The two other Democratic candidates, Rep. Brittany Pettersen and Sen. Andy Kerr, are both from Lakewood in Jefferson County. Moreno brings the Adams County perspective to the race, coming from Commerce City.
All three serve in the legislature together, which offers an interesting dynamic. Moreno, a member of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, does not plan on resigning to run for Congress.
“I’m an adult and I hope my opponents are too,” Moreno told Colorado Politics in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
“I don’t plan to use my position as a state senator to elevate my status or my campaign for Congress. That’s not what serving in elected office should be about. I can’t say the same about my other two opponents, who knows what they’ll do, but that’s what I plan.”
At 32 years old, Moreno has followed an impressive trajectory since first being elected to the Commerce City City Council at just 24 years old. He can still remember the nervousness as he paced in front of the first door he would knock on for the campaign.
“I had no idea how to run a political campaign. I designed my own flier on Microsoft Word. I made copies at Kinko’s, black and white, because I couldn’t afford color,” Moreno said of the city council run.
He only ran for the seat after a friend had sent him a Facebook message: “My response was, ‘Who’s going to vote for a 24-year-old who lives in his parent’s basement?’ But I thought about it more and I was like, ‘I grew up in this community, I went out and got a good education, why would I go use that somewhere else?’” Moreno said.
Coming from Adams County, Moreno will need to make his presence known in Jefferson County, which makes up the majority of the district. But he has already been in discussions with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and he believes he will be able to raise the millions needed to run the marathon.
“Dominick is known as a legislator who stands up for his district’s values while still being productive in finding solutions to Colorado’s most pressing needs,” said former Colorado House Speaker Ruben Valdez, the first Hispanic to ever serve in that position and a fixture in Colorado politics for more than 40 years.
“He transcends the gridlock that we too often see,” Valdez continued, who now lives in Lakewood and is a voter in the district. “We need more of his spirit, pragmatism and dedication in Washington, and that is why I’m supporting him for Congress.”
Moreno believes he will be able to garner the name recognition needed to compete.
“The issues in Jefferson and Adams counties aren’t all that different,” he said. “It’s folks who are concerned about making sure that they have access to a good job and that they have quality educational options for their kids.
“Even though I have a lot of folks to introduce myself to in Jefferson County, I do think my message and who I am as a person and a legislator is something they will respond to.”
A young rising Colorado Democratic star
Born and raised in Adams County, Moreno, a gay Latino, lives a block from the house he grew up in, where his parents still live.
He graduated from Adams City High School as valedictorian. From there, he was named a Daniel’s Fund Scholar and attended Georgetown University.
“I graduated at a horrible time, in 2008, the height of the recession,” Moreno said. “Just like many of my college classmates, I had a really tough time finding work, and so I moved back home and into my parent’s basement like every other college graduate those days.”
After being elected to the city council, Moreno ran for the statehouse at the age of 27, taking advantage of an open seat left by former Rep. Ed Casso, D-Commerce City. Moreno became the youngest lawmaker in the state. After two terms in the House, Moreno last year was elected to the Senate, where he serves as the youngest member of the chamber.
Moreno was quickly named a member of the Joint Budget Committee, which oversees and writes the state’s $26.8 billion state budget. For a freshman senator – one who was replacing budget guru Sen. Pat Steadman, who was leaving office – it was quite the honor and duty.
Budget writers faced some of the trickiest maneuvering in years in order to keep the budget in balance, but the committee’s commitment to bipartisanship saw progress, despite unfavorable conditions.
“Bipartisanship is the name of the game,” Moreno said. “If you want to fund anything, if you want to do anything with the state budget, you have to have both Democratic and Republican support.”
Facing a dysfunctional Congress and President Trump
Other candidates in Democratic races have quickly taken the President Trump line of attack, using his multiple layers of controversies to rally support within Democratic circles. But Moreno doesn’t think he’s going to play that angle too hard.
“I get the temptation, but the harder thing to do is actually distinguish yourself in some way,” Moreno said. “You can run against Donald Trump, but the harder thing to do is to actually run on your record.”
Asked whether taking the high road on Trump might leave him out of a popular and easy strategy, Moreno responded, “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem because at the end of the day, people respond to genuine leaders and I’m not going to try to be someone I’m not.
“My goal is to get to Congress and to remind them that there are hard-working families in this district who only want the opportunity to raise their families, and that government should actually make people’s lives easier and not harder.”
While it might be tempting for Democrats to lean hard to the left in the primary, Moreno says he will resist that strategy. He is looking ahead to a race against a Republican who survives a primary field that is still not set.
Prior to Perlmutter, the district was represented by well-known politician Bob Beauprez. Beauprez stepped down in 2006 to run for governor, but he lost to Democrat Bill Ritter. He again ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2014 against incumbent Democrat John Hickenlooper.
Of total voters in the district, Democrats make up 34 percent, while Republicans comprise 26 percent of the district, according to registration numbers with the secretary of state’s office. The swing is the unaffiliated voters, who make up 38 percent of the district.
“Nothing can be taken for granted in the 7th Congressional District because it is competitive,” Moreno said. “It can go either way, so you have to have a message that appeals to everyone.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday signed legislation marking the most significant progress on construction defect litigation reform since the debate began at least four years ago.
One of the thorniest issues in the legislature, the bill signing also signaled one of the assembly’s greatest achievements this year, striking a deal that begins to get to reform.
The legislation requires a majority of homeowners in an association to approve a lawsuit and provide disclosure to homeowners of a proposed suit.
“This new law establishes a fair and balanced process for settlement of construction defects claims without infringing on Coloradans’ ability to protect what for most of them is their single biggest investment – their homes,” said Rep. Alec Garnett, D-Denver, who led many of the talks and helped build a grand bargain.
In previous years, talks on the issue have broken down. Negotiations were precarious through much of the process this year as well. But in April, a compromise was reached, which lawmakers rolled out with all the pomp and circumstance of a press conference.
Hickenlooper signed the bill Tuesday afternoon at the Capitol, after it received a unanimous vote in the legislature.
The conversation involved a wide berth of stakeholders, including developers, the business community, homeowners and local elected officials.
“We are pleased that we were able to find a compromise aimed at encouraging more condo development while protecting consumers, but keep in mind that this is the first step in a long process and it is not a silver bullet,” said Kathie Barstnar, co-chair of the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance, which led talks for developers, business interests and local officials.
At one point this year, conversations became so complicated that sponsors of the measure essentially declared an impasse. The effort was partly held up by a few short words in the legislation, which addresses a pause in the time homeowners have to file a lawsuit under a statute of limitations.
The clock would pause up to a 90-day voting and disclosure period as a homeowners’ association decides whether to file a lawsuit.
The bill – as with all construction defect measures – aims at spurring housing development by relaxing concerns from developers over expensive lawsuits. Hickenlooper said the victory is almost psychological for homebuilders.
In addition to Garnett, House Bill 1279 was also sponsored by Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone. In the Senate it was sponsored by Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver and Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial.
“Innovation, teamwork and bipartisanship are alive and well at the Capitol and were essential to the passage of House Bill 1279,” said House Assistant Republican Leader Cole Wist of Centennial, who also played a major role in negotiations. “While this bill will not cure all of our state’s problems with respect to runaway construction litigation, it is a huge step in the right direction.”
Even homeowners, who had feared they might lose access to their day in court to fight shoddy development, applauded passage of the legislation.
“With the governor’s signature on House Bill 1279, homeowners can breathe a sigh of relief that the ongoing fight over construction defect law has finally come to an end,” said Jonathan Harris, with Build Our Homes Right.
Other efforts this year, however, did not cross the finish line, including a piece of legislation that legislative leaders – including House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, had sponsored this year.
The measure, Senate Bill 45, would have aimed at equitably dividing litigation defense costs. The idea was to lower insurance rates, which would decrease costs for developers. The concept was highlighted in opening day speeches in the legislature.
But it was opposed by the very groups it was intended to help, including developers, and the bill died.
Still, lawmakers can say they are walking away with a win by pushing House Bill 1279 across the finish line.
“I am pleased that in one of the most productive sessions I have had the pleasure of working in, we finally made a breakthrough on the construction defects issue,” Guzman said. “This bill strikes an important balance that shields honest homebuilders and protects the rights of homeowners.”
Colorado Democrats are excited about political newcomer Jason Crow, who they believe can finally unseat Republican Mike Coffman in the 6th Congressional District.
The Denver attorney and combat veteran’s April announcement drew scorn from Republicans and praise from high-profile Democrats, suggesting that Crow is emerging as the frontrunner in the race.
But Crow suffers from a lack of name recognition, so some Democrats are pinning their hopes on a more high-profile name to arise. One name that has been floated is state Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora, who could help with fundraising.
Also announced is Aurora attorney David Aarestad and 25-year-old Littleton resident Gabriel McArthur. Technology entrepreneur Levi Tillemann has also announced an exploratory committee to look into a run in the 6th Congressional District.
“Washington liberals fielded their next candidate (read: sacrificial lamb) to challenge Congressman Mike Coffman in 2018,” read a press release from right-leaning Compass Colorado quickly following Crow’s announcement.
“As a combat veteran and Denver attorney, Crow fits the exact mold political insiders in the Democratic establishment have identified as their new ideal candidate.”
But Crow, who lives in the Denver Stapleton neighborhood and is looking for properties in the district, says his campaign is not spearheaded by Washington, D.C., interests affiliated with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“I think they’re enthusiastic about my campaign, I think they’re interested in my profile, they’re interested in what I bring to the race,” Crow said of his discussions with the DCCC.
In some ways, Crow does have the ideal profile to take on Coffman, who has repeatedly defeated Democrats by pointing to national security and his own military background. The district has always seemed winnable for Democrats, with 31 percent of total registered voters, compared to 30 percent Republicans. Unaffiliated voters make up 36 percent.
Somehow, Coffman still manages to win, having most recently defeated former Senate President Morgan Carroll by about 8 points. Coffman also defeated former House Speaker Andrew Romanoff by about the same.
Still, Democrats are excited about their prospects with Crow.
“I have known Jason for several years as an active member of the community and as a member of my Veterans Advisory Committee. He has been very helpful on veterans issues, especially as it relates to issues concerning veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. I know Jason to be honest and hardworking with a passion for helping people,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who represents the 7th Congressional District and is running for governor.
A background that fits the district
Having grown up in Wisconsin, Crow says he comes from a working-class background, with his family employed as bricklayers. His father was able to go to college, which was somewhat inspirational to Crow.
In college at the University of Wisconsin, Crow joined the National Guard.
“My time in the National Guard really sparked something for me – wearing the uniform, serving the country and the community,” he said during a recent interview with Colorado Politics at a coffee shop across from the state Capitol.
Crow became excited as he recalled requesting active duty following the Sept. 11 attacks. He requested infantry airborne ranger training.
“The moral of the story is be careful what you ask for,” he joked, pointing to the intense service of being an airborne ranger. “I like taking on the tough challenges.”
Crow led a platoon of paratroopers during the invasion of Iraq, and he earned a Bronze Star for his service. From there he was recruited into the Army Rangers for special operations.
“It had its moments,” Crow said simply of the elite work.
Crow, now 38, saw three combat tours before moving to Denver and going to law school at the University of Denver. It was then that he realized veterans issues needed to be sorted out. Crow had a hard time receiving his benefits.
“I was thinking to myself that all the other people I served with are having the same problems, and I started to look into the issue more broadly and really recognized it as a political topic, that there were resources available, but there wasn’t the political will at the time to get over the hump,” Crow said.
He became involved in former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter’s gubernatorial campaign and chaired a veterans committee for former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall in 2008. Crow also advised U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet on veterans issues.
In 2012, Crow spoke at the Democratic National Convention and worked on President Obama’s campaign. He made the former “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay service members a priority focus.
From there, Crow built his law practice in litigation and business regulatory compliance. But he has always made veterans issues a focus of his life, serving on state boards and working to help secure funding for the VA hospital in Aurora.
Facing off against Coffman in Trump’s world
Crow has naturally been using President Trump’s layers of controversies to his advantage in the race, while Coffman has been doing his best to distance himself from the embattled president.
“I’ve been thinking about how we got to the place that we are in right now,” Crow said. “Trump is problematic to me, but to me Trump is emblematic of other underlying issues that have been growing for some time.”
On health care, Coffman could have a difficult time in the 2018 race. Republicans continue to struggle to come up with a replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act that they can successfully campaign on.
But Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado, does not appear too worried.
“While we appreciate Mr. Crow’s service, it’s unfortunate for the Washington liberal elite that the ‘perfect candidate’ doesn’t just roll off a focus-grouped assembly line like little robots,” said Maher.
“Colorado is a fiercely independent state, and the top-down, dictatorial, one-size-fits-all approach to candidate recruitment from controlling powerbrokers will backfire here. Coloradans are going to examine the policies advocated by a Nancy Pelosi pick in stark contrast to the independent values for which Mike Coffman consistently fights.”
Crow, however, believes he can build a political bridge in the district.
“I think about the people that I served with in Iraq and Afghanistan, from all different political stripes, every different background,” he said. “I can’t tell you still to this day what the political affiliation of most of those people were. It didn’t matter. We came together, we fought under the same flag, we wore the same uniform, we took the same oath.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday signed a measure that will provide a state income tax deduction for monetary awards received as a result of winning an Olympic medal.
House Bill 1104 was signed at a ceremony at the U.S. Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs.
The measure follows a move by Congress last year that gave broad passage to a similar measure to exempt medals and stipends from taxes.
In the Colorado legislation, deductions are given to to anyone who receives a medal at the summer or winter Olympics or Paralympic games.
Non-monetary benefits and endorsement earnings are not eligible for the income tax deduction, which will be available beginning in tax year 2018.
Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, was the driving force behind the bill during the last session.
The USOC gives athletes who win a medal at the summer or winter Olympics a cash award: $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver, and $10,000 for bronze medals. Paralympian medal winners are paid $5,000, $3,000, and $2,000, respectively.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic teams have won an average of 100 medals during each of the last four summer Olympic and Paralympic games and 35 medals during each of the last four winter Olympic and Paralympic games.
Federal law allows the value of Olympic or Paralympic medals and any monetary prizes received from the USOC to be excluded from federal taxable income, as long as the taxpayer has an adjusted gross income of less than $1 million.
House Bill 1104 won’t have much of an impact on state revenue, according to state fiscal analysts. Data from the USOC shows there were 65 Colorado residents that participated in the 2014 winter and 2016 summer Olympic and Paralympic games. Of these, seven athletes won an Olympic or Paralympic medal for a total of seven medals.
The value of the state income tax would have been approximately $2,400 in tax year 2014 and nearly $2,800 in tax year 2016.
It also won’t cost much money to implement the program, as fiscal analysts believe it can be accomplished with existing resources given the small number of taxpayers that are expected to claim the state income tax deduction and its availability every two years.
“Your proposed state-based legislation would provide much needed and significant financial support to some of Colorado’s most dedicated amateur athletes,” Desiree Filippone, managing director of government relations for the USOC, said in a letter to lawmakers as the bill was moving through the legislative process.
“Our Olympic and Paralympic athletes shouldn’t be penalized by way of a tax on their medals or stipends,” said Rep. Clarice Navarro, R-Pueblo, a sponsor of the bill. “Not everyone ends up on a Wheaties box, and as Coloradans we have an opportunity to make a statement and a difference to and for the young people that work so hard to represent the U.S.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday announced that he will not call the legislature back to work on the outstanding issue of transportation, which could force a ballot initiative.
After the legislative session ended last Wednesday, Hickenlooper had a message for lawmakers: Don’t make any vacation plans for the rest of May.
But on Friday he made it clear that a special session would not happen, despite his frustration with the legislature’s failure to come up with a larger source of money for crumbling roads and highways.
“We can always do better,” Hickenlooper said at a Friday afternoon news conference. “I continue to have real concerns about how we’re going to finance infrastructure… We received only a fraction of the money that we need for transportation.”
Hickenlooper had been contemplating calling lawmakers back to work more on transportation, funding the state energy office, health care policy, and rural broadband internet.
Hickenlooper called those outcomes from the session disappointing – especially losing funding for the Colorado Energy Office – despite also claiming “the most productive legislative session” since he took office in 2011.
Transportation was the top priority. An omnibus spending bill that passed on the last day of the session relies on existing state revenue. Transportation would get about $1.9 billion over the next 20 years. But from that, $500 million would go to rural infrastructure and $200 million to mass transit.
About $1.1 billion — parceled out by yearly budgeting — would go for “other” transportation needs, including clogged interstates that have driven most of the conversation to make massive new investments in the state’s transportation system.
But after the session Hickenlooper said that’s not nearly enough against $9 billion in identified needs, and eventually the state’s traffic jams are going to start hurting the state’s robust economy.
Hickenlooper was considering asking lawmakers to take another look at a sales-tax increase for roads that would have to be backed by voters, a proposal which failed in the legislature this past session.
“These last nine days we talked to a number of stakeholders… and we wanted to reassess whether it would be worth the effort to bring everybody back, and I think in the end our conclusion is that it really isn’t worth calling special session at this time. The political landscape hasn’t shifted,” Hickenlooper said.
Without a more comprehensive transportation package, the issue could still go to voters. Several ballot initiatives are being discussed. The Colorado Contractors Association and the libertarian Independence Institute have filed multiple ideas.
The Contractors Association effort proposes a range of tax increases, while the Independence Institute’s proposals would ask voters to approve using existing funds to pay for a transportation bond program.
Tony Milo, executive director of the Colorado Contractors Association, said his organization is going to be re-evaluating the ballot proposals to see which one might work, and whether to run it this year or in 2018.
“At this point we’re going to have to do some more analysis and research on them… to see if there’s an appetite to go in 2017 or maybe step back and write something for 2018,” Milo said.
He added that the ballot proposals must be re-examined after the legislature passed the omnibus spending bill, which Milo called only a “down payment.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans have lamented that while the governor was considering a special session, he never reached out to Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City.
The caucus posted a tongue-in-cheek YouTube video in which Grantham is sitting at his desk eagerly awaiting a call from Hickenlooper.
Suddenly the phone rings and Grantham quickly answers, “Governor?” But, alas, it is not the governor, it is Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, one of the key lawmakers behind the $1.9 billion omnibus spending bill.
“Jerry, I’m expecting a call from the governor, he said he’s calling about special session and I’m waiting here to receive his call.”
Hickenlooper said he never gave Grantham a call, who sponsored the failed tax increase proposal in the legislature, because the Senate president made it clear that he wasn’t interested in a special session.
“He was very explicit the day after the end of the session that he wanted no part of a special session,” Hickenlooper said. “He didn’t think there was going to be any different answers… I didn’t have to call him and waste his time. I know how busy he is, despite what the video seemed to portray.”
Following the governor’s comments, Grantham did not appear satisfied with the response.
“I guess there was certainly no need for all the mystery of deciding to not announce it on Monday, and then not announce it on Tuesday, and not announce it on Wednesday …” Grantham said. “I was waiting for the governor to provide the ending.”
Sandra Hagen Solin, spokeswoman for Fix Colorado Roads, which led many of the transportation talks in the legislature, expressed disappointment that the governor didn’t call the legislature back.
“We had hoped there would be another opportunity for a legislative solution to our funding and finance challenge to be crafted for the 2017 ballot,” she said. “We are disappointed that the door is closed for this year. We are committed to keeping the conversation moving forward with legislative leaders and voters.”
Loren Furman, a lobbyist for the Colorado Association Of Commerce and Industry, said business interests will begin to look at alternatives, such as ballot measures.
“Another opportunity to secure long-term funding for transportation is certainly one we strongly support but we respect the governor’s decision,” Furman said. “We know this issue is important to Coloradans who use our roads every day and they should be given the choice of whether to fund our ever-growing infrastructure needs.”
Other issues left on the table
The governor is also concerned that the legislature couldn’t come to an agreement on fully funding the Colorado Energy Office. Lawmakers came to an impasse on the last day of the session, severely crippling the energy office.
Broadband is another concern for the governor. Lawmakers were able to come up with $9.5 million to expand broadband into rural areas. But they weren’t able to come up with a steady more permanent stream of money.
Several of the governor’s priority health care bills also failed this year, including a bill that would have required hospitals to submit more information about how they spend the state’s Medicaid dollars.
The Colorado Democratic race for governor could get ugly.
Colorado Politics’ inbox is already filled with opposition emails that have revolved around the gubernatorial campaigns for U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and former state Treasurer Cary Kennedy.
It started with a fundraising email. Kennedy’s opponents pointed out that a fundraising event for Kennedy gave the impression that high-profile Colorado women were supporting her campaign, though several “sponsors” hadn’t made formal endorsements.
The email for the event this month listed women such as Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, First Lady Robin Hickenlooper and Susan Daggett, the wife of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, as sponsors for an Electing Women luncheon.
The event was organized by Electing Women, a Denver-based federal political action committee dedicated to raising money for pro-choice women running for governor and U.S. Senate seats around the country. But the fundraising email for the luncheon honoring Kennedy was paid for by “Cary Kennedy for Governor.”
There is no indication that the women on the fundraising email formally endorsed Kennedy at the time. A spokeswoman for Lynne, for example, said, “The name on the invitation is not intended and should not be viewed as an endorsement. She has not committed to supporting any individual candidate.”
Still, the fundraising event raised just under $50,000, according to the Kennedy campaign, and “sponsors” of the event didn’t appear overly upset about how the email was portrayed when asked by Colorado Politics.
Still, Kennedy opponents think the optics of the fundraising event were disingenuous by suggesting that the women had “sponsored” the event, which they believe could have been construed as a Kennedy endorsement.
Meanwhile, anonymous anti-Perlmutter emails also are landing in Colorado Politics’ inbox.
“Ed Perlmutter has missed more than twice as many votes as anyone else in the Colorado delegation this year. In fact, it’s worse than 89% of his fellow members of congress in the House,” read the anonymous email.
“This isn’t a new trend for him. His absences in congress have been a problem for years,” the anti-Perlmutter email continued.
The Perlmutter campaign, however, points out that sometimes “life takes over.” Perlmutter has been forced to grapple with his wife Nancy’s cancer and recent heart surgery for his father, who is in his 90s. The campaign estimates that about 75 votes were missed for family issues.
Perlmutter missed 242 votes out of more than 6,900 over the course of his 10 years in Congress, which puts him at about 3.5 percent of missed votes and somewhere in the middle of the pack for the Colorado congressional delegation.
“Ed loves politics,” continued the anonymous email critical of the congressman. “But it’s all for the sake of politics. His hasty announcement without a real campaign structure or any evidence that he was prepared to make this run. His scattered messaging on the stump so far. His missed votes. He didn’t want to miss a political opportunity, so he jumped at it.”
A Perlmutter spokeswoman countered, “Life sometimes has to take over, and I don’t know that Ed’s any different than anyone else where he’s had some serious family issues that he’s had to deal with.”
Back to the Kennedy fundraising email. Heather Lurie, an organizer for Electing Women, told Colorado Politics that the organization apologizes “for any confusion we have caused,” adding that the organization acknowledges “there are sensitivities,” and that it reached out to sponsors to clarify the confusion.
Lurie pointed out that the way Electing Women has been structured for the past 17 years is that it organizes events for candidates, but then it allows the candidates to do the fundraising themselves, as was the case with the paid for by “Cary Kennedy for Governor” disclosure.
Other Democrats in the race, including former state Sen. Mike Johnston and civics leader Noel Ginsburg, have so far been less targeted. As attacks intensify in the Republican gubernatorial race, Colorado Politics will follow those as well.
But if we’re seeing attacks like these so far ahead of the 2018 election, you might want to buckle your seatbelt, because this could be a bumpy ride.
Colorado medical marijuana patients are on edge over a statement made by the Trump administration signaling objections to a prohibition on interfering with state-run medical marijuana programs.
As reported by the Washington Post, a “signing statement” that accompanied Trump’s signature on a bill passed this month to keep the government open objected to a provision that prohibits his administration from interfering with medical marijuana programs.
The provision prohibits the Justice Department from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana programs.
It was a bit of a surprise, considering as a candidate for President, Trump spoke of support for medical marijuana. There are now 29 states that have authorized medical marijuana programs, including Colorado, which also has legalized recreational marijuana.
Colorado medical marijuana advocates are hopeful that Trump is simply flexing his muscle.
“It’s showboating,” said Jason Warf, who represents the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, which represents medical marijuana patients.
“It’s Trump saying he will do whatever he wants, which would just be sort of stereotypical for him. On the flip side, we’re trying to stay pretty vigilant, keeping an eye on things.”
Most concerning to cannabis advocates is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an ardent critic of legalized marijuana. But Sessions has offered only vague statements about a potential federal crackdown, and most of his statements have revolved around recreational activities.
The “signing statement” by Trump is more to raise objections, rather than offer new policy.
“Sessions obviously has a personal agenda against anything cannabis, but at the same time, I think that’s a tough battle for him given the number of medical states that we have now,” Warf said.
Teri Robnett, founder and executive director of the Cannabis Patients Alliance, which represents medical marijuana patients in Colorado, is a bit more concerned.
“I have no idea what Trump is going to do,” Robnett said. “He seems to love keeping everyone in chaos, and he bragged during the campaign about being unpredictable, and I think that’s who he is. The lack of consistency is driving everyone crazy.
“We’re always on edge, and a little bit more than we have been,” Robnett continued.
What’s perhaps more concerning to activists is that Sessions recently directed federal prosecutors to take a harder approach to prosecuting drug crimes. President Obama had eased some of those prosecutorial directions.
There could be changes in enforcement coming regarding marijuana, which has the industry concerned, though few have yet fully panicked.
For the Justice Department, the issue has more to do with enforcing federal law. Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level. Justice Department officials believe they have an obligation to enforce all federal laws, including those surrounding marijuana.
But Warf said a harder approach to prosecuting drug crimes would signal a reversal from eroding a drug war that observers largely agree has been somewhat ineffective.
“We have bigger concerns over the sentencing component,” Warf said. “There’s a reason that we go after drug offenders in the U.S. It has absolutely nothing to do with public safety. It’s because we can use drug offenders as prison labor.”
Republicans from Colorado’s congressional delegation appear more interested in seeking the truth behind President Trump’s potential obstruction of justice.
The fallout began this week following reports that President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to shut down a federal investigation into the president’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
The reports stem from a memo Comey wrote shortly after an Oval Office meeting in February.
Flynn resigned after it was revealed that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about a phone call with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Comey, according to the memo.
In a turn of events, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, asked that the FBI release all documents and recordings of conversations between the president and Comey.
A subpoena of the documents and conversations remains a possibility.
It is a question of a potential obstruction of justice by Trump, suggesting that the president tried to influence the Justice Department and FBI investigation into connections between Trump associates and Russia.
While the Comey memo has been shared with certain FBI officials, according to reports, the full contents of the memo have not been made public, though some portions have been read to national reporters.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, tweeted last night that the memo should be made public.
We need the memos, Comey should testify and I still believe that a special prosecutor should be named.
A spokesman for Coffman clarified on Wednesday, “Congressman Coffman has called for an independent investigation, has said Congress needs the memos, and believes Comey should testify.”
A spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said, “Congressman Tipton supports the House Oversight Committee’s request for Mr. Comey’s documents. Until he has access to them, the Congressman will not be commenting further.”
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Greeley, added, “I support the Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s effort to review the Comey memo, and I would like to see Mr. Comey testify before Congress. As a prosecutor for 25 years, I value due process. I’m not going to reach a conclusion until I see all of the evidence.”
But U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, took a more favorable approach to Trump.
“I place more trust in the account of Oval Office meetings with the National Security Advisor than I do with unnamed sources,” Lamborn said in a statement on social media.
“General McMaster has stated repeatedly and unequivocally that the President behaved in a manner that was ‘wholly appropriate.’ That said, I believe that it is important for the President to put a stop to the swirling media narratives around his actions by sharing the complete truth with the nation. By doing so, he can help return the discussion to solving problems and working hard on behalf of the American people.”
Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner added, “The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee has asked James Comey to appear in front of the committee, and they have asked acting FBI Director McCabe for any notes or memos prepared by Comey regarding communication with the Department of Justice and White House on the ongoing Russia investigation. I strongly support these bipartisan actions.
“We currently do not have all the information – and we need to see it before we comment further. It’s also important that this does not impact the ongoing investigation into Russia.”
Republicans asked by Colorado Politics what their standard is for seriously discussing impeachment proceedings have been hesitant to respond.
Another layer to the debate is a meeting Trump had last week with Russian officials in the Oval Office. Trump has been accused of revealing classified information.
There have, however, been conflicting reports on the meeting Trump had with Russian officials, and so Republicans have been hesitant to offer concrete statements on the allegations.
Concerning the Comey memo, the White House denied any influence over the investigation.
“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the White House statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”
But Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, called the recent revelations “deeply disturbing.”
“Congress needs more information, including access to the memos from Director Comey and any recordings or transcripts from the White House. Comey also should testify publicly.
“This further underscores what we have been demanding for months. We need an independent special prosecutor to investigate Russian involvement in the 2016 election and connections to the Trump campaign and Administration.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former geologist, has until Thursday to decide whether to appeal the case, which could require state oil and gas regulators to take another look at a request to suspend fracking until drillers can prove it is safe.
The requests from environmental groups comes at a politically charged time for the oil and gas industry. A recent home explosion in Firestone linked to natural gas leaking from an old pipeline spurred debates in the legislature, as well as renewed talks of ballot initiatives.
Environmental groups have delivered letters to the governor urging him not to appeal the case. More than 1,500 residents, 39 local elected officials and community leaders, and 13 state lawmakers signed onto the letters. Hickenlooper has often found himself at odds with anti-industry activists who believe the governor is too cozy with the industry.
The initial 2013 case involved Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Boulder and other teenagers, who asked state regulators to adopt regulations stating that drilling permits could not be issued without a finding that operations would not impact Colorado’s air, water and wildlife and that public health would be protected.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees regulations of the oil and gas industry in Colorado, denied the request, arguing that it lacked the authority.
The COGCC’s mission has been set by the legislature to foster “responsible, balanced” energy development “in a manner consistent with public health, safety, and environmental and wildlife impacts.”
The appeals court ruling said, “Critical here is the proper interpretation of the phrase ‘in a manner consistent with.’ We agree with Petitioners that ‘in a manner consistent with’ does not indicate a balancing test but rather a condition that must be fulfilled.”
In the 2013 request, the group of teenagers asked the state to deny drilling permits “unless the best available science demonstrates, and an independent third party organization confirms, that drilling can occur in a manner that does not cumulatively, with other actions, impair Colorado’s atmosphere, water, wildlife, and land resources, does not adversely impact human health and does not contribute to climate change.”
The COGCC in 2014 denied the request following a hearing. The proposal has drawn opposition from powerful oil and gas industry interests, as well as the state.
The group of teenagers took the case to Denver District Court, which sided with the state. The case was appealed, with the teenagers arguing that the lower court misinterpreted the mission of the COGCC.
In March, the three-judge appellate panel said the COGCC’s mission “was not intended to require that a balancing test be applied.”
“The clear language … mandates that the development of oil and gas in Colorado be regulated subject to the protection of public health, safety, and welfare, including protection of the environment and wildlife resources,” the appellate court wrote.
If the case is not appealed, then the proposal would go back to the COGCC to reconsider the petition. Hickenlooper’s administration can appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court by Thursday.
“We are aware of the requests from interested parties and are taking the time to give this case a thorough review,” said a spokeswoman for Hickenlooper on Tuesday.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association said the appellate court ruling “disrupts decades of regulatory precedent.”
“We believe the state should appeal this decision to the Colorado Supreme Court. Through the Colorado Oil and Gas Act, the law directs the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) to balance a variety of development interests, including the environment,” said Dan Haley, president and chief executive of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.
“The Appeals Court ruling disregards decades of precedent in utilizing the balance test described in statute. The COGCC, which voted unanimously to appeal this decision, has employed this balancing act on numerous occasions as evidenced by Colorado’s comprehensive regulations, which are among the most stringent in that nation.”
The association pointed out that Colorado was the first state in the nation to disclose the chemicals in hydraulic fracturing, and to require pre- and post-drilling groundwater monitoring.
The conversation intensified after the recent event in Firestone, where a home that sits 178 feet from a well exploded, killing two men. The bodies of brothers-in-law Mark Martinez and Joey Irwin, both 42, were discovered in the basement one day after the explosion. Martinez’s wife, Erin, was seriously injured.
Following the incident, Hickenlooper ordered a review of existing oil and gas operations. He also expressed interest in developing a database of older existing gas lines.
Lawmakers this year discussed setback legislation, in which wells would have been further setback from schools by mapping the distance from school property lines. After the Firestone explosion other efforts were discussed to map gas lines. The proposals died over industry and Republican objections.
“Several bills that would have done a better job of protecting Colorado communities from oil and gas failed in the state Senate during this past legislative session,” said Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado. “Now, it’s up to the governor to take this opportunity to protect public health and the environment and do all that he can to prevent tragedies like Firestone.”
“All the Martinezdecision says is that Colorado must protect public health, safety, and the environment when approving oil and gas development,” said Mike Freeman, an attorney with Earthjustice. “But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has been telling Coloradans for years that it already does that. If the COGCC has been meeting its obligations to protect Coloradans, the State should have no objection to the court’s ruling.”
The legislative session that ended on Wednesday was so erratic that Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman didn’t know whether to argue or bake pastries.
“It was risky all along,” Guzman said of the session, especially when it came to a compromise that allowed the state to restructure a hospital-bed occupancy fee while lowering the state spending cap to protect taxpayer refunds.
The Senate Bill 267 Hospital Provider Fee deal was perhaps the greatest show of bipartisan compromise in many years. Both sides of the aisle had to give in order to approve a $1.8 billion funding program for roads, as well as more money for schools and hospitals, especially in rural Colorado.
“It was a very trying time, and I think there were times when I would say ‘no,’ sometimes when I would be emphatically feisty, and then there were times when I would bake cinnamon rolls for Sen. Sonnenberg,” Guzman said.
The Senate Democratic leader worked closely with Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of rural Sterling on the deal.
“I felt like ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ with that bill, always on the edge, that I could go this way and lose it, I could go that way and lose it with our own caucus,” Guzman said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, in his end-of-session media availability last week, called it “the most productive legislative session since I’ve been governor.”
“The general assembly set a model,” Hickenlooper said.
The governor is still considering calling lawmakers back into special session to address some outstanding issues, including additional transportation funding, health care reform, broadband development and saving the Colorado Energy Office. But despite the issues that were left on the table, the governor was elated by a willingness to work together.
“I think the key in this last session was that the Republicans and the Democrats were willing to put down the weapons on occasions,” Hickenlooper said Monday in Colorado Springs. “By that, I mean, the words that were being used as weapons.”
“We have to work with each other,” said Senate Republican Leader Chris Holbert of Parker. “I’ve tried this session to not say ‘Minority Leader (Guzman),’ and I asked her not to call me ‘Leader Holbert.’ She has 17 talented people herself … If we did things that got to the governor’s desk it usually meant we were working with her caucus.”
Senate Republicans held only an 18-17 majority this year, so compromise was the key to success.
Guzman said her caucus couldn’t have advanced much of its agenda without Republican agreement and a commitment by Republicans to give measures a fair hearing.
One example is a bill that extends coverage to provide a 12-month supply of contraceptives for women. The Senate Democratic leader pointed to other examples, including progress made on curbing the opioid epidemic and using about $15 million in marijuana money to pay for housing and homeless services.
Unlike other sessions, some of the more significant disagreements came not between parties, but between House and Senate Democrats. Guzman at times found herself at odds with House Speaker Crisanta Duran in terms of negotiations, especially around the Hospital Provider Fee.
Senate Democrats also had concerns with a handful of Democrats supporting using the annual School Finance Act to address equal charter school funding. While the issue ultimately advanced in a standalone compromise, saving the School Finance Act, it left some bad blood.
“The Democrats in the House and the Senate, it would have been nice to work more closely together in terms of understanding the strategy on one end and the strategy on the other end, and so we bogged down in that – there wasn’t always a supportive outcome,” Guzman said.
But overall the Senate Democratic leader said she learned perhaps her most valuable lessons in all of her seven years in the legislature.
“It was productive in terms of teaching us what joining in a bipartisan effort can mean,” Guzman said. “That to me was the most productive and most significant lesson for us to take away.”