The nonprofit formerly known as the Centrist Project, a group working to elect nonpartisans officials nationwide, on Monday unveiled a slate of four unaffiliated Colorado candidates running this year for the Legislature in the opening salvo of its assault on the two major parties' unbroken rule of the state's government. It also announced it's changing its name to Unite America and will call the state-focused organization Unite Colorado.
Adam Matkowsky is dropping out of the Democratic primary in Senate District 24 and plans to run for the battleground seat as an independent, the Thornton city councilman and Westminster police officer said Monday.
The Centrist Project, a national group working to elect independent candidates to the Colorado Legislature, on Wednesday cheered the re-election of Thornton City Councilman Sam Nizam, one of three municipal candidates the group supported around the state in this week's election.
After the failure of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures in Colorado last year, national activist groups are regrouping at the local level. This is history repeating. Several years ago, the push for a statewide oil and gas ban started with local campaigns, led by Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch and other out-of-state groups.
Today, the activists are using local governments once again to win statewide attention. This time, they are trying harder to conceal their national ties and portray their lobbying as authentic and spontaneous. But if you know where to look, it’s clear these revamped local campaigns are just as contrived as ever.
Take the anti-oil and gas campaign in Thornton. Officials there are debating new local restrictions on oil and gas development, including wider drilling setbacks than state law allows.
The state attorney general’s office recently warned Thornton officials about the proposed regulations, according to ColoradoPolitics.com. In a letter to the city, assistant attorney general Kyle Davenport cited the Colorado Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling on local and state authority over oil and gas. In that landmark case, the court said a local ordinance “that authorizes what state law forbids or that forbids what state law authorizes” is preempted and will be struck down.
Even so, Thornton officials seem unfazed by the potential for litigation. Perhaps they are getting different legal advice, but if so, where is that legal advice coming from?
Both groups have close financialand political ties to Tom Steyer, the anti-oil and gas billionaire from California. In 2016, Conservation Colorado endorsed an anti-fracking ballot measure that would – you guessed it – legalize local energy bans. “When national politics are daunting, it’s time to back to the basics: Organizing local support,” the group said last year.
Were Thornton taxpayers told about this? Do they know their oil and gas attorney sits on the board of an anti-oil and gas group? Do they know that expensive legal battles between local officials, state regulators and the energy industry play right into the hands of the environmental lobby?
Are Thornton officials being advised – or lobbied – by their own lawyer?
So that’s the inside game. Let’s examine the outside game.
“I’ll take care of any responses and questions … and Food & Water Watch can do the heavy lifting in terms of calling folks,” he told activists recently while distributing campaign flyers under the Facebook pseudonym “Greg Charles.”
Food & Water Watch also sponsored an activist training session with Josh Joswick of Earthworks to “build power at the local level.” Joswick has called the campaign against energy development a “back-alley fight,” urging his fellow activists to “fight it any way you can,” including with local regulations.
Eichhorn also testified in favor of Thornton’s proposed regulations last month, without disclosing his role with a national group that wants to “ban fracking everywhere.” He wasn’t alone.
National environmental groups have a First Amendment right to lobby and campaign at any level of government they choose, of course. But let’s be realistic about who’s really running these local campaigns, and what they really want.
The progressive Run for Something organization announced this week it's backing several Colorado candidates for municipal office, school boards and legislative seats.
The national group, which aims to recruit and support "talented, passionate young people" — up to age 35 — "who will advocate for progressive values" is getting behind dozens of Democratic candidates in 18 states in its initial round of endorsements, part of what organizers call an effort to build a bench in down-ballot races the traditional party apparatus often ignores.
As city fathers in Thornton examine local regulations on fracking at their meeting next week, they’re sitting on a letter advice warning them not to test state law.
“Under the law of operational preemption, local governments may not enact regulations that conflict with the Oil and Gas Conservation Act … or COGCC regulations in a matter of mixed or statewide concern,” states the letter from the Attorney General’s Office.
“Many matters addressed by the Draft Regulations are already regulated by the COGCC and similar regulations have caused local communities to come into conflict with the state in the past.”
And those local governments haven’t had any success challenging the state’s authority to regulate oil and gas operations.
The Thornton City Council gave preliminary approval to new guidelines that would prevent companies from abandoning flow lines, require them to carry at least $5 million in liability insurance and maintain 750-foot setbacks, all of which exceed state requirements.
A copy of the letter was provided to Colorado Politics by Vital Colorado, the statewide business coalition that supports responsible energy development.
Vital for Colorado Chairman Peter Moore released the a statement Tuesday in response to the letter:
“The attorney general’s office is saying local officials who stand up to anti-fracking groups will have the law on their side,. They will also be saving their taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in wasteful spending on litigation, because state law could not be clearer on this point.
“The Colorado Supreme Court reaffirmed decades of case law in a decision last year striking down local energy bans. In that decision, the court said a local ordinance ‘that authorizes what state law forbids or that forbids what state law authorizes’ will be necessarily preempted by state law and COGCC regulations.
“This decision, along with the failure of statewide anti-fracking ballot measures, was a huge defeat for the anti-fracking campaign in Colorado. So now they are giving local officials just plain bad legal advice to trigger more conflict and more litigation, instead of constructive dialogue.”
Vital for Colorado cited a “network of fringe environmental groups” they say are lobbying local officials o the Front Range to kill the extraction industry, even as Weld County sits atop one the largest natural gas reserves in the U.S.
Residents cite concerns about the proximity of wells and pipelines to homes and schools, as well as potential air quality concerns. The industry has invested millions in public education to convince Coloradans that fracking is a safe, clean industry. Their message was complicated by a house explosion that killed two people in Firestone, which was linked to an Anadarko Petroleum line.
“The activist campaign to pressure local officials has also included unsuccessful recall efforts of local officials in Thornton and in neighboring Broomfield,” Vital for Colorado said.
The Thornton City Council meeting is at 7 p.m. next Tuesday at City Hall at 9500 Civic Center Drive in Thornton. Comments or questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year, some Colorado voters are once again exercising their state constitutional right to recall their elected leaders, an occurrence that is apparently becoming en vogue in the state. Of course, no two recall situations are alike, each of them borne out of unique situations with one common trait — elected officials finding themselves on the receiving end of an angry electorate feeling some degree of buyer's remorse.
Within the last couple of months, voters in two Colorado cities, Castle Rock and Thornton, have raised their pitchforks to the sky, seeking to remove their elected city councilmembers due to contrasting situations. Like the recently successful Jefferson County School Board recall and the victorious 2013 Pueblo/Colorado Springs tossing of two state legislators over their votes on gun issues, the Castle Rock and Thornton recall campaigns — both in their fledgling stages — are starting to draw attention from across the state and even nationally as the movements take shape and moneyed interests invest financial resources on either side.