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Joey BunchJoey BunchSeptember 4, 20173min120

Rep. Steve Lebsock, the Democrat from Thornton running for state treasurer, has a fundraiser coming up Sept. 27 that might not make opponents howl — we’ll see — but it sure sounds like a gathering of backers with bite.

“Steve has been a long-time supporter of animal welfare issues,” says Colorado Voters for Animals Small Donor Committee, noting he consistently gets an A-double plus on its legislative scorecard.

The fundraiser is from 5 to 7 p.m. at Brownleigh Court at 1410 Grant St., which is across the street from the state Capitol in Denver. The organization is suggesting a $100 donation for Lebsock’s campaign.

And when the animal-welfare group says “small donor,” it means puppy-sized. The group finished 2016 with $16.58 in its bank account, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. So far this year it’s raised $1,148.58, mostly with $10 and $25 donations. (Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, a former state legislator, is listed a relative mega-donor, giving $50, according to the organization’s most recent state report.)

That means the fundraiser for Lebsock could prove big, by the standard of this pack, which is hardly a PAC. But it does have more than 2,000 people who like and follow it on Facebook.

This is how Voters for Animals describes itself:

Who We Are

Our mission is to protect animals through public policy and to support candidates who are committed to animal protection. We advocate for humane legislation, oppose inhumane legislation, and educate the public on issues that affect animals. We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization incorporated as a 501 (c) (4) that works politically at the state and federal level to protect animals.

What We Do
Colorado Voters for Animals uses proven effective strategies to increase political relevance for animal protection in Colorado:

Legislation

  • Lobby lawmakers to vote for humane legislation.
  • Work to defeat inhumane legislation.
  • Mobilize members to communicate with legislators.
  • Utilize communications and social media to promote animal protection priorities.

Elections

  • Send questionnaire to candidates for public office.
  • Track and publicize legislator voting records.
  • Endorse pro-animal candidates.
  • Mobilize political support for endorsed candidates.

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Ernest LuningErnest LuningSeptember 3, 20175min600

State Rep. Pete Lee, a term-limited Colorado Springs Democrat, announced Saturday night that he’s running for the Senate District 11 seat held by state Sen. Mike Merrifield in next year’s election.

Lee was among several candidates for Congress, the Colorado Legislature and statewide offices at a three-hour forum sponsored by the El Paso County Democratic Party and the Colorado College Democrats at the college’s Armstrong Hall. Roughly 100 students and community members showed up to hear the candidates describe their platforms and answer questions.

Merrifield didn’t respond to an email inquiry from Colorado Politics, but according to Lee, Merrifield does not plan to seek a second term.

Two of the four declared Democratic gubernatorial candidates — former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy and businessman Noel Ginsburg — also appeared at the forum. The other two, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and former state Sen. Michael Johnston, sent representatives to a mixer beforehand but didn’t participate in the discussion. (Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne is exploring a run but hasn’t made her candidacy official.)

Kennedy and Ginsburg were in agreement that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which limits government spending, needs to be revised, saying the 1992 constitutional amendment doesn’t allow funding for education to keep pace with Colorado’s growth.

“If we don’t take on TABOR,” Ginsburg said, “we can’t solve our education problems.” He said he’d work to pass “TABOR 2.0,” which would retain the right of voters to approve tax increases but strip its ratcheting effects that suppress spending after economic downturns.

Blaming TABOR for starving schools for decades, Kennedy lamented that Colorado ranks 42nd in state funding for K-12 education, despite having a booming economy. She noted that she wrote Amendment 23, the only measure to increase state funding for education approved by voters in the past three decades.

“We can’t let our state become the next California. We need to keep Colorado affordable, we need to protect our state’s open spaces and public lands,” Kennedy said.

She also took aim at the Trump administration. “We are going to fight the nonsense we see in Washington,” she said. “We will fight (President) Donald Trump in the courthouse and in the statehouse. We are not going to let him take this state backwards.”

Ginsburg pointed to his role helping found the Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation, which shepherds classes of third-graders through college — “turning a 90-percent dropout rate into a 90-percent graduation rate” — and said it typified the approach he would take to governing the state.

“My form of leadership is to take on difficult problems, to build coalitions and make difficult things happen for the state of Colorado,” he said.

Merrifield, a Colorado Springs Democrat, is serving his first term representing one of the few districts in the Colorado Springs area in which Democrats have an advantage. The Senate district includes downtown Colorado Springs and surrounding neighborhoods, stretching south to Stratmoor and west to Manitou Springs. At the end of August, 33 percent of its active, registered voters were Democrats, 25 percent were Republican, and 39 percent were unaffiliated.

Legislative candidates in attendance included state Rep. Tony Exum, who is seeking reelection to House District 17; Terry Martinez and Graham Anderson, who are running in a primary for Lee’s House District 18 see; and Liz Rosenbaum, running in House District 21.

The Democrats running in the 5th Congressional District included Betty Field and Stephany Rose Spaulding, and newly announced candidate Marcus Murphy, a civil rights attorney who introduced himself as a Bernie Sanders supporter.

Also participating were secretary of state candidates Jena Griswold and Gabriel McArthur; state Rep. Steve Lesock, a Thornton Democrat running for state treasurer; and attorney general candidates Michael Dougherty, Brad Levin and Phil Weiser, who were joined on stage by a surrogate representing state Rep. Joe Salazar, a Thornton Democrat.


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 30, 20172min390

Colorado College Democrats are offering an early opportunity for the party’s candidates in next year’s elections to speak to younger voters, older ones, too, Saturday night in Colorado Springs.

A long list of candidates for state and local offices are expected to take questions from students and the public from 5:30 to 10 p.m. in Armstrong Hall, which is located at 14 East Cache La Poudre St.

“We are excited to welcome CC students and Colorado Springs community members to discuss important issues that will shape the future of Colorado with state and local political candidates,” Sophia Brown, who is co-chairing the event with fellow Colorado College student Steven Ortega, told Colorado Politics.

“This event is an amazing opportunity for our community to come together through thoughtful and educational political discourse.”

The students have prepared questions that cover such topics as public lands, gas extraction, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, education, affordable housing, rural economic development and renewable energy,  Brown said.

The Colorado College Democrats’ leadership team includes Kadin Mangalik, Nikki Mills, Shane Brown, Gabe Fine, Alan Pnakovitch and Clara Houghteling.

The candidates who had confirmed they would attend or send a surrogate as of Tuesday were:

For governor:

  • Noel Ginsburg
  • Mike Johnston (by proxy)
  • Cary Kennedy
  • Jared Polis (by proxy)

For attorney general:

  • Brad Levin
  • Michael Doughterty
  • Joe Salazar (by proxy)
  • Phil Weiser

For secretary of state:

  • Jena Griswold
  • Gabriel McArthur

For state treasurer:

  • Steve Lebsock

For Congressional District 5:

  • Betty Field
  • Stephany Rose Spaulding

For House District 17: Tony Exum
For House District 18: Graham Anderson, Terry Martinez
For House District 21: Liz Rosenbaum


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Joey BunchJoey BunchAugust 29, 20179min240
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Denver Rustlers’ co-founder and sponsor Larry Mizel greets the posse Tuesday morning at the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

A do-gooder delegation of more than 300 state and metro Denver politicians and business leaders descended on Pueblo, the Home of Heroes, Tuesday for the Junior Livestock Auction at the Colorado State Fair.

The Denver Rustlers rode again for the 33rd year.

More than 300 Rustlers filled three luxury buses to Pueblo, with several statewide officials — Gov. John Hickenlooper, Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne and Secretary of State Wayne a Williams — doing their best to visit with everyone on board all three, making their way down the center aisles and switching buses at rest stops on the way.

Once at the fair, the Rustlers were joined by members of groups that have sprung up to give the Rustlers some competition– the Pikes Peak Posse, the Pigskin Buckaroos and the Fair Ladies, a bidding group from Pueblo and Otero counties.

“They grow the numbers every year and match or set records every year, and it all goes toward a great cause, which is paying for college for these kids,” said state Rep. Justin Everett, a Littleton Republican and a candidate for state treasurer.

Everett said he’s been to Pueblo with the Denver Rustlers going on eight years. “It’s great because everybody ignores partisanship and focuses on the kids and spending the day in Pueblo. Metro Denver legislators get to step outside their comfort zone.”

Wearing white Rockmount Ranch Wear shirts with flowered embroidery, they gathered Tuesday morning at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse in Greenwood Village. The posse loaded into buses for a trail ride to the fair to drive up the auction prices and reward young livestock-raising competitors.

“This is one pork project we can all support, and that’s getting down to the state fair and buying some of the livestock from these kids who have worked so hard around the four corners of Colorado,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Yuma, after marveling at the number of “Yuman beings” from his hometown in the crowd.

He was introduced by one of the founding Rustlers, businessman and philanthropist Larry Mizel, who joked, “We’ll take short comments, starting with Cory,” and the crowd groan and laughed. Mizel added of his own height, “our U.S. senator, one of the guy’s my size.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper, a former pub owner, turned the subject to beer, noting 33 years of the Rustlers made him think of 1933, the year the Volstead Act was repealed ending Prohibition. He noted that a bottle of Rolling Rock beer (brewed in St. Louis, by the way) has the number 33 on the front of the bottle and 33 words on back.

“Now I’m not superstitious, but I’m just saying 33 is a good number, so this better be a good trip,” the governor said before shoving off.

Denver Rustlers anticipate setting records on 33rd outing to Colorado State Fair

Hickenlooper told the dignitaries that the state fair is a “big deal,” and so is their annual trip.

“This expedition is a big deal for the entire state, because it allows us to support agriculture in a very powerful way,” he said.

Tim Schultz, another of the founding Rustlers, talked about how it all started. There was a great concern at the time  about cancelling the junior livestock auction at the state fair, because the bidding seemed to be in a deep wane.

“This is one of the rare times folks from the metropolitan area can reach out and help kids from all across Colorado,” Schultz said.

The late Tom Farley, a former state legislator from Pueblo, approached Tim Schultz, who was then the state agriculture commissioner, along with Mizel and Denver dairy operators Dick and Eddie Robinson, who enlisted their friends.

State Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat from Thornton running for state treasurer, is a veteran Rustler. He was born in Sterling and comes from generations of family farmers in northeast Colorado.

“I think it’s important as a legislator to understand all the different parts of our economy,” he said. “Because I was born in the rural part of Colorado, I get it.”

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Gov. John Hickenlooper tells Denver Rustlers that the state fair is a big deal and so are they. (Photo by Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics)

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, a very urban Democrat from Denver, said the event opens pathways of communication that hopefully pay off later when legislation, partisanship and pressure are intertwined in the House and Senate.

“This is so Colorado, people coming together,” he said at Del Frisco’s. “This is what we say we do, but this is us actually doing it. We bring people together, we have conversations across party lines, across socio-economic lines. It’s just people getting together. … This is that one time you chat with that person from the other side who you’ve meaning to get ahold of, but you just never were able to. Now you can. We’re together all day.”

Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, said good economic relationships are forged, as well, and rural Colorado needs both. He supported reclassifying the state’s hospital provider fee to an enterprise fund for two years. The legislation passed this year, when lawmakers understood more clearly that in big cities healthcare is big business. In rural Colorado they are a literal and economic lifeline.

“I’m from rural Colorado, so i don’t always understand how metro (areas) work,” he said outside Del Frisco’s. “I couldn’t imagine going to school with thousands of students. It’s a two-way street on a lot of these issues.”

State Sen, Tim Neville, a Republican from Littleton, built on that point, “We’re state legislators,” he said. “We should think of all of Colorado and what’s best for Colorado as one all the time. Things like this remind of us of that.”

His son, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, a Republican from Castle Rock, had a simpler answer that nearly Republicans and Democrats could all agree with on a hot summer day.

“It’s always good to get out of Denver and see the rest of Colorado,” he said.

Would he buy a cow at the auction? No, he said, though his money was in the Rustlers pot to bid. He already has chickens that provide him eggs. The steak can come from elsewhere.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 10, 20177min240

After 54 years of “silliness,” switchblades are again legal in Colorado, and knife rights activists are cheering. “Today we celebrate a sharper future in Colorado,” said Doug Ritter, chairman of Knife Rights — motto: “A Sharper Future” — at a press conference Wednesday at a knife factory in Golden. Ritter, whose organization is dedicated to repealing bans on switchblades and other automatic knives, was on hand to thank state Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and state Rep. Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, for sponsoring legislation that overturned Colorado’s ban, in effect since 1963. The law passed by wide margins in the Legislature and took effect Wednesday.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningAugust 3, 20177min120

Routt County Treasurer Brita Horn, a Republican candidate for state treasurer, fired back Wednesday at county commissioners questioning the way she’s handled a mistake that left local taxing entities short nearly $6 million for months. Horn also denied the incident might damage her statewide campaign, telling Colorado Politics the imbroglio demonstrates she has the skills to handle problems in a treasurer’s office when they arise.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirAugust 2, 20174min160

Schools, libraries and other public services in Routt County were shorted millions of dollars in tax revenue for months due to an error by the county treasurer’s office, and questions about the snafu are now dogging county Treasurer Brita Horn — who is campaigning for state treasurer.

Steamboat Today reported on Tuesday that Horn acknowledged and took responsibility for the episode in a July 20 letter to the more than 100 taxing entities that were affected. But the newspaper said she declined as recently as Tuesday to explain how the breakdown occurred, “…other than to make references to a software vendor and a personnel issue she said she couldn’t discuss in public.”

The office had failed to distribute a total of some $5.8 million that had been collected through the various public entities. All the entities in question have since been made whole, but it took until July 24 — well over two months late.

Routt County commissioners, among others, want answers:

The commissioners have now sent two letters to Horn in recent days seeking answers about the incomplete tax payments.

In the second letter, sent late Tuesday afternoon, the commissioners took a stronger tone and called Horn’s previous responses to their questions in a Friday letter as “unacceptable.”

Horn responded to the initial letter from the commissioners by saying in an email her office is “taking this issue seriously and we will get back to you and the BCC as soon as we can with how the treasurers’ office will be handling the situation at hand.”

Affected tax entities left in the lurch included the likes of the Hayden School District, which had to go without over a half-million dollars during the period in question.

(The school district’s) Finance Director Jnl Linsacum said before the mistake was discovered, the district borrowed some money from an interest-free loan program and was also considering reaching out to the Colorado Department of Education about a contingency loan.

The Steamboat Today account says Horn :vowed the mistake wouldn’t happen again”:

“I don’t call it an issue, I call it a concern,” Horn said of the incomplete payments. “Routt County has some of the most amazing people that work for the citizens, and we’re finding these people are humans and make mistakes. I definitely take responsibility for the staff, and I’m ensuring it’s not going to happen again.”

Horn announced her candidacy for the Republican nomination for state treasurer in June.

“I’m the grassroots girl on the ground who will roll up her sleeves and start looking for solutions that’ll work for everyday Coloradans,” she said at the time.

Three other Republicans are also in the running: state Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton, state Rep. Polly Lawrence of Roxborough Park, and state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud. State Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton is the only Democrat so far in the race.

The current state treasurer, Republican Walker Stapleton, is term-limited and is expected to run for governor.


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Ernest LuningErnest LuningJuly 29, 20176min290

After serving 15 years in the Legislature, state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Berthoud Republican, hopes to bring what he's learned about Colorado government to the office of state treasurer. On Saturday, Lundberg declared he's running for the open seat in next year's election, becoming the fourth Republican in a primary race that's likely to get even more crowded.