Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 28, 20176min613

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, said Friday that Democrats are “finally” admitting they need to work across the aisle to find bipartisan solutions to the nation’s health care system, adding that the failure by GOP senators to overturn the Affordable Care Act won’t stop efforts to replace the legislation, known as Obamacare.

“It’s frustrating that now the recent repeal and replace vote is over we are starting to finally hear supporters of the Affordable Care Act make some of the exact points about the problems with the Affordable Care Act that they attacked Republicans for making over the last few months,” said Gardner, who was one of 13 Republican senators tasked with writing the Senate’s version of health care legislation behind closed doors earlier this year. “We are finally starting to hear those that refused to work with Republicans admit that costs are going up under this law and something needs to be done to address it.”

He added that he’s “worked so hard to replace this government takeover of our healthcare for one reason and one reason only – my constituents.” Among the problems he listed under the Obamacare were “skyrocketing premiums,” nearly 150,000 Colorado residents who didn’t buy insurance coverage facing IRS fines and just one or two insurers offering plans in a majority of the state’s counties.

“The vote last night can’t stop this effort,” Gardner said. “I’ve always urged Democrats to work with Republicans in a bipartisan manner to find solutions that drives down costs and stabilizes the insurance market. I’m not going to stop trying to fix this healthcare problem, the status quo is unacceptable.”

His Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, for months has been blasting Senate Republicans for drafting their legislation in secret and without input from Democrats. On Thursday, before the final cliffhanger vote that killed the last GOP bill up for debate this week, he excoriated Republicans for declining to hold a single committee hearing on the legislation before proceeding to votes on the floor.

“Talk about ‘read the bill,’ how about have a bill that’s written down on paper so we can read it? Where are my brethren in the Tea Party that wanted to read the other bill?” he said in a speech on the Senate floor, referring to complaints made by conservatives when Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010. “There was a bill then. There had been a bill for a year and a half. There’s no bill! There’s no bill.”

A month ago, Bennet called in another speech on the Senate floor for Republicans to bring Democrats into their discussions on the legislation.

“I am all for working together in a bipartisan way to address the issues in our healthcare system — that go far beyond the Affordable Care Act — to make sure people in America do not have to continue to make choices other people all over the world are not having to make,” he said.

Senate Democrats have been imploring GOP leaders to open up the process and work across the aisle for months.

In a January letter, for instance, Bennet and a dozen other moderate Democrats wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel and two powerful committee chairs, “We remain committed to improving the (Affordable Care Act), and we urge you to work with us now — to increase affordability for families, protect communities, help small businesses, and continue important protections for the most vulnerable.” In March, Bennet was among 42 Senate Democrats who asked House Republicans to open up the process. “Instead of supporting a fatally-flawed, incomplete, partisan bill, we hope you will take us up on our sincere offer to improve health care for all Americans,” they wrote.

Gardner voted with most of his fellow Republicans on every key vote this week, including casting votes to repeal major provisions of Obamacare without replacing them, to repeal the health care law and replace it with a new plan and to repeal the individual and employer mandates under Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood.

That last vote, on legislation called the “skinny” repeal, went down by a single vote after midnight Thursday night when Arizona Sen. John McCain joined Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski to scotch it. (The GOP holds a 52-48 majority in the Senate so could only afford to lose two votes, with Vice President Mike Pence on hand to cast a tie-breaking vote.)


Joey BunchJoey BunchJuly 24, 20174min295

Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy CommitteeLiberal journalist extraordinaire David Sirota did what he told Colorado Politics he would do back in May. He got his eyeballs on Colorado Senate Republicans’ e-mails from a period when a bill to move oil and gas wells farther from schools was pending in the legislature.

You can bet Dave would raise a left-slanted eyeball. He published his findings Friday in the International Business Times.

But he didn’t find any bombshells. Just both sides pleading their case.

From the article:

While the emails, which were obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests filed by IBT, show no sign of illegal activity or quid pro quo dealings between lobbyists and lawmakers, they do reveal the asymmetrical war fought between the fossil fuel lobby and ordinary citizens who work and live near their facilities, many of whom wrote their representatives to assert that they weren’t anti-fracking, but simply worried about their own or their children’s health. Some pleaded with their representatives for help, only to receive a form letter, or nothing at all.

He cites an example letter from a Greeley school teacher to Sen. John Cooke, a Republican from Greeley who is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. The committee killed Democratic Rep. Mike Foote’s House Bill 1256 on a party-line vote on April 12. The teacher wrote she was begging for Cooke’s support.

“We should not be risking the health and safety of children without an attempt to at least provide the minimum of support of a 1000 foot setback from where they are playing and breathing. Protecting the health and safety of children should not be a partisan issue — we all care about protecting the most vulnerable, and as a former Weld County Sheriff, I’m sure you understand.”

Sirota also found an e-mail to Cooke from Brent Backes, an executive with DCP Midstream, a petroleum services company based in Denver, as well as an executive board member of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

“DCP has a lot of new development activity in Weld County that I would like to make sure you are aware of as well as having a general discussion of the issues facing our industry,” Backes wrote. “I would be happy to come to the Capitol as our headquarters are located just a few blocks away.”

Sirota found that Cooke RSVP’d to a COGA seminar later, but it’s hard to say if Cooke responded to the e-mails, Sirota wrote.

In the scheme of things, that’s not unusual. Legislators from both parties attend all kinds of events put on by special-interests groups, from industry to philanthropy. Associations associate with policymakers because that’s how the public sausage is ground. Legislators say they learn about the issues from the “stakeholders,” even if you prefer to call that influence.

Editor’s note: This story corrected that Sen. John Cooke is a member of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee, not the chairman. The chair is Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling.


Joey BunchJoey BunchJune 23, 20177min351
Sen. Chris Holbert, right, and Senate President Kevin Grantham discuss transportation with Colorado Politics and the Colorado Springs Gazette. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics.)

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert had legislative researchers look this up: When was the last time the General Assembly voted on any specific road project?

The answer: 1899, a wagon road from Leadville to Pueblo using convicts.

The public perception these days, however, is that Capitol Dome is the end of the road when it comes to road funding and road building. But the way gas tax revenues are doled out and spent, the General Assembly is a side street, and maybe even a back alley.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for traffic jams, but the legislature seems to shoulder all of it.

State and local gas taxes flow directly to road departments, and decisions on how to spend those dollars rest with town and city councils, county commissions and regional transportation boards, not lawmakers, Holbert rightly pointed out to editors and reporters with Colorado Politics and the Colorado Springs Gazette Thursday.

You can’t blame the public for being confused. Lawmakers have fought to a near-standstill for years over putting more state tax dollars into transportation, or asking voters to raise sales or gas taxes. But Colorado’s system gives the power and money to local governments, not the legislature.

“I think if more people understand the level of control and the authority and decision-making that town and city councils and county commissioners have in Colorado, I think that’s helpful to the discussion,” said Holbert, a Republican from Parker.

“That means if a local community like Colorado Springs decides to increase taxes for transportation, that’s OK,” he offered as an example.

Holbert said a lot of people have come west from states where decisions are centralized at the legislature, but Colorado’s system has always honored local control, outside of that wagon road out of Leadville.

“Colorado Springs spoke clearly,” Holbert continued, referencing the 0.62 sales tax the city passed for transportation two years ago. “That was a good solution for Colorado Springs. To me that was less about conflict at the Capitol and more about local control, and a local perspective that was absolutely spot-on.”

Holbert concluded, “It’s not to say we’re washing our hands of it, but it’s a shared responsibility, and we (the legislature) don’t decide what gets done.”

Democrats, namely House Speaker Crisanta Duran of Denver, doesn’t see it that way. She’s told reporters and anyone else who would listen that one of the most critical reasons for a statewide transportation plan is so that rich, urban counties don’t fund their needs and leave behind poor counties that can’t.

One of the major problems — and traffic jams in the state — is the 17-mile gap between Monument and Castle Rock.

Holbert said Douglas and El Paso counties can move forward faster on the project than 100 legislators apparently can.

He saw some good news for transportation when Douglas County commissioners considered reallocating a portion of sales tax used for the county toward improvements on crowded I-25. Last week, however, commissioners voted 2-1 against referring the question to the ballot.

Depending on how you define budget money, the state general fund is only kicking in about $79 million from its $28 billion total for the state highway department’s $1.4 billion budget next year. The state is facing $20 billion in transportation needs to keep up with growth and long-neglected maintenance over the last 20 years,  CDOT estimates.

Colorado Politics has reported extensively on the failure of two bills last session to raise $3.5 billion to try to catch up on high-profile projects. Instead, the legislature raised about $1 billion for interstates and other major projects, which depends on selling and leasing back state buildings then depending on money already in Colorado Department of Transportation’s budget.

As we told subscribers two weeks ago, it’s more accounting than funding.

“Pretty mellow” discussions are going on now about what to do next, from a legislative standpoint, Senate President Kevin Grantham of Canon City said Thursday.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us, and most of the discussions are pretty low-key and low-level about where do we go from here,” he said.

Grantham acknowledged that Senate Republicans don’t want to ask voters to raise taxes and House Democrats won’t cut social programs to steer more budget money into transportation, the dynamics that have complicated funding for years.

“This is where we have to dial this back to that baseline discussion: What does this have to look like to get it through a Republican Senate and a Democrat House?” he said.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct that Holbert is the majority leader, not the minority leader, and he caught a some copy editing we missed.

ColoradoPolitics.comMay 15, 201713min228

The Colorado legislature adjourned on Wednesday, and the afterglow shines a light on what exactly happened in the 120 days that lawmakers quarreled under the gold dome in Denver.

Counting down the hits, here are the 10 things you should know about what just happened:


undocumented stays
Jeanette Vizguerra, a Mexican immigrant who has lived in a church to avoid immigration authorities for the past three months, smiles after leaving the church early Friday in downtown Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

10 — Sanctuary cities, right to rest, no more Columbus Day
In a split legislature, strictly partisan bills are doomed to fail. Nonetheless, long hours were put in arguing over arresting public officials for not boosting immigration laws in a sanctuary city. Homeless people still can’t camp in public parks, if cities have an ordinance. Columbus Day in Colorado will continue to be celebrated and reviled.

Read more here, here and here.


Students at DSST Cole High School, a charter school in Denver. (Nicholas Garcia/Chalkbeat Colorado)

9 — Charter schools are getting cool
Charter schools are public schools, but they haven’t been treated that way when it comes to tax dollars. This session they made headway. Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Rep. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, pushed the equitable-funding issue to the last day, with results that had charter school champions cheering.

Read more here.


hunting and fishing fees
(Colorado Springs Gazette/Paul Klee)

8 — Parks and Wildlife out in the cold
The state’s fee-funded outdoors agency hasn’t raised hunting, fishing and park fees since 2005. The agency already has cut $40 million and 50 staff members, but faces even deeper cuts without raising rates. Lawmakers said no. Bring on the cuts.

Read more here.


In this Dec. 31, 2012, file photo, Rachel Schaefer, of Denver, smokes marijuana on the official opening night of Club 64, a marijuana-specific social club, where a New Year’s Eve party was held in Denver. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, File)

7 — Pot’s wild ride
To the last day, marijuana was a focus. Bipartisan efforts to create marijuana social clubs efforts never advanced, the ongoing conversation did. Raising pot taxes was used as an incentive by Democrats to get Republicans on board to reclassify the state’s Hospital Provider Fee, and the legislature OK’d counties to pass pot taxes. Gov, John Hickenlooper advanced the session by saying he wanted more pot taxes to go toward homelessness programs. And as the final hours ticked away, the House debated, in bizarre terms, how many people should be allowed to smoke pot on a porch. Lawmakers couldn’t agree.

Read more here, here and here.


Congressman Ed Perlmutter announces run for Colorado Governor Sunday April 9, 2017 in the parking lot of Natural Grocers in Golden, CO. (Photo by Evan Semón Photography)

6 — Who was legislating and who was campaigning
Just months removed from Election Day, at least dozen of the General Assembly’s 100 members have their eyes on offices higher the legislature. Sometimes good pieces of legislation also look good on a campaign flier, and lobbyists with PACs become the best lobbyists of all.

Read more here, here, here and here.


Patrick Neville
House Republican Leader Patrick Neville talks to reporters at the state Capitol the day after the session adjourned. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

5 — A moderate shift to the left in the Senate
The Senate president proposing a tax increase to fund roads, while the Senate president pro tem pushed a restructuring of the Hospital Provider Fee, served as the clearest examples of a shift in tone and thinking for Senate Republicans. Two issues that were always considered off the table. Meanwhile, Republicans advanced legislation to strengthen penalties on crimes against gay people, while also supporting a bill to extend coverage to provide a 12-month supply of contraceptives for women.

Read more here.


A home explosion in Firestone on April 17 killed two and sent two people to the hospital. Fire officials said it was the result of an uncapped flow line from a nearby oil and gas well. (Dennis Herrera/ Special to The Denver Post / Daily Camera)

4 — Oil and gas issues exploded
Oil-and-gas interests had been on a legislative winning streak and had made a good case as a good and safe neighbor, until a house near a pipeline in Firestone exploded and killed two people on April 17. That caused a last-days struggle between Republicans and Democrats, one that’s likely to continue into next year’s session and elections.

Read more here, here, here and here.


construction Colorado
(Colorado Springs Gazette file photo/Rich Laden)

3 — Put up or shut up for construction defects reform
After four legislative sessions, the first measure of construction defects litigation reform is law. The cost of insurance and lawsuits was said to be why construction of affordable condominiums in the state has withered, but now that lawmakers have delivered, it’s up to builders to respond.

Read more here.


In this Thursday, March 9, 2017, photograph, Dr. Lindsey Fish waits for a patient in a procedure room in Denver Health Medical Center’s primary care clinic located in a low-income neighborhood in southwest Denver. (AP)

2 — Republicans got on the omnibus
For years, GOP lawmakers fought reclassifying a fee on hospital beds to get it out from under the state’s constitutional spending cap that triggers tax refunds. This session, the biggest bipartisan win was doing just that, as Republicans traded for higher Medicaid copays, a lower spending cap and money for rural schools, roads and hospitals.

Read more here.


And the biggest story of the session …

alternative transportation bill
Heavy traffic moves along Interstate 25 near Castle Rock, which is two lanes in each direction. (Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette)

1 — Road bills sputtered
The highest goal of the session, to address the state’s ailing, clogged transportation system, didn’t go nearly as planned. Two bills that would have put billions into wider interstates and local transit died in the Senate, bogged down over asking taxpayers to pony up.

Read more here, here and here.

Editor’s note: Compiled by Colorado Politics staff Joey Bunch, Peter Marcus and Erin Prater.

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 14, 20175min187

The Colorado General Assembly adjourned this week, but legislators took their favorite bills to the wire. Meanwhile, a well-known Colorado politician heard his name called from the White House to step into what’s sure to be political chaos of the highest caliber in a wild week in Colorado politics.

These are the stories the staff of Colorado Politics thinks you need to keep in mind after a chaotic week in Denver and D.C.


This week at the Capitol
(Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

1. Session screeches to a stop with little in the tank for transportation

The 120-day legislative session wrapped up Wednesday with transportation receiving a fraction of what legislators vowed to dedicate to it.

Read the full story here.


Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers (Jerilee Bennett/The Gazette)

2. Tough guy or stooge: What kind of FBI chief would Suthers be?

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is said to be on the White House’s short list for the seat left open when President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Colorado leaders sized up his chances and assets to be the nation’s top G-man.

Read the full story here.


Phil Weiser, former University of Colorado Law School dean and senior advisor to former President Barack Obama, has joined the race for Colorado attorney general. (Courtesy photo, Weiser campaign website)

3. Weiser takes inside track in AG’s race with big-name backer

Never heard of Paul Weiser? You know who has heard of him? Endorser and Colorado Democratic kingmaker Ken Salazar, the former AG, U.S. senator and Obama cabinet member. Weiser also is a former Obama adviser.

Read the full story here.


An oil pump jack near Fredrick. (Ed Andrieski/AP)

4. Lights dim for Energy Office after Senate GOP flips the switch

One of the biggest losers of the session was the Colorado Energy Office and state funding for renewable energy programs. Senate Republicans wanted to steer money into such programs as hydropower and nuclear energy, but instead they drove the bill off a cliff.

Read the full story here.


In this April 18, 2017, photo, investigators stand by as debris is removed from a house that was destroyed in a deadly explosion in Firestone, Colo., on April 17. Anadarko Petroleum said Wednesday, April 26, that it operated a well about 200 feet (60 meters) from the house in the town of Firestone. The company didn’t say whether the well was believed to be a factor in the explosion or whether it produced oil, gas or both. (Matthew Jonas/The Daily Times Call via AP)

5. Late-night GOP chat puts up roadblock on oil-and-gas mapping

A late-session bill to provide maps of underground oil-and-gas operations to the public, and especially local land planners, couldn’t make it out of the House after Republicans ran out the clock on it Monday night. The bill stemmed from a fatal house explosion in Firestone on April 17.

Read the full story here.

Joey BunchJoey BunchMay 8, 20174min330

Remember a few weeks ago when Senate Republicans were looking for a couple of their bills? Well, House Democrats are missing something, too: Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp’s regulatory relief bill.

The caucus put out a video over the weekend asking where the bipartisan House Bill 1270 has gotten off to in the Senate.

“After years of failed partisan effort, my bipartisan bill with Rep. Polly Lawrence and Sen. Don Coram passed the House with strong bipartisan support,” the Democrat from Arvada says in the 55-second video. “That was April 3. It’s a month later and it still hasn’t been introduced in the Senate.”

The bill would give state agencies discretion in dealing with first time offenders of minor offenses if the business has 50 or fewer employees.

It hasn’t been assigned to a committee, and the session ends on Wednesday. Sayonara, regulatory relief.

The shelved bill limited offenses to those with fines of less than $500 or puts people, property or the environment at risk.

The business would have 30 days to address the violation.

Hold the phone, that sounds familiar.

One of Senate Republicans’ most beloved  bills, Senate Bill 1 (yup, top of the party’s priority list), did much the same thing, except for businesses with up to 500 employees instead of 50.

Opponents called Senate Bill 1 a “get out of jail free card,” and said 500 employees barely fits the description of a small business. According to the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, 49 percent of the state’s employers have fewer than 500 workers.

The SBA uses the 500 figure as a cut-off, and doesn’t break down the numbers to 50 employees, but notes that those who employ less than 100 people is the largest segment, about 36 percent.

That bill was killed in the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee on March 2, the day before House Bill 1270 was up for a final vote on the House floor.

Who chairs Business Affairs and Labor? Tracy Kraft-Tharp.

We joke about it in the hallways all the time at the Capitol: That building runs on spite and retribution.

And sometimes not so much: those missing bills that senators were trying to track down in their video? Both passed and were sent to the governor.

Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 28, 20174min192
One of the casualties of this year’s failing discussions about paying for transportation is the level of safety for those driving in Colorado. Colorado Department of Transportation executive director Shailen Bhatt never fails to mention it in speeches urging legislators to find solutions. Colorado traffic fatalities have surged 24 percent in two years to 605 […]

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Joey BunchJoey BunchApril 19, 20173min170
Look out, House Democrats! That’s Sen. Don Coram snooping around your front door for clues about the budget in the latest video from Colorado Senate Republicans. Senate Republicans just raised the stakes in the multi-media messaging game under the gold dome. How can Democrats respond? Perhaps with a video of Rep. Mike Foote of Lafayette in […]

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