My thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Deputy Zackari Parrish – Douglas County, a 29-year-old father of two who was killed while responding to a domestic disturbance. Praying for all law enforcement working to serve and protect us all. #copoliticspic.twitter.com/cC6PMiiANL
That’s what I told my team at Colorado Politics before I officially announced that I was leaving more than a decade of journalism for a career in the “Big Marijuana” industry. And that’s the same message that I have for you.
It’s been the hardest breakup of my life. And I’m accustomed to those.
Colorado Politics offered me an outlet to spread my wings and fly. I’m not overstating this when I say it has been the most stable job in Colorado political journalism that I ever had. The new popular online outlet offered me a medium to grow within the career that I have called my identity and closest relationship for years.
To leave your identity as a journalist is not unlike trading in your civil service badge for a career in private security. You might still wear a uniform, but your identity and authority is lost. And in choosing to leave Colorado Politics for a job as the communications director for Terrapin Care Station, I traded my credentials and my identity in journalism for a career in what we call “The Dark Side.”
Terrapin Care Station is a rapidly growing national cannabis company that was cultivated in Colorado, but which is giving birth across the nation. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. And like any relationship, at some point you have to decide what’s best and most comfortable for you. Sometimes you have to move on. And recent personal developments made me want to try something new.
To become a flack seems incomprehensible from the world that we as journalists know. Journalism runs in your blood. It’s a calling, not a choice. It’s such a separatist faction of society that when we lose one of our own, we state, “They went to The Dark Side.”
Countless journalists have done it before me. And more and more by the day. I survived as a (borderline) millennial in a field that saw its glory days at least 20 years before me. But I made it.
And yet as I become a has-been, I’ve found myself sentimentally recalling the army of journalists and editors before me who helped to thrust me to the top of the state-based political journalism food chain.
I remember sitting in the Longmont Times-Call offices in Longmont, Colo. about two weeks into my internship in 2005. I had some fluff assignment to cover a new business that catered to children through a laser-light experience. Somehow it was going on the front page of the weekend business section. I couldn’t have been more excited.
I remember filing the story in an intranet system that sadly resembled the systems we still use in journalism today. Yes, the profession has not progressed rapidly.
I was sitting next to my editor, Eric Frankowski, who I thought was going to be so pleased with the copy I had just presented to him. Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Frankowski, to his credit, patiently tore my story apart. It was total crap. But on the last day of my internship, which I left early for a job at the Denver Daily News, Frankowski took me out to lunch with the newsroom and wished me the best. He saw something in me, and I hope I didn’t let him down.
The Washington Post has since twice named me one of the nation’s top state-based political and legislative reporters. I’ve won more than a dozen awards from the Colorado Press Association. And I’ve since continued to grow within the profession.
I recently had a colleague ask me, “What are your highlights?” I couldn’t even begin to recount my career in journalism. Every day as a journalist you throw a dart at the wall and become an expert in whatever you report on. I couldn’t even begin to recall all the subjects I’ve crossed.
In my early days with the Denver Daily News, a now-defunct publication that was distributed for free, I was proud to call the city of Denver out for a flawed ban on pit bulls that only led to an increase in dog bites from other breeds.
As I progressed into politics, I reported on the 2011 Denver School Board race, in which Colorado saw one of its first shots across the bow from the education reform movement. The movement is now an effort backed by interests from both the far left and the far right. It is an issue that will play into the current gubernatorial race seven years later. That reporting was done for the Colorado Statesman, a weekly political “trade” publication now owned by Colorado Politics. My journalism career nearly came full circle.
When the Durango Herald hired me in 2014, the job description mostly revolved around the statehouse. To my surprise, I was in Durango visiting the “mothership” when the Gold King Mine spill occurred in August 2015. Let’s just say there was no reason to immediately return home after that. The eyes of the world were on little Durango, Colo. for this epic Environmental Protection Agency screwup.
Somewhere along the way I caught Gov. John Hickenlooper in a skirmish with the EPA over the quality of the water in the Animas River. Later, we made the governor drink from the Animas to prove that the water was safe. Don’t worry, he survived.
We held the EPA accountable every day after that, proving that the catastrophe was the agency’s error. And when I got word that new EPA Director Scott Pruitt was visiting Durango in early August of this year, I was so happy to break that news. It was a story that I felt like I had a duty to continue to report on, even though I had moved on from The Herald.
Speaking of Gov. Hickenlooper, he is the most closely-watched politician I have covered in Colorado. I was at a press conference in 2006 when we in the local media declared that his “honeymoon” as mayor of Denver was over following a Christmas blizzard.
Hickenlooper went on to become the governor of Colorado, and he is now being encouraged to run for president. Sometimes we get things wrong. Hickenlooper is an elected official that I will always respect and admire. And I will deeply miss getting to know politicians such as him personally while reporting on them at the same time.
A skill of journalism that has been lost over the years is the notion that there is a balance between becoming friends with your subject while still reporting accurately on them and in the full spirit of transparency.
The best way to tell the truth is to get to know your subjects personally. Too many reporters have based their careers around some movie in which journalists are portrayed as always having an adversarial relationship with their subjects. The best way to get an honest answer is for your subject to know that while you’re just doing your job, you respect them as a human and as a public servant.
In just my nine months at Colorado Politics I learned so much more about the sacred relationship between a journalist and their source. Sourcing is the most important aspect of journalism, and I pray the next generation of journalists after me will grasp the significance. It was my sourcing that allowed me to be the first to report some of the most critical political developments of our state.
But much more than that, it was competition, namely with the Denver Post, which has a team of talented journalists that are woefully mistreated and pressured to succeed with few resources.
In the last year, Colorado Politics has forced a renaissance of political journalism in Colorado. It has spread a spirit that hasn’t been seen in the state since the Rocky Mountain News sadly closed in 2009. Competition breeds better journalism, and I thank the Denver Post for keeping me hungry for so long.
As I walk away from this thing called journalism for a paycheck in the marijuana industry, I know a part of me will always crave the work of the Fourth Estate.
But as I head into the annual Labor Day Phish weekend at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, all I can think is that I’ve been “waiting for the time when I can finally say that this has all been wonderful but now I’m on my way.”
National news, from white nationalists to Trump to town halls, ran deep through Colorado politics this past week.
Here are the stories that the staff of Colorado Politics, home to the state’s deepest coverage of the topics, thinks you should keep in mind as the issues play out.
5. Armstrong’s company under fire
A lesbian couple in California say the Greenwood Village-based mortgage company started by former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong of Colorado espouses family values that aren’t their family’s values. LGBTQ activists in Colorado applauded the lawsuit against Cherry Creek Mortgage Co. this week after the couple’s spousal insurance was revoked and the insurer began trying to collect more than $50,000 in previously covered medical bills.
Colorado’s congressional delegation did some rare in highly partisan politics this week: They agreed. After President Trump equivocated on who was to blame for the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., Republicans and Democrats said there were no ifs, ands or buts. “Statements that provide even indirect comfort to these merchants of evil are unacceptable and wrong,” said usual Trump backer Doug Lamborn, the Republican representative from Colorado Springs.
The will-they or won’t-they question is getting a bit silly for state Treasurer Walker Stapleton and, perhaps a little less certain, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, for next year’s governor’s race. Both showed up at the Republican Governors Association meeting, our Ernest Luning reported (as usual for Colorado Politics, ahead of everyone else). Maybe they just wanted to see what a Republican governor looks like. It’s been awhile since Colorado had one. Peter Marcus all but pinned down a slippery Democratic Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne this week, as well.
2. Cheyenne Mountain reconsidered after Charlottesville
A convention at Cheyenne Mountain Resort next spring of the alt-right group VDARE, which has direct connections to the organizer of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., drew a strong backlash in El Paso County. Ultimately Cheyenne Mountain took sides, too, cancelling the conference without condemning the group or even saying why VDARE wasn’t welcome. In the immediate aftermath, former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo said VDARE was unfairly maligned, though VDARE’s leader ultimately stood with Jason Kessler, the white supremacist rally organizer.
For months liberal activists have demanded Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner hold a town hall meeting to “face” his constituents. Gardner appeased them on Tuesday in Colorado Springs, Greeley and Lakewood. So what did the people who so desperately wanted to hear from him do? They refused to listen, instead booing and shouting such political discourse as, “You suck.” The protest spectacle that left Gardner looking like the reasonable and cooperative side of the discussion. “I’m trying to answer,” he said to the frequently disruptive crowd in Colorado Springs. “But I don’t get the chance.” Liberals overplayed their hand and crowned Gardner the political winner.
Four Democrats already in the 7th Congressional District primary race scrambed in the aftermath of the story, just as their fundraising efforts were starting to kick into a higher gear.
State Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Dominick Moreno of Commerce City, along with state Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, are answering questions about the viability of their campaigns in the wake of the news, according to sources close to the campaigns.
The three candidates have already raised a collective $358,000 in their first financial reporting periods, and considerable more money has been raised since those numbers were reported at the end of the last quarter.
Supporters of the candidates and the campaigns themselves have found themselves confused as they attempt to understand Perlmutter’s motivations.
Colorado Politics confirmed from multiple sources – including those in Perlmutter’s inner circle – that the six-term congressman from Arvada is considering a re-election bid, even after he publicly announced that he would not run for the seat again. Perlmutter announced that he would not run for re-election after dropping out of the governor’s race just three months after entering the contest.
“I really respect Congressman Perlmutter and the work he’s done to represent the 7th Congressional District, but this move is out of character for him, and I think there are already great candidates that would do a great job of representing our values in Washington,” said Jenny Willford, executive director of Emerge Colorado, which supports women running for elected office.
“Every single one of those candidates has made life and career decisions in order to run because Congressman Perlmutter gave him their word that he wasn’t running.”
Perlmutter’s decision to reconsider a run for re-election came after pressure from constituents and fellow members of Congress encouraged him to do so. But some feel a decision to run for the seat would be unfair given the momentum already behind existing candidates.
“This has the potential to create a domino effect on the ballot for other candidates who are now running for the seats,” Willford said.
The candidates themselves have so far been taking a measured approach, saying they are waiting to see what Perlmutter ultimately decides before making any significant decisions.
“Ed has served Adams and Jefferson counties tremendously as our U.S. congressman for the last 10 years. He has inspired me and his decision to vacate the seat to run for governor prompted my run to fill his big shoes,” Moreno said. “I care only that our neighbors have the best possible representation in Washington. I am confident that I will represent the 7th Congressional District well, and until Ed comes to a decision, our campaign will continue to press forward.”
Pettersen similarly said that she is going to continue to raise money and convince voters that she is the right choice for the seat until she hears from Perlmutter directly.
Kerr’s campaign declined to comment when asked by Colorado Politics.
Perlmutter has reached out to many of the Democrats in the primary, and at least one candidate confirmed that Perlmutter was hoping to discuss his thoughts on running for re-election, which Perlmutter told the candidate was inspired by pressure to run again.
Much of the pressure came last Tuesday at a kick-off event to launch the re-election campaigns of several Jefferson County Board of Education members. Two other 7th Congressional District Democratic campaigns confirmed contact with Perlmutter, though they could not say why Perlmutter wanted to speak with them.
“This race represents an opportunity to send another woman to Congress, which is more important than ever,” Willford said. “Research shows us that women govern different than men do in important ways and they tend to be more collaborative and bipartisan.”
It’s been a busy week in Colorado Politics, with campaign cash, coal’s slow-motion collapse and the ever-evolving candidacy of Ed Perlmutter in the headlines.
Our staff re-evaluated the week, and here are the stories we think you should keep in mind in the days and weeks ahead:
5. Coal communities need a new engine, Bennet says
U.S. Sen Michael Bennet is proposing legislation that could steer federal grants into six Colorado counties struggling since King Coal was deposed. The money would help support economic development, as well as job training for ever-diminishing workforce of miners in the Colorado.
Bipartisanship only goes so far, and apparently it ends where the rubber meets the road. After House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock, called out Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat from Denver, on transportation funding, Duran reminded her counterpart it was the GOP that killed the bipartisan House Bill 1242 (and couldn’t come up with a serviceable replacement).
3. Hold off on hyperventilating over the primary, says GOP chief
Our Ernest Luning told readers to dial back their angst and outrage about Colorado Republicans cancelling their primary, rather than let unaffiliated voters participate. State Party chairman Jeff Hays told us that it’s a long shot, not the looming reality our competitor suggested it might be.
2. A whole lot of money waiting on Stapleton’s run
If state Treasurer Walker gets in the race for governor — he will — he has a well-heeled group of people waiting to help him. That’s the takeaway from the leaked invitation to an Aug. 21 fundraiser in Cherry Hills Village with names such as Elway, Coors, Anschutz and Mizel attached.
U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter said in April he was leaving Congress to run for governor. The he said in July he didn’t have the fire in his belly and dropped out. This week he said he might run for re-election the 7th Congressional District. Stay tuned. You can bet the Democrats who jumped in to replace him are.
There’s no easy way to say it, Colorado politicos. You won’t have Peter Marcus to kick around anymore.
Marcus is leaving journalism to become communications director for Terrapin Care Station cannabis company, a great opportunity for our ace, but a sad day for the Capitol.
“Peter was instrumental in launching Colorado Politics, where he served as our senior statehouse reporter and broke scores of political and legislative scoops for the new site,” said Vince Bzdek, editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Politics. “He helped formulate many of the ideas that Colorado Politics was built on, and more than anyone gave the site its drive-the-daily-conversation metabolism.”
He’s been an integral part of what Colorado Politics has become, the largest, most aggressive political news organization in the state. He’s the Butch Cassidy of our Wild Bunch. Crap, that’s the last time I can say that.
Before coming to Colorado Politics, Peter was the Denver correspondent for the Durango Herald, and before that he was a reporter for the Colorado Statesman, which has now merged with Colorado Politics. He has been at the state Capitol for 10 years.
Peter, our senior statehouse reporter, is the son of a New York City cop. He’s the kind of gum-shoe journalist you don’t meet much anymore. Pete reliably stands up for what’s right over what’s flashy. Because of that, he breaks stories with the ease others use to pour coffee.
For the Durango Herald, he owned the unfolding Gold King Mine story in 2015. He convinced the governor to drink polluted water from the Animas River to prove it’s safe.
Peter will work with us through the end of August.
He will replaced, at least in position, by the most talented and experienced reporter we can find. Stay tuned.
“Our best wishes to Peter and eternal thanks for getting us off the ground,” Bzdek said.
At a time when Americans have lost faith in Congress, most of Colorado’s delegation believes it is working together to get the work of the people done. Five of the seven members of Colorado’s congressional delegation spoke Wednesday to an audience of business leaders in Denver at the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry’s off-year […]
At issue is whether the fees the office charges businesses to register and file other paperwork with the state are in fact taxes that should be subject to the provisions of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. The key constitutional clause requires, among other things, a vote on every tax hike. If the courts ultimately side with a lawsuit by the National Federation of Independent Business, which contends the fees are taxes in disguise, it would mean the Secretary of State’s Office was breaking the law any time it had raised its fees since TABOR was enacted by voters in 1992. Theoretically, the office could be forced to forego its main source of the funding it uses to sustain its entire operation — elections, business registration and more.
As noted in Marcus’s report, the Colorado Court of Appeals had sent the small-business advocacy group’s lawsuit back to a lower court for further fact finding. That could eventually lead the courts to determine how many times the secretary of state has raised fees — it hasn’t at all during the tenure of current Secretary of State Wayne Williams — and whether the increases really amounted to tax hikes restricted by TABOR.
NFIB’s petition asks the Supreme Court to take the case to make clear that the Secretary’s statutory authorization to unilaterally raise business filing “fees” is facially unconstitutional and urges the Court to issue a definitive ruling that all of the Secretary’s increased business filing charges, post-1992, have amounted to illegal taxes under Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR).
Underlying NFIB’s legal argument is a practical concern: that the fees businesses pay to the Secretary of State’s Office overwhelmingly fund other functions unrelated to its business-related services. And NFIB would quite like for its thousands of members statewide to hold onto more of their money, which they feel is being used unfairly to subsidize the entire office. The press release quotes Karen Harned, executive director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center:
“Because a significant portion of the business licensing charges are appropriated to defray the Secretary of State’s general expenses, the business licensing charges are a tax and not ‘a fee.’ Thus, the state is imposing an illegal tax on small businesses to fund obligations; that should be a cost shared by everyone rather than just Colorado’s entrepreneurs.”
Yet, as Marcus reported in March, lawyers for the state contend the fees are just that and nothing more because they are earmarked for the specific functions of the office — and that it’s within the purview of the secretary of state to use the revenue that way.
The suit originally was filed during the tenure of former Secretary of State Scott Gessler.
Exclusive: Jared Polis explains why he is thinking about running for governor | https://t.co/gvyoKt6XXw #coleg #copolitics @RepJaredPolis pic.twitter.com/RS6R04eWoc — Colorado Politics (@colo_politics) April 24, 2017 good read here from @colo_politics on @RepJaredPolis considering run for governor https://t.co/BhPWxmDVqt#copolitics — sandra fish 🐠 (@fishnette) April 24, 2017 A good read from @colo_politics on why @RepJaredPolis is considering […]
Few things get as superheated in Pueblo these days as the city’s ongoing grudge match with its principal power supplier, Black Hills Energy. For years, local government and other critics have railed against the Rapid City, S.D.-based utility over a succession of electricity rate hikes, and they have chided the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), as well, for approving the increases. Pressure has been mounting to rein in Puebloans’ power bills, which, by many accounts, are among the highest in the state.
So the city cheered last year when Gov. John Hickenlooper named Pueblo native Frances Koncilja to the quasi-judicial PUC as one of its three commissioners. The blunt-spoken attorney didn’t waste a minute before going after Black Hills and calling it on the carpet.
Her approach struck the company as so aggressive, it claimed bias and filed a request with the PUC earlier this month asking her to recuse herself from deliberating on its latest request for a rate hike (to be exact, it’s a request for reconsideration of the PUC’s decision to scale back Black Hills’ previous request for a rate hike). She refused to step aside, and the company asked the full board to vote her out of the deliberations. It voted 2-1, including Koncilja’s own vote, against the unusual Black Hills request.
Now, Pueblo County is pushing back even further. Reports the Pueblo Chieftain, the county government has filed a request to the PUC to remove recently appointed Wendy Moser — the one commissioner who had voted with Black Hills against Koncilja — from deliberations on the same pending rate case from which Black Hills had sought to remove Koncilja. Moser, an attorney named to the commission in January, is a former staff counsel to Black Hills.
Writes the Chieftain’s Peter Roper:
Pueblo County…argues that Moser has a conflict of interest because she has extensive knowledge of the many components in the Black Hills rate request from when she was a lawyer in its regulatory office from 2011-2014.
In its motion, the county quotes state law that says a commissioner can be disqualified if they have served as a lawyer on a matter before the commission.
Moser, who at her Senate confirmation hearing in January had faced some of the same questions about her history with Black Hills, contended then she has no conflicts of interest on any matters pending before the PUC.
As ColoradoPolitics.com’s Peter Marcus reported previously, the bias accusations against Koncilija were a lot more colorful than those against Moser:
Black Hills’ motion to disqualify Koncilja was based on alleged bad behavior, using terms like “despised company” “drunken sailor” and “colonial power” to describe the utility.
And Moser’s decision to openly champion Black Hills’ motion against Koncilja led to a wince-worthy exchange not often associated with a staid and deliberative governing body heavy on regulatory procedure and light on drama:
“Commissioner Koncilja … is the one who raised the idea of, it’s Commissioner Moser that you need to be concerned about, not her. This is not about me or my relationship with Black Hills,” Moser said. “One must ask why Commissioner Koncilja would shift the discussion away from the pending motion and make it about me.”
…with Koncilja countering:
…“The decisions we make here affect real people, and regardless of what Black Hills thinks about me or this commission, the rates down there continue to cause real heartburn, and I think the problem we’re going to have going forward is that there is a perception in that community that you have your fingerprints on a lot of the decisions that have created the pain,” Koncilja addressed Moser.
We’ll stay tuned for the next salvo — and be ready to duck.