Politics

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Manitou Springs arts and cultural tax edges to victory by three votes

Posted By on Thu, Nov 7, 2019 at 4:36 PM

BRYCE CRAWFORD/FILE PHOTO
  • Bryce Crawford/file photo
Natalie Johnson, Manitou Art Center executive director, found out what a difference a couple of days can make, especially with election results.

The day after the election, Nov. 6, early unofficial results showed the Manitou Springs Arts, Culture and Heritage (MACH) sales tax measure had been defeated.

But on Thursday, Nov. 7, El Paso County released the final unofficial results showing the tax, which would raise $400,000 a year, passed by a mere three votes.

"We're feeling very hopeful," Johnson says, noting the county will canvass the vote later this month.

If the vote spread remains tight, within a half a percentage point, an automatic recount will be triggered.

When the results came in on election night, Johnson felt saddened, she says. "You can't help but feel it was a loss for the community. Then there's my personal feelings just knowing I've spent 60 to 80 hours a week working toward these things, and feeling the community didn't think it was important, that all my work didn't matter."

But now, when it looks like the measure was adopted after all, she's eager to show the community why it's a smart move to invest in the Carnegie Building, Miramont Castle, Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Hiawatha Gardens property.

"We're going to have to do our best to make everyone proud and feel it was worth it," she says.

In another reversal, Fran Carrick appeared to have won a Fountain City Council seat on election night by a mere two votes, but the final unofficial results show her losing by 89 votes to Detra Duncan.

Still outstanding, however, are military and overseas ballots that needed to be postmarked by Nov. 5 and received by Nov. 13. So stay tuned.
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cigarette, vaping taxes pass in several Colorado cities and counties

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 3:35 PM

Cities and counties on the Western Slope passed new taxes on nicotine products. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Cities and counties on the Western Slope passed new taxes on nicotine products.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a bill allowing cities and counties to impose their own taxes on nicotine products without losing out on their share of proceeds from a state tobacco tax.

So, this fall, local governments across the state jumped at the chance to ask voters whether the government could collect new taxes, ostensibly aimed at curbing teen vaping.

Voters approved the measures by sweeping margins.

As part of their respective ballot initiatives, Crested Butte, Vail, New Castle and Glenwood Springs will impose a tax between $3 and $4 per pack of cigarettes, and a 40 percent tax on nicotine products other than cigarettes.

Crested Butte and Vail will tax $3 per pack, New Castle will tax $3.20 per pack and Glenwood Springs $4 per pack. Boulder, which has already banned flavored vaping products, approved a 40 percent tax on e-cigarette products.

Voters in Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties also approved a nicotine tax mirroring the one passed in Glenwood Springs. Those counties' teen vaping rates are among the highest in the state, according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

That survey showed 27 percent of Colorado teens vape, the highest statewide rate in the country.

The new taxes come on the heels of a nationwide outbreak of a mysterious vaping-related illness that has claimed the lives of 37 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had logged more than 1,800 total cases as of Oct. 29.

Colorado has seen 11 cases of the vaping-related illness, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Out of the 1,364 patients nationwide for which the CDC has data on age and sex:
  • 70 percent are male.
  • The median age is 24, and ages range from 13 to 75 years.
  • 79 percent of patients are under 35 years old.
States reporting 100 or more cases include California, Utah, Texas and Illinois.

The CDC reports that most people affected by the outbreak reported vaping products that contained THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. However, the CDC has not determined a cause of the illness.

Instead, the agency continues encouraging the millions of Americans who vape to stop vaping, though it has issued some new advice recently:
  • "If you are an adult using e-cigarettes, or vaping, products, to quit smoking, do not return to smoking cigarettes. Adults addicted to nicotine using e-cigarettes should weigh all risks and benefits and consider utilizing FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies."
  • "If people continue to use an e-cigarette, or vaping, product, carefully monitor yourself for symptoms and see a healthcare provider immediately if you develop symptoms like those reported in this outbreak."
The CDC urges people not to buy black market vaping products, or modify products in ways not intended by the manufacturer.
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State measure CC fails, Colorado Springs tax measures get thumbs up

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 12:32 PM

Pete Lee: Back to the drawing board on state funding. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Pete Lee: Back to the drawing board on state funding.
The results of the Nov. 5 election in Colorado mean the state won't "start fixing things" any time soon, it appears.

That was the tagline used by backers of Proposition CC, which went down in flames — 55 percent to 45 percent — unlike two local spending measures, which were approved by Colorado Springs voters. More on that later. (El Paso County voters defeated CC by a margin of 62-38.)

CC would have allowed the state to keep money collected in excess of caps imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). That excess, which could reach billions of dollars over years to come, will continue to be refunded to taxpayers, unless the state seeks voter approval again to retain it.

The CC money, if retained, would have been spent on infrastructure such as transportation, education and higher education.

Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, tells the Indy that so far there's not a fallback plan beyond Gov. Jared Polis' proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which was issued recently and does not include money from the CC retention measure.

"There was optimism [Proposition CC] might pass," he says. "We have not developed an alternative plan. The budget was submitted last week, and it was premised on the idea of existing revenues..., so we are proceeding with a budget that does not include the $300 million that CC would have provided."
Colorado's roads won't get an infusion of cash after voters defeated Proposition CC. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Colorado's roads won't get an infusion of cash after voters defeated Proposition CC.
Given the dire condition of the state's transportation system and the rising $9 billion to $10 billion backlog of projects, Lee says an infusion of cash is needed to fix roads.

"The gas tax hasn't gone up since, what, 1992, which is the primary funding mechanism," he says. "We also are constrained by TABOR and other spending limitations."

The failure of CC, he says, sets up a competition among the state's top priorities: health care, transportation and education. Another demand comes from the criminal justice system, on which the state expects to spend $1 billion next year, he says.

"There's only a limited amount of resources," he says, adding that Democrats will be willing to work with Republicans to find ways to fund those priorities, including discussing a massive bond issue. "I think all options are on the table. I don't think we should preclude anything."

The other state measure, Proposition DD, which directed taxes on sports betting to the state's water plan, edged out a win by the slimmest of margins, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent, according to unofficial results on the Colorado Secretary of State's website. (El Paso County voters defeated it by a 54-46 margin.)

While supporters contended DD would generate about $27 million toward the state's water plan, Coloradans for Climate Justice said that amount is "tiny" and gives citizens a sense of false security that the state's water needs will be met.

The group said in a statement:
The supporters of Prop DD spent about $2.5 million in this election. We spent zero dollars opposing DD. We opposed DD out of the principle that the public taxpayer should not pay for climate damage to our rivers and water supply caused by fossil fuel corporations. The damage caused to our water supply and economy by climate change will likely be in the billions of dollars. Further, the amount of money DD would raise for the Colorado Water Plan is tiny, and it will likely only replace money that was already allotted for the Colorado Water Plan, not add to it. So let the betting begin, but betting against climate change is a bad bet that only a lousy gambler would make.
The Colorado Sun reports only 36 percent of registered voters in the state cast ballots.

El Paso County voter turnout was the same, but unlike statewide, voters were in a generous mood when it came to Colorado Springs. They handed Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers two victories to continue his undefeated record for several tax and fee measures he's proposed since taking office in 2015.
Mayor Suthers: "Thanks, citizens!" - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers: "Thanks, citizens!"

Measure 2C, approved 65-35, continues the special tax to fund street improvements, but lowers the tax to .57 percent from .62 percent enacted by voters in 2015 for five years. The new tax takes effect Jan. 2, 2021.

Measure 2B, which allows the city to keep $7 million in TABOR excess money to spend on parks, passed by a lesser margin — 57-43. City officials have previously said the money would be spent on various projects, including overhauls of three downtown parks: Alamo Park, Antlers Park and Acacia Park.

Suthers issued this statement:
On behalf of the Council and myself I want to express our gratitude for the confidence and trust the citizens of Colorado Springs have placed in our efforts to improve critical public infrastructure. In 2015 we had an infrastructure deficit of $1.5B – primarily, our roads and stormwater system. We could not have solved the problem without the cooperation of our citizens, but we have secured the citizens’ support and we are solving the problems. And as we predicted, the public investment in our city is being matched by massive private investment.

Other local balloting results, all of which can be found here:

Manitou Springs
• Only 24 votes kept a sales tax increase measure from passing in Manitou Springs. The new money would have funded improvements to Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Miramont Castle, among other projects.
• But voters overwhelming approved, by a 76-24 margin, allowing the city to spend $182,000 from the public facilities fund on downtown projects.
• John Graham defeated Alan Delwiche in the mayor's race by a 52-48 margin.

Colorado Springs School District 11 voters elected incumbent Mary Coleman, Darleen Daniels, Jason Jorgenson and Parth Melpakam to the school board.

Fountain
• Voters defeated a 10-year road tax by a 58-42 margin.
• Only two votes separate third and fourth place finishers in the race for two at-large City Council seats. Richard Applegate won a seat handily, but neighborhood activist Fran Carrick edged out Detra Duncan by only two votes for the other seat. 

Teller County
In Crippler Creek, 54.3 percent of voters elected to recall Timothy Braun, the Cripple Creek-Victor School District president. Mary Bielz, the founder of a Cripple Creek nonprofit, will replace him.

The recall followed efforts by a group called Hear Us: For Better Schools to unseat three school board members who it claimed had violated state statutes and district policies. The other two targeted school board members, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin, resigned in June.

Schools and fire
While three school districts — Lewis-Palmer 38, Miami Yoder JT60 and Calhan RJ1 — saw debt measures defeated, Tri-lakes Monument and Stratmoor Hills fire protection districts won approval of their tax measures. Two other fire districts, serving Peyton and Hanover, saw tax measures defeated.

As for various marijuana issues across the state, the Colorado Municipal League reports:
BAYNARD WOODS
  • Baynard Woods
• Mead voters said no to medical marijuana businesses and retail marijuana establishments. Center and Loveland’s questions allowing cultivation, manufacturing and testing in addition to sales were also defeated. Loveland voters also turned down a tax on marijuana sales.

• Craig voters approved three marijuana questions: to allow retail sales; to allow cultivation, manufacturing, testing and storage; and a tax on marijuana sales.

• An initiated ordinance passed in Alamosa banning the outdoor growing of personal marijuana and overturning outdoor growing regulations previously adopted by the city council.

• Louisville voters opted to permit retail marijuana cultivation facilities within the city’s industrial zones, as well as the corresponding retail marijuana cultivation facility excise tax.

• A retail marijuana sales tax also passed in Las Animas.
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Monday, November 4, 2019

Vote now! Election Day is Nov. 5

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2019 at 9:33 AM

Fine a ballot box near you and vote. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY CLERK AND RECORDER'S OFFICE VIA GOOGLE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office via Google
  • Fine a ballot box near you and vote.
Tomorrow, Nov. 5, is Election Day, so hurry your ballot to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Voters in the Pikes Peak region will decide issues that include taxes for roads, parks funding and two state issues, while also electing a mayor of Manitou Springs and members to various school boards.

From the election office:

All ballots must be returned to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office by 7:00 p.m., Election Day, Tuesday, November 5, to be counted. Postmarked ballots that arrive after the deadline cannot be counted. Please urge citizens to return their voted ballot early in advance of Election Day.

§ There will be 7 Voter Service and Polling Centers open in the county. Voters can use any VSPC in the county. Click here for a list and map of VSPCs and hours of operation.

§ We have added 10 additional secure 24-hour ballot drop boxes totaling 26 throughout the county. All boxes are open until 7:00 p.m. Election Day.

§ Click here for a list and map of all ballot drop box locations.
Results will be released from the Citizens Service Center, located at 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road, starting at 7:15 p.m. for ballots counted through 5 p.m. on Election Day. Updated results will follow at 8 p.m., 8:45 p.m., 9:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m., although that could change depending on election operations.

Final unofficial results will be released eight days after the election.

To check in on results, click here.

More from the Clerk and Recorder's Office:
Results and the Possibility of a Recount:
• Unofficial election results may change slightly after the final post on election night. Some reasons for that include the fact that military and overseas ballots are afforded extra time for delivery after Election Day, and voters with signature or identification issues have time to resolve their issue. Voters in those categories have eight days after the election to resolve their issue or return their ballot.

• The Clerk’s Office will not “call” a race for a candidate or issue. Certainly some results will not be in doubt, but the Clerk’s Office does not consider results to be official until after the bipartisan canvass board validates the results.

• There is always the possibility of an automatic or requested recount. Under Colorado law, an automatic recount is only triggered when the vote margin between two candidates or an issue is 0.5% of the next closest candidate or issue result. This is not the same as there being a 0.5% margin between two candidates.

• Should an automatic recount seem possible, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office will release additional information about the process, cost, and recount timeframe. 
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Friday, November 1, 2019

CORE Act passes House over Lamborn, Tipton objections

Posted By on Fri, Nov 1, 2019 at 2:18 PM

Proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area. - MASON CUMMINGS, THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY
  • Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
  • Proposed Sheep Mountain Special Management Area.

A bill that adds protections for 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado passed the U.S. House on Oct. 31, along mostly partisan lines.

Just five Republicans voted in favor of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act — and Colorado's own GOP representatives weren't among them.

The CORE Act's narrow victory might appear to cast a shadow on its odds of passage in the Republican-controlled Senate, especially given a White House policy statement threatening to veto the legislation, as reported by the Colorado Sun.

But Colorado's Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet — who has worked over the past decade to craft a bill that he says accounts for perspectives across the political spectrum — remains optimistic about the CORE Act's prospects.

"We can't find a similar precedent in the history of America where a president of the United States has reached out to threaten to veto with a bill like this bill," Bennet said on an Oct. 31 press call. "It's never happened. I'm shocked that it happened here, especially when it has such a broad bipartisan consensus of support in Colorado and there's such tremendous support at the local level."

"We're not going to let that dissuade us," he continued. "We're going to continue to work with the Coloradans that have worked so hard over the last decade to get this bill passed."

(See our previous reporting for a brief recap or detailed summary of the CORE Act.)

Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose 5th Congressional District includes Colorado Springs, refused to support the bill, arguing on the House floor that it does not take local concerns into account.

"While the goals of the public lands legislation in this bill are certainly admirable and well-intended, and I have great respect for the bill's sponsor...it is clear that this proposal lacks the type of local consensus required for a bill of this scale," Lamborn said on Oct. 30.

He and Rep. Scott Tipton, the Republican representing Colorado's 3rd Congressional District, said some stakeholders and local leaders affected by the CORE Act (the majority of which concerns Tipton's district) didn't feel their voices had been heard by the Democratic legislators crafting the legislation.

"This week alone, we received letters from Montezuma County, Dolores County, Rio Blanco County, Montrose County, Mesa County, all of which have various concerns about the CORE Act today," Tipton said during the debate. (Most of those counties do not contain land impacted by the legislation but are adjacent to an area it protects from future oil and gas development.)

Lamborn and Tipton also said they were concerned that a high-altitude aviation training site for the Army National Guard could be jeopardized by proposed wilderness area expansions included in the bill.

Rep. Joe Neguse, the bill's House sponsor, disputes those characterizations.

"We have yet to receive any opposition from a community in the state of Colorado to a provision of this bill that impacts that community," Neguse says, noting that commissioners in Pitkin, Ouray, San Juan, Eagle, Summit, Gunnison, San Miguel and Garfield counties support the CORE Act, as do several towns and municipalities.

The next step for the CORE Act is a Senate committee hearing.

Bennet says he's already spoken with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who chairs the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, about placing the CORE Act on the committee's hearing schedule. He expects that won't be an obstacle.

A potentially larger hurdle for the CORE Act will be obtaining the support of Colorado's Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who has expressed some hesitation. While the legislation could pass without Gardner's support, such a feat would be tricky given that Republicans control the Senate.

Gardner recently told the Colorado Sun that he hasn't ruled out voting for the CORE Act, but would like to see changes related to water rights and livestock grazing.

Gardner's Democratic challengers for his contested Senate seat next fall have already seized on the possibility of his opposition — apparently counting on Colorado's natural landscapes to pull on voters' heartstrings. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper's Senate campaign, for example, has already launched digital advertisements urging Gardner to support the CORE Act.

“Coloradans need a Senator who will stand up for public lands and listen to local communities,” Hickenlooper said in an Oct. 31 statement. “Now that the CORE Act has passed the House and is heading to the Senate, I am calling on Senator Gardner to join me and Coloradans from across our state in supporting it.”
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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trump administration limits fee waiver eligibility for would-be citizens

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2019 at 4:04 PM

USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. - U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli.
In order to become naturalized U.S. citizens, immigrants must have been lawful permanent residents (green card-holders) for at least five years, speak English and pass a civics test.

They also must pay a $725 application fee — which since 2010 has been waived for people who receive public benefits through Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income.

But an incoming change by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services means those who receive such benefits won't automatically be eligible for the fee waiver. Instead, fee waivers will be limited to those at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $25,365 per year for a two-person household. Applicants who successfully "demonstrate financial hardship" in some other way can still qualify.

Immigrant advocacy organizations threatened legal action in response to the move.

“Waivers of the $725 application fee make it possible for thousands of hard-working people to become U.S. citizens,” Anna Gallagher, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said in a statement from her organization. “This change is a roadblock on the path to the American Dream."

CLINIC estimates that 40 percent of people who apply for naturalization currently receive a fee waiver.

In an Oct. 25 statement announcing the change, USCIS argues that the changes were necessary given that income and eligibility requirements for public benefits vary from state to state.

"The revised fee waiver process will improve the integrity of the program and the quality and consistency of fee waiver approvals going forward," USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli is quoted as saying.

The agency estimates that the total dollar amount of fee waivers increased by more than $23 million between 2016 and 2017, from $344.3 million to $367.9 million. Last year, though, USCIS granted $293.5 million worth of waivers. Revenue from application fees accounts for more than 95 percent of the USCIS budget, the statement notes.

Unless activists secure a court injunction to stop the change from taking place, it will go into effect Dec. 2 for anyone applying for naturalization.

Sound familiar? The federal government has recently drawn ire with two other proposals that make it harder for people to upgrade their immigration status and receive public benefits.

A USCIS rule change allowing immigration officials to deny green cards to immigrants deemed likely to use public benefits was recently blocked in federal court. Opponents said it would discourage those in need from applying for nutrition and health care assistance.

Another proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture would mandate that individuals aged 18 to 59 making between 130 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level could no longer receive SNAP benefits. Parents in that income bracket could only receive SNAP benefits if they also qualify for at least $50 in other federal assistance each month.
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Friday, October 18, 2019

Recall fails against Sen. Leroy Garcia; only 4 signatures submitted

Posted By on Fri, Oct 18, 2019 at 4:21 PM

Senate President Leroy Garcia is in the clear on recall attempt. - COURTESY COLORADO GENERAL ASSEMBLY
  • Courtesy Colorado General Assembly
  • Senate President Leroy Garcia is in the clear on recall attempt.
Republicans in Colorado who have attempted to recall several state officials are batting zero.

On Oct. 18, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office deemed petitions to recall Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, as insufficient. Petitioners submitted a mere four signatures, when 13,506 were needed.

Republicans earlier this year tried to recall Democrat Gov. Jared Polis, Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood.

The GOP was sore after losing every state level office in November 2018, and Republicans were really steamed when Democratic lawmakers began carrying out the agenda on which they campaigned.

For example, here's the wording on the recall petition for Lee:

Senator Pete Lee, representing Senate District 11, should be recalled because he sponsored legislation to create a paid family and medical leave program to be funded by a mandatory tax on businesses and employees, disingenuously referring to it as a “fee” instead of a tax, and he voted for the passage of:

1) SB 19-042 (National Popular Vote), enacting and joining Colorado into an interstate compact to elect the president of the United States by national popular vote;
2) SB 19-181 (Comprehensive Oil and Gas Reform), reforming the regulation of the oil and gas industry in Colorado despite the voters’ defeat of Proposition 112’s drilling regulations;
3) HB 19-1032 (Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education), mandating comprehensive human sexuality education and appropriating one million dollars annually in grant funds for its dissemination; and
4) HB 19-1177 (Red Flag), creating the ability for a family or household member to petition the court for a temporary extreme risk protection order to prohibit an individual from possessing a firearm.
Here's what Democracy First Colorado had to say in a release:

"The scammers behind this year's recalls have flamed out in spectacular fashion — but not before lining their pockets and loading their databases with money and personal data from unsuspecting Colorado voters," said Curtis Hubbard, a spokesman for Democracy First Colorado. "These efforts have been deceptive to the bitter end, and we are not at all surprised by this outcome, despite recent reports to the contrary. Senator Garcia is serving Pueblo well — a sentiment voters across the district reaffirmed in the thousands of conversations we have had over the last 60 days."
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

District attorney candidates bring in the cash

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2019 at 5:32 PM

Commissioner Waller leads the fund-raising race. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Commissioner Waller leads the fund-raising race.
The battle for the Republican nomination for top prosecutor in the 4th Judicial District is shaping up to be a well-funded race on both sides, according to campaign finance reports filed Oct. 15.

El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller has brought in $35,895, of which $10,000 was a loan by the candidate and has $33,583 on hand.

Waller's backers include a number of developers, including Vince Colarelli, Gary Erickson, Mark Long, several employees of Classic Homes and Danny Mientka. So it's not surprising that he's also won support from the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen

Waller also drew contributions from former State Sen. Bernie Herpin and his wife and fellow Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen, who's not held elective office before, has raised $21,750 and has $14,928 on hand.

Notables in Allen's camp include downtown developers Sam and Kathleen Guadagnoli, former CEO of the El Pomar Foundation Bill Hybl and El Pomar board member Thayer Tutt Jr., downtown entrepreneur Perry Sanders, Mayor John Suthers, City Councilor Jill Gaebler and the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association.

So far, the two Republicans are the only ones seeking to succeed DA Dan May, who's held the seat for three four-year terms and is term-limited from seeking a fourth.
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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Roads tax "vote yes" effort draws thousands of dollars in support from contractors

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 3:12 PM

mail_attachment_2.jpeg
All the usual suspects — road contractors, local developers and construction companies — have poured money into a political action committee formed to urge voters to approve the city's 2C road tax measure.

The tax, known on the ballot as 2C (an initiative the Indy has endorsed), proposes to extend by five years the city's tax for road improvements that was adopted by voters in 2015, but would lower the rate from .62 percent to .57 percent. The tax would raise more than $50 million a year.

Dubbed "Building COS," the committee has raised $135,090 and spent $90,815, most on radio ads and mailers.

The biggest donation came from Colorado Springs Forward, a business activist group that's donated to several campaigns supporting tax and fee increases in recent years.

screen_shot_2019-10-15_at_2.34.04_pm.png
But given that it's unknown if the nonprofit even has an executive director — the most recent post on its Facebook page is dated over a year ago and its website is inaccessible — someone might wonder, Is this still a thing? Google shows it's shut down, or "permanently closed," as illustrated to the right.

But CSF apparently it is very much still a thing, because it ponied up $50,000 toward the road tax "vote yes" effort.

The "vote yes" committee has drawn many small donations, including $250 each from Mayor John Suthers, who proposed the measure, and his Chief of Staff Jeff Greene.

But the big money came from those involved in the construction industry, as follows:

  • $1,000: Trax Construction, Kathy Loo of High Valley Group, Ray Nunn of Nunn Construction, Developer Danny Mientka, and Vivid Engineering Group, all of Colorado Springs.
  • $2,000: Businessman Phil Lane and Nunn Construction, both of Colorado Springs.
  • $2,500: Jim and Laura Johnson (owners of GE Johnson) and Phil Long Dealerships, Inc., both of Colorado Springs.
  • $5,000: Gaylord Smith of AA Construction, GE Johnson Construction, Church Community Builder, Nor'wood Development Group, and the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, all of Colorado Springs; Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association, Centennial; Western Milling LLC, Grand Junction; A-1 Chipseal, Denver, and Even-Preisser, Inc., Monument.
  • $20,000: Work Zone Traffic Control, Inc., Pueblo.
Against the 2C measure is SpringsTaxpayers.com, which has announced it launched a radio ad this week.

Run by political operative Laura Carno, the organization is "committed to holding local government accountable," she says.

Says Carno in a news release:
We oppose the passage of 2C, the renewal of the pothole tax. Even outside of the annual income from the current pothole tax, and from the Stormwater Fee, the City of Colorado Springs has record revenue, and record spending. City government can prioritize roads, bridges, and public safety today. It doesn’t need to renew a sales tax to prioritize these important expenditures.
She also notes in the release that voters should keep in mind those projects on which the city spends money that might not be considered a high priority by voters, such as bike lanes, neighborhood traffic-calming projects, legal bills for a City Council member, and the $16 million subsidy for retailer Scheels.

SpringsTaxpayers.com has also published a report on how the original 2C money was spent, reporting that only 53% went to paving and potholes.

As for the other city measure on the ballot, 2B, a group called "Vote Yes for Parks" hasn't raised or spent any money. The measure asks voters to allow the city to keep $7 million in money in excess of limits imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and spend it on parks.
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Friday, September 27, 2019

Trump administration proposes historically low refugee ceiling for 2020

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2019 at 6:20 PM

Syrian refugees at Budapest Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, in 2015. - MSTYSLAV CHERNOV
  • Mstyslav Chernov
  • Syrian refugees at Budapest Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, in 2015.

The U.S. will accept a maximum of 18,000 refugees next year, breaking the record for the lowest cap on admissions for the third year in a row.

The State Department announced the new number — 12,000 under this year's limit — in a Sept. 26 report to Congress, adding that the administration also plans to process more than 350,000 asylum cases. Historically, there has been no official limit on the number of admitted asylum seekers.
While refugees and asylees must both prove a "well-founded fear of persecution" based on race, religion or social group in their country of nationality , refugees must have their paperwork approved before entering the United States. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, ask for protection when presenting themselves at a port of entry or submit an application from within the U.S.

In 2017, the latest year for which data on asylum seekers is available, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received 119,303 defensive asylum cases (filed by individuals facing deportation) and 139,801 affirmative cases (initiated by individuals seeking protection from deportation).

In the years since, the country has experienced a growing influx of Central and South American asylum seekers, including teenagers and young children, crossing the southern U.S. border to escape violence and extreme poverty.

"The current burdens on the U.S. immigration system must be alleviated before it is again possible to resettle large number [sic] of refugees," the State Department said in a Sept. 26 statement. "Prioritizing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in our country is simply a matter of fairness and common sense."
As of Sept. 20, with just weeks left in fiscal year 2019, the U.S. had admitted 29,818 refugees, coming close to the limit of 30,000 set last year by President Donald Trump's administration. The year before, when Trump had set the cap at 45,000, the country admitted just 22,491 refugees.



Immigration advocates decried the administration's move to again lower the cap, as well as a Sept. 26 executive order from Trump implementing a policy for allowing states and municipalities to refuse refugees.

“The Trump Administration’s continual efforts to gut the refugee and asylum systems harkens back to the worst moments in our nation’s history," Todd Schulte, president of pro-immigration political organization FWD.us, said in a statement. “...Further, the idea that we would allow states or localities to block people who have been vetted and approved to live in the United States, from resettling in certain communities is wrong. Segregating immigrant populations will only serve to further divide our country along lines of race and ethnicity."

Meanwhile, USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli voiced support for lowering the cap.

“The proposed FY 2020 refugee ceiling, as outlined by the President, takes into account our existing and anticipated humanitarian workload on all fronts and fulfills our primary duty to protect and serve U.S. citizens," Cuccinelli said in a statement. "The professional, dedicated men and women of USCIS continue to faithfully administer our nation’s lawful immigration system and protect its integrity in order to ensure we provide humanitarian protection to the most vulnerable who meet the requirements under the law."
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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Local Dems call for Gov. Polis town hall meeting on police shooting

Posted By on Thu, Sep 26, 2019 at 12:42 PM

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UPDATE:
El Paso County Democratic Party Chair Electra Johnson issued this statement over the weekend after the earlier press release was sent by another officer:
As the Chair of the El Paso County Democratic Party, it is my duty to provide oversight of all matters which involve the party. On Wednesday, Sept 26th, a press release was provided to media outlets which wrongfully represented the Executive Officers of the party.

This letter serves as a retraction of that press release. The original press release was made without the consent or approval of the officers to whom the statement was attributed. This misstep by one of our officers is deeply regretful. It has, however, provided an opportunity for the party to articulate a fully inclusive position on a highly sensitive matter which demands honesty, integrity, and transparency. If ever a time exists for political parties to be honest, exercise integrity, and provide transparency, that time is now and the El Paso County Democratic Party embraces it.


——————-ORIGINAL POST 12:42 P.M. THURSDAY, SEPT. 26, 2019—————————

The El Paso County Democratic Party has called for Gov. Jared Polis to hold a town hall meeting in Colorado Springs about the Aug. 3 officer-involved shooting of De'Von Bailey.

For background on this case, go here.

We've asked the state party to respond and will update when we hear something.

Here's the letter:

Sept. 15, 2019

Dear Honorable Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll,

This letter is sent to express an urgent need for the Colorado Democratic Party to live its values at a truly grassroots level. The Colorado Springs community has asked the Democratic Party's help to demand justice following the police shooting death of De'Von Bailey. Local organizers let it be known our Party's involvement is crucial for both life and safety as well as the health of our local democracy. The work of the community following the tragic death of De'Von Bailey is the work of our party. We must do our part as Democrats.
Gov. Jared Polis during a 2017 campaign stop in Colorado Springs. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Gov. Jared Polis during a 2017 campaign stop in Colorado Springs.
This letter asks a very specific request:

The Colorado Democratic Party should utilize our ties to Democratic Governor Jared Polis to request he host a town hall as soon possible in Colorado Springs regarding the police shooting death of De'Von Bailey. Ultimately, the community desires Governor Polis appoint a special prosecutor in this case and issue an executive order for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to carry out a special investigation of De'Von Bailey's death.

To the frustration of many community members, it appears as if government officials have passed the buck regarding the authority to pursue an impartial investigation here. It would seem the buck now ultimately rests with the Governor. Also, disturbing to the community are the reports that an officer involved in this shooting death, and other violent force incidents, has no available Colorado Springs Police Department internal records. We do a grave disservice to our Party and our community should we fail to recognize the frailty of voters' trust in our own local governments. We must intervene in this dangerous dynamic.

Governor Polis should know that without a town hall for follow through, many Colorado Springs voters have told us his statement on Bailey's death will be viewed as nothing more than the political pandering our party is so often accused of when it comes to people of color. Moreover, Bailey died from bullet wounds. The impact of gun violence festers throughout our nation. Colorado knows this wound profoundly.

The Colorado Democratic Party's genuine commitment and care toward the community regarding this tragedy is important to continue to build trust. Equally crucial, affecting this situation could set an important precedent shifting the arc of justice in our own community toward progress.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.

Respectfully,
The Executive Officers of the El Paso County Democratic Party
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Friday, September 20, 2019

Pico announces State House bid

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2019 at 5:44 PM

Andy Pico: State House bound? - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Andy Pico: State House bound?
Colorado Springs City Councilor Andy Pico has tossed his hat into the ring as a Republican candidate in State House District 16, a seat now held by Larry Liston.

Liston reportedly plans to run for a senate seat.

Pico is serving his second term on City Council. If he wins the House seat, he would take office about three months before his Council term ends in 2021.

Wendy Miller also has filed as a Republican candidate for the seat.

His news release:
Today, current District 6 City Councilman Andy Pico, a Republican, announced that he is a Candidate for The House of Representatives, State of Colorado, House District 16. House District 16 currently being served by Representative Larry Liston will become a vacant seat in 2020 as Representative Liston seeks election to The Colorado State Senate, District 10.

Representing approximately 66,000 residents House District 16 is completely within the boundaries of Colorado Springs and includes the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and most of Colorado Springs School District 11.

“Republicans have been on the defense for far too long. The ruling party in Denver is now waging economic warfare on the residents of Colorado directly targeting energy and ranching, about a third of the state’s economy and hitting the pocketbooks of everyone. Their Party has gone from a moderate to liberal Party claiming to be of the people to a far-left socialist Party – let’s give everyone free lunch, free health care and free college. Who pays for all of them to play Santa Claus? - you, the hard working – what will be left of the middle class? The economically illiterate ruling regime in Denver will wreck the state. Offense is the best defense,” noted Pico.

Pico, serving his second and final term on City Council, is a known conservative voice on that governing body which oversees City government as well as serves as the Board of Directors of the municipally owned 4 service utility – a billion-dollar enterprise. Whether he is voting on Colorado Springs energy policy or supporting our first responders, Pico, an avid supporter of TABOR (the tax payers bill of rights), listens to his constituents, the tax payers and utility rate-payers, before making a decision on their behalf. He is Pro-Life, a Life Member of the NRA and a defender of the 2nd Amendment, free market advocate and defender of our individual freedoms.

“I was relieved when Councilman Pico told me he'd spoken with his wife and family, winning the most important support he'll have, that he'll seek to fill the vacancy that's been created by Representative Larry Liston running for Senate. District 16 will remain in good conservative hands with Andy. Leadership in Colorado is looking up!” - Helen Williams

A retired Navy Flight Officer who did a second career in industry, Andy Pico is married to Janice and the father of nine children and grandfather to fifteen.

For more information, visit PICO4COLORADO16.COM
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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Update: Local GOP in turmoil as 2020 approaches

Posted By on Thu, Sep 19, 2019 at 10:30 AM

Vice Chairman Tony Gioia - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Vice Chairman Tony Gioia
UPDATE:
Tony Gioia tells the Independent a different version of events from the Sept. 12 vacancy committee meeting than was described by party secretary Vickie Tonkins in an email to Central Committee members.

He says the election of a vice chair resulted in him being elected by a vote of 19 to 18 over Tonkins. But the ballot packets consisted of two blue ballots and one orange ballot, stapled together, designed to accommodate multiple balloting efforts in case a first ballot didn't result in a winner.

The sole orange ballot cast was turned in stapled to the two blue ballots, so there was no fraud.

Gioia says three executive committee members, including Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman, made sure each ballot was counted properly and it was clear who the person casting the orange ballot wanted to vote for.

The intent at the Sept. 12 meeting was to elect a vice chair; that would immediately be followed by an election to elevate the vice chair to acting chair until a Central Committee vote could be held to elect a chairperson.

When Tonkins wasn't elected vice chair, "her supporters went into a tizzy" and decided not to conduct a vote on elevating the vice chair to the chairmanship, Gioia says.

Now, the State Executive Committee will decide on Saturday whether Gioia was or was not elected as vice chair at the Sept. 12 vacancy committee meeting.

If he was, Gioia will set up a Central Committee meeting in October for election of a chair, for which he intends to run.

If he's deemed not to have been elected vice chair, Tonkins — as the sole elected party officer — will set up the Central Committee meeting. But Gioia says he still intends to run for the chair post.

We asked Tonkins about all that, and received this explanation via email:
The issue is not intent the issue is one individual did not follow clearly given instructions! I have no idea who used the incorrect ballot all I know is of 37 voting members, all heard the clear instructions (given multiple times) and the reason for the different color ballots!

With that said, the voter did not follow the instructions. This was brought to the attention of those in charge both in the counting room and by myself. It should have been brought back to the body for a re-vote. If that orange ballot would have had my name on it, I would have asked for a re-vote because any reasonable person could see this was not appropriate!

Others of the committee saw this and felt they had to contact the state, I did not contact the state, and their voices should be heard!

This is unfortunate but to say it is right for any of us to not follow instructions and do our own thing is a problem at best and dangerous at worst.
—————-ORIGINAL POST 12:42 P.M. WEDNESDAY, SEPT. 18, 2019—————————-

In the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, the El Paso County's Republican stronghold lacks leadership and recently set aside an election for a chairperson due to voting irregularities.

The election was made necessary by the Aug. 28 resignation of County Republican Party Chairwoman Tamra Farah and the earlier departure of Vice-Chairwoman Mary Bradfield. Farah said in a resignation letter she had met with "opposition to my chairmanship within our central committee," which she termed "deeply disappointing," according to Colorado Politics. The disruption comes at a time when the party hopes to stave off an unseating of U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and re-elect Donald Trump for a second presidential term in 2020.

A Sept. 12 meeting of the party's executive committee to elect a temporary acting chairperson "failed to reach a conclusion due to balloting discrepancies," party secretary Vickie Tonkins wrote in a Sept. 16 message to Central Committee members.

"As the only properly elected party officer left, the responsibility has fallen to me to work with you to rebuild our party and avert further turmoil," Tonkins wrote. "Unfortunately, there are more problems surfacing as the fallout from these resignations continues to develop."
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After the failed vote on Sept. 12, she says, the state GOP is reviewing a formal challenge to that election report, which she said was submitted by fellow committee members.

Two people sought the chair position. Tony Gioia, which the GOP website identifies as the currently serving vice chair, is a local realtor and unsuccessful 2019 candidate for a Colorado Springs City Council at-large seat. He received one more vote than a challenger, who Tonkins didn't name in her letter. But that vote wasn't an authorized ballot for that election, she said. The legitimate ballots were blue, while the ineligible ballot cast was orange.

So the results had to be tossed.

"The only conclusions to draw are someone cast an improper ballot or worse, somebody may have voted twice," Tonkins wrote. "Either way, the proper results should have been an 18 to 18 tie then triggering another round of voting, which unfortunately didn’t happen."

Thus, Tonkins said she will call a new election of the Central Committee.

"This type of approach, respecting the rule of law, is the only way we can have unity going into a critical election year, because it is no secret that El Paso County will be a linchpin in ensuring the reelection of President Trump and Senator Gardner," she said.

According to the party's bylaws, the meeting requires 30 days notice. 

We've reached out to Gioia and Tonkins and will update when we hear from them.
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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Efforts to recall Lee, Pettersen fail

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2019 at 11:52 AM

Sen. Pete Lee - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Sen. Pete Lee
The recall efforts against Colorado Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, have ended in failure, after organizers told the Colorado Secretary of State's Office they will not turn in signatures seeking special elections.

Neither senator — each of whom won a 2018 election by a large margin — faced allegations of ethical or legal violations; instead, organizers said they disagreed with their votes on key bills.

Gov. Jared Polis welcomed news that the recalls had failed, saying in a press release:

Coloradans are tired of political games and I am pleased to see these sideshows have failed. Senator Pettersen and Senator Lee are dedicated public servants who work hard every single day for their constituents and their communities. They have served as thoughtful and strong partners in our administration’s efforts to address the opioid crisis and reform our broken criminal justice system. This announcement simply reiterates that Coloradans are not interested in divisive politics and distractions that take away from the pressing needs of our state like improving education, solving traffic problems and saving money on health care. Coloradans want real results and that is what I believe — regardless of political affiliation — we can continue to deliver, together.
Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll was more cutting in her statement:

Considering that both Senators Lee and Pettersen won their 2018 elections overwhelmingly by double digits, it is hardly surprising the sore losers running these sham recalls are throwing in the towel. As has been the case with the previous failed recalls, this was never about their votes. These were far-right activists who are upset they lost so badly in 2018 and were desperate for a redo through these ridiculous recalls. The people of SD11 and SD22 saw through this sham, which is exactly why they rejected this cynical effort to overthrow their 2018 votes.

The announcements are the latest in a string of failures by conservative activists, some with strong ties to the state's Republican Party, against Democratic officials. Activists failed to collect the 631,266 signatures needed to force a special election recalling Polis by the Sept. 6 deadline. Organizers likewise withdrew earlier efforts to recall state Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, and Rep. Rochelle Galindo, D-Greeley, the latter after she resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.

The recall effort against Lee needed 11,304 valid signatures by Sept. 10, and Pettersen's needed 18,376 by Sept. 16. Technically, the Pettersen recall effort is still active, but the Secretary of State's Office says recall organizers have said they will not turn in signatures.

Notably, no signatures have been turned in for any recall effort.

Only state Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, still faces a recall effort. Organizers need 13,506 valid signatures by Oct. 18 to force a recall election.
Sen. Brittany Pettersen - BRITTANY PETTERSEN CAMPAIGN
  • Brittany Pettersen Campaign
  • Sen. Brittany Pettersen
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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

10 local stories making headlines this week

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 12:20 AM

GRIBOV ANDREI ALEKSANDROVICH / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Gribov Andrei Aleksandrovich / Shutterstock.com

The city proposes to require bear-resistant trash cans west of Interstate 25. Have your say at public meetings, which begin at 6 p.m. on Aug. 22 at Fire Station 18, 6830 Hadler View, and Aug. 29 at Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper ended his presidential bid on Aug. 15 and now is being eyed to take on Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race in Colorado.

On the heels of the city closing Prospect Lake due to blue-green algae, Colorado Springs Utilities announced Aug. 14 that Pikeview Reservoir tested positive for the algae. Humans and pets are banned, though fishing is still allowed.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office announced that 16 deputies graduated from its training academy to work in the crowded Criminal Justice Center, which has made headlines for assaults and inmate deaths.

Colorado Springs Airport received a $9,000 grant from the Colorado Energy Office to build a Level 2 dual-port electric vehicle charging station, to be completed in early 2020.

The Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball team will bury a time capsule next month, after the final home game of their inaugural season. The time capsule will be opened April 27, 2069, (the birthday of mascot Toasty).

The Bureau of Land Management anticipated no significant impact in Fort Carson’s request to use 43 sites in Teller, Fremont and Park counties to practice helicopter landings.

Planned Parenthood said Aug. 19 it will forgo federal Title X funding, which helps low-income people access contraception, rather than comply with a Trump administration-imposed “gag rule” it called “dangerous, unethical, and harmful to patients.” The rule prohibits the agency from providing abortion referrals.

A bat with rabies was found at the Rainbow Falls Historic Site on the western edge of Manitou Springs, El Paso County Public Health reports. If you know of a person or pet that came in contact with a bat in the area call 578-3220 immediately.

The city will host an open house at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum to present a draft historic preservation plan update, HistoricCOS.
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