Marianne GoodlandSeptember 12, 20176min138
The nation’s leading anti-tax crusader, Grover Norquist, and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), are taking aim at a conservative Colorado lawmaker as well as one of the state’s leading conservative voices, the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity. In a press release today, Americans for Tax Reform criticized Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 7, 20174min46
Update: Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, provided Colorado Politics a statement Friday morning: “We know transportation is already costing Coloradans billions of dollars a year — $6.8 billion to be exact. That’s what we lose to our deficient roads in lost time, damage to vehicles and lost gas […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 3, 20176min260

If U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks he can score political points for Republicans by coming after Colorado’s pot, then a whole Phish concert would want what he must be smoking.

State Sen. Tim Neville doesn’t like pot, not to smoke it or eat it.  He didn’t vote to legalize in 2012, but like a handful of lawmakers with some of the most conservative bonafides in the statehouse, he sees the issue as much more than stoners and Cheetos.

He took a break to talk on the phone on a recent Friday morning, as he and other senators brewed up some suds to serve at the Great American Beer Festival, an annual competition with the House. “Haze,” suggesting a thick microscopic brew, is expected to be part of the name of their brew, he said.

Neville and other legislative Republicans have gotten onboard to make sure marijuana is strictly regulated — a given for a tough guy like Neville — but regulated and taxed fairly, like any other business.

Plus it’s in the state constitution now, and Neville said he takes his oath to uphold that document deadly serious.

“It’s something all of us have to be involved with now,” Neville said.

In Neville’s view voters agreed to legalize pot on the condition that it’s well-regulated with a focus on keeping it out of the hands of people younger than 21.

“Once the people in (Colorado) said yes, it was up to us to craft the best policies possible,” he said.

Now that marijuana is a legal business, it should be treated as fairly as any other legal business.

Neville and fellow Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins drove the conversation and legislation on creating clubs where people could use pot the same way they enjoy beer and booze in bars.

I told you in February they saw it as commonsense and good business, not reefer madness. Marble said the state invites tourists, allows them to buy pot, but then designates no place for them to smoke it legally. Most hotel rooms won’t even allow it.

“The one thing we do not want in this state is for people to come on vacation and leave on probation,” said Marble, who successfully passed a bill to allow people to seal misdemeanor arrest records for marijuana if what they did was made legal by Amendment 64.

In the last session, Neville linked arms with Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, on a bill to allow pot shops to operate more efficiently. Pretty liberal, Singer has been the chief proponent of reasonable but thorough regulation from the start. The bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, including from Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham and Democratic House Speak Crisanta Duran. The governor signed it into law in June.

“My feeling is that when businesses operate more efficiently, it’s good for everyone,” Neville said of knocking down pointless, expensive hurdles for business, a general passion of his. “My real fear is that if we don’t allow businesses to operate as an industry, it’s just going to backslide into an area we can’t control, the gray market or the black market.”

Neville isn’t the only Republican driving the magic bus.

Out of 23 pot-specific bills in the last session, 19 had bipartisan sponsorship and 18 became law.

Colorado Springs Rep. Bob Gardner joined with Democrat Dan Pabon of Denver on legislation to create pot clubs, after Marble and Neville’s bill died in a Senate committee. The House and Senate, in bipartisan fashion, passed different versions of the bill.

On the last night of the session, lawmakers were debating how many people should be allowed to smoke pot on a porch, which might qualify it as a club.

Neville said he expects a compromise on pot clubs before the next session begins in January,

But hemp, the non-intoxicating stalk, was a big bipartisan winner this year.

And Sen. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, is getting in on the hemp game.

He told me at the State Fair that he has 10 acres in hemp, and he’s putting in a processing facility. That’s putting your money where your bipartisanship is.

He named his operation Paradox Ventures, and Coram hopes to be a Colorado pioneer.

“The voters approved it,” Coram said. “Who am I to override that?”

Neither Neville nor Coram are worried about Sessions’s saber-rattling on cannabis with federal laws that still criminalize marijuana.

“I’m really not concerned,” Coram said at the carnival.


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 29, 20176min540

With failed efforts by Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act now in the rearview mirror, at least in the eyes of the public, Congress has now turned to the next big ticket item in President Donald Trump’s agenda: tax reform.

But at least one Colorado congressman wants Washington to see tax reform coming out of Congress as a bipartisan effort, with full hearings and meetings and collaboration, unlike Republican efforts on the Affordable Care Act.

U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a Greeley Republican, spoke today to a small gathering of backers of tax reform in Denver’s Lincoln Park, across the street from the state Capitol.

“It’s time we get over the fact that Republicans steal from the Treasury to help their friends and Democrats steal from the Treasury to help their friends,” Buck told Colorado Politics. “It’s time we recognize that the American people deserve better.

“We cannot put a tax reform package on the floor of the House and expect Democrats to get on board. We should run this through committees, get input from members and leadership…and make sure we have the best package.”

The gathering, which was part barbecue and “tax reform games” and part serious policy discussion, was sponsored by the Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group supported financially by billionaires David and Charles Koch.

Jesse Mallory, AFP’s state director and the former chief of staff to the state Senate Republicans, said Tuesday’s event would help raise awareness about tax reform.

“We want something that’s simpler, close loopholes and is fair,” Mallory told Colorado Politics. “We’ve been calling on Congress to take this seriously, and to create a system that is fair, flatter” and good for everyone.”

Mallory said AFP is actively engaged in discussions at the federal level, and that Tuesday was an opportunity to talk to citizens about tax reform — and to sign them up to help AFP with its famous door-to-door efforts.

Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City also jumped onto the tax reform platform, telling the audience that they need to show up at the Capitol and to not let the 100 lawmakers in the General Assembly dictate what’s going on.

“Put the money back into the hands of those who know how to spend it,” Grantham said.

Grantham and Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver unsuccessfully sponsored a bill in the 2017 session to raise the state’s sales tax to fund a $3.5 billion bond issue to chip away at a backlog of fixes to the state’s roads, highways and bridges.

Buck explained that the tax reform package being floated in Congress would reduce the corporate tax rate, lower the small business tax rate to around 15 to 18 percent and reduce the tax rate and simplify the tax code for individuals.

“You could fill out a tax return on a postcard, he added.

The nation’s tax codes picks winner and losers, he said: special interest groups and corporations get certain privileges.

“We don’t get those privileges, which is fundamentally wrong,” Buck said.

He told the crowd of about 50 that the enemy of tax reform is not Democrats nor the Senate. “It’s the special interest groups that want to maintain their privileges,” he said.

By the end of September, Buck said, Americans should know whether such a tax reform package will be possible. It should be through the House of Representatives within the next two weeks, he added, but his greatest hope is that the package will be bipartisan.

“I hope it’s fair for Democrats, Republicans, affiliateds. I hope it’s a bill that America says ‘Congress did its best job, the president signed a good bill and we will go forward.’”

Buck demurred when asked if he is considering a run for Colorado attorney general, pointing out that he’s running for re-election to Congress next year “because Cynthia Coffman is running for attorney general. If anything changes I’ll let you know.”

Coffman is rumored to be considering a run for governor in 2018.

As Buck walked away from the stage, the sound system, perhaps ironically, cranked out the Rolling Stones “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 26, 20178min170
Colorado State Fair
Gov. John Hickenlooper left, and state Senate President Kevin Gratham chat at the legislative barbecue at the Colorado State Fair Friday night. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

State lawmakers were out in force at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo Friday night.

The celebration of Colorado’s farming, ranching and funnel cakes started Friday and runs thorugh Sept. 4. After the rodeo Friday night, Joe Diffie sang, “If the Devil Danced in Empty Pants.”

If the devil got tired of dancing, there was plenty room to sit down on the fair’s opening night. Crowds were light.

The fair is perpetually underfunded and can’t seem to attract crowds big enough to sustain itself in Pueblo without taxpayers’ support.

At the legislative barbecue and, later, the Governor’s Beef Show, in the spirit for crops and livestock was pitched.

“This is the best time of year, the changing of the seasons, we’re getting ready to harvest all our agricultural production for the year, and we get to see all our old friends,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said on stage at the legislative barbecue put on by the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce, before reading a long list of members of his administration at the fair Friday night.

The list included Donna Lynne, the former health care executive turned lieutenant turned potential gubernatorial candidate, who didn’t win when she showed a steer in the exhibition show put on by the Colorado Farm Bureau that pairs politicians and young 4-H mentors. The governor pointed out Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, the former state attorney general, in the crowd.

“Here’s my short speech,” Hickenlooper said as he began a two-minute address to the politicians, lobbyists and various political hangers-on. “The speech is about how important ag is to Colorado and how important you are to ag.”

He noted the bipartisan support on some major issues in the last legislative session, including a lot of ag issues.

“I’m going to challenge you to a better session in 2018,” Hickenlooper told lawmakers in the crowd.

He turned his attention to the financially hamstrung fair.

Colorado State Fair“The state fair is a time-honored tradition,” Hickenlooper said, telling of its history that dates back to 1872, four years before Colorado’s statehood.

“Right here is one of the cultural highlights of the state and best represents our strong ag groups who pour billions of dollars into our economy every year, over 107,000 employees, 34,000 farms and ranches, basically more entrepreneurs in agriculture than every other business combined.”

Each new legislature usually includes a few from other parts of the state who talk of moving the fair out of Pueblo, usually to metro Denver to put it closer to more Coloradans and tourists. With hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into the renovations of the National Western Complex in Denver, those talks are like gasoline on a leaf fire these days.

In 2015,  House Bill 1344 — sponsored by then-House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, D-Denver and Rep. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan — authorized the state to issue $350 million worth of bonds to upgrade the Denver grounds to help support an $856 million project.

For the state fair, lawmakers are called on regularly to help the it balance its books. Some are getting tired of paying.

Last year, for instance, Rep. Daneya Esgar and Sen. Leroy Garcia, both Democrats from Pueblo, sponsored legislation that would put in $100,000 to go with $140,000 approved by Pueblo voters for renovations to the horse arena at the fairgrounds, along with money from the fair’s foundation and other sources.. The goal was to help attract more non-fair events to Pueblo, as well as maintain the facility as a draw for 4-H competitions. Half the legislature’s proposed contribution would have come from the marijuana tax haul.

“The junior livestock sale is instrumental in supporting the future of Colorado’s agribusiness,” Garcia told the committee. “It demonstrates to the youth the importance of raising quality livestock and the work required by those who pursue careers in agriculture.”

The bill passed the Democratic-led House on a 39-25 vote, but Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee killed it. During questioning they asked about local support for the fair in Pueblo, and business practices in running the fair that might be the reasons it’s not attracting crowds, rather than repeatedly turning to the state taxpayers.

Legislative support Friday night, however, sounded clear and strong.

“It highlights one of the greatest economic drivers of our state,” he said. “That’s what this is all about. One of the things we all have in common is we all have to eat,”

But will the State Fair be in Pueblo?

“If I have anything to say about it, yes,” Grantham said.

Colorado State Fair
The crowd was light at the Colorado State Fair Friday night in Pueblo. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)


Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 13, 20179min150

With the the grease fire that is Republicans’ too-big-to-fail promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, it’s time to remind D.C. how the Colorado legislature got things done this year, from healthcare to switchblades.

The state Constitution forces the legislature to balance its budget each year, that’s a big part of it. Moreover, Republicans and Democrats in the statehouse got tired of losing.

Republicans control the Senate. Democrats control the House. If you’re a partisan under the Gold Dome, that’s a losing proposition unless you have friends across the aisle. Partisans might as well howl at the moon. They’ll get just as far. The only point in picking fights when you don’t have the votes is politics, not governing.

As no small side note, our Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, is making the rounds with Ohio’s Republican governor, John Kasich.

They’re telling Washington that states want to work across party lines to fix health care. The issue is too important to spoil with brinksmanship.

The legislative session ended three months ago, and usually there’s finger-pointing and backbiting by the time the state fair rolls around. This summer, noticeably, the bipartisan victories.

Bipartisanship is turning into a Colorado thing, like legal weed and light rock music.

Let’s air out the session’s dirty laundry, however. When they convened in January legislators from both parties said their biggest priority would be to adequately fund transportation.

They didn’t.

But you can’t blame bipartisanship. It was an all-Republican knife fight that gutted House Bill 1242, co-authored by Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham.

The Democratic House majority passed a bill to ask voters to approve a sales tax hike. Three Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee couldn’t support that. The Republican majority in the Senate then couldn’t agree on a replacement bill.

Colorado found a way forward on health care, however. The bipartisan breakthrough, Senate Bill 267, put millions into rural hospitals and some into transportation, while raising Medicaid co-pays and lowering the state government spending cap. Both sides got some wins there.

Then to prove bipartisanship happens in baby steps, Republicans got in a spat with the Democratic governor on where the  bill would be signed. The peace pipe has not been completely smoked.

The divided legislature also found a middle ground on construction defects litigation, fairly funded charter schools, forced law enforcement to better disclose the assets they take in forfeitures and more (driverless cars, more convenient contraceptive access for women and money to address the state’s opioid addiction crisis).

Democrats and Republicans did some real giving and taking. It paid off.

A lot of the progress had to do with Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican outdoorsman from Douglas County, and Minority Leader Lucia Guzman, the Democratic pastor from Denver who is the someday leader emeritus of the LGBTQ Caucus.

For six of the eight years of the Hickenlooper administration, Republicans and Democrats will have shared control of the legislature. Before this past session, bombast had a way of spoiling things.

Bipartisanship starts with better relationships, Holbert said. The Senate leadership in both parties tried to keep a lid on the accusatory, overblown rhetoric that makes subsequent bipartisanship a heavy lift.

“What we’ve tried to do is to reach across the aisle quite literally by standing in that center aisle and to shake hands and to embrace and not use that kind of (negative) rhetoric with each other, first just to set that example and to encourage other people in the caucus,” Holbert said.

Guzman said relationships at least provide an open ear across the aisle when the votes are against you.

“I’ve known President Grantham since we came in together,” Guzman said. “He and I traveled to Israel together. We’ve done lots of things together.”

Holbert said the Colorado Constitution forces the legislature to work together to pass scores of bills, including balancing a budget.

“The way we have to do our jobs is different than most other states and could be different than all other states,” he said.

It’s complicated and detailed, so he wrote out Colorado’s unique governing requirements for me.

For my fellow Colorado government geeks. Holbert’s lesson:

Single Subject Rule

Everything in a bill before the Colorado General Assembly must fit under the title of that bill. This restriction prohibits “pork barrel” legislation and deal-making when unrelated issues are combined into one bill.

Every Bill Must Receive a Hearing

In many states, legislative leadership or committee chairmen have the authority to decide whether a given bill will receive a hearing. If a bill does not receive a hearing, then it cannot pass. Here in Colorado, all bills that are introduced must receive a hearing.

No Pocket Veto

In Colorado, no one legislator or even the Governor has the authority to kill a bill simply by ignoring it. Bills in our legislature can and do die by vote of a committee or chamber, with at least a simple majority of members voting against the measure. If a bill passes both chambers, our governor must either sign it into law, sign it as a veto or the bill becomes law without his signature.

Balanced Budget Requirement

The Colorado Constitution requires our state legislature to pass a budget each year and that the budget be balanced. The Colorado General Assembly cannot deficit spend, meaning that it cannot spend more than it has. With our current spilt legislature, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate must work together to pass a balanced budget.

Voter Approval Required for Taxes

Unlike many state legislatures, the Colorado General Assembly does not have authority to create a tax or increase an existing tax rate without voter approval.

Term Limits

Individuals may serve up to eight years in each chamber of our state legislature. House terms are two years each and Senate terms are four years each.

Limited Session Time
The Colorado Constitution limits the annual general session to no more than 120 days, including weekends and holidays. Unlike other states that limit session duration, here in Colorado, neither the legislature nor the Governor has authority to extend a general session beyond 120 days.

Lobbyist Restrictions

Colorado voters have also amended our state Constitution to prohibit lobbyists from giving anything of value to a state legislator. Whereas non-lobbyists can currently spend up to $59 per year entertaining a state legislator, lobbyists can spend nothing on such activities.


Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 24, 20176min160

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.