Politics

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Election Day jitters? It's OK if you don't have your ballot yet

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2018 at 4:49 PM

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We made a cool Instagram post recently to remind people to vote in the midterm election, and got a couple of comments from some proactive voters. They were wondering why only half of their household's ballots had arrived in the mail.

It sounded worrisome, because the only thing worse than not being able to vote, is not being able to vote while watching a family member vote for the people you don't like. Right?

Turns out, it's too early to worry. Kristi Ridlen, spokesperson for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office, calls this "a very common issue."

"That happens to a lot of households and to a lot of people, where you’ll get some ballots one day, you’ll get some the next day and then you could get the remaining two days later," Ridlen says. "It’s a mass mailing, pretty much, is what it is, so depending on if it gets shuffled around when they’re processing that mail at the U.S. Postal Service, that tends to happen."

If you don't have your ballot by the end of the day Friday, Oct. 19, and have ensured that your current address is on file by visiting govotecolorado.com, Ridlen says to give her office a call at 719/575-VOTE (8683).
Ballots aren't forward-able, Ridlen notes, so it's important to make sure that your address is updated. The deadline for doing so is Oct. 29.

All ballots must be returned to the Clerk’s Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 6, to be counted. (Postmarked ballots received after that won't be counted.)

You can vote in one of three ways:

1) Mail your ballot back with extra postage. Don't just slap a stamp on it — that won't be enough to mail your ballot. Total postage of $0.71 is needed because the ballot is two sheets.

2) Drop it off. A complete list of ballot drop boxes, open 24/7 and under video surveillance, is located here.

3) Vote in person. Voter Service and Polling Centers in El Paso County are listed here. (You can also visit these centers to register to vote, update your address, drop off a ballot or replace a soiled ballot.)

Visit epcvotes.com for more information on the upcoming election.

And if you need a ride, Lyft and Uber are both offering free and discount transportation to polling places on Election Day.

Lyft is distributing promo codes for 50 percent off rides to voting locations, through nonprofits including Vote.org, Nonprofit Vote and TurboVote. The company will offer free rides to underserved communities in partnership with Voto Latino, local Urban League affiliates, the National Federation of the Blind and more. The app will also include a tool to help passengers find a polling location.

Uber will add a "Get to the Polls" button to its app Nov. 6 to help voters find their nearest polling places and quickly book a ride. The company is also working with nonprofits #VoteTogether and Democracy Works to provide free rides to the polls. Those nonprofits will select certain areas, probably those that have a high need from a transportation perspective, and distribute codes that way, Elite Daily reports.
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Monday, October 15, 2018

Tony Wolusky wants to be on University of Colorado's Board of Regents

Posted By on Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 8:17 AM

Dr. Tony Wolusky - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Dr. Tony Wolusky
After the Indy endorsements were released this week, we received a lot of email and phone calls.
There were a few thank yous in there, along with some complaints, and a few candidates disappointed that we hadn't made an endorsement in their race.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: It was a very long ballot this year, and we just couldn't  examine every race.

Still, one call stood out. Dr. Tony Wolusky, the Democrat running for University of Colorado Board of Regents in District 5 (that's us) said he had been frustrated by the lack of attention on the race — especially since it was such a key role when it comes to controlling student debt.

OK, you got us Wolusky. We're pretty sympathetic to that issue. It's hard not to be considering how the heavy burden of debt steers a young person's life and opportunities. Plus the nine-member regent board, long dominated by Republicans, does a lot of important things like pick the next president of the CU system, for instance, and approve the budget, set policies, determine degree programs and (important to Wolusky's point) decide whether to raise, lower or freeze tuition.

While we still aren't endorsing in the race, we agreed to meet and talk with Wolusky about his race against Republican Chance Hill, and we encourage you to learn more about your regent candidates.

Here are a few things Wolusky wanted to point out:
• Big student debt loads (the average in Colorado in 2017 was estimated to be $26,095 by the Congress & Student Debt report) take young people years to pay off and create a lot of emotional pressure in their lives. Wolusky, who teaches at several colleges, has had students at Pikes Peak Community College who couldn't afford textbooks and says about half his students at Metropolitan State University of Denver are single moms. Food insecurity is incredibly common among his students. The CU system, he says, doesn't need to cost students so much. Perhaps it could cut back on salaries, some of which are near $1 million (and that isn't including the multimillion dollar contract given to CU's head coach).
He adds that the system spends too much on "prestige projects," such as huge figures expended on marketing, when it could use that money to help students. CU ranks 48th nationally in state funding for higher education. "They do a lot of things," he says, "that I think are a way to pat yourself on the back."
If the system could cut back on such expenses, he says, perhaps it could at least freeze tuition for a year instead of raising it. The system might also be able to offer students with heavy course loads some free classes each semester.

• Wolusky is a big proponent of diversity in the system. He notes that many young minority students are priced out of the system. That's a particular shame, he says, because one of the most enriching part of college should be learning about, and befriending people, who are different than you.

• Stopping sex assault on campus has to be a major priority, Wolusky says. He thinks we should educate students within the first month, focusing particularly on men. Wolusky says that in his time as an attorney he saw how deeply scarred victims of sexual assault are and wants to do whatever he can to prevent it.

• Wolusky says the current regents spend too much time on political issues, saying he's witnessed them discussing the need to classify conservative students as "minorities" and offer them the same support as, say, students of color. Another time, he says, the regents spent a long time talking about how to take the word " liberal" out of liberal arts.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs - THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT COLORADO SPRINGS
  • The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
  • The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Here are a few things you should know about Wolusky's background:
• He went to the Air Force Academy and served in the Air Force for 28 years, even teaching at the AFA as an Associate Professor of Law and serving as the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for the Superintendent before retiring from active duty in Colorado Springs in 2004.

• He has five degrees: A bachelor's in public administration and international relations, a master's in education, a master's in international relations, a juris doctorate and a Ph.D. in education. (In contrast, Sue Sharkey, the current chair of the Board of Regents, which oversees the entire CU system, doesn't have any degree.)

• He teaches and has taught at many colleges including current stints at Pikes Peak Community College and Metropolitan State University of Denver.

• He's an attorney with 30 years experience who has served both as a deputy district attorney and a public defender.

• He has four daughters and a grandson.
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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Crowdfunding for small businesses just got a little easier

Posted By on Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 11:12 AM

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  • Shutterstock.com
Think GoFundMe, but for amateur investors: Colorado's small businesses could get a leg up thanks to new rules governing crowdfunding.

In 2015, Colorado lawmakers approved a bill to help startups use crowdfunding for investment, essentially by selling stocks through an online marketplace. At the time, says Rep. Pete Lee, a Democrat from Colorado Springs who sponsored the bill, "the biggest complaint we were hearing from businesses was the difficulty of raising capital."

The intent behind the Colorado Crowdfunding Act was to help small businesses get investors without having to go through the complex state securities registration process. However, the state Division of Securities' first rules on crowdfunding, issued a few months after the legislation was passed, were cumbersome, says securities lawyer Herrick Lidstone.

"Everything that the securities division did in its rulemaking was afforded by the legislation, but the difficulties that were created bore no relationship to economic reality for small businesses seeking to raise capital," Lidstone says.

Those difficulties included a requirement that businesses use a broker or online intermediary, that the minimum offering be no less than half of the maximum offering, and that the minimum offering be held in an escrow account.

"Anything where you’re raising capital is subject to possible abuse, and that’s something that the legislature and the securities division are properly concerned about," Lidstone says. "But my experience with many regulators is that they assume abuse. I would like them to assume that people are really intending to be honest, which is my experience as a lawyer."
Pete Lee: "I think this could be a real shot in the arm for small businesses." - FILE PHOTO
  • file photo
  • Pete Lee: "I think this could be a real shot in the arm for small businesses."

Lidstone and other experts on securities law recommended changes to the Division of Securities, and on July 31 — more than three years after the original legislation was passed — new rules were put in place that Lidstone, as well as Securities Commissioner Gerald Rome, feel will make crowdfunding a more appetizing solution for small businesses looking to raise capital.

"It’s important that we enable small companies to access capital through the capital markets, and it’s difficult for them to do that simply because usually they don’t have a track record," Rome says. "It’s just a difficult stage in the growth of their company to go out and get institutional investors to invest in their company. So [crowdfunding] is a means of allowing a large number of people to invest in a local, small business here."

Now, businesses looking to raise less than $500,000 in a year don't have to go through an online intermediary, which Lidstone says can be expensive. They also don't have to comply with the minimum-offering requirement.

Also, the new rules allow a person helping a small company to have an ownership — something that was previously prohibited. "As you may know in the equity world, one of the things that might reduce the cost to the small business issuer is to say, you help me with these things, and I’ll give you a piece of my pie," Lidstone says.

There are still disclosure requirements in place for businesses looking to start crowdfunding, and the rules require the investor and issuer to reside in Colorado. While there are federal rules that accommodate crowdfunding, Lidstone says they aren't particularly friendly to small businesses.

Rome says he doesn't believe anyone has taken advantage of the changes yet, and advises interested businesses to contact the Division of Securities. (You can reach them at  DORA_SecuritiesWebsite@state.co.us.)

The businesses best suited to crowdfunding are those that already have community backing in place, Rome says: "If you’re running, say, a small brewery and you want to expand, or maybe a small restaurant you want to expand, then the people that are going to invest in your company through crowdfunding are the people that go and show up at your brewery or show up at your restaurant."

"I think this could be a real shot in the arm for small businesses," Lee says. "And as we know, small businesses drive the economy."
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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Land and Water Conservation Fund faces uncertain future

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 9:53 AM

The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE PHOTO/ WALKER HALL
  • National Park Service Photo/ Walker Hall
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

Without action by Congress, a fund that's helped to pay for the conservation of public lands since 1965 is on hold.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired Sept. 30, bought and preserved land, water and recreation areas with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas money.

Since 1965, Colorado has received more than $268 million from the fund, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a group advocating for its reauthorization. The money has paid for projects in Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Arapaho National Forest, Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch and more.

As of Oct. 2, U.S. parks had lost more than $3.6 million in funding as a result of Congress' failure to reauthorize it, according to the LWCF Coalition. (The organization has an automatically updating online counter that tracks funds "lost," based on the $900 million deposited annually.)

A total of $40 billion was deposited in the fund over its 54-year lifespan, though less than half of that was appropriated by Congress. Of the $18.4 billion spent, 61 percent went to federal land acquisition, 25 percent went to the state grant program and 14 percent was spent on other purposes, according to the Congressional Research Service. The other funds were diverted elsewhere.

A measure to permanently restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund passed in the House Natural Resources Committee in September, but the measure has not yet reached the chamber floor. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was expected to consider similar legislation Oct. 2.

Both bills would dedicate a minimum of $10 million from the fund each year to "projects that secure recreational public access to existing Federal public land for hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes."

A coalition of more than 70 Colorado business owners and leaders in August signed a letter addressed to the state's representatives in Congress, urging them to reauthorize the fund.

"LWCF funding has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars of state, local, and private
matching funds to contribute to the betterment of Colorado and well-being of its citizens,
and its reauthorization is critical to our future," they wrote. "Now more than ever, with the rapid
expansion of Colorado’s population and ever more common water shortages throughout
the Colorado River basin, Coloradans need the tool of LWCF to protect public land access,
critical drinking water supplies, and community resources."

Colorado legislators from both parties have jumped aboard the LWCF train. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet are cosponsors of the Senate reauthorization measure, while Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) have signed on in support of the House measure. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), serves on the Natural Resources Committee and voted in favor of advancing the legislation, the Colorado Sun reports.

Gardner and Bennet, original cosponsors of the Senate measure, co-authored a July 24 guest editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera championing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"LWCF is a critical tool for fulfilling our basic responsibility to give the next generation the same opportunities our parents and grandparents gave to us. It is time for Congress to stop the serial, short-term extensions of this program and make LWCF permanent with the full dedicated funding it deserves," they wrote.

Jonathan Asher, senior representative for the Wilderness Society, called actions in the House and Senate "really great signs," but predicted that legislation reauthorizing the fund is more likely to pass as part of next year's budget than as a stand-alone bill.
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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sheriff Bill Elder files only "vote yes" statement for the sheriff's sales tax

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2018 at 5:24 PM

Sheriff Bill Elder was the only one to file a statement in support of extending for eight years the sheriff's sales tax, ballot measure 1A on the Nov. 6 ballot. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder was the only one to file a statement in support of extending for eight years the sheriff's sales tax, ballot measure 1A on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The Nov. 6 election is less than six weeks away and it appears no committee has been formed to campaign for El Paso County's 1A, a continuation of the .0023 percent sheriff's sales tax.

Moreover, only one "pro" statement has been filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office for the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights Notice, and it was filed by Sheriff Bill Elder, although his name initially was withheld from the public. More on that later.

The measure would extend the eight-year sales tax first approved by voters in 2012 for a second eight years, or through 2028. County officials estimated the tax would raise $17 million the first year, but receipts exceeded that, resulting in a lawsuit. An appeal of a judgment in favor of the county was filed in March with the Colorado Court of Appeals.
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A search of active committees for campaigns in El Paso County filed with the Secretary of State showed no committee formed to support 1A. Advocates who spend $200 or more on campaigning for an issue must file reports. (A committee formed to support the measure in 2012, when then-Sheriff Terry Maketa was riding a wave of support, spent only about $7,000.)

The deadline to file TABOR "pro" and "con" statements, summaries of which will be mailed soon to all voters, was Sept. 21. Three people filed "con" statements but only Elder filed a "pro" statement.

In it, Elder argues, "This proposal creates no new or increased taxes while assuring the continuation of dedicated and restricted funding solely to support public safety needs throughout El Paso County. These include crime prevention, criminal investigation and the mandated detention operation in the jail."

He also notes that calls for service have gone up by 57 percent since 2012, while the daily average inmate population has increased by 24 percent. Elder also says the tax:
...currently pays for more than 190 Sheriff's Office employees working in all bureau. It provides resources needed for increased illegal marijuana enforcement and multi-jurisdictional task forces targeting organized violent criminal activity that includes manufacturing and distribution of various types of dangerous drugs, motor vehicle and vehicle parts theft operations and human trafficking. It also provides resources for a Jail Veterans Ward addressing specific needs of veterans, a Rural Enforcement Unit and additional patrol deputies in the rapidly growing Falcon area.
But the Clerk and Recorder's Office initially released the statement with no name, signature or address. (The other filings contained names and addresses. State law stipulates that pro-con statements must be filed by registered voters and bear their names and addresses.)

Asked about that, county director of elections Angie Leath explained that Elder is a "confidential voter," so, therefore, his name and address were removed from the TABOR "pro" statement. A confidential voter is one who signs an affirmation to have their voter registration information kept secret. That information includes their address, among other data points.

After we asked about Elder's name and address being withheld, we were sent a new Elder statement bearing his name.

Leath says confidential voting status is granted to law enforcement officers, judges, elected officials and others who believe they might be in danger if someone could their address, including stalking victims.

"We have a lot of law enforcement who sign up as a confidential voter," she says.

There are more than 800 confidential voters in El Paso County, according to County Attorney Amy Folsom.

As for the three statements urging a "no" vote on 1A, portions of those submissions follow, and all four statements in full are posted below.

Douglas Bruce, author of TABOR, former county commissioner and state legislator who was convicted of tax evasion:
This is not about backing cops; it's about overpaying incompetent commissioners who can't balance a budget the way your family must. Read their vague "to do" list; the money is for general overhead.... Our combined sales tax rate is 8.25%. Higher than Denver! THE HIGHEST BIG CITY SALES TAX RATE IN COLORADO. This "temporary" tax is not needed. Your "NO" vote will force it down to 8.02% in 2021 — a step in the right direction. 
Unsuccessful primary candidate for sheriff Mike Angley wrote comments opposing the sheriff's tax extension. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Unsuccessful primary candidate for sheriff Mike Angley wrote comments opposing the sheriff's tax extension.
Mike Angley, Republican candidate for sheriff in the June primary who lost to Elder:
The County has had six years to find a permanent solution to the temporary Public Safety Tax but has failed to do so. Poor management should not become a burden on the taxpayer today. County Question I A merely ducks responsibility.... The main purpose of the original Public Safety Tax was to provide for more manpower in both patrol and detention at the Sheriffs Office. For the last four years, the Sheriff's Office has seen double-digit attrition losses to the point that patrol and jail manning are now at dangerously low levels. If the County has failed to accomplish what the original tax was approved for why should residents trust the County to get it right with a second chance?
Roger Bishop Jr.:
The Sheriffs Department commissioned two reports on how to improve the Department they will not release to you, the taxpayer who paid over $70,000... Halfway through the current term the leadership commissioned a 2nd report at a cost of $14,900 that had 52 new recommendations — but the Sheriffs Department leadership never had the firm finish the report! Why did we waste money on reports?... The Sheriffs Department spent more on frivolous reports than on a deputy's salary. Wouldn't you want to implement some of the recommendations made in a report you paid for? If the Sheriffs Department wants additional money, why not be transparent in how the money is currently being spent?
Here are all four statements submitted to the county for the TABOR notice.
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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Stephany Rose Spaulding talks gun safety with Moms Demand Action founder

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 4:19 PM

House District 5 candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding, left, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts. - COURTESY OF STEPHANY ROSE FOR CONGRESS
  • Courtesy of Stephany Rose for Congress
  • House District 5 candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding, left, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Stephany Rose Spaulding, the Democrat hoping to unseat Rep. Doug Lamborn, say they often cry when they're together.

A Sept. 25 town hall featuring the pair at Colorado College was no exception. The tears flowed more than once during a conversation about gun safety, local politics and the importance of intersectionality in activism.

Spaulding and Watts both addressed the idea that they're fighting respective uphill battles: Spaulding in a Republican district that's easily elected Lamborn six times, and Watts in a legislative landscape that has long been shaped by the powerful gun lobby.

Spaulding, a licensed minister and associate professor of women's and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said she decided to run for Congress after attending the Women's March in Washington.

"This is not the easiest district to be an African-American woman who is progressive and a pastor," Spaulding said. "...So what if it's hard? Life is hard!...In life we don't get to back down just because it is hard and there are roadblocks."

Spaulding recalled that some had asked her why she didn't want to enter a local race instead, perhaps for a seat on City Council or the Board of County Commissioners.

"We do not tell white boys who wake up in the morning and scratch themselves not to run for whatever office," she pointed out to laughter.

Watts' involvement in politics was also born of a single defining event: After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, she founded Moms Demand Action to demand "common-sense" gun reforms. The organization now has chapters in all 50 states.

Watts acknowledged that despite polling that shows a shift in American attitudes about the Second Amendment, it's hard to overcome groups such as the National Rifle Association that have for decades donated to politicians' campaigns and given them favorable ratings in exchange for legislation that benefits gun manufacturers.

"Until we get the right president and Congress in place, we'll be playing defense with federal legislation," Watts said, adding that a ban on assault rifles, while an eventual goal, was not currently a priority for her organization. In the meantime, though, Moms Demand Action has defeated "dangerous" bills in many states that would have allowed guns in schools, eliminated background checks, and more, she said. 

Besides pushing for legislation such as "red-flag" laws and bump-stock bans, and opposing efforts by the NRA to make guns easier to get, Moms Demand Action also endorses candidates at the local and national level — including Spaulding.

Spaulding's choice to hold a campaign event on gun violence could be characterized as daring, in a county that in 2013 passed a resolution defying Obama-era gun control orders, in 2014 allowed guns in parks, and whose representative has received NRA ratings that consistently top 90 percent.

But Spaulding, who grew up on the south side of Chicago and saw gun violence affect her own family — both her brother and niece were held at gunpoint — says she doesn't oppose Americans' right to own firearms.

"I'm not against the Second Amendment," Spaulding said. "We have eroded the responsibility around what it means to be owners of firearms." She added that she feels there's been a shift in popular sentiment in Colorado Springs around gun ownership, with more residents here desiring reforms like those championed by Moms Demand Action.

"It's not about being anti-gun, it's really about, 'How do we make things safer?'"
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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Colorado Republicans mock sexual assault charges against Kavanaugh

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 1:22 PM

Three state House Republicans took to Facebook to joke about recent sexual assault charges brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

On Sept. 15,Rep. Patrick Neville, the House minority leader from Castle Rock, shared a satirical article from Christian satirical news site, The Babylon Bee, that mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations against Kavanaugh. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed, groping her and trying to remove her clothing at a party in the 1980s when the two were teenagers. She also says he covered her mouth when she tried to scream, causing her to fear for her life.
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Kavanaugh had been scheduled for a confirmation vote Sept. 20, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for a delay in light of the allegations.

Ford originally said she was willing to testify, but on Sept. 19 her attorney said she wanted the FBI to investigate first — making some Republicans less willing to delay the vote past Sept. 24.

Shane Sandridge, who represents Colorado Springs' House District 14, was quick to join in on Neville's mockery, saying that Kavanaugh was also a cheater at "Duck, Duck, Goose" as a child. Sen. Chris Holbert, the Senate majority leader from Douglas County, added, "An anonymous source who may or may not have ever been associated with the Little League has allegedly stated that, at the age of nine, Kavanaugh's right foot did not touch the base when rounding second. #LifeChoices"

(Disclosure: Sandridge was appointed to the vacant House District 14 seat in 2017, beating this reporter's mother, Anita Miller.)

As of Sept. 19, the post had 22 shares and dozens of comments, many disparaging the three prominent Republicans.

"The time for believing women is now," wrote Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster), who is running for reelection. "When our House Minority Leader and Senate Majority Leader jokes about sexual [harassment] and assault, it is no wonder why women do not feel safe working in the Colorado Capitol. A report from April of this year documented that 30% of folks at the Capital saw or experienced harassment, yet very few reported it."

Winter was referring to a report by outside consultant Investigations Law Group commissioned after a slew of sexual harassment allegations against state lawmakers, including former Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton), who was expelled from office in March. Winters accused Lebsock of harassing her.

Morgan Carroll, the Colorado Democratic Party chair, demanded that the representatives apologize for their comments.

"After everything that went on at the Colorado legislature this year, it is outrageous that three members of the GOP caucus — including two in leadership — thought it was appropriate to mock a credible accusation of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh," she is quoted in a Sept. 19 release. "The people of Colorado deserve an apology from these lawmakers who apparently think sexual assault is a laughing matter."

All three representatives are up for reelection in November. Neville faces Democrat Danielle Kombo, Sandridge faces Democrat Paul Haddick, and Holbert will run against Democrat Julia Varnell-Sarjeant and Steve Peterson, an independent.

Notably, on his campaign website, Sandridge touts his experience as a "clinical psychotherapist working with many teenagers and adults with major depression disorder and suicidal ideations."
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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Trump administration proposes historically low refugee ceiling for 2019

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2018 at 1:39 PM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks in Washington in May. - U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
  • U.S. Department of State
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks in Washington in May.

The State Department will accept a maximum of 30,000 refugees next year, breaking the record for the lowest cap on admissions for the second year in a row.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the new number — 15,000 under this year's limit — during a Sept. 17 media briefing, adding that the administration also plans to process more than 280,000 asylum cases. Historically, there has been no official limit on the number of admitted asylum seekers, and Pompeo did not provide an estimate of how many would actually be granted protection.

While refugees and asylees must both prove a "well-founded fear of persecution" in their country of nationality based on race, religion, nationality or social group, refugees must have their paperwork approved before entering the United States. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, ask for protection when presenting themselves at a port of entry or submit an application from within the U.S.

Currently, about 800,000 people already in the U.S. are waiting for a judge to rule on their asylum cases, Pompeo said. That's due in large part to an influx in Central and South Americans, including teenagers and young children, crossing the border to escape violence and extreme poverty.
"In consideration of both U.S. national security interests and the urgent need to restore integrity to our overwhelmed asylum system, the United States will focus on addressing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country," Pompeo said. "This year's refugee ceiling also reflects our commitment to protect the most vulnerable around the world while prioritizing the safety and well-being of the American people, as President Trump has directed."

As of Sept. 14, with just weeks left in fiscal year 2018, the U.S. had admitted a mere 20,825 refugees, far short of the 45,000-person limit set by President Donald Trump's administration. The year before, President Barack Obama had set the cap at 110,000, but Trump cut that number in half with an executive order after Obama left office.

Normally, the total number falls no more than a few thousand short of the cap, but changes at the administrative level overseas, including a longer vetting process, have caused a shortfall unheard of since right after 9/11.

Pompeo says part of the reason the cap is lower this year is to maintain rigorous vetting: "The security checks take time, but they're critical."

Refugee program cuts have already taken a toll on Colorado's resettlement agencies, the Independent reported in June. At the time — about three-fourths of the way through the fiscal year — Lutheran Family Services in Colorado Springs had resettled only 40 refugees, compared to 110 total last year, according to volunteer coordinator Cathy Verdier.

Denver's African Community Center had resettled 134 refugees in June, though it had planned to accommodate 400 by the end of September, Managing Director Melissa Theesen said. Two years ago, ACC's total was 581.

The Department of Homeland Security unleashed another bombshell with the Sept. 22 proposal to more broadly enforce "public charge" as a criterion for temporary and permanent admission. Under it, people enrolled in programs like Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) would have a harder time getting their immigration status changed or extended.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.
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Thursday, September 13, 2018

FDA cracks down on teen e-cigarette use

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 9:46 AM

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  • Shutterstock.com

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on e-cigarette retailers, including a handful in Colorado Springs.

After a "nationwide, undercover blitz" of retailers around the country this summer, the FDA issued 1,300 warning letters and fines to businesses that illegally sold Juul and other e-cigarette products to minors, according to a Sept. 12 announcement. The statement called teen e-cigarette use a problem of "epidemic proportions," citing data that showed more than two million teens used the products in 2017.

Six businesses in Colorado Springs got warning letters, and one, Extreme Vape Pens, was issued a fine. (About 50 retailers earned warning letters or fines statewide.)


Colorado has the highest rate of teen e-cigarette use in the country, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than one in every four Colorado teens, or 26.2 percent, use e-cigarettes or products such as e-cigars, e-pipes, vape pipes, vaping pens, e-hookahs, and hookah pens. That's nearly twice the national average of 14.3 percent.

On the other hand, just 7 percent of Colorado teens use cigarettes, compared to 8.2 percent of teens nationwide.

FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb addressed the increased use of e-cigarette products among teens in strong terms, vowing to make business difficult for manufacturers that didn't work to solve the problem.

"In enabling a path for e-cigarettes to offer a potentially lower risk alternative for adult smokers, we won’t allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue, even if it means putting limits in place that reduce adult uptake of these products,” he is quoted in the FDA's statement.

The FDA issued letters to the top five manufacturers of e-cigarette products (JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen XL, blu e-cigs, and Logic), demanding within 60 days plans "describing how they will address the widespread youth access and use of their products."

If the plans aren't sufficient, the FDA says it might require manufacturers to take flavored products — which it claims are particularly appealing to teens — off the market. The agency is also reexamining its timeline for manufacturers to comply with strict new federal guidelines announced last year. 
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

ACLU thinks prison population can be cut in half by 2025 in Colorado

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 11:23 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Colorado can and should cut its prison population in half by 2025, according to a Sept. 5 report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

The report is one of 50 Blueprints for Smart Justice from the ACLU that identify problems with mass incarceration on a state-by-state basis. The point is to open discussion about each state’s unique situation and find solutions that work.

Here are the main takeaways from Colorado’s Blueprint.

How we stack up:

Colorado’s prison population is 20,136 as of June, down from 23,274 at its peak in 2008. The state ranked 16th in the nation for the number of people incarcerated, or under community supervision like parole or probation, on a per-capita basis: 2,830 per 100,000 adult residents in 2015.

Colorado had the ninth highest incarceration rate for black people, and the fourth highest for Latino people, as of 2014.

Of those incarcerated, 18 percent were in private prisons, compared to 7 percent of the state prison population across the U.S. The number of people in Colorado’s private prisons increased 83 percent between 2000 and 2018.

Colorado ranked 11th in the number of people serving life sentences as of 2016.

The problems:

The ACLU’s report argues that harsh sentence enhancement laws, such as those for habitual offenders, and mandatory minimum sentences are driving mass incarceration in Colorado.

Although Senate Bill 13-250 helped reduce prison sentences for drug possession (14 percent of people convicted of possession were sent to prison after the bill’s 2013 passage, compared to 19 percent before), drug sentences still account for one in seven admissions.

Racial disparity is staggering. While black people made up 4 percent of Colorado’s adult population in 2017, they constituted 18 percent of the prison population. Latino people made up 19 percent of the adult population and 32 percent of the prison population. And American Indians made up less than 1 percent of the adult state population, but they represented 3 percent of the prison population.

The number of imprisoned women increased 58 percent between 2000 and 2018 — more than twice the rate for men.

Almost three-fourths of prisoners had issues with substance abuse as of June. While 37 percent of prisoners were considered to have mental health needs, only 5 percent were enrolled in mental health programs.

The solutions:

Colorado should start looking at addiction not as a crime, but as a public health problem, the ACLU’s report says. That means looking into alternatives to incarceration such as diversion programs and community-based treatment.

The ACLU recommends creating legislation that will reduce overcharging and disincentivize plea bargaining, and remove mandatory minimums or indeterminate sentences in some cases.

Colorado should decriminalize nonviolent conduct and reclassify nonviolent felony offenses to misdemeanors, the report says.

The report also stresses the necessity of implementing racial justice strategies, such as ending overpolicing in communities of color, eliminating bias in charging and plea-bargaining practices, eliminating wealth-based incarceration.

The ACLU proposes reducing the prison population by 9,086 people, which would save the state more than $675 million.

That’s no easy task, but here’s what it suggests:

1. Institute alternatives that end all admissions for drug possession.
2. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 60 percent for public order offenses.
3. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 50 percent for drug distribution, theft, other property offenses and fraud.
4. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 40 percent for assault, burglary and robbery.
5. Reduce the average time served by 60 percent for public order offenses, assault, burglary, robbery, drug distribution, theft, other property offenses, fraud, motor vehicle theft and weapons offenses.

Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, has made criminal justice reform one of his top priorities while in office, sponsoring a long list of bills that include revamping the Division of Youth Services and expanding restorative justice programs. Lee called the ACLU's Blueprint for Smart Justice "very well-written" and said it "proposed some practical, though difficult to implement remedies."

Lee, along with Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, recently sponsored a bill to expand the use of community corrections as an alternative to prison — one of the ACLU's suggestions for cutting down the prison population.
The community corrections system in Colorado provides services to convicted adults who are “halfway in” or “halfway out” of prison. Community corrections, which includes housing and supervision, is either a “last chance” before being sent to prison, or a way for those leaving the criminal justice system to transition back into the community.

Lee's bill, which Gov. Hickenlooper signed in May, requires the Colorado State Board of Parole to submit a list of offenders for community corrections transition placement referrals to the state Department of Corrections, who will choose whether or not to make a referral. Community corrections boards, which then decide whether to accept or reject an offender, must do so through a “structured, research-based decision-making process that combines professional judgment and actuarial risk and needs assessment tools,” according to the bill.
Rep. Pete Lee, flanked by Rep. Tony Exum. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Rep. Pete Lee, flanked by Rep. Tony Exum.
Before the bill's passage, Lee says the state's community corrections program was often bogged down by a lack of communication. There were problems with the system that had "common-sense" solutions, he says.

For example, if a local community corrections board didn't want to accept a certain offender, it could just reject someone, sending the person back to the Department of Corrections and contributing to overcrowding, Lee says. The bill, he adds, helps ensure decisions are more "rationally based" by requiring a response about why someone was rejected, and keeping the door open for that person to be accepted in the future after meeting further requirements. Perhaps a local board would want an offender to get a GED so they could work in the community, for example.

But community corrections is just one piece of the puzzle. Lee believes another imperative is changing the bail system to reduce wealth-based discrimination, which can disproportionately affect minority communities. He says bail should be based on whether someone is a danger to the community, and whether they're a flight risk.

"Poor people don’t have bail, so they stay in jail, and the decision as to whether or not they should stay in jail is based on not having money," Lee says. "We have the local sheriff’s department asking for a tax increase to get more bed space in the jail because we’re reaching capacity. Well, we wouldn’t reach capacity if we had a better bail system, or non-monetary bail if we did a risk-based release system."

Is the ACLU's ambitious proposal doable? Lee says it will take bipartisan support, especially on issues such as reducing sentences. "A lot of the ideas that are recommended in that ACLU report have been proposed in the Colorado legislature," he says.

Democrats and Republicans have in the past found common ground on criminal justice reform. Gardner and Lee, for example, recently joined forces to lead a comprehensive review of Colorado's juvenile justice system, in partnership with the Council of State Governments Justice Center. They'll introduce proposed changes at next year's legislative session.

"The fundamental principle I operate from is that we ought to reserve the most expensive option, prison, for people who really constitute a risk to public safety," Lee says.

Lee is term-limited and cannot run for re-election in the House this fall, but is running for the state Senate District 11 seat, left vacant by departing Sen. Michael Merrifield. Gardner's term ends in 2021.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Michael Bennet will vote "no" on Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 3:55 PM

Sen. Michael Bennet won't support Trump nominee. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sen. Michael Bennet won't support Trump nominee.
Not that it really matters at this point, but today, Sept. 11, Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, announced he would oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice.

With each passing day, it seems there's nothing that can stop Kavanaugh from rising to the nation's highest court, as Vanity Fair reports here.

But as they say, ya never know. Bennet's statement, issued about 9:30 a.m.:
After reviewing his writings, opinions, and testimony, I have concluded that Judge Kavanaugh will create a new Supreme Court majority that will threaten women’s reproductive rights, roll back essential environmental regulations, and favor large corporations over workers. In addition, his view that sitting presidents may be immune from criminal investigations and subpoenas is particularly troublesome at this moment. For these reasons, I will oppose his nomination.

As I have said many times, I am deeply discouraged by the Senate’s descent into rank partisanship. Regrettably, the Majority’s accession to the administration’s refusal to disclose Judge Kavanaugh’s full record—including nearly 90% of the documents from his time in the Bush White House—represents a further abdication of the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to advise and consent. The hearing was a sham. The American people would be better served by a transparent, deliberate, and bipartisan confirmation process.

Sen. Corey Gardner, a Colorado Republican, released a statement in late July giving Kavanaugh his endorsement:
Today I was able to meet with Judge Kavanaugh – clearly he is a well-qualified judge who has incredible experience in the federal courts. We had a long conversation about the role of precedent and how a judge should perform on the bench. It’s not about personal opinion, it’s not about personal biases or policy preferences, it’s about looking at the law and ruling on the law and where the law takes you. We had a good conversation about how he would be on the Supreme Court. It was a very good meeting and I think he will make an incredible Supreme Court Justice.
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Friday, August 31, 2018

Lamborn targeting Civil Rights Commission over Masterpiece cake cases

Posted By on Fri, Aug 31, 2018 at 1:18 PM

Lamborn: going to bat for a baker. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Lamborn: going to bat for a baker.
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, wants business people to be able to refuse service to anyone who don't conform to their religious beliefs.

Lamborn says he's sticking up for Christianity, which he and others erroneously have labeled as the founding religion of this country. In a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Lamborn calls for the Justice Department to investigate the "anti-religious bias" of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

The commission is under fire for its ruling against the Masterpiece Cakeshop for refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the baker, drawing this comment from the commission. However, it was a narrow ruling. Basically, the court did not like how the commission handled the case, noting:
• two members spoke in inappropriately hostile tones about Phillips' religious exemption claim;
• the commission had allowed other cake shops to refuse to make cakes for people with messages that opposed same-sex marriage showing inconsistency;
• same-sex marriage was not yet legal in Colorado at the time of the refusal which could have led to some confusion.

However, the court did strongly suggest that a state has a right to compel business owners like Phillips to provide goods and services regardless of a customer's status as part of a protected class, such as being gay.

More recently, the Civil Rights Commission again ruled against the cake shop owner in a case in which baker Jack Phillips refused to make a cake for a transgender woman who wanted to celebrate her transition and birthday. Phillips then sued the commission.

Now, Lamborn is stepping into the fray, saying Phillips was justified in rejecting the customer's request because, as Lamborn puts it, "the cake's artistic message conflicted with his deeply held Christian beliefs."

Specifically, Lamborn wants the Justice Department to investigate "the actions of Ms. Aubrey Elenis, Director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division, as well as the Civil Rights Commission for their continued anti-religious bias."

Lamborn said in a release, "The Department of Justice cannot continue to allow a biased arbiter, who holds a near monopoly on anti-discrimination cases within the state, to continue to wage a personal campaign against individuals they disagree with." Clarification: Lamborn was referring to the Civil Rights Commission with the term "biased arbiter," not himself or Phillips.
Phillips has ended up in hot water with the Commission because of public accommodation laws — you may recognize the term from the Civil Rights Movement. The laws protect classes of citizens that are often discriminated against, such as LGBTQ people or, say, African-Americans, by requiring that businesses not discriminate against them based on their protected status. In other words, no one is forcing Phillips to make wedding cakes or birthday cakes. But the law says that if he will make a wedding cake for, say a white heterosexual couple, he must also be willing to make one for a black, gay couple.

In case you're wondering, these are the same laws that African-Americans fought for at lunch counters decades ago.

We asked the Civil Rights Commission for a comment on Lamborn's move and a spokesperson declined.

In a statement, Lamborn said those with religious convictions like Phillips "are under assault," adding, "Mr. Phillips' shop serves any and every customer, but he reserves the right to use his artistic talents how he chooses... I am calling on the Department of Justice to protect the rights of religious Coloradans by ensuring that the Civil Rights Commission cannot continue its harassment of people of faith in my home state and its attempts to violate their first amendment freedoms."

Given Sessions' proclivity to side with evangelical Christians, and given who he works for, it might be a fair bet that Sessions will take Lamborn up on his request.

Lamborn is seeking his seventh term in office after a bruising primary election in which his petitions were challenged all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.

His Democratic opponent is Stephany Rose Spaulding, a professor of women's studies.
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Environment Colorado, the Arc and others rally for multiple causes

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 6:32 PM

Advocates from the Arc Pikes Peak Region display facts about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Advocates from the Arc Pikes Peak Region display facts about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Wednesday, Aug. 29 seemed like the perfect day to exercise First Amendment rights, as groups gathered in front of City Hall and ACE Cash Express to drum up support for their respective causes.

A handful of representatives from the Arc Pikes Peak Region, an organization that advocates for people with disabilities, said they were rallying in front of City Hall to stress the importance of benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, as well as accessible buildings and infrastructure.

"We want people with disabilities to get out and have their voices heard, so that starts with registering to vote and then getting to the polls in November," says Christina Butero, guardianship coordinator for the Arc Pikes Peak Region. "Far too often people with disabilities feel like their voice won’t be heard if they vote, and that’s just not true."

Charlotte McClanahan, a community facilitator in the Arc's guardianship program, cares for a woman who uses a wheelchair. They stopped by the Arc's event to push for a city that's easier to navigate.

"Downtown, the immediate downtown, is very accessible, but you get very far and you’ve got broken sidewalks and issues along those lines," McClanahan says.

(The Independence Center, a local nonprofit serving people with disabilities, recently organized a survey of parking lots in the region. Surveyors found more than 100 parking lots that weren't fully compliant with ADA standards. That may be because neither the city nor the Regional Building Department enforces them.)

Supporters of the Campaign to Stop Predatory Payday Loans protest in front of ACE Cash Express. - ANA TEMU
  • Ana Temu
  • Supporters of the Campaign to Stop Predatory Payday Loans protest in front of ACE Cash Express.

A similarly sized group stood in front of ACE Cash Express at Academy Boulevard and Galley Road, representing the Campaign to Stop Predatory Payday Loans. That campaign's Proposition 111 will be on the ballot this November.

Proposition 111 would lower maximum charges for payday loans to an annual percentage rate of 36 percent. Currently, the maximum charges are $20 for the first $300 loaned, 7.5 percent of any amount over $300, and a 45 percent interest rate.

Proponents of the measure argue that payday lenders take advantage of vulnerable communities.

“We’ve seen many families fall prey to this never ending debt trap due to unscrupulous fees and ridiculously high interest rates and believe they deserve a better chance to rise out of financial pitfalls and live a dignified life,” Meghan Carrier, lead organizer for Together Colorado, is quoted in an Aug. 28 statement from the campaign.

Clean-air advocates rally in support of low-emissions vehicle standards. - ENVIRONMENT COLORADO
  • Environment Colorado
  • Clean-air advocates rally in support of low-emissions vehicle standards.

And last week, another group flexed its First Amendment muscle in support of low-emissions vehicles.

Environment Colorado's event Aug. 23 in Acacia Park encouraged the public to support Gov. Hickenlooper's plan for stricter emissions standards. The governor announced June 19 that Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment would develop an LEV program in line with California's. That executive order came in response to the federal government's rollback of  vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for model years 2022 and beyond.

Environment Colorado collected nearly 1,500 petitions and more than 200 sign-ons from businesses supporting clean-car standards in the 72 hours leading up to its event in Acacia Park, says director Garrett Garner-Wells. The group will continue to push people to voice their support for low-emissions vehicle standards for the duration of the public comment period, which ends in November.

"Coloradans are really excited about this with the summer that we’ve had when it comes to wildfires," Garner-Wells says. "It’s wild what we’re doing to our air here in this state, and this is something we can do that’s a concrete step to begin cleaning that up and addressing climate change as an underlying factor in things like wildfires as well."
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Monday, August 27, 2018

John McCain was a hero, but no angel

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2018 at 5:23 PM

Sen. John McCain was 81 when he died. - ALAN FREED / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Alan Freed / Shutterstock.com
  • Sen. John McCain was 81 when he died.
The country lost a true patriot over the weekend, whose death seems to be uniting partisans unlike any living person has been able to do in the age of Trump.

But lest we canonize the departed Sen. John McCain, Vietnam War hero, prisoner of war, statesman and presidential candidate, perhaps a true look at the life of McCain can help us understand the quagmire into which national politics has sunk.

Take this Guardian piece, which reports, in part:
But as the Arizona senator, like Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt, spent his twilight years raging against the coarsening of civic life, he must have been aware that his legacy would include a decision that helped unleash the very forces he came to despise.

Wednesday marks the 10th anniversary of McCain unveiling Sarah Palin, a say-anything, gun-toting political neophyte, as his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. It was an act of political desperation that left Washington aghast. It delivered a short-term boost in the polls. But it also opened the Pandora’s box of populism.
That populism led to the presidency of a man who avoided serving his country by claiming to have bone spurs on his feet. (The New York Times reports "[That] deferment was one of five Mr. Trump received during Vietnam. The others were for education."] Trump also still seems to have only a surface understanding of the U.S. Constitution, if he understands it at all.

But back in the day, in 2008, when McCain was launching his second presidential bid, the Independent gave an unvarnished look at McCain, whose coarseness has now been forgotten.

And then, HuffingtonPost issued this "remembrance," which serves as a reminder that not everything about McCain was saintly:
McCain’s victims ― the millions who have suffered and died in accordance with his war hawk policies and positions ― who are already invisible in popular discourse in the U.S., are now deemed wholly unmentionable. Because McCain was a “great American.”
We're not disrespecting the senator, but rather trying to illuminate the man so that rather than being made into a god, he's celebrated for his contribution without losing sight of the fact that  nobody's perfect. McCain will be forever applauded for his sheer bravery, surviving the POW camp. He'll also be lauded for defying his party with his thumbs down vote on Trump's plan to dismantle Obamacare.

But he should also be remembered for less stellar moments, which might serve to give everyone the inspiration to push ahead with their ideals, moving past those boneheaded moves or unjustifiable positions that the passage of time can lead us to be ashamed of.

For now, however, we're still in the adoration stage — except for the nation's leader, who has failed to honor McCain after his Aug. 25 death and refused to keep the Capitol's flag at half-staff more than a day, until the afternoon of Aug. 27 when it was lowered again.

But Rep. Doug Lamborn, who's so closely aligned with Trump that he used video of him during his Republican primary election race, has decided to have the decency to honor McCain for his service:
I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Senator John McCain. He was a true American patriot and hero. His work paints a picture of an entire life lived in service to our country. He fought for freedom and defended the constitution. He was also a loving family man. This country will never forget him. My heart and prayers are with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, chose to emphasize McCain's personal touch:
Susan and I extend our deepest condolences to the McCain family. We also express our gratitude to Senator McCain for his never-ending kindness to our daughters when they visited Washington,” Bennet said. “His example tells us that we need not accept dysfunctional politics and empty partisanship as inevitable. His absence will require much more of the rest of us.
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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

To end gerrymandering, bipartisan group asks voters to approve reforms

Posted By on Wed, Aug 22, 2018 at 4:38 PM

Heidi Ganahl, Joe Zimlich, Kent Thiry and Sen. Bob Gardner at an event for Fair Maps Colorado. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Heidi Ganahl, Joe Zimlich, Kent Thiry and Sen. Bob Gardner at an event for Fair Maps Colorado.

An unlikely group of allies has banded together to support a pair of ballot initiatives that could have a lasting impact on Colorado's political scene.

Amendments Y and Z, supported by Fair Maps Colorado, would transform the redistricting process for congressional and state legislative districts in order to prevent gerrymandering. That's the practice by which the majority party is allowed to redraw districts. No surprises here: That party usually draws districts that favor its candidates.

The term gerrymander dates to 1812 — so this has been going on for quite a while, though courts do sometimes decide a party has gone too far and order the districts redrawn in a more fair manner. What these Colorado initiatives aim to do, however, is radical: Take the power of redrawing districts away from the ruling party and ensure those districts are drawn fairly (which means in a way that leads to more competitive races).
The change in process for drawing congressional districts would be especially relevant by 2020, when Colorado is projected to gain a House seat, according to Election Data Services.

Kent Thiry, the CEO of DaVita Inc. and co-chair of Fair Maps Colorado, was joined by Toni Larson, president of the League of Women Voters of Colorado; Heidi Ganahl, University of Colorado Regent; Joe Zimlich, CEO of the Bohemian Group; and state Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, for a brief, but enthusiastic campaign stop outside the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum supporting the two ballot initiatives.

"This is about fairness, it’s about our future, it’s about holding our elected officials accountable, and it’s about proportional representation, the sacred principle of democracy," Thiry said. (Thiry, a centrist political donor, is known for his eclectic management style at DaVita — which has included such antics as somersaulting across a stage in medieval garb at company meetings. He also considered a gubernatorial run this year, but decided against it.)

Amendments Y and Z, which were approved for the ballot unanimously in both chambers of the state legislature, would create two independent commissions in charge of redistricting. They would be composed of 12 members each: four Republicans, four Democrats, and four unaffiliated.

"Over the last decade, we have seen congressional deadlock and have watched as other states struggle with gamesmanship and courtroom battles, all due to gerrymandering," Larson said. "With Y and Z, we can clear out the smoke-filled back rooms with a little bit of Colorado sunshine."
"The Gerry-Mander" is a classic political cartoon drawn in 1812 depicting the bizarre districts drawn to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry. - ELKANAH TISDALE
  • Elkanah Tisdale
  • "The Gerry-Mander" is a classic political cartoon drawn in 1812 depicting the bizarre districts drawn to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry.

Republicans Ganahl and Gardner took turns at the podium with Democrat Zimlich and independents Thiry and Larson. They used similar language to describe the ballot measures, implying support across the political spectrum is for shared reasons: The need to "hold politicians accountable" and end gerrymandering.

Because they are constitutional amendments, the twin initiatives need 55 percent of the vote to pass. They have no formal opposition, and Thiry thinks the prospects are bright.

"Gerrymandering has always existed, but it’s grown in intensity," he said, when an attendee mentioned the ongoing fight in Pennsylvania over whether Republicans drew districts to unfairly benefit their party. "[The amendments have] really been prompted by the fact that the cancer has grown."
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