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Ernest LuningErnest LuningNovember 18, 201718min16570

In the days since additional claims of sexual misconduct by Colorado legislators emerged in a news report, numerous women who have worked with state Sen. Jack Tate, one of the lawmakers accused of improper behavior, have come forward to challenge anonymous allegations about Tate. They say they’re alarmed the Centennial Republican could be unfairly caught up in a scandal they agree is bringing long overdue scrutiny to harassment at the state Capitol.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 29, 20179min1340
Denver Rustlers
Denver Rustlers’ co-founder and sponsor Larry Mizel greets the posse Tuesday morning at the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

A do-gooder delegation of more than 300 state and metro Denver politicians and business leaders descended on Pueblo, the Home of Heroes, Tuesday for the Junior Livestock Auction at the Colorado State Fair.

The Denver Rustlers rode again for the 33rd year.

More than 300 Rustlers filled three luxury buses to Pueblo, with several statewide officials — Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Secretary of State Wayne a Williams — doing their best to visit with everyone on board all three, making their way down the center aisles and switching buses at rest stops on the way.

Once at the fair, the Rustlers were joined by members of groups that have sprung up to give the Rustlers some competition– the Pikes Peak Posse, the Pigskin Buckaroos and the Fair Ladies, a bidding group from Pueblo and Otero counties.

“They grow the numbers every year and match or set records every year, and it all goes toward a great cause, which is paying for college for these kids,” said state Rep. Justin Everett, a Littleton Republican and a candidate for state treasurer.

Everett said he’s been to Pueblo with the Denver Rustlers going on eight years. “It’s great because everybody ignores partisanship and focuses on the kids and spending the day in Pueblo. Metro Denver legislators get to step outside their comfort zone.”

Wearing white Rockmount Ranch Wear shirts with flowered embroidery, they gathered Tuesday morning at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. The posse loaded into buses for a trail ride to the fair to drive up the auction prices and reward young livestock-raising competitors.

“This is one pork project we can all support, and that’s getting down to the state fair and buying some of the livestock from these kids who have worked so hard around the four corners of Colorado,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, after marveling at the number of “Yuman beings” from his hometown in the crowd.

He was introduced by one of the founding Rustlers, businessman and philanthropist Larry Mizel, who joked, “We’ll take short comments, starting with Cory,” and the crowd groan and laughed. Mizel added of his own height, “our U.S. senator, one of the guy’s my size.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former pub owner, turned the subject to beer, noting 33 years of the Rustlers made him think of 1933, the year the Volstead Act was repealed ending Prohibition. He noted that a bottle of Rolling Rock beer (brewed in St. Louis, by the way) has the number 33 on the front of the bottle and 33 words on back.

“Now I’m not superstitious, but I’m just saying 33 is a good number, so this better be a good trip,” the governor said before shoving off.

Denver Rustlers anticipate setting records on 33rd outing to Colorado State Fair

Hickenlooper told the dignitaries that the state fair is a “big deal,” and so is their annual trip.

“This expedition is a big deal for the entire state, because it allows us to support agriculture in a very powerful way,” he said.

Tim Schultz, another of the founding Rustlers, talked about how it all started. There was a great concern at the time  about cancelling the junior livestock auction at the state fair, because the bidding seemed to be in a deep wane.

“This is one of the rare times folks from the metropolitan area can reach out and help kids from all across Colorado,” Schultz said.

The late Tom Farley, a former state legislator from Pueblo, approached Tim Schultz, who was then the state agriculture commissioner, along with Mizel and Denver dairy operators Dick and Eddie Robinson, who enlisted their friends.

State Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat from Thornton running for state treasurer, is a veteran Rustler. He was born in Sterling and comes from generations of family farmers in northeast Colorado.

“I think it’s important as a legislator to understand all the different parts of our economy,” he said. “Because I was born in the rural part of Colorado, I get it.”

Denver Rustlers
Gov. John Hickenlooper tells Denver Rustlers that the state fair is a big deal and so are they. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, a very urban Democrat from Denver, said the event opens pathways of communication that hopefully pay off later when legislation, partisanship and pressure are intertwined in the House and Senate.

“This is so Colorado, people coming together,” he said at Del Frisco’s. “This is what we say we do, but this is us actually doing it. We bring people together, we have conversations across party lines, across socio-economic lines. It’s just people getting together. … This is that one time you chat with that person from the other side who you’ve meaning to get ahold of, but you just never were able to. Now you can. We’re together all day.”

Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, said good economic relationships are forged, as well, and rural Colorado needs both. He supported reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund for two years. The legislation passed this year, when lawmakers understood more clearly that in big cities healthcare is big business. In rural Colorado they are a literal and economic lifeline.

“I’m from rural Colorado, so i don’t always understand how metro (areas) work,” he said outside Del Frisco’s. “I couldn’t imagine going to school with thousands of students. It’s a two-way street on a lot of these issues.”

State Sen, Tim Neville, a Republican from Littleton, built on that point, “We’re state legislators,” he said. “We should think of all of Colorado and what’s best for Colorado as one all the time. Things like this remind of us of that.”

His son, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock, had a simpler answer that nearly Republicans and Democrats could all agree with on a hot summer day.

“It’s always good to get out of Denver and see the rest of Colorado,” he said.

Would he buy a cow at the auction? No, he said, though his money was in the Rustlers pot to bid. He already has chickens that provide him eggs. The steak can come from elsewhere.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 21, 20176min83
Sen. Larry Crowder and Kimmi Lewis were all aboard on hemp last session and had no qualms about selling out the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, because the price was right. The Lamar Ledger this weekend provided a thorough accounting of a town hall meeting with the two southern Colorado Republicans last Thursday night at Lamar […]

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Paula NoonanPaula NoonanJuly 3, 20175min760
Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

Tri-partisanship is on life support in Washington, D.C.  The nation’s health-care system now has three irreconcilable options: Obamacare, RyanCare and MitchCare.  It’s barely possible to see a path to WeAgreeOnThisOneCare.

In our own square state, bipartisanship perked up at the end of the 2017 session, even though the bill that most carries the bipartisan brand is messy.  Work on the issues within the bill show under what conditions legislators will come together.

Issue one was the hospital fee put in place to support hospitals that provide lots of uncompensated care. From spring 2010 to September 2016, hospitals received $1.4 billion to make up for Medicaid and other patients unable to pay their medical bills, according to the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

That’s a lot of get-to-even money for mostly rural and urban hospitals.  But the funding comes with a catch.  The hospital fee, if considered a tax, pushes state tax revenues into Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) restrictions.

State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, has long supported exempting the uncompensated care hospital fee from TABOR.  At one time, he was the one Republican Senate vote that could preserve the fee.

Many GOP lawmakers do see the fee as a tax. If it is a tax, hospitals take a double hit because the state has to reduce the fees and thus matching federal dollars to ensure that total tax revenues don’t trip TABOR limits.

Rural hospitals and the citizens they serve argued to their Senate and House legislators, including Republicans Jerry Sonnenberg, senator from Sterling, and Jon Becker, representative from Fort Morgan, that they absolutely needed all the fee money or they would have to close.  That position put the anti-taxers Sonnenberg and Becker, along with Crowder and some other rural Senators, in conflict with their pro-TABOR colleagues.

Then came the second big issue:  state transportation funding.  HB17-1242 would create a transportation funding initiative to bring sales tax dollars to save the state’s degraded infrastructure.  The bill passed the Democratic House with some GOP votes but couldn’t get out of the Republican Senate, killed in the Finance committee by Republican Senators Tim Neville, Jeffco; Jack Tate, Arapahoe, and Owen Hill, El Paso.

It looked like the provider fee would lose and transportation was done.  But Sonnenberg and Becker hooked up with two Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman and House Majority Leader K.C. Becker, as sponsors for the Sustainability of Rural Colorado bill.

In the last days of the 2017 session, the sponsors had to get creative.  They came up with a $2 billion tax go-around using state buildings for lease-to-purchase deals and a new Healthcare Affordability and Sustainability Enterprise for the provider fee.

Democrats and some Republicans went with the plan, including Sens. Owen Hill and Jack Tate, who earlier voted against the sales tax initiative in Senate Finance.  Democrats added some education money, but the pinch on affected lawmakers hurt enough to get enough to “yes.”

A world of urgent hurt for a large majority of constituents can get lawmakers to bipartisanship.  That may end up the only ticket at the national level.  Lots of constituents and interests from all over the nation are stirring the health care stew and the heat is on high.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJune 26, 20178min94

A group of liberal advocacy organizations for the first time released combined legislative scorecards this week, conglomerating assessments of the 100 Colorado lawmakers’ votes last session on key legislation the organizations said they plan to present to voters next year. A Republican who received among the lowest overall scores, however, dismissed the endeavor as a “political stunt” and told Colorado Politics he doubts the predictable rankings — Democrats good, Republicans bad — give voters any meaningful information.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicApril 4, 201714min64

Now that the Colorado state budget proposal has appeared and lawmakers are wrangling over the numbers, the political narratives that will be used to sell the budget to voters and to defend against constituent anger in elections to come are taking shape. This year it seems unquestionable that it will be a tougher budget for Republicans to spin than for Democrats. For starters, there will be more spending. The budget is $26.8 billion.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicMarch 23, 20174min560

“Five-hundred and twenty-eight million dollars?” said Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa. “Yeah, well, I imagine that’s where we’re heading.” Crowder was digesting the <a href="http://www.denverpost.com/2017/03/23/colorado-state-budget-bill-finalized/" target="_blank">news</a> that state legislative budget writers are planning to unveil their draft version next week and that it will very likely include a $528 million cut to state hospital operating budgets. When he first hears the figure, Crowder doesn’t move. He looks at the top of the committee table where he’s sitting and it’s a full second or two before he looks up. He mentions that he knew there would be cuts.


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John TomasicJohn TomasicMarch 21, 20175min930

It was a tax bill bound to make a splash, even though it was doomed not to pass into law from the start. It was a Republican proposal meant to tweak the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, which caps taxing and spending in the state, and which is also sacrosanct among Republicans. <a href="https://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb17-1187" target="_blank">House Bill 1187</a>, sponsored by Rep. Dan Thurlow, a Republican from Grand Junction, and Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa. The bill passed in the Democratic-controlled House and was voted down by Republicans in the Senate State Affairs committee. The bill aimed to allow the state to collect and spend more revenue by basing the tax rate on personal income levels tabulated over the last five years. The sponsors think their formula is a better way to arrive at the tax rate than the current formula, which adjusts the limit each year based on inflation and population changes. Any boost in tax money collected as a result of the new formula would have been set aside to pay for education, health care and transportation projects. The bill would have submitted a ballot question outlining the plan to voters to approve or reject.



Peter MarcusPeter MarcusMarch 20, 20177min59
Senate Republicans on Monday killed a TABOR reform effort by one of their own to allow the state to retain excess revenue when economic times are good. On a party-line vote, the TABOR reform measure died in a Republican-controlled “kill committee,” where legislation deemed unfavorable by the majority party is sent to die. What was […]

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