Erin PraterErin PraterSeptember 12, 20171min570

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will kick off her “2017 Rethink School Tour” Tuesday morning in Casper, Wyoming — just a stone’s throw from the Colorado border.

DeVos will visit Woods Learning Center in Casper and St. Stephens Indian High School on the Wind River Indian Reservation Tuesday — two schools that “highlight the ways local educators are meeting the unique needs of their students,” according to a Department of Education press release.

The tour, which wraps up Friday, will feature stops in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana. It’s intended to “showcase creative ways in which education leaders are meeting the needs of students in K-12 and higher education,” according to a press release.

“There are so many new and exciting ways state-based education leaders and advocates are truly rethinking education,” DeVos said in a statement. “It is our goal with this tour to highlight what’s working. We want to encourage local education leaders to continue to be creative, to empower parents with options and to expand student-centered education opportunities.”


Erin PraterErin PraterAugust 23, 20175min200

Sometimes what one doesn’t say — or tweet — is just as important as what one does.

The old adage has, perhaps, never been as true as it was earlier this month, when politicians responded en masse to the weekend violence between white nationalists and counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va. — and President Trump’s varied responses to it.

Some were quick to condemn hate, bigotry and neo-Nazism, but didn’t directly connect such evils to the tragedy — or to label it “domestic terrorism.”

Others like Trump said “both sides” were to blame for the brutality that resulted in three deaths.

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner — often viewed as protective of the president and his agenda — surprised many Coloradans by quickly becoming one of the most vocal Republican critics of Trump’s response.

“Praying for those hurt & killed today in Charlottesville. This is nothing short of domestic terrorism & should be named as such,” Gardner tweeted that Saturday.

“Mr. President — we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism,” he tweeted later that day.

In an interview the next day with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Gardner took his rhetoric a step further, stating, “This is not a time for vagaries, this isn’t a time for innuendo or to allow room to be read between the lines. This is a time to lay blame — to lay blame on bigotry, to lay blame on white nationalists and on hatred, and that needs to be said.”

Gardner stepped it up yet again the following Tuesday at a series of town halls throughout the state, going so far as to say, “I think it’s about time asses with Nazi flags go back to their hole,” The Denver Post reported.

Gardner’s statements earned him rare praise from critics — including from the Twitter account @CardboardCoryCO, a self-proclaimed “parody account” that chronicles the adventures of a traveling cardboard Gardner “willing to be seen in public with you.”

“Thank you, @SenCoryGardner,” @CardboardCoryCO tweeted in response to an initial tweet from Gardner condemning the “hate being spewed in Virginia.”

“Now confront your party and write bills that will protect and lift up vulnerable communities. #copolitics.”

Cardboard Cory wasn’t the only critic to compliment Gardner, who received an unusual amount of accolades on a Colorado Politics Facebook post about his CNN appearance.

“First time I’ve been proud to call you my senator in quite a while,” commented reader Jan Wellington.

“Oh wow, he’s finally doing something the state can get behind,” Dusty Rose added.

“What do you know! Gardener does have a backbone!” exclaimed Matt Wellmann.

There were neutral and negative comments, to be sure.

There was this more tempered response from Susan Peguero, who presumably isn’t a Gardner supporter: “About time you stood up — finally. You are still a sorry excuse for a representative of the people of Colorado. It will take a whole lot more of this before you can claim to represent us.”

And this slam from frequent commenter Andrei Andronescu: “Oh look, he’s trying to grow a spine. Too small, and too late.”

Ilene Whitehead seemed impressed but doubtful of Gardner’s viability as a candidate next go-around.

“Finally, Gardner speaks his own mind!” she wrote. “Certainly is a Trump puppet who does not represent his constituents, puts party before country and was one of the 13 white men who wrote the last health-care bill.

“2020 won’t be your year, Cory.”

The social media response to Gardner’s words and actions was more positive than Colorado Politics usually observes.

Does this bode well for his chances at re-election?

It’s a bit early to say, but Gardner might consider tweeting a bit more. Since July, his cardboard doppelganger has already tweeted nearly a third as many times as he has in six and a half years.


Erin PraterErin PraterAugust 23, 201716min680
Laura Ettinger poses for a portrait outside of Create Cafe, which she owns, Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Manitou Springs. Ettinger, an independent, is appalled by President Trump. (Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette)

For yoga instructor Jess Saffer and the other happy hippies of Manitou Springs, last year’s presidential election was an emotional body blow — intense, raw and visceral.

“It felt like heartbreak,” said Saffer, 28, of the moment she learned that Trump had taken the lead.

Nine months in, a siege mentality has taken hold in this quaint, funky tourist town nestled at the foot of Pikes Peak.

That’s because Manitou, known for its ancient healing waters and carefree vibe, is a blue dot in a sea of red. Though surrounding Colorado Springs is one of the most conservative cities in the state, Manitou, affectionately known as “Hippie Mayberry,” is one of the most liberal.

Here you’ll find locals who greet visitors like longtime friends, passersby who almost always spare change for beggars, and the area’s only retail pot shops.

And you’ll find Never Trumpers — those who voted for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein — anyone, anything but Trump — in spades.

What’s a Never Trumper living in the heart of Trump Country to do? Now that the initial shock of Trump’s victory has subsided, just how are Manitoids coping?

Some are displeased but dismissive, determined not to let national politics influence their highly individualized ways of life.

Others are trying on a newfound activism. Still others are trying to live more deliberate lives in which small acts of kindness play a bigger, more meaningful role — determined to fight what they perceive as a hateful regime with an old hippie weapon: love.


Yoga instructor Jessi Saffer eats a salad at Create Cafe Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Manitou Springs. Although Saffer is disappointed in her fellow Coloradans who voted for Trump, she tries to spread kindness with everyone. (Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette)

Hurricane Trump
The morning after the election, Saffer began the process of coping with “severe disappointment in multiple people” — not just the broad swath of Trump voters across the nation, but “fellow Coloradans.”

She began to see the man in the truck next to her with the “drain the swamp” bumper sticker, the woman on the street with the red embroidered Make America Great Again trucker’s hat, as people who had betrayed her — and the nation — deeply.

“I’ll think, ‘Oh, you’re one of those,’” she said. “I’m pretty biased. But I’m not mean to them. It just blows my mind.”
Saffer has channeled her emotions into advocacy. She “resisted” by participating in a local protest and signing multiple petitions against laws Trump wants passed.

Many locals are adjusting to the new normal by leaning on each other.

“Manitou is a place full of community activists, people who want to move things forward in a positive way,” said Laura Ettinger, co-owner of Create Café, as the afternoon rush slowed to a trickle.

The cafe serves up unique options like zucchini noodles, lavender-honey beer and Manitou Lemonade made with water from a nearby spring. It features a “pay it forward pot” that funds the meals of hungry patrons with empty pockets.

She recalls the morning after Election Day in Manitou as brimming with despair.

“People were mourning,” said Ettinger, 54. “It was a sense of depression, of ‘we are in trouble now,’ of disbelief.”

But time marches on, and there’s work to do.

Trump can keep tweeting, if he must, Ettinger said, but she has mouths to feed — regardless of ability to pay.

“Nobody gets turned away,” she insisted.

“People in Manitou are going to take care of their people. We all have to deal with the national-level stuff, but really, when it comes down to change happening, it’s going to be at the local level.”

If there’s any place for a liberal to weather Hurricane Trump, “this would be it.”


Dave Cutshaw (right) sells whittled sticks Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Manitou Springs. This liberal hippie town of 5,000 tucked in the foothills of the red-leaning El Paso County swung blue in the last presidential election. (Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette)

‘Hippie Mayberry’
Manitou Springs is a political phenomenon as much as it is a cultural one.

The predominately white municipality of roughly 5,000 is bereft of the diversity one might associate with a city so blue.

Much like Mayberry might, Manitou features fishing holes, effervescent springs and old-fashioned ice cream parlors.

There’s a penny arcade, a singular high school and nary a big box store in sight.

But Mayberry doesn’t host an annual coffin race down Main Street.

Mayberry’s gift shops don’t sell “The Nightmare Before Christmas” tree ornaments, cashew cheese, spring-water popsicles and “Bliss Booch” kombucha.

Mayberry isn’t home to a South American-inspired tea shop run by a religious sect that claims to serve “the Fruit of the Spirit,” or a pizzeria named Hell’s Kitchen.

“Manitou has long had a reputation for being hippie and liberal,” said Robert Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College and co-author of “Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State.”

Loevy, who served on the Colorado Reapportionment Commission in 2011, says Manitou is on the western edge of an area voting analysts call “Blue Colorado Springs,” which begins in Manitou and extends eastward through Old Colorado City, downtown Colorado Springs and into Eastern Colorado Springs.

While Boulder and Manitou Springs are both considered quintessential Colorado hippie towns, “they’re completely different places,” Loevy said.

“Boulder has people who are there making a great deal of money in Boulder or Denver,” he said.

Loevy sees Manitou as a different thing altogether — more similar to the strongly Democratic Western Slope ski towns like Keystone, Breckenridge and Vail than its liberal stepsister to the north.

In Colorado’s ski towns “you have a type of person who wants to live a more relaxed mountain lifestyle,” he said.

“They want to be right where the scenery is. They have plenty of money, usually earned somewhere else. They vote strongly Democratic, an important part of why Democrats do so well in elections.

“I see Manitou as fitting more into that pattern because although it’s not a ski town, it’s really close to the mountains.

“The effect of that is like the ski towns: Manitou is Democratic.”

It’s so Democratic, in fact, that Manitou — more precisely, the three precincts that encompass it and parts of El Paso County — swung blue in the last two presidential elections by nearly 2:1, according to data available on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website.

Though Manitou is about as Democratic as they come, it’s a drop in the bucket when compared to the estimated 688,000 residents of El Paso County, which swung red in November.

At a commission meeting he attended, “we spent a long time discussing Manitou Springs, and one of our staff pointed out that we were talking about a very small number of voters — less than 5,000 at the time,” Loevy pointed out.

However minuscule Manitou’s effect on elections outside city limits, its residents are passionate about politics.

Why does it lean so far left?

“That’s a really good question,” Loevy said. “I can’t answer it. I’ve never heard any theories on why Manitou attracts liberals and people likely to vote Democrat.”


‘I’m scared, I really am’
“Messy” is coping with the Trump presidency by living how he pleases before the nation goes to “hell in a hand basket” at the hands of Trump.

On a recent Thursday morning, that meant smoking a cigarette and sipping coffee with fellow transients outside The Maté Factor Café, a local bistro run by the offbeat religious group Twelve Tribes.

Two nights prior, 52-year-old Messy — less commonly known by his birth name, Scott Smith — had arrived from Boulder, hoping to catch a hippie gathering before moving on to a festival in Virginia.

“I’m scared, I really am,” said Messy, clad in tie-dye T-shirt and faded overalls, his matted dirty blonde dreads mingling with the voodoo doll necklace resting on his chest.

Just what is there to fear under Trump?

Messy’s not exactly sure. But says he doesn’t trust hateful men.

“People are great, but he wants to build a wall to keep people out,” Messy mused. “Those are the good people, the Mexican people — they’re running from something in their country — poverty, crime. They come over here just to get away from it and to work to make a living. I thought that’s what this country was built on, that people can come over here.

Messy planned to linger in Manitou for a couple days, then hit the road. He adores Manitou — a true hippie down, unlike Boulder, he says — but gets restless.

“I love it here, but I can’t stay in any one place too long.”


Dave Cutshaw (right) poses for a portrait while selling whittled sticks Friday, Aug. 11, 2017, in Manitou Springs. Cutshaw sees President Trump as a spoiled child. (Photo by James Wooldridge, The Gazette)

Trump, the petulant child
Dave Cutshaw has more important matters to tend to than worrying too much about Trump — like whittling walking sticks outside of Heavenly Squeeze Juice Bar.

“Donald Trump is just a little kid,” he spat while clearing pulp out of beetle tracks on a tree branch he was readying to stain.

His dog, Sagebrush, rested nearby.

“He had everything he ever wanted, and this is just the ultimate prize.”

Cutshaw recalls Election Night — sitting outside of nearby Camino Real Imports. Hearing the hollers that Trump had won. A man throwing things in his apartment, angrily bemoaning the end of the world.

“I just laughed,” said Cutshaw, 59, who lives off the land outside city limits.

“It don’t matter. It was a lesser-of-two-evil type thing. They haven’t had a good president in there for years.”
Cutshaw thinks Trump’s blunt nature could come in handy.

Right now the country needs an “asshole president” to turn the ship around, and insolent Trump just might be the man for the job, he posited.

If he isn’t?

It’s no skin off Cutshaw’s back.

“I come down here, make some money, go back in the mountains when I get tired of it all,” he said.


That old hippie weapon
Saffer is coping in a very Manitou way: spreading as much love as possible.

She’s doing so because she believes Trump — “pure hate, pure ego, pure negativity” — is its antithesis.

“Just being kind to passing strangers is huge,” said Saffer, who works at a local spa and retreat center.

“In this job specifically, I’m able to create events that bring community members together to focus on what’s important: coming back to unconditional love for everybody ….”

She paused.

“Including Trump,” she added with emphasis.


“Yeah, really,” she said with a laugh. “It’s hard.”

Just how does a Trump opponent tackle such a task?

“It’s a constant balance of your own thought process, focusing on what’s real and what’s true, which is that we’re all the same — nobody’s better or worse,” she said.

Trump “clearly has his own struggles.”

“If somebody like that can be shown love, possibly they can change.”

Porcelain dishes clinked as Ettinger sat a generous kale salad and a hefty, steaming bowl of parsley-garnished soup in front of Saffer, who smiled gratefully.

One small act of kindness, however trivial, can inspire countless glorious counterfeits, Safer believes.

One hearty, nourishing bowl of soup.

One shy smile to a stranger on the street.

One ice cold glass of Manitou Lemonade.


Erin PraterErin PraterAugust 21, 20172min200

Monday was the day of the obligatory eclipse-glasses selfie — or so we thought.

By now we all know that a certain politician didn’t wear his protective glasses while looking at the eclipse — at least not at first.

Not to worry — BuzzFeed reports that POTUS was handed glasses to wear for the remainder of his eclipse-viewing experience, as evidenced by FLOTUS’ tweet.

Trump wasn’t the only politician donning ultra-cool shades today. So were many a Colorado politico — Republicans and Democrats alike. Even U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter took a break from the busyness of announcing his return to the race for his congressional seat to view the eclipse.

We went to the trouble of collecting a few shots of our beloved representatives in their endearingly nerdy glasses. Enjoy.


Erin PraterErin PraterAugust 8, 20175min260

It’s that time of year again. The kids are headed back to school, Sharpies are on sale, and the innards of craft stores like Michaels and Hobby Lobby once again smell of pumpkin spice.

It’s fall, y’all — almost, at least.

Where did the time go? It seems like just yesterday Gov. Hickenlooper threatened to call a special session, telling reporters, “I did tell several people … that probably they shouldn’t make any vacation plans for May.”

That got me thinking: Just where did y’all go on your fabulous, adventurous, luxurious vacations after a long, hard legislative season?

When Hickenlooper announced May 19 that there would be no special session, surely all Colorado state lawmakers called their travel agents (or searched for the cheapest Wanna Get Away fare on and got the heck out of Dodge, right?


Maybe not.

I tweeted at a handful of them in a bid to determine just where they went after Hick’s “all clear.”

Several hours later, no one had responded. I started to panic. (This column doesn’t write itself, you know.) I considered Facebook-stalking legislators who had accepted my friend requests, hoping to find photographic evidence of vacations. I pondered logging onto Instagram — something I never do — and looking for the same.

Thankfully, three state lawmakers eventually responded, ending my desperate quest for answers. (You should probably thank them too.)

“Oh yes. I went right away! Mexico,” tweeted state Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins.

The best part of her south-of-the-border getaway?

“Sleeping!!!!” she tweeted.

State Rep. Leslie Herod, D-Denver, who spent part of her summer at Harvard participating in an executive leadership program for LGBTQ officials, ended up on “some beach, somewhere,” to quote country star Blake Shelton.

“#may Thanks @GovofCO!” she tweeted.

I’m not sure exactly where she went, but boy, does it look nice. Herod replied with video of surf tickling her sandy toes, and I’m just a bit jealous, to be honest.

Finally, there was state Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, who enjoyed a nice staycation with the fam.

“Yes! SW Colorado road trip w kiddos and hubby: hiking, rafting, jeeping, & Co history,” she tweeted.
The Best Western hotel in Cortez attempted to get in on the social media action, tweeting at Becker to ask if she was “having a fun time down our way.”

As of press time, Becker had not replied.

Way to stay and play local, Becker. Keep those tourism bucks in state!

So where did the rest of you go, I wondered. Did you escape on an exciting getaway and return to a billion emails, rendering you too busy to tweet me back? Did you go somewhere to embarrassing to share — perhaps a clothing-optional hot spring in Moffat? Are you currently at some exotic locale far, far away — maybe a remote Tibetan village with no internet access?

Then it hit me.

The Colorado Politics staff has been highly unsuccessful at our vacation attempts.

We haven’t really gone much of anywhere.

Joey Bunch, the face of Colorado Politics, took a week of vacation, but showed up for meetings during that time — and I often saw his avatar lurking in the Google doc we use as our daily budget.

I took a week of vacation during which I checked email relentlessly, wrote this column and wound up checking U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s Twitter page multiple times after learning that actress Julia Stiles had retweeted him. (I’m a big “Save the Last Dance” fan. It’s complicated.)

If we here at Colorado Politics really haven’t vacationed, state lawmakers probably haven’t either, I surmised.

There isn’t much off time during the “off season,” is there? Perhaps just a bit more sleep.

And there you have it: My summary of what Colorado legislators did this summer: for the most part, a whole lot of nothing.

A whole lot of work, I mean.

If I’m wrong, no need to correct me — I’ve given you an out here, folks.

But do tweet back at me next time. You never know what crazy conclusion I’ll draw from your silence.


Erin PraterErin PraterAugust 8, 20174min170

Colorado officials could be doing more to “prevent and reduce suffering and death from cancer” via policy and legislation, according to a new report by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Of the nine areas of public policy examined in the report — including cigarette tax rates, Medicaid coverage of tobacco cessation and access to palliative care — Colorado’s practices fell short of ideal in a third, are making “some progress” in four  and were commended for “doing well” in two.

“This 15th edition of the report shows just how far we’ve come in the last decade and a half passing policies proven to reduce suffering and death from cancer,” R.J. Ours, the organization’s government relations director, said in a statement. “But, now is certainly not the time to rest on our laurels. This year alone in Colorado, 24,330 people will be diagnosed with cancer, and nearly 8,000 will die from the disease.

“We owe it to them, and everyone at risk of developing the disease, to do what we know works to prevent cancer and improve access to screenings and treatment.”

The report, titled “How Do You Measure Up? A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality,” looks at areas of opportunity for policy and legislation that could prevent cancer from occurring, as well as ease the suffering of those who have been diagnosed.

It also examines the state’s policy toward pain medication, looking for “balance.” In this area, Colorado is “making progress,” the report’s authors state.

The areas in which Colorado shines, according to the report: increasing access to Medicaid and breast and cervical cancer early detection.

The areas in which it rated the lowest: cigarette tax rates, indoor tanning device restrictions and access to palliative care.

(Courtesy of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network)

Both state and national cancer rates have decreased over the past 15 years, and Colorado’s diagnosis and mortality rates are below the national average, according to the “2016-2020 Colorado Cancer Plan,” produced by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Risk factors contributing to cancer diagnosis rates in Colorado include tobacco use, HPV immunizations, radon, genetics, age and poverty, according to the state’s report.

Some of Colorado’s recent cancer-related policy achievements, as outlined in the report, include securing the voter passage of a 2004 amendment that increased taxes on tobacco to fund health care services and education programs, as well as funding colorectal cancer screenings from 2006-2015.

You can see how Colorado compares to other states on the Cancer Action Network’s website.


Erin PraterErin PraterAugust 6, 20178min110



Erin PraterErin PraterJuly 25, 20173min111

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., voted Tuesday to move ahead on health care legislation aimed at dismantling the Obama health law, lending a crucial vote that contributed to the 51-50 victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump.

All 48 Senate Democrats, including Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., opposed the motion, according to CNN.

Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote.

In the statement, Gardner cited “double digit premium increases” and the more than 100,000 Coloradans he says were “forced to pay a penalty under Obamacare instead of purchasing insurance because their options have become so limited and unaffordable” as reasons for voting “yes” on the motion.

“I voted to allow debate today because we can no longer subject Coloradans to a failing healthcare system without working toward solutions, and today’s vote will allow that debate to continue,” he said in the statement. “We can now offer amendments in an open setting to fix our nation’s healthcare system and bring relief to the American people.”

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon by his office, Bennet said “the American people deserve better.”

“It is shameful that Senate Republicans just voted to take up legislation that will affect one-sixth of our economy and harm millions of Americans,” he said in the statement. “Whether Republicans choose to vote for repeal-and-replace or repeal-and-delay, we know both outcomes would be devastating for Colorado families, hospitals, and rural communities.”

Bennet tweeted this morning that the Senate would vote to consider a bill “w/o knowing what it will do or how it will affect CO.”

#Healthcare options appear to be repeal & replace or repeal & run—both hurt Coloradans & are completely unresponsive to health care needs,” he also tweeted.

Shortly after the vote Tuesday afternoon, Bennet tweeted thanks to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for his call for bipartisan cooperation on the issue.

In a dramatic turn, McCain had returned from Arizona, where he is battling brain cancer, to cast a crucial vote on proceeding on health care.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also opposed the motion, according to CNN.

Last week, McConnell was forced to postpone the vote, lacking the support of conservatives and moderates.

The vote sets up days of debate and votes on repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s health care law. Whatever the Senate approves still requires a vote in the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.