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Jessica MachettaDecember 18, 20175min3642

Colorado Democratic Party officers have decided to name their annual gala the Obama Dinner. Will former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama be attending?

“Yes, the former President and First Lady would certainly be the guests of honor at a dinner bearing their name,” Spokesman Eric Walker said. (Of course, the Obamas are invited to hundreds of events around the country.)

“The Colorado Democratic Party is proud to honor the historic contributions from the former first family by naming our dinner the Obama Dinner,” Colorado Democratic Party executive director Pilar Chapa said in a press release. “In 2008, Colorado had the privilege of hosting the Democratic National Convention where Barack Obama won our party’s nomination and subsequent election as the 44th president of the United States of America. Since that time, both Michelle and Barack Obama have played a pivotal role in advancing our nation forward.”

Chapa said the United States pulled itself out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression under the Obama administration and started the longest period of private sector job growth in American history.

“That record of economic success, combined with landmark health care legislation, millions of jobs saved through the auto rescue, and important work on climate change, cemented President Obama’s legacy as a transformational leader of our country,” Chapa said. “As an inspirational role model, First Lady Michelle Obama’s focus on health and exercise programs helped reverse childhood obesity trends in the U.S., and her focus on helping military families stands as an inspiration to all Americans. The Obama legacy embodies the values we hold as Democrats, and we are beyond proud to rename our annual dinner after our former first family.”

The inaugural Obama Dinner is set for Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Hilton Denver City Center.

This will be the state party’s 85th annual dinner, formerly known as he Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.

With Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson both having been slave owners, several state democratic parties are renaming their annual events. Here in Colorado, Jackson’s Trail of Tears legacy also highlights a painful part of history with which Democrats do not wish to align their ideals.

Renaming the annual dinner didn’t come without criticism.

Dave Kopel, research director for the Independence Institute, called the whole rebranding trend ridiculous on “Colorado Inside Out.”

“Jefferson was one of the founders of the country, and Jackson was a great president for the people,” he said. “His Indian policy was very wrong, but he led the fight against the bank of the United States,” keeping the country free from central banking for the rest of the 19th century.”

Nonetheless, he said, “Let’s presume the rule is, you have to be a Democratic president, no slaves, and, for prudence, let’s say no sex scandals.” That would leave Martin Van Buren, Franklin Pierce, Grover Cleveland, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, he said.

However, party leaders have settled on naming the annual dinner after the Obamas,; tickets range from $150 a piece to $10,000 for a table of 10.

Democrats haven’t yet announced the upcoming dinner’s keynote speaker. This year’s featured former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, a 2016 U.S. Senate candidate and the president of Let America Vote. The year before that, Democratic nominees Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders spoke at the event.

Previous keynote speakers a the annual dinner have included Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, and then-mayor of Newark, N.J., Cory Booker, who won a seat in the U.S. Senate soon after.

After the annual dinner, the next major event for Colorado Democrats is the state assembly on April 14 at the 1stBank Center arena in Broomfield.

Staff writer Ernest Luning contributed to this story.


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Jessica MachettaDecember 17, 20173min313

Has Colorado taxpayer money ever been used to settle workplace harassment claims against the General Assembly? No. Could it? Probably not.

Director of the Office of Legislative Legal Services Sharon Eubanks, who is a lawyer, told legislators at a committee meeting that legislative counsel expenditures are looked at by the comptroller and approved before they are entered into the state system, and there’s also an annual audit of all money spent.

“In terms of these monies, whether they could be used as monetary settlements — threatened or actual harassment claims — there are a couple of different options,” Eubanks said.

There could be a monetary settlement of a pending action against the General Assembly or an individual lawmaker, she said, depending on Legal Services or if they’ve retained counsel.

“And just because Legal Services has retained counsel to pay for legal expenses, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s an agreement,” Eubanks said. “There would need to be approval.”

Legal Services does have an amount for legal fees, she said, but “to date, there have been no actions involving workplace harassment, that we could find, and no settlements made.”

If it’s found the legislature’s harassment policy has been violated and disciplinary action is taken, that person has no authority to make monetary settlements using public funds and also does not have access to those funds, Eubanks said.

“That person, whether in the House or the Senate, may try to submit something to the chief clerk or to the secretary of the Senate,” she said, “and you can imagine what public reaction might be.”

The discussion comes after it was reported recently that members of Congress legally tapped taxpayer money to settle harassment claims. Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, last week signed onto a bill that would prevent prevent that.

The Executive Committee of the Legislative Council voted Friday to work with the Office of Legislative Legal Services to hire an independent human resources professional that would act as a gate-keeper in handling all complains of workplace harassment.


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Jessica MachettaDecember 14, 20172min710
Gubernatorial candidate Cary Kennedy says strong Democratic governors need to lead change at the state level while Republicans in Washington continue to chip away at protections for the working class. Kennedy spoke to about 75 supporters at her campaign’s new headquarters in Denver Wednesday evening, saying her plan for preserving Colorado’s environment, public lands and […]

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Jessica MachettaDecember 14, 20173min641

Lawmakers will meet Dec. 15 at the statehouse to discuss hiring an independent consultant that would manage complaints of sexual harassment in the Capitol.

Formal complaints are currently filed with House or Senate leadership, and though the process ensures confidentiality, some have said concerns about pushback have made them stay silent.

“We have a current reporting system and we have a zero-tolerance policy for such things,” Senate President Kevin Grantham said when complaints first surfaced in November, “but we’re going to have someone come in and see where the holes are, where we can fill the gaps, review and possibly overhaul the way we do things to make it a better system.”

That review will look at best practices, including record keeping, protections against retribution, online reporting, and safeguards to allow patterns of harassment to be detected and handled appropriately.

“This is about working together to address what clearly is a problem,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran said. “I am glad that all four caucuses have agreed to set up a comprehensive review of our harassment policies, and I hope that through this process we can create a welcoming and respectful workplace for everyone.”

The Executive Committee of the Legislative Council includes Grantham, Duran, Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, House Majority Leader KC Becker, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville.

According to the agenda, the committee will consider hiring a human resources professional. It will also review review the legislature’s existing workplace harassment policy and discuss whether more workplace harassment training is needed for lawmakers and legislative staff.

Rep. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, set off a firestorm when she filed a formal complaint against Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, with Duran’s office alleging Lebsock made sexually crude remarks to her at a gathering at a bar at the end of the 2016 legislative session. KUNC’s Bente Birkland reported that former lobbyist Holly Tarry and former legislative aide Cassie Tanner also accuse Lebsock of behaving inappropriately.

Reps. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver, Randy Baumgardner, R-Breckenridge, and Jack Tate, R-Centennial, have also been accused of sexual harassment.

All four lawmakers have denied any wrongdoing.