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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 19, 20173min11830

Douglas County Republicans have come out swinging following news this week that a national teachers union has contributed $300,000 to an independent expenditure committee supporting a union-friendly slate of school board candidates in the upcoming election. The cash windfall comes from the American Federation of Teachers, whose local affiliate Douglas County Federation of Teachers lost its power to collectively bargain with the Douglas County School District in 2012.

The county GOP announced today it is endorsing the race’s other slate of DougCo school board candidates, who support the district’s current education-reform agenda and are opposed by the union. The DougCo GOP posted a statement from county Chair Tanne Blackburn on its website and Facebook page:

“Today, the Douglas County Republican Party endorsed Randy Mills, Ryan Abresch, Debora Scheffel, and Grant Nelson for the 2017 Douglas County School Board Election. Initially, the candidates requested that the party not become involved because they did not want the race to be about politics. However, after learning of $300,000 in spending on out-of-state political consultants by the DC-based American Federation of Teachers on behalf of the Kevin Leung, Krista Holtzmann, Chris Schor and Anthony Graziano, it appears that the CommUnity Slate/Dream Team is determined to bring big politics into this race.

“We are endorsing to help level the playing field and to expose Leung, Holtzmann, Schor, and Graziano’s deception to our community. They are not conservatives and do not hold Republican values. If you typically check the R box on the ballot, you should vote for Mills, Abresch, Scheffel, and Nelson. We hope all Republicans in Douglas County will join us in support of these four…”

Blackburn added, ““Make no mistake, voting for Leung, Schor, Holtzmann, and Graziano will usher a new wave of radical liberal agenda into our schools. Don’t let our county get shAFTed.” (The upper-case AFT is a reference to the union’s acronym — in case that wasn’t clear.)

The GOP-endorsed slate, which is calling itself Elevate Douglas County, is among other things in favor of implementing the district’s as-yet unimplemented school voucher program, which has been tied up by court challenges for several years.

The union-supported slate, known as the Dream Team, is thought likely to nix the program if elected, mooting the court battle.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 19, 20172min5180

…Well, perhaps, in Greeley. As the Greeley Tribune reports, the five-term Colorado congressman and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful from Boulder has chipped in $1,500 to the campaigns of three Greeley City Council candidates, at $500 each:

Polis’ donations went to at-large candidate Stacy Suniga, Ward 3 candidate William Vetesy and Ward 2 candidate Lavonna Longwell.

Municipal races in Greeley are nonpartisan as elsewhere in the state, but it’s a safe bet Polis, a fabulously successful internet entrepreneur, put his money on candidates compatible with his own left-leaning profile. Indeed, other Democrats like Rep. Dave Young, D-Greeley, Weld County’s Democratic Party and county party Chair Jerad Sutton also gave to the three, the Tribune reports after perusing the latest campaign-finance disclosures by candidates.

And the GOP has jumped into the nominally nonpartisan ring, too, with Greeley’s Republican Mayor Tom Norton (a former state senator) donating $500 to Ward 2 Candidate Brett Payton.

Does it suggest a showdown — or maybe just politics as usual — in the college-and-feedlot town that brings together conservative cowboys and liberal academics, in relentlessly red-meat-eating Republican Weld County?


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 19, 20176min2280

Thank you for your coverage on the passing of Wally Stealey.  I’m one of the last, standing partners who worked closely with Wally in his practice.  As you report, Wally is famous for his efforts to launch many a politician, and even played a pivotal role in the career of Ted Trimpa.  Not just a king maker, Wally shaped Colorado’s legal fabric — perhaps more than any elected official.  Here’s a short list of some of his work:


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 19, 20174min3760

You’ve sent in your mail ballot, but the phone keeps ringing. Pitches, push polls and the like, served up right round dinnertime — with all the warmth and charm of a robocall.

Those “no-call” lists that swept the country years ago and were supposed to insulate you from unwanted telemarketers? They don’t apply to political speech; politicians and their peeps can pester you all they want. Even after you’ve voted.

Dreading another campaign season? Can’t take it anymore? Well, hold the phone — before you get so fed up you throw it out, or through, the window.

The “I Already Voted” initiative,  or IAV, offers hope. Here’s how it works, as thumbnailed in a press release this week:

The IAV Initiative is pretty simple.  It works with campaigns and advertisers to reduce the number of unnecessary political advertisements sent during elections. And by unnecessary, we mean sent to someone who is either: a) not eligible to vote or b) has already voted.

After a voter has voted, they are encouraged to opt-in and submit their information at IAlreadyVoted.org which then works to notify candidates, campaigns and media advertisers to stop targeting these voters. The site does not ask who a voter voted for, nor is it interested in capturing any more information than it needs to: name, address, zip code, email and birthday is all that is required in the submission process.

Does it really work? Organizers of the effort are taking it for a test drive — in Aurora:

Colorado is an all vote-by-mail state and Aurora is its third largest city. It offers a unique testing environment with a strong sample size large enough to gauge success while not getting lost in the typical election year shuffle.  It is geographically tight and demographically diverse. Colorado itself has been deemed a purple, bellwether state and one that is watched and studied by many in the national political scene.

Says IAV founder Jon Haubert:

“It is in a campaign’s best interest to not waste a dime on a voter that has already voted … In many ways, IAlreadyVoted.org serves as a Political Do-Not-Call List. And while we can’t promise everyone on the campaign trail will listen, we’ll certainly do our best to help voters and candidates alike by providing information to shift targeted advertisements away from those who’ve already voted.”

He sees it as a win-win:

“While the IAV Initiative is absolutely in its infancy, it’s taking steps towards solving problems on both sides of the equation by addressing voter complaints while improving how candidates and campaigns communicate and advertise.”

It’s a safe bet there’s a big appetite for this kind of service among voters in Aurora — and everywhere else. Stay tuned.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 19, 20174min4580

As readers no doubt are tired of being reminded, all politics is local. And whether or not the late, legendary U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill actually was the first to invoke that phrase, he surely would be proud of Colorado’s 4th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Ken Buck for embracing it this week.

To wit, Buck’s op-ed published Tuesday in his hometown paper, the Greeley Tribune. Buck may serve in a lawmaking body that places a premium on posturing over weighty, resonant and poll-tested issues of national and international bearing, but his commentary in the Tribune — bearing the headline, “Rather than wantonly eliminating the Weld County Council, elect better council members” — couldn’t be any more down-home. And it just might be unprecedented for how far afield it seems to be from the usual fodder of a sitting member of Congress.

The piece addresses an issue we reported on earlier this month and that has been in the news for some time in Greeley: a ballot proposal referred by a majority of Weld County Commissioners to disband the aforementioned county council. As Complete Colorado investigative ace Sherrie Peif informed us at the time, critics of the proposal surmise it’s retaliation for an audit of the commission by the council, which functions as sort of a watchdog over county affairs. Some even called it a power grab by the commission.

Peif then did her own impromptu poll of key political figures in the county to test if the commissioners’ proposal had any traction; it turned out to be overwhelmingly unpopular.

Enter Buck, who doesn’t pull his punches in this week’s op-ed opposing the commission’s bid to eliminate the council:

By asking the voters to abolish the Weld County Council, the commissioners seek to eliminate safeguards erected to the home rule charter and place more authority under the commissioner’s control.

The decision to place 1A on the ballot came right after the Weld County Council contracted with an out-of-state, independent firm to conduct an audit of the county commissioners. Axing your own oversight body right after they suggest improvements undermines public confidence in good government.

Buck also notes:

The county council plays an important oversight role for Weld County. Adding an extra layer of accountability in government doesn’t necessarily make government bigger. I proudly tell my colleagues in Congress that my home county is the only county in the U.S. with no county sales tax and no debt.

It’s all too easy for a member of the D.C. delegation to pepper home-state media with press releases about cyber-security or global terrorism. But to wade knee-deep into a local issue and take sides? Not so common.

Whatever Buck’s most recent ruminations about running for another political office closer to home, he evidently hasn’t lost interest in Colorado politics.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 18, 20172min2410

The state’s politically powerful developers have a new advocate in chief.

The Colorado Association of Homebuilders announced Tuesday that Ted Leighty will become the statewide group’s next CEO. Leighty, currently vice president of government affairs for the Colorado Association of REALTORS, will start Nov. 1.

From the association’s announcement to the press:

“The entire statewide homebuilding community is fortunate to have Ted as the association’s new CEO,” said Bruce Rau of Oakwood Homes, the current board chairman for the CAHB. “Over the past decade, Ted has established himself as a leading association executive, government relations and communications specialist, and spokesman for the housing industry. With Ted’s leadership, homebuilders across Colorado will have an experienced and respected voice to represent our members and their customers at the state level.”

Leighty replaces Scott Smith, who has led the association for the past three years and is returning to the private sector.

Said Leighty, also quoted in the announcement:

“My professional experience, and my passion, is protecting property rights and promoting the American Dream of home ownership. I look forward to working with our members, industry partners and policymakers to continue to advocate for these pillars of economic prosperity.”

The association bills itself as, “… the unified voice of the Colorado home building industry,” and includes 10 local home builders associations across the state with a statewide membership of nearly 2,000.

The association is a political heavy-hitter at the Capitol and has played an instrumental role in forging a broad range of legislation over the years, including efforts to reform construction liability laws.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 17, 20173min13880

Prayer and politics are two taboos in public schoolrooms. Prayer was dismissed from class long ago, but politics finds its way in every once in a while. And when it does, some parents are sure to object.

The latest breach of the wall of separation between school and, well, the outside world allegedly occurred in suburban Denver’s Cherry Creek School District, where a teacher has been suspended after complaints from parents. The Aurora Sentinel offers details:

Asia Lyons is a sixth-grade extended core teacher at Sky Vista Middle School in Aurora and was placed on administrative leave Oct. 6. The move came after a group of parents complained to Cherry Creek administration about her social justice class and a guest speaker that came to the class named Dezy Saint-Nolde, also known as Queen Phoenix. Saint-Nolde, a prominent social justice activist in Denver, has pleaded innocent to felony and misdemeanor charges in Denver that stem from gifting marijuana for suggested donations and has said the charges are a way to keep her from protesting racial and social injustice.

Earlier this month, the Cherry Creek school board heard from parents objecting to the subject matter as well as from fellow teachers and a former student defending the teacher.

One parent critical of the teacher and the curriculum charged: “What do you say to your children when they come home and say that Ms. Lyons said you don’t have to stand for the pledge of allegiance because that would be showing you support Donald Trump?”

The Sentinel noted that particular allegation against Lyons hasn’t been confirmed and that a timeline for a decision on her fate isn’t yet known:

Abbe Smith, spokeswoman for CCSD, said district policy is to have classroom speakers approved by the principal of the school. Smith said part of the ongoing investigation is to find out if that process was followed in this instance.

By the way, Queen Phoenix announced last week on her Facebook page that:

…With trial starting next week, I want to let y’all know that I will not be using facebook anymore. I have many reasons for this decision and it’ll be in effect almost immediately for our family’s safety and sanity. …


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 16, 201711min251
Most politicians hope to come across as ordinary folk. Fairly few succeed. Lois Tochtrop — a now-retired, long-serving member of Colorado’s General Assembly from Thornton — never really had to try. It always seemed to come naturally to her. The horseback-and-Harley-riding former nurse served in the state House and then the Senate from 1999 through […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 13, 20179min7990

Anyone recall the ’60s war spoof, “Situation Hopeless…But Not Serious”? To the various critics of the Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association, or PERA, the movie’s title must seem apt: They’d argue the system faces a looming crisis that nobody at PERA itself seems particularly worried about.

The concern is often raised by the political right — Republican Treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful Walker Stapleton has made it a veritable crusade — and they point to teetering state pension systems around the country as writing on the wall.

This week, one of the right’s most prominent players, Americans for Prosperity-Colorado, debuted a new education campaign to alert the public to what AFP says are PERA’s impending perils for taxpayers. Sweeping, structural changes are needed, AFP maintains, and as the group makes clear in a key campaign catchphrase — “PERA is a disaster in the making” — reform can’t come too soon. From the campaign’s new website:

Colorado’s public pension system is in serious trouble. The Public Employees’ Retirement Association (PERA) is underfunded by tens of billions of dollars and getting worse every day. Unless Colorado takes steps to fix the problem, retirees will see their pension promises broken, and taxpayers could be forced to pick up the tab for spiraling pension costs. At the same time tax dollars would likely be diverted away from classrooms, infrastructure, and public safety to pay for pensions.

PERA’s “defined benefit” system, funded by payroll deductions from state employees and public schoolteachers, guarantees retirees a fixed monthly payment based on how much they were paid during their working years. Kind of like the federal government’s Social Security system. How did PERA get in such a jam? AFP contends:

While defined benefit plans are generally more expensive, states could choose to fund them fully by guaranteeing the full actually required contribution (ARC) payments each and every year.

Unfortunately, politicians would rather spend that money on projects today, often leaving pensions woefully underfunded.

To make matters worse, Colorado’s legislature passed a law that has allowed them to chronically underfund PERA for over a decade.  This has caused PERA’s unfunded liabilities and costs to taxpayers to both skyrocket.

And there’s this dire warning:

To make ends meet, states will have to raise taxes, while cutting funding for core functions of government such as schools, public safety and infrastructure.

What’s to be done? Though the website doesn’t spell it out in so many words, AFP seems to prefer a 401K-style “defined contribution” plan, common to the private sector. The payout to retirees could be great or not, depending on how the fund is invested over time as well as on how financial markets are performing overall. AFP lays it out like this:

Colorado implemented some minor reforms in 2010, but PERA is still headed toward disaster. Colorado needs to change its out-of-date retirement system and move to a model that is seen in the private sector. This will not only give employees portability and flexibility in their retirement, but also lessen the burden on taxpayers.

The advocacy group also urges site visitors to sign a petition urging lawmakers “to update Colorado’s pension system and give public employees more control over their own retirement while protecting taxpayers and current retirees.”

OK. What does PERA say? We asked system spokeswoman Katie Kaufmanis, who responded thusly:

The assertion that Colorado’s retirement system can be reformed by simply changing it from a hybrid defined benefit plan to a defined contribution (401(k)-type) plan ignores the following facts:

In July 2015, the Colorado General Assembly’s Legislative Audit Committee released a report determining that the cost to fund PERA benefits is lower than the cost of other plans in the public and private sector. Independent actuarial firm Gabriel, Roeder, Smith & Company (GRS), with oversight from the Office of the State Auditor, examined the plan design of Colorado PERA and released the report. The report also found that when costs are held constant, PERA’s Hybrid Defined Benefit Plan delivers the highest percentage of salary replacement income in retirement – for short-term as well as career public employees in Colorado.

National research finds that public sector employees with retirement plan choice overwhelming choose defined benefit (DB) pension plans over 401(k)-type defined contribution (DC) individual accounts.

States that have switched to defined contribution plans for their public employees have experienced higher costs. (Alaska, Michigan, West Virginia case studies here.)

The PERA Board of Trustees has worked to develop a legislative recommendation for the Colorado General Assembly that reduces the time it will take PERA to become fully funded. This package includes benefit reductions and contribution increases and is projected to return PERA to full funding in 30 years.

This is of course an old debate that isn’t going away anytime soon. Thanks to AFP for the brush-up on the issue, and thanks to Kaufmanis for weighing in, as well.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirOctober 12, 20173min3400

Prominent and politically plugged-in Denver attorney Jon Anderson was elected 2017-18 chair today by the Board of Directors at the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry. Anderson, a partner at prestigious law firm Holland and Hart who once served as chief counsel to then-Gov. Bill Owens, long has been a go-to guy in state Republican circles.

The association — “CACI” to its friends — is Colorado’s de facto chamber of commerce and the voice of the state’s biggest and most prominent businesses. An e-announcement about Anderson’s election quotes him regarding the organization’s role in the business climate:

“CACI has led the effort to establish Colorado as a pro-business state. … Colorado has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and is enjoying a thriving economy because of this focused effort to grow and expand our state economy. Colorado’s next challenge will be to ensure that state and local leaders do not take our thriving economy for granted.”

Anderson added a cautionary note: “Colorado has experienced a recent surge in legislation, ballot measures and policies that would hamper and harm Colorado businesses and Colorado workers.”

Longtime CACI President (and onetime state House Speaker) Chuck Berry weighed in:

“Jon has a keen sense of advocating for business interests in the public arena and he is an ideal person to lead our Board in these challenging times.”

Among the strong suits making him that ideal person:

Anderson’s political and election law practice includes representing corporations, non-profits, and candidates on federal, state, and local activities. In the current election cycle, Anderson represents members of the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, a U.S. presidential campaign, non-profit organizations and multiple Super PACs and 527 committees. …

… Anderson’s government practice is focused on high stakes matters before federal, state and local government. …

CACI’s board meanwhile also chose Rhonda Sparlin, a partner at RubinBrown LLP, as chair-elect, and elected several new board members. Here are details on those and other developments at CACI.