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Spoof award for state Senate’s Sonnenberg draws a double take

Author: Dan Njegomir - December 28, 2017 - Updated: December 28, 2017

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Sen Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, speaks at the Capitol on February 16, Agriculture Day. (Photo by Roxann Elliott/The Colorado Statesman)Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, speaks at the Capitol on February 16, 2016, Agriculture Day. (Photo by Roxann Elliott/The Colorado Statesman)

Wednesday’s announcement by the Denver-based Independence Institute that rural Republican rancher, farmer and state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling had won the institute’s tongue-in-cheek “Californian of the Year” award landed with thud on the right.

The libertarian-leaning think tank — a sometimes-rogue fellow traveler of GOP causes — cooked up the dubious distinction to mock creeping big government. But Sonnenberg’s selection from among five finalists — the other four qualified as usual suspects, including Boulder Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis — caught some conservatives off guard.

Judging by at least one barometer of Colorado conservative sentiment — the right-of-center blog Colorado Peak Politics — the response was more “Huh?” than “Ha!” Wrote Peak’s anonymous blogger:

Usually, we’re on the same page as the Independence Institute … We even chuckled at the Californian of the Year contest the think tank sponsored, but when one of the nominees was Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg we scratched our heads. We thought to ourselves, “well, maybe he just needed to throw a Republican in there to look bipartisan-y.” Then, today, the Independence Institute named Sonnenberg “Californian of the Year.”

Puzzling. As liberal Aurora Sentinel editor Dave Perry noted, “Only accidentally funny because (Sonnenberg) is so reliably conservative.”

So, what was Independence thinking? As our Marianne Goodland reported Wednesday:

Institute President Jon Caldara said nothing (better) exemplifies the California value of making decisions for others than the “massive tax increase” put forward by Sonnenberg and three other lawmakers during the 2017 session, in Senate Bill 17-267, also known as “Sustainability of Rural Colorado.”

The measure was, to say the least, complicated, the product of much legislative wrangling. (Read Goodland’s full report for a recap of its provisions.) Suffice it to say, not everyone, even among Republicans, saw it as a tax hike.

Caldara, on the other hand, takes a less nuanced view, having railed against the policy since its inception in the legislature last spring. Independence’s annoncement thundered:

“This immense Colorado tax increase takes place in the shadow of the historic tax cut from the Republican-led U.S. Congress. We find it telling, yet sad, that Republicans in Washington have more respect for Colorado taxpayers than the state Republican Senate leadership who turned Sonnenberg’s Californian idea into law…”

Peak Politics wasn’t buying it:

We thought for sure that Polis would get the nod. He’s certainly our favorite Californian. Hell, he may even have a vacation house in California for all we know. But Sonnenberg? Nah. No offense to our buddies at Independence Institute, but this had the potential to be super fun and took a very strange turn today.

Go home Independence Institute, you’re drunk.

A fissure opening up on the right? Or, just Independence going rogue again?

Meanwhile, over on the left, Colorado Pols — which delights in dissing Caldara, of course — waved off the entire episode:

Caldara and his ilk are so far from the political mainstream that both sides should just ignore them. Much like the fringe fanatics at the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the tax-cheat felon who authored TABOR to begin with, giving Caldara’s ongoing nonsense the time of day debases us all.

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir

Dan Njegomir is the opinion editor for Colorado Politics. A longtime journalist and more-than-25-year veteran of the Colorado political scene, Njegomir has been an award-winning newspaper reporter, an editorial page editor, a senior legislative staffer at the State Capitol and a political consultant.