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David O. WilliamsDavid O. WilliamsDecember 2, 20178min617
With Republicans dreaming of a tax bill in their stockings by the holidays, business leaders are still hoping for a clean Dream Act by Christmas. And so are the immigrants shielded from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But Colorado business leaders are still optimistic Congress will pass the bipartisan Dream Act, […]

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Karen MiddletonKaren MiddletonAugust 15, 20176min390
NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado executive director Karen Middleton
Karen Middleton

For 50 years, Colorado has been a leader in protecting and expanding access to women’s health care — and in proving that being pro-choice on abortion rights is a political winner.

In April 1967, Colorado passed the nation’s first state law allowing safe, legal abortion. It was a bipartisan bill, passed in a majority-Republican legislature. In recent years, the state has emerged as a model for dramatically reducing unintended teen pregnancies by expanding access to long-acting reversible contraception and supporting policies to expand access to reproductive health care information and resources.

Access to reproductive health care is both good economic policy and an exercise in personal liberty, something Coloradans strongly believe in.

As Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” The Casey opinion also reaffirmed the rights found in the Roe decision, stating “Roe determined that a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is a ‘liberty’ protected against state interference by the substantive component of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Seven in ten Americans back Roe v. Wade, and that number holds all across the states, from the reddest part of Kansas to the bluest part of New York, including the districts some appear to be worrying about. Standing firm on the ability to make a personal decision about women’s access to abortion care without interference from politicians is even stronger.

If you want to focus on winning elections, we are a national model. In a state split evenly between Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, we have tested this theory across three elections — including two mid-terms — with attempts to overturn abortion rights via “personhood” ballot measures. Every time, anti-choice efforts have failed by landslide margins statewide, including  in Douglas County by  60-40 in 2014. The General Assembly has repeatedly rejected attempts to restrict abortion and reproductive rights, and in 2017 we passed measures increasing access to contraception, which received national accolades.

At a time when we are seeking pro-choice Republicans to step forward as candidates, it is troubling to see national Democrats signaling a willingness to compromise on the issue of anti-choice Democratic candidates. Among voters, we can identify clear majorities that support choice on both sides of the aisle.

Our message is simple: Leave the decision to the women, their families, their faith and their doctors. Do not attempt to restrict access to abortion care. This is not a litmus test. It is a civil-rights issue.

The voters don’t want it. Voters can differentiate between the right of an individual to make a decision on abortion, and the government making it for her. It’s not a matter of belief. It’s a matter of laws and public policy.

Bluntly, Republicans recognize being anti-choice is a losing proposition. Sen. Cory Gardner ceded the issue in 2014 when he pretended to be pro-choice and denied the existence of a federal personhood bill he co-sponsored. Gardner has since cast multiple anti-choice votes in Congress. But he knew if he campaigned on being anti-choice, he would lose.

This is where the argument that there are “some districts” where you cannot be pro-choice falls apart. There is no data to support that. When will we stop treating an issue with 70 percent support as controversial?

In 50 years, NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado has seen a lot of battles over abortion rights. Our organization grew out of bipartisan support for legalizing abortion in 1967, so we are somewhat of an authority on the subject. We know Coloradans are with us. And we believe in holding candidates and public officials accountable on supporting our Constitutional right to choose abortion.

And we will keep doing that — for Republicans and Democrats alike.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 1, 20174min490

Just call it AIRWAVES, for short. And thank goodness for acronyms. More on this tongue twister of a tech initiative in a moment.

But first, consider this: No sooner does a guy like Gardner — besieged for months by Democratic activists over his role in the forever-pending repeal of Obamacare — issue a press release like today’s on some pretty obscure legislation, than he likely will stand accused of trying to change the subject. And no sooner does a news medium like ours pay it any heed, than it’ll probably be accused of providing cover. We’re braced for the familiar push-back.

Here’s our take: If Gardner goes to this much trouble just to change the subject, he earns points for the extra effort to say nothing of the creativity. Besides, what if there’s actually some substance to the legislation?

So, now, to the bill — and we’re relying heavily here on the details posted by Gardner’s press shop because, yikes, this stuff is a brain bender for us media dullards: The bipartisan legislation, introduced with New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, “will encourage the federal government to continue to free up spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed use and leverage the success of spectrum auctions to help close the urban-rural divide.”

Which we think means the bill should help provide more room on the airwaves for cell phones and other stuff. Or, as the Gardner press shop lays it out:

Spectrum is the invisible network of airwaves over which signals and data travel. Cell phones, Wi-Fi networks, satellites, television, and more all rely on readily available spectrum to operate, but it is a finite resource. Gardner and Hassan’s legislation aims to make more efficient use of spectrum…

The senators, quoted by Gardner’s office, elaborate:

“So many of the wireless services we depend on – from telehealth to wireless phone service to Wi-Fi – require the use of spectrum, which is a finite resource,” said Hassan. “The bipartisan AIRWAVES Act will help ensure that there is an adequate supply of spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use, which in turn will enhance wireless services to our people, stimulate our economy, and spur innovation. …”

…“The AIRWAVES Act is bipartisan, commonsense legislation that frees up more spectrum for commercial licensed and unlicensed users and will help bridge the divide between urban and rural Colorado,” said Gardner. “This legislation offers innovative ways to avoid a spectrum crunch, pave the way for 5G service, and provide critical resources to rural America to continue rural buildout in unserved and underserved areas throughout Colorado and the country.”

Don’t worry; there will not be quiz.

 


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 28, 20175min389

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We tend to avoid blogging about the many press releases we get from Colorado’s Washington delegation “announcing” some grant or new funding stream to some program or another back home in Colorado. It’s not that we don’t think the programs themselves merit news coverage or that Colorado isn’t happy to have the extra funding; it’s that, typically, the lawmakers had about as much to do with dispensing the money as did any of the rest of us. They’re just looking to get some good press out of sharing the news.

Given the prevailing partisan acrimony in our nation’s capital, however, we’re happy to make an exception for a joint press release issued today by the offices of Colorado U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner. To have a Democrat and a Republican appear together in the current climate on any announcement that isn’t a legal notice — or a fight card — is refreshing in its own right. What’s more, the topic in this case is something we all can agree on — one of Colorado’s most distinguished cash crops, the potato. Here’s the gist:

The Colorado State University (CSU) will receive $2.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study the integration of new technologies to manage potato pathogens in North American potato crops.

It’s welcome news, of course. It also gives us an excuse to post this fetching video on potatoes from Colorado’s famed San Luis Valley — and there’s not even a remotely political reference of any kind in it. Take a moment to view it and enjoy:

And here’s the rest of the press release, verbatim — our gift for the week to Bennet’s and Gardner’s press shops:

“Congratulations to Colorado State on receiving this grant to improve the treatment and management of potato pathogens,” Bennet said. “Potatoes are a critical part of our agricultural economy in Colorado. This grant is an investment in research that will assist potato growers across the country and protect future potato production”

 “It is critically important that the Department of Agriculture is working with our nation’s universities like Colorado State to support research that will assist our farmers with crop production,” Gardner said. “I’ve been a proud supporter of agriculture research through National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and believe this grant will be an asset to our potato farmers throughout Colorado.”

Bacterial potato pathogens such as blackleg and soft-rot cause significant crop losses on farms throughout the country. This grant will help integrate advanced technologies to manage and reduce the spread of these pathogens.  In June, Bennet and Gardner announced that Colorado State received a $264,600 USDA grant to study the spread of a new bacterial pathogen in U.S. potatoes. Together, the two grants will support critical efforts to protect U.S. potato farms.


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Jimmy SengenbergerJimmy SengenbergerJuly 28, 20176min408
Jimmy Sengenberger
Jimmy Sengenberger

Fifty Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday voted in favor of opening up 20 hours of debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Colorado’s own Sen. Cory Gardner, an advocate for healthcare reform, was among those who voted to move ahead.  He subsequently cast votes in favor of repeal and replace, “straight repeal” and “skinny repeal” of Obamacare.  With each of these votes, Senator Gardner unquestionably made the right decisions.

Coloradans on the individual market are bracing for premium increases of 27% next year, a staggering amount on top of already-staggering premiums.  Top that with outrageous deductibles, and Obamacare yet again has doomed many Coloradans to “health insurance” in name only – not access to the care they need.  That is, if they (unlike me) can even afford insurance.

Similarly, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that premiums have shot up $2,784, or 105%, on average nationally since 2013 – one year before the ACA regulations went into full implementation.  This is not only expensive – it is reprehensibly so.  Americans throughout the country are suffering under the ACA, and we deserve better.

Judging from past radio interviews I’ve conducted with Sen. Gardner, he seems to recognize that now is the opportunity for the Senate to take decisive action to resolve this crisis for his constituents in Colorado and Americans everywhere.

Coloradans like me who are hurt by or suffering under the boot of Obamacare deserve to have our voices heard in Congress.  We deserve a shot at meaningful reform.  Had Sen. Gardner not voted to simply take up debate, struggling Coloradans would have ultimately been denied the opportunity for real, vigorous debate on the Senate floor on conservative solutions to address premiums, deductibles and tightening access to care.

While the U.S. Senate has hit a serious roadblock on this issue, it is essential that Republicans continue to strive for solutions to the health care crisis. It will take a renewed and open process of debate and amendments on the Senate floor to get there, but it is crucial that Sen. Gardner and his colleagues in the majority work together to revive this pivotal effort and follow through on their promise to the American people.

Now, this does not mean that Republicans cannot, should not and must not take any steps to work with Democrats. Quite the contrary: there are initiatives that will require collaboration with Democrats for 60 votes, but only after the most foundational components of Obamacare are torn from the lawbooks.

Writing for The Colorado Springs Gazette back in April, Dr. Michael T. Parra, a Fellow at the Millennial Policy Center, and I proposed a piecemeal approach to repealing and replacing the ACA.  We suggested that Congress should repeal and replace a significant chunk of the law and then work alongside Democrats on necessary supplemental reforms.

More than four months later, with deep-seated divisions among Republicans remaining, I still see that something along the lines of the strategy we proposed in April is the right one.  The Senate should indeed pass one large-scale bill which accomplishes as many key reform objectives as possible within the constraints of reconciliation.  (Reconciliation is a procedure requiring only 51 votes for approval of legislation that meets certain budgetary standards.)

Such a bill should, among other steps, eliminate the Obamacare taxes and the employer and individual mandates; offer expansive relief from the essential health benefits that are jacking up costs so high; rein in Medicaid with block grants and work requirements, and unleash health savings accounts (HSAs) so that they can be applied toward premiums and all medications.

While the Congress works to pass this “large-scale bill” first, there are several other steps that it should take to chip away at other parts of Obamacare and implement reforms that should bring Democrats into the fold on individual legislation.

One piece of legislation would permit insurance sales across state lines while a second would support invisible high-risk pools for those individuals who have expensive, pre-existing conditions.  Another bill would permit Association Health Plans, which allow community organizations and small businesses to pool resources together to insure members and employees.

Senate Republicans like Senator Gardner would do well to make use of a strategic, piecemeal approach like this to accomplish the repeal and replacement of the ACA with serious, much-needed reforms that will bring down costs and boost access to healthcare.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 12, 20175min395
Rev. Dr. Timothy E. Tyler

As leaders in the faith and labor communities, we stand together during one of the greatest injustices of our time as Senators push for a bill that is a moral travesty and will hurt nearly every family in our nation. Like most Americans, we know that Medicaid and quality, affordable healthcare are imperative to the wellbeing of our children, seniors, working people and people with disabilities.

Our communities overlap in many ways. Our churches and synagogues are attended every week by workers who will lose their health insurance under the Senate bill. Children growing up in religious communities won’t have access to healthcare. Community elders will be forced to pay more and more for high quality coverage, even as they move towards retirement. As a result, faith and labor communities have a shared interest in maintaining quality healthcare for Coloradans statewide.

Rabbi Bernard R. Gerson

We are all created Btzelem Elohim—in the image of God. Health is not a luxury, and it should not be the sole possession of a privileged few. The health care crisis touches nearly every one of us. It is time for us to act.  Our faith values demand that we create a society in which no one is denied proper medical care.

African-American Congregants such as those who attend Shorter Community AME Church in Denver know all too well the pain of being unable to access quality healthcare. Black bodies have suffered for too long with chronic diseases and seriously limited access to treatment. The Bible is clear that this type of neglect is immoral and ungodly.

This is an issue that transcends partisan politics. The goal of both of our communities should be the same as that of every politician in Washington: to ensure affordable healthcare coverage for as many people as possible.

Ron Ruggiero
Ron Ruggiero

In Colorado, faith and labor communities have come together in the past to fight for immigrant justice, fair wages and healthcare, and our voices were heard. We must stand together and make sure our Senate Republicans understand the impact ripping away healthcare will have on hard-working Americans. Forcing the poor and elderly to pay more for less coverage just to give enormous tax breaks to the wealthiest is plain wrong.

The Senate healthcare repeal bill would leave 22 million Americans stranded without healthcare, and gut Medicaid funding by $772 billion over 10 years. The bill would also put at least one million Americans at risk for unemployment.

But it would also have devastating effects on Colorado locally. 600,000 people in our state could lose health insurance. The Colorado Health Institute projects that the Senate’s bill could cost Colorado’s economy $17 billion over the next 10 years.

The moral threads that hold our nation together are coming undone. It is time for Congress to reject its partisan tactics and work together to protect the people they represent. We want and expect a solution that protects Medicaid, lowers costs and improves care.

It’s time for Sen. Cory Gardner and all congressional Republicans to show their independence from this unfixable bill. It’s time they stand up for Medicaid and for improving care for all Americans. We have a moral obligation to protect seniors, children and people with disabilities, and those with pre-existing conditions. Repealing healthcare would cause costs to skyrocket for millions of Americans and would hurt us all.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirJuly 6, 20175min573
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner hands his cell phone — with Vice President Mike Pence on the line — to Clifton farmer Blaine Diffendaffer. Jaime Gardner, the senator’s wife, looks on in the background. (Photo courtesy of Gardner’s office.)

… well, no, they don’t walk into a bar. But they do share a cell phone, taking turns talking to one another. And when it comes time for the farmer to talk to the man who serves just a heartbeat away from the presidency, they talk about — what else? — tomatoes.

It’s no joke. It’s pretty much how things went down Wednesday at Blaine’s Tomatoes & Farm, east of Grand Junction and just outside Clifton, in Colorado’s fruit belt. Proprietor and farmer Blaine Diffendaffer was minding his own business, literally, when not one but two major national political figures dropped by. Colorado Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, in person, and Vice President Mike Pence, unexpectedly by phone.

Gardner had stopped in for a tour of Diffendaffer’s operation; the visit was arranged by the Mesa County Farm Bureau, of which Diffendaffer is VP. He raises greenhouse tomatoes along with salad greens, cukes and some other goodies and was happy to give the senator a look around.

As Gardner — who hails from the eastern plains farm town of Yuma — and Diffendaffer were chatting about ag issues, Gardner got a call.

Colorado Farmer Blaine Diffendaffer speaks with Vice President Mike Pence.

“He apologized and said, ‘I have to take it. It’s the vice president,’ ” Diffendaffer said.

Diffendaffer struck up a conversation with Gardner’s aides (wife Jaime and children also were in tow) for a few minutes while Gardner left the room to take the call.

“(Gardner) came back in and said, ‘Would you like to speak to the vice president,’ ” Diffendaffer said. “And I was just like, ‘Yeah.’ I was shocked.”

“It was a very casual conversation, and it was kind of cool,” he said. “(The vice president) asked about what I do. So many times, when you hear politicians talk, it’s like, ‘I did this bill,’ or ‘I did that.’ But he asked me about what I did. There was no politics involved. It was actually just normal people talking.”

Diffendaffer added, “He said, ‘In my home state we don’t raise a lot of tomatoes. It’s mostly row crops.’ And that’s as political as it got.”

Diffendaffer is a native of the area who grew up on the land he now farms. (Be sure to check out his website’s “about” page for more background on him and the farm.)

His politics? Republican, “…but I’m kind of in between on a lot of things,” he said.

Speaking of politics, the folks at ProgressNow Colorado are of course going to love this anecdote. Meaning, something closer to hate.

“A warm-and-fuzzy for Gardner,” they’ll grouse. After all, their liberal group has been working overtime dogging the conservative senator about the much-debated GOP health-care proposal now pending in the Senate in Washington.

OK, fine, but this isn’t about all that. This is just about a coincidental conversation between a West Slope farmer and the vice-leader of the free world. Not politics, but tomatoes.