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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 16, 20174min420

Probably no surprise that an informal online survey of Grand Junction citizens would point to public schools — specifically, the need to reform K-12 education — as the top priority for locals. Quality education is the bottom line not only for parents but a whole lot of the rest of any community, from homeowners shoring up property values to employers recruiting qualified new hires to economic-development types — like the ones who authored the 2030 VISION poll, conducted last week — seeking to lure new businesses to a community.

What might arch at least one of your eyebrows, though, is that education was the first pick for the plurality of people participating  even when when they could have chosen some other fetching and viable options often associated the their bustling West Slope hub community. From a press release issued this week by survey partner Grand Junction Economic Partnership:

Nearly 400 community members voted on 10 topics that included growing the outdoor recreation and tech industries; developing an arts & culture district; building a community recreation center in Grand Junction, adding more direct flights at the airport; revitalizing North Avenue and Horizon Drive; and improving public safety overall.

OK, not much sexy about building a rec center, but the point is Grand Junction is the opposite of the kind of down-on-its-luck community sometimes associated with worries about fundamental services like public education. It’s at the top of Colorado’s fruit belt and in the middle of the state’s established, growing and respected wine country; it’s increasingly regarded as one of those quality-of-life destinations you see on places-rated lists; it lures empty-nesters with its mild winters and outdoor-rec hipsters as a gateway to Colorado’s natural wonders — including as a mountain-biking Mecca; of course, it offers a higher-learning institution whose status was upgraded a few years ago to Colorado Mesa University. The kind of place that could draw in both tourists and the tech sector, right?

And yet, people’s top concern is improving schools. Though it wasn’t a scientific survey, it’s a reminder of the staying power of education as a policy issue. What will the survey’s sponsors do with the information? Says Kristi Pollard, the economic partnership’s executive director:

“Armed with this information, GJEP and our community partners can prioritize the issues we should champion over the next few years. It’s not a matter of this initiative over that initiative, it is a matter of which one do we tackle first.”

Members of the General Assembly, take heed!


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 16, 20172min311

Remember the wide-ranging endeavor by Colorado lawmakers to get to the bottom of the state’s chronic teacher shortage?  House Bill 1003, recently signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, tasks the Department of Higher Education, the Colorado Department of Education, school districts and teachers unions with studying teacher shortages statewide, identifying root causes, and recommending strategies for improving the recruitment and retention of teachers in all areas of the state.

All in the hope that, someday, the legislature and perhaps other education policy-making bodies might be able to enact a solution. Or, maybe it’ll be more like a series of small fixes.

In other words, there’s a long road ahead, but the state already is moving into action by taking the first step, announcing on the State Department of Higher Education’s website:

The Colorado Department of Higher Education and Colorado Department of Education are hosting a series of town hall meetings this summer to inform a statewide educator shortage action plan. Educators, students, parents and concerned members of the public are encouraged to share their experiences and ideas for recruiting and retaining educators.

The first meeting was in Ridgway earlier this week, the next one is in Parachute on June 23; the full, summer-long schedule, including specific times and locations, are at the link immediately above. Here’s the link again just in case.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 15, 20176min511

We put the question a bit differently earlier this week: Can a community spend too much on law enforcement when there are underfunded, competing needs?

Perhaps not — at least, for the two Douglas County commissioners who nixed a proposal by the commission’s third member late Wednesday to ask voters to shift some of the county sheriff’s generous revenue stream toward widening DougCo’s chronically congested stretch of Interstate 25. Now, their three votes are the only ones that will be cast on the idea.

Freshman County Commissioner Lora Thomas had wanted to go to the ballot with a plan to reconfigure a long-standing county sales tax that has poured funding into wide-ranging law-enforcement upgrades. A little over half of the revenue from the 0.43 percent Douglas County Justice Center Sales and Use Tax, approved by voters in 1995, would have gone to upgrade I-25 south of Castle Rock and improve other roads in the burgeoning county.

The county was a very different place when the tax was enacted — essentially, a vast expanse of scenic open space with then-sleepy county seat Castle Rock as its hub. In the decades of explosive growth since then, DougCo from Castle Rock north toward the county line has become a sprawling suburban flank of metro Denver.

That has put increasing demands on law enforcement as well as the regional transportation grid. Law enforcement has been able to keep up — to say the least — because of the dedicated sales tax. Transportation has fallen ever further behind.

And because of that same growth, which has fostered a booming retail sector that includes the likes of Park Meadows Mall, the sales tax is pumping far more revenue into the sheriff’s coffers than voters back in 1995 likely ever imagined possible. As Thomas pointed out in a fact sheet on the issue:

Since 1996, the Justice Center tax has raised over $360 million; over $26 million was raised in 2016 alone.  It has financed the Justice Center to include courtrooms, jail cells, a dispatch center and a state-of-the art coroner’s facility, the Highlands Ranch Sub-station, a jail infirmary, an employee parking garage, a driving track, a regional crime lab, an evidence warehouse, radios, radio towers, body cameras and cameras throughout the facility.  In fact, the last two courtrooms at the Justice Center were just finished but remain unused.  The mission of the Justice Center Sales Tax Fund has been accomplished.

In that light, Thomas’s proposal arguably sought to inject some balance into the county’s fiscal priorities.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock didn’t like the idea. He maintained that without the full revenue stream, he couldn’t ensure public safety, and he and his staff showed up to a two-day hearing before commissioners to make that point. So did a number of citizens who saw it the sheriff’s way and mobilized to turn out for the hearing.

It may be reasonable to assume the two commissioners who wound up voting with the sheriff Wednesday probably were inclined to see things his way, as well. One, David Weaver, is himself the immediate previous county sheriff; Spurlock was in fact his undersheriff before becoming sheriff. And the other commissioner, Roger Partridge, acknowledged in the course of the hearing he has two sons who work at the sheriff’s office.

No conflict in any of that, of course; it’s just politics. But it also may say a lot about an institutional mind-set: Law enforcement is sacrosanct; I-25 is the state’s problem.

So, maybe the outcome was inevitable.

Yet, is that the kind of political establishment that can look at the longer-term needs of a growing county in which law enforcement can’t always be the top priority?

Thomas, reached for comment, was philosophical: “While I’m very disappointed that the citizens in Douglas County won’t be allowed to vote on how their tax dollars are spent, I’ve been assured that fixing I-25 and our other county roads are a priority.”

Commuters certainly must hope so — whatever voters would have said if they’d had the chance.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 15, 20173min392

The correct answer is: The other side!

Pro-GOP blog Colorado Peak Politics points a finger at “Safe Campus Colorado, founded by Congressional District Two candidate Ken Toltz,” who Peak says posted a tweet “politicizing the terrible shooting” of Republican House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others at a congressional baseball practice near Washington, D.C.

Peak adds:

It’s unclear whether Toltz is in charge of his group’s Twitter account, but is the leader of the organization and, as such, is held responsible for the group’s actions. Nonetheless, he’s shown that he’s unfit to run for office since the tweet is still up.

At the very least, Toltz needs to apologize to the victims of today’s shooting.

Democratic-friendly blog Colorado Pols meanwhile points to, “a fundraising email sent earlier today from GOP Colorado House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, invoking today’s shooting…”

The letter opens:

Unruly protesters trashing Civic Center Park and clashing with cops in the streets.

Mock beheadings of President Trump by Kathy Griffin.

And now an ASSASSINATION attempt on Republican lawmakers!

The hate-inspired violent rhetoric against conservatives and Republicans was already at an all-time fever pitch before today, but now it just got very real.

The left is out of control. Their violent actions are un-American, and it needs to stop!

Pols observes:

Neville and Republicans he supports via the Colorado Liberty PAC have ceded the high ground. They have politicized this man’s horrific actions in exactly the way they refused to accept with countervailing examples — like the man who walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs in November of 2015 and started shooting. …

And that rank hypocrisy still wasn’t enough. They tried to make money off it.

Clear enough?


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 15, 20172min590

…Courtesy of Colorado Peak Politics. The other day we cited Colorado Pols’ insights on which Republicans might want to vie for one of the longer shots in state politics — representing the GOP in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in the decidedly Democratic 2nd Congressional District. Citing “speculation,” Pols named state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud, and former state Rep. B.J. Nikkel, of Loveland as possible contenders for the CD 2 Republican nomination.

Peak reached out to Nikkel to confirm or deny: She more or less confirmed — that she’s seriously thinking about it:

“…I will be exploring a potential run and spending time over the next several weeks talking it over with my family, with trusted friends and seeking their advice.”

No word yet on whether Lundberg’s in.

Either would have an uphill climb of Himalayan proportion in trying to take the seat from the Democrats in the Boulder-centric district.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 14, 20172min321

…not that he minds the extra ink, of course. Hey, the Boulder Democrat is the education candidate, after all, given that his first (and only) elected office before representing Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House was as an at-large member of the State Board of Education. Education issues and especially education reform are where Polis first made a name for himself in the policy world.

Hence, his interview on wide-ranging education issues by the national ed news site The 74. Always an idea generator on public education, Polis seems to intrigue observers anew now that he could bring his line of thinking to the governor’s office in Colorado.

The interview ranges from the technical (the demise of the Every Student Succeeds Act) to the legal (the Endrew court ruling on special education) to the political (his concerns about Trump administration Education Secretary Besty DeVos) to the personal (his transition from Net entrepreneur to education reformer).

Read up, you education junkies; here’s the link again.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 14, 201711min961

Todd Hartman has served as communications director at the Colorado Department of Natural Resources since 2010; he also did media work for the Governor’s Energy Office. Prior to 2009, he spent 24 years in daily print journalism at four newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News. For much of his career as a journalist he specialized in environmental and energy coverage. He was recognized with more than 10 national awards for reporting projects, including several related to energy and water issues in the West. Hartman holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Colorado and later spent an academic fellowship year studying environmental issues, also at CU. He lives in Thornton with his wife Sherry, an undisclosed number of cats and a border collie and enjoys frequent drop-ins from two adult sons who really just want a beer from the fridge.

Colorado Politics: As a newspaper reporter, you spent years dealing with — at times, wrangling with — government agencies and their official spokesmen and spokeswomen. Flacks, as reporters unaffectionately referred to them. Now, you are one. How has your view of a public communications officer’s work evolved since you made the transition?

Todd Hartman: Now that I am firmly embedded in this role, with time served in two agencies, I can assure you they are wise, charming and savvy folk. On a serious note, I usually found comms staffers to be helpful and perhaps had a more charitable view than many of my journo colleagues. With experience, I recognized when they were in a tough spot and tried to respect their position while still focused hard on fulfilling my role as a journalist. One key takeaway: In certain ways, you’re still a reporter. In a large agency with diversified subject matter like DNR, a person in my role is an expert in exactly nothing, and still often has to gather facts and context from colleagues, shake the agency tree so to speak, to address queries from media.

CP: Were there experiences back in your reporting days — especially the bad experiences — that influence the way you now deal with reporters? Do you try to avoid mistakes you feel spokesmen/women once made in dealing with you?

TH: On the occasions when a story really went sideways on a person or an organization, it could generally be tied back to people clamming up, holding on to information for too long or falling back on lawyers. Those are all lousy communications strategies, even as I understand how events might take an issue in that direction. It’s an even poorer approach today, in our connected age, when everything is going to get out sooner or later. Turning your question around a bit: One thing that typically worked for me as a reporter was to be kind and human and realize that in most cases you and your counterpart in the spox role are both doing your jobs within certain confines. Those approaching most stories as some kind of gotcha, or with some kind of manufactured contentiousness, are … less successful.

CP: You left the news business at a rough time for the industry, and it’s still rough out there. You spent a long time in the business, and your dad was a career newspaper man. Drawing on that perspective, where do you see Colorado’s print, broadcast and digital news media heading over the next 10 years? Any particular trends seem evident?

TH: When I left the Rocky Mountain News as it was in its final weeks, I along with several colleagues had this perhaps naive idea that we could all find various ways to wait things out a few years until the business model sorted itself out. From where I sit, 8+ years later, that hasn’t happened. An array of journalists, entrepreneurs and others keep trying to crack this nut. I admire the hell out of them. We all know the hunger for news coverage has never waned. We just need more people willing to pay for it. I try to do my part. We still pay to get the Denver Post tossed on the lawn every day, donate to nonprofit news and pay to subscribe to three national publications online. Without doing the math, I figure if everyone would just subscribe to one news publication — just one! — that might be enough.

CP: One characteristic common to both your previous line of work and your current one is that you for the most part are expected to check your opinions at the door each day. Are you ever attempted to let loose — to tell a reporter what you really think?

TH: I confess to a weariness for what I think is an overemphasis on narrative — at times forcing individual, largely unrelated events, into a storyline that suggests something larger and trendier is going on. Surely, sometimes, something larger is going on. But usually probably not. We live in a big, messy, noisy, high-achieving world. Today’s narrative is nearly as fleeting as a tweet. But since you’ve asked, I am most consistently frustrated by an absence of context. In my little world of natural resources, problems arise related to man’s relationship with, and impact on, the environment. These are important issues, to be sure, and I care about them deeply or I wouldn’t work here. At the same time, I often see them presented naked, in silos, without contextualizing them to our larger world. I wouldn’t trade any of our environmental problems for a trip back to the 14th century, and I often wonder what a person living in a slum outside New Delhi would think of our self-described and often overwrought “crises.” Those are extreme comparisons, I understand. But the way some environmental stories are presented, I wonder if people realize just how good we have it in the early 21st century. The language can be horribly overreaching. I’ve seen environmental mishaps related to human actions in Colorado described as “catastrophes” or “disasters.” Verdun was a catastrophe. Breathe.

CP: What do you miss most about your old profession?

TH: I had wonderful colleagues at every newspaper; many of them are still at it today, and some even ruin my supper to this day when they call me about a tip. I don’t write as prolifically in this setting, and I miss that at times. OTOH, writing is hard, so … There is indisputably a deep level of satisfaction associated with crawling into a confusing topic, one fraught with claims, counterclaims, messy history and associated hyperbole, and emerging with a coherent and thoughtful piece of journalism that helps a few readers decode our nutty lives. I cannot lie. I miss producing that.

CP: What do you miss the least?

TH: The journalism world now is not the one I had the benefit of swimming in for most of my 24-ish years in that field. It’s a tougher place to be nowadays. Far fewer resources, tighter deadlines, tweets, web stories and all that. The feed-the-beast-conveyor-belt stuff. Ugh. I do not miss dropping everything to go cover a breaking news story along with eight other reporters all hounding the same poor victim, witness, or what have you to write on something that will be forgotten by lunchtime tomorrow. To be clear — and fair — some journalists love this, and they’re great at it, and as a news junkie I appreciate them. It’s just not for me.

CP: What’s the best advice you could give someone hoping to start a career as a newsperson?

TH: I would encourage them to do it! They can see squarely what they are getting into, and 20-somethings I would guess are perfectly comfortable with the pace, multiple platforms and mediums — all the developments that disrupted my generation of journalists, both in how we did our work and in the way it made shrapnel of a staid industry. Further advice — and it was advice I had to learn to take myself: Listen to people. Really listen. We all have our politics and our preferences but with listening and thinking one starts to realize what one doesn’t know. Understanding that makes one a better journalist. Finally, and along the same lines, let go of assumptions. The resulting reporting will be more interesting and more people will read it. The country needs journalists. Please, go be one!


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 13, 20174min950

Just in case you didn’t get enough of the immigration debate during Colorado’s 2017 legislative session, New American Economy thought you’d like some fodder for starting your own discussion on the subject in the off season.

The business-backed, pro-immigration advocacy group started in 2010 by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and major CEOs — love ’em or not — has become a repository of facts and figures about the role immigrants play in the U.S. economy. (Whether the immigrants are documented or otherwise.)

The group sends the media regular updates. The latest arrived over the transom this week, announcing, “We’ve now mapped the impact of immigration in over 100 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States,” and it invites you to click on a button and get relevant economic data for immigrants in a selected city or state.

How does Colorado stack up?

Colorado is home to some of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. From 2013 to 2014, Greeley and Fort Collins ranked among the top 20 fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the country. Foreign-born residents moving to the state have been a critical driver of that population growth. By 2014, more than half a million immigrants were living in the state. These new Americans serve as everything from technology entrepreneurs to farm laborers, making them critical contributors to Colorado’s economic success overall.

Some specifics:

  • Colorado has 532,903 foreign-born residents, or 10 percent of the state’s population.
  • These immigrants paid $3.3 billion in total taxes in 2014, the latest year for which data is available. $1.1 billion of that was state and local taxes.
  • Immigrants pumped $10.8 billion into the economy that year.
  • There were 32,115 immigrant entrepreneurs who owned businesses.

There’s also a section on undocumented immigrants, who, according to New American Economy, comprise 189,130 of Colorado’s immigrants and paid $313.7 million in total taxes. The section includes this commentary:

The United States is currently home to an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom have lived in the country for more than five years. The presence of so many undocumented immigrants for such a long time presents many legal and political challenges. But while politicians continue to debate what to do about illegal immigration without any resolution, millions of undocumented immigrants are actively working across the country, and collectively, these immigrants have a large impact on the U.S. economy. This is true in Colorado, where undocumented immigrants contribute hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes each year.

There’s more data, too, including a breakdown of Colorado’s immigrant population by economic sector — from agriculture to science, technology, engineering and math.

However you choose to interpret the data — and wherever you come down on immigration policy — there’s plenty of information here to serve as a conversation starter. Maybe even enough to keep you busy until the official face-off begins again in the General Assembly next January.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20177min1390

How’s that again? Republicans were the original environmentalists? Conservatives — particularly in the West — should find it easy being green? That’s what John Andrews seems to be telling us.

And when Andrews talks, Colorado’s Republicans and conservatives tend to listen. The former state Senate president, onetime presidential speechwriter, serial think-tank founder and all-around political and moral compass for the Centennial State’s right commands broad respect. All the way across the philosophical spectrum, in fact.

Which is probably why he is the point-man helping spread the word about a new group — dare we call it an environmental group? — that hails from, yes, the right side of the political fence. A mass-email from Andrews today introduces us to The Western Way, which bills itself as a movement of “Conservative stewards of the western environment.”

Writes Andrews in his e-missive:

As Westerners who love liberty, limited government, and the land, it’s high time we stop letting the bicoastal progressives claim heartland conservatives and the GOP want to despoil the environment. What lot of bovine scatology.

Conservatives don’t care about the earth? Please. No one cares more about conserving America’s natural and spiritual heritage than we do.

…throughout our country’s history conservatives have been leaders in preserving natural lands and creating policies that benefit the economy and the environment in equal measure.

Hence, Western Way. Its leadership, membership and even headquarters aren’t yet clear from the group’s slick-but-seemingly-startup-phase website. No contact info; just a page where you can sign up for email newsletters.

However, its core message is straightforward — and represents what many might regard as a breathtaking departure from prevailing conservative orthodoxy on environmental issues.

Consider:

An honest read of the facts and data demonstrates that there are serious problems with our climate and environment.  That is not a political or philosophical statement, it is the only conclusion one can reach based on facts and science.  It is not the role of conservatives to understate the problem in order to balance out extreme interests exaggerating the problem.   Conservatives must fly above the fray and be honest in defining the problems and solutions.

And:

…The evidence for human-caused climate change has converged from multiple lines of evidence, been vetted by skeptical reviews, and presents a consistent and cohesive view. No critical theory or invocation of “natural variability” can claim the same….

Another challenge to conventional wisdom is the group’s premise that conservatives must take back an environmental movement that was originally theirs:

Conservatives have led the most significant conservation efforts in the western United States and yet extreme interests have recently created the false narrative that conservatives do not value the environment.

Conservatives must reclaim leadership on this critical issue by identifying the real environmental and conservation challenges facing our country and driving the most efficient solutions to those challenges.

The website recaps landmark environmental policies by Republican presidents including that champion of public lands, Teddy Roosevelt, as well as Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Is the proposed new face of conservatism at least in part a reaction to the Trump administration’s more blunt approach to rolling back environmental regulations of the Obama administration — and the fierce push-back it’s getting from Democrats and environmentalists? That does seem to figure in, to hear Andrews:

…if we tense up, retreat behind polarized arguments, and let others define the debate, we’re left without a seat at the table. Classic self-sabotage. Enough of that!

The dramatically changed political landscape of 2017 offers a perfect opportunity for Republicans and the center-right to start being environmentally proactive again and advance constructive, conservative solutions.

We’ll have to stay tuned as Western Way’s agenda for action develops, and we figure out exactly what kind of role the new movement will play.

Pending that, we reached out to the more conventional (re: left-of-center) environmental movement for its assessment of what Western Way seems to represent. There wasn’t a trace of snark or even skepticism in a reply from Jessica Goad, communications director for Conservation Colorado. She actually welcomed the development.

“We’ve long made the case that Westerners from across the political spectrum care about issues like creating clean-energy jobs, cleaning up our air and protecting our parks and public lands. From our perspective, more groups coming to the table to work together to protect what makes Colorado great is important and beneficial.”

 


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJune 12, 20176min550
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis addresses Colorado Democrats at the state party's biennial reorganization meeting on Saturday, March 11, 2017, at the Marriott City Center in Denver. Polis plans to announce he's running for governor on Monday, June 12, 2017. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

For his fellow Democrats, 2nd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder represents a political game-changer with his announcement over the weekend he intends to run for Colorado governor in 2018. He’s super-smart, super-rich and enough of a nonconformist to capture the imagination of voters.

For Republicans, Polis is a game-changer, too, but of a different sort: He’s a standing spoof of every GOP stereotype of the political left: supercilious, super-silly and enough of a nonconformist to be too zany for prime-time politics.

Democrats will point out Polis — a wunderkind who turned his folks’ greeting-card biz into a digital phenomenon and made himself a fortune — has managed to get himself elected to Congress five times. Republicans will say, yeah, but that’s representing Boulder. Democrats will point out Polis’s first run for office was in a statewide race that landed him an at-large seat on the State Board of Education (a post subsequently eliminated). Republicans will say, yeah, but nobody knew him then. Or paid attention to the race.

And so it goes.

That Colorado’s two major political parties harbor starkly different views about the politics of any candidate is of course only natural. But about a candidate’s viability? Probably has something to do with Polis’s persona and image; it might also signify how polarized our political culture has become nationally, with Colorado representing a microcosm.

In any event, consider this snapshot of those sharply contrasting views, enunciated by leftwardly tilted Colorado Pols and Colorado Peak Politics over on the right.

Here’s a snippet from Pols:

…Polis’ bold campaign theme of 100% renewable energy could resonate with a segment of the Democratic base that’s been discontented for a number of years in Colorado as the battles over oil and gas development along the urbanizing Front Range have escalated. Polis has been a leader in that complicated and fractious battle, and if he retains the trust of the environmental left going into this race it could be a crucial edge.

Obviously, Polis’ entry into the 2018 gubernatorial race forces all of us to reset our calculations here. But the biggest takeaway for today is the fact that Democrats are feeling very good about 2018, and there’s going to be healthy competition for what could be the fruits of an historic victory. Between Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, Democrats have a choice of two of the biggest names in Colorado politics–and that’s got to feel better than a primary between a district attorney and a couple of unknown rich guys.

…And from Peak:

… (H)e will focus on moving the state to 100 percent renewable energy 20 years after his term ends, provide free, all day preschool for toddlers and kindergarten for kids, and encourage companies to give employees stock options.

Here’s how that will work.

via GIPHY

… On the bright side, we won’t have to be embarrassed by his presence in Congress anymore. He’ll step down after his term finishes this year.