Under-the-radar race gets TV coverage because… it’s so important

September 23rd, 2016

If you’re paying attention to politics in Colorado, you know that few people have any clue about the most important political contest in the state: the state senate race in Arvada/Westminster, where Republican Laura Woods is battling Democrat Rachel Zenzinger.

But the importance of the race apparently isn’t a good enough news hook for many reporters to give it the coverage it deserves, which is a lot.

So Fox 31 Denver’s Joe St. George gets our collective thanks for assembling a TV story about, as he labeled it, the state senate race in Arvada that could be “the most important race you’re not watching.” That was his hook! How great is that?

“At first glance this race doesn’t look very important,” says St. George in his piece, showing Woods and Zenzinger knocking on doors. “…the most important race you likely haven’t talked about….if Zenzinger wins this re-match, Dems may be in complete control [of state government]….

“While this race dominates the headlines,” narrates St. George, flashing images of Clinton and Trump. “This one in Arvada may end up impacting your life more come next year.”

Political insiders know this, yet coverage of the state’s most important race remains spotty (unless you get behind the paywall of the Colorado Statesman–or read the Colorado Independent), so few people know about it, much less where the candidates stand on the issues. St. George provided a bit of this info on the KDVR Fox 31 Denver website, listing, among others, these comparisons of the two candidates.

St. George reported:

In terms of the issues:

Abortion
Woods: Pro-life
Zenzinger: Pro-choice

Gun control
Woods: Against
Zenzinger: Supports common sense measures

Minimum wage increase
Woods: Against
Zenzinger: Supports

(For background, Woods is against all abortion, even for rape and incest, and, on guns, she’s against all criminal background checks prior to gun purchases.)

As we get closer to the election, more reporters will almost certainly inform voters just how important this race is. Good to see St. George leading the way.

Post could improve its editorial page by criticizing Coffman more often

September 22nd, 2016

“Good for Mike Coffman.” That’s the first line of an August Denver Post editorial, and, as it turns out, an excellent summation of the The Post editorial page’s singular stance toward Coffman over many years.

I just finished reviewing five years of Post editorials mentioning Coffman, and, of the 43 editorials citing the Aurora Republican Congressman during that period, including two endorsements, he’s been criticized only four times, while being praised in 34 editorials. The newspaper has lauded him mostly on issues related to the Veterans Administation but also on immigration, Selective Service, Afghanistan, marijuana, the federal budget, and more.

Yet, during these five years, Coffman has run seriously afoul with the broad positions/principles taken by The Post: on Planned Parenthood (Coffman voted twice to defund just last year, after putting the organization’s logo in a campaign ad the previous year.) and on immigration (Coffman opposed a 2013 bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, and he reiterated his opposition to birthright citizenship, even stating so in an interview with a Post editorial writer.).

In 2013, Coffman threatened to shut down the government instead of raising the debt ceiling. Nothing from The Post. And nothing from The Post when Coffman belittled global-warming science in 2013.

The Post was silent in 2012 when Coffman said Obama was not an American “in his heart,” and Coffman strangely told 9News’ Kyle Clark five times:  “I stand by my statement that I misspoke, and I apologize.”

Coffman’s positions over many years have been at odds with stances The Post has taken. But the newspaper has been mostly silent.

To be fair, a more cursory analysis shows that The Post doesn’t criticize U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet much either, and he was also endorsed by The Post.

The difference? Bennet’s policy positions, on the issues mentioned above and others, align very closely with The Post’s, while Coffman’s do not.

You can’t blame Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett for much of this, since he took over the job exactly three months ago, but I called him anyway for his take on whether the newspaper deliberately refrains from criticizing Coffman, even when his positions clash with the newspaper’s editorial views.

“I think this is an election year stunt, not a genuine analysis,” he told me, arguing that there was no news hook for my blog post and I was not focusing on The Post’s treatment of other elected officials. “You’re picking Mike Coffman, when Morgan Carroll is struggling. Why is that? It looks like you’re trying to aid Morgan more than you are legitimately trying to critique an institution.”

I explained to Plunkett that as a progressive media critic, I look for instances where news outlets tilt rightward. That’s my bias, and with the election coming up, now is a valid time to analyze The Post’s editorial-page approach to Coffman, which I found inexplicable.

“As a journalist, I think trying to analyze a newspaper’s position over time is very tricky, especially if you only look at one particular angle,” Plunkett told me. “There are all kinds of things that go into thinking about an editorial or an endorsement or what have you.”

“You’re right,” Plunkett acknowledged, “when a newspaper endorses someone, that same board is going to be, understandably, more protective of that person.”

“But one the things I like about our business is, we don’t make friends and we don’t make promises,” he said. “And if someone crosses us, or crosses what we believe is a reasonable line, we call them on it.”

I told Plunkett that he was making my point exactly, that The Post should have been more critical of Coffman over these five years, even if the newspaper endorsed him.

“That’s where you’ve got me in a rough spot, because I wasn’t on the board over the past five years,” Plunkett responded. “I had absolutely zero influence on those pieces.”

I told Plunkett that I understood, and would make it clear I wasn’t blaming him for The Post’s love affair with Mike Coffman. Why would I blame Plunkett? In fact, the pattern even goes back further than the tenure of former editorial page editor Vincent Carroll.

I’m hoping this changes. It’s bad editorial writing. The Post is missing an opportunity to influence Coffman and advance the issues the newspaper cares about.

Why act as a PR mouthpiece for a Congressman, ignoring his faults and blunders, even if you’ve endorsed him? That’s my point.

 

More bad journalism news with a silver lining

September 20th, 2016

Local journalist Corey Hutchins reports in his “Colorado Local News and Media” newsletter (subscribe here) on the recent upsurge in ongoing shifts among Colorado political reporters:

“…Denver Post political reporter Joey Bunch announced he was leaving to join The Gazette in Colorado Springs, which is beefing up its statewide political profile. But then, Gazette political reporter Megan Schrader announced she was leaving The Gazette to join The Denver Post’s editorial board. This comes after Jim Trotter’s recent move from Rocky Mountain PBS to The Gazette, and Woody Paige also leaving The Denver Post for the Colorado Springs paper.

If that wasn’t enough, The Colorado Statesman, a POLITICO-like subscription-based trade journal, effectively laid off its editorial department— just 50 days out from the election. I’m told the paper slashed half its budget. Some of the writers will still write, but on a freelance basis, and they’ll focus more on the weekly print paper than on the website, which was frequently updated. Also on the cutting room floor in Colorado: four people at BizWest Media’s Fort Collins and Boulder offices got laid off and the publication will shift to a monthly print schedule.

Whew, head spinning? Let this stop you. Former Denver Post journalist Tina Griego has returned to Colorado after four years on the East Coast, and is now an editor at The Colorado Independent. Check out her first essay about the new, gentrified, displaced Denver she found upon her return.”

No one in their right mind likes Republican Larry Mizel’s “secret” ownership of the Statesman, but cutting veteran news reporters there is obviously bad and sad.

Usually bad journalism news has no silver lining, but this time the good news is Schader’s and Trotter’s moves and Griego’s return. Also, Post Editor Lee Ann Colaciappo informs me that the newspaper is advertising for a political writer and hopes to fill Bunch’s position soon. So let’s be thankful for that.

CORRECTION: An early version of this post incorrectly stated that The Post’s staff of political writers would be shrinking further due to Bunch’s departure. 

Will ousted conservative Jeffco school board member Williams help sink Woods?

September 20th, 2016

Last year’s recall of Jefferson County school board member Julie Williams is widely considered a huge factor in this year’s Arvada/Westminster state senate race that will likely determine whether Republicans retain control of the state senate.

Jefferson Country voters threw out Tea Party conservatives on their school board, with special ire directed at Williams, who was denounced by both sides. Even Dave Kopel, a researcher at the conservative Independence Institute, said Williams had a lot of “foolish” ideas.

The Jeffco vote was overwhelming, with 60 percent favoring the recall, and analysts believe the voters’ anger may carry over to Jeffco candidates aligned with Williams.

Williams has ties to Republican State Senator Laura Woods, who’s defending the Arvada/Westminster Senate District 19 seat against Democratic challenger Rachel Zenzinger.

State Sen. Tim Neville is Williams’ brother-in-law, and Neville is connected to Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which heavily backed Woods’ upset victory in 2014. Woods backed Neville’s failed U.S. Senate bide earlier this year. And Woods and Neville have overlapping connections to other Republican operatives.

Williams makes no secret of her support for Woods, and Woods, who doesn’t return my calls, has apparently accepted Williams’ backing, which makes sense since Woods and Williams align in their support for Trump and guns, among other links.

Here’s Williams’ Sept. 17 Facebook post, obtained from a source, endorsing Woods:

Julie Williams

September 17 at 9:35am ·

Whether you vote top down or bottom up… Vote!
Vote DONALD TRUMP for President
Vote George Athanasopoulos for US Congress
Vote Laura Laura J Woods for State Senator
Vote Susan Kochevar for State Representative
Please tell your friends & neighbors to get out and vote!

Williams endorses Woods on Facebook

State senator apparently had second thoughts about sharing video showing ugly guns

September 19th, 2016

Colorado State Sen. Randy Baumgardnbaumgardner-gun-video-9-19-2016er has apparently removed a video, which he’d shared on his Facebook page, showing a man frantically firing weapons (apparently a sawed-off shotgun and fully automatic rifles and pistols) that are shady or, at worst, illegal under federal and state laws).

Banned high capacity magaizes are also shown in the video, which you can see here.

Baumgardner is glorifying some of the weapons and magazines used in the two worst gun massacres in Colorado history.

Maybe this occurred to him, because Baumgardner apparently removed the video, called a “Case of Mayhem,” sometime after he shared it over the weekend.

A call to Baumbgardner’s office confirming that he shared the video and seeking his reason for posting it, and an explanation for why it was taken down, was not immediately returned.

The Moffat County Republican, whose Twitter handle is CapitalCowboy, is part of GOP State Senate leadership.

Correction: a previous version mischaracterized ownership of some regulated guns as legal only using loopholes.

Tancredo says many venues refused to host Gellar event

September 14th, 2016

Anti-Islamic pundit Pam Gellar’s visit to Denver last week was greeted with horror by ColoradoPols, who commented that “Gellar’s hatred may be constitutionally protected, but it should not be welcomed.”

It’s no surprise that others in Denver concur, to the degree that organizer Tom Tancredo had a tough time finding a venue that would accept Gellar.

“I had Pam Gellar speak at Colorado Christian University because it was about the only institution that would allow us there, by the way,” Tancredo told KCOL host Jimmy Lakey Tuesday. “We tried and tried. Including, I should say, the Jewish Community Center in Denver, turned us down – said it was too controversial.”

In an interview today, Tancredo declined to list the other venues, but he confirmed that the Jewish Community Center was among them.

As Pols pointed out last week, the Southern Povery Law Center tracks Gellar and reports examples of how, as SPLC puts it, “Geller uses her website to publish her most revolting insults of Muslims.”

On air, Tancredo gave CCU credit for hosting the Gellar event, which he described as “wonderful.”

“You just cannot imagine how, I think, thirsty people are for the truth,” Tancredo told Lakey, explaining his belief that the media deliberately hide the identies of the perpetrators of 9/11 as radical Islamic terrorists. “And how appreciative they are. They gave Gellar a two minute standing ovation at the end of the speech. Yeah. It was wonderful.”

 

Coffman again answers an immigration question with a non-answer

September 12th, 2016

The Colorado Independent’s Corey Hutchins took a risk last week and tried figure out U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s stance on a very specific immigration issue.

If you’re a reporter, you know that’s going to cause a serious headache before you start, because it’s so hard to sort out where Coffman stands on any specific immigration-related bill or proposal. That may sound like an opinion, but it’s a fact.

In this case, Hutchins, who profiled Coffman’s race against Democrat Morgan Carroll last week, knew the Aurora Congressman, in 2011, co-sponsored bill that would have eliminated the requirement, under the Voting Rights Act, for some jurisdictions to provide ballots in different languages.

As recently as 2014, Coffman remained opposed to the dual-language ballot requirement. What’s his position now, Hutchins wanted to know.

Here’s Hutchins story:

Asked last week whether Coffman still holds that position, his campaign spokeswoman Watson did not answer directly. Instead, she said, “Rep. Coffman is co-sponsor of H.R. 885, the Voting Rights Amendment Act.”

The measure currently counts 15 Republican lawmakers as co-sponsors, according to its public bill-tracking web page at Congress.gov. As of today, Coffman’s name does not appear, and the last congressman to sign onto the law was Ryan Costello, a Republican who was added on July 14. Costello is up for re-election in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

“The co-sponsor list will be updated tomorrow to include Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado,” said Nicole Tieman, spokeswoman for Sensenbrenner. “That will be the only change to the best of my knowledge.”

Trouble is, if you read H.R.885, it doesn’t answer Hutchins’ question about whether Coffman’s position has changed. He could favor the bill but still stand behind his position that he wants to save money by not requiring local jurisdictions, with significant populations of non-English speakers, to provide ballots in multiple languages.

You’d be excused for thinking Coffman is deliberately obfuscating things, because, as Hutchins explains above, it looks like Coffman signed up as a co-sponsor after receiving Hutchins’ questions.

Hutchins reports: “Asked in two separate emails when Coffman became a sponsor, his spokeswoman Cinamon Watson did not answer, nor did she respond to a request to talk about it on the phone.”

So, despite the best efforts by a reporter to lay out the facts, we’re forced to conclude (maybe) that Coffman remains opposed to dual-language ballots, but he’s making it appear as if he doesn’t. Until a reporter gets Coffman to respond, that’s where things stand.

FACT CHECK: Senate Democrats did not want abortion money in Zika bill

September 9th, 2016

On KNUS 710-AM yesterday, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck accused U.S. Senate Democrats of holding up funds to fight the Zika virus.

Buck: “Senate Democrats filibustered that bill. They wanted more money for Planned Parenthood for abortions related to the Zika virus.”

In fact, Senate Democrats did not want more money for abortions, and federal dollars can’t be used for abortion anyway.

The truth is, U.S. House Republicans, including Buck and Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora, passed a Zika-relief bill in June, but the legislation blocked the United States’ Zika-response funds from going to groups (like Planned Parenthood) for birth control and family planning programs—even though Zika affects the developing fetus and appears to be sexually transmitted.

Since then, Senate Democrats refused to pass bill, which they see as fatally flawed. The New York Times reported June 28:

Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, said Republicans had poisoned the chances for moving ahead by blocking money for Planned Parenthood, knowing Democrats would never agree.

“They’re just not living in the real world, and they’re just not facing the fact that this is an emergency,” Mr. Nelson said. He noted that at least five babies had been born with microcephaly in the United States — the most recent one in Florida — but said he expected the disagreements to continue.

Yet, Buck told KNUS host Krista Kafer, “This is tragic in a number of ways. It really is going to create a human tragedy, number one, and, number two, a burden on taxpayers in the future if we don’t start dealing with the epidemic , certainly the disease, that is rampant in some parts of this country.”

Republican leader wonders whether transgender people fit in America’s future

September 8th, 2016

Wilburn's Facebook Comment on Transgender Man

In a Facebook post last week, Colorado Republican Vice Chair Derrick Wilburn inadvertently sums up what Republicans have to do on social issues, if they expect to be a serious political force in Colorado in the future.

“You have to work even to understand this,” wrote Wilburn in a comment on a photo of a transgender man breastfeeding his baby.

But Wilburn doesn’t seem to be ready to work hard enough to create an America that welcomes transgender family members, co-workers, friends, all people.

“I sincerely wonder, is this the future you desire for America?” asks Wilburn in the second part of his Facebook comment on the transgender man and his baby.

Yes, of course it is. Wilburn and his fellow Republicans should work harder to understand and embrace it.

 

 

Tancredo recounts GOP arm-twisting in U.S. House

September 4th, 2016

Earlier this year, former Rep. Tom Tancredo told KNUS 710-AM’s Peter Boyles the story of how Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert made it clear to fellow Republican Rep. Joel Hefly, during the 2003 House debate on Medicare Part D, that Hefley would lose his chairmanship of a subcomittee if he didn’t vote for the measure. Both Hefley and Tancredo represented Colorado districts at the time.

I offer up the transcript of Tancredo’s strange story for your weekend enjoyment.

TANCREDO: This was the worst day of my life:  sitting through a debate and then a vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill, Part D.  That was the worst day because, here we were, the Republican Party, a president–Republican president, and Republican Congress putting through the greatest increase in government since the creation of Medicare!  We were doing it, and we were all doing it because Bush wanted the electoral votes of the state of Florida.

BOYLES:  Yeah.

TANCREDO:  And we were spending $1 trillion bill.  This is a trillion dollars over ten years.

BOYLES:  Was that for brother [Jeb Bush], principally?

TANCREDO:  No, no!  He was – it was coming up!  He knew he was going to –.  No.  He was running again.  He wanted the electoral votes!

BOYLES:  No, but was that to help his brother, Jeb?

TANCREDO:  No. It was for the presidency.

BOYLES:  For him to get over. Okay.

TANCREDO:  Yes!  Absolutely.  This was – and you know, there was a hanging chad, there, situation, right?  But it was all Florida.  He needed Florida.  This was, you know, a very thin band of need, out there –the very few,  I mean, there was a – but, like, that many people that actually were too poor for Medicaid, too much for – but the expenses were high for the –.  So, we were going to do this for them, right?  All for Florida!   [inaudible] We had to stay there from 12 o’clock, the vote started – it’s supposed to be a 15 minute.  This is midnight!  Not 12 o’clock in the afternoon. We had been there since 9:00 debating it. They didn’t have the votes!  Didn’t have them, man! The Democrats had promised them they were going give them the votes to pass this thing, because you never bring a vote—a bill up that you don’t think you’re going to pass. It’s a big no-no.  So, the Democrats had promised them, because he couldn’t get Republican votes. But the Democrats took one look at the thing—at the counter, and said, “Hey! I think we can embarrass them pretty well!”  And all of a sudden, we didn’t have the votes.  Well, there we were – midnight. You’re supposed to have a 15 minute vote, Peter.  Fifteen minutes.  Sometimes, they push it to about 20 to get everybody in.  Six and one half hours – we’re still sitting there.   Six-thirty in the morning, people – I mean, I’m sleeping on –.  They’re putting buddies with you.  Anybody from your delegation who was for it had to come and bug you all six hours, until.  And my buddy was Bob Beauprez [laughing].  I kept telling Bob, “Hey, listen, buddy! Go to sleep!  I am going to go to sleep.  You’re never—I’m never going to vote for this.  Save your time!  Never, ever!”  But, polling people – all you could hear was arms being twisted and broken on the floor, right? — promising things.  I mean–.

BOYLES:  “Give me this, I’ll give you that.”

TANCREDO:  Oh, yeah!  And it was never like, — it was, “We know you’ve got a lot of stuff in the pipeline.  You’ve got that bridge.  And you know, we want to help you out.”

BOYLES:  “We’ll work with you!”

TANCREDO:  “We want to work with you.”  Right. It was the most horrible thing.  And I saw one of my best friends in Congress, a guy from Colorado – Joel Hefley.  He was like a 98–.

BOYLES:  [inaudible] I thought he was a good guy.

TANCREDO:  Oh, Joel was the best!  He was like a 98-percenter.  And we’re sitting there – 6:30 [a.m.] – nothing.  I mean, it’s 217.  You need 218, one more vote.  And they can’t get it!  Here comes the Speaker.  [gesturing with his hands, indicating a man walking down to the floor].  Doo, doo-doo, doo-doo,– down, comes, sits next to Joel.  I’m in back of them, going [gestures that he was eavesdropping]. You know, because everyone is – there’s quiet.  Everybody is, you know – you’re all on the floor.  They won’t let you leave.  So, but everyone can see what’s happening.  And then, the Speaker walks down, and he says, “Joel, we came in as Freshmen together, 22 years ago.”

BOYLES:  Wow.

TANCREDO:  Freshman class.  And Joel said, “Yes, sir, we did.”  And he said, “I’ve always enjoyed it, you’re such a great guy,” he said.  “And you’re the Chairman of the, uh—what was it?  It was the sub-committee on – oh! Armed Services.

BOYLES:  [inaudible] Yeah!

TANCREDO:  And he said, — because he was [from] Colorado Springs, you know –.

BOYLES:  Of course.  Of course.

TANCREDO:  And he said, uh, and he said, “You’re the head of the” – I think it was called – “the NATO Parliamentary Assembly” – it was kind of a hot-shot thing.  We got to travel all over.  He always asked us.  It was great fun!  Anyway, great guy, great guy.  “But I need you,” [the Speaker said to Joel Hefley].  “I never asked you before for anything, right?”  And Joel says, “No, sir.”  And he says, “Well, I need you.  This is it, buddy. I want it.”  And Joel says, “I can’t, Mr. Speaker.  I just can’t do it.”   And he goes, “You enjoy being that Chairman, right?” –and all that.  And he says, “You want to be [Chairman] tomorrow?”

BOYLES:  Yeah.

TANCREDO:  This – this—this—this is his buddy! This is his pal!  And he goes back and sits down.  And I leaned over and I said, “Did I just hear him threaten you with your Chairmanship?”

BOYLES:  Yeah.  Yeah.

TANCREDO:  Joel just looks ahead, right?  Doesn’t say a word.  We wait.  We wait, it’s quiet.  There’s nothing.  All of a sudden, he gets up, votes,– walks down.  Oh, my God!  I literally – and I’m not kidding you, I almost threw up!  I mean, I got – we had been there all night.  It was very emotional.  There was a lot of crap going on.  And now, here’s my best – oh, my God!  And he walks down,  and he would have to pick up the green thing and go, and hand it to the girl.  And she goes, “REPRESENTATIVE HEFLEY:  OFF “NO”!  ON “AYE!”  And they – and the hammer goes down. Boom!  Two-hundred and eighteen.  It passed.  You know, he never was the same after that. He stayed another term but, you know, he got shingles.

BOYLES:  Oh, no, he went through all kinds of stuff.

TANCREDO:  Oh, my God!   And it’s an emotional – shingles is an emotional – I think there’s some component there, right?    Up here, and down into his throat – it damn near killed him.

BOYLES:  Yeah.  Yeah.

TANCREDO:  And then he quit, and it was the most horrible –.  That was the worst day of my political life.