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Just after lunch on Sept. 21, a group of about a dozen people, most of them women and most of them renters, gather outside a south Denver office building that houses the law firm of Tschetter Hamrick and Sulzer.

The firm does not shy away from its market share. It advertises itself as Colorado’s #1 landlord law firm, as well as #1 in Colorado evictions.  Go observe proceedings in Denver County eviction court and chances are one of its lawyers is present, ready to make a deal with a tenant on behalf of a landlord. That deal usually involves paying past-due rent in exchange for a week or so more time in the rental. From what I’ve seen, tenants usually sign with the hope that once they get square, the landlord will change his or her mind about the eviction and let them stay. Whether that happens is a matter of the landlord’s patience, discretion or mercy.  As Judge John Marcucci warns tenant after tenant in his courtroom: “You could show up with a bucket of money and they could say, ‘We don’t want your money. You’re out.’ And you have to move.”

The renters outside Tschetter Hamrick and Sulzer were organized by Colorado Homes for All, a coalition of community groups including 9to5 Colorado. Most are wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with 9to5’s logo and the words “Winning Justice for Working Women.” Some carry rolls of tape and faux eviction notices informing the law firm that it has three days to “quit for your hand in [perpetuating] the housing crisis. You need to be held accountable.”

The notice goes on to say that “evictions cause displacement, gentrification of communities, homelessness and it pushes people further into poverty.”

The plan is to paper the elevators and walls with the eviction notices and then present, preferably to one of the firm’s law partners, a letter asking the firm’s lawyers to be more transparent with tenants about how eviction works, to offer tenant education classes and, most of all, to support funding for what protesters hope will be one day be a statewide legal defense fund for renters facing eviction.

That latter request coincides with a study released last week by the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy that looked in depth at 2,000 eviction cases filed in Denver from 2014 to 2016. (Researchers Jack Regenbogen of CCLP and Aubrey Hasvold from CCH also drew upon a data set of 93,000 evictions going back to 2001.)

The study quantifies what until now has been only anecdotal: tenants in Denver eviction cases almost never have lawyers and landlords almost always do. And that makes a world of difference.

In the cases studied, only a tiny fraction of tenants had legal representation, but those who did usually stayed in their home (about 80 percent of the time in public housing cases and 94 percent in private housing cases). As many as 7 in 10 of those without lawyers lost their housing depending upon whether the renter was living in public housing, where mediation is required before an eviction, or in private housing, where it’s not.

While it seems obvious that having legal counsel would help tenants, Regenbogen says it’s not a foregone conclusion because Colorado is a state where laws favor the landlord.

“We suspected tenants weren’t getting a fair shake in court,” he says. “We didn’t realize that it was going to be as unfair as it ended up being.”

The study also found that tenants are being evicted for relatively small amounts of rent due. “We’re talking 35 dollars, 30, 25, there was one case alleging four dollars of unpaid rent, which is really unconscionable,” Regenbogen says.

The data pointed to a clear lack of education among tenants about their rights. More than nine in 10 did not file an answer in court to the landlord’s complaint. Doing so would have allowed them to stay in their homes a little longer and to present their side of the complaint to the judge. Many signed stipulated agreements with the landlord and in the majority of those consensual agreements, Regenbogen says, “tenants were basically agreeing to their own evictions.”

“It’s heartbreaking to witness that up close,” he says, noting that he’s observed eviction proceedings in Denver County Court. “It’s hard not to just scream, ‘Don’t sign it. Don’t sign it.’”

In their study, Regenbogen and Hasvold recommend expanding access to emergency rental assistance and mediation among other solutions. But what would make the most difference, they conclude, is public funding for eviction defense for indigent tenants.

New York City does this, Regenbogen says. It’s expensive, though cheaper in the long run than trying to help people after they have been evicted. He notes that a Denver eviction defense project working group led by two city councilmembers and members of the administration is in the early stages of examining various solutions, including a legal clinic staffed by law students.

Nancy Burke, the vice president of Government Affairs for the Colorado Apartment Association and the Apartment Association of Metro Denver, is a member of the eviction defense project group. She emphasizes that unpaid rent is the biggest factor in eviction and “lawyers cannot really move the needle for nonpayment.”

The solution, Burke says, lies in more tenant education. The earlier the better. “Tenants that know their responsibilities and rights are less likely to go through the eviction process,” she says. Landlords would rather avoid evictions, she says, and mediation is an option, but “often there are long waits for this service.”

No one from Tschetter Hamrick and Sulzer returned a phone call and email request for comment left earlier today. At the firm’s offices Thursday, the protest goes off as planned. It’s led by Jenee Donelson, who was evicted from her Denver apartment in 2012 and who described to me earlier this summer how she took what she could and then watched from a friend’s truck as sheriff’s deputies oversaw the emptying of her apartment.

“I watched them take my stuff out and I have fears of being arrested. I have fears of people seeing me cry or break down. I have fears of people seeing my things being thrown out. My life is all the way out there.”   

She owed $600 in back rent. With legal and cleaning fees, she ended up paying $3,000, she says. She did not go to court to try to fight her eviction, she told me then “because I’m, like, what are they going to do for me? It’s already over. I’ve been in this home for six years and now it’s gone.”

Donelson leads the women to the 8th floor and they post mock eviction notices on the elevator walls along the way. In the office reception area, they begin reciting the names of those evicted in recent years.

A representative of the firm comes out and tells everyone they have to leave. “You evicted me five years ago,” Donelson says to him, not budging. “Ok,” he says. “You took my home away from me. “Ok,” he says again. “I was five years homeless afterwards,” she says. “Your moral compass is off, sir. You need to do better as a law firm. You need to do better by the people of Colorado.”

“I have no idea what your platform is all about,” he starts to say. “You know your stats,” Donalson interjects.  She demands the firm support an eviction defense fund.

“Have a good day,” he says.

As the renters file out, they again recite the names of evicted tenants.

Outside the women regroup. It’s national Renters’ Week of Action and they have the Denver Meadows Mobile Home and RV Park in north Aurora to rally at next. A few of the women in the group live at the park, which is home to about 350 people, most of them children.

The owner plans to close it next summer. Unless residents can persuade him otherwise, all are to be evicted.

Members of Colorado Homes for All tape a mock eviction notice to the elevator wall in a south Denver office building housing the law firm of Tschetter Hamrick and Sulzer on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2017. Photo by Tina Griego. 

 

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The principal of Denver’s biggest high school has retired after an investigation into how school district officials handled complaints about the actions of the school’s cheerleading coach found principal Andy Mendelsberg “did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the physical and emotional health and safety of the students on the cheer team was fully protected,” according to a letter from Superintendent Tom Boasberg.

Former East principal John Youngquist is leaving his administrative position with Aurora Public Schools to return to Denver to lead the school.

East is the most-requested high school in Denver Public Schools. The 2,500-student school is known for its comprehensive academic program, as well as its breadth of sports and extracurricular activities.

Mendelsberg’s exit coincides with the conclusion of an independent investigation commissioned by DPS.

Mendelsberg had been on leave since August, when 9News first aired videos that showed East cheerleaders being forced into the splits position while teammates held their arms and legs and former coach Ozell Williams pushed them down.

The parents of at least one cheerleader who was injured by the practice emailed a video to the East High athletic director in mid-June asking “what the administration is going to do about my daughter’s injury and how it happened,” according to emails provided to 9News.

After the 9News story broke two months later, Williams was fired.

Mendelsberg, athletic director Lisa Porter, assistant cheer coach Mariah Cladis and district deputy general counsel Michael Hickman were put on leave while an outside law firm hired by DPS investigated what happened, who knew about it and how they responded.

The Denver police also launched an investigation.

Mendelsberg had been principal since 2011. But he’d worked at East much longer as a teacher, softball coach, dean of students, athletic director and assistant principal, according to a story in the Spotlight alumni newsletter published in 2012.

Youngquist preceded Mendelsberg, having served as principal of East from 2007 to 2011. He left the school to take a districtwide position leading the recruitment and development of DPS principals. In 2013, Aurora Public Schools Superintendent Rico Munn hired him to be that district’s chief academic officer, a job he’s held until now.

Photo by GotCredit for Creative Commons in Flickr.
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On Saturday, Sept. 23, a majority of the Colorado Republican Party’s central committee voted to stay within the bounds of a new law that opens the party’s ballot to voters who are not GOP members. The vote was 67 percent to 33 percent, says party spokesman Daniel Cole. 

The law creating this new landscape is Prop 108, a statewide ballot measure passed by voters in the 2016 fall elections. And now, for the first time, Colorado’s roughly 1.2 million unaffiliated voters will be allowed to pick a party primary in which they can vote, giving them a chance to help choose who the major political parties nominate for governor and other offices.

In swing-state Colorado, where voter registration is almost evenly balanced among Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters, backers of the measure, including wealthy Denver CEO Kent Thiry who runs the kidney dialysis company DaVita, hoped the new law would bring a moderating force to party primaries and tamp down extremism on both sides.

If politicians didn’t have to pander to the extremes of their parties to win primaries, Thiry reasoned, perhaps they would govern better. Once an unaffiliated voter, Thiry joined the Republican Party and considered running for governor in 2018, but ultimately decided against it.

His Prop 108 initiative passed by about 170,000 votes last November and will be law for the upcoming 2018 elections. Before Prop 108, any unaffiliated voter who wanted to vote in a party primary would have had to temporarily become a member, and then change back to unaffiliated. Now they can remain unaffiliated all the way through, though the primary they choose will become a public record.

But there’s a caveat to the new law.

Prop 108 also provided an escape hatch for parties that don’t want unaffiliated voters getting involved in their early nominating contests. So parties can “opt out” of Prop 108— but only if 75 percent of their central committee votes to do so.

That’s the vote Colorado’s Republican Party took up on Sept. 23. The state GOP’s chairman, Jeff Hays of El Paso County, was strongly against doing that and saw the chances of it happening as extremely low. But, he says, some members within the party were angling for an opt out, and having a discussion about it was worthwhile.

“I’m not a dictator, I’m the party chairman,” Hays told The Colorado Independent. “Part of my job is to facilitate conversations.”

The new law allowing more than 1 million new voters into each party’s primary is expected to impact to the 2018 governor’s race, which is shaping up to become one of the most expensive and closely-watched governor’s races in the country because of its wide-open nature and the big field of star-studded personalities on both sides.

On Saturday, members of the Colorado Republican Party central committee gathered at Englewood High School and voted. In order to opt out, 75 percent of the committee must have be on board. That’s not 75 percent of the people who show up, says party spokesman Daniel Cole, but 75 percent of the whole group— a clear supermajority.

The vote to opt out failed by 67 percent to 33 percent, Cole said Sunday. Another vote to sue over the Prop 108 measure also similarly failed, he said.

Colorado’s Democratic Party chairwoman, Morgan Carroll, says she sees no will within her party to opt out, and so the party won’t even be voting on it.  

Opting out wouldn’t just affect the governor’s race, which includes a sprawling field on both sides. Doing so would have meant the party opts out of all primaries— from the race for governor to congressional seats, and all the way down to legislative races.

Here’s something to think about: Had the Republican Party opted out last year—this is hypothetical— and chosen its congressional nominee by assembly instead of a primary, current GOP Congressman Doug Lamborn who represents the Colorado Springs area would not be in office. That’s because a 32-year-old woman named Calandra Vargas who gave an impassioned speech at Lamborn’s congressional assembly, ended up earning a majority of the votes from delegates at that assembly, even though Lamborn went on to win the primary. So if there had been no primary, there would be no Congressman Lamborn. There would be a Congresswoman Vargas.

A caveat to that hypothetical is that congressional assemblies now are pretty obscure events. But if there were no primary and assemblies were the only avenue to nominate candidates, they wouldn’t be.

What were the arguments for opting out?

Well, doing so would save taxpayer money since county clerks wouldn’t have to mail two ballots out to more than a million voters. No one seems to be actually making that argument so far.

One real argument for opting out was that non-party members just shouldn’t be able to participate in a primary primary in Colorado. So says George Athanasopoulos who ran unsuccessfully for Congress against Democrat Ed Perlmutter of Arvada in 2016, and he also ran for chair of the Colorado Republican Party— a race he lost to Jeff Hays of El Paso County.

Athanasopoulos ran for chair on a platform that if elected he would angle to opt out of Prop 108 or file a lawsuit against it. Hays won— perhaps a referendum on that idea.  

“When I was running for chairman I was making an ideological argument,” Athanasopoulos said before the Sept. 23 vote about Prop 108. “Which was I don’t feel that non-Republicans should get a say on who the Republican Party nominates to carry our standard.”

Coloradans aren’t excited to join political parties, he said, pointing out that unaffiliated voters make up the largest number of registered voters in the state. “That is bad,” he said. “That is not a good thing for the political parties.”

Athanasopoulos was also pushing for something else: Changing the system entirely so any Republican who wants to participate in the assembly process can. Right now, only delegates elected by their peers can cast ballots in a party assembly.

“If we can fill Mile High Stadium with energized Republicans let’s do it,” he said. How could President Donald Trump turn down the chance to speak to nearly 100,000 registered Colorado Republicans, Athanasopoulos wonders. How would any GOP candidate for governor?

But that would mean quite a change to the current system.

Ben Nicholas of the Adams County GOP and another central committee member, had launched a petition drive and a campaign among the state GOP’s central committee for the party to opt out. He would have need 75 percent of the committee’s roughly 500 members.

He sees himself as a representative of the party’s activist base.

“I don’t even know if I’m grass roots,” he said. “I may be below that … just down in the dirt.”

Nichols wasn’t sure what he would walk into in Englewood on Sept. 23, but expected the vote to be closer that what establishment Republicans at the senior level expected.

“There is only one way to save our party and that is to stand and fight this hostile takeover of Mr. Thiry’s tyranny,” part of his petition reads. “Courting the unaffiliated voters should be left to our candidates who win the closed primaries, not the party.”

In an interview with The Independent before the vote, Nicholas said, “I just think it’s going to be the death knell of the Republican Party,” if the GOP doesn’t opt out.

He said during his petition drive he was surprised to learn how many Republicans didn’t even know the party had the option to opt out. His concern is that letting unaffiliated voters cast ballots in the GOP primary will dilute the power of registered Republicans in choosing their nominee, likely adding a moderating influence.

“I don’t think we’re going to end up with a staunch conservative individual that the party would normally select,” he said. “You’re going to get something different than that.”  

Nicholas said he thinks it was his petition drive that spurred the party’s executive committee to ask the larger central committee to decide whether to opt out next month.

What were the arguments against opting out?

Party chairman Hays said since the Democrats won’t opt out the GOP doing so would look like a smack in the face to unaffiliated voters.

“So I think it would be political suicide,” Hays said. And, he said, it would give Democrats ammunition to use against Republicans with independent voters.

Hays doesn’t see unaffiliated voters being allowed to participate in the GOP primary as an existential threat to his party, but rather an opportunity to reach out to them about Republican values and to acquaint them with GOP candidates and ideas. “I think there are a lot of unaffiliated voters, particularly in Colorado, that lean our way anyway,” he says.

Hays, it should be noted, opposed Prop 108. But he says he understands a lot of Republicans must have voted for it since it passed.

In the past month, the very conservative editorial board of The Gazette newspaper in heavily Republican Colorado Springs strongly opposed canceling the GOP primary.

Here’s part of that editorial.

Unaffiliated voters know little about the GOP’s intra-party process. They will only hear how the “central committee” stopped them, or almost stopped them, from voting in a primary. “Central committee” is best known as the ruling body of a communist dictatorship. The central committee’s dictatorial role is to disenfranchise the governed, for the benefit of connected elites within the governing class. That’s how the GOP’s “central committee” will appear, and rightly so.

Meanwhile, Dick Wadhams, a Colorado GOP consulting chieftain, penned a column in The Denver Post arguing against opting out of the primary. “Let there be no mistake about it: If the primary is canceled and nominations are left to a few thousand activists while millions of Republicans and unaffiliated voters are essentially shut out of the process, Republicans will pay politically,” he said.

In a recent email blast from the Colorado GOP, Republican Congressman Ken Buck said he wasn’t quick to come to a conclusion.

“Even though I’ve struggled with this issue, I think it’s best for the Party to move forward and consent to the will of Coloradans,” Buck said. “To disregard the voters would potentially hurt our statewide candidates in the upcoming election and would embody the back-room dealing our party stands against.”

What is the Democratic Party doing?

“We have no intention of opting out of 108,” party chair Morgan Carroll told The Independent. “We are moving forward with the will of the voters and will welcome all unaffiliateds to participate in our primary who want to.”

Unlike the Republicans, the Democrats aren’t going to have a vote to decide it. Carroll says there has been zero interest within her party to do so, and no one requested the central committee even take a vote.

“You have to understand that for us canceling elections is a radical move. And canceling an election would disenfranchise participation of a lot of Democrats as well as unaffiliateds,” she says. “No one in the Democratic Party has any interest in doing it.”

Both party leaders say their decisions show a stark difference in how they operate. Hays, the Republican chair, says considering the question of opting out shows a willingness to debate issues within his own party. “The Democrats aren’t even going to talk about it,” he says.

Carroll says Democrats believe in people participating in elections. For the Republicans, she says, “disenfranchising voters is an option.”

 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misspelled the current GOP chairman’s name. 

Photo by Ludovic Bertron for Creative Commons in Flickr.
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Despite efforts to diversify its teacher workforce, Denver Public Schools still faces an imbalance that plagues many school districts across the country:

About three-quarters of its 92,000 students are children of color, but 73 percent of its teachers this year are white.

That number remains unchanged from last year.

Although DPS tried to hire more teachers of color through targeted recruitment and other strategies, and while it’s had some success diversifying its principal pool, its efforts are having little difference at the front of the classroom.

Seventy percent of the 929 new teachers hired for this school year are white, which is the same percentage as last year and only slightly more diverse than the overall teacher workforce:

Nationwide, about 80 percent of all public school teachers are white. That percentage is even higher in Colorado’s second-largest school district, neighboring Jeffco Public Schools, where about a third of students are children of color. State statistics show that in 2016-17, 90 percent of Jeffco teachers were white.

“We’re encouraged that we’re ahead of both the national average and surrounding districts,” Katie Clymer, DPS’s director of talent acquisition, wrote in an email. She added DPS understands “the urgency for our students today, and (is) eager to continue to push forward.”

Some research shows students of color benefit academically and socially when they’re taught by teachers who share the same background. A recent study found low-income black students who have even one black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate high school.

While students of color in Denver are making academic progress, recent state test scores showed that white students and non-low-income students are still outpacing them.

The district’s school leaders are more diverse. Additionally, 39 percent of the new assistant principals and principals hired for 2017-18 were educators of color:

District officials credit a “grow-your-own” strategy for recruiting diverse principals. Almost all of the principals hired in the past couple of years have been from within DPS, said Debbie Hearty, the district’s chief human resources officer. It’s easier to grow teachers of color into leaders once they’re already in the district than it is to get diverse teachers in the door, she explained.

“Our pipelines coming into teaching from the traditional routes are not as diverse as we need them to be,” Hearty said. “…In the principalship, we have a more captive audience.”

Recent reports have shown enrollment in Colorado’s traditional teacher preparation programs is declining, and state colleges aren’t producing enough teaching graduates — let alone graduates of color — to keep up with demand. Many districts, including DPS, recruit from out of state.

To that end, DPS recruiters last year visited 17 colleges and universities across the country that graduate high proportions of top-performing teachers of color, Clymer said. They sometimes brought along alumni who are now teaching in DPS to speak about their experiences.

But convincing graduates to apply for jobs in Denver isn’t always easy, Clymer said.

“We’re fighting against the perception that Denver is a white ski town,” she said.

Connecting potential recruits with educators of color already working in DPS gives them a more realistic picture, Clymer said. The district is also launching a new employee resource group for educators of color to help them feel connected once they’re hired, she said.

“When you have current employees of color saying, ‘This is a place I can thrive,’ that unofficial recruiting is a powerful way to increase diversity,” Hearty said.

A joint effort between the city of Denver, DPS and several charter schools is also showing promise, Clymer said. The Make Your Mark campaign kicked off in March 2016 with the aim of selling the city to educators of color. Fifteen top minority teaching candidates visited Denver that month for a three-day whirlwind tour dubbed the Mile High Showcase that included school visits, a job fair, a Nuggets basketball game and dinner at a Mexican restaurant.

This year, the campaign shifted gears, Clymer said. After finding that many candidates who attended the showcase were already sold on Denver and didn’t need convincing, she said organizers eschewed hosting a tour for a select group of candidates in favor of launching more wide-ranging recruitment campaigns in Pueblo, Chicago and Puerto Rico.

In response to candidates expressing trepidation about Denver’s rising housing costs, organizers posted a list of local housing assistance programs on the Make Your Mark website. DPS compiled an even more comprehensive guide to housing, childcare and other resources. Inquiries from would-be teachers and principals to the Make Your Mark website are growing fast, Clymer said.

But she said recruitment can only do so much given the finite pool of teaching graduates of color. Ultimately, Clymer said, “you’re not going to hire your way out of this problem.”

That’s why DPS is also focused on convincing more young people and paraprofessionals to become teachers, and holding on to the teachers of color it already has, officials said.

This year is the second of a DPS program that pays for paraprofessionals to earn a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license while keeping their jobs for most of the time they’re in school.

More than 50 percent of participants are educators of color, Hearty said. But she said it’s too early to gauge the multi-year program’s effectiveness at diversifying the DPS teaching force.

That’s even more true for another DPS “grow-your-own” effort that targets high school students interested in a teaching career. Called EdConnect, the program launches in three DPS high schools this year and will offer students classes and work experience related to teaching.

Numbers show the district does a better job of keeping diverse educators once they’re hired. In fact, turnover was lower this year for DPS educators of color than for white educators:

But while that trend is encouraging, officials said the district understands it needs to move faster.

“We’re excited the changes we’re making are beginning to show positive gains,” Clymer said. Now, she added, it’s about figuring out how to capitalize on those gains to make more.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat). Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Melanie Asmar on September 21, 2017. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

The Home Front: As Colorado landfills illegally bury radioactive waste, the EPA paves a road with ‘potentially toxic’ mine waste

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“Colorado landfills have been illegally burying low-level radioactive waste from the oil and gas industry that they are not approved to handle, state health officials revealed this week,” reports The Denver Post. “State health regulators, confirming at a meeting with local governments the disposal of unknown amounts at ordinary landfills, are trying to prohibit the practice and buttress their oversight. Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry produces millions of tons of waste, some of it radioactive, and both waste producers and landfill operators are obligated to handle it properly.”

Meanwhile, “The same Environmental Protection Agency crew that caused the Gold King Mine spill is again catching flak for using potentially toxic material from a mine waste pile to improve a road north of Silverton,” reports The Durango Herald. “About two weeks ago, local residents started to notice that a portion of County Road 53, a remote dirt road that travels through the San Juan Mountains, was resurfaced and widened with a white-yellowish material.”

“Darrell and Ronde Settle stood Tuesday at the top of a hillside across the street from their mobile home and peered over the edge,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “What a trip,” Darrell Settle said. “Wow,” added Ronde, as the two contemplated the idea that Ursa Resources is proposing drilling 24 natural gas wells and also operating a wastewater injection well at the bottom of the hill. The proposed pad is within 500 feet of some mobile homes along the hilltop, while some 50, including the Settles’ home, lie within 1,000 feet of the site. “That’s going to get real noisy if it’s right here. It seems like sound comes up the hill real good,” said Darrell Settle, who hadn’t previously been aware of the proposed location.”

“The 37th annual Breckenridge Film Festival is returning this weekend to the arts district campus and showcasing more than 70 films,” reports The Summit Daily News. “The lineup, stretching over four days from Sept. 21-24, features 34 Colorado premieres, 11 international premieres and 12 U.S. premieres. But, the event isn’t just watching movies all weekend.”

“Hospitals across the state are still owed millions of dollars more than six months after Colorado launched a new system to handle reimbursements for Medicaid claims,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “The Colorado Hospital Association released data this week indicating five individual hospitals and five hospital systems were owed nearly $211 million in claims, The Denver Post reported. North Colorado Medical Center, 1801 16th St., Greeley is one of those hospitals and feels the strain. “The state’s change to the new computer system and delayed payments for Medicaid has had a significant impact to our Banner Health operations in Colorado,” wrote Sara Quale, NCMC’s public relations director, in an email. “While it has not changed our commitment to quality patient care, it is greatly affecting our ability to be reimbursed in a timely manner for the care we have provided.”

“Loveland police on Wednesday arrested a 27-year-old transient man on a felony negligent homicide allegation in connection with the October 2016 overdose death of 60-year-old Ruthann Estrada, better known as ‘Mama Ray,'” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “Shane Bueno, a Loveland resident, is currently being held in the Larimer County Jail on suspicion of the homicide charge, which is a Class 5 felony, a press release from Loveland Police Department said. Bueno was advised of the charge in a court hearing Wednesday afternoon at the Larimer County Justice Center, and a $7,500 bail bond was set.”

“It’s hard to describe an elk’s bugle, that strange sound that draws crowds of onlookers to Rocky Mountain National Park each fall,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “Angry spaceship? Moo meets microphone feedback? The shriek of the wild? Whatever you want to call it, the bugle must be heard to be understood — and now’s the best time to hear it, as 200 to 600 elk wander down from the park’s higher elevations just in time for mating season.”

“As of 6:20 p.m. Thursday, a wildfire that was first reported around noon south of Elk Springs in western Moffat County had ripped through more 3,500 acres of grass and sagebrush, threatening residences in Deerlodge Park and surrounding areas,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “U.S. Highway 40 remained closed Thursday evening as the blaze, dubbed the Winter Valley Fire, blew across the highway toward the northeast, threatening to reach Colorado Highway 318.”

“A company’s plans to drill within Lafayette’s borders has invoked a renewed sense of urgency in the city,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “The city will send an ordinance requiring oil and gas operators to map their pipelines to its Planning Commission next week — a landmark measure similar to what Erie officials sanctioned amid industry resistance earlier this month. Lafayette has included a provision that would increase setback limits to 750 feet — up from 350. It would include subsurface facilities such as flow lines and gathering lines in its language.”

“Colorado is planning to invest millions of dollars into its electric vehicle infrastructure as early as 2018, and the benefits could immediately be felt across the entire Western Slope,” reports Vail Daily. “As part of the pending multibillion-dollar Volkswagen settlement with the U.S. government stemming from diesel engines designed to offer fraudulent emissions results, $68 million is the state’s piece of the pie. A Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment draft plan envisions $10 million of the windfall going toward at least 60 new electric fast-charging stations along Colorado’s major arteries, including Interstate 70.”

“Three times a week, old-school R&B in the air, Marc Sotkin sits, pumping his legs like a madman,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “‘Like many superheroes, I have a secret identity,’ Sotkin said, over coffee on Monday at Vic’s in Boulder. He’s Gagman. (Not a madman.) And like Batman, his voice inflection screams superhero. (“I’m Gagman.”) Both of Sotkin’s identities have extraordinary abilities. By dawn, he leads a spin class at Colorado Athletic Club Flatirons, and by dusk (or really everywhere in between) he enlists the power of his pen to make people laugh. The Boulder resident, a former writer and producer for hit TV shows “The Golden Girls” and “Laverne & Shirley,” launched a multimedia e-book two weeks ago that tells the tale of aging superheroes. With punches of snark, witty banter and dirty slapstick humor, Sotkin has high hopes of it hitting TV screens.”

“Discord and disorder erupted Wednesday night at a local board meeting as a dispute between citizens, board members and fire district officers from the Deer Mountain Fire Protection District community came to a head,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “In the small community center, dozens of people gathered for the Deer Mountain Fire District’s board meeting with the hopes of getting answers from the board’s leaders and for the chance of voicing their opinions and concerns.”

“Amid the fires, floods and hurricanes, U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs was asked to deal with an earthquake this week,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “In the busiest summer the command has ever seen in dealing with disaster, one more wasn’t a problem. An Air Force C-17 picked up 60 search and rescue experts and their dogs and flew them to Mexico City by Thursday morning. Relief supplies should follow aboard other Air Force planes.”

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OTIS — Late last spring, after five of her two dozen teachers resigned with no replacements in sight, Superintendent Kendra Anderson reassured her school’s anxious principal that everything would be fine.

Then she walked the 25 feet between their two offices, sat down at her desk and said to herself: “Oh, crap.”

Anderson remembered a time — and not that long ago — when she could pick out a six-year veteran from a pile of resumes whenever she had an unexpected teaching vacancy.

“I don’t have that luxury anymore,” she said this summer, recalling the desperate situation she was in to replace a fourth of the teaching staff of the rural K-12 school in just a few months.

Anderson’s urgent need for teachers for her 230 students — half of them living in poverty in this one-stoplight Colorado town on the Eastern Plains — offers a window into how rural schools like hers are grappling with a dearth of teachers.

Otis’s challenges to keep and attract teachers are felt across the state. Low taxes make it nearly impossible to offer a competitive salary; one retired Otis teacher suggested she could make more money waiting tables. Increased regulations and unfunded mandates from the state has made the work nearly unbearable, educators say. And the school’s distance from the Front Range keep some urban solutions such as long-term substitutes or Teach For America corps out of their classrooms.

On the ground, the biggest challenge for superintendents like Anderson is the need to protect students from the most damaging impacts of the shortage, even as many of them would benefit from more resources, not fewer.

“The one thing that keeps me up at night is how we go years with some of our rural schools not having a math teacher,” said Robert Mitchell, the former director of educator preparation at the department of higher education. “These kids out here deserve the same opportunity as the kids in Boulder Valley. It’s not acceptable that we have vacancies and zero people apply.”

The problem is so pronounced that state education officials, at the legislature’s behest, fanned out across Colorado this summer — including a stop in Otis — to examine ways to turn around a shortage that is most severe in the state’s rural areas.

A plan informed by this statewide tour, which was recently completed, is due to state legislators by December.

No overflow

“Everything has to change” whenever a teacher leaves, Michelle Patterson, Otis’s principal said. The ripple effects, especially in areas with small staffs, are significant.

Michelle Murphy, executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance, discusses the teacher shortage at the state’s town hall at the Otis school. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

When the school’s agriculture teacher left this spring, administrators had to find a new teacher to take over his class sponsorship duties, which included helping students raise money for projects and providing them with emotional support through high school.

No one knew which conferences to register the Future Farmers of America club for, or which hotels to stay at when they went.

The district also had to hire a new bus driver, because the retired teacher, a 21-year veteran, had done that, too.

“It’s more than just that instruction for that content area that leaves us,” Superintendent Anderson said. “It’s the relationship with the students they developed over time. It’s the training we’ve given them that’s lost.”

The teacher shortage is both an old and new problem for rural schools.

“We’ve had a teacher shortage in rural Colorado since the 1970s,” said Michelle Murphy, executive director of the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance. “But we used to be able to get overflow from the metro area. Now, there’s no overflow.”

Since 2010, there’s been a 24 percent drop in graduates from the traditional teacher prep programs at the state’s colleges and universities. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment to those programs.

Alternative programs, such as residency programs, have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. However, those programs produce far fewer teachers than traditional programs and can’t keep up with demand. According to the state department of education, the state’s public schools employ more than 53,000 teachers.

The shortage is not evenly distributed across all classrooms. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

Officials believe a variety of factors are contributing to the shortage. The profession perceives that it is undervalued, and the pay in many communities does not cover basic costs of living. And as poverty rises, the scope of the job is expanding; students are coming to school with more trauma that educators must mitigate before they can even begin to teach phonics or subtraction.

Rural schools face additional challenges attracting new teachers away from urban centers.

Housing is in short supply — so much so that some school districts are building their own housing for teachers.

And while the cost of living might seem lower in rural areas, “gas, groceries and health insurance all are more expensive,” Anderson said. “We travel a long way to the grocery store, to work. The nearest Walmart is 50 miles away.”

It can also be lonely, especially for recent college graduates without any family nearby.

Caitlin Evans is Otis’s new high school English teacher. She sits in her barren classroom before the start of the school year. Evans was issued an emergency license so she could teach. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

A tale of two Otis teachers

Peggy Allen was one of the five Otis teachers to leave the classroom this spring.

Allen, who taught English, began her career in Otis as a secretary. After 17 years of running the school district’s office, she went to college to become a teacher.

“I loved teaching,” she said as she finished her lunch in Mama’s, Otis’s single restaurant, which also serves as its de facto town square. “You build a personal relationship with everyone at the school and in town. Everybody knows your business — and needs. We take care of each other.”

But after 12 years in the classroom, the 65-year-old decided to retire.

“I saw younger people with vigor and energy, and I thought: ‘I don’t have that anymore,’” she said.

Increased state regulations also became a burden. “I didn’t love jumping through all the hoops,” she said.

To find a replacement for Allen, Anderson reached out to a national network of principals and school officials she’s built through the years.

One woman who Anderson met at a conference several years ago had a daughter, Caitlin Evans, who had moved to a town 40 miles east of Otis. Evans, 33, had been teaching at Morgan Community College and was interested in switching to high schoolers.

Evans grew up in Brighton, a blue collar suburb of Denver. After high school, she enrolled at the University of Colorado. She remembers feeling far behind some of her fellow freshmen who attended East Coast prep schools.

Evans was excited about better preparing rural students for college to compete with their urban peers.

“If I can be a bridge for them, that’s a good thing,” she said.

But Evans had a newborn and no teaching license. So Anderson went to work helping her find childcare and working with state education officials to issue Evans an emergency license.

The state this year has issued 30 emergency licenses, which allow individuals to teach without meeting some state requirements.

State Rep. Jim Wilson, a Salida Republican, earlier this year sponsored a bill that would have allowed rural school districts like Otis to waive out of the state’s licensing practices all together. It was an idea that was backed by the Rural School Alliance but faced staunch opposition from the state’s teachers union. That opposition forced Wilson to spike his own bill.

Licensing reform, an issue that has vexed lawmakers and the governor alike, is likely to come up as the state education and higher education departments move forward with their plan to curb the shortage. But Superintendent Anderson is wary.

“I don’t want to give the perception that it’s easier to be a teacher than any other profession,” she said.

Otis school leaders were able to fill all of their vacancies, in part because Evans was issued an emergency license. However, it’s only good for one academic year. Anderson is already worrying about how to keep Evans in the classroom next year.

Farm equipment sit outside the Otis school, which is sandwiched between a Baptist church and a wheat farm. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

“We just need the resources”

More than 40 people showed up to the Otis school, which sits between a Baptist church and a corn, wheat and millet farm, for the state’s town hall on the teacher shortage.

In the audience were several members of the Otis community, including two school board members. There were executives from Denver-based education nonprofits. Educators from other Eastern Plains communities such as a principal from Julesburg and teachers from Yuma also attended.

State officials pleaded with the audience to focus on solutions — especially low-cost solutions. That doesn’t mean salary increases are off the table, the state officials said. It just means that everyone knows that teachers in the low tax state of Colorado could make a lot more money yet still trail far behind national average salaries.

This school year will be the first Otis teachers see a pay increase since the Great Recession. The starting salary will be $31,666. The average salary for an Otis teacher is $36,468, administrators said. And the highest paid teacher, a long time veteran, earns $46,258.

Part of the reason why the school district was able to afford the raises out of its $3.4 million budget was because of a rare savings in health care costs.

Anderson called it a gamble.

As the town hall began to wind down, Shea Smith, the Otis guidance counselor, snuck out and returned to her office, where she was preparing for the first day of school.

She and another teacher, Tenaly Bleak, reflected on the intersection of the teacher shortage and the changing demographics of their students.

As it becomes increasingly expensive to live along the Front Range, families are seeking low-cost housing on the plains. Since 2011, the school’s free or reduced-price lunch rate, a measure of poverty, has nearly doubled to 56 percent. Last year, the school enrolled its first homeless student. And there’s a good chance the school will need to hire a second special education teacher because a few new students with special needs enrolled this summer.

Smith, who has been in the Otis school for nine years, remembers the last time the school tried to hire a special education teacher. The job remained vacant for three years until the school’s leadership decided to take the job posting down and just do without.

As poverty has risen in Otis, teachers have taken on another role: caretaker.

“Somedays, the most you can do is love them and feed them and make them feel safe, and hope you can get a little reading in, and a little math in,” Smith said.

It’s unclear how student performance has shifted as poverty has increased in Otis. Poor students historically do not score as highly as their more affluent peers. But not enough Otis students are are taking the state’s test for the state education department to report the results and provide a quality rating. 

The role poverty is playing in the classroom and the stress it has put on educators has been highlighted by Education Commissioner Katy Anthes.

Teachers are reporting to the department that “they’re spending more time on management and organization and meeting the basic needs of students than they ever have before,” Anthes told the State Board of Education at its August meeting.

An intersection in Otis, Colorado. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

So what can the state do to keep teachers from fleeing Otis and other rural school districts?

Bleak said more support would go a long way. For instance, she suggested, establishing a special fund for school supplies and candy that teachers can hand out would save her $100 a month, she guessed.

“We care,” she said. “We want to do the best job possible. We just need the resources.”

Lead photo: Retired English teacher Peggy Allen, center, speaks with Otis Principal Michelle Patterson, left, and Superintendent Kendra Anderson at Mama’s, the town’s lone restaurant. (Photo by Nic Garcia). Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Nic Garcia on September 20, 2017. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Candidate for governor backtracks on remarks about The Denver Post after a recording leaks

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

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A juicy item hit the web Monday when progressive consultant and media watcher Jason Salzman published a blog post and an audio clip of Republican candidate for governor Doug Robinson saying this to a small audience in Grand Junction:

“This is an interesting story: When I announced my candidacy the editor of The Denver Post called me. I’m like really? You know what I mean? Because they have been— endorsed Democrats for generations. You know what I mean? And he said— said don’t write us off. He says we’re going to endorse a candidate and if it’s Jared Polis I can’t see us endorsing him. He’s too left, too far out for Colorado. He says he may be too far out for Colorado.”

But when Salzman reached out to Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, Plunkett shot it down, calling Robinson’s account “incorrect on many levels.” Plunkett says Robinson was likely referring to The Denver Post’s editorial board chairman Dean Singleton, who used to own the paper. And Singleton told Plunkett that Robinson actually called him, not the other way around. “Dean told him that he didn’t think he had a chance at winning, and suggested he might consider running for treasurer,” Plunkett added. “The call came the day or so before Robinson announced, which was in late April. Jared Polis didn’t enter the race until weeks later, in mid-June.”

More from Plunkett to Salzman in this little game of gubernatorial telephone:

Dean has said publicly that he doubts Polis can win the race, as he’s too liberal for a statewide contest, so Robinson must be conflating events. Dean says he didn’t talk to Robinson about Polis back in April, as the congressman hadn’t even entered the race. Dean meets with candidates and expresses his opinions as is his right. But — and this is an important point — in doing so he doesn’t speak for our editorial board, or attempt to derail the process we take in coming to conclusions on our endorsements. I can tell you without doubt we have not reached any conclusions about endorsements in any of the races. A long process awaits before we can get to that point.

So what happened here?

To clear it up I spoke with Robinson, a former investment banker who is Mitt Romney’s nephew and is running for governor of Colorado as a businessman outsider in the crowded GOP field. Robinson confirmed he’d made some misstatements. Robinson says before he announced his candidacy he called Singleton, whom he says he knows socially. Robinson told me in describing Singleton as the editor of The Denver Post to the Grand Junction crowd, “I would have been incorrect.” Robinson also said this: “I don’t recall talking with him about Jared Polis.” Perhaps, he said, he did hear it elsewhere and got it conflated. Then again Robinson says he did not recall Singleton saying Robinson should consider running for treasurer instead of governor. “He definitely said that the candidates were further out than they had been in the past,” Robinson said of Singleton.

Asked if he had anything further to say about the incident, Robinson said no. Earlier he mentioned how he didn’t know he was being recorded when he was speaking in Grand Junction. Lesson here? I think that’s pretty obvious.

It’s also worth pointing out that The Denver Post editorial board has endorsed Republicans in recent big elections like Mike Coffman last year and, more famously, Cory Gardner in 2014. It endorsed Obama over Romney, and supported eight congressional incumbents, four Dems and four Republicans in 2016. It backed incumbent Dem John Hickenlooper for governor in 2014 and Republican incumbent Walker Stapleton for treasurer. Last year it endorsed the Republican for statewide University of Colorado regent. Here’s the full list if you’re interested.

Westword got some nice ink in The Washington Post 

Every other week it seems another death toll rings for an American alternative weekly newspaper. Recently, The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi penned a pitch-perfect tribute to their existence.

Included in “What we’re losing when we say goodbye to alt weeklies, the rebels of journalism,” Fahri checked in with Westword editor Patty Calhoun from Denver. Here’s the relevant text:

Patricia Calhoun, who still edits the alt weekly Westword in Denver 40 years after she founded it, says she started the publication “with the premise that Denver was a more interesting city than the mainstream media made it seem and that it would be easier to start a paper than to get a real job.” She now reflects: “We were right about the first part, but not the second.” At their peak, Calhoun says, alt weeklies served as a kind of community bulletin board for their young readers. Copious entertainment and restaurant listings were a staple early on. The classifieds were today’s neighborhood email lists. Need a roommate, a bass player, a girlfriend? Go to the dense black type in the back pages. “If you wanted an apartment in Chicago in the early 1980s, you had to get the Chicago Reader the minute it came out,” she said.

And later in the piece

A more nebulous question concerning the fate of alt weeklies is the one posed by Kennedy, the journalism professor. “I can remember many heartfelt conversations when I was at the Phoenix [from 1991 to 2005] where we asked ourselves, ‘In what way are we really alternative?’ Because it wasn’t really clear any more. We knew in some ways that the Globe was to the left of us.”

Westword’s Calhoun isn’t troubled by that existential matter, however. “It’s our goal to keep corrupting the youth of America into the pleasure of reading and questioning authority,” she says. “We still think we’re winning at that.”

Colorado’s two other alt-weeklies, Boulder Weekly and The Colorado Springs Independent, seem to be doing well, too. I’ve often wondered if legal marijuana advertising isn’t providing them a cushion some alts don’t have in prohibition states. In October 2010, Colorado’s alt-weeklies made the front page of The New York Times with a story headlined “New Fuel for Local Papers: Ads for Medical Marijuana.” So I thought I’d check up on the papers seven years later now that recreational marijuana has burst on the scene. Do they feel it’s given them a financial buffer?

Yes, says John Weiss, who founded The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly. He says cannabis cash makes up probably 15 percent of the revenue across his seven papers, but notes not all of them sell pot ads. (Colorado’s second-largest city doesn’t allow the sale of recreational pot, but nearby Manitou Springs does.)  Weiss suspects the only larger revenue source for his paper might be food and bev. “Readers of our paper, which are progressives and intellectuals of all ages— that’s the focus of papers like ours— are the audience for recreational and medical marijuana,” Weiss says. “We reach this audience incredibly effectively and that’s why we’re making lots of money.”

In Boulder, editor Joel Dyer says Boulder Weekly has “obviously benefitted from the pot market,” but he sees the weekly business model as more resilient than dailies. Non-pot revenues, he says, are also growing. “Pot ads are a bonus for an alt-weekly like BW that was doing well before they came along,” he adds. “We are glad to have the business but not dependent on it for our survival or success.” Despite the alt-weekly carnage around the country, Dyer believes the weekly alternative model for quality, long-form original journalism will prevail if papers focus on the print product instead of trying to funnel readers and customers online.

How Colorado’s new digital records law helped a national investigation into lottery winners

Following up on a 2014 newspaper investigation into how a small number of repeat lottery players kept winning in Florida, a group of journalists recently took a national look with help from The Fund for Investigative Journalism. They filed open records requests in states with a lottery— “an adventure in itself given that FOIA laws vary significantly by state.” Getting records they sought wasn’t easy, either. The findings are revealing, and you can read them at Columbia Journalism Review here. Because states handle open records requests differently the journalists put together an awards category— “Service With a Smile Award,” “Better Late Than Never,” etc.— based on responses.

But “The Help From Above Award” went to Colorado. Here’s why:

In March, the state lottery told us it would take at least 200 hours to process our request at a cost of $6,000. This summer, by chance, the Colorado Legislature passed a law that required public agencies to more readily provide data upon request. In July, when we resubmitted our request, the Colorado Lottery knocked its fee down to $450. After some additional negotiation, the agency finally provided the data for free.

Boom. They can thank The Colorado Press Association and its attorney Greg RombergThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins, The Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, and many others for that.

An ‘unfortunate’ typo in the Telluride paper 

Oops. Perhaps it was supposed to read “Funky Friday?” (If you can’t see the photo click “Display images below” at the top of this email.)

“Either it’s a really edgy band or someone didn’t proof before printing,” said one reader on social media about the goof. “This always makes me feel bad for everyone that works at a newspaper,” said another. Someone else said on Facebook they wanted a copy of the paper “just to keep that part.”

“Yes, it was an unfortunate typographical error and the Telluride Daily Planet would like to apologize to its readers and the community at large,” editor Andre Salvail told me about it. “We strive for accuracy in all that we do and have taken steps to ensure that mistakes of this caliber never occur again.”

Fort Lewis College students and PBS collaborate to bring more localized Four Corners coverage to the Front Range

Rocky Mountain PBS is working with students from Fort Lewis College, The Durango Herald reports. “Stacey Sotosky, an assistant professor who teaches Digital Video Production, said 16 students this year will take part in making a short documentary about Durango’s history with uranium and if any issues still linger,” according to the paper. “Sotosky said the class is a partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS, which in October will premier a feature-length documentary about uranium issues throughout Colorado. ‘I want them (the students) to walk away with the tools they need to get a job at a serious high-end level in broadcast television,'” Sotosky said.

It turns out this partnership is actually part of a larger effort “to bring more localized coverage of the Four Corners to Colorado’s Front Range through the station’s regional innovation center program,” the paper reported. A $5,000 grant from The Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media is helping. Meanwhile, also on the collaboration front in southwestern Colorado, KSUT public radio listeners will hear headlines from The Durango Herald on air during NPR’s Morning Edition.

Here’s The Herald on what these collaborative efforts mean:

The end result? Local news and information reaching more residents via public radio, our local history reaching more Coloradans via public television and a new generation of media professionals enrolled in FLC’s new “Journalism and Multimedia Studies” program, gaining invaluable training.

Speaking of news collaborations in Colorado…

KUNC is joining five other public radio stations by launching the Mountain West Journalism Collaborative, a partnership “that spans Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Montana” with a $475,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

From KUNC:

This project focuses on the unique issues in the urban and rural areas of the Rocky Mountain West. The main areas of editorial focus are land and water, growth in the expanding west, including the rural-urban divide, issues facing the rural west and western culture and heritage. The stations will work collaboratively to highlight these issues for a broad audience across the region.

“I’m excited that KUNC will be part of this important collaboration,” said KUNC Director of News Content Michael de Yoanna. “For too long, the Rocky Mountain West, particularly the smaller communities, have been given too little attention from the national media. This collaboration makes covering the rich, diverse, politically-relevant communities of the west a priority while creating pathways to tell those stories across our five states as well as nationally.”

As part of the project KUNC will add a reporter to its newsroom. Last year the CPB funded eight collaborations to the tune of $4.4 million, but didn’t include the Rocky Mountain West. Nice to see it get some love.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call fronted a piece about lagging home ownership amid an apartment boom in Boulder CountyThe Greeley Tribune ran a story headlined “Weld GOP pushing southern strategy,” but it wasn’t about racist campaign tactics— just organizing in a southern part of the county. The Loveland Reporter-Herald covered a local OktoberfestThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported on local jail overcrowding, as The Pueblo Chieftain reported on a potential new jailThe Steamboat Pilot ran a story about a local art museum expansionThe Boulder Daily Camera reported on changes at a local homeless shelterThe Coloradoan in Fort Collins examined a “disturbing trend” in local homicidesThe Gazette profiled a local heroin deathThe Durango Herald looked at problem prairie dogsThe Denver Post reported how 11 deaths occurred this year on Colorado’s 14ers and a challenge to keep adventurers safer.

Follow-up file: Charges dropped against Public News Service reporter

You might recall when Public News Service reporter Dan Heyman, 54, was arrested for “causing a disturbance” at the West Virginia capitol in May while trying to ask Donald Trump’s health secretary, Tom Price, questions about pre-existing conditions under the GOP healthcare plan. The Colorado connection was that Public News Service is based in Boulder— something at least one newspaper reporter in that city didn’t know. That week for CJR’s United States Project I interviewed Lark Corbeil, the founder of Public News Service, about what they do and the “whirlwind” the org faced following its reporter’s arrest.

Now, four months later, the county prosecutor dropped the charges after a “careful review” found the reporter had not acted unlawfully. “I’m very relieved. Facing six months of jail time for asking a question as a journalist was pretty troubling,” Heyman said in a statement. “In fact one condition of my bail was that I had to keep away from the state capitol— having access is part of my job.” For her part, PNS founder Corbeil said, “The First Amendment was tested, and, thankfully, our system and democratic values withstood the challenge.”

Based in Boulder, PNS is part of the nonprofit Media Consortium and has an annual budget of around $1.2 million, Corbeil told me in May. It’s funded through memberships and paid services as well as philanthropic and individual donations and it counts PEW and The Annie E. Casey Foundation as supporters. The news org has a Colorado reporter, Eric Galatas, who has produced recent stories about steps to bring new electricity to rural Colorado, the risks of a lack of meat inspectors, a leaked memo on the sage grouse, and climate change heath impacts on Coloradans.

Online-only college publication ‘ironically’ calls itself The Paper

Pikes Peak Community College has a student-run newspaper again. “The online-only publication, ironically called The Paper, will refresh with news, features, sports and opinion articles every Wednesday at ppccpaper.org,” according to The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “It is free and available to the public.” The local community college in the Springs already has a literary journal and a radio station. The college, The Paper reports, “is hopeful that the rebirth of the student paper with a solid group of student journalists enrolled for the semester, will be the start of a much brighter future for the Journalism department.” The college added several new journalism classes, The Gazette reported, quoting former Gazette editor Warren Epstein, an administrative advisor to The Paper, saying they had a two-year funding source. “In pitching this project, one of the interesting things is we know we can’t say that the field of journalism is growing, but those skills – gathering, verifying, vetting information and being able to write and communicate – have never been more valuable than they are today,” he said. “That’s what sold the program.”

About that redistricting ballot measures group that just (re)-launched 

This week for The Colorado Independent I took a deep dive into a revamped effort to change the way our state and federal legislative political boundaries are drawn. At issue is a group called Fair Districts Colorado that launched Sept. 6, and its effort to persuade voters through a package of proposed 2018 ballot measures. It’s happening in a swingy state where voters are nearly evenly balanced among Democrats, Republicans and those who are unaffiliated with a party. And it’s happening at a time when frustration with gerrymandering— a term for drawing political boundaries for partisan gain— is sizzling on the national stage.

An excerpt:

Initial write-ups on the proposal in mainstream newspapers and the alternative press did not point out that the effort isn’t new. The plan is similar to one put forward in 2015 and 2016 by some of the same people involved in this latest effort.

The group is running into some early headwinds given its kind of haunted history last year—concerns over lack of input from minority communities, transparency, substance, charges of mischaracterization, and just plain mistrust about who is behind it— which I detail in the piece. These are the first shots in what could be yet another bruising battle over how Colorado ensures its voters have fair representation.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE.

Photo by Abe Novy for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

The Home Front: With Hyperloop, could we one day travel from Denver to Vail in minutes?

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“Personal travel that tests the sound barrier in hermetically sealed tubes might seem like some far-flung, futuristic notion, but if Colorado gets its way it could be less than a decade from reality rather than the light years away most probably imagine,” reports The Summit Daily News. “From an original group of 2,600 whittled down to two-dozen in April, the state was named to an exclusive list of 10 finalists last week in a worldwide competition for precisely this concept. Should the electromagnetic capsule design proposed by Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One ever get off the ground, a 360-mile track that includes a leg from Denver to Vail, with a stop in Silverthorne along the way, may soon zip people up to the mountains in mere minutes at speeds of 700 miles per hour.”

“Inspired by parents, by children, by the opportunity for renewal, 38 western Colorado residents gathered Wednesday on Colorado National Monument to take oaths as United States citizens with Independence Monument as a backdrop,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “For Iana Kondra-Pisciotta, the ceremony was the culmination of a voyage that began 20 years ago in her native city of Dubna, Russia, when her father urged her to go out into the world and explore. She did and found that “being a U.S. citizen is a true privilege,” Kondra-Pisciotta told more than 100 people gathered at the Saddlehorn Campground on the monument, where she took the oath administered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher.”

“For the first time in a decade, Weld County employees will receive 3 percent raises, according to preliminary 2018 budget discussions among county commissioners and the county’s finance director,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “The raises, for all Weld employees, will cost $2.76 million. In pitching the raises, Weld County Finance Director Don Warden told commissioners during a Monday work session the Mountain States Employers Council survey released in July showed 3.2 percent salary increases across the public and private sectors. Warden said it was important to remain competitive with other government entities, as well as private businesses.”

“Thirteen spruce trees growing in the median of East Eisenhower Boulevard east of Sculptor Drive will be cut down during the week of Oct. 2, according to the city of Loveland,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “Traffic on U.S. 34 will flow mostly normally during the project, which will take three to four days, said Dave Klockeman, senior civil engineer for the city. The city is not yet certain which days of the week crews will be removing the trees. According to a city press release, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the city are in agreement that the spruces are a hazard due to their poor health — which raises the trees’ risk of toppling into traffic — and that they must come down.”

“It was apparent Wednesday night at Bud Werner Memorial Library that wildfires are on the minds of Routt County residents,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “University of Colorado faculty member Michael Kodas had a captive audience as he discussed his new book “Megafire, The Race to Extinguish a Deadly Epidemic of Flame.” Kodas first tasted fire as a young journalist in Connecticut when he climbed over fences to reach a dozen people trying to put out a grass fire. Before he was able to take the first picture, he was tackled by a guard.”

“Free speech — even when many find it repulsive — cannot be ceded, especially at an institution where debate is foundational, Colorado State President Tony Frank said at his fall address Wednesday,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “Against a national backdrop of professional provocateurs being shouted down and violent clashes over political ideologies and a campus incident where a noose was found in a CSU dormitory, Frank argued that the university community must instead fight hate speech with speech and inclusion.”

“A site long associated with a pillar of Boulder County’s high-tech past could house one of the current reigning tech giants: Amazon,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “The massive StorageTek campus in Louisville is under contract to California’s Bancroft Capital, which is using it to woo Amazon as the web retail giant hunts for a second headquarters. Officials from Bancroft confirmed their intent to the Colorado Real Estate Journal, which first reported the story Monday. Bancroft confirmed to the Camera on Wednesday.”

“The Colorado Department of Corrections will receive $10.6 million to temporarily lease a private prison to relieve crowded conditions in the state prison system,” reports The Durango Herald. “But the Colorado Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee declined Wednesday to spend money to update the Centennial Correctional Facility-South, a shuttered prison designed to hold inmates in solitary confinement. State law does not allow inmates to be held at the prison, which also is known as Colorado State Penitentiary II.”

“Three-year-old Andres Silva, son of a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipient, sorted through a toy box on the floor of the University of Colorado Law School on Wednesday afternoon,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “CU Law Professor Violeta Chapin, a group of local attorneys, volunteers and Chapin’s students gathered in the Wolf Law Building to help people renew their DACA application and answer their questions free of charge. As young Silva played beneath a Martin Luther King Jr. poster emblazoned with the words “free at last,” his mother, Brenda Silva, talked with a lawyer to renew her DACA application so she could continue caring for her six children, ranging from 1 to 16 years old.”

“Colorado Springs Utilities won’t meet its goal of producing 20 percent of its energy through renewable resources by 2020,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “But it’s coming about as close as possible within the parameters outlined in Utilities’ 2016 Electric Integrated Resource Plan, said John Romero, general manager of energy acquisition engineering and planning.”

“The Colorado economy will continue to grow at a steady clip, according to state economic forecasts released Wednesday, thanks in part to rebounding oil prices that have energy companies adding rigs in Colorado for the first time since a 2015 downtown in the industry,” reports The Denver Post. “But despite the encouraging outlook, rural Colorado is expected to continue to lag behind the Front Range, dragged down by a precipitous drop in agricultural commodity prices and the ongoing struggles of the coal industry, which has shed nearly half its jobs since 2003.”

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The Washington Post and The New York Times are back in full gear trading scoops on the Trump-Russian connection. The Post is reporting that two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for president, his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was offering “private briefings” on the campaign to a Russian billionaire with Kremlin ties. The Times, meanwhile, is reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller is seeking White House documents relating to Trump’s role in firing both James Comey and Michael Flynn.

Vox talked to nine Republican senators about what improvements we might expect to see under Graham-Cassidy over Obamacare. The answers were in most cases, well, vague and in some cases downright embarrassing (for the senator, that is).

While some Republican senators are saying the bill is imperfect but the best they can do, The National Review offers a full-throated defense of Graham-Cassidy as a model that would finally allow the markets to become competitive.

Would Graham-Cassidy put an end to Berniecare as Sen. Lindsey Graham claimed, or would passage help cut a direct path to a single-payer plan the next time Democrats manage to get 51 votes in the Senate? Via The Washington Post.

Walter Shapiro: It’s not just the fate of millions of American who would lose their healthcare coverage that is on the line if Graham-Cassidy passes. There are also 28 Republican-held governorships on the ballot in 2018. Via The Hill.

Trump’s bid to make himself look strong before the world at the United Nations only made him look weak, indecisive and ineffective. It also gave a harsh look at the direction Trump’s foreign policy will likely take. Via The Atlantic.

As frantic search for survivors in the rubble left from the powerful Mexico earthquake continues, the death toll has climbed to at least 230. It is expected to go higher still. Via The Los Angeles Times.

Stories from the ground as Hurricane Maria hits Puerto Rico with full force, as the most powerful storm to hit the island in nearly 100 years. “Nothing looks like it was before.” Via The New Yorker.

If Amazon, Facebook and Google are the new robber barons, isn’t it time for conservatives to begin a new anti-monopoly movement? Via The American Conservative.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr: Creative Commons
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The Colorado Electoral College member who went rogue by not casting an official ballot for Hillary Clinton in December is suing Secretary of State Wayne Williams claiming Williams violated his constitutional rights by removing and replacing him and not counting his vote.

Micheal Baca, 25, and a self-described member of the Hamilton Electors movement, has joined a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by two other Colorado electors, both Democrats, his attorney said Wednesday. 

Those two electors, Bob Nemanich of Colorado Springs and Polly Baca (no relation to Micheal) of Denver, argue Colorado’s Williams, a Republican, intimidated them into casting their electoral votes for Clinton on Dec. 19.

Related: Electoral College members file voter ‘intimidation’ lawsuit against Colorado’s secretary of state

National election law expert and Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig filed the federal complaint in Denver district court in mid-August, and says he is filing a new one Sept. 20 adding Micheal Baca’s name. While the other two electors say they were intimidated, Baca was actually removed as an elector by Williams, Lessig emphasizes. 

The news comes less than a month after Colorado’s Republican attorney general, Cynthia Coffman, declined to prosecute Micheal Baca for violating a state law that says electors must cast their votes for the presidential candidate who wins the state’s popular vote. In a dramatic scene during the Electoral College vote ceremony in the state Capitol on Dec. 19, Williams presented the state’s nine electors with a new oath requiring them to pledge they would cast their ballots for the winner of Colorado’s popular vote and making it easier to charge them with a crime if they didn’t.  But when it came time to vote, Micheal Baca wrote in the name of Ohio Gov. John Kasich instead, and Williams immediately stripped him as an elector and replaced him with someone else.

Afterwards, Williams asked Coffman to investigate Micheal Baca for a potential crime, calling him a “faithless elector” who violated an oath.

Coffman, who has said she is exploring a run for governor, said she didn’t want Baca to use Colorado’s court system as a platform to make more headlines. Williams said he is “disappointed” the AG didn’t pursue the case.

Related: Colorado AG won’t prosecute the Hamilton Elector who voted for Kasich not Clinton

Now, Baca is nonetheless making headlines again.

The civil lawsuit is against Williams personally, not in his capacity as secretary of state. It accuses him of intimidating the three electors and asks a judge specifically to find Williams violated Micheal Baca’s “federally protected rights” by depriving him of those rights to act as an elector.

The suit delves into the history of the Electoral College and relies on the U.S. Constitution and the writings of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers to argue electors have a right to vote their consciences and state laws that say otherwise are unconstitutional.

“What I do hope is that the Pandora’s Box that I opened in 2016 gets clarified for 2020 because I imagine that another elector movement could occur again,” Micheal Baca told The Colorado Independent. “This is something that the courts need to clarify going forward on what the exact role of an elector is.”

Here in Colorado, the three electors suing Williams were part of a small movement among the nation’s 538 members of the Electoral College who wanted to deny Trump the 270 Electoral College votes he needed to take office by persuading enough others to vote for a palatable alternative.

Related: The Electoral College plan to stop Trump explained

All three electors wanted to vote for someone else— perhaps Ohio Gov. John Kasich or another moderate— with the hope that enough other national electors would do the same to block Trump. They called themselves Hamilton Electors because of Alexander Hamilton’s writings about the Electoral College being a potential safeguard to keep a demagogue from the White House if necessary.

Before their Dec. 19 vote, electors Polly Baca and Nemanich went to federal court arguing they should be able to vote their consciences but lost. They appeared again in state court where a judge said there could be repercussions if they didn’t follow state law.

Baca, who served in the military, says being a Marine embedded in him core values of honor, courage and commitment.

“A lot of people may say that doing what I did was not honorable, but I feel that I looked at the Constitution, I was able to digest it to a degree, and understand that electors have certain rights,” Baca says.

Although Williams is being sued personally, he says the only actions he took were as secretary of state. He says he followed instructions from a state judge throughout the Electoral College voting process.

“I do know that they have lost repeatedly in every court that has heard their matter,” Williams said of the electors who are suing him. “I expect that the courts will continue to support the rights of the 2.9 million voters in Colorado whose votes they tried to steal.”

Lessig says the plaintiffs aren’t in the lawsuit for money and have capped their damages at a dollar. He says he hopes for a quick ruling that answers the question about whether members of the Electoral College can vote their consciences. 

“Regardless of what you believe the law is, it’s really important that it be clear before the next election,” he says.

Photo by Corey Hutchins
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The sun rises prison orange
as if it feels Oregon and Montana blaze
from its perch one astronomical
unit away, but only our thin slip
of atmosphere knows
what we are pouring into it.
And what hell it dishes back out:
the piney back-alleys swallow ash into
ash so thick hikers cloak their faces
and here, three states away,
our mountains fade as if by hiding from us
they could avoid the fires
waiting in a busted oil tank
or gleaming through a teenager’s eye.

 

Photo credit: Mark Gunn, Creative Commons, Flickr 

The Home Front: Angst hits ‘fever pitch’ as drilling company plans to drill ‘in the heart of the fractivist enclave’

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“A slew of residents poured into Lafayette’s City Council chambers on Tuesday night to demand a call to arms against future drilling operations — a week after a company announced plans to drill in the heart of the “fractivist” enclave,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “Boulder County commissioners announced last week that the county had learned that 8 North LLC, a subsidiary of Extraction Oil and Gas LLC, had applied to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission for a “drilling and spacing order.” It’s the first step in a process that could lead to the company applying for a permit to drill in the 2,720-acre area between Quail and Oxford roads. More urgently for Lafayette residents, the oil and gas company also applied for a state drilling and spacing order for a 1,280-acre area between Arapahoe and Baseline roads in the Lafayette-Erie area.”

“An independent auditor’s recommendations and four types of analyses weren’t enough to persuade Weld County commissioners that Weld County Clerk and Recorder Carly Koppes needs more staff. Koppes during a Tuesday budget work session with county commissioners requested 11 new positions, saying the positions would further Koppes’ goal of decreasing wait times at motor vehicles,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “The proposed cost was $454,712. Weld County Finance Director Don Warden, and most commissioners, weren’t buying it. Warden pointed to errors in the auditors’ comparison of Weld with other counties, saying it wasn’t apples-to-apples.”

“Judy Finchum is the kind of person who buys socks for her grandkids at Christmas,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “She clips coupons to save money and worried that driving a Lincoln Aviator SUV might seem too fancy when she first bought it. When she was 12 years old, she started cleaning houses for money to buy clothes. They all pitched in to help make ends meet in a family with eight children and a disabled father who was paralyzed. She remembers picking fruit to make money to afford things they needed, and her practical ways continued when she grew up and made a home of her own. This week is the first time in 30 years that Finchum hasn’t purchased a Powerball ticket. That’s because she won the largest jackpot in Colorado history on Sunday, when her ticket matched all six numbers, earning her $133.2 million in winnings.”

“Longmont City Council members indicated their support Tuesday night for hiking fees for single visits and multiple-visit passes to the city’s recreation facilities,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “Most council members also expressed informal support for raising the fees the city charges Longmont residents and non-residents visiting Union Reservoir. The council members cast no actual votes, however, during their study-session review of the recreation and Union Reservoir fee increases — and the income from those fees — that the city staff has proposed including in Longmont’s 2018 budget.”

“The winds came with fury on Tuesday, but they were too late to rouse the Tenderfoot 2 Fire near Dillon,” reports The Summit Daily News. “By the afternoon, its once-fearsome plume of smoke had reduced to pale wisps, and in the evening fire officials declared it 50 percent contained. Firefighters and aircraft hammered away at the fire early in the morning when the day was still calm, and their work paid off, keeping the blaze from growing even when the wind howled as fast as 50 miles per hour.”

“The Loveland City Council narrowly voted Tuesday evening to approve the appropriation of funds to hire contractors to advise city staff on the process of requesting a sales tax increase for the purpose of funding capital projects,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “The vote in favor was 5-4; Councilors Richard Ball (Ward 1), Joan Shaffer (Ward 2), Leah Johnson (Ward 2) and John Fogle (Ward 3) as well as Mayor Cecil Gutierrez were in favor, while Councilors Dave Clark (Ward 4), Steve Olson (Ward 3), Troy Krenning (Ward 1) and Don Overcash (Ward 4) were against. The appropriation will provide up to $85,000 for the city to contract with two outside experts, Paul Hanley of George K. Baum and Co. and Diane Jones, who would help guide staff through the process of asking the public to approve the tax increase. Funding would come from the city’s general fund.”

“When a Yampa Valley youth baseball coordinator who just had his wisdom teeth extracted four hours earlier stepped up to the podium in Citizens Hall Tuesday night to lobby for an expansion of the Howelsen Ice Arena, it became clear residents here were very passionate about how the city will spend $1.2 million of its lodging tax revenue,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “At the end of the fierce lobbying effort from several residents, the Steamboat Springs City Council narrowly decided that about $900,000 of the lodging tax reserve should go toward the ice arena expansion to accommodate a second sheet of ice and a covered practice space for baseball and other sports teams, and $286,000 of the funds should go toward a major renovation project at the Old Town Hot Springs.”

“Skyline Theater has closed its doors as a movie theater, but its owners plan to offer some community activities involving non-digital movies until it sells,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “The 99-year-old single-screen theater located at 606 Main St. hasn’t been self-sustaining, which has forced owners Karen and Steve Nothdurft to make some difficult decisions.”

“The city of Denver could pursue community land trusts and help its partners buy up small apartment buildings under a five-year proposal to create and maintain affordable housing for thousands of residents struggling to stay in the city,” reports The Denver Post. “Called “Housing an Inclusive Denver,” the report is the city’s first long-term plan since the City Council approved the creation of a 10-year, $150 million housing fund last year. It will be paid for in large part by a new property tax that costs about $12 a year for the owner of a $300,000 home, plus a range of impact fees that apply to new buildings, although those fees aren’t yet bringing in much money.”

“Gunther Ott is part of America’s next generation of farmers and ranchers. He is the first of the third generation to continue the agricultural stewardship of the James Ranch,” reports The Durango Herald. “Ott, 24, manages Whey-Good Pork and irrigates the land on his family’s Animas Valley ranch. He took a three-year gap period after high school, during which he worked on a ranch in Montana, a vineyard in Germany and joined the National Guard. In 2015, Ott said it was time to return home. ‘I’ve always wanted to come back and work on the farm,’ he said. ‘There are benefits and disadvantages to working on the ranch. You don’t get much vacation time, and you don’t have set hours. But the benefits are everything around you. You produce something from nothing every year. It is a beautiful finished product.'” Who will be the next generation of farmers when the average age is almost 59?

“Frontier Airlines said Tuesday it will add four nonstop destinations to its Colorado Springs schedule in April – Minneapolis; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle and San Jose, Calif. – boosting the number of cities served to 11,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs.

Only 531 of the 6,648 Colorado voters who unregistered since June have come back on the rolls

Unaffiliated voters tracked closer to Democrats during The Great Colorado Voter-roll Castoff of 2017

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Colorado voters have been in for a ride this summer, making national news for un-registering to vote by the thousands and switching their status to “confidential.”

Between June 29 and Sept. 17 of this year, 6,648 Coloradans, most of them Democrats, unregistered according to numbers provided by the Secretary of State’s office.

The kicker: Only 531 of them have re-registered, the office said today.

That revelation drew rebuke from elections watchdogs in Colorado.

“This is a direct result of a presidential commission whose creation was predicated on a false narrative,” said Denise Maes, the public policy director for the ACLU of Colorado. “I do hope all of these eligible voters eventually do re-register in time for the next election.”

In the past few months, voters told election officials they were taking themselves off the rolls in response to a task force set up by President Donald Trump that requested the publicly available personal information of voters in all 50 states. Trump’s commission formed after Trump said, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election he won. Some voters in Colorado said they didn’t want their voter data in the hands of an administration they did not trust.

Elena Nuñez, director of Common Cause Colorado, noted the state has been a leader in advancing policies for convenient, accessible, and secure elections. Coloradans vote by mail and have same-day registration, which has led to high voter turnout.

“It is a problem that the vast majority of Colorado voters who unregistered to vote because they feared the actions of the Pence-Kobach commission have chosen not to register to vote again,” she said. “We remain concerned that the Pence-Kobach commission, premised on the lie of rampant illegal voting, is nothing more than a partisan attempt to manipulate our voting processes that will make it harder for eligible Americans to vote.”

Of the 6,648  voters who unregistered, 3,070 were Democrats and 2,387 were unaffiliated. A total of 1,024 Republicans unregistered between those dates. In Colorado there were 1,143,000 registered Democrats, 1,129,000 Republicans and 1,371,000 unaffiliated voters as of August  2017.

One of those Democratic voters who unregistered is Bob Bair, a retired school principal who has served as an election judge in the Denver area since 2008. He told The Colorado Independent that he and his wife Connie un-registered after hearing Trump’s task force wanted data from Colorado’s voters.

“I didn’t want my information turned over to the Donald Trump administration,” he said in an interview. “I don’t trust the Donald Trump administration to maintain the kind of security that I would want.”

Both of them have yet to come back on the rolls, Bob Bair said Sept. 21, adding that he’s just not sure the “coast is clear.” But he says the couple will get back on the rolls in time for the next local election in their community.

“Doggonit, I’m 71 years old and I have voted in every election since I’ve been legally able to do so based on my age, and I’m not going to miss an election or stop because of this as long as I feel that my data is secure,” he said.

Below is a graph created by The Colorado Independent tracking voter drop off by date and party. It’s likely not all voters unregistered in response to state and national news events, but for reasons as typical as moving to another state. But clearly the large spikes are atypical, and county election workers say they have never seen so many people casting off their franchise at once in Colorado.

News of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach, broke on June 29. Notice the high spike rising around July 3 and crashing around the middle of that month. Those dates fall between the day news broke about Trump’s voter commission asking Colorado for public information on all its voters, and the date Colorado’s secretary of state, Republican Wayne Williams, initially said  he would provide it. More than half the total un-registers between June 29 and Sept. 17 came within those few weeks.

Williams’ plans to send the voter file to Trump’s task force on July 14 were thwarted because of a lawsuit against the Kobach commission. Williams announced he would hold off until he was given the green light. When a judge ruled on the lawsuit, Williams said he would turn over Colorado’s voter file to the feds on July 31, a Monday.

About 280 voters took themselves off the rolls around that weekend— but Mondays are also catch-up days for the secretary of state to record voter activity that happened over the weekend. There’s usually a lag time of a fews hours to a day in the reporting time after someone un-registers, according to the secretary of state’s office.

For comparison, only 374 voters unregistered in the entire month of July last year.

During this two-and-a-half-month timespan, voters also figured out something else. If they officially became “confidential voters” they could keep their current information from the hands of Trump’s task force. During the June 29 to Sept. 17 window, 321 voters chose that option.

Here’s a graph created by The Colorado Independent that shows the numbers of Colorado voters who chose to do that, and their party:

Again, unaffiliated voters tracked with Democrats in going through the process of becoming a confidential voter.

That process was not as simple as unregistering to vote, which voters could do quickly and online. Voters who became confidential had to go in person to their county election office and fill out an affidavit swearing they believed they would be face harassment or violence if their voting file is public.

On Twitter, Secretary of State Williams was promoting voter registration on the day his office released figures, by request, showing how many had leapt from the rolls and not come back.

Gerry Cummins, who does voter outreach for the League of Women Voters of Colorado, said despite the low number of re-registers she is still optimistic many more will come back. Before 8 a.m. this morning she herself was headed out to a voter registration drive.

“I think those who were sharp enough to know how to cancel their registration are also sharp enough to reregister when they want to,” she said.

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A Denver-based nonprofit focused on teen pregnancy prevention and youth sexual health will close its doors at the end of 2017 after losing two major grants.

Andrea Miller, executive director of Colorado Youth Matter, announced the news in an email to supporters Monday afternoon.

The organization, begun in the 1980s as a volunteer-run group, provides teacher training and assistance in picking sex education curricula for 10 to 25 Colorado school district a year.

Miller said she’s hopeful other organizations will pick up where Colorado Youth Matter leaves off — possibly RMC Health, the Responsible Sex Education Institute of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains or the state-run Colorado Sexual Health Initiative.

Colorado Youth Matter’s biggest financial hit came in July when federal officials announced the end of a major teen pregnancy prevention grant mid-way through the five-year grant cycle. That funding made up three-quarters of Colorado Youth Matter’s $1 million annual budget.

“It feels like we’re getting cut off at the knees,” Miller said.

About the same time, the organization lost a family foundation grant that made up another 10 percent of its budget.

Miller, who took the helm of the organization just 10 months ago, said one of her primary goals was to diversify funding, but there wasn’t enough time.

Miller said with a variety of factors playing into the state’s teen pregnancy rates, which have been at record lows in recent years, it’s hard to say what the impact of the organization’s dissolution will be.

She said Colorado Youth Matter has worked successfully with school districts with different political leanings to find the right policies and resources to address the sexual health of their students.

“We have been masters at meeting the school districts where they are,” she said.

 

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Ann Schimke on September 18, 2017

Photo via freestocks.org

The Home Front: ‘Jeers, hushes and profanities’ fill meeting to choose new head of El Paso County GOP

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“Jeers, hushes and profanities made up a substantial portion of the El Paso County Republican Party’s executive committee meeting Monday evening as the group argued how best to fill the seat of chairman Trevor Dierdorff, who submitted his resignation this month,” reported ColoradoPolitics. “Ultimately the group’s vice chairman, Joshua Hosler — who previously said he had no interest in the spot — reversed himself and an overwhelming majority voted him into the chairman position. The move was met with standing applause, a dramatic change from the timbre that filled the previous two hours. ‘I don’t belong to an organized political party, I’m a Republican,’ former state Sen. Bernie Herpin said during the meeting before voting in favor of Hosler’s ascent.”

“In their first meeting since Weld County commissioners put the fate of a county oversight board on the November ballot, members of that oversight board struck back, accusing commissioners of greed and vengeance in their attempt to disband the Weld County Council,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “Council President Brett Abernathy in a prepared statement echoed earlier comments to The Tribune, saying commissioners were motivated by financial incentives to disband the council, which sets commissioner salaries.”

“Monday was the 21st anniversary of the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, but monument supporter Nicole Croft was in a less-than-celebratory mood,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “Croft was unhappily coming to terms with reports that a monument-review memo from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to the White House, leaked to the media, includes recommendations to reduce the monument’s size, along with that of the recently created Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.”

“Longmont’s city staff is to present the City Council on Tuesday night with proposals for hiking fees charged to people using its recreational facilities and Union Reservoir,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “Also under consideration is a staff recommendation that Longmont eliminate the weekend camping it now allows at Union Reservoir.”

“After a Denver-based animal rights activist group claimed in a weekend video that it ‘rescued’ three chickens from a Berthoud farm Sunday, the farm’s owner said she would have sold chickens to the group for $16 each,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “Denver Baby Animal Save posted a video to its Facebook page documenting its actions Sunday. Members of the group said they took three chickens that were raised to be processed as poultry from Long Shadow Farm, 101 Bothun Road, which specializes in raising free-range chickens and lamb and offers poultry processing services to other chicken owners. Kristin Ramey, who owns Long Shadow Farm with her husband, said in a Monday morning phone interview that a small group of Denver Baby Animal Save members entered the farm Sunday posing as volunteers who wanted to help with the poultry processing chores planned for Sunday. The farm planned to process about 100 birds for slaughter, Ramey said.”

“A wildfire broke out near Dillon late Monday afternoon sending up a large plume of smoke and causing intermittent power outages, but the weather was favorable and limited its spread to roughly 21 acres,” reports The Summit Daily News. “Firefighters with Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and the U.S. Forest Service were working to contain the fire from below and planned to hook uphill and wrap around it.”

“Broomfield City Council recently upheld a decision by City and County Manager Charles Ozaki to hire Green House Data for the city’s data center migration project after another company competing for the bid appealed the decision,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “Handy Networks, a data center company based in Denver, filed the protest after losing the bid, claiming Broomfield staff ‘engaged in misconduct and did not fairly and completely evaluate its proposal.’ On Aug. 3, follow an investigation, Ozaki determined that there was no evidence to support Handy’s allegations.”

“Longstanding plans to ship millions of gallons of Poudre River water to Thornton are about to flow through a series of regulatory and permitting hoops,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “Thornton water officials have selected a preferred route for a 48-inch-diameter pipeline that would run from Water Supply and Storage Co. reservoirs north of Fort Collins to the east side of Interstate 25.”

“Colorado’s record-low uninsured rate held strong despite uncertainty over the Affordable Care Act’s future and unwieldy price spikes for shoppers, a newly released survey shows,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “The rate of Coloradans without health insurance hovered at 6.5 percent this spring – virtually unchanged from the same point in 2015 and less than half its pre-Obamacare level, the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey found. In El Paso County, that rate was 7.5 percent – again, virtually identical to two years ago and a fraction of its rate before the health law took effect.”

“Some of the most consequential fights over Colorado government finance in the coming years won’t happen at the state legislature or at the ballot box, but in a courtroom, where fiscal conservatives and business groups are contesting government fees of as little as 20 cents,” reports The Denver Post. “In Aspen, a taxpayer advocacy group is fighting a 20-cent surcharge on grocery bags in a lawsuit that’s now gone all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court. At the state government level, a small business coalition is arguing that the secretary of state’s office for decades has been illegally using business filing fees to finance a slew of unrelated government services. And — perhaps most significantly — the TABOR Foundation is challenging the constitutionality of a $264 million hospital fee that generates another $264 million in matching funds from the federal government to pay for uncompensated care. At issue in each of these cases is a seemingly simple question: What’s the difference between a tax and a fee?”

“The governor of South Dakota wants Colorado and other Western states to team up on tackling workforce shortages that could be keeping companies away and slowing economic growth,” reports Denverite. “Gov. Dennis Daugaard was in Denver on Monday talking about the regional need to expand career opportunities for students, graduates and displaced workers. The push is part of the Western Governors’ Workforce Development Initiative.”