Archive for March, 2011

With Harsanyi gone, Post opinion page more balanced

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

David Harsanyi left The Denver Post last week, and it’s natural to wonder if the newspaper should replace him with another conservative columnist.

So I took a look at the political leanings of The Post’s staff columnists, and it turns out that with Harsanyi gone, the page is more balanced than it was before.

Hiring a new Harsanyi would tilt the newspaper’s opinion page markedly to the right, and that’s not good for The Post, which wants a balanced opinion page, or for us readers.

Here’s what I did: I categorized all The Post’s in-house columnists according to their political bent (as “centrist,” “left,” “left-leaning,” “right,” or “right-leaning”). I included only the columnists who write on political issues, so I excluded folks like historian Tom Noel and Mary Winter. I put columnist Ed Quillen in the “leans-left” category, even though many of his columns are not political. I counted all of Rosen’s columns, even though conservatives might object to this as unfair, pointing out that each of his columns should count as a half, given that he might re-use them a few times.

My final count was 22 columns/month from right or right-leaning columnists and 23 from left or left-leaning columnists. (I counted one column as “centrist”.)

I did not include the in-house editorials, which lean right. Nor did I count the editorial cartoon, which appears to lean left.

In any case, if you add a new Harsanyi, and you focus on in-house columnists only, you have to add a whopping twelve more columns/month to the right side of the ledger, which would make the count 34 righties to 23 lefties. Unfair.

I sent my bean count to Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley. I asked if he agreed with me that, with Harsanyi gone, the page looks more balanced, in terms of local columnists.

I also asked him about the pundit gender gap among staff political columnists. (Over a month, the count is about 45 columns by men versus 1 by a woman.) I also pointed out to Haley that, as of the end of last week, Mike Littwin wrote 10 of his last 12 columns on national topics, leaving a bit of an advantage to righties when it comes to opinions on local topics from staff columnists.

Here’s Haley’s response:

I think you’re trying to turn this into a science, and it’s not. It’s a daily balancing act. We try every day to give our readers a balance view of Colorado and the world: Opinions from left to right, written by men and women, locally and nationally, from varying ethnic backgrounds. Is it always a perfect mix? Of course not. But we try to offer up a diversity of views and authors as best we can.

Locally, as of next week, we will have two main op-ed columnists (Carroll/Littwin) who will write 12 columns a month from the right and left. That’s balance.

When you add in our freelancers, I would argue we tilt a little to the left. As for your chart, John Andrews, like Barnes-Gelt, only runs once a month, not twice. That started this month. And I would argue that B-G does more than “lean left,” as you suggest. Also, Mary Winter was brought on board to write a left of center column, and because I thought we needed more female voices. You can categorize her as “centrist” if you’d like, but we’re looking for left of center columns from her. And last year we brought Dottie Lamm back into the fold for monthly columns to bolster our stable of female voices. She also “leans left.” We also run Joanne Ditmer monthly.

The bottom line is we don’t have to be balanced, but we try to because we want to appeal to a broad audience and because we believe it’s fair.

Also, I would argue that the editorials are “centrist” versus “leans right.” We endorsed Michael Bennet for Senate and Hickenlooper for governor. Our political endorsements last fall were unintentionally evenly divided among Rs and Ds. We have argued in favor of civil unions and gay marriage, while leading the discussion on the need for a possible tax hike to help Colorado’s state budget. Yes, we’ve also favored Dougco’s voucher program and have been critical of the teachers union, but that’s balance. We don’t care what’s good for Republicans or what’s good for Democrats, only what’s good for Colorado.

I was relieved to read that Haley apparently agrees that locally in terms of the “main op-ed columnists,” he he thinks the page is balanced. So it appears we won’t see a new Harsanyi on the page to throw the balance out of whack again.

An editorial note on Harsanyi’s final column last week indicated that The Post will continue to run Harsanyi’s syndicated column.

Asked how often he’d run Harsanyi, Haley wrote:

Not sure yet. Guessing it will be once a week for awhile and then whenever he writes about something of interest, or if we need it for balance, etc.

So Harsanyi apparently won’t be treated like he was before, as a staff columnist, which makes obvious sense.

Outside of the staff columnists, which were the focus of my scientific analysis, Haley makes a good point that the balance can change on a daily basis. There are syndicated columnists, guest opinions, Other Voices columnists, and other content that might balance things out on a particular day. And Haley’s efforts to add more voices of women on the editorial page is good. The gender imbalance among newspaper pundits, nationally, is stark, longstanding, and inexplicable.

As to whether The Post’s in-house editorials are centrist, I confess that I don’t have data to back up my impression that they lean right. Someday I’ll categorize Post editorials over a six-month period, so we’ll have some concrete information to discuss, rather than my vague impressions.

Here are the details of my bean count of The Post’s staff columnists:

John Andrews (2 columns per month) RIGHT

Susan Barnes-Gelt (1 column per month) LEANS LEFT

Fred Brown (1 column per month) CENTER

Vincent Carroll (12 columns per month) RIGHT

Dan Haley (4 columns per month) LEANS RIGHT

Mike Littwin (12 columns per month) LEFT

Ed Quillen (6 columns per month) LEANS LEFT

Mike Rosen (4 columns per month) RIGHT

David Sirota (4 columns per month) LEFT


Right — 18

Leans Right — 4

Left — 16

Leans Left — 7

Center — 1

Would Wadhams have been re-elected, had he not resigned?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

You have to wonder whether Dick Wadhams would have been re-elected this weekend, if he’d run for another term as CO State GOP Chair.

It’s a fun question, and reporters should try it out on some of the GOP insiders gathering Saturday to elect a new state party chair.

I don’t recall any Republican wishing Wadhams hadn’t resigned. You don’t hear it from the activists at the state chair forums. You don’t hear it from the state chair candidates themselves, some of whom will go as far as to say they consider Wadhams a friend.

You have to conclude that the Colorado GOP machine would have booted him out anyway.

Not as much for failing to unite the different Republican factions in the state, which you’re hearing a lot about these days, but for not doing the basic blocking and tackling (tracking, smacking, etc.) that he was supposed to be so good at.

The insinuation that the State GOP didn’t do its basic job during the last election cycle put Wadhams on the defensive well before he announced he wouldn’t run again for state chair.

Before he gave up, Wadhams tried to fight back, as he told the Greeley Tribune way back in January.

Wadhams, who said Buck ran a strong campaign and should be lauded for his accomplishments, said the role of outside groups can be overstated. He noted that conservative outside groups such as Crossroads GPS spent as much in Colorado as independent Democratic groups did. And, he said, trackers don’t always make a decisive difference in the campaign.

“Sen. Bennet was tracked. In 2009 after he got appointed, we had somebody filming him as he ran around the state. In 2010, the Republican Senatorial Committee did as well,” he said. “The tracking serves to remind candidates that there’s never a moment when they can let their guard down. A candidate has to be careful of what they say regardless of where or when in the process they’re talking. Tracking only works if you say something controversial.”

Could a man who felt he had to say this to a reporter be re-elected this Saturday. Probably not.

Budget woes, personal responsibility, and homeless youth

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Back in February, state Rep. J. Paul Brown (R-Ignacio) took heat from ColoradoPols for standing alone in a 64 to 1 vote against a bill that would, among other things, allow homeless youth shelters to temporarily house children ages 11 to 21. Today, only homeless kids ages 15 to 18 can be defined as “homeless youth” under state law and be served by youth shelters.

On Monday, when the bill returned to the state House from the Senate, where it was approved 34-0, Brown wasn’t as lonely.

Ten of Brown’s colleagues changed their minds and joined him in opposing “Reduce Homeless Youth” bill, which was essentially unchanged from the version that passed 64 to 1 in February–except for the addition of reporting requirements which were unanimously adopted.

What happened?

“I struggled with it a little bit the first time because of that extension of age,” said Rep. Don Beezley, R-Broomfield, who had originally favored the measure but voted against it Monday. “As we look at the budget and as we look at the situation in the country overall, we have to at some point ask ourselves, when are we going to call ourselves adults and hold people accountable and look at their personal responsibility.”

“When are we going to require folks to be adults?” Beezley said. “They vote at 18. They go to war at 18.”

I asked Beezley about the part of the bill that expands the definition of “homeless youth” under Colorado law to include kids ages 11 through 14. Would he have favored the bill if the 18-to-21-year-olds were excluded?

“Yes, potentially, but I’d have to look at it again,” he answered, adding that he had fiscal concerns about the bill too.

“Extend those definitions and you expend more dollars over time,” Beezley said.

That was the primary reason Rep. Brown gave for opposing the bill–and the reason for his solo stand was not reported in February.

“I have a hard time expanding government,” Brown said.

For the 11-to-14-year-olds as well?

“I didn’t have as much of a hard time going in that direction, but I think there are other programs for those kids,” he said, acknowledging that he hadn’t researched it and didn’t know for sure.

It turns out that Brown’s hunch is correct. Social services do, in fact, exist for homeless 11-to-14-year-old kids, even though they can’t currently be defined as homeless.

But the system would work more efficiently and effectively under the Reduce Homeless Youth bill, according to Kippi Clausen, Director of Policy and Population Strategies at Mile High United Way.

The United Way, through its “Bridging the Gap” program, spearheaded efforts to pass the bill, which was actually broadly conceived two years ago by a group of young adults working with the United Way, according to Clausen. The young adults advocated for the bill’s passage by organizing support and writing testimony about their own experiences in foster care or homeless themselves.

To focus the effort, the United Way convened meetings among representatives of state agencies serving homeless youth.

“If you were 11, 12, 13 or 14, and you showed up a homeless shelter, it by law couldn’t serve you,” Clausen said. “That was a big deal because of how dangerous it is for a child to be on the street.”

Shelters could call social services, which could lead to long-term placement in foster care, but experience shows that a temporary solution benefits children who may not ultimately need to be separated from their families, but need help, according to Clausen.

So the bill allows the state to license “host homes,” houses where trained families provide a room for a homeless youth for 21 days to figure out “what’s the best solution for that family and child,” according to Clausen. She adds that the host-home option works well for small communities that don’t have big facilities serving youth.

I asked Clausen about the provision in the bill allowing kids 18-to-21 to be considered “homeless” and remain in foster care.

Why shouldn’t these young people be treated as other adults and fend for themselves?

She said that, under the bill, to remain in foster care between ages 18 and 21, young adults have to be working or enrolled in and educational program or be “medically fragile.”

“Intact families spend an average of $44,500 after the age of 18,” Clausen told me, citing Pew Charitable Trust report, “Time for Reform: Aging Out and on Their Own.

“At the age of 18, many young adults find themselves homeless after leaving foster care, because it’s very hard for 18-year-olds to support themselves on their own. A kid coming out of foster care has no one to go back to.”

I also asked Clausen about the fiscal impact of the bill, which would cost state government nothing, but could possibly cost local governments some money, though such expenditures would be discretionary.

“We do know that some counties were concerned that this would cost a county more money, because if a child shows up at a runaway homeless youth shelter, this would require them to call the department and let them know they have an underage child there – and this might require them to open more cases,” said Clausen.

“I think at the end of the day, if you have a kid out there who needs help, and budget is tight, these are still kids. I can’t imagine being a 14-or-15-year-old and not have a home, and not feel like you can go back to your home. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what it means to be a homeless youth in the United States.”

The “Reduce Homeless Youth” bill, HB 11-1279, has been sent to the Gov. Hickenlooper, who will decide if it becomes law.

Inability to accept fetus’ legal status stops anti-abortion zealots from protecting fetuses

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Sometimes you want political change soooo much that you refuse to acknowledge the legal status quo, even if admitting to legal reality might help your own cause.

That’s where extreme anti-abortion activists find themselves today with the fetal protection bill, which has been withdrawn by State House Republicans.

The Denver Post did a good job Friday illuminating that Republican lawmakers objected to language in the bill that simply stated the reality for fetuses in Colorado. They are not considered “persons,” despite two failed ballot initiatives and other failed legislative actions. The bill stated that nothing in the bill “shall be construed to confer the status of ‘person’ upon a human embryo, fetus or unborn child at any state of development prior to live birth.”

That’s the reality for fetuses, whether they like it or whether you like it. And that’s what killed the bill, according to The Post.

You might argue, why did the legal status of the fetus need to be spelled out in the bill at all?

Well, because the bill’s purpose was to criminalize hostile acts against the fetus. To do this, to express this bipartisan idea, you have to refer to the fetus as something. You have to use your words!

So lawmakers apparently got together and used words that tried to be sensitive to those who wish fetuses were considered legal persons but also recognized fetal reality in Colorado.

Colorado representatives wrote a fetal-protection bill, with bipartisan support, whose title and language use the words “unborn child,” the term favored by those who support “personhood.”

Ari Armstrong pointed out Friday that the bill’s

-title and language explicitly refers to an “unborn child.” As I’ve argued, this “vague, non-objective” language “obscures the important distinction between a fetus and a born child.” Given that ambiguity, language clarifying that a fetus is not in fact legally a “person” is absolutely essential to the bill.

Now, for a bill with a neutral title, such as “A Bill to Protect Embryos and Fetuses from Criminal and Reckless Harm,” specific language about “personhood” would not be necessary, so long as the bill’s provisions unambiguously refrained from restricting abortions.

But it appears that referencing an “unborn child” for the narrow purpose of protecting a fetus, while acknowledging the fetus’ legal status in Colorado law, was not good enough for the extreme anti-abortion group, and so the bill was killed.

You may despair and think there’s no hope for a bill like this to ever pass due to the inability of one side to recognize the (as they see it) horrible legal reality that confronts them.

But how about moving back to the days before we had written words? This might work for the anti-abortion right!

Diagrams pointing to the thing legally called the fetus could be inserted in the bill wherever the word “fetus” should rightfully appear.

We could respect the fantasy world occupied by the zealots and still protect the fetus, which is the word those of us who abide by the rule of law accept and respect.

Post and Review Journal should defend their own copyrighted articles

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

Here’s one lesson from  a Las Vegas Judge’s decision Friday in favor of a nonprofit group that stole a news story from the website of the Las Vegas Review journal.

Newspapers should defend their own stories from copyright violations, instead of selling their copyrighted stories to a law firm and having it sue on the newspapers’ behalf.

One of the reasons cited by the judge Friday, for ruling in favor of the nonprofit group, was that the article in question was not owned by the Las Vegas Review Journal. He cited other reasons, too, some of which I disagree with, but the judge is right that the copyright protections for an article, like the one in the current case, change dramatically when the article is sold to a law firm like Righthaven, which is suing for copyright violations of Review Journal and Denver Post articles.

This would be remedied if newspapers sued on their own behalf.

Not only their legal case, but also their ultimate goal, to protect online content and help journalism survive, would be better served as well, because newspaper executives would be more likely, I hope, to stand up and explain to the public why it’s so important for people not to violate copyright law and to respect the fair use guidelines that newspapers like The Denver Post publish and ask readers to abide by.

Why did the extreme anti-abortion crowd oppose a bill making it a crime to kill an unborn baby?

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The Spot blog reported yesterday that a bill making it a crime if you kill an unborn child is on life-support after Republicans withdrew their support yesterday.

Why? Democrats quoted in the blog post said state GOP leaders gave in to pressure from anti-abortion extremists.

But the article doesn’t explain why anti-abortion activists would oppose a bill that would put someone behind bars who kills an unborn child through reckless or criminal action.

Ari Armstrong explains on his blog what happened on the right-wing side:

On March 14, the Colorado Catholic Conference sent an action alert via email opposing 1256. This Catholic group offered two main arguments. First, the “bill fails to recognize an unborn child as a separate victim of homicide or assault,” as the bill explicitly states that a fetus is not a person under law. Second:

“The Colorado Catholic Conference also opposes the fact that this bill seeks to repeal the criminal abortion statute that is still on the books in Colorado. The pro-life community looks forward to the day when Roe vs. Wade is overturned, and there is no benefit to the pro-life community to repeal our criminal abortion statute, even if currently it is not enforceable.”

I take it this refers to statutes 18-6-101 through 18-6-105, which bill 1256 would have repealed. Statute 18-6-102 outlaws the ending of a “pregnancy of a woman by any means other than justified medical termination or birth.” The key, then, is what constitutes “justified medical termination,” which 18-6-101 defines. The measure severely restricts abortion to cases of likely death of the woman, “serious permanent impairment of the physical health of the woman” (including mental health), serious fetal deformity, cases where the woman is under sixteen, rape, and incest.

So the Colorado Catholic Conference admits the abortion statute is unenforceable, but that doesn’t stop it from undermining a law that would protect unborn babies, as recognized by enforceable law.

The Colorado Christian Family Alliance explained its opposition to the fetal homicide bill as well:

If passed this bill will virtually undo all of Colorado’s pro-life laws, including parental notification for minors to receive an abortion.

HB 1256 specifically removes the status of “person” for pre-born children and codifies taxpayer funding for abortion mills in spite of article V section 50 of the Colorado State Constitution that forbids any direct or indirect tax payer funding for abortion.

HB 1256 is so anti-life it’s even sponsored in the Senate by the radical leftist senator from Denver, Pat Steadman, formerly a leading lobbyist for Planned Parenthood!

The bill was also sponsored by Republicans Matt Waller (CO Springs) and Laura Bradford (Collbran).

I’ll try to find out if the GOP offered any way forward for the Dems, but it looks like this was a one-sided torpedo by the anti-abortion extremists, for the reasons illuminated above.

As Armstrong later concludes, “So the next time a criminal gets away with killing a woman’s fetus, feel free to blame the anti-abortion crusaders who killed bill 1256.”

Foster care for kids whose poor parents won’t pay more for health care, says Brophy

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Last week, state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) got on conservative radio and said parents of poor kids 1) use air conditioning, 2) smoke cigarettes, and 3) play Lotto, and 4) therefore they should pay more for their children’s state-subsidized medical care.

KOA’s Mike Rosen didn’t press Brophy on whether he thinks kids in poverty won’t get medical treatment under his proposal. So I called asked Brophy to find out.

I told him, let’s assume you’re right, that some number of people in poverty could come up with more money for their kids’ medical care.

But is Brophy willing to risk that some parents, not all of them, won’t pay the extra dough, and some number of our poorest kids will go untreated, get sick, and who knows what else will happen to them?

“I try to tell the truth and then tell you how I feel about it,” he tells me, emphasizing that he believes people “respond to incentives.”

“And I think they will make better choices with their health care, which means, yes, they won’t go quite as often. They won’t go to the emergency room for a runny nose as often. They will make much better choices with regard to that terribly expensive visit [to the ER].”

I had just spent an evening in the ER because brother, who has health insurance, thought he was having a heart attack (but didn’t). It was 3 a.m. and I was thinking, could this be more expensive? So Brophy’s point made some visceral sense. On the other hand, what if my brother actually had a heart attack? And what if he was a kid in poverty, and his parents decided not to take him because the co-payment was too high for them, even it’s an amount Brophy thinks they should be able to afford?

So I asked Brophy, what if a child from a poor family doesn’t get treated?

“That is terrible by the way, and everybody knows that,” he replied. “And I hope that doesn’t happen.”

I believed Brophy, but still, what if it happens?

“I trust that most of them would,” he said. “And I guarantee you that the people who are making their kids suffer for that, are making them suffer in all kinds other ways too.”

“I guess if they are so bad that they refuse to take care of their kids,” he said, “we do have solutions for that, too, that aren’t pleasant.  But it’s in the best interest of the children. That’s foster care. If they are as bad as you’re suggesting, that they just won’t take care of their kids.”

“I know we can’t continue to keep spending as much money as we’re spending on Medicaid, because no one has it.”

Setting aside the question of whether the world’s richest nation doesn’t have the money to pay for health insurance for its poorest kids, I did a bit of research and found that Colorado has Medicaid copayments of about $20 for ER visits, and small copayments (around $2-$6) for sick visits. There are variable annual enrollment fees for SCHIP, the federal children’s health insurance program, of about $35 for more than two kids. Some states charge more. Alabama charges $100. There are also variable co-pays capped at 5 % of income.

Here’s Brophy’s “back-of-the-envelope” calculation: “The average kid on Medicaid or SCHIP costs the state a little over 2,000 bucks per year.  Let’s get from them a $15 or $20 co-pay, which is a third or so of the cost of going to the doctor, and a little co-pay on medicine perhaps, again all as reasonable as you can make it, with participation fee from the SCHIP folks. Back of the envelope, $300 million is savings per year. And it puts us on the path toward sustainability with these programs. ”

But broadly speaking, does charging these kinds of co-payments (some of which may not be allowed under federal law) put kids at risk?

“It can be an absolute barrier for some parents,” said Adela Flores-Brennan of the Colorado Center on Law and Policy, citing a study showing that a new $6 – $20 premium lowered the Oregon’s Medicaid rolls by nearly half.

“So that becomes cost-shifting, not cost savings,” Flores-Brennan said, “because we’re covering them in other ways. It also deters the preventative care that keeps people out of the emergency room and going to the doctor and seeking appropriate care.”

Over at the Independence Institute, Linda Gorman told me, “We don’t have good studies that show that kids don’t get good treatment just because they don’t have coverage. Don’t you dare portray us as saying we don’t want kids to have medical care. The question is, what’s the best way to do that?”

But should we be experimenting with cost savings on our country’s poorest children, when, at best, the debate is about conflicting studies and cost-shifting versus cost-savings, with even Sen. Brophy talking about a potential expansion of social services and foster care.

Why put kids at risk?

“There is a risk,” said Gorman. “But how much should we spend? Should we spend 10,000 per kid? I’m willing to have a discussion about the risk.”

Ok, sure, but I can think of a lot of other discussions that should happen first.

Stapleton will not seek formal AG opinion on moonlighting, despite 7News report

Monday, March 14th, 2011

One of the things I try to do as a media critic is keep track of what officials tell journalists they’re going to do. And if promises made to reporters aren’t reported on, I ask about them.

For example, there’s the dangling promise Scott McInnis made to The Denver Post about clearing up his name months ago, but tempting as it is, that’s not what I’m returning to now.

Today I’m writing about State Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s promise to 7News in January that he’d seek an opinion from Attorney General John Suthers about whether it’s ok for him to moonlight for his former company.

You recall Stapleton’s moonlighting job would add as much as a quarter-time-plus job to his life and bring in, at $250 per hour, up to a nifty $150,000 on the side, making The Denver Post wonder about a “conflict of time.”

I asked 7News content producer/presenter Marshall Zelinger whether Suthers had produced an opinion on Stapleton’s moonlighting. Zelinger emailed me that Stapleton spokesman Brett Johnson told him that Stapleton never asked for an official opinion from Suthers’ office.

Zelinger told me that he understood from Stapleton, during his Jan. interview with him, that he was going to seek an official opinion, and that’s why Zelinger stated in his piece that Stapleton had “asked the attorney general’s office to make sure it’s OK to moonlight afterhours.”

Zelinger contacted Suthers’ office and confirmed that Stapleton never sought an opinion.

However, in January, Politics Daily reported that Stapleton had talked about the issue with Suthers but did not ask for a formal ruling.

Internship available

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Please help me find an intern to help monitor local media outlets.

Tasks include:

… Monitoring local TV and radio shows.
… Researching facts and issues presented in the news.
… Editing and recording video and audio.
… Proofreading and fact-checking reports and documents.
… Administrative tasks.
… Updating websites and social media sites

The successful applicant would probably have:

… Some proven research experience.
… The ability to update websites.
… A familiarity with local media.

A small monthly stipend is available.

The position lasts six months, with a possible six-month extension.

Please send resume and 1-page cover letter to:

Jason Salzman

No Phone calls, please.

The internship will be filled as soon as possible.

Public’s understanding of current redistricting squabbles requires background on GOP “midnight gerrymander”

Friday, March 11th, 2011

When it comes to redrawing Colorado’s congressional districts, there’s strategeric strategery, which you’d expect, and then there’s stratospheric subversion of rule of law.

Reporters covering the redistricting process should be sure not to confuse the two. And so far, they’ve done a good job.

The starting point for confusion at this point could come regarding the GOP bill, HR 1276, introduced last Friday to change a law passed by Democrats last year.

The temptation for a reporter might be to frame this year’s GOP bill (introduced by Sen. Ellen Roberts and Rep. J. Paul Brown) as a partisan response to the equally partisan law passed by Democrats last year. But the two are not equally partisan, if you know the history involved, which I’ll explain.

Last year’s Dem law, introduced by Sen. Weissmann, repealed a 2004 GOP law laying out prioritized criteria that courts should use to map out Colorado’s congressional districts, if the Legislature can’t agree on a congressional map.

But the 2004 Republican law was directly connected to what’s known as the 2003 “midnight gerrymander,” which, on balance, was not run-of-the-mill strategeric strategery but stratospheric subversion of rule of law and the spirit of fair elections.

So, to be fair, this year’s GOP bill (HR 1276) needs to be described as an outgrowth of the midnight gerrymander. Or at least this perspective should be offered, as it was in recent coverage in The Denver Post, the Colorado Statesman, and the Durango Herald.

Here’s the background, based on this and other reporting:

After the last census, when it was time to re-draw congressional districts, Republicans and Democrats in the state Legislature didn’t agree on new boundaries, and so District Judge John Coughlin selected one of several maps proposed in 2002. The map he selected was upheld by the Colorado Supreme Court.

Then, in 2003, after an election had occurred, GOP state legislators passed yet another election-map law with new boundaries that could have given the GOP six safe congressional seats in Colorado and just one to the Dems.

This brazen effort became known as the “midnight gerrymander” because GOP legislators rammed their election-mapping bill through the state legislative process during the last three days of the session, bypassing committees and ignoring normal rules.

Ken Salazar was Colorado’s Attorney General at the time, and he declared the GOP legislation unconstitutional, but Gov. Bill Owens signed it anyway in May of 2003.

The Colorado Supreme Court threw the “midnight-gerrymander” law out in December of 2003, and restored the congressional map that had originally been approved.

After this major setback, Republicans in the state legislature passed a law in 2004 aimed at forcing the courts to create congressional maps that look essentially identical to those that would have been created by, yup, the midnight gerrymander! They did this by specifying that cities and counties be given top priority among criteria used by a judge to evaluate congressional maps.

So last year, the Dems repealed this law, leaving the courts to use essentially the same criteria that were in place before the midnight gerrymander. The status quo, pre-gerrymander, was returned, in which the courts are asked to follow federal law and weigh other non-prioritized criteria as needed.

This brings us to last Friday, when state Republicans introduced yet another bill (1276) to bring back mapping criteria that would result in midnight-gerrymader-looking congressional districts.

The bottom line for reporters is to be clear that while both Dems and Republicans are pushing for an advantageous congressional map, the cuurent strategery on GOP side has its roots in the midnight gerrymander.

And the story of that stratospheric subversion of rule of law, which could have given the GOP a 6-1 advantage in CO congressional seats, should be explained to public in redistricting coverage, because the gerrymander is sort of like the Big Bang of Colorado’s recent redistricting history, setting in motion the elements (laws, bills, map criteria) that are spinning around us today.