Colorado Editorial Roundup

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Washington, D.C.-, January 17, 2018 | comments

(AP) -- The Durango Herald, Jan. 17, on Sen. Gardner possibly being the man to keep Sessions and Trump to their word:

Our hats go off to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) for standing up for Coloradans earlier this month and against what he viewed as the federal government trampling on the will of the voters in Colorado and elsewhere who had legalized recreational marijuana.

Gardner took a strong stand on the Senate floor, on social media and in interviews, against Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Jan. 4 decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum, the 2013 U.S. Department of Justice document that gave federal prosecutors clear guidance on how to operate in states that had legalized retail marijuana.

A bi-partisan group of Colorado's and other state's elected officials also criticized the move. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Denver) suggested it would create unnecessary chaos and confusion in an emerging industry, and Rep. Scott Tipton (R - Cortez) indicated the federal government must act to create certainty for these businesses, protect the will of the people and the industry.

In today's politics, it was refreshing to witness Gardner's strong and principled response to a perceived wrong and consistency in he and his party's support of states' rights. He struck out, even threatened to hold up DOJ nominees because, before he voted to confirm him, Sessions assured Gardner that marijuana would not be a priority of his.

Though not a pot proponent, Gardner spoke against the administration and for the 55 percent of Colorado voters who, in November 2012, approved Amendment 64 amending the state constitution to allow the personal and commercial use and regulation of marijuana, similar to alcohol. Medical marijuana in Colorado was approved in November 2000 by 54 percent of voters.

Since 2012, the recreational marijuana industry has created 23,000 jobs and generated $200 million in state tax revenue. In the 12 months ending Nov. 30, 2017, the city of Durango collected tax of $674,356 in retail pot sales (and $98,508 in medical), an increase in retail sales of $86,191, or 15 percent, since Nov. 30, 2016.

What Sessions and President Donald Trump decide are the nation's priorities remain to be seen, but, as we and a majority of Coloradans believe, supporting, rather than attempting to dismantle, this developing industry should indeed be among them. Both the city of Durango and La Plata County decided against raising pot taxes last year for this very reason.

One important way Congress and the administration can support the industry is to address federal rules that restrict banks from working with marijuana businesses. In April 2017, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada) introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE Act), that would provide protections for and allow banks to serve the pot industry. The bill currently has 58 co-sponsors and received bi-partisan support. Though not a co-sponsor, Tipton serves on the House Committee on Financial Services with Rep. Perlmutter. In May 2017, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate which received bi-partisan support from 12 senators, including Bennet and Gardner.

Colorado's elected officials have the support they need to work to move these bills through the 115th Congress. And Gardner has it to hold Sessions and Trump to their word.

In a radio interview last week on Denver's KNUS radio, Gardner said, " 2016, when Trump came to Colorado, he said he was going to protect states' rights, and he would not use federal powers to do this ... I think we can help make sure that the president's word is kept in Colorado."

Sen. Gardner may be just the man to do that.



(Colorado Springs) The Gazette, Jan. 14, on Republicans needing to clear the field for Colorado Treasurer Walker Stapleton:

If Republicans hope to elect a governor this fall, they need to narrow the primary field and unite behind State Treasurer Walker Stapleton.

The GOP begins with overwhelming odds against winning the governor's race. A crowded, divisive primary only escalates the party's growing challenges.

Republicans have won two of Colorado's past 11 gubernatorial elections, and occupied the office only eight of 42 years.

The chances of statewide Republican victories grow smaller by the week, as young, educated, urban professionals and marijuana migrants populate the Front Range. The GOP and its candidates have an abysmal record of courting the state's growing Hispanic population.

As of 2016, registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans for the first time in 32 years — by a margin of 20,000 and growing.

"Latinos and people with college degrees are moving here in droves, and these are all Democratic-leaning groups," said a CNN story in October 2016, explaining the likelihood of Colorado becoming reliably blue.

The article quoted Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for Republican secretary of state Wayne Williams and a longtime political reporter for the Denver Post.

"Population on the Front Range is exploding — that's where you have more of a concentration of Democrats," Bartels said.

"We have San Francisco-style rents here, almost. I walk by parts of the cities that used to be ghost towns and now there's lines of young people ready to party and go out."

In this environment, Republicans will win statewide office only when they offer exceptionally well-qualified candidates, nominated in nondestructive primaries. They cannot win with candidates beaten and battered by primary fights that make them say and do stupid things to secure special interest constituencies.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner enjoyed a clear primary field in 2015, when Republicans weren't outnumbered by Democrats, and barely defeated an embattled Democrat who ran a weak campaign.

Republicans enter 2018 with a field of nine candidates declared for the governor's race. Democrats, in an increasingly favorable environment, begin the year with six declared candidates.

A Braynard Group poll in September showed former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo as the clear leader among the Republican pack. He obtained 22 percent support. Stapleton scored 8.5 percent, and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman registered at 6 percent. Businessman and former one-term State Representative Victor Mitchell received 1 percent. Businessman Doug Robinson, the nephew of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, received 0.3 percent.

One thing is not likely to change. Tancredo's loyal constituency of like-minded supporters will keep him polling in the low-to-mid 20s, with or without a vigorous and well-funded campaign.

He is a niche candidate with a single message. A discussion about roads and bridges, water, energy, or state finance, invariably returns to his stark views about federal immigration enforcement.

Several of the other candidates pitch mostly interchangeable platforms, lack substantial public service, and share the uphill battle of achieving name recognition.

Coffman has won state office but has failed to launch a primary campaign that shows promise of traction. If Tancredo gets only 22 percent of the primary vote, eight other candidates divide up the remaining 78 percent. The winner in a nine-way race will enter the primary with scars inflicted by eight opponents.

If Tancredo wins the primary, even his most loyal supporters should know he cannot win the general.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon, who trashed President Donald Trump and his family in a tell-all book, met with Tancredo last year in his quest to recruit candidates.

Few Republicans, including Trump fans, will support a perceived Bannon candidate in the general election.

Tancredo contemplated his gubernatorial run because the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs canceled a conference by the white nationalist organization VDARE, which had invited him to speak. His defense of VDARE won't fly among soccer moms, young professionals, Hispanics, moderates of all backgrounds, and mainstream conservatives. It is a deal killer.

Stapleton, a traditional conservative, has what it takes to win statewide office again. A former business executive with an MBA from Harvard, he has earned name recognition and has a host of leadership accomplishments to run on.

Stapleton led the crusade to defeat an irresponsible billion-dollar tax proposal, Amendment 66, in 2013. He called out the Department of Transportation for spending $150 million on new offices, while neglecting basic highway maintenance and upgrades. He led the charge against a proposal for socialized health care that would have raised annual taxes by at least $25 billion. Stapleton has served as the lone voice of responsibility and reason on the board of the state's Public Employees Retirement Association, doing the hard work of protecting public pensions and taxpayers far into the future. He holds state agencies accountable for responsible stewardship of taxpayer assets.

As a young, articulate professional with proven leadership skills, Stapleton can appeal to urban and rural voters of all demographics. The electorate mostly wants good results, and Stapleton has a record of delivering them.

Republicans have an unusual opportunity to elect a governor this year. Stapleton's primary contenders would do themselves and their party a favor by selflessly clearing the field and helping him win against the odds.



Coloradoan, Jan. 12, on cooperation paying off for Northern Colorado:

There's good news and bad news for those who frequent Interstate 25 between Fort Collins and Johnstown.

The good news is that construction to add express lanes to both directions of the highway, replace or improve aged bridges and connect the Poudre River Trail under the interstate is expected to start this year.

The bad news is construction is scheduled to run into 2021, meaning motorists can expect to endure traffic delays and backups on the already overcrowded highway for a long time. But so it goes with roadwork: It's always a pain while in progress and a relief when it's done.

The $248 million project is a major milestone for the region on a number of levels. It will address a critical need to improve mobility and safety on the interstate as well as clear the way for expanding transit services. It's a big deal.

A key factor in bringing the deal together was the extraordinary cooperation shown by regional governments and the private sector that helped get the project funded years ahead of what was originally envisioned.

A draft Environmental Impact Statement for a wide assortment of multi-modal improvements along north I-25 between Fort Collins and Denver projected the first phase of projects would be done by 2035. The entire plan, including commuter rail service, was projected to be implemented by 2075.

But Northern Colorado was not willing to wait that long. Partners that included Larimer and Weld counties, Fort Collins, Loveland, Windsor, Berthoud, Johnstown, Timnath and Loveland-based development company McWhinney pledged $55 million for the Fort Collins-to-Johnstown project. The money helped secure a federal grant that, combined with state funding, will make the improvements happen.

That kind of cooperation and broad thinking should be used on a regular basis to address other regional issues, including the biggest of all — growth.

Local governments are accustomed to operating in silos when it comes to making decisions about growth. They follow their own lead on where and how development should occur.

The result has been conflicting visions for the best uses of resources such as land, water and infrastructure. Fort Collins and Timnath famously disagreed for years about authority over land on both sides of I-25 before hammering out an agreement in 2009.

Community leaders have not considered the needs and visions of neighboring communities when determining their growth management areas and the pace at which those areas will fill in. We've seen annexation land grabs as municipalities race to the interstate to protect their interests and future growth patterns.

Regional leaders meet on a regular basis to discuss issues and how they might work together to address them. Much of those conversations have been centered on transportation.

It's time to expand the conversation to include a regional perspective on the most effective and efficient approaches to land use. Long-range planning in individual municipalities should include a broader look at the north Front Range.

We live in an increasingly urbanized region that is expected to see its population double to more than 1.2 million by 2050, according to the state demographer.

The region's leaders need to do a better job of communicating and cooperating when planning for growth and implementing those plans.

If we can get the interstate improved, we can work together to ensure our region remains a great place to live, work and play.



The Denver Post, Jan. 11, on cracking the whip on Hickenlooper's ambitious agenda:

Ever the optimist over the past seven years, Gov. John Hickenlooper didn't disappoint in his final State of the State address Thursday. Brushing aside the toxic politics that fester in our nation, the governor sought to tackle pervasive Colorado problems with pragmatic policy suggestions.

It was one of the governor's more specific and detailed stands at the dais over the years, but now the question is whether Hickenlooper can deliver on his unique vision for our uncertain future as a lame duck.

"We have 364 days left in this administration. That's an eternity for compromise," Hickenlooper assured lawmakers gathered in the state House of Representatives.

But it will take real leadership for the governor to accomplish even a portion of what he outlined: capping orphaned oil and gas wells, addressing the opioid epidemic, building out broadband in rural areas and addressing the impact of the Gallagher amendment. Those aren't even the most critical or partisan issues on his list.

Long before his speech, Hickenlooper detailed a conservative compromise to get Colorado's Public Employees' Retirement Association back on sound financial footing. The governor's plan somewhat shielded taxpayers from the cost of paying off PERA's unfunded liability over 30 years, asking current retirees and employees to take on more of the cost.

We liked Hickenlooper's plan, but fear Democrats who control the House don't have much desire to tackle this issue that could anger a powerful base of voters in an election year. Simultaneously, we fear the Republicans who control the Senate have little interest in passing a bill that addresses the unfunded liability without also shifting away from guaranteed benefits and adopting a 401(k)-like model for employees.

Hickenlooper must push this issue on both fronts if he is to succeed with a middle ground that will serve Colorado taxpayers and public retirees well. We hope it's his top priority in 2018.

A close second priority should be transportation funding. Few Republicans applauded Hickenlooper's infrastructure plan Thursday, despite his assertion that there is broad agreement across party lines.

Last legislative session we agreed with the governor on a plan to raise taxes for roads, but Senate Republicans shot down a proposed ballot measure to do so, saying that transportation should be funded instead with existing resources. Hickenlooper adopted a compromise position Thursday, calling for $100 million a year in dedicated revenue from the general fund for transportation needs over and above the $100 million in dedicated annual funding lawmakers cobbled together last year with Senate Bill 267. On top of that he urged a vote on a tax increase, citing an incredible need of $25 billion by 2040.

But 2018 will not be a great year to ask for a tax increase. Voters will be uncertain about how the new federal tax bill will affect their bottom line and the state is projected to see substantial growth in revenue without a tax increase. Hickenlooper also hinted that voters should consider new revenue for schools, but focused most of his attention on education reform.

"To create the kind of workforce that will keep our state at the forefront of the new economy, we need to go beyond the funding issue — we need to rethink and retool our approach. We need to transition from a degree-based education system to one that also includes skills-based training," Hickenlooper said. Certainly our schools need more funding, too, which is why we backed the governor's budgeting decision to prioritize K-12 education with an additional $100 million over the mandated school funding formula.

Hickenlooper ended with his trademark "Giddy up!" He'd better start cracking the whip, too.


Content originally published by Bloomberg Government on January 17, 2018.
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