Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 17, 20177min366

The only thing that could overshadow a conversation about health care hosted by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: what to do about neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Hickenlooper, aided by Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and six members of his cabinet, met Wednesday with about 120 people at the Aurora Municipal Center. The event was billed as a town hall on healthcare, and it mostly focused on that. But Hickenlooper started off the evening with his thoughts on what happened last weekend in Charlottesville, Va., the site of a white supremacist protest that turned violent and later led to the death of a counter-protester.

“I can’t more strongly condemn this attack,” he began. The governor recounted that when he was a child, using the word “Nazi” was unthinkable — too close to the time of World War II, when the Nazis murdered six million Jews and countless others, including the disabled and minorities. “I can’t understand how young people can call themselves ‘Nazis’ so flippantly, the same way you would use any other adjective,” Hickenlooper said. “We have a lot of work to do,” but in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “we must first live like brothers and sisters or perish like fools.”

Once they turned to health care, Lynne led much of Wednesday night’s discussions, borrowing on her 15 years of experience as a health insurance executive. “Health care has been a huge focus, and we’re looking at it at both the state and national level.”

She said that one-third of the state budget is spent on Medicaid and the children’s health care plan, with 60 percent of the funding from the federal government. But much of the conversation has lately focused on just who obtains Medicaid, she said, explaining that 42 percent of Coloradans on Medicaid are children and those younger than 18. Adults on Medicaid “are mostly hard-working, able bodied individuals with jobs but cannot afford health care” because of low wages. “We’re very proud of our Medicaid expansion,” Lynne added, which has helped the state reduce its uninsured rate from 16 percent in 2013 to about 7 percent today.

But the state of healthcare in Colorado is not coming up all roses. Lynne noted that when the state’s health exchange — Connect for Health Colorado — started in 2014, 10 insurance companies served exchange patients. Three have since dropped out, although Lynne insisted the state still offers broad choice for health insurance.

In the wake of the collapse of GOP efforts to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act, Hickenlooper and Ohio Gov. John Kasich teamed up to lead a national bipartisan discussion on just how to improve the health care system and blasting Republicans for working behind closed doors without any effort at compromise.

“Health care is a right, not a privilege,” Hickenlooper said to warm applause. “But before you clap too loudly, we are spending more and more of our resources on health care. We as a society have to come together and make hard choices. Maybe not everyone will get what they want in health care, but the basics — freedom from life-threatening diseases, for example — that should go to each of us.”

Hickenlooper outlined his priorities: creating more stability in the private health insurance market, maintaining and expanding affordability, ensuring people can obtain private insurance, and ensuring that insurance isn’t so expensive that copays and deductibles drives people into bankruptcy.

One woman told the panel that she and her husband went bankrupt from medical bills prior to the Affordable Care Act. Now she pays $260 per month for her exchange-based insurance and receives $600 per month in subsidies.

But she fears for the future, and indicated that some people may choose suicide rather than bankrupt their families. “A lot of Coloradans are really frightened and depressed about what it may mean to us if the federal subsidies are cut off by [President] Trump in some late-night tweet” in a fit of pique. “This isn’t right. We have to come up with a solution.”

She commended Hickenlooper for working with Kasich: “Come up with a way to reassure people that we’re not going to let you die.”

“We won’t let people die,” Hickenlooper said. “I think there will be a battle, but that’s part of the urgency,” on how to control costs, because people’s lives depend on it.

Another woman asked Hickenlooper if his efforts with Kasich were gaining any traction in Washington. “And name names,” she added. Hickenlooper noted that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the Senate’s health care committees, will hold hearings on health care next month. Hickenlooper has been invited to attend those hearings. “We will have the floor and the opportunity. Whether they will listen to us, we’ll see.”

In response to a question about how people can better understand how the health care system works, Hickenlooper managed a quick dig at Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner of Yuma, who held a series of town halls Tuesday along the Front Range on health care. These kinds of town halls are one way to keep the conversation going, Hickenlooper said, adding that Bennet and even Gardner are doing them, “at least now.”

“We’re making progress. We have to keep talking about this. I’m optimistic that Congress, with so much pressure from everyone, will be able to put down the swords and find compromise.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 8, 20176min289
Is paying teachers more the best way to solve the statewide shortage? Maybe a compelling marketing campaign would help attract would-be teachers. What about providing college scholarships to high school students interested in the career? Perhaps it would be best to have a more flexible system that allows people to work as part-time educators while […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 7, 201720min503
A Colorado-sized political fight is collecting heat just below the surface of a non-election year summer. In next year’s governor’s race, money could be spent like it’s never been spent before if the flash point issue is energy. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis is a candidate striking matches. The best-known (and likely to be the best-financed) […]

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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 3, 201711min555

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday he isn’t ruling anything out, but the Democrat downplayed rumors he might join Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, on a presidential ticket. Hickenlooper responded with a laugh when Ben Sherman and Anna Palmer, co-authors of Politico Playbook, asked him about the possibility at a Playbook Exchange discussion at the offices of financial giant S&P Global in Denver.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 2, 20175min419

President Donald Trump’s top health official on Tuesday night hailed a Colorado-based nonprofit as an example of how to turn the tide on the nation’s raging opioid epidemic.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price toured Phoenix Multisport’s Colorado Springs gym, praising its ability to help participants feel like “family” while providing a safe space to remain sober.

“It kind of punctuates what we’ve seen in other communities, and that is that local solutions work best,” Price said.

The program, which began in Boulder in 2007 and expanded to Colorado Springs a few years later, bills itself as a long-term recovery program for people who want to quit drugs or alcohol. It’s since grown to nine locations across the nation, including Denver and Boston.

Price’s visit came on the heels of a White House commission’s report urging Trump to “declare a national emergency” on the epidemic as a means to force Congress into approving more money to combat the problem.

In Colorado, fatal narcotic painkiller overdoses have nearly tripled since 2001, claiming 300 lives in 2016, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The visit also came as congressional Republicans and the White House regroup after their failed bid to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The debate saw many patient advocates spar with Price over how best to combat the epidemic.

Price offered no clues on the administration’s plans for handling former President Barack Obama’s health law. But he defended his push to end Medicaid’s expansion, which under the Affordable Care Act afforded substance abuse treatment benefits to millions of Americans. Addiction specialists have urged him not to end that coverage.

“What we’re trying to do is make certain that every single American has access to a health coverage policy that works for them,” Price said.

The effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act never came up as Price chatted Tuesday with the organization’s leaders.

Rather, a dozen Phoenix regulars heaved medicine balls and did countless burpees as Price toured the spacious gym off Colorado Avenue, east of Interstate 25.

Activities are held every day, including workouts, mountain bike rides, rock climbing trips and yoga classes. The goal: provide a healthy outlet to battle their addictions, while building a network of fellow athletes to help when the cravings hit.

Each class instructor also is recovering from drug addiction, adding an extra layer of support.

James Eads, 40, who has participated in the group for four years while recovering from alcohol and methamphetamine addiction, gushed about it to Price.

“It gave me passion,” Eads said. “It gave me people to surround myself with.”

Addiction experts say combating opioid addiction takes a constellation of treatment options — led by medications capable of taking the bite out of drug cravings and bolstered by therapy and long-term support networks.

The health debate focused on the former, with access to Medicaid and medications such as methadone and buprenorphine taking center stage.

Phoenix Multisport involves the latter, providing aid that can last years, said Scott Strode, the organization’s national director.

The group has served about 22,000 people nationwide, including thousands in Colorado Springs.

Each class is free to anyone sober for at least 48 hours, be it from alcohol, opioids or any other type of drug.

“There are not many long-term recovery support programs out there, and Phoenix is stepping into that breach to try to fill that gap,” Strode said.

Sabrah Jean Collar, 36, said the program has helped her “beyond anything I could put into words.”

She spent three years getting high on fentanyl and much longer abusing alcohol. But when she tried to quit, no inpatient rehab program would accept her health insurance.

That’s when a friend recommended Phoenix, where she works out, rock climbs and often goes camping and hiking.

She hailed the program for its ability to combat the stigma of addiction.

“You have something in common binding us together,” Collar said. “Part of the disease (of addiction) is to isolate you. And this connects you to other people.”

The Washington Post contributed to this report.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 1, 20173min254
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora is among 40 centrist House members in the Problems Solvers Caucus that’s offering a bipartisan fix for Obamacare. They offered a proposal Monday to address insurance markets without dismantling the system millions of Americans rely on. The $215 billion proposal includes about $7 billion in cost-sharing subsidies this year […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 25, 20175min645

Last week Colorado Politics was the first to tell you about Sen. Ray Scott’s talk on social media about taxing bicycles.

In an interview with us, the Republican pragmatist from Grand Junction said cyclists use the roads just like other forms of transportation, but unlike owners of those other forms of transportation, cyclists pay no taxes to help support the roads or services. Other vehicles, including motorcycles and ATVs, pay gas taxes and vehicle taxes and fees. As expected, the idea is getting pushback from cyclists.

A bike tax passed the Oregon legislature this year, but it was Democrats pushing it and Republicans opposing it.

Scott has a double purpose: to raise some much-needed money for transportation while exposing what he sees as a double-standard. And, thirdly, Scott loves to stir the pot of conversation and debate. He has a wicked sense of humor.

Can a bicycle outrun the tax man forever?

Here’s what Scott said Monday night on Facebook:

I’m a little shocked by the raw nerve I struck with my comments about leveling the playing field between cyclists, ATVs, snowmobiles and watercraft, when it comes to how we treat, and tax, these machines. But maybe I shouldn’t be, given how defensive bicyclists get when anyone raises the apparently politically-incorrect question of whether they benefit from a double standard and ought to pay a fairer share of the cost for the roadways they use with increased frequency. My attempt to start a conversation has been met with hysteria by some and reasonable ideas by others, reflecting a diversity of opinions on the subject that didn’t cut neatly along party or ideological lines.
The Denver Post, for instance, voiced support for bike taxes, while the Grand Junction Sentinel, came out hard against any discussion of the topic. The need to take swipes at me was the only thing both papers apparently agreed on. I’ve heard from normally-tax-averse Republicans supporting some type of tax, fee or assessment on bicyclists, and from Democrats who show zero support, even though their peers in liberal-leaning Oregon already have embraced the idea.
My tracking is showing a 50-50 split on both sides.
The 2018 legislation is still many months away, giving me plenty of time to weigh the wide variety of responses I’ve received and consider next steps. But I’m more convinced than ever, based on the live wire nerve I inadvertently struck when I raised the issue, that this is a debate worth continuing in the down time between legislative sessions, so that any concrete proposals that result can be refined and improved before the General Assembly meets again.
I sincerely appreciate the feedback and responses I’ve received, from all sides, and will be continuing to discuss the issue with colleagues and various stakeholder groups in the time between now and the next session. So keep those cards and letters, those tweets and emails and nasty-grams, coming, folks. This clearly is an issue the Coloradans feel passionately about, and something lawmakers might want to take up when we next meet.

Scott is planting seeds to yield food for thought, but he’ll have a hard time on this one. Cyclists have good friends in the legislature, including passionate riders in both chambers. But he also will have a hard time nailing down all 18 members of the Republican caucus in the Senate. The GOP has only a one-seat majority, but then again Democrats do like a tax for bike lanes and the great outdoors, so don’t count Scott out yet.


Erin PraterErin PraterJuly 16, 201711min655

In failing to resolve the criminal case against ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, a District Court jury forced a dilemma on a candidate for governor.

A veteran political observer says the decision on whether to retry the embattled lawman on four remaining counts could have political costs for Republican gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler, who leads the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the case.

If Brauchler’s office decides to drop Maketa’s charges, Brauchler could be accused of letting a fellow Republican skate on sweeping allegations of corruption.

If his office pushes for a new trial, he could alienate parts of the Republican base in El Paso County, where Maketa has his sympathizers.

“It’s a media disaster,” said Bob Loevy, a retired Colorado College political science professor and longtime political analyst in El Paso County. “To have this stretch into the gubernatorial primary and then possibly the general election in 2018, the Republican Party doesn’t need that at all, not in its most significant county.”

El Paso County boasts more Republicans than any county in the state. Although it doesn’t always have the numbers to sway a general election, it does have the potential to decide which Republican makes it past the primary, Loevy said.

Brauchler, perhaps best known as the prosecutor of the Aurora theater shooter, is part of what could be a crowded field of Republicans vying for a shot at succeeding term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Brauchler did not personally prosecute the Maketa case, which ended in a partial mistrial last week when a jury acquitted the former three-term sheriff on three counts and failed to reach a verdict on four others.

But he will be personally involved in the decision whether to retry Maketa, lead prosecutor Mark Hurlbert said after the verdicts.

The impending Maketa decision comes at a time when signature-gathering has already begun for the governor’s race. Republican caucuses – another path to getting onto the ballot – are the first week of March.

Whether prosecutors intend to retry Maketa could become clear at 9 a.m. Monday, when attorneys in the case will join 4th Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz for a courtroom conference call to discuss the next step. Brauchler’s office was assigned the case after El Paso County District Attorney Dan May recused his office, saying he wanted to avoid the appearance of any bias or impropriety. Brauchler declined through a spokeswoman to address questions for this story, citing the still-active case.

From a legal standpoint, the decision could come down to whether prosecutors believe a different jury could convict on the remaining counts.

How the Maketa jury split is so far a mystery, because panelists declined to address reporters and attorneys after delivering verdicts.

“I think both sides would make an effort to find out how the jury reached the decisions it did,” said retired Denver attorney Phil Cherner, who represented Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap at trial. “There’s a big difference between 11-1 in one direction and 10-2 in the other direction. That’s going to impact both sides’ decisions.”

If the split verdicts tilted toward guilty, it could help prosecutors justify the time and expense of a second trial, attorneys say.

“It’s tremendously expensive to retry a case like this just as it is to defend,” said longtime Colorado Springs defense attorney Richard Tegtmeier.

Cherner disagreed that prosecutorial resources would dictate the decision.

“I don’t think that’s much of a factor,” Cherner said. “For a major metropolitan District Attorney’s Office with thousands of cases on their desks, a two-week trial is nothing spectacular, even 50 miles down the highway.”

Expenses could also be a factor in how Maketa weighs his next steps, especially if plea negotiations are ongoing.

His defense team – led by Pamela Mackey of Denver, known for representing former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant – probably charged in excess of $100,000, several attorneys told The Gazette. Tegtmeier called that figure “way, way low.” Colorado Springs attorney Danny Kay, also unaffiliated with the case, said that Maketa’s legal bill will likely approach $500,000, including expenses from jury consultants and mock trials to test arguments in advance.

El Paso County spokesman Dave Rose said the county wasn’t responsible for paying any of Maketa’s legal fees to defend the criminal case. How Maketa bankrolled his premier defense team is unclear.

Family members and supporters generally pitch in, attorneys say, and prominent people may have access to deep pockets.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a defense fund out there,” said attorney Phil Dubois of Colorado Springs.

Dubois said it’s “almost inconceivable” that Maketa’s fee would cover a second trial, meaning he’d have to reach just as deep to hire Mackey’s team for a second round.

Tegtmeier said defendants who cannot afford a second round may be more inclined to plead guilty to make serious charges go away – a factor that he said isn’t lost on prosecutors.

Political considerations for Brauchler turn on Maketa’s complicated standing in El Paso County.

Before his administration imploded near the conclusion of his final term, Maketa was described as a “golden boy” and a “rising star” in El Paso County Republican politics – praised for his defense of gun rights and floated as a candidate for higher office once he was term-limited as sheriff.

Although some Republicans were repelled by allegations against him, “many others” remain loyal, and could register their frustrations at the ballot box if Maketa is brought to trial a second time, Loevy said.

But not everyone agrees that Brauchler needs to fear political consequences.

Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, said the two-week trial this month lent him “political cover.”

If prosecutors drop charges, they can argue that retrying Maketa would be a waste of judicial resources with slim hopes for success, Dunn said. If they request a second trial, Brauchler could argue that allegations of corruption in office are serious enough to merit it. Among the remaining counts are two extortion charges alleging that Maketa threatened to yank a $5 million-per-year jail health care contract unless the contractor fired a woman who had crossed him politically.

Said Dunn: “There might be some people – there might be many – who are still very loyal to Maketa. But I also get the sense that there are people who are really disgusted with his behavior.”

Those supporters might object to a retrial, “but they’re not going to shed a tear over it,” he said.

“My sense is that it’s likely to be a wash either way,” Dunn added.

Daniel Cole, who served as executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party during Maketa’s waning days in office, agreed that El Paso County is a titan when it comes to the primary season – the most important county in the state.

But he dismissed the idea Maketa has any remaining stock with once-passionate supporters, despite his partial acquittal.

“I see no evidence that Maketa has lingering support in El Paso County,” said Cole, who is now a spokesman for the state Republican Party. “In fact, I literally couldn’t name a single person that still supports Maketa.”

Even though Maketa was accused of devising phony investigations in a bid to derail the campaigns of then-Republican sheriff’s candidates Bill Elder and James “Jim” Reid, the Maketa case shouldn’t be viewed in political terms, Cole argued.

“It’s not as if his political affiliations led him to favor one candidate over another,” Cole said. “Political affiliations were irrelevant to the consideration because they weren’t a variable.”

Whatever Maketa’s lingering support, political observers agreed there’s little question his political career is over.

El Paso County residents – especially members of the influential evangelical base – are unlikely to forget reports that Maketa, who is married, pursued sex from subordinates, nor the image of him posing for a shirtless selfie that ran on the front page of The Gazette next to a story detailing lurid text messages to a woman under his command.

“Obviously there was wrongdoing, and he acknowledged it,” Cole said. “He won’t be vindicated for that. The criminal charges are one thing, but there’s no way he’ll ever be able to repair his reputation completely.”

If the remaining charges are tossed, Maketa would evade criminal culpability, but suspicions are likely to remain, Dunn said.

“It’s still just kind of lingering out there,” he said. “He would never be completely clear.”


Erin PraterErin PraterJuly 11, 20175min401

A partial mistrial has been declared in the trial of ex-Sheriff Terry Maketa, who was acquitted Tuesday on three of the charges against him and had a deadlocked jury on his other four counts.

Maketa was found not guilty of witness tampering, conspiracy to commit witness tampering and official misconduct. The jury was deadlocked on the other four counts. A jury forewoman said they could not come to agreement on the other charges and had nothing else to discuss.

“We’re thrilled it was a victory,” Maketa said after the jury was dismissed. On the hung counts, he added: “Twelve jurors could not unanimously accept the prosecution’s case, and that’s all I’m going to say.”

All 12 jurors were led out of the courthouse by two sheriff’s deputies and two clerks. One clerk said none of the jurors wanted to talk to the media.

District Judge Larry E. Schwartz has set a conference to discuss next steps for 9 a.m. July 17.

Update 4:10 p.m. 

Jurors have “concluded deliberations” in the trial of ex-sheriff Terry Maketa. The parties will convene in the courtroom shortly. There has been no word yet if there is a verdict. Gazette reporters are at the courthouse and will report the outcome as soon as it is announced.

Update 1 p.m. 

Jurors weighing the fate of ex-Sheriff Terry Maketa say they may already be deadlocked.

After less than five hours spent trying to reach a verdict, the six-man, six-woman panel sent two jury questions hinting at deep divisions.

After the latest, which came shortly before lunch, presiding District Judge Larry E. Schwartz agreed to deliver a “modified Allen instruction,” which is read to jurors by court staff after they have indicated they are unable to reach an accord.

“I’m going to give it to them to see if it helps them in terms of reaching a verdict,” Schwartz said.

The modified Allen instruction encourages jurors to resolve their differences “without violence to individual judgment.”

The actual language of the jury’s comments wasn’t read in court, but the significance of the court’s response is clear, experts said.

“What it probably indicates is there’s some fairly divided jurors,” said Colorado Springs attorney Joshua Tolini, who is unaffiliated with the case. “People are coming in there with some pretty definite opinions, and the chance of compromise is pretty limited.”

If the jury is unable to come to a unanimous decision, a mistrial or partial mistrial could be called.

But that’s a decision that won’t be rushed, said Colorado Springs attorney Phil Dubois, also unaffiliated.

“You don’t declare mistrial after just a few hours of jury work, even in a DUI case, never mind this.”

The jury is likely to determine the next steps, based on how their deliberations progress after receiving the modified Allen instruction, Tolini said. If the jury indicates no progress, “they’ll bring everyone in try to figure out what to do.”

Maketa, 52, faces seven counts, including four felonies: extortion, conspiracy to commit extortion, witness tampering and conspiracy to commit witness tampering. His trial began June 27, with two days of jury selection, and the case went to the panel on the sixth day of testimony.

The jury received the case at 4 p.m. Monday and went home an hour later. The panel resumed at 8:30 a.m. today.

Gazette reporter Jakob Rodgers contributed to this story.