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Hugh JohnsonSeptember 12, 20171min2630

United States Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will visit the Air Force Academy Wednesday as part of her “Rethink School” tour, the department announced Tuesday.

DeVos will visit the Academy from 11:15 a.m.- 2:30 p.m. as part of a three-stop trip in Colorado and Nebraska. She will visit the Firefly Autism House in Denver Wednesday morning, then travel to the Academy. Afterward, DeVos will head to Midland University in Omaha.

DeVos’ “Rethink School” tour is designed to showcase “creative ways education leaders are meeting the needs of students in K-12 and higher education,” according to a Department of Education press release. The tour began Tuesday and will last through Friday. Stops will be made in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Indiana.

“There are so many new and exciting ways state-based education leaders and advocates are truly rethinking education,” DeVos said in a release. “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.”


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Erin PraterErin PraterSeptember 8, 20175min1080

Health and taxes were on Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne’s mind while holding court at a Colorado Springs restaurant Friday during her second full day as a candidate for the Democratic nomination to run for governor next year.

Lynne formally announced her bid Thursday in Denver to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is prevented by term limits from running again in 2018.

Lynne addressed a small gathering at Rico’s Cafe and Wine Bar on Tejon Street downtown which is owned by Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman. She touted her experience in state government and praised Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, for the progress he’s achieved for Colorado despite Washington, D.C.’s dysfunction.

Sitting quietly on the cafe’s back patio was John Hanks, of Colorado Springs. A Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, Hanks said he has considerable health care issues due to Agent Orange exposure and he was eager to hear Lynne’s thoughts on health care.

“As a veteran, I’m living off Social Security and a military pension,” Hanks said. So, continually increasing premiums pose a problem.

Early in her talk, Lynne said she believes health care is a fundamental right and the process of becoming insured is becoming more confusing and expensive. She served as the executive vice president of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. She also oversaw Kaiser’s operations in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii, supervising an $8 billion budget, 16,000 employees serving 1.4 million patients.

That experience gives Lynne a leg up on her competition, said Marcy Morrison, who served as Colorado’s insurance commissioner under Gov. Bill Ritter.

Morrison recalled President Donald Trump’s comment in February that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

“He exposed something that is true of the corporate world and of regular consumers. It is really complicated,” Morrison said. “Many of our political people don’t get into the nitty-gritty.”

Lynne stressed stabilizing the individual insurance market, which covers about 8 percent of the state’s population, to rein in runaway insurance premiums.

One way to keep that market steady is to create a reinsurance program that funnels extra payments to insurers, effectively subsidizing them for high-risk customers and ultimately lowering monthly premiums.

That approach was a hallmark of a joint proposal by Hickenlooper and Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich, which included nearly a dozen other recommendations.

For some of his medical treatment, Hanks said he often travels to Denver. Additional transportation options, either a wider Interstate 25 or a light rail proposed along the Front Range, could make the trip easier, he said.

Lynne said Colorado has about $9 billion worth of transportation needs, extending far past the Front Range. That work would include new roads, guard rails and a bevy of other infrastructure projects.

Tackling much of that work would require tax hikes because “there’s not $9 billion in the state’s budget” for transportation issues, Lynne said.

Ultimately, any tax hikes – and what they might look like – would be left up to the voters, who should be supplied with as much information about the projects and funding plans as possible, Lynne said.

“There are different types of taxes, there’s a gas tax, there’s a sales tax,” she said. “There are multiple ways it can be funded.”

Lynne also said wage erosion, job creation and affordable housing are among the other issues she would address as governor.

Alongside her experience at Kaiser Permanente, Lynne also served as chairwoman of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and directed operations for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and in 1997 was named by Giuliani as senior vice president of the mayor’s Office of Labor Relations.

Lynne joined an already crowded Democratic primary field with four other announced candidates: U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy, former state Sen. Mike Johnston and Denver civic leader Noel Ginsburg.


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Tom RamstackSeptember 8, 20176min1020

WASHINGTON — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday heralded the greatest achievement yet of a new political group trying to break the gridlock between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

The group, called the Problem Solvers Caucus, introduced compromise legislation to resolve the nation’s health insurance crisis.

“You guys make the laws,” Hickenlooper told congressmen standing nearby as he spoke behind the U.S. Capitol building. “Governors implement them. If we work together ahead of time, I think we can solve a lot of problems.”

But even as he praised the efforts of his fellow caucus members, skeptics wondered whether Hickenlooper’s optimism about finally breaking through divisions in Congress was premature.

In addition to health care, sharp differences that have deadlocked Congress this year touch on tax reform, immigration and infrastructure spending.

The health care plan Hickenlooper, a Democrat, hammered out with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, keeps key parts of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act but adds efficiency measures. They include reinsurance for the costliest medical treatments and flexibility for states to work out their own solutions.

Among political leaders cautioning against too much enthusiasm for the legislation’s chances of winning approval in Congress was Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder.

“It’s far from a done deal,” he said.

Already some Republicans are making efforts to scuttle the health care proposal.

“It’s always a challenging path,” he said.

Polis counts himself as one of the more than 40 elected political officials who joined the Problem Solvers Caucus since it was organized in January of this year. The exclusive club strikes a political balance by making certain its membership is evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. In other words, one Democrat for each one Republican.

Their legislation is supposed to succeed where the proposals of each party working separately have failed.

Part of their motivation was drawn from public outrage about a Congress that debates many proposals but accomplishes few of them.

“I think people have just had it with partisan politics,” Polis said.

Organizers of the Problem Solvers Caucus wrote an editorial in The New York Times to explain their goals.

“We all knew the partisanship in Washington had gotten out of control and felt the need to create a bipartisan group committed to getting to ‘yes’ on important issues,” the editorial said. “We have agreed to vote together for any policy proposal that garners the support of 75 percent of the entire Problem Solvers Caucus, as well as 51 percent of both the Democrats and Republicans in the caucus.”

About the same time the Problem Solvers Caucus held a press conference Friday, President Donald Trump was renewing his harsh comments against members of Congress.

In a tweet the president attacked fellow Republicans for failing to replace the Affordable Care Act.

“Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!” Trump tweeted.

After the press conference Hickenlooper was a panelist for a discussion on health care reform at the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy foundation in downtown Washington.

He again praised the bipartisan effort he joined with other lawmakers, saying it created a path to accomplishment that has eluded Congress previously.

“There’s a list of stuff that is long overdue,” Hickenlooper said.

The moderator for the panel discussion was Sarah Kliff, an editor for the news and opinion website Vox.com, who covers health care.

She told Colorado Politics the only issue easing the political gridlock in Congress over health insurance is the failure of partisan politics.

The Republicans tried to replace the Affordable Care Act with their own plan but “that solution didn’t work,” she said.

Joe Antos, a health policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute, was more doubtful about new joint solutions of Democrats and Republicans to solve social problems.

“The idea that there’s a bipartisan spirit sweeping through Congress is completely wrong,” he said. “It’s been like this for decades.”


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Erin PraterErin PraterSeptember 8, 20175min1670

In a major upcoming Supreme Court case that weighs equal rights with religious liberty, the Trump administration on Thursday sided with a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

The Department of Justice on Thursday filed a brief on behalf of baker Jack Phillips, who was found to have violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to created a cake to celebrate the marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. Phillips said he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his religious beliefs.

The government agreed with Phillips that his cakes are a form of expression, and he cannot be compelled to use his talents for something in which he does not believe.

“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief.

The DOJ’s decision to support Phillips is the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration has taken to rescind Obama administration positions favorable to gay rights and to advance new policies on the issue.

But Louise Melling, the deputy legal counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the couple, said she was taken aback by the filing.

“Even in an administration that has already made its hostility” toward the gay community clear, Melling said, “I find this nothing short of shocking.”

Since taking office, President Trump has moved to block transgender Americans from serving in the military and his Department of Education has done away with guidance to schools on how they should accommodate transgender students.

The DOJ also has taken the stance that gay workers are not entitled to job protections under federal anti-discrimination laws. Since 2015, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission has taken the opposite stance, saying Title VII, the civil-rights statute that covers workers, protects against bias based on sexual orientation.

Federal courts are split on that issue, and the Supreme Court this term might take up the issue.

Indeed, lawyers for Jameka Evans, who claims she was fired by Georgia Regional Hospital because of her sexual orientation and “nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor,” on Thursday asked justices to take her case.

Citing a 1979 precedent, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected her protection claims.

Taking that case, along with Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, would make the coming Supreme Court term the most important for gay rights issues since the justices voted 5 to 4 in 2015 to find a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.

The case of Phillips, a baker in the Denver suburbs, is similar to lawsuits brought elsewhere involving florists, calligraphers and others who say providing services to same-sex weddings would violate their religious beliefs. But these objectors have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that businesses serving the public must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

Mullins and Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.

But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.

The civil rights commission and a Colorado court rejected Phillips’ argument that forcing him to create a cake violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and exercise of religion.

The court said the baker “does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law.”


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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 4, 20176min3670

A state commission has begun exploring ways to realize Colorado transportation officials’ vision of passenger rail service that stretches up and down the Front Range.

The commission, which includes government representatives from Denver to Trinidad, has until Dec. 1 to submit to the legislature a plan detailing steps forward and funding options. The ultimate hope is a commuter rail that runs from Fort Collins to Pueblo, which probably would cost between $5 billion and $15 billion, said David Krutsinger, deputy director of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s transit and rail program.

The group is also has a more immediate objective: rerouting Amtrak’s Southwest Chief line, which runs through the southeastern corner of the state, to include stops in Pueblo and Walsenburg. Officials say the route could be done in less than five years.

As politicians scrounge for funds to repair Colorado’s ailing highways and leaders in the Pikes Peak region search for the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to widen Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock, members of the commission see an opportunity to press a transportation solution that can sustain Colorado’s exploding population.

“The single-occupancy vehicle is just not going to be the best solution for the future of transportation in Colorado,” said commission member Jill Gaebler, who also is president pro tem of the Colorado Springs City Council. “We need to be thinking bigger and more long term.”

The commission will meet for the second time this week, and its 13 members plan to convene at least once a month, she said.

The commission, renamed and repurposed with a measure that was signed into a law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May, was created in 2014 to devise a plan to rehabilitate more than 100 miles of track on Amtrak’s Chicago-to-Los Angeles line, which has stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad, and consider options for the Chief’s expansion.

Senate Bill 153 tasked commissioners are now being asked to come up with sources for the millions of dollars needed to rehabilitate about 50 miles of remaining dilapidated track. Once fully completed, the improvements are expected to save trains up to two hours on each trip, with the two proposed stops tacking on an hour or less in travel time and the Pueblo station adding an estimated 14,000 more trips each year, according to CDOT.

The commission is unsure exactly how much the extension would cost, although Pueblo voters have already elected to set aside some money for it, said Pueblo County Commissioner Sal Pace, the group’s interim chairman.

County voters approved in November a ballot question that would allow the county to spend excess revenues that would otherwise be returned to taxpayers under the provisions of Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, or TABOR, to fund a list of projects including the reroute. However, the amount of money each project will be allocated has yet to be finalized, Pace said.

The cost of extending the line will be relatively low, Pace said, because existing freight railways would be used, but there are still some remaining engineering challenges, including logistical negotiations with railroad lines and considerations related to platform construction and tracking of the trains.

“We see the Chief (reroute) as an incremental step,” he said. “The big prize is connecting the Front Range of Colorado via passenger rail.”

The price tag of a 180-mile commuter rail would vary, with a less-expensive line traveling at lower speeds on the existing freight train corridor, and a pricier line traveling up to 180 mph just east of I-25, Krutsinger said. But the state doesn’t currently have the money for either option. Paying for the massive undertaking probably would require voters to approve new taxes or an increase in the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since the early 1990s, he said.

Plus, there are political hurdles to creating a railway that crosses jurisdictional lines – such as where the stops should be located and how already-crowded city centers would make room for them. But Krutsinger said a commuter rail is essential if Colorado wants to keep up with other growing population centers in North America, such as Boston and Salt Lake City. The Front Range’s population, now more than 4 million, is expected to increase to upward of 6 million by 2040, he said.

“You look at cities with 6 million people, and they almost without exception have rail networks for their population. If we’re going to stay competitive, Colorado is going to need to do it.”


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Erin PraterErin PraterSeptember 2, 20173min770

President Donald Trump’s plan to announce on Tuesday whether “Dreamers” can remain in the country left some in Colorado Springs fearful they could go from being college students and small business owners to facing deportation with a tweet.

“People are incredibly concerned and are feeling very nervous,” said Eric Pavri, a Catholic Charities of Central Colorado immigration attorney. “Because they have no way to predict what their future might hold right now.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, was created under former President Barack Obama to grant work permits for young adults – typically people ages 15 to 35 – who were brought into the country illegally as young children.

Trump said he would announce his decision Tuesday – leaving nearly 800,000 people nationwide waiting four days to learn their fate.

With their clients’ legal status at risk, Colorado Springs immigration attorneys urged Trump to continue the program.

“These are the type of young people whose clean records, education and youth make them potential productive members of our community and economy,” Pavri said. “It seems like a real shame for Colorado Springs to lose out on that.”

He called ending the program a “moral tragedy” that would punish young professionals for decisions their parents made while they were toddlers or young children.

The exact number of people in the DACA program in Colorado Springs is unclear.

Since mid-2012, Pavri’s office has helped nearly 500 people enroll in it, and he estimated the community’s overall figure at more than 2,000 people.

They mostly came from across Mexico and Central America, and they have used the program – and the Social Security number it affords – to attend college, get well-paying jobs and run their own companies, said Stephanie Izaguirre, a Colorado Springs and Pueblo immigration attorney. In the process, they have received car loans, taken on student debt and obtained mortgages.

On Friday, she and Pavri urged clients whose status in the program is expiring to immediately file their applications.

At worst, they would lose their $495 application fee, Pavri said. At best, they would get another two years to remain in the U.S., should Trump decide to allow people already in the program to carry out the rest of their terms.

He also urged people not already in the program to avoid joining, because doing so would give the federal government access to a wealth of personal information.

For most people, however, the options were far more limited.

“Legally, all they can do is wait and see,” Izaguirre said.

___

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusAugust 29, 20173min159
Colorado’s U.S. senators are supporting a plan to relocate the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado. A recent report suggests that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to relocate the BLM headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Denver, though that report could not be verified with a spokeswoman for the Interior Department. U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a […]

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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 27, 20173min1080

Tom Strand isn't planning on giving up his seat on the Colorado Springs City Council to run for Congress against Republican Doug Lamborn, the entrenched 5th Congressional District incumbent up for election next year. Strand said his obligations to the council — he was elected as an at-large member in 2015, and as chairman of the Utilities Board are critically important.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 21, 20178min2590

Looking for a new political party? Don’t expect a pushy sales pitch from Libertarian Party of Colorado state Chair Wayne Harlos. He’ll welcome your interest, of course, but he might also casually suggest you go to Meetup.com, search for a local Libertarian gathering, drop in and decide for yourself if it’s for you. Not your typical political spiel: No pressure; no proselytizing. But then, the Libertarians aren’t your typical party. They’ll evangelize for freedom, but they’re not about to fight you for your soul. By a Libertarian’s lights, that’s your call.

Harlos goes on the record in today’s Q&A. First, here’s a little more background on him, courtesy of the state party’s website: He is a Colorado native and former Republican who says he finally realized no party other than the Libertarian Party stands for the freedoms that our country was founded on. His day job? He has been a real estate broker for 30 years, the last 25 in Castle Rock. His passion? As he puts it, “… to reduce the size and effect of government in all of our lives.”

Colorado Politics: You were once a Republican. Why did you become a Libertarian?

Wayne Harlos: I was a registered Republican but previously a conservative. I became a Libertarian when I did some research on the Libertarian Party and realized that they aligned with my core fiscal beliefs 100 percent,  and the majority of my social beliefs. The other parties aligned with me about 60 percent (Republicans) and 20 percent (Democrats).

CP: 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, got 5.2 percent of the vote in Colorado last November — 2 points better than he did nationally. It was by far the best performance of any third-party candidate. And Libertarians are literally Colorado’s, and the nation’s, “third party” — i.e., the third-largest in Colorado as well as the U.S. Yet, with fully a third of its electorate registered unaffiliated, why isn’t Colorado casting far more ballots for Libertarians? What are the biggest challenges you face in trying to make greater inroads among unaffiliated Coloradans?

WH: The last election was a peculiar one, as the Democrats and Republicans, as well as many independents and a small amount of Libertarians, were voting against rather than for a candidate. I’ve never seen so much fear on both sides. If people would have been able to vote their conscience as they would have with approval, or ranked choice voting, I believe that the Libertarian candidate would have easily doubled his percentage or more.

CP: Are Colorado’s Libertarians closer ideologically to Republicans or Democrats?

WH: That is an interesting question. The Libertarian Party of Colorado is more fiscally conservative than the Republicans and more socially inclusive than the Democrats. The Libertarians differ mostly from both parties in that we believe in personal rights and freedoms and of course the responsibility that goes with each.

CP: Strictly by the numbers, if all the votes cast for Gary Johnson in Colorado last fall had been cast for Donald Trump, the president would have carried the state. That’s a theoretical point, of course, because in reality some Johnson voters may have gone for Hillary Clinton if a Libertarian hadn’t been on the ballot. Do you believe Johnson drew away more Trump voters or Clinton voters in Colorado last fall?

WH: Lets’ assume that your premise is true. Then it would also be true that if the trump or Clinton voters would have voted for Johnson, he would have won. All kidding aside, I believe Trump and Clinton pulled away more of our voters because of the fear that we talked about before.

CP: Are there any current, elected officeholders in Colorado — Republican or Democrat — whom you admire?

WH: I have very little respect for office holders in Colorado from either party. For the last 10 to 15 years, the Democrat candidates and officeholders have had to toe the Democrat line or they would get primarried in the next election. In the last couple of years that trend is also happening in the Republican Party. If a person will allow their vote to be controlled by the party that they align with, rather than their conscience. then they have no principles.

CP: What do you tell voters who say they like your message but wouldn’t want to “waste” their vote on you because your candidates don’t have a chance of winning?

WH: People say that all the time, even if they are strongly Libertarian. I spend a lot of time talking with people at outreach booths at events like Peoples Fair, Pridefest and gun shows, and I’ve found that the best way to help them see a clear path to vote for their conscience is to do a little math. Let’s say that Libertarians make up 10 percent of the population (without regard to how they are registered), and each of those people was to convince only two other people that it is more important to vote for something, rather then against something. We would have the same size base as the duopoly.

CP: What book, magazine, movie — you name it — would you recommend to someone who is checking out Libertarianism?

WH: It’s hard to beat “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat for a good understanding of Libertarian principles. I also think that “1984,” by George Orwell, has become prophetic. I would also invite anyone that wants to know more to go into Meetup and find a local group and go to their meetings. That’s a great way to get an education and determine whether you align with the Libertarian Party.