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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirDecember 28, 20175min666

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.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirDecember 19, 20174min2071

If California ever does tumble into the sea, there’ll still be “East California” — aka Colorado. At least, that’s how Denver-based libertarian think tank Independence Institute envisions one possible U.S. map of the not-too-distant future.

Well, not the part about California’s seismic fate; the part about politically purple Colorado morphing into a Middle American imitation of the ever-more-leftwardly tilted People’s Republic on the West Coast.

And while tax-bashing, regulation-ruing, GOP-leaning Independence wants to be clear it views such a scenario with dread, its longtime president and wiseacre in chief, Jon Caldara, can’t help but add a dose of his usual smart-alecky satire. Hence, Independence’s latest barb at big government, its decidedly tongue-in-cheek “Californian of the Year” award — for which the institute announced its first nomination in a press statement this week:

…Christine Berg, Mayor of Lafayette, for her leadership and vote to make Lafayette the first city in Colorado to bar local restaurants from advertising “sugar drinks” on kids’ menus. The ordinance limits children’s default choices to water and milk, among other offshoots, such as sparkling water and non-dairy milk alternatives.

The award, Independence explains, goes to “…the person who most exemplifies the drive and determination to change the character of Colorado into that of California. … By working to turn Colorado into East California, our nominees promote the Californian value of demanding to make decisions for other people.” Berg’s deed made her a near shoo-in for one of the nominations (of which more will follow in coming days):

Beyond the obvious California-like nannyism of replacing the power of parents with the power of the parental state (after all, the ordinance was modeled after one in Davis, California), our panel of judges were particularly impressed by her ability to also attack First Amendment freedoms of speech at the same time. Wasn’t it Patrick Henry who said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it, unless you’re talking about Mountain Dew.”

That’s quite a tribute for a small-town Colorado mayor. We reached out to Berg for a response; she seemed amused rather than offended by the send-up. But she stood her ground on the new ordinance, unanimously adopted by Berg and the rest of the Lafayette City Council after extensive study by a citizens committee.

“I think parents and kids are bombarded by marketing for unhealthy things,” Berg said. Any parent shepherding grade-schoolers or teens into an eatery knows the irresistible allure of soft drinks, she said.

Still, isn’t it parents’ duty, not a restaurateur’s, to second-guess a child’s menu choices?

“(The policy) makes it less complicated for parents,” she said. “The outcome outweighs any perceived notions that it’s taking away people’s rights.” Besides, she said, “It only impacts a handful of businesses.” And parents are still free to order their kids any soft drink the restaurant offers; the drink just can’t be promoted on a kids menu.

Does that make Colorado, or at least Lafayette, a bit more like California?

“No, I think Colorado is independent-minded,” the mayor said.

Caldara no doubt is hoping the rest of Colorado is more Independence-minded — and will heed the mock award as a wakeup call.