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Kara MasonKara MasonOctober 16, 20173min3270

If the Aurora Sentinel editorial board gets what it wants, all five of the Aurora City Council seats up for grabs will be filled with new, and mostly progressive, candidates. The newspaper endorsed all three of the candidates groomed by Emerge Colorado, the organization that prepares women Democrats to run for office.

Allison Hiltz, Nicole Johnston and Crystal Murillo caught the attention of many this year including the Sentinel’s, which wrote a piece highlighting the oddity in A-town politics.

The council is typically a mainstay for conservatives, despite races being nonpartisan. But Emerge Colorado delivered three alumnas to the election this year.

And so the tide may be turning. The Sentinel endorsement says:

“The new wave of city and school board candidates are arguably much more progressive than the have been previously, offering a distinct and contrasting change from past local elections. These two slates of candidates have pulled incumbent conservatives to the left, as well, something reflected in their newer positions on some past conservative touchstones.”

The weekly newspaper also endorsed Martha Lugo, a self-proclaimed progressive, and Tom Tobiassen, former chairman of the Regional Transportation District board.

In the Ward I race, the Sentinel chose Murillo, a 23-year-old University of Denver graduate who previously interned with House Speaker Crisanta Duran, over incumbent Sally Mounier for being, “consistent in showing she has the temerity, the experience and the wisdom to be steadfast in her demand that Aurora serve and protect all residents in her ward and the city, regardless of who they are, where they come from, or their documentation.”

Over in Ward II, the Sentinel endorsed Johnston over four other candidates, including former State Sen. Bob Hagedorn, but added that there really wasn’t a bad choice in the whole race.

Lugo picked up the Ward III endorsement over incumbent Marsha Berzins and three others. Hiltz, who at one point also interned for Duran, and Tobiassen picked up the at-large endorsements.

With 20 candidates, five seats and two incumbents in the race, one thing is for sure, writes the Sentinel:

“Change is guaranteed to come to Aurora as a new generation of Aurora City Council and Aurora Public Schools board candidates usher in new ideas and a drive to bring substantive progress.”


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Kara MasonKara MasonOctober 12, 20175min3860

When Colorado State University-Pueblo sociology professor Tim McGettigan likened school budget cuts to the Ludlow Massacre in a campus-wide message, administration was fast to shut his email down. Now, the school has reportedly settled a lawsuit McGettigan launched against them on the premise they violated his First Amendment rights.

McGettigan couldn’t disclose to Colorado Politics the terms of the settlement. But in a statement to the Pueblo Chieftain, current CSU-Pueblo President Timothy Mottet wrote:

“As stewards of the public trust, the University determined that the best use of resources was to resolve this matter without further litigation….The cost of litigation would far exceed the settlement amount in both dollars and employee time spent assisting in the litigation and attending the trial.”

In 2014 CSU-Pueblo was threatened with the possibility of 50 layoffs due to a $3.3 million budget deficit. McGettigan believed the budget crisis was fabricated by the CSU System. His response to the recommendation to cut staff was outlined in an email titled “Children of Ludlow,” alluding to the massacre where two dozen miners, women and children were killed during a coal mine strike in southern Colorado a century earlier.

He said then-CSU System Chancellor Michael Martin had a “hit list” and that he was “putting a gun to the head of those fifty hardworking people while he also throws a burning match on the hopes and dreams of their hopeless, defenseless families.”

McGettigan and some other faculty, staff and students were upset with Martin’s frustration regarding the lack of population growth, a contributing factor to the budget cuts.

Upon sending the email, McGettigan’s email access was revoked, a punishment he claimed hindered his job as a professor.

McGettigan told news website Inside Higher Ed after the incident, “the university’s action has made it impossible for him to do his job since the Blackboard account for his courses is based on his university email. And he said that it was absolutely untrue that he was doing anything but exercising his rights to criticize.”

But the university claimed they were in the right. A statement from former CSU-Pueblo President Lesley DiMare claimed the security of students was top priority and the budget crisis had “sparked impassioned criticism and debate across our campus community.”

“That’s entirely appropriate, and everyone on campus — no matter how you feel about the challenges at hand — should be able to engage in that activity in an environment that is free of intimidation, harassment, and threats,” the statement continued.

After the news of the settlement, McGettigan wrote in a blog post he was happy to report he had “foiled” the plans to cut 50 positions. Only 22, mostly vacant, positions were eventually eliminated.

“Let this be a warning to authors of sarcastic email messages: beware of temperamental administrators who summon SWAT Teams to drain the ink from your poison pens,” McGettigan’s blog says.

“It was a mighty long road, but, in an era when professors are being terminated for innocuous Facebook posts, it is desperately important for all citizens to fight and win First Amendment battles. Sure, it can be daunting to square off against well-resourced, malevolent organizations, but imagine the alternative. If we don’t want the Michael Martins of the world to terrorize our hard-working colleagues, then sometimes we have to honor the memory of The Children of Ludlow and fight the good fight.”


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Kara MasonKara MasonOctober 6, 20172min1720

This week the Pueblo Board of County Commissioners appointed the county’s 35th attorney, and for the first time ever it’s a woman.

Cynthia Mitchell, 42, is a Columbia University undergrad, Case Western Reserve University law school alumna, and no stranger to the legal issues of Pueblo County. She’s a Pueblo native and has worked in the county attorney’s office as an assistant county attorney since 2011.

“Much of my success at Pueblo County can be attributed to my family and the many mentors, colleagues and friends I’ve worked with at the District Attorney’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office. I believe I have learned from the best and thank them for their guidance and support,” Mitchell said of being appointed unanimously.

“Of course, my predecessor has left enormous shoes for me to fill, and I will strive to continue to provide outstanding legal services to the county, though I will likely be wearing heels.”

The accomplishment of being the first woman to hold the job is not lost on Mitchell. She told the Pueblo Chieftain’s county reporter Anthony Maestas this week, “I think that represents a lot in terms of the county’s views on advancement of women in the legal profession as well as in government.”

The new county attorney was unanimously appointed after the commissioners admitted they’d searched long and hard for a candidate outside of the county.

“We decided that the best choice came from within (the county),” Pace told the Chieftain.

Michell is replacing Greg Styduhar, who is now a magistrate in the 10th Judicial District.


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Kara MasonKara MasonSeptember 28, 20173min4170

Two cities in the Denver metro area are taking contrasting approaches to supporting the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program, which is set to end in six months if Congress doesn’t act on a permanent fix.

Aurora and Longmont were both presented with resolutions this week that asked council members to support the program that offers some protections to young immigrants that were illegally brought to the U.S. as children. But only one went through with a vote on the symbolic measures.

Monday night Aurora City Council had the chance to vote on a resolution that would have supported the continuation of DACA and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream And Grow Our Economy Act, but instead decided to move it to the city’s Management and Finance Committee for “further development,” according to a report by the Aurora Sentinel.

Councilwoman Sally Mounier, who represents one of the most diverse wards of Aurora, said she wanted a resolution that encompassed immigration as a whole, not just DACA. But drafter of the resolution Councilman Charlie Richardson said that the measure was simple and asked whether those wanting to move the resolution were really supporting deportation efforts.

In a 6-3 vote, the resolution was moved to committee. Richardson alleged that it was a move made to sidestep an official stance on the issue for those who are up for re-election this November.

It’s unclear when that measure will be back before the full council.

On Tuesday, Longmont City Council took up a similar measure, passing it unanimously.

“We in Longmont have found DACA recipients to be important and well respected members of our community, and many Longmont businesses depend upon them as valued employees,” the resolution said.

The Longmont Times-Call reported there was no discussion on the resolution, but many community members showed up to support the measure.


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Kara MasonKara MasonSeptember 27, 20173min3900

In places across Colorado that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis there are few resources, especially for those who’ve served in the military and find themselves with a substance-abuse problem. This week the state learned it’ll get nearly $400,000 for veteran drug courts.

The Department of Justice grant is being awarded to the Colorado Judicial Department, which has just a handful of courts aimed at veterans with trauma spectrum disorders. That can range from PTSD to substance abuse or other mental health challenges.

Pueblo, among the worst for opioid addiction in the state, and El Paso County, with a heavy military presence, each have a veteran treatment court. And Denver’s drug court has a veteran’s track. Even so, resources for veterans with substance abuse problems can be limited.

“Over the past year-and-a-half, I have traveled across the 3rd Congressional District and heard the stories of families and individuals who have been impacted by the opioid epidemic that is sweeping our nation. All of these stories are heartbreaking, but especially heartbreaking are the stories about veterans who return home and feel they have no other option but to seek comfort in drugs or alcohol,” said 3rd Congressional U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton in a statement, after learning of the grant award to Colorado.

Tipton’s district includes places such as Pueblo, where the veteran population nears 15,000 people in Pueblo County and has been highlighted as a hotspot for opioid addiction.

“Drug courts are an important path to recovery for many of these men and women, and I’m glad that Colorado has been awarded this funding to support and enhance the drug court program,” he said.

Veteran treatment courts received nearly half of the grant money the Justice Department awarded for opioid crisis-related programs across the nation, but they also further the department’s priority of “reducing crime by holding offenders accountable for their actions, and reducing victimization by intervening soon after arrest to prevent future crime.”

The DOJ awarded a total of $22.3 million to 53 jurisdictions for veteran drug courts, which the department describes as “‘one-stop-shops’ to link veterans with services, benefits and program providers, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Service Organizations and volunteer veteran mentors.”

Nearly one-fifth of veterans across the country have a substance abuse disorder, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it’s estimated one-third of veterans seeking help for substance abuse have PTSD.


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Kara MasonKara MasonSeptember 18, 20172min3090

Two years ago Gov. John Hickenlooper stood alongside artists in Loveland and announced the state would be the first in the nation to help develop affordable housing for artists across Colorado. That vision made another milestone last week in Trinidad, which was the first community chosen for the Space to Create program.

Trinidad, an old coal town located in the far southeastern portion of the state, learned it’s receiving 9 percent housing tax credits from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority to fund its Space to Create project, which includes both work space and affordable housing for low-income artists and their families.

“This is a moment for Trinidad. This project will rehabilitate an entire city block on Main Street and will provide 41 new housing spaces to our downtown,” said Tara Marshall, development service director for the City of Trinidad, in a statement. “This is an extraordinary win for our community.”

The Space to Create project is the first of its kind. Artists, or those in related industries, meeting particular income requirements are eligible for the housing, which also make it easy to be creative, as workspace is attached. Three Trinidad buildings more than a century old will be transformed into the combined living, working and community space.

Trinidad has also done its part in making the project possible. Last year the city council allocated $1.6 million for the space.

“City Council recognized the opportunity to form partnerships that brought public, private and nonprofit funding to Trinidad to invest in our community,” Trinidad Mayor Phil Rico said in a statement. “This is an important milestone and I look forward to seeing this major project continue our revitalization efforts in our downtown.”

While funding has been secured, the project is still in beginning stages. City officials say the next step is to complete architectural design.


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Kara MasonKara MasonSeptember 15, 20172min2860

Former Colorado State Fair manager Chris Wiseman is jumping into Pueblo politics.

The 12-year fair veteran isn’t new to the Colorado politics limelight. Being at the helm of the state fair has meant years of enduring pointed questions and political pandering over the event’s fate in calling Pueblo home.

Before the fair, Wiseman, a Democrat, worked for former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth. Since his time at the state fair, Wiseman has worked with the Colorado Department of Agriculture as a deputy commissioner but recently announced via a Facebook post he’d turned in a letter of resignation with the intent to run for Pueblo County Commissioner.

The Pueblo Chieftain first reported on Wiseman’s bid, which may be centered on the future of hemp and cannabis:

“Wiseman said as commissioner he wants to see what he could do to expand markets for hemp as he has been doing at the department of ag.”

That position already has been met with opposition by a group of vocal, yet mostly informal, marijuana industry critics. A Facebook page titled, “Parents against the normalization of dope,” which mostly comments on Pueblo-related marijuana news, posted that it “wasn’t surprised” by the “drug person’s” bid.

The commissioner seat is being vacated by Sal Pace, a former state House minority leader, who announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t run for re-election because he wants to spend more time with his family. Pace was first elected as county commissioner in 2013.


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Kara MasonKara MasonAugust 18, 20173min781

Will there be more inmates headed for the state’s prison capital? Since May, people have been saying it’s possible under a Trump administration that’s vowing to get tougher on crime.

This week in the print edition of the Economist, Cañon City councilman Frank Jaquez said area prisons, a mix of federal and state, aren’t filled to the brim and he’s glad it’s that way.

As pointed out in the article, the number of people in Fremont County’s prisons has been on the decline:

 The state-prison population in Colorado declined by 7.2% between 2010 and 2015. In 2012, the state closed a prison it had opened in Cañon City only two years before, due to a dearth of inmates. Since its peak in 2013, the federal-prison population has also fallen.

There are 13 prisons in Fremont County. They range from housing the worst of the worst at ADX, where some are in lockdown 23 hours per day, to low-security prisons that feature a plethora of work programs.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year ordered federal prosecutors to seek stricter punishment for drug offenses. It’s a reversal from the Obama administration, which sought to reduce the number of people serving long prison sentences for low-level drug crimes.

With more low-level drug offenses landing people in prison, there may be a spike in the prison population in Fremont County.

The Economist asked local lawmakers if the recent orders would be good for business. But none of the city council members in Cañon City or the commissioners in Fremont County would admit the policy would make a fiscal difference, the article said.

“…local officials doubt it will have too big an impact on the area, mainly because state prisons are a more important source of employment—and, even then, the jobs are not directly tied to prisoner numbers. Cañon City also shows how even if federal policies on crime are going backwards, the politics has not necessarily followed.”


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Kara MasonKara MasonAugust 7, 20174min682

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis took to Pueblo this weekend for a meet and greet with residents that more than once reminded the Boulder congressman and candidate that Pueblo often gets overlooked and left behind the rest of the state.

“Folks from this area feel like a second Colorado. And we don’t always feel as paid attention to by folks in the Denver area. So I love that you announced here,” said Theresa Trujillo, a community adviser who is active in local politics. “Please continue to remember to keep in mind this part of Colorado.”

The majority of the hour-long question and answer session on Saturday focused heavily on the economic status of Pueblo and how the city has failed to keep up with the growing economies of the Denver Metro area.

Polis’ campaign has been centered on a Colorado economy that “works for everybody” — which he echoed to the 20-or-so attendees of the meet and greet hosted at a local pizza parlor located in the shadow of the Colorado Fuel & Iron Steel Mill, once the economic hub that kept Pueblo afloat.

“We need to talk about the future of Pueblo and where Pueblo can prosper in a 21st-century economy,” Polis said. “This is where Trump has lied to people including Pueblo residents. His basic argument is that the future of Pueblo can be the past of Pueblo … And I’m here to tell you what you all know to be the truth: the future of Pueblo is bright, but it’s not the same as the past of Pueblo.”

Despite losing Colorado, Trump saw victory in the Steel City winning a small majority of voters in Pueblo on the promise of strengthening American steel and boosting the manufacturing economy.

“We need to build a sustainable, diverse future for the vibrant community of Pueblo to thrive and prosper, and that’ll be a different solution than selling that false promise that it’s going to be the exact same as it was 50 years ago,” Polis said.

Along with others, Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki said Pueblo County voting Trump was an embarrassment, adding that Pueblo hasn’t even gone blue when it came to Congress. U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton beat Democratic contender Gail Schwartz in November.

“I’m thinking that the statewide Democratic party needs to figure out Pueblo,” Nawrocki said. “The Democratic Party historically supported blue collar workers — not the Republicans. Somehow we lost that. Somehow or another the Democratic Party needs to recapture the working people.”

Nawrocki’s concerns about the statewide party is a national question, Polis said.

“It’s a matter of having the right answers,” Polis added. “I think what Donald Trump tapped into in Pueblo was that in many ways he had the wrong answers to the right questions.”

Polis added that Hillary Clinton didn’t “do well enough” in promising a future instead of focusing on the past.

The candidate stuck to his platform in promising a brighter economic future for southern Colorado, mostly referring to his plans to encourage Colorado companies to share profit with their employees.

When asked if he was worried about over-promising to the voters of Pueblo, Polis told Colorado Politics that was Trump’s way of doing things.

“It’s about speaking the truth,” he said. “And having a compelling vision for the future.”


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Kara MasonKara MasonAugust 1, 20173min50619

Eight German exchange students headed for Salida got a taste of increasing political tensions regarding immigration policy in the U.S. over the weekend.

Before being detained at Denver International Airport, immigration officials “insisted they (the students) were coming in and taking work away from U.S. citizens, which is illegal since they have no work visa,” Susan Masterson, who has coordinated the exchange program for six years, told the Salida Mountain Mail.

Masterson said she was at the airport when the students were detained.

The students that planned on spending three weeks in the southern Colorado mountain town ended up spending Friday night in a detention facility. Meanwhile Masterson said she was in contact with state Rep. Jim Wilson, the governor’s office, Congressman Doug Lamborn’s office and Sen. Michael Bennet’s office.

But none could prevent the students, all 18 years old, from being deported back to Germany. Immigration enforcement officials determined the students were attempting to enter the country on the wrong visa, a tourist visa.

Masterson said she was blown away by the outpouring of support from different agencies. The Mountain Mail reported that Masterson wrote in a letter to the German families Lamborn’s office did everything they could to help, but “nothing could be done.”

“We’ve never had a problem like this before,” Masterson told Colorado Politics, adding that she has connections to the German school the students were coming from and hasn’t had a visa problem any of the years since she began the program.

So, was the incident a result of the contentious political climate surrounding immigration?

“Oh I think so,” Masterson said. “Controls have definitely tightened.”

The students have returned to their families, Masterson said. But “they don’t have a very good impression of our country.”

Masterson said she’s hoping to get the community to send some sort of letter to the students, so they know they’re welcomed in Salida.