Powerful Christian-right group aligned with 33 Colorado Republicans against Planned Parenthood

May 2nd, 2016

Thirty-three Republican members of the Colorado legislature joined last year with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a national anti-choice and anti-LGBT organization, in demanding the Colorado health department investigate Planned Parenthood, according to a letter released by ADF via Colorado State Sen. Kevin Lundberg’s office.

Considered to be one of the most powerful Christian right organizations in America, ADF is well-known at the Colorado legislature for pushing legislation and testifying in favor of the social-conservative agenda.

But it’s rare to see ADF form a direct alliance with so many legislators, as it did in advocating for a Planned Parenthood investigation.

“I’m not surprised to see ADF branching out into working alongside state legislators,” said Robert Boston, author of Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn’t Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do, via an email. “While I’m not aware of efforts on this scale in other states, I do know that ADF has of late been sending unsolicited ‘advice’ to state and local lawmakers concerning issues like the ability of government clerks to refuse service to same-sex couples. The influx of Tea Party-style Republicans in state governments since 2014 has given the group a host of natural allies in the state capitols, and it’s not surprising to see this relationship growing.”

While its work directly with legislators isn’t widely seen, ADF has a longstanding and multi-pronged history of attacking Planned Parenthood, including efforts to defund the health-care organization and to organize grassroots opposition among people and businesses. The organization’s anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ stances are widely documented.

In a 2015 handbook designed to help religious entities discriminate without facing legal repercussions, ADF equates bestiality and incest with being LGBTQ, participating in adultery, and using pornography.

“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female,” states the handbook. “These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. (Gen 1:26-27.) Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.”

The handbook continues: “We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. (1 Cor 6:18; 7:2-5; Heb 13:4.) We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God. (Matt 15:18-20; 1 Cor 6:9-10.)”

ADF, which did not return a call for comment, campaigned in support of a 2003 Texas lawsuit, arguing that it’s “clearly” true that “same-sex sodomy is a distinct public health problem.” ADF has backed efforts to criminalize homosexuality abroad, according to a report by Media Mattes for America.

ADF has gained attention more recently for providing legal defense for anti-LGBTQ business owners who refuse to serve same-sex patrons.

“ADF and its allies are attempting to reverse something like 50 years of social progress,” wrote Boston, who serves as communications director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national progressive organization. “They are essentially at war with modernity. Some might argue that this is alarmist, and it won’t happen. But the fact is, reproductive rights have been under constant assault since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, and opponents of legal abortion have made a lot of progress.”

In the September 25 letter to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), GOP lawmakers requested the “standards or criteria that are required to initiate an investigation” of Planned Parenthood, and it asked how a heavily edited video that falsely purported to show illegal dealings in fetal tissue donation would not be investigated.

The video and others like it, part of an undercover series by the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), has been discredited and their creators indicted, but the videos have spawned local and national Republican-led hearings and investigations of Planned Parenthood. No evidence has shown Planned Parenthood to have broken any laws.

The ADF letter, which has not been previously reported on, came after CDPHE, in an August 31 letter, rejected a demand by many of the same state legislators to “initiate an investigation” of Planned Parenthood.

Among the GOP lawmakers listed on ADF’s letter calling for an investigation of Planned Parenthood are State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster), whose fate in November’s election, some say, could determine whether Republicans maintain control of the Colorado Senate, and State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton), who was rejected by Republicans to run against Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet this fall.

State Rep. JoAnn Windholz (R-Commerce City), who’s been asked to resign after blaming Planned Parenthood for being the “true instigator” of November’s deadly shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, was also listed as a signer.

Multiple calls for comment on the letter and ADF’s legislative priorities were made to Rep. Dan Nordberg (R-Colorado Springs), whose name appears first among the lawmakers listed on the letter, were not returned.

Many of the Colorado legislators aligned with ADF were part of an unofficial “hearing” in November focused largely on the CMP smear videos, that turned into a day-long condemnation of Planned Parenthood. It took place just over two weeks before three people were murdered at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, which re-opened fully Sunday.

The ADF letter, which was included in an ADF briefing book distributed to legislators at the “hearing,” also requested public documents from CDPHE, including all correspondence with Planned Parenthood, pursuant to Colorado’s open records law.

It was signed by senior ADF Counsel Michael J. Norton, who left ADF in December to start the Colorado Freedom Institute, which will focus on conservative religious causes.

Norton, who drafted a 2006 amendment that voters added to the Colorado Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, testified frequently at the state capitol and has been an outspoken advocate for anti-choice campaigns.

Norton did not return emails asking if the lawmakers who joined his former organization’s letter support ADF’s broader agenda of criminalizing homosexuality and defunding Planned Parenthood.

Another layer of sadness added to depressing situation at Denver Post

April 30th, 2016

Westword’s Michael Roberts reported yesterday on The Denver Post’s announcement  that it plans to offer buyouts another 26 journalists:

If this reduction is realized, the Post’s newsroom will have lost more than a third of its workers in around a year.

As we reported in June 2015, there were approximately 165 newsroom members when the Post announced its previous buyout offer. By the end of that July, twenty people were gone — nineteen voluntarily, one via layoff.

The staff diminution has continued since then. The Denver Business Journal reports that there are about 130 people in the newsroom at present. Take 26 people away from that total and the Post’s newsroom will barely be over the century mark.

Can you imagine the sadness and frustration you’d feel if you worked at The Post right about now? It’s bad enough to watch from the outside.

Former Post Editor Greg Moore told me last month that the economic troubles expedited his own departure from the newspaper, and how can you blame him or any of the reporters who decide to take the buyout and depart now.

Still, today’s newspaper was full of admirable reporting on a wide range of topics. That pretty much says it all about what we have and what we’ll lose.

Journalists correctly see challenges faced by candidate who “needed a court ruling to keep his campaign alive”

April 30th, 2016

In its report on a Denver judge’s decision to allow U.S. Senate candidate Jon Keyser on the Republican primary ballot, after the Secretary of State had rejected his petitions, The Denver Post’s John Frank and Mark Matthews reported:

Once considered a favorite in the race, Keyser must now overcome other challenges that are injecting questions into this campaign not least among them, the fact he needed a court ruling to keep his campaign alive. [BigMedia emphasis]

It’s unclear just how much of a liability Keyser’s signature-gathering fiasco will be, but the reporters were correct to write that it raises questions–as yet unexplored in detail by journalists–about whether Keyser’s short stint on the campaign trail and in public service has shown him to be competent not only to run a campaign but to be an effective U.S. Senator, to replace Democrat Michael Bennet.

Keyser’s Republican colleague in the Colorado State House, Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton, jumped on Facebook last week to write that Keyser “isn’t ready for prime time,” as evidenced by Keyer’s fundraing troubles, problematic petitions, and other bungles.

Everett: Not to say he won’t cure, suers gonna sue. But what’s interesting here is how close he was in Congressional District 1 (20 signatures), in heavily Republican CD5 (a mere 76 signatures), and CD 6 (75 signatures). If another candidate were to contest the validity of those Congressional Districts, he may be deemed insufficient in other areas. Not to mention his announcement claim that he had $3 million pledged to his campaign but only raised $200K, while contributing $100K of his own money. After serving with him for a mere year in the legislature, it is still pretty clear he isn’t ready for prime time…

“After serving with [Keyser] for a mere year in the legislature, it is still pretty clear he isn’t ready for prime time….”

If you couple that statement with the campaign lapses, you have a bunch of unanswered questions about Keyser’s basic competency that need to be addressed by reporters as the campiagn gears up.

Tea Party activist is now “executive editor” at the Colorado Statesman?

April 28th, 2016

If all you knew about Jennifer Kerns is her job title of executive editor of the Colorado Statesman, you may have been surprised if you attended last Thursday’s meeting of the North Jeffco Tea Party, where she provided an evening lecture titled, “Brokered Brand: How the GOP continues to compromise its brand and lose elections… and what you can do about it.”

A couple days before her Jeffco speech, Kerns’ Tea-Party conservatism was blaring from KNUS 710-AM, where she subbed for arch conservative Dan Caplis:

Kerns: We can’t forget that we have a big senate race coming up here in 2016, the race against Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the more liberal members of the U.S. Senate, very similar to Mark Udall, except, in my view, there’s one big problem with Senator Bennet, and that is, whereas Mark Udall was concerned about one thing and one thing primarily, your uterus–That was his nickname at least on the campaign trail, given to him by The Denver Post.–Sen. Michael Bennet has many, many interests that he wants to control in your life. And to talk about that a little bit is the executive director of Advancing Colorado, Jonathan Lockwood. … I want to go through some of the attacks you’ve made on Sen. Michael Bennet and rightfully so, given his track record. Let’s start with his support of President Obama’s nuclear deal that gives Iran basically unfettered access to nuclear material… Great work you’re doing, Jonathan Lockwood….

This doesn’t sound like a journalist who, a couple weeks later, would be writing a front-page Statesman article about the Bennet race. But, yes, Kerns authored the April 13 piece, headlined “Bennet will have a fight, but how much of one is TBD.”

The headline was fair enough, but the article hit a low note by repeating an inaccurate conservative attack against Bennet:

“[Bennet's] initial support of transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay detention camps was an unpopular sell to many Colorado voters,” Kerns reported.

Bennet never supported transferring GITMO prisoners here, and Kerns was immediately challenged on Twitter by “MissingPundit,” who pointed out that Politifact found it untrue that Bennet supported bringing Gitmo detainees to Colorado.

In response, Kerns called Politifact a “lefty site,” again repeating a conservative talking point that ignores the fact that Politifact won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Kerns tweeted that Politifact is “lefty” in the same way America Rising is “righty.” In reality, America Rising was established to expose the “truth about Democrats”, while the mission of Politifact is fact checking.

In any case, to the Statesman’s credit, the falsehood about Bennet was later removed from the digital version of the article, but, unfortunately, there was no indication that a correction was made.

Asked to discuss this error and her conservative activism, Kerns, who’s also a favorite of KNUS’ Peter Boyles, referred me to Statesman publisher Jared Wright.

First, Wright said, he’s obviously aware of Kerns’ conservative background, and he points to her bio, often printed in the newspaper and online, as proof that the newspaper is being transparent about her:

Jennifer Kerns is an executive editor at The Colorado Statesman. She is an accomplished conservative political writer and contributor to several national publications including The Blaze, The Washington Times, and The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal. She also served as the communications director and spokeswoman for the 2013 Colorado recall elections to defend Coloradans’ Second Amendment rights. [and California's Proposition 8, BigMedia addition]

Calling the recall elections an effort “to defend Coloradans’ Second Amendment rights” is biased itself, but Wright said, “All of her stuff [online and print] goes through another editor and the fact-checking process. And there have been a number of times when we said, ‘You need to go get comments from the other side. You need to make sure the other side has its say.”

Wright said it’s “no excuse,” but his small newspaper has been hit with an overlapping staff crisis and vacations recently. A written correction should have been made on Kerns’ Bennet article, in line with the newspaper’s policy, and he promised to look into it.

The short staffing, he said, was partly the reason Kerns was writing the Bennet article in the first place, said Wright. The executive editor job is “more of an executive officer or an assistant to the editorial department,” he said. But Kerns will “pinch hit” as a reporter, as she did when writing the “Hot Sheet” feature when Wright, who usually writes the informative daily political briefing, was away recently.

Wright believes that advocates can make good journalists at a political newspaper like the Statesman, due to their insider contacts and deep political knowledge.

But, I told Wright, Kerns looks like a conservative operative at work at the Statesman, which, two sources say, is under the majority control of conservative power-broker Larry Mizel.

Wright said expects Kerns’ outside political work to end soon, though she’ll still have her opinions, and some of it was on tap before she started.

“I’m fully aware that Jennifer has her bent, probably more than anyone else on our staff,” said Wright, who’s a former GOP state lawmaker, now a registered independent.

“I want to have people who are opinionated,” said Wright, emphasizing his newspaper will be as transparent as possible. “It’s important to have journalists but also to have people who have been very active in politics, and of course the only place you are going to find those people is on one side of the aisle or the other. So as long as we have a balance of those people on the team, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Who’s the balance for Kerns, who started last month?

“You know, we’ve also got [Statesman Capitol Bureau Chief] John Tomasic,” Wright said. “John will tell you he’s very opinionated on the progressive side and has worked for progressive publications [like the Colorado Independent].”

Kerns has a track record as an operative; Tomasic is a journalist, I told Wright.

He agreed that the two staffers are not comparable “in the way they are currently operating.” He said he might add a writer with a progressive background to his staff. [If you know someone, please see if they want to apply.]

With respect to Tomasic, he said, “There are times when we have to say, ‘John, you have to go talk to the other side. John, sometimes correctly, doesn’t trust the other side, and doesn’t have those contacts. It’s just all of us, working as a team, and keeping each other on track.”

The question is, given what we’ve seen so far, can the team control Kerns?

Clarification: An early version of this post implied that the Statesman is begging for progressive job applicants. This is not what I meant.  Also, the incorrect statement that Tomasic wrote for progressive causes was removed.

When will a reporter ask Woods why she likes Trump?

April 26th, 2016

How many times does State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) have to say she likes Donald Trump before a reporter will ask her the simple question of, why?

In an email to supporters Sunday, Woods wrote that she’d vote for Trump, if he were the nominee, adding, “I have liked Trump and Cruz, and at times I have disliked them both.”

Woods, who’s been more open about her support for Cruz, said earlier this year on KNUS 710-AM of the Republican prez candidates:

Woods: “My favorites are Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.”

Now, with Trump set to roll one step closer today to securing the Republican nomination–and with Woods apparently the only elected official in Colorado to affirmatively and proactively express her fondness of Trump–you’d think a journalist out there would jump on the local angle and ask her why.

Yet, apparently Woods has skated by the press corps, somehow avoiding the scrutiny you’d expect her to receive as the senator whose fate in November’s election will likely decide whether divided government comes to an end in Colorado.

So, with so much at stake, as well as a news hook the size of Trump, you’d think Woods would have explained her feelings for Trump many times over on the record.

To emphasize the point, and as a means to suggest a few obvious avenues of questioning that reporters might pursue in questioning Woods about Trump, here’s a video.

https://youtu.be/3xMMMWNqrj8

How to protect Colorado’s “non-prime population” from being exploited as a “market opportunity?”

April 25th, 2016

Reporters have done a good job informing us that most people who sign up for predatory loans are struggling.

But there’s a media gap in pointing out just how important the “struggling” part is to the business model of OneMain Holdings, the company backing legislation that would allow it to charge 36 percent interest on more and larger loans.

In a presentation a couple months ago, OneMain boasted to investers about its “Market Opportunity” in the personal loan business.

After noting that “Americans have $3.3 trillion in consumer debt,” and then identifying its “target market” as the 100 million Americans with low credit scores, the company pointed out where its pay dirt lies:

OneMain’s Market Opportunity: “Large non-prime population with limited liquidity–63 percent of American households do not have at least $1,000 in savings, more than 40% have no emergency savings.” [Emphasis added by OneMain Holdings, not by the BigMedia Blog.]

“Non-prime population?” That’s an unfortunate phrase for this company to use, but it spotlights the point.

A lot of poeple are struggling with debt problems, and they need loans. But they obviously need protection from a big company that targets them as a “market opportunity.” How much protection from interest-rate hammering is appropriate?

We’re never going to know exactly how much money OneMain Holdings is really making in Colorado.

We’re just going to get shards of information, like the company representative confirming 30 percent growth in Colorado during the last four years. Or the Colorado attorney general’s office confirming again that access to personal loans is not a problem here. Which indicates that OneMain is happily doing business here.

Objectively, it looks like the company is doing very well, thank you very much.

Except, OneMain claims that it’s not doing well enough, and one key supporter has said, if nothing is done, the company might have to walk away from Colorado!

So if you’re a state legislator, and you know OneMain will never open up its books for review (and you know that people need loans), do you err on the side of protecting those people with little or no personal savings? Or do you respond to the company’s complaints and help it out, to the tune of $9.5 million?

That’s the key question that reporters should zero in on. How much evidence is there that this company actually factually needs to make more money on the backs of Colorado’s “non-prime population?” In fact, is there any evidence at all, except what the company says?

Colorado GOP chair appears to side with those who think Trump doesn’t need magic number of delegates to win on first ballot

April 21st, 2016

Former Fox 31 Denver political reporter Eli Stokols writes that GOP operatives see Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination if he gets close to the magic number of 1,237 delegates.

Colorado GOP Steve House appears to agree, according to Stokols’ post yesterday:

When the convention opens in Cleveland in mid-July, roughly 200 delegates will arrive as free agents, unbound by the results of primaries or caucuses in their states. Trump’s campaign is confident they can win as many of them as they must in order to get to 1,237 on the first ballot.

“Trump has to get to 1,237, but there’s a lot of talk about, ‘What is the real number?’” said another RNC member. “Whatever half the uncommitted number is, that’s probably a reasonable number.”

“I think a lot of people think if he gets within 50 to 100 [of 1,237], he’ll be able to carry it,” said Steve House, Colorado’s GOP chairman and an unbound delegate already being courted by the Trump and Cruz campaigns.

House hasn’t said how he’d vote, but he validates the point that Trump has a serious shot a locking up the nomination during the first round of voting at the GOP national convention in Cleveland, even if he doesn’t arrive with all the delgates he needs.

This is a substantial departure from the narrative you hear most often in the news, that Trump has to have the full 1,237 going in to win on the first ballot.

Will choice matter in Colorado U.S. Senate race?

April 21st, 2016

In a radio interview yesterday, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Robert Blaha said choice is “not going to be an issue” in in Colorado’s U.S. Senate campaign because women are “really smart” and will not be concerned about Blaha’s opposition to all abortion, even for rape and incest (unless the mother’s life is in danger).

For perspective, I dredged up this video of Bennet arguing with then Weld Country District Attorney Ken Buck on the topic of abortion.

Blaha argues that he can turn the issue against Bennet by bringing up his support for partial-birth abortion, a rare procedure performed only when serious medical issues warrant it.

Watch the video above, and read Blaha’s comments below, and tell me if  smart women will side with Bennet or a candidate like Blaha. Reporters should keep the comparison in their pockets for November’s campaign trail.

Robert Blaha on the Dan Caplis Show – KNUS, 710am – April 20, 2016

Blaha: You know, people have got to realize that women — my women, the women I know — are really smart. And they think about far more than just the issues of abortion. That’s one issue of five or six or seven that move them. So, you know, I’m a pro-life candidate. I’m proud of that. I don’t move off of that, and I have an exception for the woman’s life. But besides staying on message, I don’t think you’ve got to back off a bit, because that issue — that singular issue — was a winner in ’10, it was a winner in ’11. It wasn’t an issue in ’12. ‘13 and ’14 and it’s not going to be an issue in ’16. It’s not a winning issue for the far left.

Caplis: Yeah, and I think if handled right, it backfires on him, because –.

Blaha: Exactly!

Caplis: and I think you are one of a number of candidates in the field who have the high intelligence and the verbal skills to, you know, just turn it on Bennet in a hurry, because he is the true extremist. And when you have the verbal skills you do, you know, you can pin him down. He supports late-term abortion through labor and delivery. And at that point he goes from looking like some kind of moderate to some kind of monster, so–.

Blaha: And, you know, I’m a — because of what I do for a living –I’m a stats guy. I am a data guy. I’m a numbers guy. You know, we can look at poll after poll, we can look at anything. When Michael Bennet and his ilk want to explain why it’s okay to kill somebody in their third term, near the end of a birth. When they can explain that to America and they can get America to embrace that, then I’ll worry about whether, you know, — whether he’s got a better position than I. Because he doesn’t. His position, actually, is the extreme position. Our position is not.

Post reporter stands out for asking predatory-lender about Colorado profits

April 20th, 2016

A predatory-lending bill, allowing lenders to make more money on high-interest loans, passed a state senate committee yesterday, with supporters of the bill telling reporters that increased profits are necessary to keep personal-loan lenders in Colorado.

That’s the major argument for the bill. Specifically, backers told the Durango Herald that the one company offering such loans will leave Colorado if it’s not allowed to make millions more here.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch was the only reporter to ask Springleaf Holdings, Colorado’s only lender of personal loans (after a merger last year with its competitor), how the company was doing. I mean, that’s the key question.

Is it struggling to make ends meet, like many of the folks it lends money to are? People who pay the company 36 percent interest on a $1,000 loan as it is?

Bunch reported:

Phil Hitz, who represented Springleaf Holdings, acknowledged that the company is very profitable nationally and confirmed the 30 percent Colorado growth over the past four years.

Bunch apparently didn’t ask Hitz if Springleaf would leave Colorado if the bill didn’t pass, but all indications are that it would not.

Last year, when a similar predatory-lending bill was debated, the Colorado Attorney General’s office testified that access to such loans is not threatened under the current interest-rate structure.  Similar testimony was reportedly offered yesterday as well.

So the bill’s backers haven’t refuted the key point that lenders of personal loans are profitable and thriving. Instead, the market in Colorado is actually growing. There’s no indication that the lenders will walk away from Colorado and its money.

To be fair, Hitz told Bunch that Colorado is the company’s lowest yielding state, and other states help subsidize it.

But lowest yielding state compared to what, astronomically-earning ones? We know the company is “very profitable” nationally. So the fact that it’s doing well enough in Colorado is a signal that states should protect consumers, many of them low-income, and adopt Colorado’s humane regulatory framework.

That’s another conversation reporters might have with Hitz.

Denver Post deceives subscribers with stealth fees for advertising and other inserts

April 20th, 2016

The Denver Post is shortening the length of subscriptions with a deceptive tactic, allowing the newspaper to collect more money by forcing subscribers to renew earlier than they might have expected when they signed up.

The ploy is to charge subscribers $3 for four newspaper inserts delivered throughout the year, unless subscribers, many of whom are elderly and likely struggle to track life’s details, proactively opt out of receiving the newspaper inserts. Three of the supplements are advertising inserts and one is a Broncos bonus, presumably filled with pages and pages about the football team.

Unless subscribers know about the inserts and assert, at the time of their subscription renewal, that they don’t want them, then the length of their subscriptions are reduced by $12 worth of deliveries, which is a bit less than a month. That’s a lot of money for the newspaper, if you multiply it by hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

In another effort to make more money on subscriptions, The Post has stopped giving subscribers credit for vacation stops. If you halted delivery of your newspaper during your vacation in the past, you used to be able to add extra days to your subscription. Now you can’t.

This isn’t going over well with some subscribers, like my mother-in-law, who cancelled her subscription recently. She follows life’s details to a fault, so the shortened subscription didn’t escape her attention or her temper. She’s done with The Post.

When The Post called me to renew my own subscription, I confirmed all of this from the telephone saleswoman.

But I cannot provide an official comment or verification from The Post because, unfortunately, multiple calls and emails over the last few months to Circulation Director Bill Reynolds and Publisher Mac Tully were not returned. Before he left the newspaper, former Post Editor Greg Moore referred me to them.

I think the vacation-stop policy makes sense.

But charging for advertising supplements and pages full of minutia about the Broncos that should be part of your subscription anyway? That’s sleazy. And it will drive away customers.