Mark HillmanMark HillmanSeptember 5, 20175min403
Mark Hillman
Mark Hillman

Ideas inspire both philosophers and legislators, but the two jobs differ considerably thereafter.

That distinction is critical to understanding the current dust-up between the Independence Institute’s Jon Caldara and several Republican lawmakers.

A thoughtful, assertive voice for liberty, Caldara is a friend and an ally.  He and the Institute advocate tirelessly for personal freedom and limited government – principles that are as dear to me now as they were when I served in the Colorado Senate.

Caldara’s job is to turn up the heat on lawmakers when they are being cajoled to compromise.  His job is not, however, to consider those same lawmakers’ prospects for re-election or to balance the competing interests that lawmakers face back home.

So, when Caldara calls for the Republican Party to purge lawmakers who, in his view, don’t sufficiently toe the line, it’s time for all of us to take a deep breath and assess the realities that lawmakers must face – or ignore at their own peril.

Legislators have a responsibility to the people they represent.  They are responsible for governing, particularly when their party is empowered with a majority.

In Colorado, Republicans hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate.  Democrats hold a nine-vote margin in the state House, and they’ve held the Governor’s Mansion for more than a decade.

The reality is that Republicans cannot pass legislation without some cooperation from Democrats – and vice versa.

Two such bipartisan bills considered by the Legislature earlier this year draw Caldara’s ire because they represented compromise on existing taxpayer protections.

House Bill 1242, sponsored by Senate President Kevin Grantham and House Speaker Crisanta Duran, proposed to ask voters for a sales tax increase to boost transportation funding, which has flat-lined for the past 17 years.

Grantham is a straight shooter.  He didn’t break any arms, buy any votes or employ dirty tricks.  He asked his caucus to give the bill a fair hearing, and ultimately, it died in a Senate committee.

Senate Bill 267 – which became law – moved the controversial Hospital Provider Fee (HPF) outside the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) spending limit, allowing government spending to increase.  On the other hand, it lowered the TABOR spending cap by $200 million.

Caldara skewers Sens. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) and Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), along with Reps. Jon Becker (R-Fort Morgan) and Polly Lawrence (R-Castle Rock), for advancing the bill.

If Republicans had their way, the spending cap would have been reduced by more than $500 million.  Conversely, Democrats wouldn’t have reduced the cap whatsoever, except that they had to placate Republicans.

Important to rural lawmakers, the bill threw a lifeline to several smalltown hospitals that were faced with shutdown.  That may not mean much to residents of the Front Range where hospitals are ubiquitous.  However, closing the only hospital in an entire county is the difference between life and death for some victims of severe accidents or acute illness.  Worse still, a community that loses its hospital faces a bleak future, with closure of businesses and schools looming.

Sonnenberg and Becker cut the best deal they could to protect the interests of the rural communities they represent and to prevent taxpayers from being fleeced.

With perfect hindsight, let’s compare this compromise to a missed opportunity several years ago when Republicans considered a bill expanding rights for gays and lesbians while protecting freedom of conscience of individuals and organizations whose faith holds that marriage is the domain of opposite-sex couples.

Republicans killed that bill and, in the next election, lost their majority in the state House.  The next year, Democrats passed the same bill minus protections for religious liberty.

Like it or not, progress in a split legislature involves give-and-take.  That doesn’t sell well in a white paper, but it’s the reality that our lawmakers must confront.  After all, what good is a pristine voting record if you’ve done nothing to make life better for the people who elected you

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMay 30, 20173min1470

More 2018 races are taking shape in metro Denver’s Jefferson County.

Colorado Pols informs us Wheat Ridge City Council member Monica Duran will seek the state House District 24 seat being vacated by Wheat Ridge Democratic Rep. Jessie Danielson. Danielson recently announced she will run for the state Senate District 20 seat that Arvada Democratic Sen. Cheri Jahn will leave due to term limits.

Duran, who will run as a Democrat (her current municipal office is technically nonpartisan) posted a brief announcement on her campaign’s Facebook page last Friday:

I am proud to announce my campaign to represent District 24 in the Colorado State House! I will work hard to earn your support so that I can fight for Jeffco at the state capitol.

Pols quotes from her more extensively in its post. Duran also has a campaign website that includes a detailed backgrounder on her.

Plugged-in Pols notes the HD 24 seat leans Democratic but is not airtight, so it helps Duran to have lined up some key supporters from the get-go:

Danielson’s seat is a little more comfortable for Democrats to hold than other swing Jeffco legislative districts, but Republicans reliably field a challenger so the district does get some attention every election. With both House Speaker Crisanta Duran and the incumbent representative closing ranks behind Monica Duran, we expect she’ll win the nomination without much fuss — helping keep this open seat off the GOP’s opportune target list.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirApril 27, 20173min315
Resilient Pueblo has seen good times and bad as well as everything in between. Throughout it all, the city’s fortunes have hinged significantly on its fabled steel mill, the onetime Colorado Fuel & Iron company that today is known as Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel. What was good for the mill almost always has been good for the […]

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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 10, 20177min504

Hey, how about a ballot issue to upgrade the state’s woefully bottlenecked, backlogged and aging highway network — without raising taxes?

You want it? You got it: The libertarian-leaning Independence Institute in Denver announced it filed a ballot proposal with the state today that would require the General Assembly to issue $2.5 billion in bonds to fund a raft of highway projects statewide — and repay the debt by “reallocating priorities in the state budget.”

No tax hike; no fees; no additional revenue. The entire tab would be paid out of the state budget’s current funding stream. Lawmakers would have to reconfigure — radically — the way they spend the money they have. Like it or not.

Dubbed the “Fix Our Damn Roads” ballot initiative, the pitch is an in-your-face comeback — a serious one, its authors make clear — to the General Assembly’s much-anticipated transportation plan unveiled Wednesday.

House Bill 1242 — a bipartisan proposal that emerged after weeks of on-again-off-again negotiations led by Republican state Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City and Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver — would ask voters in November to approve a 0.62 percent statewide sales tax increase. If approved on the ballot — and it first has to make it through the legislature — the proposal would pump about $677 million a year into Colorado’s ailing transportation grid. Some of that revenue, in turn, would repay $3.5 billion in bonding that also would have to be approved by voters under the plan.

The fact that the legislation included the three letters feared and loathed by the political right — T-A-X — not only drew almost immediate push-back from conservative advocacy groups like Americans for Prosperity:

…but also sparked a revolt within Republican ranks in the legislature. The House’s minority GOP leadership denounced the compromise legislation, and even Grantham’s own No. 2 in the Republican-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, announced he was a “no” vote.

Independence and its longtime president and colorful pitch man, Jon Caldara, stepped up to the plate with today’s counter-proposal. In a news release quoting Caldara, Independence mocked the legislature for what it characterized as misplaced budgeting priorities:

“All we’re asking is that the Legislature re-prioritize less than 2 percent of the existing budget to fix our damn roads…Instead they want a massive 21 percent tax increase, with a give-away to transit and a slush-fund to bribe local governments.”

The news release continued:

Since the mid-1990s, Colorado state government has raided the budget for roads in order to help fund new programs that are often far outside of the core responsibilities of state government. From 1999-2014, state inflation-adjusted transportation spending actually fell by 9 percent, while overall inflation-adjusted state spending grew by 38% during that same time.

Independence chided the state for policies it contends illustrate state government misspending:

As just one example, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) spends $57 million on various corporate welfare and cronyist schemes, including film subsidies for Hollywood millionaires and tax credits for wealthy front-range residents buying Teslas.

Reached late Friday afternoon for comment, Caldara said the proposal ought to appeal not only to rank-and-file taxpayers but also, out of sheer pragmatism, to the very business community that had been the driving force behind this week’s legislative compromise. Notably, he said, Independence’s proposal has a far better chance of passing muster with voters.

“According to, the proponents of the tax increase are starting at only 40 percent support,” Caldara told us in a text message. “Perhaps the business community should look at this as a better option.”

“Since the legislature refuses to do their jobs by reprioritizing the budget to fix our damn roads, then perhaps the people of Colorado will do it for them,” he said. “Instead of giving millions of dollars to the likes of (Hollywood filmmaker) Quentin Tarantino to make slasher movies and giving millions of dollars to rich white guys to buy Teslas, maybe that money could be used to fix our damn roads.”

As Caldara acknowledged, the Independence proposal first has to go through the state’s lengthy title-setting process before its backers can begin gathering signatures to petition the plan onto the fall ballot.

“But I can guarantee you if the tax increase goes to the ballot, voters will have this choice as well,” Caldara said.

The funds corralled for highways under the Independence plan would be earmarked for a specified list of highway projects that runs pages long and takes up most of the proposal filed with the state today.

Independence’s nickname for its proposal, by the way, is a shot at the Fix Our Roads civic coalition that has been the prime mover behind the legislative compromise. We reached out to Fix Our Roads point person Sandra Hagen Solin for comment but had not heard back as of late Friday afternoon.

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirFebruary 21, 20174min273

…And we’re calling it a summit because there’s very possibly more riding on it than you might assume. As we’ve noted before, some of the biggest stakeholders in Colorado’s transportation grid — the ones most urgently pushing to unlock the gridlock — have nudged the state’s top transportation policy makers to the table for the optimistically dubbed “Driviing Forward” event this evening.

Hosts are the Fix Colorado Roads coalition and Colorado Business Roundtable. The meeting will serve as a forum touted to, “Bring together policymakers and business leaders as they address Colorado’s transportation crisis.”

And if any of them need a reminder just how dire the need is, this morning’s Denver Business Journal reports on a new study on how much time motorists around the country spend marooned in traffic — as ranked by metro area. Denver’s status?

Metro Denver ranks 21st out of 240 U.S. cities for the amount of time drivers spend stuck in heavy traffic.

That’s according to a new report from Inrix Inc., a Kirkland, Washington-based tech company that provides traffic data for mobile apps.

The company estimates that Denver drivers spent an average of 36 hours last year in congested traffic.

The headliners at tonight’s gathering will be Senate President Kevin Grantham, Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran and Colorado Department of Transportation Executive Director Shailen Bhatt. Unadvertised subtext: Grantham and Duran will be in the hot seat.

Make no mistake, this isn’t just a gab fest for the public to learn about transportation; the forum seems choreographed at least as much to influence the participants themselves. Just in case there’s any doubt the pressure is on — for them to produce a solution, soon — a follow-up media alert this morning included these points to ponder:

The need to repair and expand Colorado’s roads and bridges has never been so dire provided Colorado’s recent population boom and lack of a reliable, permanent funding source for transportation. Nine out of 10 voters agree that Colorado’s roads are in “desperate need of repair.”

A compromise solution has yet to be introduced at the Capitol; “Driving Forward” will jump start a productive conversation between the business community and policymakers about how to solve our state’s transportation crisis.

Some details for those planning to attend:


ICOSA Event Center, 4100 Jackson Street Denver, CO 80216



Panels and presentation: 4:30 – 6 PM

Networking and Happy Hour from 6 – 7 PM

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirFebruary 14, 20176min351

Like the basic salsa step — an attention getter with lots of flair, but it’s just forward and back; it goes nowhere — the 2017 legislature’s make-or-break transportation tango has shown little progress so far. That, despite weeks already in the media spotlight and all the prodding one could expect from well-intended editorial boards.

Wincingly aware of the gridlock at the Capitol — it could rival anything on our highways — the conveners and stakeholders behind the please-just-do-something/anything movement have scheduled an event they’ve dubbed “Driving Forward” on Feb. 21. You could say the event itself is driven by a sense of increasing urgency. OK, anxiety. Hosts are the Fix Colorado Roads coalition and Colorado Business Roundtable. It will serve as a forum that promises in a media alert to, “Bring together policymakers and business leaders as they address Colorado’s transportation crisis.” Again, that’s C-R-I-S-I-S. There’s even a prediction in the press release that the event will “jump-start a productive conversation.” Well, there’s always hope.

In the hot seat — er, on the guest list — are of course legislative linchpins Crisanta Duran, the House speaker, and Kevin Grantham, the Senate president. The event organizers — all forced smiles and clenched teeth, in the timeless tradition of indulgent parents tangling with recalcitrant teens — no doubt will be nudging the lawmakers up to the table. You get the idea.

Then again, who knows? Perhaps a breakthrough deal will have been reached by then. Perhaps. At any rate, here’s the better part of the press release from Fix Colorado Roads/Colorado Business Roundtable:

…key state policymakers will hear directly from the business community about how Colorado’s current transportation infrastructure system impacts business and commerce. The evening will also feature a conversation with legislative leaders about solutions being considered at the Capitol and the status of their negotiations.

This event brings together key players in the transportation discussion and comes after Senate President Kevin Grantham and Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran both promised to make transportation a priority in their opening day remarks of the 2017 legislative session, highlighting Colorado’s $9 billion transportation funding gap.

The need to repair and expand Colorado’s roads and bridges has never been so dire provided Colorado’s recent population boom and lack of a reliable, permanent funding source for transportation. Nine out of 10 voters agree that Colorado’s roads are in “desperate need of repair.”

A compromise solution has yet to be introduced at the Capitol; “Driving Forward” will jump start a productive conversation between the business community and policymakers about how to solve our state’s transportation crisis.

And what you really need to know:

WHO: Panel and presenters include:

WHERE: ICOSA Event Center 4100 Jackson Street Denver, CO 80216

WHEN: Feb.21

Panels and presentation: 4:30 – 6 PM

Networking and Happy Hour from 6 – 7 PM


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJanuary 25, 20177min289

… that is scheduled to debut before the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee this afternoon — at which time the signature GOP legislation, in all likelihood, will die at the hands of the Democratic-controlled “kill committee.” (And, of course, that’s why Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran routed it to State Affairs in the first place; that’s just how it works.)

The Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce sent out a mass-e-missive this morning reaffirming its opposition to the measure — formally known as House Bill 1013 — and announced a news conference at which the influential business association would reiterate its stance:

This afternoon, Chamber President and CEO Kelly Brough will join several business and community leaders to voice strong opposition against House Bill 1013, which would allow discrimination against members of the GLBTQ community. A press conference will be held at 12:45 p.m. on the steps of the west foyer of the state capitol. Brough will provide testimony in opposition to the bill, which will go before the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee beginning at 1:30 p.m.

The legislation is aimed at buffering small businesses and others against having to perform services or otherwise act in ways they believe are in conflict with their religious views. One of the most prominent and oft-cited cases was that of a Lakewood bakery whose owner in 2012 refused to make a gay-themed cake for a same-sex wedding. The standoff went to court, and The Colorado Court of Appeals in 2015 ruled against the shop.

Also in today’s news release, the chamber announced its latest stands, pro and con, on other pending proposals under the Dome:

The Chamber supports:

The Chamber opposes


Mike McKibbinMike McKibbinJanuary 16, 20174min381

Along with taking a one-day break from their just-begun legislative session at the state Capitol, Democratic and Republican leaders in the Colorado Senate and House marked the Monday, Jan. 16, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday with words of respect and remembrance in separate statements.