Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 13, 20174min390

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman will hold a town hall meeting on Aug. 1 in Henderson as protests continue over GOP-led health reform efforts.

The town hall planned for 6 p.m. at Prairie View High School follows a meeting the congressman held in April when an angry crowd assailed him, resulting in national headlines.

Protesters repeatedly hammered Coffman on health care during the April town hall in Aurora, located in the 6th Congressional District, one of the most competitive districts in the nation.

Coffman is facing a challenge by several Democrats, who are battling in a spirited primary.

Former Obama adviser Levi Tillemann announced his campaign at the end of June. Attorneys Jason Crow and David Aarestad are also filed in the race, as is Littleton resident Gabriel McArthur.

An advisory for the planned August Coffman town hall says, “During the town hall meeting, Coffman looks forward to a robust and informative discussion about all of the critical issues facing our community, state, and nation.”

Coffman also plans to discuss his upcoming legislative agenda.

Registration is required for the event. For those who can’t attend, it will be live-steamed on Facebook.

Coffman is sure to again find himself answering questions on Republican-led health reform efforts, despite trying to distinguish himself from other Republicans in the conversation.

Coffman on Tuesday sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, offering an “alternative approach” to replacing the Affordable Care Act.

“I believe we all share a common objective of making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans,” Coffman wrote.

He outlined a three-step approach, including addressing Medicaid expansion through budget reconciliation, a maneuver that allows the majority to bypass a filibuster. Coffman also proposed using reconciliation to repeal the individual and employer mandates and several ACA taxes and penalties.

The second step would be to address taxes and penalties that impact wealthy Americans through a separate tax reform effort in Congress.

Coffman’s third proposal would be to tackle reform to health insurance exchanges through a separate bipartisan legislative process.

“We should take an approach that does not impact those Medicaid services unrelated to the ACA’s expansion, such as skilled nursing for seniors, services for children, and for the disabled,” Coffman wrote in the letter.

“I think we should continue the Medicaid Expansion program as an optional Medicaid program, but only if it has a cost share no different than the standard FMAP (Federal Medicaid Assistance Percentages) for each respective state.

“It makes no sense to me for the federal government, under the ACA, to pay 90 percent or more for an able-bodied adult without dependent children, but 50 percent for a disabled child.”

Coffman also supports switching states to a block grant model for Medicaid expansion funding.

“We should also expect all able-bodied working-age individuals, seeking public assistance, to demonstrate that they are affirmatively taking steps to become self-sufficient,” he continued in the letter.


Peter MarcusPeter MarcusJuly 11, 201710min3605

Colorado state Rep. Polly Lawrence hopes to convince Republicans in a run for treasurer that her small business and legislative experience will bring accountability to government.

Lawrence spoke with Colorado Politics last week to announce her run to become the next custodian of the state’s funds, joining a field that currently includes two other Republicans.

“This isn’t about day trading with the treasurer’s office, this is about making sure that those tax dollars are safe and they’re invested wisely and conservatively, and that’s something that we have certainly focused on with our business,” Lawrence said.

She plans on announcing her run for treasurer Tuesday before GOP supporters in Grand Junction, arguing that the Grand Junction and rural areas of the state are where people deserve the most attention because those areas have been slower to recover from the economic downturn.

“Not everything is the Denver metro area,” Lawrence said. “Rural Colorado and especially the Grand Junction, Western Slope, area has been hit extremely hard.”

Sitting in her Littleton office on the outskirts of town, about 20 miles south of Denver, Lawrence looks up at the model trucks and cranes that her husband, R.J.’s, father assembled at the 93-year-old construction business.

Lawrence draws upon her years of experience at the business, where she started as a flagger, and evolved into a contract manager, estimator, project manager, and job cost analyzer.

The heavy civil construction firm continues to be run by family, with R.J. being a fourth generation owner of the business, and the Lawrence’s kids assuming the fifth generation of leadership.

Lawrence joked that she attempted to convince her children not to enter the family business, but that they simply wouldn’t stay away.

“We treat all of our employees like family, and it’s about watching the bottom line, because every penny counts in a family-owned business,” Lawrence said.

A tough primary battle ahead 

Elected to office in 2012, Lawrence rose to the position of assistant minority leader under former House Republican Leader Brian DelGrosso of Loveland. But Lawrence faced some setbacks in legislative leadership at the end of last year, despite having raised more money for the caucus during the 2016 election than ever before, at around $1.5 million.

Unhappy with the results of the election for House candidates, conservatives led an effort to remove the caucus’ leadership, ousting Lawrence. Republicans lost three seats in the House, and chose Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, one of the state’s most conservative elected officials, to lead them.

DelGrosso was term-limited after last year. Lawrence was expected to replace him in this year’s session, but after disappointing results from last year’s election, she said she did not have the caucus votes, and so she decided not to float her name as a candidate for the leadership position.

It remains a question whether bad blood still lingers within the conservative base of the party. But Lawrence doesn’t appear concerned.

“I can talk to just about any group out there and I’m looking forward to the primary,” she said. “I think I bring a very balanced perspective to this office … I have worked with candidates all across the state.”

Already announced in the race on the Republican side is fellow state Rep. Justin Everett, a 45-year-old third-term representative from Littleton who believes he can motivate the conservative wing of the party. Also announced on the GOP side is Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton has announced a run.

Other candidates could enter the race in the Republican primary, including Brian Watson, the founder and chief executive of Denver-based Northstar Commercial Partners, a commercial real estate investment firm.

Consulting Lawrence’s campaign is former House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, who when asked why he chose to work with Lawrence, he answered, “Polly.”

“She is a doer, she’s not afraid to kick down the doors and turn over desks, and at the same time she’s able to sit down and find common ground,” McNulty said. “Those are increasingly rare traits these days.”

PERA reform

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the next treasurer is the long-term stability of the state’s retirement system for public employees, something that current Republican Treasurer Walker Stapleton has been pointing to for seven years. Stapleton is term limited after next year.

PERA officials are considering new reforms to address a minimum $32 billion unfunded liability. The state treasurer sits on the PERA board as an ex officio member.

The number of years to fully fund the plan has increased to 75 years for the school division and 55 years for the state division, which is outside the 30-year target set by the board. Under projections from 2015, it would have taken PERA about 40 years to be fully funded overall.

“I’m glad that they’re finally recognizing that there is a $32 billion debt hanging out there that is going to affect every person in Colorado,” Lawrence said of PERA officials, who only recently acknowledged that additional reforms are needed.

Since 2010, PERA officials have been urging patience, pointing to Senate Bill 1 at the time, which included workers taking a hit on their annual cost of living adjustment, while employers increased contributions.

PERA managers are considering several changes, which they would have to ask the legislature to approve, including once again looking at modifications to contribution levels from employers and employees, increasing the qualifying age of retirement, and how the plan calculates highest average salary payments, to name a few.

Lawrence is supportive of taking a look at all of those proposals, pointing to her experience as a small business owner as the appropriate background to take on the challenges. Up until last year, Lawrence Construction was a union contractor. But the employees decided to go non-union because the construction business could offer a better package than the unions could, Lawrence said.

“It mirrors what’s going on with the state,” she explained. “We paid fees into the union fund … but we had no say on how that money is invested and what’s done with it. Our employees were not guaranteed the pension the union promised.”

Closing the ‘revolving door’ and ‘year-end spending’

Another issue Lawrence would like to work on as treasurer is closing end-of-year government spending, which is done to boost department budgets, she said.

Lawrence also would like to end the practice of public employees establishing a purchase contract with a private company, which involves negotiating the terms of the contract, and then once the contract is awarded, leaving the state to work for the private company.

On the year-end spend situation, Lawrence said, “At the end of each fiscal year, you’ll notice that different departments buy new computers, new chairs, cars for their managers, that may not have been in their original budget request, but they have money left and it needs to be spent so they can show that we need all that money for the next business year.

“Think about that across the board in every department. If they’re doing that, how much money could go back into the general fund that could be used for transportation?”

McNulty said one of the reasons he agreed to work with Lawrence on the campaign for treasurer is that she is not solely focused on PERA reform.

“One of the questions I asked her is, ‘What do you want to do? Is this just going to be the PERA show?’” McNulty recalled. “She said, ‘No. We need to reform PERA, but for me, I want this to be an office dedicated to accountability.’ That was a big deal for me.”

Peter MarcusMay 14, 20179min410

Prior to the start of the legislative session in January, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham said restructuring a hospital fee to raise money for state services was off the table.

House Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Democrat, said the point was so lost, it was the definition of insanity for her party to keep asking.

Republicans prior to the session also pushed a familiar narrative of using existing tax revenue and fighting against any tax increases.

But then came bills backed by prominent high-profile Republicans aimed at a tax increase for roads and a restructuring of the Hospital Provider Fee.

While the $3.5 billion transportation proposal never gained enough GOP support to send the issue to voters, historic progress was made on the Hospital Provider Fee, which cleared the divided legislature with GOP support.

It was a remarkable evolution from where the subject stood just months earlier, and from last year under Republican Senate President Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs. Much of the caucus had always claimed restructuring the fee was a violation of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, considered a Holy Grail to conservative interests.

“It wasn’t a unanimous thing within our caucus, it was a pretty tough thing,” Grantham said of the effort this year to create a 20-year funding program directing $1.8 billion towards critical services, including for schools, roads and hospitals.

“I started the session off talking about this being a nonstarter. The proposal that we saw for the last two years was completely unappetizing for us and there was nothing about it that I wanted anything to do with.”

A dire situation
But then rural hospitals were placed in jeopardy. State budget writers were forced to reduce the fee on hospital-bed occupancy by $264 million in an effort to balance the budget. With a federal match, hospitals in Colorado stood to lose about $528 million. Some rural hospitals said they would close. And with transportation funding bills in trouble, lawmakers also had to search for alternatives.

Enter Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Republican from rural Sterling, who realized that he was dealing with a literal life or death situation in rural parts of the state where people might not be able to access emergency health care.

“I know it’s the right thing to do for rural Colorado, we can’t continue to balance the budget on the back of hospitals,” Sonnenberg said.

But the move could prove to be problematic for Republicans who supported the effort, as they are sure to face backlash from conservative interests.

“I’m already getting beat up on social media,” Sonnenberg said. “The truth is, I get beat up for a lot of things. For me, it’s the right thing to do for rural Colorado.”

Sonnenberg was able to rally support for the fee restructuring by also lowering the state spending cap base by $200 million to protect taxpayer rebates and by addressing Medicaid reform by increasing co-pays for Medicaid patients. The legislation also created a credit for businesses paying taxes on business equipment, another popular issue for the GOP.

Still, several members of the caucus opposed the Hospital Provider Fee shift, as well as the tax increase for roads. But Republican leaders said they wanted to provide a long leash for members to be able to work on the issues, and to reach across the aisle to Democrats.

“I am proud that we have a caucus of members, 18 people who know that their vote is something that they are accountable for to their constituents,” said Senate Republican Leader Chris Holbert of Parker, who opposed the Hospital Provider Fee bill. “I’ve said before, ‘I didn’t hire them, and I can’t fire them.’ I look at my role as majority leader more as a team captain.”

Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, one of the more conservative members of the caucus, also opposed the legislation. But he said he never felt any pressure.

“Caucus members were at odds on different things that they felt were critical to their constituents and some ideological issues, but as far as the process of working with the president and majority leader, it was a very good year there,” Neville said.

The question is just how much backlash will come from conservative groups. Americans for Prosperity called the recent legislative session its “strongest session yet” and chose not to lash out at Republicans who supported the controversial efforts this year.

“We worked hard to inform citizens and legislators about policies that impact economic freedom,” said AFP state director Michael Fields. “We thank the senators and representatives that voted to make government live within its means, prioritize the state budget, and protect free choice.”

The conservative group pointed out that it saw the defeat of the transportation tax hike proposal; a start towards equal funding for charter schools; construction defect litigation reform; the death of a bipartisan measure that would have changed how TABOR works; a failure to advance additional restrictions on the oil and gas industry; and a reduction in film production incentives.

But the transportation issue remains a thorny topic.

“The debate over transportation funding was a debacle this session,” Fields said. “With billions of dollars needed to fix our roads, reprioritizing the budget to meet the needs of Colorado’s infrastructure will remain critical in future years.”

A willingness to strike a deal
Perhaps the biggest change in tone over last year was the legislature’s willingness to work together this year to push issues across the finish line.

“They were able to find words to put on paper that moved that ball forward, and that’s what I would encourage constituents to consider,” Holbert said. “It may not be the word ‘compromise,’ it may not be giving up half of what one wants in exchange for half of what one does not want.”

Sonnenberg added, “There’s too much emphasis on compromise and not enough emphasis on actually finding the common ground that we can agree on.”

Senate Democratic Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver agreed that there was a shift in tone over last year that helped advance certain critical issues. And over in the Democratic-controlled House, Speaker Duran had similar thoughts.

“This session … was representative of making sure that we have people who are willing to have tough conversations about issues that can be very challenging, and that throughout the negotiations process that nobody ever locks down and says, ‘No, no, no,’” Duran said. “And that if there is an issue that is challenging, or if there are particular things that one party wants that the other cannot do, then what can you do? What is possible?”

Peter MarcusMay 8, 20174min332

A Republican effort to repeal the state’s health-insurance exchange is a lost cause in the GOP-controlled Senate, despite Republicans making it a priority this year.

First mentioned in Senate President Kevin Grantham’s opening day speech – at which time he said it was “time for us to shed some of the dead weight of failed government policy” – Republican leaders on Monday decided to end the effort.

“What’s happened is a little bit less action on the national level than what we anticipated, that we could get our federal partners to move a little bit quicker,” Grantham said Monday morning.

Republicans had held strong on the issue at the start of the legislative session in January, even as protesters gathered on the steps outside the legislature for a demonstration opposing the Republican effort to repeal Connect for Health Colorado, the state’s marketplace for purchasing health insurance.

Senate Bill 3 passed the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 7. It then wasn’t advanced from the appropriations committee until April 6. The bill has been sitting on the Senate floor since April 10. On Monday, Republican leadership delayed a vote on the bill until after the legislative session, effectively killing the measure.

It faced an uphill battle even if the bill made it out of the Senate, as Democrats vowed to kill the measure in the House.

“Our communities called and emailed us with one clear message, they didn’t want their state legislature to take their health care away,” said Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood. “With this bill’s defeat, Colorado’s hardworking families, mothers, senior citizens, and children can rest easy that unlike Republicans in Congress, their state senators will not be working to take away their health care.”

When Republicans first pushed the measure in January, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, who has a background in insurance brokerage, lamented that despite the exchange, insurance rates in Colorado have skyrocketed. He pointed to rural parts of the state and that fewer companies are offering plans. Smallwood said taxpayers should not be providing millions of dollars for a system that has not worked.

Under Smallwood’s proposal, the exchange would have been repealed on Jan. 1, 2018. Any leftover money would have been transferred to the general fund for discretionary spending.

But the repeal effort came as uncertainty continues to surround what a Republican Congress will do with the Affordable Care Act. Since the exchange was born out of the ACA, it’s possible that a repeal of the federal health care law would send the issue back to the states to resolve, in which an exchange might still be required.

“We thought we had that done where we could get our federal partners to move a little bit quicker,” Grantham said. We thought we had that done where we could actually be able to make the case that the exchange is no longer necessary under the new circumstances in D.C. We’re still waiting for the new circumstance in D.C.”


Peter MarcusApril 18, 20175min423
  Republican state Rep. Justin Everett timed his campaign launch for treasurer of Colorado to coincide with Tax Day. Everett announced his candidacy Tuesday with a campaign video and website launch, in which he promises to “take our state back.” “Why we’re announcing on Tax Day is because it’s the treasurer’s responsibility to protect taxpayers,” […]

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Diana DeGetteDiana DeGetteApril 11, 20176min525

Trumpcare was defeated and the Affordable Care Act saved from repeal last month thanks in large part to the American public. They spoke out passionately on behalf of the ACA in phone calls and emails to their members of Congress. They raised their voices at events like the community forum in Denver where 1,000 of my constituents showed up, the rally that I held where 500 people attended and the listening session where men and women of all ages told their stories about how the ACA has changed their lives for the better.


Ernest LuningErnest LuningApril 1, 201712min891

State Sen. Owen Hill, a Colorado Springs Republican, plans to announce on Monday that he’s running for the 5th Congressional District seat held by six-term U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, The Colorado Statesman has learned. Long rumored as a potential candidate for state treasurer in next year’s election, Hill confirmed Saturday that he intends to notify supporters on Monday he’s jumping in the congressional race with an email announcement.

Peter MarcusPeter MarcusFebruary 3, 20177min301
In White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first briefing after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Americans watched as the new spokesman berated the press for underestimating the size of the crowds for Trump’s inauguration. He took no questions.   “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and […]

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Peter MarcusPeter MarcusFebruary 2, 20174min344
Colorado’s House Republican leader on Wednesday accused Democrats of wasting constituents’ time by pushing a resolution supporting a woman’s access to abortion. Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock pointed to opening day remarks by House Speaker Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, who three weeks ago said the legislature would focus on issues such as transportation, education and […]

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