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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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Seven initiative petitions could make it on the ballot this fall

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 5:26 PM

  • Public Domain Pictures

Seven initiative petitions were turned in on time for a chance at the November ballot in Colorado, the Secretary of State's Office announced Aug. 6.

Initiative backers had to gather at least 98,492 signatures, or 5 percent of the total votes cast for all candidates for secretary of state in the 2014 general election.

Over the next 30 days, the Secretary of State's Office will review the petitions to ensure they meet state standards. Those that do will go to voters Nov. 6.

The seven petitions include:

Initiative 97 (statute change): Setback requirement for oil and gas development

"All new oil and gas development not on federal land must be located at least [2,500] feet from an occupied structure or vulnerable area."

The initiative's backer, Colorado Rising, says signature gatherers faced intimidation and harassment. But its problems didn't stop there. One of the initiative's signature-gathering firms took 15,000 signatures out of state three weeks before the deadline, and a second firm was paid off to stop collecting signatures, Colorado Rising says. Despite those setbacks (pun unintended), 171,000 signatures were submitted by deadline.

Initiative 126 (statute change): Payday loans

"Lower the maximum authorized finance charge 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.

The Denver Post reports that initiative backers gathered nearly 190,000 signatures.

Initiative 153 (statute change): Transportation funding

Increase state sales tax from 2.91 percent to 3.52 percent, in order to fund up to $6 billion in bonds for construction and maintenance of roads, bridges and highways. The initiative requires "45% of the new revenue to fund state transportation safety, maintenance, and congestion-related projects; 40% to fund municipal and county transportation projects; and 15% to fund multimodal transportation projects, including bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure."

Organizers collected about 198,000 signatures, the Post reports.

Initiative 167 (statute change): Authorize bonds for transportation projects

Use existing state revenues to purchase $3.5 billion in bonds for road and bridge construction and improvements. Mayor John Suthers, who opposes Initiative 153, has been a vocal supporter of this initiative, titled "Fix Our Damn Roads," which does not include a tax increase.

Backers turned in more than 150,000 signatures, according to the Post.

Initiative 173 (constitutional amendment): Campaign contributions

This "anti-Jared Polis" measure limits candidates' ability to fund their own campaigns: If a candidate "directs more than [$1 million] to support his or her election, then all candidates in the same election shall be entitled to accept aggregate contributions for a primary and general election at five times the [normally allowed] rate."

The Post reports that backers gathered 212,000 signatures.

Initiative 108 (constitutional amendment): Just compensation for reduction in fair market value by government law or regulation

Requires the government to pay compensation to private property owners when new laws or regulations reduce a property's fair market value. This is a response to Initiative 97, which could reduce the value of property that, per the initiative's requirements, could no longer be used for oil and gas development.

Organizers collected 209,000 signatures, the Post reports.

Initiative 93 (constitutional amendment): Funding for public schools

Increase state taxes by $1.6 billion to "improve, support and enhance" preschool through high school "programs, resources and opportunities." The money will come from an incremental income tax increase for people making more than $150,000 (using four tax brackets, starting at 0.37 percent and increasing to 3.62 percent for income over $500,000); and a corporate tax rate increase of 1.37 percent.

Backers turned in about 179,000 signatures, the Post reports.
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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Colorado's new vehicle-emissions standards in question

Posted By on Thu, Aug 2, 2018 at 3:19 PM

Traffic along Interstate 25 near Interquest Parkway. - U.S. AIR FORCE/DON BRANUM
  • U.S. Air Force/Don Branum
  • Traffic along Interstate 25 near Interquest Parkway.

Barely a month after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper announced that Colorado would join California and 11 other states to adopt stricter vehicle-emissions standards, the Trump administration has tried to hit the brakes.

A 978-page document from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department, unveiled Aug. 2, proposes repealing Obama-era guidance for automakers that requires all new vehicles produced after 2025 to have an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon. The new policy would continue increasing requirements until 2021, freezing mandatory fuel efficiency at 36.9 miles per gallon.

The Trump administration's announcement also creates a potential roadblock for the states that have joined California in creating a Low-Emissions Vehicle Program under the Clean Air Act to imposes stricter standards for automakers. The EPA says it wants to withdraw the states' waiver to depart from federal standards, in part because "[a]ttempting to solve climate change" is "fundamentally different from [the Clean Air Act's] original purpose of addressing smog-related
air quality problems" (see p. 31).

Those states include Colorado, as per Hickenlooper's June 19 executive order that came in response to news that the administration was rolling back requirements.

According to the statement, Colorado will:
• "develop a rule to establish a Colorado LEV program, which incorporates the requirements of the California LEV program; and
• propose that rule to the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission during its August 2018 meeting for possible adoption into the Colorado Code of Regulations by December 30, 2018."

Hickenlooper doesn't plan on backing down in light of the proposal's release:

The Trump administration is making the odd claim that allowing automakers to make their cars less environmentally friendly could save 12,700 lives by 2029. The numbers are based on an April report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The reasoning? Looser regulations will make it easier to produce new cars, which are safer than old cars.

"Already, the standards have helped drive up the cost of new automobiles to an average of $35,000—out of reach for many American families," reads a statement from Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Andrew Wheeler, the acting EPA administrator. "Compared with the preferred alternative outlined in the proposal, keeping in place the standards finalized in 2012 would add $2,340 to the cost of owning a new car and impose more than $500 billion in societal costs on the U.S. economy over the next 50 years.

"Due to these increased costs, Americans are holding on to their older, less-safe vehicles longer and buying older-model vehicles."

Conversely, the Obama administration found that improving standards would lead to about 100 fewer auto-related casualties, the New York Times reports.

The proposal won't be finalized until the end of this year, after a period of public comment, and is likely to meet opposition from states, activists and industry groups.

Colorado Moms Know Best, an activist group that has been vocal about vehicle emissions, released a statement Aug. 2 condemning the administration's actions.

"Trump is reversing protections for our kids, and parents demand to know why," Jen Clanahan, the advocacy group's "Head Mom," is quoted in the statement. "Trump ought to be ashamed of himself.

“A bright spot in the country right now is Colorado with Governor Hickenlooper’s leadership and his recent Executive Order that encourages Colorado to adopt low emission vehicle standards. We hope to see strong standards that help ensure Colorado has the cleanest air in the nation. Our children deserve it.”
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

UPDATE: Putin picture to be replaced by Trump portrait at Colorado State Capitol

Posted By on Wed, Aug 1, 2018 at 10:36 AM

Then-citizen Donald Trump at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference. - GAGE SKIDMORE
  • Gage Skidmore
  • Then-citizen Donald Trump at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference.

UPDATE: From Senate President Kevin Grantham in a release issued Aug. 2:
Less than 32 hours after the launch, 191 donors had come forth, contributing over $10,000 to ensure that the President’s portrait would be completed. As of 10:00 A.M. on Thursday morning, there had been a total of 205 donors contributing $10,519. Notable public donors to the GoFundMe include State Senator Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), Representative Dan Pabon (D-Denver), and former Representative Dorothy Butcher (D-Pueblo).

“With contributions from $5 to $500, and donors across the political spectrum, this effort was a victory for Colorado,” said President Grantham on Thursday morning. “Every President – regardless of their political party – deserves a portrait in the Colorado State Capitol. It was great to see this get done quickly, and we can’t wait to let Sarah Boardman get started on another beautiful piece of art.”
——————ORIGINAL POST 10:36 A.M. WEDNESDAY, AUG. 1, 2018————————

More than 18 months into the Donald Trump presidency, and the Colorado State Capitol still doesn't have his portrait displayed along with those of past presidents.

What to do?

State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, tweeted this photo last week of the blank space and the Putin photo.
  • State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, tweeted this photo last week of the blank space and the Putin photo.
One person took it upon themselves to hang a picture of Russian President Vladimir Putin near the spot where Trump's portrait should hang. The prank got national news coverage from CNN, The Hill and the Guardian.

Now, according to a release from the Colorado Senate Republicans, Senate President Kevin Grantham has taken on the mission to raise the $10,000 needed to pay an artist to create a portrait of the 45th president. Information on Grantham's pitch and how to donate can be found here.

He began a GoFundMe account on Tuesday, July 31, and, as reported in the release:
Less than 24 hours after a "soft launch," as of 9:00 am Wednesday, the effort had received nearly $6,000 in donations, most of them relatively modest in size, which Grantham points to as a clear demonstration of Trump's continued popularity with grassroots Coloradans.
More from the release:
“We’ve all seen the news, there’s no portrait of President Trump on display at the Colorado State Capitol,” Grantham says in a video pitch requesting donations, “which is why I’m excited to announce that we’re taking the reins and raising $10,000 to get a painting of Donald J. Trump in the Hall of Portraits at the Colorado State Capitol.”

Grantham points out in the video that President Obama’s portrait was largely funded by a single donor. But he wants to take a more grassroots and “populist” approach with Trump’s portrait. “We figured it would be much more fitting to have everyday Coloradans, and Americans, pitch-in $5, $10 or $25 to get this portrait up. The artist, a Colorado Springs native, has already informed us that she is more than willing to get started, and we’re excited to see this blank space filled.”
To clarify, if indeed the same artist who painted Obama's portrait has agreed to paint Trump's, as indicated on the GoFundMe page: her name is Sarah Boardman, and she's actually a native of England, though a current resident of Colorado Springs.  
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Monday, July 23, 2018

RBG packs the house

Posted By on Mon, Jul 23, 2018 at 9:05 AM

  • Rachel Bernstein

Men and women, young and old piled into the Millibo Art Theatre (MAT!) in Colorado Springs on July 11, 12, and 16 to view the twice sold-out documentary RBG about the life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, otherwise known as “The Notorious RBG.”

The three-day film screening was hosted by the Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Institute (RMWFI), a local Colorado Springs nonprofit committed to supporting women filmmakers and home to the longest running women's film festival in North America.

“Bringing this film to Colorado Springs and downtown was something our audience and the community wanted to see,” says Sarah Arnold, Marketing Director for the RMWFI.

The film was originally only supposed to screen on July 11 and 12, but tickets sold out in less than 48 hours.

“We always wanted to do two nights because we thought it would be enticing to our audience, and it sold-out within two days. So that’s when we added a third screening — and that sold out in four hours,” Arnold explains.
  • Rachel Bernstein
Written and directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, RBG provides an intimate look into the personal and professional life of Ginsburg, focusing heavily on her decades-long work on achieving gender equality.

In a class of about 500 men at Harvard Law School, Ginsburg’s experience as one of nine women did not get easier as time passed — even after becoming the first woman to make two major Law Reviews; Harvard and Columbia. Graduating Columbia Law School, Ginsburg found it difficult to find work because of her gender, despite graduating at the top of her class. Her struggle resulted in dedicating her career to breaking legal ground for women and educating those above her about how gender inequality hurts both men and women.

“I’m grateful to Ruth because what she’s done for women also allows me to be a good man — a better man,” Tim Davis, age 70, explains when asked his opinion on the film. “It brings awareness to how far we’ve come, and part of it’s just in consciousness, to have a better world for our daughters—we’re still not there though, and we’re going backwards right now.”

The film speaks to multiple generations—from those who lived through Ginsburg’s most influential cases, including United States v. Virginia, Olmstead v. L.C., and Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services, Inc.—to millennials who, in the last few years, helped shape Ginsburg into a pop culture icon. Fans were so excited to see the film, some showed up sporting their “Notorious RBG” T-shirts — some of which had Justice Ginsburg wearing a crown. But overall, residents were thrilled that the film was brought to screen in the area at all. Following the national release in May, RBG showed for about two weeks at only one theatre in the Colorado Springs area.

Along with residents wanting to see the film, the screening couldn’t have come at a more relevant time in national politics, only a few weeks following the announcement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s retirement, effective July 31.

Known for helping to keep the court balanced, Justice Kennedy, 81, has been a pivotal swing vote for both liberals and conservatives for nearly three decades. Kennedy has helped cast the deciding vote in multiple pivotal rulings, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the 5-4 decision that paved the way for same-sex couples to marry.

When asked about the conservative shift that’s about to take place on the court, Davis says, “I’m always hopeful that people will be able to, as Ruth did, put these things aside and judge a case on its merit. But it’s scary to me because we’ve come so far in terms of civil rights and rights for women which affect everybody, to go in the other direction would be very sad.”

As Kennedy steps down, the future of the Supreme Court is now in the hands of President Trump who has the power to put a conservative seal on the American legal system and impact American life for generations.

Another cause for concern is Ginsburg’s age. At 85, she is the oldest sitting justice on the high court. But Ginsburg’s age has only made her more relevant and influential as time has passed.

In addition to RBG, Justice Ginsburg will be back on the big screen in December, this time as the subject of the upcoming feature film, On the Basis of Sex, centered on Ginsburg navigating life as a young lawyer to bring the groundbreaking case, Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld, to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Ginsburg makes it clear in RBG and in recent interviews that she has no intention of retiring and will stay on the Supreme Court bench as long as she can do the job to the best of her ability. As for now, she’s moving full steam ahead.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

UPDATE: Lamborn silent on Trump embrace of Putin

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2018 at 12:03 PM

Lamborn: Mum on President Trump's performance in Helsinki. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Lamborn: Mum on President Trump's performance in Helsinki.
Rep. Doug Lamborn will face Democrat Stephany Spaulding in the Nov. 6 election. She issued this statement in response to Lamborn's silence.

Doug Lamborn’s decision to refuse to join his congressional colleagues in their bipartisan disapproval of President Trump’s comments about Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election is disturbing.

His district is home to one of the highest concentrations of military in the U.S. and their Commander-in-Chief’s words of support for a dangerous adversary must cause especially deep concern for those who defend our freedom every day.

By putting his finger up to the political winds before making a statement, Lamborn is showing neither leadership nor a grasp of the seriousness of the situation. 

———————ORIGINAL POST 12:03 P.M. TUESDAY, JULY 17, 2018 ————————-

It's been a full news cycle since President Donald Trump sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence service on July 16 by saying he believed Putin's denial the Russian state had any involvement in the U.S. 2016 elections.

We've heard from Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, Sen. Corey Gardner, R-Colorado, and even Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents Congressional District 3.

But Rep. Doug Lamborn?


Lamborn has yet to make any statement regarding Trump's performance, The Denver Post reports, and there's no statement on his website or Facebook, Twitter or YouTube accounts. Trump's move has been described by numerous pundits and lawmakers as shameful, even treasonous. The Washington Post reported Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who's considering a Republican primary challenge against Trump in 2020, called the news conference “depressing” and “really unlike anything we’ve seen in my lifetime.”

Perhaps that's no surprise, considering Lamborn used photos of himself with Trump in campaign materials to capture the GOP nomination in the June 26 primary as he pursues his seventh term in office. (He'll face women's studies professor Stephany Rose Spaulding, a Democrat, in the Nov. 6 general election.)

We've asked for a comment from Lamborn and will update if and when we hear something.

Here's a recap of comments from others.

Vladimir Putin is not our friend, and there is ample evidence that Russia meddled in our elections. Russia has repeatedly violated international law, shown disregard for national sovereignty, engaged in human rights abuses, propped up state sponsors of terror, and fueled global instability. Russia’s attacks on our electoral system damage the very democratic principles upon which our country was built. I strongly urge President Trump and this Administration to hold Russia and Putin accountable. I will continue to support strong economic sanctions against Russia and measures to protect the integrity of our elections.
Today, President Trump failed to hold Vladimir Putin to account even on the most straightforward national security threats.

By taking Vladimir Putin at his word—when it directly contradicts the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment and the investigations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — President Trump not only has failed to protect our democracy, but also has emboldened Russia and other adversaries at the expense of our allies.

President Trump should have used this meeting to hold Putin accountable for undermining democracies around the world, a chemical attack on United Kingdom soil, and the continued illegal annexation of Crimea. Instead, he held a summit with no plan that only served to elevate Putin on the world stage. In the face of attacks on our allies and partners in the European Union and NATO, Republicans and Democrats in Congress must work to protect the international institutions that advance our values and freedoms.

Whether it be chemical attacks on allied soil, the invasion of Ukraine, propping up the murderer Assad in Syria, or meddling in our elections through cyber-attacks, Vladimir Putin’s Russia remains an adversary to the United States. I believe Russia is a state sponsor of terror and I’ve introduced legislation that would mandate the State Department to determine whether Russia merits this designation, along with their allies Iran and Syria that are already designated. Additionally, I will continue to support maximum economic sanctions on Russia, including the full implementation of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that passed the Senate by a vote of 98-2.

I encourage the Administration to avoid the mistakes of past Administrations in normalizing relations with Russia at zero cost to Putin and his regime. The only ‘reset’ we can have with Russia is when it completely reverses course and begins to act in accordance with civilized norms and international law. Nothing should change as of today – Putin’s Russia is not a friend to the United States.
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Friday, July 13, 2018

Sheriff Elder fires Duda, after he tells Indy about political "retaliation"

Posted By on Fri, Jul 13, 2018 at 5:27 PM

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has one less seargent as of Friday, July 13.

Two days after the Independent reported Sheriff's Sgt. Keith Duda was placed on administrative leave, purportedly for politicking on duty, he was canned.

"I've dedicated 12 years to this office," Duda tells the Indy. "I'm a highly decorated deputy. I've done nothing wrong."

Keith Duda is  unemployed as of Friday, July 13. - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Keith Duda is unemployed as of Friday, July 13.
Duda supported Mike Angley in his bid for the Republican nomination for sheriff against incumbent Bill Elder. Elder placed Duda on administrative leave on June 22 alleging he used his position for political reasons. Angley was defeated at the June 26 primary, four days later.

Duda was asked to participate in the county's investigation of his alleged misconduct as well as an investigation of allegations he had made of misconduct by other personnel. Among those was a report that Lt. Bill Huffor sexually harassed a female deputy, for which he was punished in early 2017. Huffor then filed an infraction complaint against Duda's daughter, Caitlyn, who also works for the Sheriff's Office. Caitlyn, too, had previously filed the sexual harassment complaint against Huffor after hearing the female deputy complain about his actions toward her.

Then, a few months later, in spring 2017, Huffor filed a complaint against Caitlyn Duda for cussing in the jail, for which she received punishment she viewed as overly harsh. A few weeks later, Duda advised his daughter to file a complaint about the retaliation, and the very day she filed the report, June 9, 2017, Keith Duda was removed from consideration for a promotion.

Huffor was accused of voter intimidation by several delegates to the Republican county assembly in March, but the Sheriff's Office closed the case due to lack of evidence. He also has enjoyed several promotions since Elder took office on Dec. 31, 2014, and is married to Elder's campaign manager, Janet Huffor, who also serves as Elder's chief of staff.

Both Caitlyn and Keith Duda have filed Equal Employment Opportunity complaints and are contemplating a lawsuit.

Sheriff Bill Elder - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder
In one July 12 letter that asked Duda to cooperate in the investigations, County Attorney Amy Folsom says, "Legitimate employee complaints of inappropriate conduct, including suspected policy violations, are encouraged by the organization."

"Please appreciate that El Paso County and EPSO expect you to participate in the investigation process, provide truthful and complete information, and treat the investigation as confidential," Folsom wrote.

(Keith Duda's attorney, Ian Kalmanowitz, provided the Indy with those documents, as well as the termination notice posted on this blog.)

In another July 12 letter to Duda, Undersheriff Joe Breister notes, "You are advised the County is investigating allegations that you may have violated the confidentially [sic] requirement regarding workplace investigations."

Then, the letter tells Duda to report to the County Attorney's Office at 10 a.m. July 13 for the interview with employment investigators.

Duda did report. He spent two hours talking to an investigator with Employment Matters LLC/Flynn Investigations Group. When he was finished, the investigator told him that Lt. Michael St. Charles, the professional standards officer, was waiting for him outside.

St. Charles entered the room, Duda says, and handed him the termination notice, saying he needed an answer immediately to whether he would agree to meet with Elder. Duda declined.

Duda tells the Indy that the interview with the investigators was "ridiculous" because Elder had already decided to fire him, evidenced by the termination notice being dated July 12.

"It was already predetermined he was going to terminate me before I was interviewed," he says, referring to the July 13 meeting with investigators.

Here's the termination notice, which Duda said contains allegations with "no merit":
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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Cross-country cyclist stops in Springs to hear refugees' stories

Posted By on Tue, Jul 10, 2018 at 2:30 PM

Alana Murphy, front right, with Lutheran Family Services staff in Colorado Springs. - COURTESY OF ALANA MURPHY
  • Courtesy of Alana Murphy
  • Alana Murphy, front right, with Lutheran Family Services staff in Colorado Springs.

Alana Murphy's not your typical 25-year-old. In the past two months, the former Fulbright scholar, world traveler, nonprofit worker and government intern has biked more than 1,800 miles through ten states, and clocked in about 50 interviews with refugees and refugee families.

She calls her journey "The Beautiful Crossing," and hopes, through the stories of the people she interviews — from New York City to Portland — to educate her online followers about the value of the United States' refugee admissions program.

(Read our recent reporting on refugees here.)

Murphy has only been able to upload a handful of interviews to her website so far because of limited access to internet. In August, she plans to have all 75 to 80 interviews from her trip online, where viewers can scroll through a state-by-state archive of photos, text and audio clips.

The trip is funded by a couple of private donors and Murphy’s personal savings, and she says she’d rather have supporters take the time to listen to the interviews than donate money.

Murphy stopped in Colorado Springs on July 6 and 7, speaking with five refugees through Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, a local resettlement agency, before departing for Denver on July 8.

The Independent spoke to Murphy about what she's learned on the trip so far. (This interview has been edited slightly and condensed for clarity.)

How did you come up with the idea for this project?

I've worked with refugees and migrants for the last eight years of my life. I went overseas when I was 17, and I was learning Arabic, and I started working with a group of Syrian and Iraqi women who were waiting for resettlement. That kind of got me interested in international resettlement and what it was like for people who came from refugee backgrounds. From then on I started working with World Relief in Chicago, first as a volunteer, then as a full-time intern and then as staff, and I also had several other experiences working overseas in response work other than resettlement, direct response work in either refugee camps or with refugees who are living in urban city centers. I was able to intern full-time with the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, which is the bureau within the State Department that manages the Refugee Admissions Program, and saw from that end kind of a policy side, and then I also was able to work here in resettlement, welcoming refugees to my home city, which is Chicago. So I’ve actually been able to see a lot of different sides and positives and negatives, and just really fell in love with being part of a team that’s welcoming people here to the U.S.

Murphy, right, leaves New York City with friend Joy Bitter, who accompanied Murphy for the first six weeks of her journey. - COURTESY OF ALANA MURPHY
  • Courtesy of Alana Murphy
  • Murphy, right, leaves New York City with friend Joy Bitter, who accompanied Murphy for the first six weeks of her journey.

How long are you expecting the whole journey to take?

I started on May 12 and the entire journey’s about three months. So it’s 95 days, and I travel about 4,300 miles. So now I’m on the second half of the trip and after Colorado I go up through Wyoming and Idaho, Montana and I go over to Spokane, Washington, and then Seattle and then Portland. And that will be the end of my project.

Is there anything that's surprised you?

The best part of this project has definitely been doing the interviews. And I’ve been, I feel really blessed to meet the people that I’ve been able to talk to. Some of my questions are focused on American culture, living in the United States. And I think it’s always interesting to learn about your own country and your own culture from someone who can see it from the outside. I’ve had some participants say some really interesting things. So kind of like a funny one, for example is one participant talked about how he was shocked when he realized how much money Americans spent on dogs and pets, he was like, they have these pet stores, all pet supplies for dogs, and that was so surprising to him, he could never really kind of get over that — 'Wow, so much money on these pets!'

Then another participant, he was from the Congo, and he had started doing talks in schools where he would go into public schools in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he’s living now. He would speak with schoolchildren about his experience, coming from the Congo and what that was like. And he had kids asking him, 'So do all Africans live in trees?' And at the time when he got this question, actually, I believe it was President Bush had been in Africa doing a diplomatic tour, doing some official visits with different countries and different presidents. And his response to these kids was, 'Well, I guess if all the Africans live in trees, then President Bush is in the trees with us.' For him of course, he knew it was kids, he wasn’t really offended, but he was concerned that in a day and an age when we have the internet and we have access to so much information, why are these children growing up — if they’re part of what some people consider the most powerful nation on earth — why are they growing up and they have no concept of what it’s like in modern-day Congo or modern-day Ghana or these other countries in Africa?

So those have been, it’s been really interesting to hear that from participants, and also just to hear how much they value living here in the United States and the things that we might take for granted. Another participant talked about how he was shocked when he realized you could return things here in the U.S. I know that sounds like a silly thing, you know, like not an important thing, you’re fleeing a conflict zone, that’s not the No. 1 thing you’re going to value. But he was saying he had bought something and it didn’t work. And he brought it back to the store and they gave him his money back. He was just shocked that that was even possible, that kind of freedom. He just thought that was really cool. And other people, of course, have talked more about, they really value that there are laws here that apply to everyone, and not just people of a certain class — that even though we have obviously people that are from a higher class or lower class, they still feel that people are expected to follow the laws and follow the same rules, and to them that really meant a lot.

Refugee admissions are way down right now, because the cap has been lowered and then the whole process has just kind of been slowed down from the top. What's your reaction to that? And do you think that getting these peoples' stories out there can help maybe create some change?

My project is independent, but in my opinion and from talking to different resettlement agencies and kind of reading a lot and being really interested, I do think that it’s very clear that very few refugees are arriving right now to the United States through the admissions program. The first cause of that is probably the cap, but then of course there’s a list of countries that are still banned, but then I think the third kind of indirect cause, that maybe isn’t really being seen or talked about as much, is that President Trump decided that there was a need for new processing procedures in order for people to come here. But there was not a lot of direction or clarity given in terms of how the procedures and interview process could actually be approved, and so then at this point I believe that for a lot of people, even who might be coming from the Congo for example, a country that’s not banned, the processing has actually been significantly slowed down, and very few people are even being admitted from countries that aren’t per se banned, simply because the Refugee Admissions Program has kind of been put on hold until new procedures can be put in place.

I believe at this point just over 13,000 people have come in fiscal year 2018, and the cap for this year is set at 45,000. And that cap of 45,000 is actually the lowest number of people that would be admitted to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program since it was started in 1975. So 45,000 might sound like a big number to some people, but it’s actually less than 0.5 percent of people who are displaced internationally because of conflict. So it’s a very small percentage of actually the need globally.

Murphy at Union Station in Denver. - COURTESY OF ALANA MURPHY
  • Courtesy of Alana Murphy
  • Murphy at Union Station in Denver.

And in terms of whether this project or other advocacy measures can help with raising numbers again, I do think it’s really important to show support for the Refugee Admissions Program and show that our country historically has welcomed refugees. The Refugee Admissions Program started after World War II, and actually it was started by citizens and local faith-based organizations that wanted to open up doors to people fleeing Hitler and other regimes in World War II. So it was a citizen-based initiative which then was formalized by the government and became the Refugee Admissions Program. It's a huge part of the image that we’ve kind of shown to the world overseas. And I think it’s important to show that we continue to support and value that, but it is true that it’s within Trump’s constitutionally given powers to set a cap on the program and grant special immigrant visas. And so I don’t believe that, necessarily, advocacy efforts can change the restrictions that have limited the program at this time, but I do believe that the program will survive the current situation and the current political environment, and I hope that more people, hopefully through my project and other advocacy efforts come to learn more about the program, and value the program and the impact that it’s really had here in the United States. I hope that when things change and the political environment changes there will be more support and more people that are trying to welcome refugees to the United States.

Do you see yourself continuing to do work like this in the future?

Yes, I definitely do. I feel very passionately about working with refugees, especially here in the U.S. in resettlement. My field is actually international migration policy, so that’s what I study and what I pursue. My next step is, actually, I will be going to Beijing and I’m going to do a master’s program in China, and I'm studying government response and government policies to respond to internal migration within the country.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

El Paso County leads state in number of rejected primary ballots

Posted By on Fri, Jul 6, 2018 at 4:00 PM

  • Shutterstock.com

Colorado's first semi-open primary election was confusing for unaffiliated voters — many of whom didn't get the memo that they could only turn in one ballot — but it wasn't quite as confusing as some had feared.

"Statewide, 6,914 ballots were rejected because unaffiliated voters — who received both a Republican and a Democratic ballot in the mail — mistakenly returned both, according to the Secretary of State's office. That's a rejection rate of 2.4 percent."

El Paso County voters didn't do quite as well, according to numbers provided by Kristi Alfonso, spokesperson for the Clerk and Recorder's Office. With 1,516 ballots disqualified, the county had the highest rejection rate in the state, barring a few sparsely populated rural counties: 4.8 percent.

But that's still better than what some opponents of Proposition 108, which allowed unaffiliated voters to have a say in primaries, had anticipated. One argument against the proposition, cited by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly in its 2016 State Ballot Information Booklet, was that 7 percent of ballots likely would be rejected due to unaffiliated voters returning both ballots.

In a July 6 statement, Secretary of State Wayne Williams said he was "incredibly proud" of efforts by county workers and media organizations that helped educate unaffiliated voters about the right way to vote.

"Our office will be working with the clerks to improve the percentage in our next primary election, in 2020," he added.

This year, a record-breaking 141,732 ballots were cast in El Paso County, including 34,027 by unaffiliated voters, 34,664 by Democrats and 73,034 by Republicans. That amounts to a turnout rate of over 36 percent. In the 2016 primary, only 86,000 voters returned ballots, Alfonso said in an email.

Around 58 percent of unaffiliated county residents returned Republican ballots, while 42 percent returned Democratic ballots.

Feeling competitive? Here's a look at the rejection rates for people voting more than once in the state's 10 largest counties:

El Paso County: 4.8 percent (1,611 ballots rejected)
City and County of Denver: 2.6 percent (942 rejected)
Arapahoe County: 2.7 percent (802 rejected)
Jefferson County: 1.9 percent (744 rejected)
Adams County: 0.4 percent (79 rejected)
Larimer County: 1.7 percent (365 rejected)
Boulder County: 0.9 percent (203 rejected)
Douglas County: 1.4 percent (247 rejected)
Weld County: 2.7 percent (304 rejected)
Pueblo County: 2.0 percent (116 rejected)

And here's a recap of the election results: Incumbent Rep. Doug Lamborn won the District 5 Republican primary with 52 percent of the vote; Jared Polis won the Democratic governor's primary with 39 percent of the county vote and 44 percent of the statewide vote; Walker Stapleton took the Republican nomination for governor with nearly 48 percent of the county and statewide vote; Marc Snyder won the state's District 18 Democratic primary with 55 percent of the vote; and Sheriff Bill Elder won the Republican primary with 58 percent. In the biggest nail-biter, Democratic attorney general candidate Phil Weiser lost to Joe Salazar by a margin of 5.4 percent in El Paso County, but won the statewide race by less than 1 percent.
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Friday, June 29, 2018

DA drops "chalk gate" case stemming from incident at Ken Buck's office

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2018 at 3:44 PM

Three cheers for reasonable minds might be in order, given the news from the 18th Judicial District DA’s office.

  • Shutterstock.com
The office announced on Twitter it would dismiss the charge against Shauna Johnson, saying it had been “determined that justice would be a dismissal.”

The decision involves a case where a woman wrote a message on the sidewalk outside Rep. Ken Buck's Castle Rock office that said, "Stop putting kids in cages."

That was a reference to the Trump administration's practice of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border and placing them in cages and shipping them to other states. The White House has since reversed the policy, but news reports say reuniting the kids with their parents has proven a disastrous undertaking.

Buck's office apparently reported the chalk incident and decided to press charges of criminal tampering.

The ACLU of Colorado took up her case.

“We are pleased with the decision of the prosecution to dismiss the 'criminal tampering' charge against Shauna Johnson, and we agree that it is a just result," ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein said in a release. "Shauna Johnson is a concerned constituent who simply wanted to communicate a message of dissent to Representative Buck against the cruel immigration policies of the Trump Administration. She did no damage and intended no harm. She should never have been charged in the first place. Dissent is patriotic, and especially now, we cannot allow government to intimidate or silence those who speak out against injustice.”

The release also quoted Johnson as saying, "While my family is elated that, with the help of our superheroes at ACLU of Colorado, I won’t be prosecuted, there are still thousands of babies, toddlers, and young children who haven’t seen their moms and dads for weeks. We must continue to show up and speak out for these kids."
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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

City Council approves creekside camping ban in initial vote

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 3:59 PM

Trash piles like this one, near the confluence of Shooks Run and Fountain Creek, aren’t uncommon along the Springs’ waterways. That waste can end up polluting water. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Trash piles like this one, near the confluence of Shooks Run and Fountain Creek, aren’t uncommon along the Springs’ waterways. That waste can end up polluting water.

In a first vote, City Council members approved by 7-2 an ordinance that bans camping within 100 feet of creeks. Councilors Yolanda Avila and Bill Murray were opposed.

The ordinance, pushed by City Councilors Tom Strand and Merv Bennett, would specifically ban all municipal camping within 100 feet of a public stream. Violations would be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to 189 days in jail.

The ordinance targets homeless camps along creeks, which proponents say pose risks to health and public safety. It cites the above-standard presence of E. coli in the Fountain Creek watershed, indicated by a September study by the U.S. Geological Survey (though scientists haven't determined whether human waste was a significant factor in the contamination).

Colorado Springs has had a camping ban on public property for years, but police currently have to give camp occupants 24-hour notice (under department policy, not city code) and ensure there’s shelter space available before dismantling camps. The new ordinance, Strand says, would make the ban easier to enforce by doing away with those requirements.

Councilor Andy Pico spoke out at the June 26 City Council meeting in support of the ban. In response to concerns of other councilors that the ban ignored the broader issues of pollution and homelessness, Pico said the ban was a necessary first step on the path to solving them.

"A journey of a thousand miles starts with a broken fan belt," Pico said. "And [creekside camping] is our broken fan belt and we need to fix this right off the step."

Councilor Murray questioned whether the ordinance would survive a legal challenge. (The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has voiced concern about the ban, and in the past, courts have found that cities cannot outlaw homeless people’s basic survival — which could be at issue if law enforcement doesn't ensure there's shelter space available before forcing campers to move.)

Murray pointed out two reasons the ordinance might not pass legal muster: It wouldn't keep campers from walking down to the creek to dump waste, and the city doesn't have solid data to prove that campers caused contamination.

"How do we sustain a court challenge that says we actually targeted these people instead of attempting the resolution, which we understand is [shelter] beds?"

Councilor Bennett responded by saying the ordinance could save people living in creekside camps from flash floods and would protect the general public from the risk of contaminated needles left by campers, as possible reasons a ban would be defensible.

Dee Cunningham, executive director of Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful, works with the police department’s Homeless Outreach Team to clean up camps after officers have told their occupants to move on. For years, she's seen campers dump waste into the creek, she said, and her reaction to the ban's initial approval was positive.

"I’m really pleased with some forward momentum," she said.

Shawna Kemppainen, the executive director of Urban Peak, a nonprofit that serves youth experiencing homelessness, said her agency will remain focused on helping people get out of homelessness regardless of whether the ordinance becomes law.

"Anything that's going to make it more difficult for people to find a place where they can be when they don't have a place inside to be is just going to make their walk out of homelessness more challenging," Kemppainen said. "It's not to say that [issues such as creekside camping] are not important issues, but we have to put our focus and attention on the places where we can really make some headway that helps clear the path for people."

A final vote is expected for July 10.
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Poor People's Campaign comes to Colorado

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2018 at 11:23 AM

Colorado activists brought the nationwide Poor People's Campaign to Denver on Monday, June 18. - JAKE ALTINGER
  • Jake Altinger
  • Colorado activists brought the nationwide Poor People's Campaign to Denver on Monday, June 18.
Dozens of activists, spectators and public figures rallied on state Capitol steps in Denver on the evening of June 18 to raise awareness of plight of the poor in America, officially bringing the Poor People's Campaign to Colorado. The PPC is nationwide protest movement seeking to unite poor and working people across the country in demanding an end to systemic racism, poverty and militarism.

The Poor People's Campaign traces its roots to the original campaign launched by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, several months before he was assassinated. The rally opened and closed with folk songs from the original '68 campaign and featured various guest speakers addressing social, environmental and economic justice; militarism; immigration; homelessness and poverty; and "America's distorted moral narrative." (Disclosure: the author also spoke at the event.)

"I believe this can be a unifying movement," Steve Mendoza, one of the rally's organizers, says in an interview. "I believe the Poor People's Campaign can help us begin the transition [to a system] that will put the needs of the many over the profits of the few."

The modern campaign launched six weeks of nonviolent action in Washington, D.C., on Monday, May 14, when thousands of activists joined campaign co-chairs Rev. William Barber II and Rev. Liz Theoharis to march on the U.S. Capitol and make the campaign's demands heard. Sister protests were also held in over 30 states, according to Barber. Both Barber and Theoharis were arrested that day for blocking the street, along with over 200 activists in D.C. and seven other state capitols.

Denver activist Jim Norland and Jon Stout from FreeSpeechTV were among those arrested that day in D.C., and went on to organize the Denver rally with the help of Mendoza and Beth Leyba  in just four short days. Mendoza, also an organizer for the Movement for A People's Party, a coalition of progressives and independents working to create a nationally viable third party, and Leyba have been organizing a rally with One Billion Rising, a campaign to end violence against women, for several years now.

"I realized that we, the people, have the power, and that we continually give it away. We need to take it back, and we do that by standing up, engaging in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience, and raising a ruckus," Norland says. "If every worker that made under $15 dollars an hour in this country called in sick for one day, all on the same day, they'd realize we have the power. We might see things begin to change."

Check out FreeSpeechTV's coverage of the event below. See poorpeoplescampaign.org for more information.
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