iStock-452216839.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 28, 201712min1074


Lebsock-Hill-Spyderco-W.jpg

Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 10, 20177min1630

After 54 years of “silliness,” switchblades are again legal in Colorado, and knife rights activists are cheering. “Today we celebrate a sharper future in Colorado,” said Doug Ritter, chairman of Knife Rights — motto: “A Sharper Future” — at a press conference Wednesday at a knife factory in Golden. Ritter, whose organization is dedicated to repealing bans on switchblades and other automatic knives, was on hand to thank state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and state Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, for sponsoring legislation that overturned Colorado’s ban, in effect since 1963. The law passed by wide margins in the Legislature and took effect Wednesday.


AAEAAQAAAAAAAAllAAAAJDM4ZDNlYzI1LTQ4NTgtNGMxYy05NTVlLTNjY2YxN2IyNTczNQ.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 4, 201714min860
Grant Mandigora

Why should elected officials who won’t be in office in 2040 dictate to Colorado ratepayers which energy source their electricity will come from?

Democrat gubernatorial candidates Mike Johnston and Jared Polis have pledged that Colorado will generate 100 percent of its power from renewables by 2040, known as the ”100 by 40” plan.

Why can’t we as consumers choose an energy source of our preference and a provider for ourselves?

In 2002, when Texans  received the opportunity to choose a retail electricity provider,  55 percent of them exercised this option according to a study by Joule Assets. They could choose which energy source and what volume of electricity they wanted through the website PowerToChoose.

Before they gained the power to control their own energy destiny, Texas consumers lived in a regulated market where they had little to no choice over their electricity provider.

Coloradans have tons of choices for craft beer. They choose their preferred way to commute to work. But when it comes to electricity, Coloradans, unlike Texans, have no choice. None.

Oddly enough, Colorado has been billed as the “Silicon Valley of the Rockies,” implying it is a technologically forward-thinking  state — yet it is lagging behind when it comes to allowing electricity choice. Why? One word: regulation.

Colorado is one of 21 states across the country stuck in a regulated market dominated by monopoly utilities. Fourteen other states are partially regulated, and only 15 states are considered deregulated — where customers are free to choose their retail electricity provider.

There is reason for Coloradans to care about choice. A study by the Independence Institute shows that the price of residential electricity in Colorado has risen by 61 percent over the last 15 years, nearly two and a half times the increase in median household income and nearly double the rate of inflation. This hits consumers, especially low-income ratepayers, the hardest.

In 2014, the Spark of Freedom Foundation cited Colorado’s 30 percent renewable mandate as one of the primary reasons for the price increases. According to one alarming statistic from their research: “The average Colorado household has already paid an extra $2,100 in electricity costs (more than $350 per household per year) beyond what each household would have paid if the state’s electricity prices rose merely at the same pace as the national average since 2007.”

Despite this evidence, candidates Polis and Johnston want to increase the cost of electricity by supporting the “100 by 40” mandate. Long-suffering consumers are trapped and have no choice but to accept that their power will cost them more.

Case in point — in 2014, the Washington Post profiled Colorado single working mom Sharon Garcia, who was forced into what the Post termed a “Depression-era obsessiveness” over her family’s electricity use because her rates increased so much and so quickly.  She and her family wouldn’t use their oven in summer and unplugged appliances after each use to save money, which was sometimes the difference between the family eating or not.

Without retail choice, bad public policy and monopoly utilities hold ratepayers like Sharon Garcia hostage. According to American Power and Gas, choice in electricity providers allows consumers to feel good economically and environmentally because choice leads to lower prices, better customer service, and the option to choose an “all renewables” power plan. Not a dictated “all renewables.”

It’s hard to imagine that in the 21st century we are still fighting for the ability to choose our energy future. This, of course, is not to say deregulation is the panacea to all ratepayer ills, but it will allow for competition and consumer choice in a way that a regulated market never will.

Deregulation of the electricity market will be a policy challenge, but it beggars belief that customers cannot be trusted to control their own energy destiny. If Texas, Illinois, and New York can do it, Colorado can too.

So, next time you run into candidates Polis and Johnston and are told “100 by 40,” ask them, why can’t we choose our own energy future?


Screen-Shot-2017-07-24-at-2.53.46-PM.png

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 24, 20176min1060

Colorado’s political right has made its heartburn abundantly clear by now over Senate Bill 267, the eleventh-hour, catch-all, bipartisan legislation that wound up funding a little of this and a little more of that — and unexpectedly became the sleeper of the 2017 legislature. The bill’s title purported to address the “sustainability of rural Colorado” but, as it turned out, reclassified the endlessly debated hospital-provider fee; authorized the lease-purchase of state buildings to fund highways; gave a $30 million lift to rural schools; the list goes on.

Just to underscore the indignation among true believers in the state’s law on tax limitation — which SB 267’s critics say was trampled — the venerable (and once influential) Colorado Union of Taxpayers, or CUT, has named a number of the bill’s legislative supporters to a “wall of shame.” It’s evidently a first for the decades-old group. CUT’s ire, and the wall itself, are mostly directed at black sheep in its own flock — i.e., what it deems wayward Republicans. All but two named to the wall are in fact members of the GOP:

…those legislators who sponsored SB17-267 and those CUT pledge signers (indicated by *) who flagrantly violated their pledge to Colorado Taxpayers: Senators Randy Baumgardner*, Kevin Grantham*, Lucia Guzman, Kevin Priola*, and Jerry Sonnenberg; Representatives Jon Becker, KC Becker, Phillip Covarrubias*, Lois Landgraf*, Polly Lawrence*, Kimmi Lewis*, Larry Liston*, Clarice Navarro*.

Some recent history: While much of legislative leadership as well as some rank-and-file members in both parties were patting themselves on the back for the considerable compromise that went into SB 267 (signed into law by the governor in May), the Republican right rebelled. Went ballistic, really. Particularly the reclassification of the hospital-provider fee aggrieved the likes of the libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, among others, because it effectively allows the state to hold onto surplus tax revenue it otherwise would have to return to taxpayers under constitutional taxing and pending limits. Hardline fiscal conservatives also didn’t like how the bill uses a technical loophole to borrow highway-construction funding without first seeking voter approval.

The fact that a number of Republicans signed onto the measure in both chambers — the Senate, which they control, and the House, which they don’t — drew epithets like “betrayal” and “sellout” from the right. Independence’s Jon Caldara and like-minded advocates were left nearly speechless (not literally in Caldara’s case, of course):

Support for the measure by some of the legislative GOP has in fact led to something of a rift in Republican ranks, as highlighted by a heated Twitter exchange we captured not long ago.  Some of the sharpest barbs flew between Caldara and roving Republican operative Tyler Sandberg:

Founded in 1976, CUT describes itself as “our state’s long-serving advocate for taxpayers.” Its familiar scorecard ratings of lawmakers, assessing their fiscal conservatism or lack thereof, have at times held considerable sway among Republicans at the Capitol.

CUT’s leadership includes a cast of longtime, tax-battling stalwarts, including Greg Golyansky as president and Marty Neilson, in charge of outreach.


Amy_Oliver_Cooke_HR-1024x683.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 17, 201711min1140

Call Amy Oliver Cooke an energy feminist; call her a mother in love with fracking. Just don’t call her late for the debate. It’s something she does with gusto; for 10 years, she was a familiar presence on northern Colorado’s airwaves with her Amy Oliver Show on Greeley’s News Talk 1310 KFKA-AM radio. Today, she is Executive Vice President and Director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Center for the Denver-based Independence Institute.

From her Independence Institute bio:

… She is one of the few state-level, free market energy policy experts, and is famous for her provocative messaging like “Mothers In Love with Fracking” and “I’m an energy feminist because I’m pro-choice in energy sources,” which the eco-left called “hands down the worst kind of feminism.”

In December 2016, she was honored to be the second person named to President Trump’s Transition Team for the Environmental Protection Agency.

She has authored and contributed to numerous opinion editorials, issue papers, and issue backgrounders and has been published in the Daily Caller, Townhall, Denver Post, Pueblo Chieftain, Greeley Tribune, Denver Business Journal, Denver Daily News, Liberty Ink Journal, The Hill, and Wall Street Journal. She has appeared on Fox News, NPR, MSN.com, Devil’s Advocate, Colorado Inside Out, and Power Hour.

Cooke indulged us for a one-on-one via one of our Q&As, and she gave us her take on the proper role of government and the entrepreneurial spirit — as well as the thing she finds “predictable and boring.” Read on.

Colorado Politics: “Energy feminist” may be a tongue-in-cheek use of the term, but it raises a good question: Should the left view you as a fellow feminist even though your politics skews right? You are, after all, a very political and outspoken advocate for your views — and you are a woman.

Amy Oliver Cooke: The feminist left has been pretty clear that from their perspective, energy feminism is “the worst kind of feminism”… “hands down.” God forbid, women should have the ability to choose their own energy source. Anyway, I don’t lose sleep over it because self-described feminists don’t speak for all women any more than I do. In fact, I’m a lousy collectivist. I find the manufactured outrage over perceived slights to be predictable and boring, and the feminist left’s missing sense of humor to be unfortunate.

CP: You were on the airwaves for a decade as an award-winning talk-radio host. Why has talk radio’s popularity persisted long after its critics, notably on the left, predicted its demise? And why is it particularly popular on the right?

AOC: It’s economics. Right-of-center consumers of news didn’t feel like their perspectives were accurately reflected in the mainstream media. So, conservative news talk radio stepped in to fill the demand, and it did so in an organic way.  Conservative news talk continues to succeed because its profitable, the demand is still there, and the format continues to produce a product that people want.

CP: You were on the Trump transition team, helping navigate the president’s picks for new leadership — and a dramatic departure from business as usual — at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. How do you address push-back from environmental groups that argue the administration wants nothing less than to dismantle the agency — started in 1970 under a Republican, Richard Nixon?

AOC: Just to clarify, I don’t speak for the president or the transition team. From my perspective, President Trump’s vision of U.S. energy and environmental policy is liberating, so responding to critics has been straightforward. President Trump made it very clear that he has faith in the entrepreneurial spirit of all Americans. We can have it all — a robust economy, affordable power, responsible resource development, and a clean environment. It’s a far cry from the environmental left and the previous administration’s cynical false choice paradigm that we must choose between affordable power and clean air or a thriving economy and clean water.

CP: How would you describe your politics, and what first drew you to political and policy advocacy?

AOC: I’m a registered Republican, but I’m more of a pragmatic libertarian. I always try to defer to individual freedom.

Politics is in my DNA. Both my parents came from politically active families. My Great Aunt Marie Oliver designed and made the first Missouri flag while my Great Uncle was serving in the state legislature. But I really am my maternal grandmother’s granddaughter. She embraced public policy. She was one of the first women in Missouri appointed to serve on a grand jury. She was also the first woman to resign from a grand jury because she felt like justice had not been served. She received threats for doing so. It was a big news story. She never shied away from speaking truth to power, no matter how unpopular.

My parents taught me to enjoy politics. They threw the best election night parties, when people still went to the polls, and bars couldn’t open until after the polls closed. They would invite all their friends both Democrats and Republicans, watch returns, and debate, but at the end of the evening, they were all still friends. I remember as a teenager thinking that my parents and their friends knew how to have fun, and it involved politics.

Interestingly, both of my parents were registered Democrats their entire lives. I became a free marketer after starting a business in my late twenties, which is also when I began listening to Mike Rosen. In 1994, I finally came out of the closet as a Republican to my parents. It took some time for them to accept it, but they eventually did.

CP: You say you’re “pro-choice” on energy — that you want a mix of energy sources meeting the public’s needs and driving the U.S. economy. Critics say that mix is still too dirty; others say our continued reliance on traditional fossil fuels gives the U.S. the most affordable energy portfolio in the post-industrial world. Is there an ideal mix of energy sources, and how should it be achieved?

AOC: I don’t know the ideal mix of energy sources any more than the state legislature or two of our Democrat gubernatorial candidates who seem hell bent on an industrial wind corporate welfare program at the expense of Colorado ratepayers.  The choice of energy resources and how they are utilized should come from the demands of an innovative and free market. The role of government is to remain neutral, let markets work, let individuals innovate, limit regulations, and refrain from picking winners and losers.

CP: You are a prominent media presence; your husband, John Cooke, is a former Weld county sheriff and current state senator. By Colorado standards — like it or not — that makes you a political power couple. How did you meet?

AOC: How we met is actually a very funny story, but John tells it far better than I do. To do the story justice, it is best told in person. I encourage anyone who runs into him, to ask him how we met. He LOVES telling it because he can and does embellish. There are some state senators who can attest to that.

CP: You are a mom — one of the “Mothers in love with fracking,” in fact. Do you talk politics to your kids?

AOC: My kids are all adults now, but when they were growing up, our dinner table topics varied from politics to pop culture to sports and everything in between. I always encouraged them to be critical thinkers with the confidence to speak their minds. As a result, our conversations are interesting, lively and filled with laughter whatever the topic. And we don’t always agree!


Jon-Anderson-headshot.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 17, 20175min1141
Jon Anderson

The Independence Institute needs to officially drop its self-appointed role as Colorado’s conservative police because it just executed a no-knock raid on the wrong house.

The institute has a bad habit of glancing over another individual or group and decreeing whether or not it is conservative.  In a July 10 piece, Amy Cooke of the Independence Institute declares a new conservative group, The Western Way, is a “global warming opportunist.” If she had spent five minutes researching The Western Way, she would have discovered this new group is aggressively conservative.

The Western Way is an organization formed to reclaim conservative leadership on western conservation and environmental issues.  Our position is that conservatives have led the most significant conservation efforts in the western United States, yet extreme political interests have somehow created a false narrative that conservatives do not value the environment. In other words, liberals created a myth that conservatives are anti-environment and are now advancing this lie to win elections.

Think about it, liberals paint a picture of conservatives wearing Brooks Brothers suits pushing polices that contaminate land, pollute streams and develop public lands into Super Walmarts.  Now, think of actual conservatives in western states: They wear clothes from Cabelas, not Brooks Brothers; they are hunters who cherish public lands; they are fisherman who treat the streams as sacred, and they are farmers and ranchers who have acted as responsible stewards of their land for generations.  The Western Way is setting the record straight on the fact that conservatives across the west value our land. Progressive liberals’ false depiction of conservatives being anti-environment is nothing more than a political initiative, and it is working.

To fix this, conservatives need to reclaim leadership on conservation and environmental issues.  We cannot keep playing whack-a-mole with the thousands of extreme environmental groups and their constant stream of ideas that would freeze the U.S. economy.  Instead, we need to take the wheel and honestly identify the actual environmental problems facing the western U.S. and then  provide aggressive solutions to those problems that are based on conservative, free market principles. This is the high road that environmentalists hope conservatives will not take.  It reclaims conservative leadership on conservation issues by driving the most efficient and effective solution and exposes the far left for wanting to be martyrs rather than just solve the actual problem.

So what aspect of The Western Way agenda does the Independence Institute’s conservative police take issue with?  Hard to tell from the drive-by piece it ran, but it appears that the Independence Institute was offended that The Western Way took an adverse position on one piece of legislation in Colorado.

In a constructive setting, two conservative organizations like Independence Institute and The Western Way would work through these different perspectives and respect the fact that conservative groups cannot be aligned on every policy.  In fact, The Western Way has these conversations with our conservative allies all of the time and it is a healthy and productive approach to advance our shared conservative objectives.  But that is not Independence Institute’s approach. They did not even reach out to The Western Way for discussion and conveniently failed to mention how many core conservative western voters and national conservative groups support our approach and our mission.

The Western Way is pioneering an initiative embraced with equal enthusiasm by millennial conservatives as well as baby-boomer conservatives. If this approach doesn’t fit inside Independence Institute’s stodgy box, we are OK with that,  but drop the shtick of acting like Independence Institute has some power to decree who is and is not conservative in Colorado.


Screen-Shot-2017-07-12-at-1.46.19-PM.png

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 12, 201720min790


DCTA-Logo-NEWEST-1.png

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 28, 20174min480

Remember the uproar over Proposition 104 on the 2014 statewide Colorado ballot? Neither do we. Actually, we didn’t recall the ballot issue at all until noticing a mention of it this morning in go-to education news source Chalkbeat Colorado.

Chalkbeat’s Melanie Asmar reports that Denver Public Schools — the state’s largest school district — declared an impasse this week over ongoing contract talks with the local teachers union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. The result will be that negotiations now will continue with the assistance of a mediator.

As Asmar explains:

In the past, DPS and the Denver Classroom Teachers Association have mutually agreed to mediation without one side having to call an impasse to trigger it, said DPS deputy general counsel and lead negotiator Michelle Berge.

But this year, the union refused. DCTA wanted to keep negotiations as public as possible and avoid private meetings with mediators, said DCTA deputy executive director Corey Kern.

And that’s where the unheralded Proposition 104 comes into play. Though it didn’t stir much debate in the election — passing with over 70 percent of the vote — it stood to have a far-reaching, if low-key, effect in bringing greater transparency to government.

The  measure in a nutshell required collective-bargaining talks between school districts and teachers unions to be held in public, and that includes the talks now underway between Denver’s school board and the DCTA. And even though some of those talks now will be in private because of mediation, the fact that the process up to now has been public at all is the result of the 2014 ballot issue.

Also noteworthy is the fact that Proposition 104 was authored by the Denver-based Independence Institute — a longtime proponent of education reform — in part as check on teachers unions, which Independence sees as an impediment to reform. The aim was to ensure that more problematic proposals — on pay, class time, membership requirements, etc. — once routinely pitched by union negotiators in private now would get public scrutiny.

But an interesting thing happened on the way toward more open government: At least in Denver’s case, the union turned out to like it, too. As Asmar points out:

The Denver teachers union has been taking advantage of the public sessions, inviting teachers to attend and talk to negotiators about their experiences and how various proposals would affect them.

Union leaders see the impasse as a way to silence that voice.

Now that the talks are retreating behind closed doors, it’s only for the negotiators to know what will come of it all. Yet, the process thus far has played out under a new set of rules, courtesy of Colorado voters.

How many of those voters anticipated the practical implications of their vote for this measure can’t be known. Still, it’s interesting, and for many probably gratifying, to see voters’ handiwork in action.


APTraffic1024-1024x609.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 28, 20174min640

The highway-funding ballot proposal by the Independence Institute that kind of was — though many were skeptical — won’t be, after all.

You may recall the libertarian-leaning Denver think tank had announced in March it had filed a ballot proposal with the state 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 or fees; it would be paid for out of the state budget’s existing funding stream. Dubbed the “Fix Our Damn Roads” ballot initiative, it was a response to the General Assembly’s own transportation plan, which also would have gone to the ballot.

As it turn out, that much-anticipated, grand legislative compromise — one part tax hike, one part bonding — fizzled amid partisan sniping and recriminations (surprise) before the end of the 2017 session.

Today, Independence President Jon Caldara announced via his regular newsletter that Fix Our Damn Roads had hit a dead end, as well:

… with the deadline fast approaching, the reality is that there just isn’t enough time to get all the petitioning done with the margins we need. So, we’ll be re-filing the initiative for the 2018 ballot, which will give us the time we need to get the job done right.

Which no doubt left skeptics feeling vindicated. Many had smelled a ruse all along. The speculation was that Independence had floated the proposal only to steal the thunder of the legislative proposal — and to provide a pretext for fellow tax-hike-loathing Republicans not to sign onto the legislative proposal because, hey, here was a highway plan without a tax hike.

Caldara in his public statement today insisted, as he has in the past, that the Independence proposal was the real deal:

…we didn’t file this citizen’s initiative just to play defense. We are committed to bringing it to the voters and getting legislators to do what they are so hesitant to do. I had hoped we could get it on this fall’s ballot.

Yet, he also acknowledge the stillborn ballot issue’s ripple effects:

So far, our proposal has scared away all the competing “transportation” tax increases (and there were a ton of them) from being on this fall’s ballot. So, in that sense, mission accomplished!

Guess we’ll have to wait until 2018 to see if Independence follows through.

Meanwhile, transportation did get a consolation prize: Senate Bill 267 turned out to be an unanticipated, grand compromise of a different sort. In addition to extending life support to Colorado’s rural hospitals and providing some capital funding for schools, it also set up a $1.8 billion roads program and a $120 million capital construction program by selling certificates of participation on state property. It’s a form of debt that the courts have said doesn’t require voter approval under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, meaning, it won’t go to the ballot.

That provision of the omnibus legislation obligates the state to pay $100 million in general fund money and $50 million in Highway User Tax Fund money each year to pay off the debt. Not the level of highway funding that either of the now-moot proposals would have raised, but a start.


r620-80286b8f8e47d1dec145aa82fd6b9622.jpg

Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 27, 20174min1230

It has been two years since the Colorado Supreme Court said “no” to a Douglas County School District voucher program that would have defrayed the cost of private-school tuition — including at parochial schools — for parents who sought that alternative. The court’s majority held that the state constitution included, “broad, unequivocal language forbidding the State from using public money to fund religious schools.”

In the wake of Monday’s Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, times could be a changin’. Maybe. After ruling in Trinity Lutheran that churches could not be excluded from a Missouri state grant program that funds playgrounds for charitable organizations, the nation’s highest court this morning ordered Colorado’s highest court to take another look at the Douglas County voucher case.

The Denver-based, libertarian-leaning Independence Institute, a longtime champion of school vouchers, explains in a press release today that the U.S. Supreme Court:

… issued a grant, vacate, and remand (GVR) order in the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program case. In essence, this order sends the case back to the Colorado Supreme Court for reconsideration in light of yesterday’s Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision. It is not immediately clear how the new decision will alter the calculus used in the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling against the Choice Scholarship Program. But it is clear that Colorado has a second chance to consider this important issue.

At issue in the DougCo case is a clause in the constitutions of many states including Colorado’s that explicitly bars any kind of public funding to religious schools. Commonly called Blaine Amendments after the 19th-century political figure from Maine who championed them, the provisions now are widely regarded as having been intended to target — and curb — then-proliferating Catholic schools and the immigrant communities they served. Some states have repealed their Blaine Amendments.

Of the Trinity ruling, Independence’s education policy shop notes in the press release:

… Though that ruling did not explicitly address discriminatory state constitutional Blaine clauses as they relate to private school choice programs, it did send a strong signal that the high court is not inclined to tolerate religious discrimination in the realm of public benefit programs. It was a decidedly positive step in the march to open the doors of opportunity to all American students.