Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 1, 20174min283
A panel of health and policy experts say Republicans aim to  repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will mean cost and pain for Coloradans. Left-leaning interests put together a conference call for reporters with their side’s researchers to talk about the impact of the American Health Care Act, which passed quickly from the U.S. House last month and […]

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ColoradoPolitics.comMay 31, 20177min285

June is the month of marriages, and we’d like to announce a big, fat, happy one in the political realm.

Colorado Politics, a new digital publication launched last November, and the venerable, 118-year-old Colorado Statesman are joining forces.

“We see it as a perfect match of speed and substance, immediacy and insight,” said Vince Bzdek, a former political editor at The Washington Post who will oversee the combined website and print magazine for Clarity Media. “Together, the aim is simple: Drive the political conversation in Colorado every day, in every way. And have fun doing it.”

Pulitzer Prize-winner Joey Bunch, a former Denver Post political writer and onetime CNN contributor, will be the lead correspondent for the site and magazine.

“From the start, Colorado Politics has been an exciting venture, and the reception in the political community has been tremendous,” said Bunch, who swears he is not losing his hair since helping launch the site. At all. “The Statesman’s history and resources are welcome additions and should raise people’s expectations of us as the political news source that has it first, has it right and treats both sides fairly. Our readers tend to be folks who are the most engaged in state politics. This merger helps ensure they’re the best informed.”

The websites of the two media companies will become one starting June 1, under the Colorado Politics banner. Clarity Media, which owns The Gazette newspaper and several weekly publications in Colorado Springs as well as the Washington Examiner, Weekly Standard and Red Alert Politics in Washington, D.C., will become the Statesman’s new owner.

The Statesman’s print newspaper, which has published nonstop since 1898, will continue to publish weekly under the Statesman banner until a complete redesign and relaunch planned for later in 2017. At that time, the Statesman will be rebranded Colorado Politics.

The new, combined website will feature free and exclusive subscriber-only news stories daily. Subscribers also will receive the print edition of the newspaper in the mail every week with additional subscriber-only content being provided in the future. The print edition will also be available on newsstands around Denver in the coming months.

“The Statesman brings deep roots and an unmatched understanding of Colorado’s political history to the new enterprise,” said Bzdek, who also oversees the editorial staff of The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “Colorado Politics brings some of the best political journalists in the state to the partnership, and a culture and metabolism that take full advantage of the instancy of digital publishing.”

Going forward, the merging of brands will mean more substantial reporting on all things politics and policy, and the expansion of a wide roster of contributors from across the state. Readers can expect an increase in exclusive, insider scoops; the addition of invaluable special features and tools to help professionals in the field make better decisions for their businesses; and an upgraded web site and mobile site. The print edition will grow as well, with more pages, more columns, and more cartoons.

Colorado Politics and Statesmen reporters will also team up to bring more horsepower to The Hot Sheet, a daily newsletter and blog for the new site.

Clarity expects to add more staff members in the future.

“I am excited by the merger,” said Jared Wright, longtime stalwart of the Statesman who will run the business, advertising and circulation operations as general manager of the new publication. “Combining forces of the two publications just made sense. The rich 118-year history of The Colorado Statesman and the confluence of minds and resources will create some very compelling opportunities for how we cover political and public policy news in Colorado and the value we offer our readers and clients.”

Other staffers include Peter Marcus, who The Washington Post twice named as one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters; Dan Njegomir, a 25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene as an award-winning reporter, Gazette editorial page editor, legislative staffer and political consultant; Ernest Luning, longtime journalist and news editor who has written for The Statesman and The Colorado Independent; Erin Prater, a multimedia journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times Upfront, The Washington Times, The Denver Post,, and the Gazette; Jim Trotter, another Pulitzer winner and longtime Colorado editor, who will help edit the site in conjunction with his managing editor duties at the Gazette.

The staff will report to Ryan McKibben, CEO and president of Clarity.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is a fan of both publications. He has called Colorado Politics his “first click in the morning.”

“Overall, I wouldn’t trade a strong media in the state Capitol for anything. I think it is essential not just to the drive of good government but to the preservation of liberty, and freedom,” he said in a video testimonial for the Statesman recently.

Bzdek echoed those sentiments. “You know, the better the people creating policy know each other and trust each other, the better the government and its decisions. We believe a publication like this is truly the best way of making sure those people know each other and we citizens know who our politicians are and what they’re up to. This merger is really a vote of confidence in the power of the press to bring people together — and make lives better.”

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 31, 20178min370

President Trump is considering pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, the landmark international deal to curb greenhouse emissions.

Colorado leaders on the left were aghast Wednesday at surrendering the nation’s status as a leader on climate change response, but they couldn’t have been surprised. Trump promised as much on the campaign trail, even surmising climate change was a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.

“Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement would represent an abdication of American values,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, said in a statement. “This would be yet another example of President Trump’s ‘Putting America Last’ agenda—last in innovation, last in science, and last in international leadership. The Paris Agreement has wide support—from global oil and gas companies to coal generators in our Western states. We should not be moving backwards as the rest of the world races forward to compete in the clean energy industry.

“We cannot ignore the threat of climate change. In Colorado and throughout the West, we have seen its effects through increased droughts and wildfires. Yet, by investing in clean energy, we’ve grown our economy and created good-paying jobs. In Colorado, where we have the lowest unemployment rate in the country, we will continue to build on the progress we’ve made to reduce carbon pollution and implement policies, like the Clean Power Plan, that improve our economy, public health and national security.”

The agreement was signed by agreement in 2015. Participation is voluntary and its terms are non-binding.

“The U.S. is the leader in clean reliable energy, being part of the Paris agreement was symbolic, at best,” said Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction who chairs the state Senate’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “We have a 100 year history using fossil fuels and beyond to better everything from clean water, clean air, advanced medical equipment to shoes on our feet, we’ll be just fine without the Paris agreement.”

A month ago, Gov. John Hickenlooper was one of 12 Democratic governors who formally asked Trump not to pull out of the agreement.

“Remaining in the Paris Agreement is crucial to Colorado’s future,” Hickenlooper said then . “Clean energy is a win for Colorado jobs, a win for Colorado consumers, and a win for cleaner air. We look forward to continuing our progress and working with this administration to create 21st century jobs for a 21st century workforce.”

The governor said Colorado is one of the country’s largest “clean energy” employers with nearly about 2,100 such companies and more than 62,000 jobs and $3.6 billion in wages.

“Colorado’s renewable energy industry is poised for significant growth in the years ahead, which will help clean Colorado’s air, reduce consumers’ electricity bills, and support well-paying jobs,” the governor’s office reported.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Boulder, and other Democrats introduced a pointless resolution in the Republican House in February to ask Trump to keep the U.S. in the Paris Agreement.

“We must protect our jobs, health & climate,” Polis tweeted Wednesday.

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrate from Denver, wrote on Twitter Wednesday, “@POTUS’ reported decision to leave the #ParisAgreement harms our country and our planet in so many ways.”

None of the state’s Republican congressional delegation had tweeted about the Paris Climate Agreement as of mid-afternoon.

Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest environmental organization, called Trump, “a reckless embarrassment for our nation.”

“Considering that the U.S. is one of the largest carbon polluters in the world, this decision will have the disastrous consequences,” Maysmith said in a statement. “On top of that, the rest of the world will move forward without us in terms of innovation and international diplomacy while the U.S. will be stuck in the polluting days of the past.

“Considering that there is now a tremendous vacuum in U.S. leadership when it comes to curbing climate change, we call on states to take the lead. In particular, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper must take any action necessary to set our state on track to achieve the carbon pollution reductions laid out in the Paris climate agreements.”

Conservation Colorado noted that the Paris Agreement, as its known, is a voluntary partnership that sets a non-binding goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Colorado would aim for an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Critics have said climate-change deals are just a way for liberals to hurt energy and coal jobs, while driving up costs for consumers.

I reached out to many of those in Colorado who usually oppose such proposals, and I’m waiting to hear back … and waiting and waiting and waiting.

Many conservatives and interest groups, in general, are proving to be slow to respond to any hypothetical questions when it comes to unpredictable president.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to include Sen. Ray Scott’s comment.

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Steamboat TodayMay 31, 20171min325

Routt County rancher and county commissioner Doug Monger likes to keep a low profile when he’s not making decisions at the historic county courthouse.

But he said Tuesday he felt too strongly about the future of healthcare to pass up chance to step in front of a camera and speak out about the issue.

“I’ll be the first to tell you Obamacare’s not perfect,” Monger says in the intro to the advertisement from Healthier Colorado, which is aimed at Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. “But Donald Trump’s healthcare plan will make things even worse.”

18 during a snowstorm on a ranch in Parker.

Read more at Steamboat Today.

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Wayne LaugesenMay 31, 201710min486

Colorado’s four-year graduation rate has been creeping upward in this decade and is nearing 80 percent, but a 2017 report released earlier this month pegs it as the seventh worst in the nation.

“Graduation rates are definitely too low, and a lot of students who should graduate don’t because they lose sight,” said Natalia Taylor, this year’s valedictorian at Mesa Ridge High School in Widefield School District 3.

The eighth annual “Building A GradNation” report, made public May 3, analyzes data from all states through the class of 2015.

Colorado’s four-year graduation rate that year was 77.3 percent, compared with the national average of 83.2 percent.

Colorado’s rate climbed to 78.9 percent in 2016.

The GradNation numbers – which reflect students who complete high school within four years of entering as freshmen – don’t present the whole picture, said Judith Martinez, the Colorado Department of Education’s director of the Office of Dropout Prevention and Student Re-engagement.

“We’re learning that extended-year graduation rates are also important to look at because the conversation is about students completing high school with the skills they need for the next step,” she said.

While most students finish in four years, some – such as those with limited English-language abilities or in special education – are allowed by law to have more time to obtain credentials for a diploma.

When you look at those statistics, Colorado is holding its own, with a five-year graduation rate of 83.3 percent in 2015.

“That’s a big jump,” Martinez said. “Our story looks beyond time; it looks for efficiency and competency.”

Another factor that can skew Colorado’s statistics is that the state promotes “concurrent enrollment,” meaning high school students can take college courses as they’re earning their high school diplomas.

“They have the opportunity to stay for a fifth year but can’t be counted as graduates (in the fourth year), so it’s an unintended consequence of a great program,” said Robin Russel, graduation guidelines manager for the Colorado Department of Education.


Outperforming state average
The Pikes Peak region’s 17 public school districts outperformed the state average last May, collectively tallying a graduation rate of 80.4 percent.

Students quit school or do not amass enough credits to graduate for various reasons.

“A lot of students have goals in their freshman year. But over time, things get in the way, whether that’s family or a job or even just friends in a group deciding it’s not the right thing to do,” Taylor said, adding that some of her friends didn’t graduate with the class of 2017. “They don’t have someone to hold them in high school.”

Some students drop out because “they don’t connect to a lot of people, or they think school is not worthwhile,” said Julianna Mattson, valedictorian at CIVA Charter High School, an arts-focused school in Colorado Springs School District 11.

“A lot of students see they can get something out of those low-end jobs kind of easily, so some don’t see the point of graduating,” Mattson said. “Especially if they don’t know what kind of career they want.”

Colorado’s lower-than-national averages are affected by the subgroup populations of students, according to GradNation:

  • 46 percent of Colorado’s graduating class of 2015 came from low-income families. The state’s graduation rate for those students was 65.5 percent, the third worst in the nation, ahead of New Mexico and Nevada. In 2016, the graduation rate for economically disadvantaged students in Colorado improved to 67.8 percent.
  • Colorado also recorded graduation rates of less than 70 percent for black and Hispanic/Latino students in 2015. But the rate for African American students increased to 71.8 percent in 2016, up from 69.8 percent in 2015.
  • Colorado is one of six states with the nation’s highest concentration of students who have limited English language skills. Those students didn’t see much improvement, moving from a graduation rate of 61.1 percent in 2015 to 61.4 percent in 2016.

“There have been gains, but more needs to be done to accelerate progress around subgroups of students,” Martinez said. “As a state, we’re committed to increasing opportunity to help students make the gains needed to graduate ready for the next step after high school.”

Alternative high schools, which serve students who have dropped out or are at risk of giving up on school due to problems such as substance abuse, adverse family situations or criminal backgrounds, also affect graduation rates and should be held more accountable for improving academic performance, the GradNation report concludes.


A ‘menu’ of ways to graduate
High school can “zap kids’ passions” to the extent that they “don’t think high school is the way” to find what they love doing, said Carly Harold, student body president at Sand Creek High School in Falcon School District 49.

“Some don’t think the education system is built for how their minds work,” she said.

Colorado is working to fix that. The education department issued new graduation guidelines that take effect in the fall for freshmen in the class of 2021.

While each of the state’s 178 school districts sets its own graduation rules, they now must meet or exceed the new guidelines.

The requirements are changing, Russel said, because in 2007, business owners started asking legislators to establish standard measures for students to demonstrate college or career readiness.

In 2008, work groups consisting of hundreds of educators and others with vested interests began creating a “menu” of ways students can prove they are prepared to leave their high school days behind.

For example, students will be able to earn a certificate showing mastery in a profession, post a score of 4 or higher on an International Baccalaureate exam, pass an Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exam indicating readiness for military service, score at least 430 in English and 460 in math on the SAT college entrance exam or excel in college courses while in high school, among other choices.

“There are multiple options for students, some very traditional, as well as measures that haven’t been tested before, such as work-based learning and industry-recognized credentials like a nursing or automotive certificate,” Russel said.

Students also must develop an individual career and academic plan, which Russel calls “a tool to help students and families investigate what could be the direction the student wants to take.”

“Districts are moving toward what is going to be the best way for each student to look into opportunities to experience and engage,” she said.

There’s no inkling yet of how the state’s new graduation requirements will affect graduation rates, though education officials hope they have a positive effect.

“We’re not going to see the full impact until we start graduating students in the class of 2021,” Russel said.


Teacher support is key
Students have ideas about how to realize further improvements.

Quentin Price, valedictorian at Atlas Preparatory School, a charter middle and high school in Harrison School District 2, said teachers “play a huge role” in graduation rates.

“I have friends who struggled in middle school and really changed in high school because a teacher forced them to realize they needed to do something and not become just another statistic,” Price said. “If we want to improve graduation rates, we have to change the system of those most influencing students: teachers.”

Adults reminding teens of the importance of graduation also helps, Price said.

“It’s very impactful,” he said. “It’s like a pay-it-forward chain – a great teacher role model influences a student who, once understanding the benefits of hard work and graduating, can share that with friends and create a positive loop.”

Jilian Lahey, valedictorian at Doherty High School in Colorado Springs School District 11, said she was motivated by support at home and at school.

“Some people don’t have that connection,” she said, “from moving around, switching schools, broken families, other problems.”

Having enough school counselors to take a genuine interest in each student would help, Lahey said.

“It’s cool how me and my counselor have a friendship, and she looks out for me and has pushed me to my full potential.”

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Wayne LaugesenMay 31, 20174min361

The death of a Colorado Springs Marine profiled in Sunday’s Gazette has prompted a measure before Congress that mandates an outside investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs handling of suicidal patients.

Aurora Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman said his measure would require the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine review veterans’ deaths within the last five years related to drug overdoses or suicide.

“I’m still haunted by the situation with Noah Harter,” Coffman told The Gazette on Tuesday.

Harter, 25, died in 2015 after visiting VA’s Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic in Colorado Springs for depression and “suicidal ideation.” Although VA identified Harter as a high risk suicidal patient, he was sent home after the visit with a powerful anti-depressant and no scheduled follow-up appointments.

VA blamed the fatal lack of follow-up on a scheduling software glitch.

Coffman said the VA is over-reliant on drugs to treat mental illness and lax in its follow-up, which he said contributed to Harter’s death.

“I think there are a lot more tragedies like Noah Harter out there,” he said.

The congressman’s bill is off to a strong start, with bi-partisan support in the House and backing from Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in the upper chamber.

In its most recent statistics, VA says 20 veterans die by suicide every day, including six who had received VA services.

A Marine veteran, Coffman is all too familiar with the invisible wounds of war. After serving in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the congressman said he came home to feelings he’d never experienced before.

“It was the emptiest feeling I have ever felt in my entire life,” he said.

Coffman has led an effort this year to reform VA, backing bills that increased veteran access to private care, encouraged stronger discipline in the agency’s ranks and covered mental health care for all combat veterans regardless of their discharge status.

He’s spent more than a year studying Noah Harter’s death.

Harter, a graduate of Rampart High School, left the Marines in 2011. He was attending the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and looking forward to a career in business.

But the nearly 300 combat missions he had served in Iraq and Afghanistan left him battling post-traumatic stress, depression and insomnia.

Coffman said Harter’s courage in admitting his struggle and seeking VA care is notable.

“He had to be in a bad situation to go in there and ask for help,” he said.

The VA completed, but will not release an internal review of Harter’s death. Coffman, through the House VA, ordered a congressional investigation, but the agency hasn’t been cooperative, he said.

VA is pushing against Coffman’s measure to get an outside probe of suicides and overdose deaths.

“The VA is saying it is unnecessary,” Coffman said.

Representatives of the agency told Coffman they have conducted exhaustive suicide studies already and the external probe would just pile more paperwork on the problem. Coffman remains suspicious.

“If they are aware of it why haven’t they changed their practices?” he asked.

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 31, 20174min322

Leave it to bees and butterflies to become a political thing at the Colorado Capitol. Last month, lawmakers proclaimed Interstate 76 across northeast Colorado a route that promotes pollinators.

Now Gov, John Hickenlooper has declared June in Colorado Pollinator’s Month, the first time flying insects have received such a statewide designation. (Apparently no one is that fond of the puppy-sized grasshoppers of Routt County.)

“This month we celebrate and honor the small but mighty bee, ” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “Bees, and other pollinators, are crucial for our ecosystem and the starting point of the food chain that serves countless species, including humans! The out-sized work of bees makes them truly fantastic creatures.”

Museums, libraries, businesses, nurseries and farmer’s markets across the state will put on educational programs and activities throughout the month to the raise the public profile of bees and butterflies,

Activities can be found by clicking here.

The Colorado Pollinators Highway — I-76 from Arvada to Nebraska — passed by the legislature last month calls on the Department of Transportation to accept gifts, grants or donations to put up signs and work with local governments to manage vegetation to help out honey bees and butterflies.

The People and Pollinators Action Network, the citizens group raising the insects’ political profile, said the state’s agriculture and flowering plants owe a debt to the bees and butterflies that distribute the pollen that makes it all possible.

The month also raises awareness that the pollinating species have been in decline.

“Colorado Pollinator Month is an opportunity to celebrate the animals that pollinate over 150 crops in the US and that are critical to overall ecosystem health by fertilizing a vast abundance of plants,” People and Pollinators Action Network said. “Raising the level of awareness in Colorado is critical in the fight to create, conserve and restore habitat.”

The organization says Colorado is host to more than 950 native species of bees, butterflies and other pollen-hauling bugs.

Honeybees, nationwide, are credited with adding more than $15 billion in free labor to agricultural each year, according to the organization.

“Among these stressors is habitat loss and fragmentation and a lack of availability of forage,” Beth Conrey of People and Pollinators Action Network and past president of the Colorado State Beekeepers Association, said in a statement.

“A diverse and thriving pollinator population supports agriculture and a diverse ecosystem and there are simple tools we can engage to expand pollinator habitat in Colorado.”

In a joint statement Jessica Goldstrohm and Amanda Accamando, co-Chairs of the education and outreach workgroup of the Colorado Pollinator Network, said, “We have a vision of increasing statewide awareness for pollinators during the month of June when pollinators can be readily seen and observed visiting flowers throughout the state.

“In partnership with various organizations, businesses, and local and federal agencies we are planning educational events across the state with a mission to forge connections between Coloradans and the diverse cast of pollinators that make our state colorful. We hope that increased awareness and understanding of pollinators will inspire Coloradans to make positive changes in their own yards and communities to support pollinator health and habitats.”

The Denver PostMay 31, 20172min252

What a grim story to read the day after Memorial Day: The problem of stolen opioid and other drugs remains a serious and growing one at our nation’s hospitals and clinics for military veterans.

Coloradans well know that such thefts, also called drug diversions, can lead to frightening situations in which patients face infections from those stealing the drugs. Drug diversions have troubled Colorado private hospitals in recent years. In addition to infection risks, patients recovering from surgery and otherwise dealing with extreme pain are left to suffer as a result of a thief’s search for a fix.

Veterans hospitals are seeing the problem in much greater numbers. The Associated Press has found that the rate of stolen drugs from Veterans Affairs hospitals is twice what occurs in private facilities. Federal officials say the VA’s large stockpiles of drugs and high volume of patients at its facilities contribute to the problem. As Jeffrey Hughes, the acting VA assistant inspector general for investigations, told The AP, “Veterans may be denied necessary medications or their proper dosage and medical records may contain false information to hide the diversion, further putting veterans’ health at risk.”

Read more at The Denver Post.

Nearly 50 years ago, leaders from several Northern Colorado communities recognized that this area was on steady track toward growth.

At that time, the newly built Interstate 25 north of Denver had no trouble bearing all of the north Front Range traffic on its four lanes of concrete. Community edges were easy to see because of the large number of farms that separated them.

Leaders from Loveland, Longmont, Estes Park, Greeley, Fort Collins and Boulder recognized that as new residents moved to their communities, the need for year-round, uninterrupted water would become ever greater. In response, they formed the Municipal Subdistrict in the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District — now known simply as Northern Water — to acquire water rights on the Western Slope.

Read more at The Loveland Reporter-Herald.

Policy makers, government officials and journalists from Kansas are going out of their way to point at the state’s fiscal crisis as an example of what awaits the rest of the country if President Trump’s proposed budget is adopted by Congress.

While that’s unlikely — Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called Trump’s budget “dead on arrival” when it was released as an outline earlier this month — it’s worth contemplating why the Trump administration would promote a tax and spending plan similar to the one that has left Kansas in a shambles.

What they have in common is Arthur Laffer, the guru of “supply-side economics” since the Reagan era and one of the architects of a tax plan Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback started promoting in 2012 and persuaded the legislature to enact in 2013.

Read more at The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel.