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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonSeptember 27, 20166min369

Almost any weekday this summer you could spot Denver conventioneers on 16th Street Mall shuttles by the colorful lanyards adorning their necks. It’s usually easy to discern whether these are visiting dentists, geologists, accountants or lawyers after a quick glance at their badges. But the recent 84th Annual Meeting of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) was a head scratcher. Seriously, who knew there was an International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association? Hosted in Denver by our very own E-470 Authority, the operators of tolled roads, bridges, HOV/HOT lanes and their vendors from across the country — and world —— assembled to rub elbows and celebrate what they view as a promising business opportunity. With politicians afraid to raise taxes and, in Colorado, voters reluctant to approve them, tolling has a bright future.


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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonJuly 21, 20168min312

Asheville, North Carolina, straddles several valleys at the southern tail of the planet’s oldest mountain range. Nearly 500 million years ago, the Appalachians rose to heights that compare with the Rockies today, but they have eroded to a high point of just 6,700 feet a few miles away in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Straddling the Eastern Continental divide for hundreds of miles, and located within a few hours drive for a majority of Americans, the Smokies is America’s most visited national park. It is this central access to markets that has been prompting brewers to construct east coast facilities since Coors established a packaging facility in Elkton, Virginia, nearly 30 years ago. The recent arrivals are the nation’s most successful craft brewers. Their share of the national beer market might remain in single digits, but these are profitable enterprises.


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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonMay 19, 20166min353

RTD’s cumbersomely named University of Colorado A Line — it cost CU $5 million for the “branded sponsorship” — is an A Train linking Union Station with DIA, covering 23 miles of commuter rail that can be traversed in 37 minutes. With its April opening, Denver joined a growing number of American cities where travelers can take a train to a plane and back. Not all of these have proven a success. San Francisco’s BART extension provides access to nearly 10 million Bay Area residents, where daily commutes are frequently horrific and ridership has been high. Philadelphia, by contrast, runs virtually empty cars several times an hour.


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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonApril 12, 20168min309

“Close only counts in horseshoes.” The old adage is nowhere more meaningful than at national political conventions. This round, Democrats are salivating at the opportunity to run against Donald Trump in November; but, truth be told, he is becoming increasingly less likely to emerge as the Republican nominee. One minor historical fact consistently overlooked is that never has a frontrunner been nominated at an “open” or “contested” American political convention of either major party on the first ballot. Colorado Republicans just made such a situation a little more likely in 2016. Think about it. If Trump fails, as appears increasingly likely, to secure 1,273 delegates before arriving in Cleveland, he will almost certainly return to New York as a footnote — albeit a lengthy one — to the 2016 Presidential race.


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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonMarch 30, 20166min359

Cal Marsella, who died March 19, was hired in 1995 as general manager at RTD amid policy chaos at the agency. Jon Caldara, who now heads the Independence Institute, was the RTD Board chair. Voters had recently rejected RTD’s attempt to de-Bruce. Bus operations were adjusting to legislation sponsored by state Sens. Terry Considine and Bill Owens that required a portion of routes be awarded to private companies selected through a bidding process, much to the consternation of the bus drivers’ union and several RTD Board members. Marsella was hired because of his experience in privatizing bus services at the Miami-Dade County Florida transit agency. “Guide the Ride,” a transit expansion proposal, was headed for the ballot in 1997. The brainchild of an alliance between environmentalists and the business community, it would be defeated 58-42 with opposition from Caldara and half the RTD Board.


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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonFebruary 17, 20167min330

About 50 predominantly millennial Democrats gathered last week to catch the Sanders/Clinton clash from Wisconsin at Capitol Cigars on East Colfax. Together with the regular smokers the clamoring locale was loud enough that it was necessary for the bartenders to switch on the Closed Captioning TV feature for those who actually wanted to follow the debate — that included only a few of the Democrats in attendance evidently. This crowd likely planned to troll for YouTube highlights on their smartphones the next morning. There was still some buzz about the Broncos dominant performance at the Super Bowl; one Democrat even suggesting John Elway should be drafted by Republicans as their candidate for President. “He proved he can adjust to reality following the Seattle defeat, and he’s obviously not afraid of a diverse workforce,” the “Don’t use my name,” young Dem giggled.


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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonFebruary 15, 20166min277
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C. David Johnson as President Lyndon Johnson and Terence Archie as Martin Luther King, Jr., shake hands in the Denver Center Theater production of All the Way. (Photo by Adams Visual Communications via DCPA Press)
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Miller Hudson

In a political season, it is rare to be afforded an opportunity to watch a consciously and intentional political drama. Politicians are usually better explained through their biographies. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned All the Way several years ago, and the play went on to achieve success on Broadway, earning Tony Awards for best new play and for its star, Brian Cranston of Breaking Bad fame. The Denver Center Theater production is the first by a regional company since then.

While President Lyndon Johnson is the central character, All the Way is more a history lesson than a character study. Feeling more like tutorial than theater, the play focuses on the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and recounts the emergence of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s seating challenge at the 1968 national convention. Imagine Ken Burns attempting to present these stories with historical skits, backed by his signature photos, and you will have a good feel for this production.

All the Way opens with a montage of photos from the Kennedy assassination, which are just as emotionally wrenching today as they were more than 50 years ago for those who remember them.

Lyndon Johnson was rightly referred to as a “larger than life” figure. While in college, I attended a White House reception for student government leaders, and I distinctly recall that even at a noisy and crowded reception, I was aware the moment President Johnson entered the room. His mere presence electrified the crowd into immediate silence. Only a handful of politicians can project this kind of personal power, and LBJ was among them.

While C. David Johnson provides a workmanlike portrayal of LBJ’s crude and raunchy banter, his country drawl slips periodically, and he fails to project the “white hot heat” that Cranston brought to the role, as described by one New York reviewer. Terence Archie, who portrays Martin Luther King, Jr., captures the intensity of his character as he plays a game of wits with a president who manipulates every interaction to his own advantage.

King must also work to keep civil rights leaders on a path of non-violence, ranging from the smoldering Stokely Carmichael of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee to the cautious Roy Wilkins of the NAACP. LBJ faces his own challenges, wrangling the likes of George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey and his Senate mentor, Georgia’s Richard Russell. He lies, he threatens, he bribes, he “steps on peckers” and twists arms in the interests of expanding fundamental civil rights to African Americans.

LBJ was an unlikely hero, as Robert Caro notes in his multi-volume biography: “It was Lyndon Johnson, among all the white government officials in 20th century America, who did the most to help black men and women in their fight for equality and justice.” And yet, on the night of the 2016 New Hampshire primary, there was not a single African American in the audience at the DCPA.

This is a history worth re-visiting. A few years later, as LBJ tackled the Voting Rights Act, he would shrewdly implore King to take to the streets and “make me do the right thing.”

He was, of course, intent on doing the right thing all along, but there was no subterfuge too outlandish to attempt in that pursuit. During the first act, LBJ paraphrases the adage that politics is war pursued by other means and argues to the contrary. ”No, politics is war,” he says. Staged on a semi-circular set that echoes a congressional hearing room or Teddy Roosevelt’s “arena,” the play portrays LBJ as a warrior smeared with the sweat and dirt of combat.

I could not help but recall the late Katy Atkinson’s support for bringing All the Way to the DCPA. LBJ may have been a flawed leader — he was after all a Democrat — but Atkinson understood the importance of reminding us that politics is always the democratic pursuit of the right thing by flawed men and women — our elected representatives.

All the Way, a play by Robert Schenkkan, directed by Anthony Powell, runs through Feb. 28 at the Stage Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Call the box office at 800-641-1222.



Miller HudsonMiller HudsonJanuary 28, 20169min272
It was a crisp seven below zero Friday morning as the sun rose behind Mount Werner at the Steamboat Institute’s Summit on Foreign Policy & Global Security. The conservative counterweight to Colorado’s Aspen Institute marked its 10th anniversary with a first try at hosting the winter summit. The Institute’s CEO, Jennifer Schubert-Akin, enforced an early […]

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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonJanuary 19, 20166min215

When I first ran for the Colorado Legislature in 1978, I was buried under a pile of issue surveys and questionnaires. Relatively unfamiliar to voters in my district at the time, I laboriously responded to these interrogatives, many of which ran to as many as 30 pages. It was evident that the most responsible reply to the bulk of the questions should have been, “It depends.”

Whether you are willing to consider a tax increase depends on economic circumstances, the purpose for the additional expenditure and the cost/benefit trade-off for taxpayers. A candidate’s responses rarely provide better information to voters at large, but are used to assure the members of a narrow faction that you will either provide a reliable “yes” vote on their concerns, or, alternatively, alerts them to the probability that yours will be a “no” vote. There is a not-so-subtle element of intellectual blackmail inherent to this process. Nonetheless, it has become an integral part of our political process for partisans across the political spectrum.

While I was serving a sentence as Denver Democratic Party chair in 1984, the Colorado AFL-CIO announced it would not support state Rep. Charlie Brown for re-election because he had failed to vote with them 100 percent of the time. Required to serve as campaign referee and under an obligation to defend the party’s candidate, who had successfully defeated a Republican incumbent to win his seat in southeast Denver, I commented, “A legislator who votes with any group all the time probably isn’t representing his or her constituents.”

As you might expect, not just labor, but interest groups of every stripe objected to this observation. None were interested in candidates who might exercise their best judgment, but instead preferred legislators who would smartly salute the partisan agenda they advocated. Charlie lost his seat, which would remain in Republican hands for nearly a decade. Why, you may ask, would any political organization prefer a candidate likely to oppose them 100 percent of the time in favor of one that supports them 85 percent of the time?

All this came to mind last week when it was reported that the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the largely Koch-funded conservative advocacy network, was asking Republican lawmakers to sign a pledge to protect TABOR. It’s hoped these pledges will bind the Senate majority in opposition to an effort to reclassify the hospital provider fee as an enterprise fund, rather than continuing as a tax that bumps the budget up against TABOR revenue limits.

There is ample reason to question the wisdom of this change. The mere fact that non-TABOR revenues have grown from 14 percent of the state budget, following voter approval in 1992, to nearly 40 percent today tells us there has been a fair amount of fiscal redefinition taking place beneath the gold dome. On the other hand, TABOR was not delivered to legislators on golden tablets etched by the trembling finger of a conservative god. In truth, it was drafted nearly 24 years ago by a loosely hinged California transplant enamored with the adoption of Proposition 13 in his home state. Nonetheless, there are ample escape valves built into TABOR for those seeking change — the most obvious being the ability to ask voters for approval. With virtually no evidence that voters are incapable of grasping the issue in dispute or the changes in Colorado’s economic circumstances, supporters presume they will reject the move and vote in favor of TABOR refunds.

Sooner or later, the systemic contradictions buried in the fiscal rules embedded in our state constitution will have to be unraveled at the ballot box. In the meanwhile, legislators will continue to be confronted with legislative scorecards that attempt to label them as loyal or traitorous to the priorities of specific interests. In many cases the test votes selected for these scorecards are chosen more for their capacity to divide issues along partisan lines than for their intrinsic importance.

What does a Colorado legislator’s position on the Keystone XL pipeline tell us about his or her personal commitment to environmental protections? We should not forget that even El Paso county voters approved a levy for open space and parks acquisition. Republicans are not necessarily slash and burn plunderers. Neither are Democrats uniformly spendthrifts. Once elected, incumbents are not as vulnerable to the bellyaching of partisan zealotry. It even becomes possible to explain to voters that you are refusing to return questionnaires, provide pledges or pay attention to scorecards as a matter of principle.

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com


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Miller HudsonMiller HudsonJanuary 11, 20167min331

When Sister Theobald asked me to bring my father to meet with her at Saint Rita’s Elementary, I figured I was in deep trouble. To my surprise, it turned out it was my father who was in trouble. In an essay I submitted for my English Composition class, I had casually inserted the phrase, “Eastern pricks.” Sister Theobald surmised, accurately, that my dad was likely setting a bad language example for his twin boys. Born and raised in New Mexico, he routinely groused about the Ivy League aristocrats who attempted to impose their preferences on the ignorant frontiersmen of the American West. Forty years later I encountered a similar, lingering hostility on the Mescalero Apache reservation towards the alleged entrepreneurs who approached the Tribal Council with business proposals designed to exploit the Mescaleros’ tribal sovereignty. These hucksters were generally dismissed as phonies in “arrow suits,” which was not a reference to their choice of tailors.

During much of the 20th century, the Rocky Mountain states elected members of Congress who often served as “outliers” in their respective partisan caucuses. While Republicans tended to be marginally more conservative than Democrats, both were willing to link arms when it came to funding the infrastructure projects so vital to the development and economic vitality of the region. Highways, water projects, airports, military bases, national parks and assorted earmarks were steered into job-generating public investments.

In no state did this prove more successful than New Mexico, where Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and his Democratic counterpart Jeff Bingaman funneled more federal dollars per capita into the state’s economy than any other state for more than 30 years. The wisdom of this appropriations hustling is open to question these days, as discretionary federal budgets shrink and New Mexico’s economy stumbles through a prolonged contraction. If you’ve been noticing more of those red and yellow Zia sun plates in Colorado parking lots, it’s a reflection of an increasingly desperate search for employment in Colorado’s far healthier, diverse and expanding economy.

Colorado has a long history of preparing for newcomers, while at the same time grumbling about their impact on our quality of life. When I arrived in 1972, there was droll commentary about the “last man syndrome,” each new immigrant insisting we build a wall once his or her U-Haul crossed the state line. Colorado has remained one of the youngest states in the nation for more than half a century as each new generation strikes out for Colorful Colorado. Yet, over the past decade, our politics has become increasingly reflective of the partisan divides that leave Washington, D.C., in gridlock. Colorado’s General Assembly has increasingly deadlocked over spending issues, irrespective of the fiscal demands imposed by a growing economy and its attendant population pressure. We will require more roads, more transit, more schools and more health care. While this expansion may eventually pay its own way, it will certainly cost more if we fail to prepare. TABOR, which was intended as a restraint on expenditures, has morphed into handcuffs on sensible public policy.

Voters are faced with a challenge: will they let the state finance these looming infrastructure demands? Sadly, it appears that neither the Building a Better Colorado organization nor legislative leadership in both parties is ready to tackle the systemic problems that threaten public services. Kicking the can down the road for another few years by redefining the Hospital Provider Fee represents Band-Aid politics at its most craven.

After 20 years of TABOR, there is little fat left in our fiscal goose. We have created a higher education system largely kept afloat with tuition paid by out-of-state students, a highway system in decay, public schools struggling to improve in the face of frozen budgets and a health care system bursting at the seams.

The last time Colorado faced such a crisis, House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Gov. Bill Owens fashioned the bi-partisan Referendums C and D. While Ref D failed — it would have directed more dollars into transportation funding — Ref C provided five years of relief. It’s doubtful whether Colorado is capable of another such “purple” coalition. The alternative, of course, is to ride our current policy over the cliff, leaving it to a future Legislature and a future governor to pick up the pieces. That’s not a particularly thoughtful resolution, and it’s disloyal to a century and a half of Western, frontier precedents.

TABOR zealots argue that Colorado’s current economic success is directly attributable to the positive consequences of spending restrictions. But the truth is Colorado’s circumstances have changed markedly over the past two decades. It isn’t necessary to throw out TABOR’s requirement that voters approve tax increases. But leaders must summon the political courage to ask voters for needed changes.

It’s unlikely the current Legislature will address this dilemma in an election year, despite the near universal recognition that something must be done. It seems more probable that the Legislature elected in November, the class of 2016, will have to pick up this challenge. Voters should demand candidates demonstrate the kind of flexibility required to strike a bargain and move toward solutions. If we fail to solve this problem for ourselves, well, those chaps my father talked about those many years ago will be quick to advise us what to do.

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com