News Archives - Colorado Politics

Ernest LuningErnest LuningFebruary 25, 20187min47

AND TYLER MAKES FOUR ... The number of candidates for Congress in Colorado — already at record-high levels — keeps growing. As Colorado Politics' Joey Bunch reports, Tyler Stevens, the former mayor of Green Mountain Falls and a current member of the town's board of trustees, tentatively threw his hat in the 5th Congressional District Republican primary ring this week, making it four GOP challengers trying to take out six-term U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn.


Lisa WaltonFebruary 24, 20184min1470

A second-of-its-kind celebration of the region’s outdoors will have a first-of-its-kind flair.

On March 15, in Colorado Springs’ downtown City Auditorium, six gubernatorial candidates will sound off on issues related to the Front Range’s natural escapes, including access and impact amid rising demand.

Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, Noel Ginsburg and Erik Underwood are the Democratic candidates scheduled to attend the Q&A forum. Steve Barlock, co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s Colorado campaign, is expected to be joined by Republican hopeful Greg Lopez, while Bill Hammons of the Unity Party is set to round out the lineup.

State of the Outdoors will be put on by the nonprofit Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance, comprised of business owners and stewards of the environment who were largely pleased by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s two terms. He leaves office having helped lure to Colorado the industry’s premier and politically minded expo, Outdoor Retailer, which made its Denver debut last month. Hickenlooper also launched the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office in 2015, becoming the second to form such an arm in state government.

That office’s director, Luis Benitez, has described the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance as the shining example of collaborations he wants to see take root in all corners of the state.

“You hear people say, ‘Well, the governor can’t really do much legislatively.’ But look at what Gov. Hickenlooper has been able to accomplish in this arena,” said Becky Leinweber, the alliance’s executive director. “There are a number of ways the governor can be involved to support and boost the outdoor recreation economy. So it does matter, it definitely does matter.”

Last year’s first State of the Outdoors saw nonprofit and for-profit representatives as well as land managers and city decision makers gather for their interest in the Colorado industry responsible for $28 billion in consumer spending. That’s according to the Outdoor Industry Association, which in the spring is set to release an expanded study showing the economic impact to congressional districts.

Numbers for the 5th Congressional District, including the Pikes Peak region, will be released at State of the Outdoors.

“We know the national and the state numbers, and those are impressive,” Leinweber said. “We want our leaders to know what’s going on right here.”

Also at the event, the alliance plans to unveil a website promoting local businesses, volunteer efforts and the region’s outdoor “gems,” Leinweber said. “Not necessarily the most popular places, but some of the more off-the-beaten-path places.”

She said has been developed with $10,000 from the city’s Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund, along with $5,000 from the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

Registration for State of the Outdoors is $20, which pays for appetizers and drinks. Tickets are available at


Associated PressAssociated PressFebruary 24, 20188min2570

DENVER — As President Donald Trump talked this week about banning “bump stocks” and curbing young people’s access to guns, the gun owners and advocates who helped propel his political rise talked about desertion and betrayal.

Trump’s flirtation with a set of modest gun control measures drew swift condemnation from gun groups, hunters and sportsmen who banked on the president to be a stalwart opponent to any new gun restrictions. In his pledge to make schools safer and curb gun violence after the massacre at a Florida high school, gun advocates see a weakening resolve from the man they voted for in droves and spent millions to elect.

“Out in the firearms community there is a great feeling of betrayal and abandonment, because of the support he was given in his campaign for president,” Tony Fabian, president of the Colorado Sports Shooting Association, said Friday.

The comments highlight how little room the president and his party have to maneuver without angering and activating the politically powerful gun rights community. Trump has not yet formally proposed any legislative plan and he spent much of the week endorsing the notion of arming teachers and school officials — a plan the gun lobby supports. Still, just floating proposals that defy the National Rifle Association and other groups drew threats of political retribution and legal action.

The confrontation is set to test whether Trump, a figure deeply popular with his party’s base, is willing to risk his political capital to take on a constituency few Republicans have challenged.

“The president has a unique ability right now to maybe really do something about these school shootings,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican from Florida. “Nobody is more popular in my district — and I know in a lot of other people’s districts — than Donald Trump. He’s more popular than the NRA. … So it’s up to him whether or not anything happens with guns.”

After 17 people were killed by a teenager, Trump declared that assault rifles should be kept out of the hands of anyone under 21. He endorsed more stringent background checks for gun buyers, and ordered his Justice Department to work toward banning rapid-fire “bump stock” devices.

Gun Owners of America issued an alert earlier this week urging its 1.5 million members to call the White House and “Tell Trump to OPPOSE All Gun Control!” The organization said anti-gun activists aided by congressional Democrats are trying to convince the president he should “support their disastrous gun control efforts,” the message said. “And sadly, it may be working.”

Michael Hammond, legislative counsel for the Virginia-based group, said the organization doesn’t hesitate to oppose Republican incumbents and candidates whom it deems not sufficiently “pro-gun.” Motivating gun owners to go to the polls — not campaign funding — is the source of the gun lobby’s strength, according to Hammond.

“When they feel gun ownership is threatened, then they’re going to respond as if that’s the pre-eminent issue,” he said.

Paul Paradis, who owns a gun store in Colorado Springs, was enthusiastic about letting teachers carry firearms on campus. But he was incredulous about the notion of outlawing bump stocks and increasing the age requirement for buying a long gun.

“Trump can propose anything he wants but it’s got to get through two houses of Congress and the Supreme Court,” Paradis said.

Colorado has been a test case for the politics of gun control and the ability of gun groups to retaliate against those who vote for it. In 2013, after the Aurora theater shooting was followed by the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, Colorado’s Democrat-controlled state legislature passed a package of gun restrictions, including universal background checks and a ban on magazines that hold more than 15 bullets.

Gun control advocates hoped to roll the program out to other states after showing a libertarian, Western state could pass the bills. But then the NRA backed successful recalls of two Democratic state lawmakers who backed the legislation. The momentum ended.

Democrats won back those seats in the 2016 election. Still, the message has lingered: Democrats have not proposed any major gun legislation since the recalls.

There are an estimated 55 million gun owners in the United States, according to a 2016 national survey conducted by Northeastern and Harvard universities.

The influential National Rifle Association, which spent about $30 million in support of Trump’s presidential campaign, is firmly opposed to raising the legal age for the purchase of long guns from 18 to 21. After floating the idea earlier in the week, Trump declined to reiterate his proposal to increase age restrictions during wide-ranging remarks Friday before the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Trump’s call to restrict bump stocks like the ones used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre triggered outrage among gun owners. The devices allow a shooter’s semi-automatic rifle to mimic a machine gun. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is conducting a review to determine if it can regulate bump stocks without action from Congress.

But several gun rights advocates said the answer is an unequivocal no. Only Congress has the power to make such a move. ATF has received thousands of comments as part of the review and many are from gun owners who see potential regulation as a slippery slope that will lead to administrative bans on triggers, magazines and even firearms themselves.

“If there was an art of the deal, then this would be a deal breaker,” said Brandon Combs, president of the California-based Firearms Policy Coalition, making a reference to the title of Trump’s 1987 book on business. The coalition said in a statement Tuesday that it would take legal action if necessary to resist Trump’s “outrageous lawlessness.”

“Gun owners have been burned too many times over the years,” Combs said. “Politicians do whatever they want when they get into office.”


Nicholas Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.





Lisa WaltonFebruary 24, 20186min3800

Credible as well as unfounded threats at schools have increased nationwide since the Feb. 14 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

Awareness is particularly heightened in Colorado, one of a few states that waives governmental immunity on acts of school violence and allows civil lawsuits to be filed.

State lawmakers in 2015 passed the Claire Davis School Safety Act, named for a girl who was killed by a fellow student at Arapahoe High School in 2013.

The law took full effect on July 1, 2017, and permits victims to sue districts for liability if they fail to ensure the safety of students and staff on school property or at district-sponsored events.

School districts are required to prove they used “reasonable care” to prevent “reasonably foreseeable” murders, first-degree assaults or felony sexual assaults.

Penalties of up to $350,000 per victim, or a maximum of $990,000 for multiple incidents can be assessed in the event of serious injuries or deaths from violence and the school is found negligent.

Some say the law is confusing; others think it’s helpful in ensuring school districts are doing all they can to keep kids safe on their property.

“It is not really clear, and it’s somewhat contradictory with other laws,” said Elaine Naleski, who’s been a member of the Colorado Springs School District 11 board of education for six years.

The law has the potential to violate privacy acts, she believes.

“There are all kinds of things you have to look at, including privacy, and we as a board have talked about it being contradictory to privacy laws,” Naleski said.

One issue is schools red flagging students in their personal files as possible problems.

Peter Hilts, chief education officer of Falcon School District 49, said his district is “working to balance new expectations for notifications to parents while still respecting due process and the privacy rights of students.”

Districts have worked to make sure they are in compliance with the new regulations.

“We’ve gone over our discipline and notification policies and how the district reacts to make sure they are up-to-date and adhere to the law,” Naleksi said.

It likely will take a lawsuit before the act becomes more defined, said Grant Schmidt, superintendent of Hanover School District 28, whose board voted in December 2016 to let trained teachers and other staff be armed on school grounds.

“There is some ambiguity, which will only be made clearer as lawsuits start to hit districts, leaving the courts to begin to define through their interpretations in the court rulings,” he said.

Schmidt said his district, in a rural area southeast of Colorado Springs, already had a detailed emergency plan in place, which was honed with trainings and feedback from the Colorado Department of Education.

Dennis Coates, chief of safety and security in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 in Monument, sees the law as broad, with the word “reasonable” open to interpretation.

“Most school districts probably want their roles and responsibilities more clearly defined,” he said.

Allison Cortez, spokeswoman for Academy School District 20, agreed that “reasonably foreseeable” and “preventable” will be defined by case law.

“In some cases, this can create some worry and confusion,” she said.

The good part of the Claire Davis Act, Coates said, is that it made school districts reevaluate their policies and procedures.

For the most part, D-38 already was in compliance, he said and “just added a few additions to existing policies here and there.”

Coates believes the law has good intentions to keep school security a priority.

“With state funding going down and down, it forces districts not to neglect security,” he said.

It’s too early to know if the Claire Davis Act has improved school safety, said Pedro Almeida, chief operations officer for Falcon District 49.

“But we are complying with the law and with our existing commitments to secure our students, staff, and visitors from all kinds of threats,” he said.

The district continually discusses safety and security, said D-49 spokesman David Nancarrow.

“Both are top priorities,” he said. “The board reviews policies regularly to make sure we stay compliant and follow best practices.”

An interim legislative committee on safety in schools that formed out of the Claire Davis Act issued five recommendations for schools. They are: Schools should do climate surveys, have written agreements between districts and local law enforcement agencies about sharing information, staff should know federal privacy laws do not prevent reporting on students about whom staff have safety concerns, districts should use U.S. Secret Service questions in assessing a threat and schools should encourage the use of Safe2Tell, a statewide hotline that fields tips anonymously about problems including threats.


Abigail Censky, The GazetteFebruary 24, 20186min2060

Arming teachers, as suggested by President Donald Trump and the gun-rights lobbyist National Rifle Association, isn’t new in the Pikes Peak region.

The board of Hanover School District 28 in southeast El Paso County voted 3-2 more than a year ago to let teachers and other staff trained to handle firearms in stressful situations carry concealed handguns on school property.

That hasn’t made the proposal any less controversial here.

Trump and the NRA have pushed for arming teachers and other school employees as a deterrent to deranged shooters such as the one who killed 17 people at a school in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day.

Speaking to a gathering of conservatives Friday, Trump reiterated his push for “gun-adept teachers and coaches” to be able to carry concealed firearms and said it was “time to make our schools a much harder target for attackers – we don’t want them in our schools.”

If a teacher had been carrying a concealed firearm when a former student began firing at the Florida school, “the teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” Trump said.

No other Colorado Springs-area district besides Hanover allows employees other than security officers to carry guns in schools or on campuses, and the local teachers union is adamantly opposed to its members being armed.

Colorado Springs School District 11 employs up to six campus security officers at each high school and up to two at each middle school, according to the district’s website. While not all of those officers are armed, each has completed 40 hours of crisis prevention training, first aid, CPR, school law and juvenile law. Nine of the officers are permitted to carry firearms and have received police academy or equivalent training, the site says.

Kevin Vick, president of the Colorado Education Association, the union representing the district’s teachers, said there are numerous reasons arming teachers is a bad idea:

First, classrooms are unpredictable.

“One of the great things about kids is that they’re always surprising you and guns are not a place where you want to be surprised,” Vick said.

Second, the environment in the classroom.

“We want to make sure our schools are conducive for learning and don’t feel like prisons,” he said. “Some people may feel safer with guns, but most kids I know do not.”

And third, in active shooter situation, additional people with guns only complicate the scene, Vick said.

“It makes it much more difficult to sort out exactly who (police) are looking for,” he said.

That happened during the shooting in Las Vegas last Oct. 1 when a gunman armed with semi-automatic rifles with bump stocks that effectively turned them into automatic weapons killed dozens and injured hundreds by firing from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel at concertgoers.

Many in the audience and with the performers also were armed, but found handguns were useless against the fusillade of bullets raining down on them from a distance they couldn’t match. However, according to reports, police responding to reports of gunfire and casualties first had to sort out the good guys with guns from the bad guy.

In the Hanover district, employees have been allowed to carry concealed guns since the board voted in December 2016.

“All I can say is the policy is in place,” said district Superintendent Grant Schmidt. “It was and still is the board’s and my decision to keep everything confidential so any perpetrator will not know which staff is or is not armed.”

The training required is similar to law enforcement and emphasizes quickly deciphering who is a perpetrator and who is not, he said.

“It’s a split-second decision when under duress in a live situation,” Schmidt said. “It continues to be vital that we do all things possible to keep our students and staff safe when on school grounds.”

Intensive training – more than just having a familiarity with firearms or a basic course in handgun safety – would be required if teachers and school employees are to be expected to confront an attacker armed with a semi-automatic rifle, a local trainer said.

“When things happen, if you’re under stress and you have to fight for your life, they usually say you revert to the lowest form of training you had,” said Ava Flanell, owner of Elite Firearms & Training. “So you have to constantly practice, just like any sport you want to be proficient in.”

Flanell said she teaches about three weapons classes a week. They’re usually about five hours long and contain a small number of students. Her most common courses teach basic pistol and concealed carry techniques.

“I don’t feel like they can take a class and the minute you walk out the door, they’re set,” she said. “If you want to take it seriously, then you should.

“If you want to carry a gun you need to know how to use that firearm properly, how to draw from a holster and how to shoot under pressure.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Lisa WaltonFebruary 24, 20184min1520

Colorado Springs’ affordable housing crisis wasn’t created overnight, and it won’t be solved quickly, an economist said Friday morning in a speech on the topic.

There are things the city can do, though, in conjunction with El Paso County, local nonprofits, regulatory agencies and private businesses, said Elliot Eisenberg, a former senior economist with the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C. Those approaches include easing financial requirements on developers, encouraging local partnerships and thinking outside of the box, he said.

Eisenberg’s address came on the heels of another panel hosted Wednesday by The Gazette at which city leaders acknowledged a shortage of affordable housing is indisputably linked to the local homeless population.

But Eisenberg dove a bit deeper, explaining that Colorado Springs’ affordable housing shortage – a national problem – is the product of wages stagnating while housing prices and rents rise because demand exceeds what is being built.

“We’re chronically underbuilt,” Eisenberg said, predicting a nationwide shortage of 4.4 million homes by the end of 2019.

More homes will have to be built to drive prices down, he said. One way to promote that is to reduce the fees developers pay, he said.

If the fees associated with building a home increase, Eisenberg explained, developers will likely increase their prices by twice as much, or more, to recoup their costs and make up for the lost time.

The same principles apply to rents and apartment buildings, he said, adding high housing costs hold back the economy.

“People are paying so much in rent they can’t spend elsewhere in the economy,” he said. “We’re not going out to eat. We’re not getting a car a year earlier.”

It’s a problem that needs immediate attention because the number of people moving to Colorado isn’t going to decrease, Eisenberg said.

Wednesday’s panelists offered similar sentiments, opting for market-driven solutions over government-imposed requirements on developers, though that group was short on specifics and Eisenberg offered more than two dozen ideas. Not all of his ideas will work for every city, he said, but one or two might be feasible.

His suggestions included building different types of housing, ensuring economic growth expectations jibe with the number of people moving to the area, eliminating needless regulations and fees, encouraging more micro-housing and modular or manufactured housing and promoting transit-oriented development. He also encouraged public officials to publicize their goals so residents can measure successes and failures.

City Councilman Dave Geislinger said many of Eisenberg’s suggestions made sense, but cautioned against solely reducing fees or the cost of permits. If lower costs make it more profitable for developers to build high-end homes and apartments, that’s what they’ll do instead of boosting the number of affordable units, he said.

But Eisenberg said cities need to encourage the construction of all types of homes, expensive and affordable, to increase the supply and decrease prices.

Geislinger also stressed the need to partner with local organizations like the Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association and Greccio Housing, an affordable housing nonprofit, to help push developers in the right direction.

Mayor John Suthers agreed, noting that “the city itself is not a housing provider.” Instead, its role is closer to that of a facilitator “empowered to create public/private partnerships.”

Colorado Springs is averaging about 500 new affordable housing units a year, Suthers said, acknowledging that won’t make a dent in the predicted shortage of 26,000 units by 2019.


Marianne GoodlandMarianne GoodlandFebruary 24, 20185min129
A weekly look at what goes on behind the scenes at the General Assembly, who pops up from time to time and what Capitol M finds either amusing or interesting.   Blast from the past…lots of former lawmakers show up at the Capitol from time to time, from those who have gone over to the […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchFebruary 24, 20183min1260

The Colorado Department of Human Services is reminding those getting a tax refund this year to consider helping domestic abuse victims.

The Colorado Domestic Abuse Fund is one of the causes listed among the check-offs on tax returns. It helps fund 47 local domestic violence programs that answered 63,671 crisis calls and served 18,124 adults and 4,501 children in 2017.

“As adults, we want to protect children in our community and ensure their safety. That’s why it is so heartbreaking to know that problems like domestic and dating violence, which we tend to consider ‘grown-up issues,’ affect so many of our young people every day. Last year, of the thousands of Coloradans who sought help from the Colorado Domestic Abuse Fund, 31 percent were 24 years old and younger, and 21 percent were under the age of 17,” Reggie Bicha, DHS’s executive director, tells Colorado Politics.

“The Colorado Domestic Abuse Fund provides crucial services for those kids, teens and adults who need our help immediately, but emergency services are only one part of the equation. We know domestic violence can be an early indicator for larger, underlying issues. Through our awareness and prevention efforts, we can work to make Colorado a safer place for all our kids and families.”

The tax return check-off generated more than $167,000 from Coloradans who donated on their 2016 tax returns.

DHS offered some examples of the programs the donations support.

  • 24-hour crisis line
  • Emergency housing
  • Support groups, counseling and advocacy
  • Safety planning and information and referrals for victims and their families
  • Community education and prevention
  • Children’s programming and advocacy

DHS said 54 percent of its domestic violence service providers are in rural areas.

“Making a one-time contribution on your state income tax form is one of the simplest ways to make a difference in the life of a survivor of domestic violence,” Brooke Ely-Milen, DHS’s Domestic Violence Program, said in a statement. “Domestic violence survivors are the women, men and children who live just down the street. Providing help, hope and a pathway to safety through your generous contributions helps build stronger communities together.”

The Colorado Domestic Abuse Fund has been listed on state returns since 1983, when Colorado became the first state to allow taxpayers to chip in a share of their return to help the domestic violence programs.