State Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert and Sens. Tim Neville and Vicki Marble sent a message to their fellow Republican in the White House this month: continue to keep federal hands off Colorado’s pot. Colorado Politics obtained a copy of the letter they penned to President Trump, urging him to keep his word from the […]
Active independent expenditure committees, aka political action committees (PACs), currently number 61 registered at the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. These committees collect money to support candidates. The sources of the funds are undeclared, so only the total amount of donations shows in Secretary of State's Office forms. These PACS do not coordinate with candidates.
Only six lawmakers — all of them in the state Senate, all of them members of the GOP majority — earned an A grade. The six “Champions of Freedom,” as AFP dubs them, are Sens. John Cooke, of Greeley; Vicki Marble, of Fort Collins; Tim Neville, of Littleton; Jim Smallwood, of Parker; Jerry Sonnenberg, of Sterling, and Jack Tate of Centennial.
In stark contrast, 17 state senators — basically, all of the upper chamber’s Democrats — flunked. That’s right: a big, fat F.
Things look even worse in the House. All 37 of the lower chamber’s majority Democrats — plus three Republicans: Reps. Marc Catlin, of Montrose; Polly Lawrence (currently running for state treasurer), of Roxborough Park, and Lang Sias, of Arvada — rated an F.
And AFP handed out no A’s to House members. Not a one.
The grand total: six A’s and 57 F’s.
Of interest: Sonnenberg and Tate were among the Republicans to vote forSenate Bill 267, the “rural sustainability” measure that raised revenue for a number of budget items while raising the ire of the political right.
Also noteworthy was who didn’t make the Senate’s A-list: longtime fiscal conservative stalwarts like Sen. Kent Lambert, of Colorado Springs, who earned a B, and Sen. Kevin Lundberg, of Berthoud, who came home with a C.
Some of the House’s reputed righties also didn’t seem to impress AFP. Rep. Perry Buck, of Windsor — whose significant other is swamp-draining 4th Congressional District Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Buck — got a D. Rep. Justin Everett, of Littleton — another candidate for state treasurer whose Wikipedia page says he “has been described as a ‘Combative Conservative,’ and is one of the most constitutionally conservative members of the Colorado House” — got a C. Rep. Tim Leonard, the Evergreen Republican? Also a C. Rep. Dave Williams, of Colorado Springs: C. Even House Republican Minority Leader Patrick Neville, of Castle Rock, only got a B.
What’s the basis for the grades? The organization issued a press release accompanying the report card today, offering insights on methodology:
In an effort to provide the most comprehensive accountability tool to citizens, AFP-Colorado scored nearly 1,800 individual votes on a wide variety of legislation. Bills scored include those that relate to our Budget Colorado Public Policy Agenda: SB 267, the “Sustainability of Rural Colorado” bill, HB 1242, a sales tax increase for transportation funding, and SB 61, a bill that sought to equalize funding for charter schools from local property taxes.
AFP-Colorado State Director Jesse Mallory — who not long ago worked closely with the Senate Republicans as their chief of staff — was quoted in today’s press release:
“We are excited to release this year’s scorecard, a tool we use to hold members accountable and commend those who advance economic freedom … We plan to promote this scorecard throughout the state to inform Coloradans on how their legislators voted. …”
In other words, he thinks the F students might have some ‘splainin’ to do.
Depending, of course, on how much their constituents care.
If U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks he can score political points for Republicans by coming after Colorado’s pot, then a whole Phish concert would want what he must be smoking.
State Sen. Tim Neville doesn’t like pot, not to smoke it or eat it. He didn’t vote to legalize in 2012, but like a handful of lawmakers with some of the most conservative bonafides in the statehouse, he sees the issue as much more than stoners and Cheetos.
He took a break to talk on the phone on a recent Friday morning, as he and other senators brewed up some suds to serve at the Great American Beer Festival, an annual competition with the House. “Haze,” suggesting a thick microscopic brew, is expected to be part of the name of their brew, he said.
Neville and other legislative Republicans have gotten onboard to make sure marijuana is strictly regulated — a given for a tough guy like Neville — but regulated and taxed fairly, like any other business.
Plus it’s in the state constitution now, and Neville said he takes his oath to uphold that document deadly serious.
“It’s something all of us have to be involved with now,” Neville said.
In Neville’s view voters agreed to legalize pot on the condition that it’s well-regulated with a focus on keeping it out of the hands of people younger than 21.
“Once the people in (Colorado) said yes, it was up to us to craft the best policies possible,” he said.
Now that marijuana is a legal business, it should be treated as fairly as any other legal business.
Neville and fellow Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins drove the conversation and legislation on creating clubs where people could use pot the same way they enjoy beer and booze in bars.
I told you in February they saw it as commonsense and good business, not reefer madness. Marble said the state invites tourists, allows them to buy pot, but then designates no place for them to smoke it legally. Most hotel rooms won’t even allow it.
“The one thing we do not want in this state is for people to come on vacation and leave on probation,” said Marble, who successfully passed a bill to allow people to seal misdemeanor arrest records for marijuana if what they did was made legal by Amendment 64.
In the last session, Neville linked arms with Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont, on a bill to allow pot shops to operate more efficiently. Pretty liberal, Singer has been the chief proponent of reasonable but thorough regulation from the start. The bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers, including from Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham and Democratic House Speak Crisanta Duran. The governor signed it into law in June.
“My feeling is that when businesses operate more efficiently, it’s good for everyone,” Neville said of knocking down pointless, expensive hurdles for business, a general passion of his. “My real fear is that if we don’t allow businesses to operate as an industry, it’s just going to backslide into an area we can’t control, the gray market or the black market.”
Neville isn’t the only Republican driving the magic bus.
Out of 23 pot-specific bills in the last session, 19 had bipartisan sponsorship and 18 became law.
Colorado Springs Rep. Bob Gardner joined with Democrat Dan Pabon of Denver on legislation to create pot clubs, after Marble and Neville’s bill died in a Senate committee. The House and Senate, in bipartisan fashion, passed different versions of the bill.
On the last night of the session, lawmakers were debating how many people should be allowed to smoke pot on a porch, which might qualify it as a club.
Neville said he expects a compromise on pot clubs before the next session begins in January,
But hemp, the non-intoxicating stalk, was a big bipartisan winner this year.
And Sen. Don Coram, a Republican from Montrose, is getting in on the hemp game.
He told me at the State Fair that he has 10 acres in hemp, and he’s putting in a processing facility. That’s putting your money where your bipartisanship is.
He named his operation Paradox Ventures, and Coram hopes to be a Colorado pioneer.
“The voters approved it,” Coram said. “Who am I to override that?”
Neither Neville nor Coram are worried about Sessions’s saber-rattling on cannabis with federal laws that still criminalize marijuana.
“I’m really not concerned,” Coram said at the carnival.
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.
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.”
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.
A formal hearing into an ethics complaint filed against Rep. Kim Ransom of Lone Tree isn’t likely to take place before October, based on discussions of the complaint today with the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.
The complaint, filed last year by Lone Tree resident Charles Bucknam, alleges Ransom accepted a gift that exceeds the state’s constitutional limits. The commission decided in January that the complaint had enough merit to move forward with a formal investigation.
That investigation, conducted by commission staff, was completed last month and obtained by Colorado Politics.
Ransom was one of 10 lawmakers who was named an awardee by the non-profit Principles of Liberty organization, which is headed by Rich Bratten. Bratten and wife Laurie are long-time conservative activists; Laurie is a staffer to U.S. Rep. Ken Buck and before that handled communications for the Republican Study Committee of Colorado, an ad hoc group of conservative state lawmakers. Rich Bratten runs a variety of conservative groups; he also served as executive director of the Republican Study Committee of Colorado.
The complaint against Ransom alleges she accepted a $600 “Gold Pass” to the 2016 Western Conservative Summit as one of 10 lawmakers who were slated to receive an award from Principles of Liberty. The Gold Pass allowed lawmakers to attend the summit and receive free meals.
The state’s ethics law limits gifts to lawmakers to those valued at $59 or less. But there are exceptions to the law, pointed out by Ransom’s attorney, Mark Grueskin of Denver, in his response to the complaint.
The biggest loophole may be that elected officials can accept gifts from nonprofits that receive 5 percent or less of their funding from for-profit sources. “As far back as 2015, Rep. Ransom spoke with House of Representatives partisan legislative staff who related that, at the behest of one or more legislators, the Office of Legislative Legal Services (‘OLLS’) had reviewed the propriety of legislators’ acceptance of a Gold Pass to the Western Conservative Summit,” wrote Grueskin in his response.
According to Grueskin, the legislature’s legal services staff spoke to the director of the Centennial Institute, which is part of Colorado Christian University, which sponsors the annual summit. The Centennial Institute verified that CCU was a nonprofit entity that receive less than 5 percent of its funding from for-profit entities. There would be “no ethical barrier” to accepting the Gold Pass to attend the summit, Grueskin wrote.
In his complaint, Bucknam seeks sanctions of a misdemeanor and a $1,000 fine levied against Ransom.
Nine other lawmakers were notified they would receive the Principles of LIberty Award, given to those who received A-plus ratings for their final votes on legislation reviewed by the organization.
Ransom was the only lawmaker of the 10 who notified the Secretary of State that she had accepted the Gold Pass on a quarterly gifts and honoraria report filed in October, 2016.
The other awardees included Reps. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock, Stephen Humphrey of Severance, Justin Everett of Littleton, Lori Saine of Firestone, Tim Leonard of Evergreen, Perry Buck of Greeley, and Sens. Tim Neville of Littleton, Vicki Marble of Fort Collins and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling. All 10 attended the Western Conservative Summit and accepted the award, although how many of the 10 accepted the passes is unknown. Bratten did not respond to an email or phone call seeking that information.
Humphrey, Leonard, Tim Neville and Sonnenberg did not file third quarter gifts reports for 2016, a potential violation of the state’s ethics laws. The other five did file those reports but said they had received nothing of value for the quarter that began on July 1 and ended on Sept. 30, 2016. The Principles of Liberty award was given during the summit’s Saturday evening event on July 2.
Under state law an elected official who fails to file a gift report or files an incomplete or inaccurate report is guilty of a misdemeanor and can carry a fine of between $50 and $1,000.
No ethics complaints for accepting the passes were filed against the other lawmakers, nor were there any ethics complaints filed for failing to file the required reports. The statute of limitations for an ethics complaint is one year.
The gloves are off and the fur is flying in the Republican primary for Colorado's next state treasurer.
In a series of emails sent to state GOP activists and donors Thursday, state Rep. Polly Lawrence accused her fellow state treasurer candidate state Rep. Justin Everett and his allies — "his minions" was the phrase she used — of spreading lies and mounting "traitorous attacks" on her, while an independent expenditure committee backing Everett blasted Lawrence for "lying to get re-elected, only to conspire with liberals and vote like Democrats."
The campaign organization that works to elect Democrats to the Colorado Senate has named political veteran Michael Whitehorn as its executive director, it announced Monday.
Whitehorn, who was most recently U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette’s campaign manager and senior counsel to the Denver Democrat’s congressional office, takes over from Andrew Short, who helmed the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund in the last cycle.
State Rep. Justin Everett, a Littleton Republican, ranked highest among Colorado lawmakers in the annual Principles of Liberty scorecard, the conservative organization announced Saturday at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver.