#Coleg Notebook: Debating guns, schools and race

Private education tax credit launches a flurry of education amendments

For years, Senate Republicans have been trying to pass a tax credit for private K-12 education. Now that they’re in the majority, they have brought the tax credit to the floor. Democrats used the opportunity to discuss a slew of education issues, many of which had already died in committee this session.

The Democrats proposed to make student loans tax deductible, to create a state-run tuition plan, to make private schools subject to the same standardized tests and evaluations as public schools, and to postpone funding private education until public kindergarten and preschool have full funding.

In the end, one amendment did pass with unanimous support. Carried by President Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, the amendment made the tax credit refundable. That means families too poor to pay income tax could still get a check from the state to fund their children’s private education.

Cadman said he supported the move because it would help kids who need it the most.

Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Westminster, who sponsored the amendment earlier in the debate, rallied his caucus to support it for a different reason.

Gun debate: What we talk about when we talk about “success” 

On the surface, lawmakers were fighting over a repeal of universal criminal-background checks for all gun purchases. In practice, they were debating how to measure the success of the existing universal background-check law.

Democrats in favor of retaining universal background checks for all firearms purchases — including private, or peer-to-peer sales — said the policy’s success should be measured by how many people were prevented from legally buying guns because they couldn’t pass a criminal background check. That’s nearly 6,000 would-be gun buyers since the law went on the books in 2013.

Republicans advocating a repeal of universal background checks focused on the peer-to-peer sales the bill was intended to cover, pointing out that only three people have been caught and convicted for privately buying a gun without a background check.

This disagreement about how to measure or even talk about the law’s success was never settled. The ships-passing-in-the-night debate lasted several hours. In the end, everyone voted as expected: 18 Republicans shouted “yes” to repealing the background-check law, and 17 Democrats shouted “no”.

Salazar still mulling the mascot debate

Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton spoke with us about his provocative bill to make American Indian school mascots subject to approval by a board of tribal members. The debate hasn’t left his mind, specifically the arguments of GOP lawmakers.

“That is the essence of institutionalized racism right there, that we don’t trust American Indians enough to allow them to make decisions about themselves,” said Salazar.  “Anything that you do, we still have to approve like you’re a bunch of children.’ That’s what really got to me, and I wish I had said so more clearly yesterday.”

As for his controversial introduction of the bill, which deployed other racial stereotypes and slurs to demonstrate how Indian students feel when confronted by names like “redskins,” Salazar said he has no regrets.

“This bill challenges social mores and norms, and we meant for that to happen,” he said. “We’re watching a sociology experiment take place with this bill … this is what our republic was set up for.”

“Debating Society” by Isaac Cruikshank, public domain.

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Under threat: Lawmakers work to end digital harassment

Lawmakers and their families face frequent threats; death and rape top the list. Former state lawmaker Amy Stephens, R-Monument, knows this well. In 2011, when Stephens ran an insurance exchange bill, she found herself in the crosshairs of opponents of the Affordable Care Act.

“I had death threats and was being followed when I ran the exchange bill,” Stephens told an audience at a recent Colorado Independent women-in-politics forum. “Did you know that we had to have people in front of my office every day at the Capitol? Did you know that people called my office to say, ‘We’re going to kill your boss,’ to my aides? Did you know that it was awful?”

Stephens is not alone in her experience of threats.

“Death threats? I think we’re up to one or two a day … we’re reporting about one a week to State Patrol,” said Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton.

When contentious issues hit Salazar’s desk, threats pour in. “There are those who like to bring family into it, which is an absolute no-no,” said Salazar. “My family doesn’t take the votes. I do. People will mention my girls or mention my wife. I get very concerned about my family. For myself, it is what it is. I kind of accepted that as a legislator.

“I’m sure there’s a number of other Republicans and Democrats who get all kinds of nasty threats as they go about their legislative careers,” Salazar continued, “but it saddens me that people really think that physically threatening someone is supposed to influence legislation.”

To combat pervasive electronic harassment, Salazar co-sponsored HB-1072, an update to the harassment code. He supports the bill, both for its primary intention to curb cyberbullying among kids and because it would cover repeat harassment and threats made “indirectly” through social media.

Salazar distinguishes trolls from terrorists and appreciates that the bill acknowledges the difference.

“Here are the trolls,” he said, pointing to a printout of an online article. “This is Colorado Peak Politics. They call me ‘Jackass Joe.’ Apparently that’s the name they wanted to run with.”

Does he love the nickname? No. Does he think it should be reported to State Patrol or that HB 1072 will make it illegal? Also no.

“Yes, the First Amendment talks about civil discord,” said Salazar, “but the death threats? The physical threats? No. That’s the line.”

That line and which side of it the cyber-harassment bill falls on are less clear for Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone.

In 2013, Saine ate fried chicken in a legislative task force about poverty in response to a Republican colleague who had said racially insensitive things about foods black people eat.

Commenters criticized Saine for silently protesting in defense of the racially-charged comments.

“I was receiving tweets, phone calls, Facebook messages and they’d be in the nature of, ‘I hope you die,’ and ‘I hope you die this way,” remembers Saine. “It was a semantic workaround. They didn’t actually threaten to kill me, so that’s the difference.”

Saine voted against the electronic harassment bill because she thinks it’s overly broad and would limit free speech.

“If people want to call me names, I’ll defend their right to do so as long as it doesn’t cross that line to: ‘I’m coming over to your house right now, and I’m going to do this,’” said Saine. “If every politician was able to use this bill to say, ‘You’re harassing me,’ that’s really going to chill free speech.”

The Senate is scheduled to debate the bill on the floor today.

Photo by Jonas Seaman

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Footage from the Florida climate denial frontline

This is what political denial looks like in Florida, where Republican Gov. Rick Scott has allegedly banned state officials from uttering the term “climate change.”

Video from a Senate committee hearing finds Bryan Koon, head of Florida’s emergency division, dancing around the term as he responds to questions about the climate change disaster-mitigation plans the federal government has required Florida to prepare.

On one hand, it’s absurd and awkward and funny. On the other, it’s tragic and Orwellian. How long can Republican politicians keep this up?

Colorado U.S. Senator Cory Gardner last fall during his campaign for office was asked in a Denver Post debate to respond with a one-word answer on the matter of whether he believed that (a) climate change was happening and (b) was caused mostly by human activity. But Gardner didn’t want to say “yes” or “no.” Moderator Chuck Plunkett, politics editor at the paper, was forced to explain. “These questions are meant to be answered yes or no because they should come from a core belief that you hold.”

To no avail.

“These are important issues that should be addressed seriously,” Gardner said, before rapidly plunging on. The audience oohed and awed.

This dodging on climate change is the kind of thing that makes for great video — the kind of video that outlives the people it features. The one below from 1994 concerns a different matter and it features corporate CEOs, not the people they pay to run for office, but the effect is the same.

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Ask The Cannabist: Marijuana is still illegal in Iowa. When will that change?

Reader: When is Iowa expected to change its marijuana laws? The Cannabist: Some change happened last year when Iowa passed a CBD-only medical bill …

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Newsmaker Q&A: Rep. Dan Thurlow, voting his conscience and taking the heat

Freshman lawmaker Rep. Dan Thurlow, a Republican from Grand Junction, has been making a lot of headlines lately for voting with Democrats. He ran afoul of hard-charging, far-right-politics group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners for voting against a bill that would have made it easier for Coloradans to buy machine guns and hand grenades. He also became the subject of digital recall rumblings after he voted to ban psuedo-science “conversion therapy” for gay people and against so-called religious freedom measures that he thought were too broad and might lead to discrimination. Who is Dan Thurlow? We caught up with him last Friday.


So, there’s a “Recall Dan Thurlow” Facebook page? 

Here’s the whole background on me: I came [to the Capitol] with the idea that I’m a guy who’s at retirement age and I wanted to just do something different. One advantage I have is that I don’t have much worry about whether I’m reelected or not. What I think that does is free me up to vote the way I think I should vote.

As you know, the issues down here are not simple. There’s always a complication and usually a good argument on each side. So I try to read the bills before committee, to listen in committee and then I try to make a rational decision based on what I read and what I hear. That’s the only way I know how to do it. That’s what I promised my constituents when I ran for office. That’s what I’m doing. I absolutely understand they have the right to disagree with me and they have the right to vote against me if they want and to vote for me if they agree.

As far as the whole recall thing, I don’t know and I don’t care. I don’t think it’s a very big groundswell. It’s a free country. They have the right to do what they want to do.

Have you been hearing good things from constituents about your votes? 

Oh, absolutely. On the votes I’m taking, nine-to-one the response is positive. And what’s funny about it, it’s not just the positive of “I agree with you” … it’s positive as in “That’s how you should go about the process.”

As you know, constituents can’t read every bill — that’s not what a normal person with a life has time to do. If you go and look at the gun bills for instance, there were five of them and they were complicated. There was one I didn’t agree with and I’d be glad to sit down with anybody and explain that vote. So far, everybody that I talk to and explain it to goes, “Oh, I understand why that wasn’t a good bill,” even if you’re Second Amendment proponent, which I am.

This was the machine gun…

Machine guns and hand grenades. The bill wouldn’t have done anything to ban them, it was to make them easier to buy. Machine guns and hand grenades.

So that was the vote that put you afoul of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, right? 

I really didn’t hear much right after that vote. The stuff started after the vote on conversion therapy and on [the religious freedom bills] 1161 and 1171. Those are bills that I’m glad to talk over with anybody. I understand the feelings people have. They were premised as being about religious freedom. Believe me, I support religious freedom, and think we have a lot of it. But the other side of the argument is that we have to allow people to live their lives the way they want to live them.

I believe the conservative position is for government to stay out of our life in a regulatory manner, in a tax manner, and for government to stay out of our bedrooms. That’s what I’ve supported. To me that’s the conservative position.

What’s the feedback you’re getting from your colleagues down at the Capitol? 

Literally every legislator that I’ve talked to that has any experience here has said, “Vote your convictions and, over time, that’s how you’ll be successful.”

So, last weekend state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call was ousted i a tough election. He was seen as too establishment, too moderate. But he ushered in a big win for the party with Cory Gardner, who won his U.S. Senate seat by pitching himself as a ‘new kind of Republican’ who would lay off social issues. Is the pressure you’re drawing rising from the same fault-line in the party?

I guess I really don’t. I didn’t attend [the party] elections. I was in Grand Junction that weekend. I haven’t been tuned into the intricacies of those politics. I guess I don’t have a viewpoint on that.

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Littwin: Ted Cruz for president, because he seems just like a Republican primary voter

As Ted Cruz took the stage at Liberty University to announce that he’s running for president as the One True Conservative, it suddenly occurred to me that he actually has a chance to pull it off.

The smart money dismisses the idea, and with good reason. The party establishment can’t stand him. His fellow senators can’t abide him. If you look at the early polls weighing the crowded Republican field of would-be candidates, voters don’t seem particularly enthralled, either.

And then, of course, there’s the Cruz unlikeability quotient, which has to be the highest since Nixon. Meanwhile, according to fivethirtyeight.com, which has done the numbers, Cruz is the most conservative presidential candidate in recent memory, even if your memory bank includes Michele Bachmann. There’s conservative (see: Scott Walker) and there’s conservative (see: Ted Cruz). Candidates as far out of the mainstream as Cruz just don’t win. You could look it up.

He can talk the angry, liberty-deprived, Obamacare-oppressed, amnesty-obsessed, climate-change-denying wing of the Republican Party into the idea that he’s the candidate they’ve already talked themselves into voting for.

So, how could he do it? Let’s call it the mirror test. Cruz is betting that he can talk the angry, liberty-deprived, Obamacare-oppressed, amnesty-obsessed, climate-change-denying wing of the Republican Party into the idea that he’s the candidate they have already talked themselves into voting for.

You know his bonafides, and they have nothing to do with Harvard Law School. Running as a longshot outsider, he won a Senate seat in 2012, by which time Republicans had long since dedicated themselves to opposing all things Obama. And yet, somehow, inside of a year, he had become the ultimate anti-Obama figure, who proudly cites his role in the anti-Obamacare government shutdown. John McCain may have called him a wacko bird, but that’s just how you become an anti-establishment Tea Party favorite.

Every four years, Republicans threaten to nominate someone like Cruz. And Cruz, who has been running for president since he got to the Senate, thinks the time is now.

He has made the case often enough that compromise is the real danger for Republicans. Here’s what he told the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin: “It is amazing that the wisdom of the chattering class to the Republicans is always, always, always ‘Surrender your principles and agree with the Democrats.’

“That’s been true for my entire lifetime. The chattering classes have consistently said, ‘You crazy Republicans have to give up on what you believe and become more like Democrats.’ And, I would note, every time Republicans do that we lose.”

In Cruz’s version of history, conservatives win — Reagan, the first Bush’s first run, George W. Bush — and moderates lose — the first Bush’s second run, Dole, McCain, Romney. You can guess where he puts the latest Bush. And despite the conventional wisdom – that he’d be destroyed in a general election – you can guess where he puts himself.

In Cruz’s announcement speech, which he delivered without notes, he called for Tea Partiers and Evangelicals to unite behind him. He told them how his father — a Cuban refugee who had moved to Canada, battled a drinking problem and left him and his mother — had found Jesus, reunited with his family and changed their world. Cruz called upon the Liberty students, who were, uh, mandated to be there, to imagine a world that sounds something like a right-wing fever dream. If you trust the applause, the students were dreaming along with him.

Cruz used “imagine” in the John Lennon sense — if you can imagine Lennon as a Tea Partier — maybe three dozen times. Fortunately Cruz didn’t sing, but you can pick up the tune, from which he imagined a world without Obamacare, without the IRS, with a flat tax, with every word of Common Core repealed, with a president who stands by Israel, with a president who respects the Second Amendment, with a president who respects marriage (not including the same-sex kind), with a president who protects the borders (presumably from child invaders), with a president who calls radical Islamic terrorism by its name. And on. And on.

My favorite part of the speech came when Cruz took a historical tour to show how Americans overcome all odds. He began with Patrick Henry in 1775 giving his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech, moved on to the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, to George Washington in 1777 with his troops in the freezing cold, jumping to FDR (in a bipartisan turn) in 1933 telling frightened Americans the only thing to fear is fear itself, to, finally, Ronald Reagan himself.

Here’s the part on Reagan: “Imagine it’s 1979 and you and I were listening to Ronald Reagan and he was telling us that we would cut the top marginal tax rate from 70 percent all the way down to 28 percent. That we would go from crushing stagnation to booming economic growth to millions being lifted out of poverty and into prosperity and abundance. That the very day he was sworn in, our hostages who were languishing in Iran would be released and that within a decade we would win the Cold War and tear the Berlin Wall to the ground. That would have seemed unimaginable, and yet with the grace of God, that’s exactly what happened.”

It’s unimaginable to me that Cruz would have included cutting top marginal tax rates among the courageous moments that have marked American history. One day it’s a tax cut, the next it’s the end of the Cold War.

That may not be the way you were taught the story. But it’s the way that Ted Cruz, champion Princeton debater, can tell it. You know he sees himself in the Patrick Henry role. Now imagine if enough Republicans actually agreed.

[ Photo: Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz at 2011 Values Voter Summit by Gage Skidmore.]

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Wiretap: Rotten eggs, weed and Snoop Dogg on Reaganomics


Wind turbine maker Vestas held a job fair last week in Windsor, Colorado, in the gas patch just north of Greeley. The Danish company was looking to hire 300 permanent positions — or roughly 10 times the amount of permanent jobs the Keystone XL pipeline promised to U.S. citizens.  Many of the job seekers had been laid off from drilling companies in the boom-bust Weld County oil fields. Job seeker Lindsay Gray via the Greeley Tribune: “The thing I’m really looking for is stability.”

This Stinks

Boulder’s Casey Middle School was rebuilt in 2010 for $33 million as a high-tech renewable-energy-powered facility. Students and faculty enjoy views of the Flat Iron mountains and the Sanitas Ridge – and they are also plagued by an “intermittent stink of rotten eggs.” The Daily Camera quotes Superintendent Bruce Messinger on the leaking hydrogen-sulfide problem: “Significant efforts have been made to identify the source.” A long-promised community meeting on the problem is scheduled for April 2.

Weed Read

The first of the Gazette’s four-part series Clearing the Haze explores various regulatory issues associated with legal pot. Check back over the coming days for “Marijuana and Crime,” “Youthful Addiction” and “Medical Marijuana.”


Gun Shy


After gun-wielders legally entered two Aurora City Council meetings, members got jittery and passed a ban on the open carry of guns at the municipal building, reports The Denver Post.



Poor Ratings


Colorado’s child poverty rate declined to 17 percent this year, the first drop in five years, reports The Gazette. In rural areas, 23 percent of children still face poverty.


Dogging Reagan


At SXSW, rap legend Snoop Dogg announced he is temporarily bow-wowing out of hip-hop for a foray into documentary filmmaking. He has formed a partnership with HBO to take a bite out of the impact of Reaganomics on an inner-city family in Los Angeles.



Making Up


Hillary Clinton tries to makes up with the press, but only after offering up a lecture. Via the National Journal.




Netanyahu apologizes for comments about Israeli Arabs. Obama does not seem to be impressed. Via The New York Times.



Biting the Hand


The Tea Party and Medicare: What do you do if you want to cut entitlements and much of your base is already over 65? Via The Hill.


Cuckoo’s Nest


Andy Borowitz on Ted Cruz: Disturbed man tries to get into the White House. Via The New Yorker.

Photo by Alexis Breaux


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The Week in Weed: Ludacris, Dizzy Wright flaunt doja love & 13 other pics

A compilation of favorite weed photos seen on Instagram. This installment has cameos from hip-hop stars Ludacris and Dizzy Wright, plus plenty of plant pics.

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Colorado pot plants quarantined due to possible pesticides

The city of Denver has ordered commercial pot growers to quarantine hundreds of marijuana plants because of possible pesticide violations.

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Police raid pot club owned by Alaska TV reporter who had infamous ‘I quit’

Anchorage police served search warrants at marijuana activist Charlo Greene’s Alaska Cannabis Club after receiving reports of illegal marijuana sales.

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