Get More Smarter on Friday (August 2)

Happy National Water Balloon Day. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of an audio/visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show or The Get More Smarter Podcast. And don’t forget to find us Facebook and Twitter.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

UPDATE: Nevermind, then. Ratcliffe has withdrawn from consideration.

Here’s a shocker: President Trump’s pick to be the next director of national intelligence seems to have a problem with making things up about himself. From the Washington Post:

President Trump’s choice to lead the nation’s intelligence community often cites a massive roundup of immigrant workers at poultry plants in 2008 as a highlight of his career. Rep. John Ratcliffe claims that as a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of Texas, he was the leader of the immigration crackdown, describing it as one of the largest cases of its kind.

“As a U.S. Attorney, I arrested over 300 illegal immigrants on a single day,” Rat­cliffe (R-Tex.) says on his congressional website.

Um, nope. Court documents show that only 45 people were charged by Ratcliffe’s office — and six of the cases were dismissed.

Ratcliffe’s background has come under scrutiny since Trump announced Sunday that he plans to nominate the lawmaker to be the next director of national intelligence, replacing Daniel Coats, a former longtime senator and diplomat who was often at odds with the president.

Ratcliffe has dialed back his earlier claims that he had won convictions in a high-profile terrorism case as a federal prosecutor. His planned nomination has drawn opposition from Senate Democrats and tepid support from key Republicans.

Some current and former intelligence officials have said Ratcliffe is the least-qualified person ever nominated to oversee the country’s intelligence agencies — previous directors have been former diplomats, senior intelligence officials and military leaders — and questioned whether he would use the position to serve Trump’s political interests. [Pols emphasis] The post was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to coordinate the 16 other agencies of the nation’s intelligence community.

As CBS News reports, Ratcliffe doesn’t appear to be all that interested in the subject he would be tasked with overseeing:

The House Intelligence Committee conducts the vast majority of its work behind closed doors and, often, beyond the walls of the Capitol. But a CBS News review of the eight open hearings the committee has held to date show that Ratcliffe engaged comparatively little during those sessions with the substance of intelligence topics in the panel’s purview.

While in open session, he did not ask any questions related to the work of the intelligence community — or unrelated to the Mueller investigation — in his six-month tenure on the panel.

Democrats are planning to put up a prolonged fight in an effort to prevent Ratcliffe’s nomination from being approved in the Senate.

 

► Opponents of recently-passed legislation to add Colorado to a list of states that would choose the President via a national popular vote have submitted signatures to get their measure on the ballot in 2020. Whether this actually makes political sense is another topic altogether.

 

A bunch of new laws go into effect in Colorado today, including a measure to provide cost transparency by hospitals and a cap on co-pay costs for life-saving insulin medication.

 

► According to an analysis by the Washington Post, a majority of House Democrats now support moving forward with impeachment hearings against President Trump. Aurora Democratic Rep. Jason Crow recently announced his support for impeachment proceedings.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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The Coming Battle Over NPV: Qui Bono?

President Donald Trump.

Denver7’s Blair Miller reports:

Proponents of the effort to repeal Colorado’s new law that would give Colorado’s presidential electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote submitted more than 225,000 signatures Thursday, organizers said.

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, who is one of the organizers of the effort along with Monument Mayor Don Wilson , said the Protect Colorado’s Vote initiative submitted 227,198 signatures from voters statewide to the secretary of state’s office for review.

The proponents need 125,000 of those signatures to be deemed valid for the referendum to be put on the 2020 ballot. Aug. 1 was the submission deadline.

Opponents of Colorado joining the not-yet-operational National Popular Vote Interstate Compact have been working to collect signatures for a repeal measure ever since Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill back in March. The campaign reportedly used both volunteer and professional paid signature gatherers. To put this result in perspective, supporters of the campaign to recall Gov. Polis have a much smaller window in which to collect at minimum three times as many valid voter signatures–clearly demonstrating the near-impossible task ahead for the “Dismiss Polis” campaign in only a few short remaining weeks. As we’ve said repeatedly in this space, the NPV repeal effort makes far more political sense for Republicans than pursuing recalls, not least because it’s an attainable goal.

And now, it’s a good bet the NPV repeal will be on the 2020 ballot right along with President Donald Trump, the polarizing chief executive serving as the backdrop for this larger philosophical battle over the role of states in presidential elections and the relative power of individual voters. If Republicans are correct that Democratic “overreach” in Colorado since the 2018 Democratic landslide is provoking a conservative backlash, NPV could give them an excellent vehicle to turn those voters out.

But what if it backfires?

The principal hole in the reasoning of Republican opponents of NPV is the fact that President Donald Trump remains unpopular in this state, and polls show there’s been nothing since the 2018 elections to significantly alter that downward trajectory. The “overreach” tag has not taken hold outside the Republican base, the only group where even a plurality agrees–and who we’d bet money were the overwhelming majority of NPV petition signers. If NPV becomes part of a wholesale rejection of Donald Trump by Colorado voters in 2020, there’s a likely scenario in which the NPV repeal attempt goes down along with him.

Either way, once the dust settles from the current spate of fringe-backed recall attempts, this is going to be a central battlefield for Republicans in 2020. And it will be up to Colorado voters to decide if the personal satisfaction of having a vote “worth more” than a vote in a large state is worth the end result as delivered by the Electoral College in both the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections–Presidents elected by a minority of American voters.

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Friday Open Thread

“They appear to have become so attached to their outrage that they are even more outraged that they won’t be able to be outraged anymore.”

–Barney Frank

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Jason Crow Helps Tip Balance On Impeachment

Rep. Jason Crow (D-Aurora).

As the Aurora Sentinel’s Kara Mason reported yesterday, freshman Democratic Rep. Jason Crow has joined Reps. Diana DeGette and Joe Neguse in calling for impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump to commence in the U.S. House–a belated conversion that appears to be part of a surge of support among House Democrats to go there:

Citing the investigation from former special counsel Robert Mueller, Aurora Congressman Jason Crow said Tuesday that Congress should now look into impeaching President Donald Trump.

“Trump and his administration have engaged in repeated abuses of power and disregarded our institutions, while flaunting Congress and the judiciary,” Crow said in an op-ed published first to Medium on Tuesday. “To this day the President prevents key witnesses from testifying before Congress, wrongly asserts executive privilege to dodge subpoenas, and attempts to skirt court rulings. If Congress doesn’t stand up to these abuses, then our system of checks and balances will have failed. It’s clear that we must respond with the full weight of Congress.”

…Crow, who has said he’s made a point to work with Republicans in Congress, joins a growing number of Democrats leaning toward beginning impeachment proceedings. Nearly half of the 235 House Democrats have endorsed impeachment proceedings, and a dozen Democratic senators have done so.

Politico is reporting today that with Rep. Crow and several other Democrats coming on board this week, a majority of House Democrats are now ready to begin impeachment hearings:

The number of House Democrats who support impeachment proceedings passed the halfway mark — 118 out of 235 voting members now support the effort — on Thursday when Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida announced his support. Deutch was also the 23rd Democratic lawmaker to support impeachment proceedings in the days after former special counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress, affirming publicly his damning evidence suggesting Trump attempted to obstruct justice…

Perhaps more significant than the number of Democrats backing an inquiry are the identities of the members themselves. The latest additions include Reps. Mike Levin of California, Jennifer Wexton of Virginia and Jason Crow of Colorado, three freshmen who flipped Republican-held districts in November. Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, added her name to the list on Friday.

The biggest roadblock up until now in commencing impeachment hearings in the House has been the view of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that even though Trump is committing impeachable offenses “every day,” without a realistic shot at not just impeaching Trump in the House but convicting him in a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate the effort would be a net political liability for Democrats in the 2020 elections. That position could be in the process of giving way to the alternative view that the House doing its constitutional duty and, if the facts warrant, delivering a case for impeachment into Mitch McConnell’s lap is the better course both morally and politically.

What say you, readers? Has the time come to impeach Donald Trump, or is letting the voters decide Trump’s fate next November the better choice? A poll follows.

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Get More Smarter on Thursday (August 1)

Welcome to August, friends. It’s time to “Get More Smarter.” If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example). If you are more of an audio/visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show or The Get More Smarter Podcast. And don’t forget to find us Facebook and Twitter.

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► The U.S. Senate passed a broad new spending agreement that completely ignores Republican claims to be “fiscally conservative.” As the Washington Post reports:

The Senate passed a broad, two-year budget deal Thursday that boosts spending and eliminates the threat of a debt default until past the 2020 election, while reducing chances for another government shutdown. The legislation now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign it despite conservative complaints that it will fuel the nation’s runaway debt…

…Republican leaders including Trump himself had been working to round up GOP support ahead of Thursday’s vote, trying to avoid a repeat of the outcome in the House last week, when a majority of Republican lawmakers ignored Trump’s pleas and voted against the deal. It passed the House anyway, on the strength of Democratic votes. The lobbying effort paid off in the Senate as more Republicans voted in favor of the deal than against it.

The agreement heads off several looming fiscal threats, most immediately the possibility that the Treasury Department could have run out of money to pay its bills as early as September if Congress didn’t act, resulting in a market-shattering default on U.S. obligations.

The deal passed Thursday suspends the debt ceiling through July 31, 2021, removing the threat of default and the accompanying risk of political brinkmanship that typically accompanies debt limit negotiations. It lifts strict Obama-era spending caps that would otherwise slash indiscriminately into agency and military budgets, and sets overall spending levels that will make it easier for lawmakers to write the individual appropriations bills needed to keep the government open past Oct. 1, when current agency budgets expire.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) was among the Republicans who had been waffling on a new spending agreement, expressing half-hearted concern about deficits while conveniently ignoring the budgetary peril they inflicted with massive tax cuts for the wealthy in late 2017.

 

► We could be just days away from Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) claiming credit for free full-day kindergarten in Colorado. On Wednesday, Gardner made the ballsy and completely baseless boast that he helped Colorado secure approval for a “reinsurance” program that could cut healthcare costs for Coloradans by as much as 18% in 2020. Credit for this program actually goes to Gov. Jared Polis and Democrats in the state legislature, who have worked for years to implement this cost-saving measure.

Colorado journalists, including Kyle Clark of 9News, saw right through Gardner’s nonsense:

► We’ve made it through the second round of debates for candidates seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination. Chris Cillizza of CNN lists his “winners and losers” from Wednesday night, while Ed Rogers of the Washington Post doesn’t give high marks to either Colorado-based contender, former Gov. John Hickenlooper or Sen. Michael Bennet. Hickenlooper and Bennet had brief moments in Detroit, but neither did well enough to likely keep them in the race for much longer. As Nic Garcia writes for the Denver Post, it is Hickenlooper who might be the first to depart:

John Hickenlooper’s campaign for the presidency was always a longshot. Now, after another lusterless debate performance, national political observers and some of his closest allies are wondering when — not if — the former Colorado governor will end his quixotic bid for the White House.

At best, Hickenlooper’s friends are split on whether he should persist in seeking the Democratic nomination or bow out. State party insiders are annoyed with Hickenlooper — some openly pushing him to run for the U.S. Senate instead. Others merely dismiss him as a relic of a political era gone by.

“I think he’s done,” a former Hickenlooper aide told The Denver Post.

Like many former gubernatorial and campaign staff members interviewed for this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect his relationship with Hickenlooper.

“I think his team will know in the next two days after they see the numbers and analyze other data,” the former aide said. “But my sense is he’s not going to see that.”

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Bennet Competent In Prez Debate Swan Song

Sen. Michael Bennet (D).

Colorado Public Radio reports on how Colorado’s other Democratic presidential contender Sen. Michael Bennet did in last night’s debate–like former Gov. John Hickenlooper the night before, doing what he could with the limited face time he was bound to get on a stage full of big names. And while there weren’t any flubs from Bennet, his last chance to break out of the depths of the presidential pack with a dramatic showing seems to have eluded him:

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet focused much of his ire during the second presidential debate on the current occupant of the office he’s seeking.

“I believe we have a moral obligation to beat Donald Trump. He has to be a single term president. And we can’t do anything that plays into his hands,” he said…

Bennet’s loudest applause of the night came for his answer on how he would heal the nation’s racial divide. Drawing on his background as superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, Bennet said segregation in education remains a significant problem.

“Our schools are as segregated today as they were 50 years ago. We need a conversation about what’s happening now,” he said.

Bennet did spend some time attacking Sen. Kamala Harris’ health care plan, which was an odd choice given that her plan isn’t even as progressive as that of frontrunners not on last night’s stage like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. But the exchange was collegial, and you got the sense that Bennet was making a point to not say anything overly injurious to other candidates while triangulating from their right.

Both Bennet and Hickenlooper took a similar tack in their respective campaigns for president, generally arguing that other candidates were too far left to beat Donald Trump in 2020. In both cases this campaign message failed to gain traction, mostly because it was out of touch with a Democratic base that is much more supportive of an unapologetic progressive agenda than most of its leadership. Hickenlooper in particular pigeonholed himself early on as the “anti-socialism” candidate, when smart Democrats realized that message played directly into the hands of conservatives–especially coming from such a longshot campaign.

At the same time, none of this was bad enough to rule either out of future contests, and the experience undeniably raised their name ID both in and outside Colorado. The political dynamic in Colorado, driven by a decisive unaffiliated plurality and a state still only tentatively considered blue after 15 years of Democratic electoral wins, is much better suited to the moderate image and message of both men–which helps explain why they both been successful in repeated statewide Colorado elections.

So…we’ll see what comes next.

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Colorado Celebrates Healthcare Savings; Gardner Shamelessly Claims Credit

Gov. Jared Polis outlines his healthcare savings plan in April. Note the absence of anyone who looks anything like Sen. Cory Gardner.

As Anna Staver reports for the Denver Post, healthcare costs will decrease significantly next year thanks to legislation passed by the Colorado legislature earlier this year:

Colorado has received federal approval for a new program that is expected to save families who buy health insurance through the individual marketplace thousands of dollars a year, Gov. Jared Polis is announcing Wednesday.

The program, known as reinsurance, is expected to drop premiums by an average of 18.2% when it gets under way in January, state officials estimate…

…The reinsurance program is expected to pool $260 million in state and federal money and use it to cover the costliest medical bills among the 250,000 Coloradans who buy their health insurance on the exchange. Taking that burden off of insurance providers will enable them to lower premiums overall.

Colorado is the ninth state to secure a federal waiver for a reinsurance program. Minnesota’s reinsurance program brought down its 2018 premiums by about 11.3%, and Alaska’s dropped by a statewide average of 26%, according to a Georgetown University Health Policy Institute report.

We noted this impressive 18% savings when figures were first projected by the Colorado Division of Insurance earlier this month. The reinsurance program is part of a broader healthcare savings plan promoted by Gov. Jared Polis and passed by Democrats in the state legislature. This reinsurance program is such a good idea, in fact, that Republican Sen. Cory Gardner is now TRYING TO TAKE CREDIT FOR IT:

This did not go over well with Colorado lawmakers such as State Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail):

Likewise, Sen. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) was not amused:

 

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous. Not only did Gardner have nothing to do with this proposal — his support for getting rid of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) would ultimately kill off the reinsurance deal entirely. As the Colorado Sun reports:

That’s because the Trump Administration — the same one that is expected to sign off on the program — is also backing a lawsuit to strike down the entire Affordable Care Act, the health law that makes a lot of the funding for the reinsurance program possible…

…Earlier this month, a panel of judges at the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard a lawsuit brought by the state of Texas and others — with the Trump Administration’s backing — arguing that the whole Affordable Care Act should be thrown out. The argument requires its own explainer (like this one), but the upshot from the hearing was that it didn’t gowell for defenders of the health care law. A challenge to the law also known as Obamacare appears headed for the U.S. Supreme Court.

If that lawsuit ultimately succeeds, then Colorado’s reinsurance program in its current form is basically doomed. The subsidies that provide money for the program — and the entire section of federal law that the program lives under — would be gone. Lawmakers would need to do some significant tinkering just to preserve any vestige of it.

This is not the first time that Gardner has been so blatantly duplicitous on the issue of healthcare. In March 2017, Gardner was one of four Republican Senators who signed onto a letter defending the expansion of Medicaid in states like Colorado. A few months later, Gardner voted in favor of a proposal to gut the ACA that quite literally would have ended Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans.

To recap, Coloradans are going to see a major decrease in healthcare costs in 2020 thanks to Gov. Polis and Democrats in the state legislature. Senator Gardner had nothing to do with this and is supportive of federal policies that would destroy this reinsurance plan, but he’s raising his hand like a conquering hero in the meantime.

Please, don’t clap.

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Voters “Walk Away” From GOP Nationally, Locally

TFW Republicans realize it’s not getting better.

The Hill reports on new nationwide generic ballot numbers that show Democrats pulling away strongly from Republicans once again on the question to voters of which party should control Congress after the 2020 elections:

Democrats extended their lead over Republicans in a generic 2020 congressional ballot, according to a new poll.

The Economist/YouGov survey of registered voters found that 48 percent of respondents said they would vote Democratic next year, 37 percent would vote Republican and 11 percent were not sure.

The 11 point lead is up from an Economist/YouGov poll conducted July 21-23, when Democrats held a 7 point advantage over Republicans.

In their much-discussed survey of 500 likely voters in Colorado earlier in July (15-17), local Republican pollster Magellan Strategies found a similar wide margin of preference for Democrats to control Congress, in addition to President Donald Trump trailing the generic Democratic candidate by 12 points:

That is, a net 10-point Democratic preference in Colorado, right in line with the new YouGov numbers nationally and from several weeks ago. Historically speaking, these are very favorable numbers for Democrats even early in the election cycle. In June of 2017, national generic polling showed a seven point lead for Democrats, and was broadly interpreted as an early ominous sign for Republicans which proved accurate in the 2018 “Democratic wave.” Generic numbers have also accurately forecast losses for Democrats, both in 2010 and in 2014–years when Colorado Democrats lost their congressional delegation majority and state senate majority respectively.

Given that Republicans in 2018 were confidently predicting a “red wave” up until the historic “blue wave” crashed, don’t expect them to admit it. But if you’re thinking another Democratic landslide in 2020 is in the offing, maybe even bigger than 2018…these numbers back you up.

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Cory Gardner Waffles His Way To Budget Deal Vote

Sen. Cory Gardner (R).

CNN reports on ongoing process in the U.S. Senate ahead of a crucial vote on a two-year budget deal already passed by the House after a hard-won bipartisan agreement last week–an agreement that would take a number of thorny fiscal issues off the table ahead of the 2020 elections, but angering “down government in the bathtub” Republicans who object to anything other than cuts:

Bipartisan Senate leaders have agreed to limit debate on a long-sought budget deal — setting up a vote on the package, though as of Wednesday morning it’s not clear when they would vote…

GOP leaders are not giving passes for “no” votes and the goal is still to convince half or more of the conference to vote for the budget deal. Leaders want to avoid a show like the one in the House where there was a massive Republican uprising against the package negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and blessed by the President. Again, this bill is expected to pass (mostly with Democratic votes), but leaders want to stave off any surprises and want to make sure the President knows that his party is behind a top priority to raise the debt ceiling and stop automatic spending cuts on the defense budget.

And it’s not just congressional leaders. A GOP source close to the process told CNN that the President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper have made a small handful of calls to GOP senators to talk about the budget deal.

The situation is politically a little unusual, with the White House and leadership from both parties in the House and Senate trying to win over hard-line Republicans. The objections from dissenters are not new, and generally consist of the same talking points about “living within our means” that characterize any fight over spending regardless of the individual circumstances. The breakdown between ideological conviction and economic/political reality has repeatedly stymied effective GOP engagement on fiscal issues in recent years, going back to the government shutdowns under President Barack Obama and the fake fight over automatic “sequestration” budget cuts.

It’s a confusing situation, but you know who’s not leading? Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado up for reelection, said he is concerned “it’s just a lot of money and at some point, things become so free, we can’t afford it.” [Pols emphasis]

Once again, at a moment when Gardner could offer a clarifying vision in a fractious debate, he cops out with meaningless pablum. Yes, it’s “a lot of money”–but so were the huge tax cuts Gardner voted for that have contributed directly to this year’s trillion-dollar deficit.  If Gardner votes against the bipartisan budget deal today, the only people he’s pleasing are a relatively small faction of hardcore “starve the beast” conservatives–not the MAGA hordes loyal to Trump, and certainly not the independent voters Gardner needs desperately and would rather see Gardner with the majority.

Gardner’s habit of equivocating until the last possible moment on votes may afford him some maneuvering space, but it deprives him of the opportunity to show leadership that could distinguish him in a state which has been rejecting Gardner’s party brand at the polls ever since he narrowly won his seat in 2014. If Gardner’s goal is to show “independence” from Trump after cementing a reputation as a Trump toady, this hard-won bipartisan budget deal is the worst possible way to do that.

We’ll update when Gardner decides which course is best for his career.

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Hickenlooper Has a Minor Moment, But Not Enough in Detroit

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper had what may be his last chance to make a big impression on Democratic Primary voters on Tuesday in the first round of Democratic debates from Detroit. Hickenlooper probably didn’t do enough to give his Presidential campaign the boost it needed, but at least this happened:

As the Denver Post explains:

In a rare charged exchange with Sanders, he said, “You just can’t spring a plan on the world and expect it to succeed.”

Hickenlooper suggested Sanders was throwing his hands up. Sanders responded, “I will,” and did just that. The moment quickly bounced around social media.

Later, he attempted to highlight his successes in Colorado and pushed back against the idea that he is too moderate.

“I’m as progressive as anyone up here on this stage, but I’m also pragmatic,” Hickenlooper said. “I know I can get results.”

Hickenlooper is at the back of the Democratic pack in terms of both fundraising and polling averages, and neither marker is likely to change much after Tuesday. Hickenlooper spoke for about 9 minutes of the two-hour debate, giving him the least amount of stage time of the 10 candidates present.

As Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren made clear in one of the most memorable lines of the night, candidates running on platform of cautious moderation may just be in the wrong place at the wrong time. “I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” said Warren.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet will be on stage tonight for the second half of the Detroit debates.

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Who Will Be the Democratic Nominee for President?

Who fills this spot in 2020?

With the second round of Democratic Presidential candidate debates kicking off tonight in Detroit, we thought it would be a good time to ask this question one more time before the field inevitably starts to shrink. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris were running neck-and-neck in our last poll, but do Colorado Pols readers still think these two women are at the top of the list?

As always, we want to know what you think will happen here — not what you want to happen or who you personally might support. If you had to place a bet on the outcome TODAY, who do you predict will be the Democratic nominee for President in 2020?

We don’t want to take up the entire screen with this one poll, so you’ll have to cast your vote after the jump…

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Treasurer Dave Young: Cleaning Up Walker Stapleton’s Mess

Former Treasurer Walker Stapleton (R).

As the Denver Post’s Anna Staver reports:

The Great Colorado Payback started in 1987 as a way to tell Coloradans about all the unclaimed property the state is legally required to keep, such as forgotten bank account balances, deposits to utility companies and even unused gift cards. Most people didn’t know the state held onto all this stuff until the treasurer’s office starting running television ads in the early 2000s and the number of annual claims tripled. The backlog of unprocessed claims grew to more than 12,000 — almost as many as the division receives in a calendar year.

“We agreed with all the recommendations in the report,” said Dave Young, the Democratic treasurer who took office in January. “We have been moving rapidly to change the course of the work in the office.”

For example, he said the unclaimed property team has essentially worked double time to knock down the backlog down to 2,200 claims — a success noted by the auditor’s office in its report.

Colorado Public Radio recaps how the audit of the Great Colorado Payback was initiated during the term of the predecessor to the current Democratic state treasurer, GOP Treasurer and failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton:

The results were released to the Legislative Audit Committee on Monday. Committee Chair Sen. Nancy Todd gave a nod to the work that the new administration has done over the past year but said there are still plenty of improvements to be made.

“There has been some remedy, but obviously still very concerned about the backlog,” said Todd, a Democrat from Arapahoe County. “And there was also a real genuine concern of, just the process, of how long and how cumbersome it is for people to get their property back.”

Bianca Gardelli has been the director of the division for just over a year and in that time she has taken the backlog of claims from more than 12,000 to less than 2,000 claims — a reduction of over 80 percent.

According to State Treasurer Dave Young, this was all done while processing the more than 16,000 new claims — within the required 90 days — that came in this year. [Pols emphasis]

During last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary, runner-up Vic Mitchell slammed Walker Stapleton over his handling of the Great Colorado Payback program, which provided the Treasurer with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in free positive television advertising even while the program essentially ground to a halt due to mismanagement. Stapleton admitted the situation was “a big problem,” but didn’t offer any ideas for solving it other than welcoming an audit. Former Rep. Dave Young of the number-crunching Joint Budget Committee, on the other hand, has worked diligently since taking office in January to pull the Great Colorado Payback off the scandal sheets.

The moral of the story? What a difference a little competence at the top makes.

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Public Lands Shenanigans: Why Play These Games At All?

Rep. Scott Tipton (R).

The Aspen Daily News’ Todd Hartley follows up on a story we’ve been watching for some days now, growing controversy over a “public lands” bill from Republican Rep. Scott Tipton and backed by Sen. Cory Gardner introduced in direct competition with the CORE Act–legislation Colorado Democrats are hoping to get bipartisan consensus on in order to move any kind of public lands protection bill forward in the current divided Congress.

As Hartley reports, Tipton is responding to the blowback with vague promises to revisit a major difference in the two bills pertaining to the Thompson Divide area, additional protections for which was “left out” of the Republican version:

“The congressman is interested and plans to have those conversations regarding Thompson Divide,” said Matt Atwood, Tipton’s communications director. “That’s part of the reason we left it out, because it is a ‘discussion draft,’ and we want to get all sides of the story before we introduce the full bill.”

That’s better than nothing, we guess, but it sidesteps the larger problem: why run two bills at all?

The prospect of having Thompson Divide protections included in an amended draft of the bill is welcomed by leaders of local conservation groups, but they still expressed skepticism about the underlying motivation behind the REC Act and the exclusion of the divide in the first place…

“We believe that the CORE Act is a well-crafted, well-vetted compromise that is the result of a decade of consensus and stakeholder engagement, and it has really broad community support,” said Julia Morton, interim executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition. “We believe the solution that has been crafted in the CORE Act is a really fair and good one, and so I think our preference is, obviously, for Tipton to support the CORE Act.” [Pols emphasis]

Not surprisingly, it’s a sentiment echoed by Bennet and his staff.

“The CORE Act is the result of Coloradans working together to hammer out compromises and develop proposals that have widespread local support, including in places such as the Thompson Divide,” said Courtney Gidner, a spokesperson for Bennet. “Our focus is on advancing each of the four components of the CORE Act together. Any contribution that leads us to accomplish these goals is welcome, and we hope Congressman Tipton will join this effort.”

The problem, as we’ve outlined in previous posts, is straightforward. In a divided Congress, the only public lands protection bills that have any realistic chance of passage are bills that enjoy enough bipartisan support to survive the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate to arrive on the President’s desk. If Democrats have a bill and Republicans introduce competing legislation instead of working out their differences with Democrats, the most likely outcome is that no legislation at all passes. That’s why supporters of the CORE Act, the product of years of study and negotiation, were blindsided by Tipton’s introduction of the “REC Act” to accomplish many of the same goals but with certain key differences–in the case of Thompson Divide, taking a side by omission in a long-running fight over protecting a vast natural area from oil and gas drilling.

What happens next? We’ll have to wait. There’s always a chance of a resolution that’s acceptable to all parties, which would take this issue off the table politically ahead of a pivotal general election next year. But if the more likely outcome of no bill at all prevails, Scott Tipton’s bad faith is going to be plain for all CD-3 voters to see.

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President Trump Says He Helped First Responders on 9/11

President Donald Trump

Because it happens so often, it is difficult to find the energy to maintain an appropriate level of concern or outrage whenever President Trump says something horrible. Today is one of those days where channeling an extra bit of dismay at Trump is more than appropriate.

As Chris Cillizza writes for CNN:

On Monday morning, in a speech to first responders and others impacted by the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, President Trump took his fantastical memory of himself to new and not-at-all-appropriate heights.

“I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder,” Trump said. “But I was down there. I spent a lot of time down there with you.” …

…Let’s be clear about what Trump is doing here: He is associating himself — very closely — with the men and women who were the first to respond to planes being crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. People who continue to suffer health issues due to their jobs. [Pols emphasis]

(They were at the White House for Trump’s formal signing of an extension of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which ensures first responders continue to get money from the government to deal with their issues.)

This is not the first time that Trump has claimed that he helped clear rubble from the site of the World Trade Center — there is absolutely no evidence to support any of this — but it is the first time he made the argument in the White House with actual first responders in the same room.

We’ll let Cillizza sum up Trump’s comments today:

“We should be appalled that the President of the United States is willing to say things like this — especially to a crowd who has given so much to the country in its darkest hours.”

Consider us appalled.

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Editorial Boards Across Colorado Discourage Recall Fever

For several months newspaper editorial boards from every part of Colorado have been opining against the various recall efforts underway or under consideration by right-wing activists around the state. There are now more than a dozen editorials from across Colorado encouraging readers to “just say no” to signing a recall petition. Here’s a quick look at some of the most recent offerings:

The Denver Post (7/22/19)

From the Denver Post:

This summer we urge Colorado voters to decline to sign recall petitions for three elected officials.

These men and women – Gov. Jared Polis, Sen. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, and Sen. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs – have done nothing nefarious, or illegal or untoward. Rather, they face recalls for their votes, or in the case of the governor his signature, on issues the petition gatherers disagree with.

These are not matters that should be decided by a special election. These are issues that should be decided by the next regular election. That’s how our Democracy works – someone is elected for a term and barring some exceedingly rare and horrendous action on the part of an elected official, they serve that term until the next election. Then voters can have their say.

Recalls are not meant to be do-over elections.

The Colorado Springs Business Journal (7/26/19)

From the Colorado Springs Business Journal:

Recall elections come with a massive price tag, and not just in terms of dollars and cents.

It’s difficult to pinpoint how much a special election — the process required under Colorado Secretary of State rules — costs on a statewide level. However, in Colorado Springs alone as recently as April, the cost of a citywide special election was estimated at a half-million dollars. It stands to reason the cost of recalling a statewide official like the governor would be exponentially higher.

“It’s far better to rein in the recalls and stop the silliness now, for the sake of good governance, for our business climate and for our state’s future.”

And that’s an untenable investment to ask of taxpayers, especially when you consider that special elections historically have low voter turnout.

Recall costs aside, the process is also disruptive to good governance. When lawmakers must constantly step lightly in order to avoid losing their jobs, what chance do they have to draft thoughtful or change-making legislation? How can we expect any level of productivity?

The Colorado Springs Independent (7/24/19)

And from the Colorado Springs Independent:

It’s a sniveling threat from some far-right interests, and it’s all because the Legislature passed and the governor signed some very progressive policies during the 2019 session.

Which leaves us with a question. At what point did we become a selfish, whiny society that has made it easier to threaten to take someone’s job away than to admit you made a mistake and change it when the opportunity arises?…

…So rather than find better candidates and prepare them for victory in 2020 and beyond, they’re whining and threatening those who are doing the job for one simple fact: They’re. Doing. Their. Jobs. When it swings back to the right, what’s to stop the far left from doing the same thing?

You get the idea. From the Pueblo Chieftain and the Greeley Tribune to the Durango Herald and the Grand Junction Sentinel, the conclusion has been the same: This recall madness is wrong and it needs to stop.

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Erasing The Line Between Journalist And Partisan Hack

MONDAY UPDATE: The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins reports that Joey Bunch has cancelled his scheduled emceeship of the Foothills Republicans fundraiser:

Last week, an un-bylined post at the liberal ColoradoPols blog pointed to an alleged invitation for a summer BBQ that doubled as a fundraiser for Republican candidates. ColoradoPolitics senior reporter Joey Bunch was listed on the invitation as as master of ceremonies for the event. Whoa if true, right? The unnamed author of the post was not charitable about the matter. Something like that would be problematic indeed.

I assume plenty of politics watchers and journalists had seen the post or mention of it, but Bunch hadn’t said anything publicly about this by Sunday when I asked him about it. He speaks at events often, he says, and he’d agreed to emcee what he thought was a barbecue, but he didn’t know who was attending or specific details about the event. He says he backed out when he learned what it was. “As soon as I found out it was a fundraiser it was a no brainer,” he told me, adding, “ColoradoPols could have found that out if they’d called me and asked me.” (Side note: He says he actually learned it was a fundraiser from the blog post.) [Pols emphasis]

A Democratic party operative told me the thought of a political reporter serving as the emcee of a Republican fundraiser might give the operative pause when considering whether to engage with that reporter on future stories. Understandable. “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived,” and all. The Democrat put it in the context of ColoradoPolitics being a sponsor of this year’s Western Conservative Summit, as the outlet was in 2018, and that the outlet is owned by a wealthy conservative who gets involved in politics…

We’re trying to figure this response out. We could have called Bunch and asked him about this event before we wrote about it…but he only found out it was an inappropriate event to emcee after we wrote about it? Doesn’t that mean if we hadn’t written anything, he wouldn’t have cancelled?

And while we’re at it, do the Foothills Republicans host any “barbeques” that are not fundraisers?

We’re glad to see that Bunch cancelled his appearance. If Bunch really didn’t know what he had signed up for, we’re also happy to have helped inform him.

—–

This is an invitation to a candidate fundraiser set for next month hosted by the Foothills Republicans we were forwarded a couple of days ago. There’s nothing unusual about a Republican group hosting Republican candidates for a candidate fundraiser…

But there is something significantly wrong with the so-called “Master of Ceremonies” at this fundraiser Colorado Springs Gazette lead political reporter Joey Bunch. Reporters do often appear at partisan political functions as guests, to provide analysis and answer questions about political issues, but Joey Bunch serving as “master of ceremonies” implies a much more direct role in helping Republicans raise money than a mere guest speaker.

Joey Bunch has a history of ethical troubles as a reporter for the Phil Anschutz-owned Gazette, including a particularly troubling incident in 2018 which led to the firing of a GOP Colorado Senate aide who pitched Bunch unsourced smears about alleged “personal indiscretions” on the part of a victim of sexual harassment by a Republican lawmaker–and Bunch reprinted in an almost inconceivable breach of both journalistic ethics and just plain common decency.

Anschutz, one of the biggest Republican donors in the state, has attempted to position the Gazette and its political site formerly known as the Colorado Statesman to fill a perceived vacuum in political news, recently staffing up to cover Denver local politics in addition to happenings at the state capitol. Anchutz’s record with such nakedly partisan outlets as the Washington Examiner and the now-shuttered Weekly Standard have always given local Democrats plenty of reason to be suspicious of Clarity Media’s motives.

So maybe this just means Anschutz is dropping any pretense of operating an unbiased news source? That’s fine if so, but so should everybody else.

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DC Dems Hint Strongly That Hick Should Run For Senate

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D).

CNN reports ahead of this week’s Democratic presidential debates, which could be the last appears for Colorado’s two aspiring presidential candidates in the mix barring a dramatic upswing in support:

Democrats on Capitol Hill have a message for presidential hopefuls John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado, and Steve Bullock, the current governor of Montana: you’d make great senators.

Hickenlooper and Bullock have struggled to gain traction in a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates, but as governors, they have already proven they can be elected statewide. As Democrats gear up for a fight for the Senate, many are quick to say they believe Hickenlooper and Bullock would make formidable challengers to Republican senators up for re-election in Colorado and Montana.

“I would urge them to think about this moment in our history and what would be best for the country,” Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico told CNN of Hickenlooper and Bullock, saying “no doubt about it,” when asked if he thinks they would make strong Senate candidates and adding that he believes they would make good senators.

That’s the strongest public support we’ve seen from any nationally prominent Democrat for former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to make the jump from his little-fish-in-a-big-pond campaign for President into a race that, while crowded, Hickenlooper would immediately become the frontrunner in to win the Democratic nomination.

Hickenlooper’s pros and cons are well known to all sides in Colorado, but several factors could make him a powerful antidote to Sen. Cory Gardner’s relentlessly sunny yet deeply trust-challenged persona. Hickenlooper was highly popular as governor, and more than perhaps any other candidate in the race, Hickenlooper can beat Gardner at his own upbeat game–and be more truthful and authentic as he does it. In addition, Hickenlooper’s unsuccessful anti-“socialism” message in the presidential race, which we’ve criticized as tone deaf in that particular setting, effectively defangs Gardner’s message on the campaign trail heavily dependent on slamming the “S-word” and all its outlandish implicit connotations.

It’s been evident for some time now that both of Colorado’s Democratic presidential aspirants, for all their hard work and determination, were going to have trouble breaking into the upper tier of better-known candidates in the race for President. Sen. Michael Bennet of course can simply keep doing the job he was re-elected to do in 2016. As for Gov. Hickenlooper?

The decision he makes next is up to him, and it looks to us like all his doors remain open.

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Banning Abortion Six Ways From Sunday

As the Denver Post’s Anna Staver reports, it’s on off on again:

Two women who want to ban abortions past 22 weeks in Colorado aren’t giving up after their first stab at language for a proposed ballot initiative was rejected by the Secretary of State’s Office for a procedural error.

Erin Behrens and Giuliana Day are in the process of submitting six new proposals for statewide initiatives that would ban abortions past 22 weeks except in cases where the woman’s physical life was at risk. Performing an abortion for any other reason would be a class 3 felony, on par with second-degree murder or vehicular homicide and punishable by up to a dozen years in prison.

The draft initiatives have a lot of similarities, but they do have a few important differences. One of them contains a “provision for survival” that would require any approved abortion past 22 weeks be performed in a way that “provides the best opportunity for the fetus to survive.”

Colorado has repeatedly rejected abortion bans in recent years at the polls, and in the last few elections the measures have been increasingly viewed by Republicans as politically self-injurious beyond any benefit in terms of rallying conservative voters to the polls. It’s relatively easy for supporters of these measures to collect the required signatures to make the ballot by circulating their petitions at church.

The political question for these measures has always been whether they hurt Republicans more than they help, and the consensus after the last few attempts has been that they aren’t worth the blowback Republicans suffer at the polls–not to mention that base trouble these measures invite if Republicans don’t pay sufficient lip service.

There’s an apparent belief among some Republicans that this measure’s ban on so-called “late term” abortions may fare better, but given that almost all such abortions are performed out of dire medical necessity and are a tiny percentage of the total number of abortions performed, the countermessage that this is just another intrusion into decisions that should be entirely between doctor and patient should be very effective.

With abortion rights facing a high-profile threat nationally, we think the voters who crushed the “Personhood” ballot measures in Colorado in election after election can be counted open to turn out in force against any anti-abortion measure that makes the ballot. Under that scenario, in our pro-choice state, this helps Democrats.

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Why Open Records Laws Exist, Mike Pence Edition

Vice President Mike Pence.

Following up the story of last week’s visit by Vice President Mike Pence to Colorado, including a stop in Aspen for a jointed Trump 2020/RNC fundraiser and a fundraiser for Sen. Cory Gardner in Windsor not attended by Sen. Gardner, from FOX 31’s Joe St. George:

24 hours after Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo made national news for asking Republicans or the White House to reimburse the county for security costs associated with Vice President Mike Pence’s visit, DiSalvo is getting his money back..

“They actually found somebody who is not the party host who is willing to pick up the expenses for my department and a few others,” DiSalvo said.

DiSalvo said the donor wished to remain anonymous.

First of all, we’re happy to see the local authorities who carry much of the burden for campaign stops by high-ranking officials who need protection, motorcades, etc. getting reimbursed for their expenses. This is a longstanding bone of contention when politicians from either party show up for events that cannot be considered to have any kind of public benefit, and in Colorado where budgets are infamously tight it’s even more of a problem. Both parties have been guilty of mooching off of local public safety officials for political event logistics, and both parties should pay up to local governments for the privilege.

But folks, under no circumstances should any such reimbursement be allowed to happen anonymously. We’re fairly certain that it won’t be anonymous for long, since FOX 31 or another media outlet or citizen who wants to can easily file a Colorado Open Records Act request to find out who ponied up. If there’s a justification for withholding that name from a CORA request, we’d like to see it in writing.

Again, it’s great to see local governments not getting stuck with the tab for the significant expense of supporting political events. But after the recent scandal in Yuma County with GOP billionaire Robert Mercer getting deputized in exchange for big donations to the sheriff’s office, this is money whose quid and quo need to be fully disclosed.

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Weekend Open Thread

“Great wisdom is generous; petty wisdom is contentious. Great speech is impassioned, small speech cantankerous.”

–Zhuangzi

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