Archive for the 'Durango Herald' Category

Watchdog reporting needed on Gardner

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Yesterday, Rep. Cory Gardner voted to halt Obama’s program to defer deportation of millions of immigrants who have children in our country.

Gardner voted in Aug. (during the election campaign) against halting Obama’s  program to defer deportations of young immigrants.

The two votes weren’t exactly identical, but they’re close enough to  make you wonder how Gardner reconciles the two. Yet, I can’t find a single reporter who asked him directly about the inconsistency.

Instead,  the Associated Press, Durango Herald, Fox 31 Denver, the Grand Junction Sentinel,  and The Denver Post all apparently relied on Gardner’s self-serving statement saying, in part, that “we owe it to generations past and generations to come to find a solution to our broken immigration system.”

It’s possible some reporters asked to speak with Gardner himself, but they didn’t report this. If so, they should have.

But it’s not too late to insist on talking to Gardner, if you’re a journalist who has access to him, to cover the basic journalistic function of calling out public officials on their inconsistencies between what’s done on the campaign trail and what happens in office.

A baby step in the right direction was provided during a Gardner interview Dec. 3 on SeriusXM’s new show, Yahoo! News on POTUS

Host Olivier Knox had the presence of mind to ask Gardner whether his “campaign talk” about making birth control pills available over the counter “can translate into legislative action.”

Gardner replied:

It needs to translate into policy action. The FDA has their approval process when it comes to prescription, over-the-counter move. I will certainly continue to support and urge, whether it’s legislative action. We’ve got to figure out the best policy option, the best way forward in making sure we have the continued fight for over-the-counter contraceptives, which I continue and will continue to support and push for. And so, we’ll be talking to the FDA and talking about how best to make that happen. It’s something Gov. Jindahl first proposed, ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, supported the move to over-the-counter contraceptions and it’s something we’ve got to encourage to happen here.

I give Knox credit here for asking the question, even though I’d have pressed Gardner to clarify his plan for implementation of a major campaign promise. Will he seek legislation if necessary? How long will he press the Administration? Etc.

Ditto for Gardner’s plan on immigration. If he’s against deferring deportations, then what’s he for? And how does it comport to his campaign promises?

I’m hoping we get this type of watch-dog attitude from reporters going forward on Gardner.

Journalists express frustration during discussion of election news coverage

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

The Columbia Journalism Review’s Rocky Mountain Correspondent, Corey Hutchins, has posted highlights of a panel discussion Tuesday, moderated by Compass Colorado’s Kelly Maher and me, on local news coverage of the 2014 election.

Here are three of Hutchins’ eight highlights:

Bored on the Bus

KDVR’s Eli Stokols on covering the modern professional campaign:

“Unfortunately there were very few days where I sat there and I said, ‘Absolutely have to shoot this today,’ because it was so rare that these candidates were actually available, putting out public schedules, doing public events… I rode on the Udall bus, I went up to Fort Collins and Greeley a couple times to find Cory [Gardner] when he was speaking to Republicans there, and you know, you would get the same rehearsed, trite lines from all of them. And when you sat them down in an interview you got the same rehearsed, trite lines from both. And so maybe it is incumbent on us to be better, to push them out of their comfort zone a little bit … I think that’s the tough part of the modern campaign. Campaigns with money are so not reliant anymore on mainstream media to get their message out, especially in a market like this [in Colorado] where there is not such a critical mass of media.”

The Denver Post didn’t want to cover ‘scripted theater’

Post politics editor [Chuck] Plunkett said his paper didn’t want to fall into the trap of covering what he called the “scripted theater” of the campaigns. So in the early spring, he said, he gathered staff for multiple substantive discussions about issues they wanted to address this election season, so they weren’t just “having to chase the Twitter around, having to chase the horse race around.” Some of the issues they decided to focus on were immigration, the ground game, and money, and how candidates evolved on issues. Also, for the first time, the paper held its own recorded debates in its auditorium instead of partnering with a TV station….

Didn’t approve this ad

CBS4’s [Shaun Boyd] provided some levity when she spoke of how she’d recoiled at seeing her on-air reporting appear in a political ad on TV. To her dismay, her station ran the ad on its airwaves. But, she said, other TV stations in Denver didn’t air it because they didn’t want to highlight the reporting of a competitor.

In his post, Hutchins discusses the journalists’ frustration with the scripted answers from the candidates. Riccardi, in particular, talked about how closely the professional candidates stay on their talking points, and he said he hoped to walk away from the campaign trail more often in the future and write about the election from an outside-the-box perspective.

That’s a good idea, but I thought local journalists could have at least tried to break the campaign script more often during the last election on many issues. And even if they didn’t break it completely, they could have spotlighted candidates’ manipulative or repetitive talking points more clearly for voters, like Eli Stokols did in his interview with Senator-elect Cory Gardner.

This would have required more aggressive follow-up questioning by journalists, and it could have been done at more of the public events where reporters questioned the candidates.

The frustration of the journalists on the panel Tuesday was mostly not evident at the candidate debates and interviews, where journalists, with some important exceptions here and elsewhere, took a passive role, without much follow-up.

Here’s part of Tuesday’s discussion about how to address the talking points.

PLUNKETT: We do break the script. A good journalist can get people to talk about more than sometimes we give them credit for. I think when you start to think about the election in general, you remember all those scripted moments, and you’re frustrated by it. It’s annoying. You wish people would just answer the question. And that creates a very human reaction in you, and you react to it, in a hostile kind of way. But I do think, if you think back, there were tons of stories written by lots of people on the campaign trail, and we did get into issues. We did look at important moments.

STOKOLS: I think as a journalist you have to draw out and just explain to people when somebody’s not answering the question, sometimes. Whether you show that in a TV format or in a print format, you just say, you know, “…has refused to answer this question repeatedly throughout the campaign,” or, whatever it is. I think that should be revealing to people, you know, like Chuck said. Sometimes, there’s not a lot more you can do.

Durango Herald’s Peter MARCUS: Yeah, I agree. And I also agree that it is tougher in print. I mean, when I was pushing Cory Gardner on, you know, what the difference is between the state Personhood initiative and the federal bill, you know, it’s weird to write that into the story. It’s like, “The Durango Herald pushed Gardner on…” You know, and how many times can you write that? And are people even understanding what’s going on in the exchange, that you’re on the phone, or conducting your interview in person, we’re just asking the same question over and over in different ways? It gets hard to write it into a story. But more importantly, you can’t make them break the script. I STOKOLS: Well, you know, we have to be a little analytical. I mean, we can’t just sit there. we’re not stenographers.

MARCUS: Right

STOKOLS: So, you know, when you sit there on a campaign bus, and Mark Udall and Michael Bennet are sitting there, and the national reporters are asking, you know, like, “President Obama, he’s not here. Is he killing you?” And they’re like, “Oh, no! It’s fine!” Whatever. And then, you know, they go on background, and they’re like, “Jesus! The President is killing us!”

MARCUS: Right! What do you do? Yeah, what do you do?

STOKOLS: It doesn’t take a lot of analysis to understand, one, what the reality is, and two, why they can’t explicitly say that, or admit that, doesn’t mean we can’t write it, and explain that to the reader or the viewer, that, look, this is a fundamental reality of this campaign, whether it is admitted to or not admitted to, you know, by the candidate.

MARCUS: Yeah, you may not get them to break the script. You can write it in, because of what people tell you on background and everything. But you’re not going to quote them on it,

RICCARDI: Yeah, I totally agree. If you’re just waiting on these guys to tell you something, the yield-to-effort is minimal.

Asked why more of gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez’s extreme comments were not covered, some of the journalists on Tuesday’s panel explained that it’s difficult to address an issue if the campaign isn’t focusing on it.

RICCARDI: I also think this is a great example of how campaigns define a lot of what you end up covering. Hickenlooper ran a positive campaign. Hickenlooper did not put these past statements of Beauprez in the public light repeatedly, therefore there were other things that reporters had to focus on with their limited time. Look at how much ink we spilled over Gardner on two measures that will probably never become law. Right? And that’s a direct reflection of the fact that the Udall campaign and their allies put a lot of time, attention to creating points behind those issues. And I think you’re seeing the opposite of it in terms of what happened on the governor’s side. Hickenlooper did not want to make that an issue, and guess what, it didn’t become a big issue. I agree with Chuck, it’s a balancing act [on how much coverage old candidate statements should get]. There’s no—there’s no clean formula for anything in this business. But I also think this is a great example of how a lot of our coverage reflects the choices being by campaigns, for better or for worse.

STOKOLS: Yeah, the governor’s race was about the Governor because the Governor made it that way. I mean, he didn’t come out and do a lot of campaign events, but when he went to the sheriffs, and Kelly’s folks got that on video, that was a huge pivot in the campaign. And there were other things that he did —the comments to CNN earlier in the year, in answering a hypothetical question. There were mistakes that he made that we were sort of forced to cover. Whereas, some of these [Beauprez] statements, they matter on some level, but they have a shelf life. And so, when, you know, you’re running ads based on a 2006 statement, it does seem harder sometimes to rationalize going back and covering this, just because you’ve got a, you know, a 527 or somebody calling you and saying, “Hey, you know, did you see these statements? You should cover these. You should do a story.” Sometimes, you need more than that to be pushed off the ledge, especially when you look around and your colleagues aren’t doing it. It’s not like we all run around in packs, but when you’re going to go out and do a story yourself, and you’re going to be first, and you’re going to rationalize something that is just really aimed at putting another campaign or a candidate on the defensive, you have to be pretty careful about that, I think, in terms of, you know, have we covered this before, right? I don’t know what the exact formula is but–

MARCUS: There is no formula, but I think, for me, a component is also gauging, you know, interest, from outside groups, from the public…You know, at the beginning of the campaigns, a lot of the outside groups were really trying to push these 2006 talking points and comments and things like that. And you could just see, it wasn’t gaining traction — forget in the media, it wasn’t gaining traction on twitter — it wasn’t gaining traction. And it wasn’t because, I’m pretty sure, that these outside groups—and I know some of you are in the room, so I’m sorry — but, you didn’t have that much. The fact that you were going back to 2006, back to 2008 shows that it was—it was all you had. And it wasn’t gaining traction, not because we weren’t covering it—perhaps maybe possibly a little bit, but it really had to do with people’s interests. I didn’t see these statements coming back up. I think the closest we got was “Both Ways Bob” came back for a short minute, there. But, I was just looking around. I wasn’t seeing it gaining traction. It seemed like people were looking to move on, find out what this election was about, and I think that plays into how much attention it gets with the media, as well.

The event, which was sponsored by the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs, Compass Colorado, and BigMedia.org, was attended by political operatives and others from both sides of the political divide. There were about 40 people in the audience.

Media omission: Coffman is Christie’s ally in saying Colorado going to pot

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

It’s one thing for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to drop into Colorado and tell us our quality of life is going down the tubes thanks to marijuana legalization.

But it’s another for our own elected officials to tell us as much. You recall Rep. Mike Coffman grumped on the KOA radio earlier this year that legal pot may scare giant corporations from coming to Colorado. (Maybe that’s a good thing, but that’s a topic for another blog post.)

Coffman: “I worry, ‘What about that Fortune 500 corporation that wants to move to Colorado?’ And the chief executive officer has young kids, and to say, ‘Do I want my children exposed to a culture where this is acceptable for adults? And will that influence their behavior as kids?’”

Contrast Coffman’s fact-free brain puff with what Christie said in April:

Christie: “For the people who are enamored with the idea … the tax revenue from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there.”

Coffman is saying Colorado’s lifestyle/culture is so diminished by pot that rich people, in particular, may not want to live here.

Coffman stands with Christie.

Yesterday, Christie didn’t back down:

Christie: “I’m not backing off an inch from what I said.”

Coffman’s not backing down either. Talking to Hugh Hewett Friday, Coffman slammed pot legalization:

Coffman:You know, I think it’s a horrible decision that Colorado made.”

Coffman added that he’s trying to help pot businesses get bank accounts because operating in cash makes the industry “even more prone to criminality.”

You don’t see too many top elected officials singing the praises of pot shops. Many blandly say they’re opposed, but will try to make it work. But Coffman has distinguished himself as being on the far end of the pot-hating scale, which is weird since 55 percent of voters approved legalization.

Some buzz-kill swing voters, who don’t like legalized pot, might be motivating politicians like Coffman, who’s facing Democrat Andrew Romanoff in one of the most competitive congressional races in the country. Romanoff is no pot cheerleader, but he’s been more restrained.

No one knows where this will go, but it’s a beautiful Colorado morning outside, and I think I’ll go on a quick bike ride.

Peter Marcus to replace Joe Hanel at the Durango Herald

Monday, July 21st, 2014

I had convinced myself, based on nothing except the rip tide that’s pulling political reporters out of Colorado, that The Durango Herald wouldn’t replace its Denver correspondent, Joe Hanel, who left in May after rising to become one best political journalists in the state.

But I was wrong. The Herald has hired Peter Marcus, who left The Colorado StatesmanFriday, to replace

Hanel as its Denver Correspondent. Asked what he’ll be covering, Marcus said via email:

Marcus: “As much as I’d love to be working in Durango — that town is so amazing — I’ll actually be stationed out of the Capitol, holding down the bureau. It’s really critical that southwest Colorado have a link to the happenings in Denver. They don’t get Colorado news down there. The broadcasts are out of Albuquerque, but the people don’t relate to New Mexico. They’re Coloradans. So, it’s crucial that they have a link to the news and happenings coming out of Denver, because the decisions that happen in the Mile High City greatly impact their lives, and they should be able to have a say in what’s going on. During the legislative session, I’ll be mostly covering the legislature for the Herald. More immediately, I’m going to be jumping right into campaign season. It’s not going to be much of a jump for me. That’s been part of my beat at The Statesman. But I’ll also take a close look at the courts and the state boards — especially mining, water and oil and gas — because actions by those authorities are of great importance to our readership.”

I asked Marcus, who starts at the Heraldtoday, about the journalism road that led him to his new job:

Marcus: “It was a bit sad saying goodbye to the Statesman on Friday. That paper really came through for me at a clutch time, when I was seriously considering getting out of journalism. I was the assistant editor over at the Denver Daily News, it was around July 2011, and the paper just suddenly shut down. It literally just shut down in a second. I was out interviewing a Denver city employee for an investigation I was working on, and my phone went off, and it was a text from my editor saying, “Don’t worry about coming back to the office, the paper just folded.” It was shocking, to say the least.

After that, I was sort of losing faith in the industry a little bit. I still had the bug for journalism, but there just weren’t too many options available to me at that time. That’s when I started freelancing for The Statesman. Jody Strogoff, the editor, she saw something in me and allowed me to take on a few assignments for her. I had been covering the statehouse for the Denver Daily News, but it certainly wasn’t my primary beat, so Jody sort of took a risk on me. I started covering the reapportionment hearings at the time. That was a pretty big deal to The Statesman, given the paper’s legislative focus. Reapportionment can be a tough subject to just sort of dive into, but I got it done, and I think Jody started feeling a bit more comfortable. Soon I was a staff writer for the paper, primarily focused on the state legislature.

Where it all got started for me was at the Longmont Times-Call. I was an intern there for a while in 2005 right after graduating from Ithaca College where I majored in journalism. I sort of just packed up my car in New York and moved to Colorado. I had a tight crew of friends moving out here, but I didn’t have a job or anything like that. But then I landed the Times-Call gig and that’s where I really got addicted to this thing. It’s funny, I ran into Trevor Hughes at the Capitol the other day. Trevor was at the Times-Call when I was there. He now works for USA Today. Anyway, Trevor took me out on my first breaking news assignment. It was a bank robbery in Longmont. When I saw him, it all came back to me. I guess some of us just can’t say goodbye to being newsmen.”

I also asked Marcus how it felt to be replacing the widely respected Joe Hanel.

Marcus: I can’t begin to explain to you how big of a deal it is that I’m replacing Hanel. His legacy over at the Capitol could possibly be eternal. Hanel held down the Herald’s bureau position with pride, class and professionalism. He really set the bar. As I’ve been telling people that I’m moving over to the Herald, their responses have usually been, ‘Wow, those are some big shoes to fill.’ Indeed. If I come anywhere close to filling Joe’s shoes, I’ll feel like I have done my job. He gave me some good advice after I told him I got the gig. Hanel goes, ‘Just don’t fuck it up.’

I told Marcus that his fans at The Statesman will undoubtedly miss him. Here’s his response:

Marcus: I’m going to miss The Statesman very much. Beyond just allowing me to stay in the game so that I could move on to other opportunities, it’s been a real home for me. The stories are definitely on the long side, and they’re catered for the truly wonky political crowd. But there was something really fantastic about being able to delve into subjects with such complexity and detail. The Statesman is a true institution in the Colorado political world, and it was an honor to represent them over the past few years. They haven’t filled my old position yet, but I understand that there have been some interested and qualified candidates expressing interest.

Hanel’s departure deals another blow to Colorado political journalism

Monday, May 12th, 2014

On Friday, Joe Hanel ended a nine-year run at the Durango Herald, leaving for a job at the Colorado Health Institute.

Hanel wrote a lot about politics, and he was clearly one of the best remaining political journalists in Colorado. His departure is yet another blow to Colorado journalism, as the number of political reporters with both experience and intelligence dwindles.

Hanel started at the Herald in 2004 as a freelancer and joined the newspaper’s Denver-bureau staff in 2005. Prior to that, he worked as a presentation editor at the Rocky (2002-3), as a graphics and news editor at the Longmont Daily Times-Call (1996-2002), and a graphics editor at the Greeley Tribune (1995-6). He has a degree from CU-Boulder journalism school.

Last week, he answered a few of my questions via email:

Why are you leaving?
I’m going to be a writer and designer at the Colorado Health Institute, a data and number-crunching think tank. My reasons for leaving newspapers are purely economic. I turned 40 this year and I’ve had to admit to myself that there’s no way I’ll be able to retire from this industry. My job as the Durango Herald’s Denver correspondent was secure for the foreseeable future, but there are just fewer and fewer places to go for new opportunities. People think of journalism as a calling or a cause, but in truth it’s a job. I know some journalists sneer at colleagues who leave for better opportunities, as if we’re somehow betraying the brotherhood, but I think my first responsibility is to provide a secure future for my family. And I’m sad to say that journalism isn’t the place for that.

What are some of your favorite memories as a political reporter?
I’ve gotten to travel all over on someone else’s dime. There are worse places to travel for business than Durango. I’ve gotten to help trap a bear, explore old uranium mines, ski Wolf Creek, cover the Club 20 debates in Grand Junction, see Mitt Romney in Craig and wonder what the hell he was doing in a little town that he was going to win by 25 points, and cover five national political conventions (which is enough for one lifetime).

And the press corps at the state Capitol is really a wonderful bunch of people. They act like cynical bastards, and it’s OK if you hate them, but they are loyal and dedicated and true to their values and their friends.

What are your biggest concerns about Colorado journalism today?
I’m worried about the Denver Post. I can’t overstate how much worse off our city is without the Rocky. It would be a damnable shame if the Post fought the Rocky to the death, only to commit assisted suicide with the help of their new hedge fund owners.

From a broader perspective, we still have not come anywhere close to finding a solution to our biggest problem as an industry – the failure of our economic model. I always hear from amateur media critics who think newspapers are failing because everything we write doesn’t reinforce their partisan point of view. We’re not failing because of the content. The news has never paid for itself. It was always subsidized by classified and display ads. We lost the classifieds to craigslist, and we can charge only pennies on the dollar for online ads compared to print ads. So we still make most of our money in print, but print is dying. That’s the conundrum. Really smart people (and, I admit, lots of stupid ones, too) have tried to find a way out. And we’re still looking.

Would you discourage a young person from going into journalism?
I think young people are in a pretty good position to at least have a chance to succeed in journalism. The industry needs energetic people with new ideas who will work for cheap. I can’t lie and tell them that this is a promising business right now, but we aren’t the only industry to have uncertain times. I’ve been very impressed with the young journalists and students I’ve met the last few years. A few come to mind: At the Denver Post, Kurtis Lee and Jordan Steffen kick butt on a fairly regular basis. At my own paper, we have Chase McCallister, who commands the English language like she’s been doing it for 50 years. These people, if they can stick it out, soon will be veteran journalists. But there’s a world of difference between your 20s and your early 40s, and I don’t see the business turning around in time for a guy like me.

Other thoughts?
In rereading this, I think I sound defensive or sanctimonious. I know there’s a lot I could have done better the past 20 years, and I know journalists make boneheaded decisions every day. I’m not excusing our mistakes. I just think, despite all our flaws, people will miss us when we’re gone.

Last thing: I can’t say enough positive things about the Ballantine family, who own the Durango Herald and Cortez Journal. They enjoy owning newspapers, they take pride in the quality of their product, and they work hard to be good publishers. I’m no longer on their payroll, so there’s no point to me sucking up other than to say thanks to a generous family of serious journalists. This business needs a hundred more families like them.

When Republicans downplay the importance of women’s issues, reporters should provide historical perspective

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

On Friday, the Durango Herald ran an article on newly-minted CO Republican Senate candidates, state legislators Owen Hill and Randy Baumgardner.

The Herald reported that Hill has taken strong anti-choice stands in the past. (Opponents say he supported de-funding Planned Parenthood in Colorado.) And Baumgardner “pitched an Arizona-style immigration law for Colorado two years ago when he was in the House.”

The Herald’s Paige Jones reported that Owen Loftus, a spokesman for the Colorado Republican Party, “downplayed the candidates’ proposals on abortion and immigration – both of which quickly failed – and said voters make their decision based on a range of issues.”

“People in Colorado don’t vote on just two issues. They vote on the whole package,” he said.

Maybe they don’t vote on just two issues, but Jones should have asked Loftus how he could possibly downplay the importance of women’s issues, like abortion, and immigration after Loftus’ deflating experience as spokesman for Ken Buck’s failed Senatorial campaign in 2010.

Buck was poised to win his race, you recall, and before the 2010 election, Republicans like Loftus were saying the same thing about itsy-bitsy women’s issues: they don’t matter. And look what happened to Buck.

At the time, as Buck was attacked as an anti-abortion extremist, Buck campaign consultant Walt Klein told The Denver Post:

“If they think they can make Michael Bennet a more appealing incumbent by going on and on about abortion, then fire away. But all the polling data show economy, jobs and unemployment is pushing all the other issues to the bottom of the chart.”

Responding to a news story about a college student who was angry at Buck for telling reporters that the student would be accused of having “buyer’s remorse” if her rape case went to trial, Loftus told The Denver Post: When it comes to women and men, they’re worried about jobs. … That’s what everyone cares about. Voters understand this is a machine set up to smear Ken Buck, and they aren’t buying it.”

As everyone now knows, Loftus was wrong then, he’s wrong again, and reporters should press him on why he continues to say the same lines even though he’s had a two-bit role in the history that proves him wrong. Loftus did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Three days after 2010 election, Buck himself told The Denver Post:

“My effort was to focus on spending and unemployment, and they wanted to talk about anything but,” Buck said. “It was part of their effort to focus more on their version of Ken Buck rather than the issues that I thought most voters were concerned about. I don’t know that there’s any way to avoid it; I wasn’t going to derail my message to have an election decided on abortion, or any social issue, for that matter.”

The Post’s Michael Booth did readers a favor by following up Buck’s quote with this:

The irony is, of course, that the election may have been decided on precisely those issues, with even Republican analysts saying the Democratic strategy hurt Buck among independent women in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties. The final margin with Bennet was fewer than 20,000 votes, out of 1.5 million cast.

Media Omission: Gun activist Pratt calls on Colorado sheriffs to arrest federal officials if necessary

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Larry Pratt, Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, praised Weld County Sheriff John Cooke recently for taking a “very strong stand on what he thinks the limits of the Federal government are.”

Speaking to Greeley talk show host Scooter McGee, Pratt, who’s in Colorado now to support the recall effort of State Rep. Mike McLachlan, said some sheriffs around the country are ready to arrest federal officials if, in the sheriffs’ views, they are violating the U.S. Constitution.

PRATT Well, I’m very encouraged by the number of sheriffs that–it’s at least pushing 400 now, that have said– there’s a spectrum. At a minimum, they’re saying they’re not going to cooperate with any unconstitutional gun grabs that the federal government might participate in. And at the other end of the spectrum, sheriffs are saying, “Not only will I not cooperate, but if the Feds are doing something unconstitutional in my county, particularly a gun grab, I’ll put them in jail.” But they’re also addressing other issues where the Feds act unconstitutionally and threaten to incarcerate citizens of their county, the sheriffs are interposing themselves and saying, “If you try to do that, you don’t have authority, and you’re not going to do that in my county, and if you try it, I will arrest you.” This has happened in confrontations with the Forest Service, BLM, the Food and Drug Administration, and of course, the ATF – the gun police.

In a column in the Cortez Journal Monday, Montezuma Country Sheriff Dennis Spruell echoed Pratt’s comments, writing that if sheriffs “think a state or federal law contradicts the Constitution, they are under no obligation to enforce it.”

It wasn’t clear if Pratt thought Cooke would actually arrest federal officials, or if Spruell would arrest them, if necessary to enforce their views of the U.S. Constitution, so I called Cooke and Spruell to find out. Cooke did not return my call immediately, but Spruell said, “I swore an oath to the Constitution, but there’s no law that says I can arrest someone who violates the Constitution.”

In his radio interview, Pratt went on to point to a specific example of a situation, in addition to stopping alleged gun grabs, when Sheriffs need to exert their power and arrest the feds–when the Department of Education sends in a SWAT team to collect student loans.

PRATT: Well, it can get pretty absurd. There was a case last year, a young woman looked outside and realized that her residence was completely surrounded by the Men in Black. And when all the commotion finally subsided, it turned out that that was the Department of Education SWAT team, and they were coming for her because she was delinquent on her education [loans]. McGEE: Oh, on her student loans! PRATT: Exactly. Now, the fact that in the past creditors were able to garnish your wages, put a lien on if you own your house, repo[ssess] your car–. Those are actually sensible, measured, equivalent responses to the problem. But now, if they have a SWAT team, they figure they got to use it, or else why do we ask the taxpayers to spend all this money on – McGEE: And, when it comes to budgets, remember we spent a hundred and fifteen thousand dollars last year and we increase the budget every year and we have to justify it by spending it, and using it and—oh, my god, Larry. You’re absolutely right, again. PRATT: So, off we go and the Department of Education is now using a SWAT team to collect delinquent student loans. Frankly, that’s where we need sheriffs. The sheriff needs to come in and say [affecting a ‘good ol’ boy, southern accent], “Boy, I don’t think you ought to be doing that.” And make sure that the boys understand that the sheriff is serious as a heart attack, that he is just talking smooth, and that he is not going to let them do that.

The Durango Herald will live stream a speech by Pratt in Durango today at 6:30 p.m.. He’s in Colorado in support of efforts to recall State Rep. Mike McLachlan.

Durango Herald correct in asserting that academics don’t see partisan advantage in election-day registration

Friday, April 12th, 2013

In his April 9 article about proposed legislation that would, among other things, allow citizens to register to vote through Election Day, Durango Herald reporter Joe Hanel wrote:

Conventional wisdom holds that same-day registration will give Democrats an advantage. However, academics who have studied the idea find the evidence for it is sketchy.

Hanel didn’t cite a specific academic, but his assertion is, in fact, correct.

Not that it matters. Presumably, in America, we want as many people to register and vote as possible, within budget and security constraints, whether they do it picking their nose in the shower or on Election Day at the polls. In other words, the debate about whether same-day registration favors one side or the other is irrelevant, unless you’re against voting.

But, in any event…

I called Associate Professor Michael McDonald at George Mason University, and he told me that early voting and same-day registration may, in some situations, benefit Democrats and, in others, benefit Republicans.

“It depends on the ability of the campaigns to mobilize voters,” he told me. “In different situations, Democrats may win the early vote. Republicans may win the early vote in other situations. It depends on the context.”

In 2010, I interviewed Curtis Gans, Director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate, about whether he believes same-day registration benefits Democrats or Republicans. Gans is not a Ph.D., but he is a widely quoted independent expert, who’s been associated with American University, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and elsewhere.

“I think it’s not predictable at all,” he answered. “We have been shown that it’s not predictable one way or the other. There’s plenty of evidence.”

He added: “So long as a state does not have a history or likelihood of abuse of the registration system…- fraudulent registration, voting in the name of dead people, that sort of thing…-there is no harm and maybe a little good that can come out of election-day registration.”

Colorado has no such history of election fraud, as far as I could find.

I asked Gans, “What’s the little good that can come of same-day registration?”

“The good part is, that if people get interested in the election closer to the election, they don’t have to sit it out because they’re not registered,” he told me. “That’s the good part. It enhances the opportunity to vote.”

I called Gans yesterday to get an update on the situation. He told me his view remains the same.

“It’s also true with in-person early voting,” Gans said. “In 2004, the Republicans got the benefit of in-person early voting. The last two elections the Democrats did. It depends on the political climate.”

Colorado’s current practice is to cut off voter registration 29 days before ballots are cast.

“It depends on who’s motivated to go vote,” Gans said, adding that he doesn’t think there’s any dispute among election experts on this point.

Reporters should find out if GOP caucus goers think their delegates should be up for grabs or committed to their chosen candidate?

Monday, February 13th, 2012

As the Colorado GOP caucuses approached last week, state Colorado GOP Chair Ryan Call told the Durango Herald that a lot was riding on the outcome. That is, if you believe the GOP delegates are an honorable bunch.

The Herald reported:

Those delegates [chosen at the caucuses] are “bound by honor” to vote for the presidential candidates they supported at the precinct caucus, said state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call. If a candidate drops out before the assembly, his delegates are released to vote for someone else.

But the morning after the caucuses, Call was downplaying the significance of the Stantorum victory, telling KNUS’ Steve Kelley:

Call: Last night’s preference poll is really just a straw poll. The delegates elected in each of these precinct caucus meetings are now going to go on to participate in county and district assemblies. And then at the state assembly in April is where we will actually be electing the slate of delegates that will be sent from Colorado to the national convention…This is still an open race, and it can be expected to play out over the next couple months.

Kelley asked the follow-up question that was on my mind:

Kelley: It begs the question then, Ryan, why do the caucuses if you’re not going to secure the delegates for sure?

Call replied:

Call: The caucuses are the first step in a multi-step process. It’s that sort of winnowing of the field as the process moves along. It’s a very representative, grassroots-oriented process where the folks who took the time to show up are the ones whose votes matter and whose voices get heard.

An impartial observer, like a reporter, might want to know how all those grassroots folks “who took the time to show up” are feeling now, as their participation, not whom they voted for, seems to matter most to Call.

Call: I think the most exciting thing is the level of turnout, the level of participation, and then we move on to the next step.

You’d think delegates would, in fact, feel some commitment to support the candidate they were selected to vote for, as long as that candidate stayed in the race.

I’d feel betrayed (and pissed), if I voted for, say, a winner like Newt Gingrich, and my trusty Gingrich delegate dumped his chains of honor and switched to Romney at the county or state conventions.

But Call apparently doesn’t see it that way, and neither does former GOP Chair Dick Wadhams–or Ron Paul, who thinks he has stealth delegates faking it for other candidates.

Reporters should be wondering what the GOP caucus goers think of this situation. Just how committed do they believe their delegates should be to the preferences of the hard-working caucus attendees who selected them?

When GOP (or Dem Party) has no plan to pay for a tax break or budget increase, reporters should say so

Monday, July 25th, 2011

These days, Republicans in the Colorado Assembly are facing a question they’re not used to being asked: how will you pay for that?

In 2009, state Republicans and Democrats were both saying they wanted to pass legislation to upgrade Colorado’s roads and bridges. The Dems’ plan, the FASTER legislation that passed over GOP objections, was funded by increased vehicle registration fees and a $2 fee on rental cars.

Speaking for the Republicans, Rep. Mike May said: “The Republican plan is: Building roads, not bureaucracies.”

Yet reporters couldn’t bring themselves to writing, plainly, that the GOP had no plan to fund road construction. Instead reporters mostly regurgitated vague GOP notions to sell bonds, maybe raise vehicle fees way lower than Dems’ proposed, or leverage the “value of state buildings.”

In the last few years, reporters have gotten better at stating that Republicans have no plan, when they don’t have one for paying for tax cuts or pet spending increases.

For example, the headline on a Spot blog post July 21 stated, factually, that House Republicans wouldn’t say how they would pay for restoring a property tax break for seniors, which is set to take effect in 2012, after being suspended for two years by Democrats in 2010, generating about $100 million for the state.

The Post quoted House Speaker Frank McNulty as saying that the days of balancing the state budget on backs of seniors were gone.

But the article pointed out that the reality that relieving the back ache would require cuts to other programs.

And so The Post did what you, I, or any sane journalist would do. It asked McNulty about how he’d adjust the state budget to pay for the tax break, but the House Speaker refused to tell The Post where these cuts would be made.

A day after The Post piece appeared,  the Durango Herald covered Gov. John Hickenlooper’s response to McNulty’s plan to restore the property tax break for seniors. Hick said more budget cuts were likely and so the only way to pay for a tax cut for seniors would be to make even deeper cuts to the state budget.

But unlike The Post, the Herald didn’t get a direct response from McNulty on how he planned to pay for the tax break.

Neither did the Pueblo Chieftain, in its article about Hickenlooper’s response to McNulty. The Chieftain reported:

“McNulty said he is optimistic that a rebound in state revenue will enable Colorado to restore the tax break to seniors.”

I’m glad McNulty is optimistic, but the Chieftain should have asked the follow-up question: What if the rebound doesn’t materialize? What’s McNulty’s plan? What would he cut?