pupil not only funds the education directly for that kid, but…there is a marginal amount from each per pupil fee which allows the systems to finance their huge bureacratic apparatus.  When the pupil count goes down, due to charters and ultimately vouchers, the public school system losses that marginal money, that is what they are screaming about and that is what is going to kill them.. Mike is right to be pissed off at those whose agenda could destroy the system he supports…….Let the fight begin.  The hell with political correctness…

  8. Plato says:

    No decent human being wishes Michael Merrifield anything but the best for his health.  But, that does not give him a pass on conduct and remarks made in e-mails to a legislative colleague way back in December.  He has a long history of vicious rhetoric when he thinks the press is not around.  Probably the real sin of this e-mail (at least what did him in) was his attack on the legislators in his own party.  Even if a large part of the Democratic party is controlled by CEA, they aren’t all completely controlled by them and those legislators and their votes are needed from time to time.  So, Michael’s attack on his own party members was too much to be defended.  Besides, it destroyed the fiction of “we are not anti-charter school, we just think they need to work more constructively with their districts”.

    As for those of you who have previously commented about CORA in this thread, what you say is mostly wrong, except for the one person who quoted the law.  The fact is that public officials’ e-mail is pretty much fair game if it concerns legislative business–particularly between one legislator and another and the e-mail account does not matter.  So, as chilling as that may be on e-mail and other recorded communications, CORA is pretty clear.  If you are a public official discussing public business, particularly with another public official, it is subject to release.

  9. DavidThi808 says:

    One of the major threads above was should all discussions be public. We are headed that way and it will be fine once people get used to it.

    First off, keep in mind that this is a trend that has been going on for hundreds of years. The founding fathers would be shocked at how much the citizens can see today of the political process.

    Even 70 years ago FDR was confined to a wheelchair and the public did not know. Could not happen today.

    The thing is, the public learns to take it into account. Most people knew Clinton had cheated on Hillary a lot, but still voted for him. Most knew Bush was an alcoholic and lots knew he did cocaine, but still he got a lot of votes.

    And then there is Arnold out in California and Rudy running for president – both seem to actually enjoy that people know they are not perfect.

    This will get worked out. As we get a more complete picture of our legislators it will change who we vote for – but we will not insist on people who never made a mistake.

    • Car 31 says:

      Its the press.  As you stated, the press has more access and power than ever before and they shape public opinion. 

      Back room conversations are part and parcel of politics. That is where the work gets done.  I can’t imagine, if we take your example to the extreme, where the press would have unfetterd access to go where they wish. 

      It isn’t the human flaws of politicians, it is that today’s reporting lacks substance and is manipulated by the power players.  Look at the reporting leading up to the current war. Previously, Whitewater, Elias Gonzales, Terry Schiavo…are a few examples that come to mind.

      • DavidThi808 says:

        We’re nothing compared to how awful they were to each other then. A biased press is normal. The period from WWII – 1980 was the abberation.

        People are learning every day to figure out how credible each source is. These things do take a bit of time. And they will never be perfect.

        But I think it will work out well.

        • waltzeswithdog says:

          Does not appear to be a felony according to the Attorney General’s web site. 
          “A willful and knowing violation of the open records act is a crime, punishable by a fine not to exceed $100.00, ninety days in jail, or both.”

  10. cologeek says:

    the Governor and Lt. Governor are going to hell?


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