Are Colorado PERA Negotiations Being Influenced by Federal Politics?

(clockwise from top): U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, State Sen. Bill Cadman, State Sen. Owen Hill

(clockwise from top):
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, State Sen. Bill Cadman, State Sen. Owen Hill

Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post reported late yesterday on a troubling political strategy from Republicans that intertwines state and federal politics:

Intense negotiations are underway at the state Capitol to try to revive a Denver Public Schools pension bill that critics claim was killed by Republicans because of former DPS Superintendent Michael Bennet’s Senate re-election bid.

House Bill 1251 is important for DPS because it would allow the district to quit paying around $23 million more a year into the state pension fund than other school districts…

Three people with knowledge of the bill told The Denver Post that they talked about it with Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, who said national Republicans didn’t want to see a bill passed that potentially could help Bennet. Hill briefly ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014. [Pols emphasis]

Hill responded Thursday that his chief concern is that PERA is a “real ticking time bomb,” but he acknowledged people told him they had concerns about “some bad deals that were cut” when Bennet oversaw Denver schools.

Bennet’s financial dealings at DPS were an issue in his 2010 Senate primary. “Exotic Deals Put Denver Schools Deeper in Debt,” read a headline in The New York Times. Republicans have said they plan to revisit the issue on the campaign trail next year.

For his part, State Senate “PresidentBill Cadman says that he has “never” talked to the Republican Party or “anyone in Washington” about HB-1251, although it’s difficult to say how much people are really listening to Cadman anyway.

We won’t get into the policy discussion of the relative merits of HB-1251 and PERA reforms here (Colorado Pols is a political blog, after all), but the idea that Colorado legislation might be torpedoed because of how it might harm the re-election chances of a U.S. Senator is more than a little troubling. It also speaks, again, to the leadership structure surrounding Colorado Republicans. If this story proves true, it seriously calls into question how much Senate Republicans are even making their own decisions locally.

15 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Zappatero says:

    ummm, politics is policy……and more. Politics does not exclude policy. And if that’s the logic behind what and who to criticize or praise on this blog, then that explains a whole helluva lot to me.

    • Colorado Pols says:

      We’ve said the same thing forever — we don’t delve into policy specifics because we focus on the political side. In this case, we’re not talking about good or bad in regards to HB-1251; instead, we’re focusing on the politics of whether Washington D.C. is making Colorado legislative decisions.

  2. Zappatero says:

    If DC is delving into our politics to enforce policy preferences, is that always bad?

    If someone from DC, for example, Michael Bennet, is making political decisions that benefit big banks and are preferred by lobbyists that see him in his DC office all the time, but that affect policies here in Colorado, is that good or bad?

    Really, you might have said this before, but if it’s the rationale for the blog, then I’ve been wasting way too much time and energy here. You can’t divorce politics from policy.

    • Colorado Pols says:

      All Pols readers are free to focus comments as they see fit. If you want to discuss policy, please do so.

      • Zappatero says:

        And so the proprietors of Colorado Pols proclaims every policy decision made by anyone with a (D) behind their name is de facto the right decision.

        I won’t hold my nose for the creep Bennet nor this blog.

  3. mamajama55 says:

    This kind of makes me crazy (er).

    I remember when this DPS pension-buying deal to merge with PERA came up, championed by Mr. Bennet, who was, after all, known primarily as a big business deal maker.
    “So we’re buying bad debt with more debt, right? How is this going to end well?” I asked at one of the many informational meetings held to ‘splain it all.
    “Silly teacher,” they replied, “We know what we’re doing….you just keep on buying your school supplies, and let us worry about the big deals.”

    So the “exotic” deal went through. Bennet came through, on the whole, smelling like a rose…and now it seems that there is a way to clean up Bennet’s mess, save the pension fund, probably screw up a bunch of teacher’s retirement funds, and get Bennet re-elected. Owen Hill kind of likes the screwing the teachers part, but doesn’t like the idea of cleaning up Bennet’s stinko deal.
    But this should surprise no one. Washington has been manipulating Denver politics, and acting on Bennet’s behalf, since 2008.

    And for Zap, I guess it’s only bad when DC involves itself in our politics and policies if you happen to believe, as I do, that policies are best developed through ground-up and center-out politics, not imposed from the top down and outside in.

  4. DenverMom says:

    Michael Bennet was a disaster as Superintendent of Denver Public Schools. He alienated parents and teachers and was rude and arrogant to all. He has not been much better as a senator. I will hold my nose and vote form however, because I want the Dems to retake the Senate.

  5. notaskinnycook says:

    I, too. But the “D” after his name is all I’m approving of. I wish somebody could fish up a decent primary for him.

  6. Andrew Carnegie says:

    Some might say that the motivation to pass the bill in the first place was to help the chances of Bennet being reelected. Seems to me that Bennet has few fans at Pols. What is Romanoff up to this cycle?

    • hawkeye says:

      In March of this year former Colorado Speaker of the House Andrew Romanoff became the new CEO of Mental Health America of Colorado.

    • Duke Cox says:

      “Seems to me that Bennet has few fans at Pols.”

      Congratulations, PissAnt… a glimmer of perception on your part.

      • FrankUnderwood says:

        That doesn’t mean we won’t vote for Bennet if the alternative is Owen Hill. Or Ken Buck. Or Randy Baumgartner.

        There was a lot of bitching about Frackenlooper last year on this site and elsewhere, but the thought of Governor Beauprez got those doing the bitching to see past his less than ideal positions on issues.

        • Duke Cox says:

          Very true, Frank. One of the reasons our elected Democrats get away with thumbing their noses at us (loud-mouthed, progressive, agitators) is precisely their full confidence that they can take us for granted and still get our vote.

          • mamajama55 says:


            And if I were an ambitious Republican looking to the future of my party, I’d be recruiting serious, moderate, qualified candidates, ie. NOT off the clown car, for just that reason.

            • FrankUnderwood says:

              Fortunately that’s not something we need to worry about happening. The last time the national GOP nominated a moderate-conservative was in 1976.

              It’s still too soon for them to go there again.

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