No Clear Path for Hickenlooper in 2020

John Hickenlooper(s)

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper seems virtually assured of attempting a run for President in 2020, though it’s much less obvious how such a campaign might actually succeed. As Joey Bunch reports today for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman:

For months, Gov. John Hickenlooper has told reporters he’s too focused on being governor to think about running for president.

Now he says he’s thinking about it this summer.

“My wife and I have been talking about it for a couple of months and talking to old friends whose opinions we respect and trust,” the coy Colorado governor said in remarks reported by The Hill newspaper. “We’ll try and sort through it this summer.”

He said something similar in a D.C. appearance back in April.

First off, we can stop wondering about Hick’s interest in a national campaign. It’s been clear for a long time now that Hickenlooper absolutely, positively wants to run for President after he finishes his second term as Governor in January 2019. From a personal perspective, this makes plenty of sense. Hickenlooper will be 68-years-old next February, and while that makes him a young whipper-snapper compared to the likes of President Trump and potential Democratic candidates like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, 2020 is certainly his last best opportunity to make a run for the White House.

Unfortunately for Hickenlooper, this is where the 2020 logic starts to fall apart.  There was some talk last year of a potential “Independent” ticket with Hickenlooper and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but those rumors have since died off — in part because neither man is particularly interested in being the #2 guy on that train. That leaves Hick to chase the Democratic nomination for President at a time in which Democratic voters will be completely uninterested in a middle-of-the-road candidate. Politics is as much about timing as anything else, and the national mood in 2020 almost certainly won’t align with the image of “The Grand Equivocator.”

Take a look at this March Washington Post story about the Top 15 potential Democratic candidates in 2020. At least half of these people probably won’t end up running for President, but there isn’t a name on that list that Hick could likely leapfrog.

Hickenlooper’s most obvious problem in a Democratic field is that there is no potential platform where he might be able to stand out. What do you say about Hickenlooper the Democrat relative to his eight years as Governor of Colorado? Hick doesn’t carry the torch for any particular progressive issue — and certainly not more than other potential candidates. He might have had an opening as the Governor of the first state to legalize marijuana, but Hick has made it abundantly clear that this is not an issue that he wants to embrace.

Hickenlooper’s potential as a national Democratic figure is also hampered by the fact that he isn’t even really considered to be a Democratic leader in Colorado. Hick’s half-hearted backing of Lieutenant Governor Donna Lynne’s bid for Governor won’t earn him any favors from top Colorado Democrats — particularly since Lynne is almost certain to finish fourth in a four-way Primary on Tuesday — and his well-known support for the oil and gas industry won’t earn him any new liberal friends nationwide. Hickenlooper’s carefully-crafted image as a non-partisan politician may have served him well with Colorado voters in 2010 and 2014, but that approach doesn’t translate to building a base of supporters in a Democratic Primary. It also doesn’t help that Hick has increasingly surrounded himself with advisers who have a lot of business experience but strikingly little background in politics of any kind.

Hickenlooper never got far enough in 2016 to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate, but he would have been a favorite to receive some sort of top job in a Democratic administration, and that might be his end-game in 2020. Had Hick tried to move more to the left after the 2016 election this might be a different story. But he didn’t, and it isn’t.

You Call This a “Nasty Primary?” Puh-leeze

Oh noes! Candidates…campaigning!

9NEWS reports that outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper is terribly upset about the “negative campaigning” in the Democratic gubernatorial primary to succeed him–this being the second such admonishment from Hickenlooper, after a PAC supporting Cary Kennedy “went negative” attacking two of her opponents for their stands on education:

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) says allies of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis went “below the belt” by using his image in an attack ad against fellow Democrat Cary Kennedy.

“Seeing my face used in a negative ad after I had pretty clearly stated what I thought about it, I thought that was hitting below the belt,” Hickenlooper said in a Wednesday news conference at the state Capitol. “I didn’t think it was fair.”

9NEWS asked him about an ad from an outside spending group called “Bold Colorado,” which accurately quoted Gov. Hickenlooper as saying he was “disappointed” by a previous attack made by a similar spending group intending to help Kennedy.

Early on in the governor’s race, all Democratic candidates signed a voluntary pledge to avoid “unnecessary personal and negative attacks” against one another. The “violations” of this pledge have so far, and this is an important point, generally not been carried out by the candidates themselves–rather by “independent” message groups that are legally prohibited from coordinating with the candidate they support. That makes these calls for candidates to “put a stop” to ads being run by independent groups either disingenuous or a tacit admission that there is no real separation between PACs and candidates.

The latter seems to be the case for Republican candidate Walker Stapleton, whose SuperPAC was openly supported and pitched by the candidate before he was technically in the race. Democratic candidates should keep this in mind as it could be an important issue in the general election–and avoid opening themselves to charges of hypocrisy if it does.

Which leads us to the most important point: the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, in any objective sense, isn’t all that “negative.” The Clean Campaign Pledge signed by Democratic candidates obliges them to refrain from “unnecessary personal and negative attacks.” But is an ad outlining the candidates’ records on a key issue like education really “unnecessary?” We’d say that’s exactly what campaign ads should be about. Debating education policy isn’t something you would call “personal,” not in the manner of (for example) GOP gubernatorial candidate Victor Mitchell’s acrimonious attacks on Stapleton’s Bush family lineage.

In the end, there’s more hand-wringing going on about the notion of “going negative” in this race than there is, well, anyone actually going negative. Tame issue-based exchanges like what we’re seeing between the Democratic candidates on education do not a “smear campaign” make. Not even close. And even if it was, it isn’t the candidates doing it.

This is why we’ve been here since 2004, folks. To help keep this perennial silliness in perspective.

Lawmakers, Marijuana Industry Slam Hickenlooper Vetoes

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

As the Denver Post’s Jesse Paul reports, anger over Gov. John Hickenlooper’s veto this week of several important marijuana bills that passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support has yet to subside, with proponents, bill sponsors, and the industry continuing to ask why the lame-duck beer-brewing governor chose to make such a public display of disdain for an industry that helped put Colorado on the map during his expiring term:

Four state lawmakers joined a group of marijuana advocates Thursday in blasting Gov. John Hickenlooper over his veto of three pot bills, saying the term-limited Democrat’s decisions threaten Colorado’s place as a leader on cannabis and hurt patients, consumers and businesses…

Hickenlooper turned down legislation that would have added autism to the list of conditions eligible for medical marijuana, allowed for pot “tasting rooms” and opened up the cannabis industry to investment by public companies.

Hooton was a prime sponsor of House Bill 1263, the medical marijuana for those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders legislation,and said she was especially upset by Hickenlooper’s decision since a bipartisan group of lawmakers spent months working on the measure. She called its veto “absolutely devastating.”

Here’s more from Rep. Edie Hooton of Boulder on the governor’s veto of House Bill 1263:

HB18-1263 passed the CO State House and Senate with broad bi-partisan support (90%). We worked countless hours with these tireless, committed families, and as legislators across the aisle, did our research and came to the same conclusion that seven other states, representing every region of the country, have already come to – recognizing the value of medical marijuana in significantly reducing the symptoms of autism – CA, FLA, MI, MA, PA, GA, DE. It took a lot of groundwork and collaboration to get this bill passed and was devastating to see it vetoed. I’ve already requested the bill for reintroduction next year with confidence that our next Governor will be more knowledgable about the value of [medical marijuana] and engaged in the legislative process…

While I definitely applaud the call to research, it isn’t going to help alleviate the hardships these families are experience now, or stop children from dying while we wait for it to happen. [Pols emphasis]

Colorado Public Radio’s Ann Marie Awad:

Much of the ire was focused on the veto of HB 18-1263, which would have added autism spectrum disorder to the list of qualifying conditions under the state’s medical marijuana program…

“We have to be here for our children,” Walker said. “We cannot risk losing them. We want to work with our doctors and medical professionals, and we want to do this legally and the right way.”

Walker and others also slammed the timing of the veto at the very end of the day Tuesday, right before Hickenlooper left town Wednesday.

“We respected you, and you vetoed our bill at 5:01 p.m., when we respectfully and cordially left the Capitol,” she said. “This is a slight to our families.”

Politically this unexpected series of vetoes of marijuana bills appears to be backfiring, with much more negativity about the vetoes in press coverage than discussion of Hickenlooper’s defenses offered in his veto letters. In the case of the autism bill, this anger at least partly results from Hickenlooper’s contradictory statements about the reasons–that there wasn’t enough data, then claiming flippantly that the bill could encourage youth marijuana use.

In all cases these were bills intended to resolve legitimate issues, crafted with stakeholders on all sides, and supported by legislative coalitions that spanned the ideological poles. Vetoing these bills, especially with a record as governor of only very rarely vetoing legislation passed with bipartisan support, leaves a permanent blemish on Hickenlooper’s image with no political upside we can see.

If that looks different by 2020, we’ll let you know. As of now it looks like a huge mistake.

Outrage Grows After Hickenlooper Vetoes Key Marijuana Bills

UPDATE: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis weighs in–and says he would have signed them both.

—–

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D).

Gov. John Hickenlooper held the final bill signing ceremony of the year yesterday, but most of the conversation today is about two marijuana bills vetoed in the last two days–bills that both passed the legislature with broad bipartisan support, intended to address significant issues related to its legal use. The Colorado Springs Independent reports on the veto of House Bill 18-1258, legislation to allow limited consumption of certain marijuana products at dispensaries who set up a proper space for it:

Currently, there are no legal places in Colorado to consume marijuana outside of a private home, making it difficult for renters, out-of-state tourists, and parents with young children to enjoy dispensary purchases. It’s possible that contributed to a 471 percent increase in citations for public cannabis consumption in the first three quarters of 2014, as Colorado Public Radio reported. Westword also reported that between the time of legalization in 2014 and 2017, Boulder saw a 54 percent climb.

The bill would have limited purchases in tasting rooms to 10 milligrams active THC in an infused product or one-quarter gram of marijuana concentrate. In compliance with the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act, customers would not have been allowed to smoke. Products would have had to be consumed on business premises.

The bill passed the Senate in late April with a 22-12 vote, and the House in early May with a 57-8 vote.

The governor’s stated reason for vetoing this legislation is the “concern” that allowing consumption of marijuana anywhere other than a private residence could lead to “additional impaired or intoxicated drivers on our roadways.” Notwithstanding the legal limbo that the absence of a legal place to consume marijuana leaves tourists in who come to our state to partake, creating a major policy conflict–by Hickenlooper’s logic, no one should ever be granted a liquor license again! After all, more places to drink would logically result in “additional impaired or intoxicated drivers on our roadways.” Right?

But our brewery owner governor doesn’t see it that way. And that’s not a good look.

The second bill vetoed by Gov. Hickenlooper has less of an economic impact, but has particularly upset parents of autistic children who earned considerable press this session in support of House Bill 18-1263–a bill to add autism spectrum disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for obtaining a medical marijuana card. CBS Denver:

Before Hickenlooper’s decision, parents of children with autism gathered outside the governor’s office at the state Capitol.

“We ask that the governor help our children. Our kids are dying. We can’t wait another year,” said Michelle Walker whose son has autism…

One mother brought prescription bottles to show what her child has taken. She came in hopes of legalizing marijuana for autism.

Hickenlooper’s statement to reporters after vetoing this bill seemed to go much farther than his official statement on the veto, which claimed the bill was vetoed “on the sole concern” that not enough study had been done on the usefulness of marijuana in the treatment of autism. But as the Denver Post reports:

“If we sign that bill we end up, without question, in some way encouraging more young people to look at this as an antidote for their problems,” he told reporters before turning down the legislation, House Bill 1263. [Pols emphasis]

For the families of autistic children who pleaded with the governor to sign this bill, and who won the public’s sympathy this spring with a high-visibility media campaign highlighting what their families go through and how marijuana has helped, this high-handed sermonizing about the message to “young people” is a shocking insult. This bill was not about enabling drug use by kids, it’s about treating a serious disorder on par with any of the qualifying conditions for medical marijuana today. That’s why the bill passed by a lopsided 53-11 margin in the House and near-unanimous 32-3 in the Senate.

Along with other recent lurches to the right like Hickenlooper’s endorsement of a work requirement for Medicaid and lip service to re-criminalizing marijuana entirely, these vetoes seem to be political moves to “sanitize” himself politically for a possible run for higher office. We don’t know exactly who is giving Hickenlooper the advice to take these actions, but it’s exactly the wrong way for him to be moving politically. Undoing any good will with the proponents of the autism bill by dismissing their concerns as an attempt to promote adolescent drug use, and punting the huge unresolved issue of legal marijuana consumption, is not how a governor shows leadership.

It’s how you prove you don’t deserve to be President.

The Grand Equivocator

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is getting beaten up on social media today because of his penchant for answering one question with two answers…and probably for good reason. Taking multiple sides of a single issue is not a new trick for Hick, but as John Frank of the Denver Post points out, the Governor’s wordplay is getting a little out of hand:


Frank is referencing this CNN story about the legalization of marijuana in Colorado (and around the country), in which Hickenlooper suggests that he wouldn’t rule out re-criminalizing the funky herb:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has two facts in front of him: Since 2014 crime has been rising in his state, outstripping the national trend, and since 2014 recreational use of marijuana has been legal.

Whether the two are connected is hotly debated — and if they are, then what? For the first time publicly, Hickenlooper told CNN he doesn’t rule out recriminalizing recreational marijuana, even if that’s a long shot.

“Trust me, if the data was coming back and we saw spikes in violent crime, we saw spikes in overall crime, there would be a lot of people looking for that bottle and figuring out how we get the genie back in,” he said. “It doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m not ruling it out.” [Pols emphasis]

Hickenlooper has never been particularly enthusiastic about legalizing marijuana in Colorado, and that’s fine. But going back and forth like this is a bad look for a guy who is trying to position himself for a potential run for President in 2020, and he’s been doing it a lot lately. Earlier this week we took note of a comment from Hickenlooper in a KUNC story about addressing sexual harassment at the State Capitol:

“There’s an argument that says let’s get it right, let’s not rush into action,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “That being said, there needs to be a sense of urgency.”

Yes, there are two sides to every story, and two sides to every coin, yada, yada, yada. But if Hickenlooper is going to have another act in his political future, it would behoove him to present himself as more of a leader and less of a mediator.

Colorado Democratic Assembly Results

Colorado Democrats assembled at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield from Friday, April 13, to Saturday, April 14, 2018. The crowd of almost 4,000 Democrats were enthusiastic, engaged, yet civil (in contrast to the stunning back-stabbing and skullduggery at the Republican assembly) . The CDP Assembly was superbly well-organized, with balloting completed in about a half hour, and counted in less than two hours.  Kudos to Chair Morgan Carroll and all of the CDP staff and volunteers.

All of the  congressional districts held their own assemblies; many candidates had primary challengers or Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents. In this “blue wave” year, no office held by the GOP can be considered to be off-limits. Democrats in Colorado put forward a slate of phenomenal candidates.

The official results from the Colorado Democratic Party (CDP) for statewide offices are:

CU Regent-at-Large
Lesley Smith: 3,229 votes (100.00%)

Based on these results, Lesley Smith has qualified for the Democratic primary ballot for CU Regent-at-Large.

Treasurer
Bernard Douthit: 1,074 votes (31.50%)
Charles Scheibe: 557 votes (16.34%)
Dave Young: 1,778 votes (52.16%)

Based on these results, Bernard Douthit and Dave Young have qualified for the Democratic primary ballot for Treasurer.

Secretary of State
Jena Griswold: 3,352 votes (98.44%)
Phillip Villard: 53 votes (1.56%)

Based on these results, Jena Griswold has qualified for the Democratic primary ballot for Secretary of State.

Attorney General
Amy Padden: 360 votes (10.54%)
Joe Salazar: 1,249 votes (36.58%)
Phil Weiser: 1,805 votes (52.87%)

Based on these results, Joe Salazar and Phil Weiser have qualified for the Democratic primary ballot for Attorney General. Amy Padden can qualify for the ballot if the Secretary of State determines that she has collected the requisite number of valid signatures.

Governor
Cary Kennedy: 2,101 votes (61.65%)
Jared Polis: 1,120 votes (32.86%)
Erik Underwood: 187 votes (5.49%)

Based on these results, Cary Kennedy and Jared Polis have qualified for the Democratic primary ballot for Governor.

NOTE: These are not all of the candidates that are running for these particular offices. Some candidates have chosen to qualify for the ballot by submitting petition signatures instead of going through the caucus-assembly process.

Here are the CD results in order: ( rounded to nearest 1%). I’ll update this list with numbers as I find them.

I’ve included my notes on the assemblies I attended and on the speakers I heard.

CD1: (Denver metro)Diana Degette – 61% . Her primary opponent, Saira Rao , got 37%, and  will be on the ballot. Rep. Degette has been a reliable Democratic vote for many years in a safe district – I think Rao’s candidacy will be a needed wake-up call to be more progressive and to offer better constituent services. Rao is sharp, a great speaker, and has energized the progressive base. Degette attended her CD1 assembly on April 13 , did not attend nor speak at the state assembly April 14.

CD2: (Boulder area – Jared Polis vacated the seat to run for Governor) Joe Negeuse – 91% Joe gave a helluva speech, as he always does. His personal story touches many people. Boulder will be well represented by him, as he’ll certainly win the primary, and almost certainly the general election. His primary opponent, Mark Williams, did not make the ballot.  The GOP has put up a couple of “Nicks” against Neguse: Nick Thomas and Nicholas Morse. I don’t know who won the GOP assembly vote, but they won’t beat “the Goose”.

CD3: (most of the western slope and SW CO – currently held by Scott Tipton) Diane Mitsch Bush had the highest delegate vote with 56%; Karl Harlon also cleared the 30% threshold with 41%, and will be on the ballot.

CD4: (Mostly NE CO – current incumbent Ken Buck) The Doctors were in the house! Veterinary doctors Karen McCormick and Chase Kohne each had throngs of energetic supporters on stage for their nominations. Each gave a rousing speech:

Kohne’s best line, in my opinion: “If you want to shoot an AR15, go down to the recruiting office and join the military.”

McCormick’s nominators are emphasizing Dr McCormick’s support for Dreamers and immigrants. Karen McCormick emphasized Cannabis, immigrant rights, healthcare, union support, bipartisan cooperation to get laws passed. Full disclosure: I live in CD4. I’m voting for McCormick, will be fine with Kohne as well.

CD5 (El Paso area, currently held by Doug Lamborn) Stephany Rose Spaulding won the delegate count and will be on the ballot. I don’t know about the other CD5 candidates, whom you can read about at the EPCO Young Dems site.  It’s great to see so many young Democrats running from what has6been the Tea Party GOP’s bastion in Colorado.

CD6 Aurora / Arapahoe County area, currently held by Mike Coffman. Jason Crow won top ballot with 64% , while Levi Tilleman will also be on the ballot with 35%. I saw Crow speak to the assembly, and found his persona to be authentic and appealing. PPP surveyed 761 voters, and found that Crow polled 44-39 against Coffman in Febrary 2018.

CD7 Ed Perlmutter, the Democratic incumbent, did not attend the Assembly as far as I know. Ed, a very popular Congressman in his district,  is not  being primaried in this election.

 

Author’s note – this diary started as an open thread based on my  live blogging at the Colorado State Assembly. I’ve updated it with ballot results.

 

 

Yes, Hick Might Someday Maybe Wannabe President

President? Yeah sure maybe.

The Denver Post’s politics page reports, and no it’s not the first time you’ve heard it, and no it’s not the last time you’ll hear it either before in the event that it becomes a thing:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is taking steps toward a presidential run in 2020, holding meetings with veteran political players, ahead of a visit to Iowa next month for an official trip that is sure to draw attention.

The Democrat’s actions in recent months signal to his closest associates and top party strategists that the former Denver mayor and two-term governor is more serious than ever about mounting a White House bid against President Donald Trump.

“John’s sense of timing in politics is his lucky star. It served him well when he ran for mayor and then governor. It may do the same for a run in 2020,” said Alan Salazar, Hickenlooper’s former chief political strategist.

Because we have addressed this possibility for as long as it’s been an item of speculation–in fact long before anybody seriously imagined Donald Trump becoming President of the United States besides Donald Trump–we’ll spare readers another long-winded rundown of the pros and cons of Gov. John Hickenlooper running for President in 2020. The short version is that Hickenlooper has led a relatively charmed political life in Colorado politics as an unconventional and sometimes lovable oddball whose record is fairly moderate but generally pro-Democratic–with a few well-known blind spots.

With that said, whether Hickenlooper has what it takes to become the next Bill Clinton–and we mean that in all the good ways–or is more like the next Martin O’Malley in what we can expect to be a large field of Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, is not at all something we feel comfortable predicting at this point. There is a sense of wide-open opportunity for Democrats after Trump’s chaotic likely-only term in office, but how Hickenlooper’s sometimes clunky “post-partisan” brand fits into this emerging new matrix is anybody’s guess. We’re not ready to buy proverbial stock, but we surely wouldn’t rule him out.

If Hick does pull it off, we’ll be excited to host the first Oval Office edition of The Get More Smarter Show.

Hick’s Swan Song State of the State

UPDATE: Denver Post:

Hickenlooper spoke at length about the plight of rural Colorado, singling out issues such as teacher shortages, jobs and rural broadband, as well as a hidden financial force that is steadily eroding the ability of rural communities to pay for public services. Next year, the Gallagher Amendment will trigger further reductions to property tax rates across the state, providing property tax relief to the Front Range but squeezing rural governments and school districts that are already struggling financially…

On economic development, the governor called for an expansion of apprentice programs, something he has long been pushing for. And he advocated for the continued expansion of renewable energy, even as Republicans are pushing to refocus the state Energy Office on carbon-based fuels like coal and gas and cut its budget by $1 million.

“What is it the critics don’t like?” he asked. “Is it the cleaner air or the lower utility bills?”

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Watch it here, and we’ll update with coverage after:

Top Ten Stories of 2017 #7: The House That Blew Up

Like smoking, lawn darts, and bars on cribs spaced just far enough apart for babies to stick their heads through, oil and gas development in Colorado wasn’t always considered to be a problem. It wasn’t controversial for several reasons–in addition to the lack of public knowledge of the health and safety risks. For decades, Colorado’s “split estate” mineral rights law establishing property rights under the surface of the land in addition to the rights of landowners on the surface operated without major conflicts. Colorado’s wide open spaces gave drillers plenty to explore, and the population centers along the Front Range didn’t have the most easily-accessible minerals underneath them.

But over time, two things happened: the increasingly urban Front Range started to expand into energy-producing areas, and a maturing technology for extracting oil and gas known as hydraulic fracturing put minerals under residential communities within economical reach. Because under Colorado law mineral rights have parity with the rights of surface landowners, within regulations controlled by the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission drillers are routinely allowed to override local zoning and place heavy industrial operations in the immediate vicinity of homes and schools.

As the political battle between concerned residents of local communities threatened by drilling and the energy industry has heated up in recent years, the industry has spent lavishly to influence Colorado’s political leadership on both sides of the aisle. This has resulted in gridlock at the Colorado legislature on the issue, especially for the last seven years under an avowedly pro-energy Democratic governor and frequently split control of the General Assembly. When citizens turned to the state’s initiative process to get relief by popular vote, the energy industry bankrolled 2016’s Amendment 71 to make it prohibitively harder to get constitutional measures on a statewide ballot.

Entering 2017, the fight over oil and gas drilling in Colorado was simmering but hardly boiling over. The success of Amendment 71, and the likelihood of no real movement on the issue until after Gov. John Hickenlooper leaves office, combined with the much bigger threat of the Trump administration over this and so many other issues left supporters of better protections feeling defeated.

On April 17th, a recently-built home in Firestone north of Denver suddenly exploded, killing two people and severely injuring two others inside. The home was totally destroyed in the explosion, which also damaged nearby homes and caused a fire that took hours to extinguish. Investigators determined that a flow line connected to a disused well owned by Anadarko Petroleum had not been properly disconnected from the well. Raw methane gas, lacking the telltale additive to warn of high concentrations by smell, began to flow again through this line, accumulating undetected in the basement of the home until being ignited accidentally by the homeowners with tragic results. After the explosion, more underground plumes of methane in the immediate area were discovered and vented.

The Firestone home explosion immediately brought the issue of oil and gas production near homes back to the fore. In this case, homes were built near abandoned wells from which methane had seeped, but that certainly doesn’t absolve the industry of responsibility of not just properly capping old wells but ensuring all infrastructure in place for energy extraction is rendered safe before homes are built over them. And obviously, if the industry is this careless with abandoned flow lines, it invites basic questions about how careful the industry is with everything else they do.

But in Denver, the industry’s sway over leadership on both sides of the aisle ensured little would change. A limited set of reforms announced by Gov. Hickenlooper in August fell pitifully short of addressing concerns, as the Denver Post reported:

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is asking oil and gas operators to pony up money to plug the 700 to 800 “orphan wells” in the state, but is shying from taking stances on more contentious policies, such as how close new homes can be built to existing wells.

The governor also won’t force the energy industry to allow state officials to compile a publicly available map of all oil and gas pipelines. Instead, he said he wanted to enhance the 811 call program to ensure homeowners can use their telephones to access pipeline information for site-specific areas. Hickenlooper said industry officials were concerned a comprehensive statewide map could lead to people illegally tapping pipelines to siphon off gas. [Pols emphasis]

Hickenlooper’s thoroughly ridiculous contention that scavengers might “siphon off gas” if the public is made aware of oil and gas pipelines running through their neighborhoods, and that this concern somehow trumps the rights of residents to know where these potentially deadly gas lines are located in relation to their homes, perfectly symbolizes the tone-deaf approach of his administration on oil and gas drilling–arguably Hickenlooper’s greatest failure in office. There is simply no way to overstate how offensive this was to concerned citizens in Firestone and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the industry attempted to vilify gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis by proxy in municipal elections in Greeley this fall, linking his donations to city council candidates with his support for better protections from drilling. That attempt turned disastrous after one of the candidates backed by the industry was revealed to be a convicted felon and whose seat on the Greeley City Council is now in doubt. It’s fair to say that Polis, who doesn’t support a “statewide fracking ban” but has supported initiatives for local control and wider setbacks from drilling, is not under the industry’s thumb. As a result Polis is set to face the most shrill attacks imaginable from the industry and their many supporters next year–to include lots of affected hand-wringing from pro-energy Democrats during the upcoming gubernatorial primary.

It has been our contention since before John Hickenlooper won the governor’s race in 2010 that at some point, Colorado Democrats will face a seminal choice–to continue alienating their base of support and swing votes in impacted communities by currying favor with the oil and gas industry in this state, or to face them down on behalf of affected communities once and for all. We believe based on our years of experience that the political risks to Democrats standing up to oil and gas are much smaller than conventional wisdom suggests, and indeed that much of said “conventional wisdom” is a fabrication of the industry’s bought-off mouthpieces in both parties. On the other hand, this issue has done more to anger the Democratic base in Colorado than perhaps any other in recent years, making the benefits of a new approach easy to recognize.

What’s it going to take for Democrats in Colorado to remember where their loyalties should lie?

The right candidate. And an election to prove it.

This Guy is Hickenlooper’s New Chief of Staff

Pat Meyers, apparently

Governor John Hickenlooper is losing top staffers like there’s a race to get out of the Capitol. This isn’t at all unusual for a Governor entering his final year in office, but it can still be pretty jarring — particularly when high-level staff members are replaced with people who are virtually unknown in political circles.

As the Denver Post explains regarding the departure of Hickenlooper Chief of Staff Doug Friednash:

Replacing Friednash will be businessman and lawyer Pat Meyers, who has held senior roles at the Colorado-based restaurant chains Quiznos and Smashburger.

For what Meyers has in business acumen, however, he is lacking in political experience — especially when compared to Friednash — as Hickenlooper prepares to work with a politically split legislature to complete his goals before leaving office…

…“We have so much still to do in the next 408 days,” Hickenlooper’s statement Monday announcing Meyers’ job said. “Pat will bring a broad variety of experience to that work. I can’t wait to get started.”

This would be the part of the story where we talk about the new guy and ponder his new role as the Governor’s right-hand-man…

So, yeah. Pat Meyers.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (October 5)

The Colorado Rockies made the playoffs this year, but you missed it if you didn’t catch Wednesday’s game in Arizona. 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 a visual learner, check out The Get More Smarter Show.

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Tens of thousands of Colorado children are in serious trouble if Congress does not renew funding for CHIP, the Children’s Health Insurance Program that expired at the end of September. The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday took the first step toward renewing CHIP funding with a bill sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma).

 

► Today is the last day for DACA recipients to renew permits before the process is closed under a policy shift announced last month by the Trump administration.

 

► Colorado Senate Republican leaders pledged not to do their jobs when the legislature convened for a brief session to fix an unintentional legislative error this week, and they succeeded in doing nothing once again. But the decisions of Republican leaders such as Senate President Kevin Grantham are looking even worse with the news that legislation to fix SB-267 would have passed in the Senate had a floor vote been permitted.

State Sen. Chris Holbert is among those Republican leaders whose reputations took a hit this week. Holbert was quoted by the Denver Post saying that he “did not swear an oath to uphold the opinion of a court” and preferred to follow his constituents’ interpretation of the State Constitution rather than, you know, facts.

 

► Former Judge Roy Moore, who easily defeated Sen. Luther Strange in a Republican Primary in Alabama last month, showed up unexpectedly in Washington D.C. on Wednesday and caused quite a stir. As the Washington Post reports, Moore apparently met with NRSC head Cory Gardner, despite the best efforts of both men to pretend othewise:

Rather than meeting with McConnell, Moore was on the House side of the Capitol on Wednesday. In a brief interview as he left the office of Rep. Robert B. Aderholt in the afternoon, Moore said he had no meetings set up with McConnell or members of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate majority’s campaign arm, which spent millions trying to defeat Moore in the primary.

“Nothing confirmed,” he said casually, as an aide tried to head off questions. Asked why he decided to come to Washington, Moore simply replied: “Beautiful place.”

In the evening, Moore met with the NRSC chairman, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), according to a Republican close to Gardner and a second Republican familiar with the talk who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door session. Moore’s campaign declined to comment.

The meeting appeared to be hastily arranged, given Moore’s afternoon remark and Gardner’s uncertainty earlier in the day, as he and other Republicans struggled to save face.

“I haven’t looked at the schedule — I don’t know that yet,” Gardner said around midday, when asked whether he planned to meet with Moore.

The entire story is worth a read; Republicans who feared Moore and his right-wing supporters seem to have plenty of reason to be nervous. Moore’s Senate campaign was also a referendum on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom the Alabama nominee has openly criticized.

 

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Winners and Losers from Special Session are Obvious…and Troubling

Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham does the bidding of AFP

The special legislative session ended on Tuesday when Senate Republicans killed the second of two bills aimed at fixing an unintended glitch from the 2017 session that is costing special tax districts millions of dollars.

As Ernest Luning writes for the publication formerly known as the Colorado Statesman, the “winners and losers” from the special session help tell an all-too-familiar tale of an era where right-wing special interest groups have a stranglehold on Republican lawmakers. The big winner this week, as Luning explains, is the Koch brother-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP):

The conservative organization hit the special session early and hit it hard, mobilizing hundreds of members and supporters to contact legislators to make their opposition clear, and it worked. Not every Republican was on board with the strictest reading of TABOR’s requirements when the call went out, but by the time lawmakers filled the Capitol, AFP’s approach was widely shared and set the tone for the GOP. A deluge of digital ads over the weekend ahead of the session — five figures’ worth, state director Jesse Mallory said — helped reinforce the party line. The session also gave AFP a second chance to whack at Senate Bill 267, which has come under heavy fire from conservatives for lifting the state’s revenue ceiling allowed under TABOR, as well as flouting a constitutional requirement that a bill have a single subject.

Luning lists Senate Democrats as the only other “winner” of the special session, arguing that Senate Republicans put themselves in a tough spot with the voting public as they try to maintain their one-vote majority in the state Senate.

The big losers of the special session are easy to find: Colorado’s middle and working class. Buses, hospitals, museums and zoos will all suffer because Senate Republicans were more interested in proving their fealty to AFP than in doing right by hard-working Coloradans:

Nine special districts across the state — from the Denver metro area’s Regional Transportation District and Scientific and Cultural Facilities District to regional transportation authorities in El Paso County and some mountain towns and a hospital district in Montezuma — won’t be banking a total of roughly $590,000  in recreational marijuana sales tax each month the law remains as it is…

…the governor said he was calling the session because special districts insisted they faced a funding emergency — and couldn’t wait until January for a regular-session fix — and they came up empty-handed.

Republican lawmakers will tell themselves that they did the right thing because groups like AFP are happy, but as the Denver Post opined on Monday, “none of that background noise justifies blocking the simple-fix legislation.”

BREAKING: GOP Kills Pot Tax Funding Fix, Special Session Fails

UPDATE: Colorado House Democrats aren’t happy with this outcome:

“We presented a constitutionally sound measure to fix a mistake that will impact Coloradans across the state,” said Majority Leader KC Becker, House sponsor of HB17B-1001. “Unfortunately, after we assembled for the special session, the other party chose to waste this opportunity to get this right. It’s very disappointing that they chose partisan politics over Coloradans who have repeatedly asked for these services.”

HB17B-1001 would have corrected what all parties agree was a drafting error in SB17-267, a bipartisan bill passed during the 2017 regular session that averted more than half a billion dollars in cuts to hospitals across the state. Among the earlier bill’s many provisions was a change to the collection of revenues on retail marijuana. The drafting mistake unintentionally prevented some special districts – the Regional Transportation District and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District in the Denver metro area, as well as rural transportation districts across the state, a housing district in Summit County and a hospital district in Montezuma County – from collecting revenues on retail marijuana sales.

“We’re talking impacts to real Coloradans,” Speaker Duran said. “The Summit County worker who’ll have a harder time finding an affordable apartment. The Lakewood retiree who needs the bus to get to the grocery store and the doctor. The voters have asked for these services and it’s unfortunate that this unintended omission will continue to have impacts for Coloradans.”

Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman:

“The Colorado General Assembly was not at its best over these past two days, and that is profoundly disappointing. This error is costing counties like Pitkin, Eagle, and San Miguel thousands in transportation dollars, and could result in services like rides for the disabled being cut, or perhaps bus fares being increased,” said Senator Guzman.

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That’s the word from the Colorado Capitol moments ago: the special session of the Colorado General Assembly called by Gov. John Hickenlooper to fix a drafting error in legislation that has cut off special tax districts around the state from marijuana tax revenues will end in failure after the GOP-controlled Senate Transportation Committee killed the House’s bill:

This outcome wasn’t a surprise, of course, having been signaled clearly last week by GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham when he called for the governor to rescind his order for the special session. There will be much more to say about the failure of Senate Republicans to cooperate with fixing what everyone agrees was an unintentional mistake that is costing special tax districts from Denver RTD to the Montezuma Hospital District millions in lost revenues. And when the legislature reconvenes in January, GOP good faith is by no means assured–apparently now being divided into camps that agree the legislature can address the problem, versus those who claim that any such error no matter how silly in tax policy legislation is constitutionally required to go to the voters. If the latter camp prevails, the special districts are looking at much greater losses in the coming year, and no guarantees even then.

Which amounts to a completely ridiculous outcome. Anyone who thinks this makes the 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) or the law’s dogmatic defenders look good has got rocks in their heads.

For the “business community” and others who have supported Republicans and paid lip service to the benefits of split control of the legislature–but also supported fiscal policies like the hospital provider fee, the FASTER vehicle registration fees, and fixing the error in SB17-267–this outcome is a slap in the face. Or at least it should be, if the constructive and moderate image these interests want to project has any meaning at all. Once again, we have Republican leadership over the narrow Senate majority killing what basically everyone else in the state wanted to see happen. If Republican Senate leadership had wanted this bill to make it to the floor, it would have, and it would have passed with bipartisan support just like it passed the House.

Could Democrats have managed the politics of this special session better? Of course–but in the context of obstruction and bad faith from one-third of the elected government of the state, you can’t blame Hickenlooper or Democrats for what happened. This was not even one side of the aisle, but one faction of that one side, who was more interested in pleasing ideologues than doing the right thing. It will be an election issue in 2018.

Stand by for updates.

Special Session Kicks Off With (Wait For It) GOP Bad Faith

UPDATE #4: The editorial board of the Denver Post tears into Republicans for their actions today:

Colorado’s Republican lawmakers blew off responsibility on the first day of a special legislative session Monday, when three GOP lawmakers cast a spiteful, obstructionist vote to score political points and punish innocent government entities with small but significant erroneous budget cuts.

Clearly, the three Republican senators who cast that very vote on Monday, signaling the end to the October special session just as it began, don’t have an answer for their scorn-worthy actions.

As we wrote in this space on Friday, refusing to do their job isn’t going to have a happy ending for Colorado Republicans.

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UPDATE #3: Meanwhile, a more hopeful picture in the Colorado House as the SB17-267 fix passes its first committee with bipartisan support:

Good job, Rep. Dan Thurlow, but make sure somebody else taste-tests your dinner tonight.
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UPDATE #2: The first attempt in the Colorado Senate to fix SB17-267 dies in the Transportation Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote.

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UPDATE: In the interest of transparency, we’ve posted the full text of the draft bill from Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg to fix the SB17-267 glitch after the jump. Perhaps it will inspire more interested parties to question why exactly we can’t do this now…?

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Colorado Senate President Kevin Grantham.

As Joey Bunch of the news outlet formerly known as the Colorado Statesman reports, the Colorado House and Senate have gaveled in and are now starting the process of debating legislation to fix a drafting error in Senate Bill 17-267: an error costing special tax districts millions of dollars in uncollected tax revenue.

How far they get in that process, though, is anybody’s guess:

Colorado Senate Republicans said Monday morning, at the dawn of special session, they needed the extra three and half months before the next regular session to find a solution to fix a bill they helped mess up in the last regular session.

“There’s been a lot of controversy and firestorm about what’s getting ready to happen here today, and a lot of back of forth with the first floor, the governor’s office, whether we’re going to have a special session or not have one and what’s going to happen,” Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said Monday morning.

As of this writing the Senate Transportation Committee is hearing legislation to fix the error, so we’d say the question of whether “to have a special session or not” is moot. But the question remains wide open as to what the one-seat GOP Senate majority will allow to get through their chamber, if anything. Following up on our first report about a bill already in the works from GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg for the 2018 regular session in January, reporter Marianne Goodland has Sonnenberg ignominiously walking back the whole thing:

Sonnenberg had been working on a draft bill intended to address the problem, but a bill he didn’t plan to introduce until next January. And Sonnenberg indicated Sunday the bill doesn’t address a growing concern over the constitutionality of the fix. The measure’s intent to restore revenue to special districts that were inadvertently stripped of those dollars is now raising questions whether voters will ultimately have to decide that issue…

But since he began working on that draft, Sonnenberg’s views on the constitutionality of the fix have changed. He told Colorado Politics that once the draft started circulating, legislative leaders started raising questions about whether the fix, which would restore tax revenue to those special districts, might be something voters will have to decide.

After Republicans came under pressure from activist groups like the Independence Institute and Americans for Prosperity-Colorado announced their displeasure with Gov. John Hickenlooper for calling the special session, Sen. Sonnenberg’s bill explicitly acknowledging the problem and showing the roadmap to a relatively easy fix became a serious political liability–not just for Sonnenberg, but every Republican groping for a reason to oppose the special session. So the screws got turned, and Sonnenberg appears to have lost his nerve.

The argument that voter approval is required to fix this error simply doesn’t hold water. On the matter of marijuana taxes, Colorado voters have weighed in three times in recent years–in 2012 with the passage of Amendment 64, and then twice more with Propositions AA and BB clarifying that yes, despite whatever faulty language in the original proposal that may not have fully complied with the byzantine 1992 Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR), the people do want marijuana to be taxed.

Once you understand the details here, forcing special tax districts to wait for the legislature to convene in January–or worse yet, making them wait for a referred measure that likely wouldn’t come before next November–is a completely needless breakdown of functional government. In any practical messaging sense, this is a terrible predicament for Republicans to launch a defense of TABOR from. In this case, they are using an interpretation of TABOR so stilted that basically no one agrees with them except perhaps for TABOR’s convicted felon tax evader author Doug Bruce. And they are using it to do real harm, over what everyone agrees was an unintentional mistake.

Most observers we’ve talked to do believe legislation to fix this error would pass the Colorado Senate if it makes it to the floor. So as of now, the choice of whether the special session will be a further waste of money in an effort to fix an error that’s costing much more money rests with GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham.

Stay tuned for updates as they come in.

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Republicans Compound Bad Ideas with Bad Decisions

“Privacy Scarf,” Senate President Kevin Grantham

“There are no bad ideas, just bad decisions.”

You’ve probably heard a variation of that quote at some point in your life, and there are plenty of examples to back it up. The “Privacy Scarf” was an actual (bad) idea that someone once had for a new product. Fortunately, nobody ever made the equally-bad decision to invest money in the mass production of this product.

Where you really get into trouble in life is when you follow up a bad idea with a bad decision…which brings us to Colorado Republican lawmakers and next week’s “special session.” Two weeks ago, Governor John Hickenlooper called for a “special legislative session” so that lawmakers could make a quick fix to an inadvertent error from the 2017 legislative session, and Republicans are now pledging to not do their jobs.

To briefly recap the situation, a key bipartisan fiscal stabilization bill (SB17-267) was passed this year and signed into law to protect rural hospitals from possible closure. Unknown to either its Democratic or Republican sponsors, the bill contained a drafting error that has had the effect of eliminating marijuana sales tax revenues collected by special tax districts around the state – two of the better examples being Denver RTD and the Denver metro’s Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SFCD), which includes the Denver Zoo and the Museum of Natural History; RTD alone stands to lose millions of dollars in uncollected revenue between now and when the legislature reconvenes in January. Rural hospitals and transportation districts also face significant revenue losses.

As John Frank writes for the Denver Post, these revenue shortfalls necessitate a quick fix to the problem that can’t wait for the legislature to reconvene in January:

The sense of urgency in certain parts of the state is what prompted Gov. John Hickenlooper to call state lawmakers back into a special session to fix legislation that mistakenly exempted retail marijuana from sales taxes in nine special districts around the state.

But not all share the same outlook. The leaders of the Republican-controlled state Senate made clear they plan to adjourn the special session without passing legislation to fix the glitch. [Pols emphasis]

Republican lawmakers, led by Senate President Kevin Grantham, are all bent out of shape over the idea of the special session. The GOP’s opposition here is more about hurt feelings than anything else, with Republican leaders complaining that Hickenlooper didn’t do enough to consult them before calling the special session.

What Republicans cannot do with a straight face is pretend that this is a problem that doesn’t need fixing; state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg was already preparing legislation on the matterOn Friday, Hickenlooper called out Republican lawmakers over their stubborn refusal to work with Democrats to address the problem, as Brian Eason reports for the Denver Post:

“What do they benefit? (How) does the conservative principles of the Republican Party benefit?” Hickenlooper said. “The only people who really benefit are the marijuana smokers and fundraising support of the Republicans.

“This is turning into a political circus,” he added. “It defies logic, from my perspective.”

Are Republicans really going to show up for the special session on Monday and essentially just refuse to do their jobs? Approval ratings for the Republican Party recently hit an all-time low, in large part because people are fed up with the GOP’s inability to get anything done; yet here again Republicans are preparing to hand Democrats another stick to beat them with in 2018? This kind of boneheaded decision could prove fatal for the re-election hopes of someone like state Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, who is already on record opposing the original legislation.

This debacle for Grantham and friends is similar to how someone like Sen. Cory Gardner ends up paralyzed on healthcare reform because he is terrified about what a couple of big donors are saying. Republicans seem to be so completely beholden to a handful of interest groups that they can no longer even register the tar pit right in front of them.