Veteran political reporter Peter Marcus leaves journalism for pot industry communications job

August 23rd, 2017

Veteran Colorado political reporter Peter Marcus will leave journalism at the end of August to become  communications director for Terrapin Care Station cannabis company.

Marcus started his newspaper career in Colorado in 2005 at the Longmont Times-Call (as an intern). Then he had stints at the Denver Daily News (defunct, tragically), Colorado Statesman (recently absorbed by ColoradoPolitics.com), Durango Herald, and, finally, ColoradoPolitics.com.

Marcus answered a few questions via email about his plans, his work as a reporter, and the state of journalism in Colorado. (See similar “Exit Interviews” with scribes who’ve left journalism here.)

What are you going to be doing in your new job?

Marcus: My new role is as communications director. In addition to crafting cannabis messaging for Terrapin Care Station, I’m going to be working with the industry as a whole in an effort to build bridges so that we can move forward with a unified message that debunks many of the false and misguided opposition efforts that exist. We’re going to be establishing a website that includes original journalism, facts, data, videos, points and counterpoints. When someone runs a column that says the sky fell in Colorado because of legal marijuana, I’ll be responding with facts and journalism to show that in fact the “experiment” has not only been successful, but a boon for Colorado, which is how it would look under a national scheme as well.

Do you think you’d be leaving journalism if the profession were on more solid economic ground?

Marcus: My decision to leave journalism has less to do with journalism itself and more to do with a personal decision to take advantage of an exciting opportunity. I actually was lucky enough to have a stable job in the journalism world. Colorado Politics has honestly become the most trusted, aggressive political news site in the state of Colorado, and I’m sad to leave it behind because they’re poised for incredible growth. I just was presented with an opportunity that I felt I had to explore.

What’s the biggest problem with political journalism, as practiced now in Colorado, aside from the economic problems and related issues, like the shrinking number of political reporters?

Marcus: Shrinking number of journalists in political journalism is obviously heartbreaking. It weighed on my shoulders that I’m leaving it behind, because that’s probably the biggest problem, just too few of us left. But I’ve done this for more than a decade now, and it was simply time to move on. Colorado Politics is staffing up big time, so I believe the void that is left will be filled sooner than later. So, there is hope.

What’s a highlight or two of your career as a political reporter?  A low point?

Marcus: Many of the highlights have come in the last few months at Colorado Politics. Breaking stories like Ed Perlmutter about to jump into the governor’s race, and then his decision to drop out while declaring that he would not run for re-election to Congress was a high for me to uncover.  Then to break that he may actually jump BACK into the congressional race, was equally as fun to report. [Editor’s note: This was written before Perlmutter actually jumped back in his congressional race.] Those are very recent stories for me over a decade of reporting, but they serve as excellent examples of why we do this. Journalists want to bring the facts to people so that they can understand for themselves what’s going on. Low points, of course, have been watching the state of the industry collapse. From the Rocky Mountain News closing, to the Denver Post losing critical resources, it’s just all so sad to watch as journalism takes a huge hit. But I’m still a believer. I think that there’s a path forward.

[CORRECTION: Sept. 1 –Marcus did not break the story of Perlmutter exiting the gubernatorial race, though he was first to report, based on information from Marcus’ sources at the time, that Perlmutter would not seek re-election to Congress. The Denver Post broke the story about Perlmutter exiting the race about 20 minutes before CoPolitics did.]

What do you think you’ll miss most about practicing journalism? Least?

Marcus: I’m gonna miss being on the inside of everything. Within weeks journalists become has-beens. People forget all the wonderful work we did to keep them informed. But I’m going to be working hard to continue those relationships and to cultivate new ones as we bridge politics with cannabis policy. What am I going to miss the least? The pressure to always scoop everyone else and turn out a lot of copy every day. It weighs on you after a while. And writing stories at 1 a.m. gets old pretty fast. But if you have the drive for it, it can be a lot of fun.

 

Conservative radio host dropped after showing independent streak

August 22nd, 2017

Denver radio legend Steve Kelley’s retirement last month from KNUS 710-AM made some news, but less noticed was the quiet shuffling off the air of Krista Kafer, who was Kelley’s KNUS co-host on the Kelley & Kafer show.

KNUS’s decision not to offer Kafer her own show, or pair her with someone else, was disappointing to me, because she frequently took less conservative stances than her fellow hosts. This enraged KNUS listeners, which made for fun listening.

For example, she endured months of radio attacks and anger for being a NeverTrumper, and she wasn’t shy about her stance. Sometimes she’d interject something about her garden, which spoke to me personally, and then she’d get back to a calm dissection of Trump or to something else, like a defense of the basic civil rights of Muslims.

I hope Kafer wasn’t pushed off the air because she wasn’t conservative enough for KNUS, but the fact that station manager Brian Taylor didn’t return my call doesn’t help quell my suspicions. To be clear, Kafer is super conservative, so it’s not like she was such an outcast there. But the duo who replaced here, Chuck Bonniwell and Julie Hayden, is far more conservative, especially Bonniwell. And they don’t elicit the same right-wing anger on air.

I was reminded of Kafer this weekend because she showed her guts and independence by writing a Denver Post column linking the Taylor Swift trial to her own experience being sexually harassed by a “syndicated columnist and cable news contributor.” A while back, on the radio, Kafer referred to him as a FOX News contributor whom she met when she volunteered at a conference.

Kafer wrote this weekend:

Some years ago when I was a technical writer with aspirations, I met a well-known syndicated columnist and cable news contributor at an event. He agreed to talk with me after his speech about my writing prospects. Advice over coffee! I was grateful and excited about the possibilities.

When I saw him at the post-speech reception, he didn’t ask me to sit and talk; he asked me up to his room. Completely stunned, I mumbled something vague and walked away. At 11:30 p.m. he called. I let it go to voicemail. When was I coming up, he asked. Bewildered and ashamed, I didn’t call him back. The incident hit me harder than the time a D.C. lobbyist slapped my butt.

Two months later the man called me and suggested that I’d misconstrued his invitation. Giving him the benefit of the doubt I suggested we have that coffee when I went to D.C. the next week. He wasn’t interested. He just wanted to know if I’d told anyone about the invitation to his room.

That’s pretty close to a mea culpa, but what am I to do with it? What he did wasn’t illegal. He has money, lawyers and prestige. What little I have can be taken from me. Plus my accusation would rouse a torrent of wrath from his supporters, who would accuse me of making it up or causing it to happen. Once again I would be objectified.

Wouldn’t you like to hear more of that kind of talk on KNUS?

“Colorado Obamacare lie” should be expunged from the state legislature as well as the campaign trail

August 21st, 2017

In an editorial this week, The Denver Post coined the term the “Colorado Obamacare lie” to describe repeated statements by GOP gubernatorial candidates that Obamacare is gobbling up the state budget when, in fact, it has “very little impact” on the state budget.

Nicely done.

And the phenomenon goes beyond GOP gubernatorial candidates, to Republicans in the state legislature and beyond.

For example, last January, State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) told the “Americhicks,” Molly Vogt and Kim Munson, on KLZ 560-AM, that the Obamacare, also called the “Medicaid expansion,” is “eating every single dollar that we have,” that could be spent on other priorities.

Neville: I believe it’s time for the government to re-prioritize, and of course the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the Medicaid expansion, which the governor did several years ago, eating every single dollar that we have in increased expense.

Also last year, we got this Tweet from the Colorado Senate GOP (@ColoSenGOP), linking to a chart of state and federal Medicaid expenditures: “Maybe Colo could afford FullDayK if #Dems weren’t pouring every spare $ into Obamacare #choices #copolitics #coleg pic.twitter.com/zrS1L6v5KO.”

The Post’s reporting, followed up by its editorial, should put an end not only to this kind of talk on the campaign trail, but in the state legislature as well.

Thanks to a reporter, we know Tipton won’t condemn Trump’s sympathy for white supremacists

August 21st, 2017

This is why you need regional reporters who will hold elected officials accountable.

Realvail.com’s David O. Williams wanted to report the thoughts of his area Congressman, Scott Tipton, on Trump’s handling of the recent actions by Neo-Nazis. So he called his office last week, and here’s what he reported.

Williams noted in a post that Tipton had been “careful not to criticize the president, tweeting: ““Neo-Nazis are abhorrent & only try to drive America apart. We must stand up to racism, antisemitism & hateful rhetoric wherever we see it.”

Williams: I asked a Tipton spokeswoman for the congressman’s thoughts on the president’s handling of the situation, including his comments Tuesday that demonstrated sympathy for neo-Nazi, white supremacist and KKK protesters, calling some “very fine people.” I also wondered if there should be a federal law banning the use of Nazi and other white supremacist logos, the way there is in Germany.

But she referred to his original tweet, saying, “Those are his feelings on the situation, period.”

Colorado Republicans Gardner, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman all pushed push back directly against Trump’s comments on Charlottesville.

Although he called Trump’s Access Hollywood sexual assault comments “appalling,” Tipton steadfastly supported Trump and refused to outright condemn his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric during the campaign, instead trying to link his Democratic opponent — former state Sen. Gail Schwartz — to Hillary Clinton.

Obviously, this is a grain-of-sand contribution to the national and local debate about Trump and the local reaction to him. But it’s a grain that would never exist unless a reporter created it.

Colorado’s Senate GOP spokesman calls fact-check journalism “largely phony”

August 17th, 2017

paige on Ingold article 8-2017Colorado’s Republican Senate spokesman, Sean Paige, isn’t shy about expressing himself on Twitter.

So I was surprised that he wouldn’t explain why he took to Twitter to call into question the “objectivity” of John Ingold’s excellent Denver Post article, “Is Medicaid Gobbling Up Colorado’s Budget?

“What’s wrong with The Denver Post article?” I tweeted at Paige, who’s the former Deputy Director of Colorado Americans for Prosperity. “This is one of the most serious topics facing #coleg #copolitics.”

He disappointed me by tweeting back, “I’ll leave the faux media critic shtick 2 U and share what critiques I have with the paper. But I thought the piece was flawed.”

I eventually got more details on Paige’s thinking, because someone passed along a Facebook post by Paige, in which he explained his problems with the piece and with journalists.

Basically, he seems to hold them in very low regard, calling fact checking by reporters a “largely phony” activity carried out mostly by “left-leaning journalists not correcting but counter-spinning points of view they disagree with.” (Now I feel much better about him calling me a “faux media critic.”)

Ingold’s Medicaid piece is an example of the left-leaning, counter-spinning work of the press, writes Paige:

Paige: “The ‘reporter,’ who in this case becomes an advocate disguised as an ‘analyst,’ takes on the question of whether the Medicaid expansion that accompanied Obamacare is really, in fact, devouring a bigger share of Colorado’s budget. But instead of just reporting the facts and the truth — which of course is taking a bigger bite out of the budget, squeezing dollars that could be going to schools, roads, etc. — the writer [Ingold] works to soften that harsh but factual conclusion by mounting a defense of the program and putting the problem in a context that makes it appear like a non-problem. He’s doing what Democrats do, in other words, every time a non-Democrat asks and impertinent question about the blob that’s eating the state budget.” [emphasis added]

So Paige is openly advocating for shallow journalism. He wants Ingold to write that Medicaid costs are increasing and stop there!

Ingold’s sin was to dig into the budget Medicaid numbers, instead of just regurgitating the budget pie charts.

He determined that none of the money being spent on Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion can go to “roads, schools, etc.,” as Paige wants. You’d think this would be important information for Paige, as are the other facts reported by Ingold: The Medicaid budget has, in fact, increased, from 17 percent of the general fund in 2000 to 26 percent today. But how to cut it? Ingold reports that if you took the advice of many conservatives and took away Medicaid from “able-bodied” poor people (most of whom incidentally, are already working), you’d save hundreds of millions of dollars out of a $10 billion general-fund budget.

Ingold tells us where a disproportionate amount of Medicaid spending goes: “People with disabilities and people in nursing homes, for instance, make up 10 percent of the state’s Medicaid enrollment — but account for 42 percent of state Medicaid spending.”

These nonpartisan facts didn’t stick in Paige’s brain, because he accuses Ingold of doing “intellectual contortions” to avoid “reaching a politically incorrect conclusion.”

Since Paige cites no factual errors, it appears he thinks Ingold contorted by failing to report on, as Paige puts it, “the trap [Obamacare] set for the state, by creating the potential for a fiscal crisis when ‘the feds’ either can’t or won’t continue with that arrangement and Obama’s check bounces.”

All of Paige’s hostility toward Ingold seems to stem from Ingold’s decision to leave that dubious notion out of his article. Seriously? Every time reporters write about a federal program with a state impact (military, national parks, roads, BLM, EPA) they should discuss the possibility of Uncle Sam’s check bouncing?

Paige, who didn’t return a call for comment, concludes his post with a broad slam at fact checking, which is one of the most honorable missions of journalism in our age of degraded discourse.

Paige: “I believe ‘yes but’ stories, like the dishonest ‘fact-checking’ exercises that have become such a trend among media outlets, are just another way for opinionated journalists to have the last word, while pretending to be honest brokers of information.”

I have to say, I’m glad he’s not my press secretary. But if he were, and I were his honorable Republican boss, I’d tell Paige to immediately stop blaming Obamacare for Colorado’s budget problems and, instead, come up with reality-based solutions. I doubt a specific list of Medicaid cuts would be among them.

Gardner wants to lower insurance costs, but where’s his plan to do so?

August 14th, 2017

With U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner’s (R-CO) first solo town hall in about 500 days coming up tomorrow, it’s worth reviewing how Gardner responded to questions at the skinny town hall he held in Durango, with other lawmakers, Aug. 4.

As expected, Gardner was was asked repeatedly about his votes for Obamacare replacement legislation that would have thrown tens of millions off the Medicaid insurance rolls. Gardner’s core defense, which he’s repeated numerous times, is: He’s mad as hell about health insurance costs and he wants a plan to lower them.

In Durango Gardner said (at 36 minutes 30 seconds here): “What we have right have right now isn’t working… What have to do  is find something that is actually going to do what you and I think both want to do, and that’s find something a way to drive down the costs of healthcare. We have to drive down the costs of health care.”

Everyone would love to bring down the cost of health care, but Gardner has yet to put a proposal on the table that would do this.

For example, the Obamacare replacement bill (BCRA) that Gardner voted for in the U.S. Senate, which was defeated by a 57-43 vote, would have increased insurance rates by 74 percent for market place enrollees above what’s expected under Obamacare, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

So Gardner voted for legislation that would make insurance costs worse! Why? The senate bill wouldn’t have improved market insurance rates for anyone in Denver, Mesa, or Yuma counties.

Another point worth revisiting from Gardner’s skinny town hall was his assertion that he wants to “stabilize the insurance markets.”

In Durango Gardner said (at 36 minutes 30 seconds here): “What we ought to do is stabilize the insurance markets. We we ought to do is put Medicaid in a sustainable fashion, keeping that important safety need. So that it is there for people in this country who truly need it… I believe we can do better. And that’s why I hope we have a bipartisan solution.”

Recall that Gardner helped sabotage Obamacare by stripping from the healthcare law a program to stabilize insurance markets.

Then, Gardner voted for the same program when it was included in Senate repeal-and-replace legislation (BCRA).

Denver Post article should stop conservatives from misrepresenting the Medicaid budget and scapegoating low-income people

August 11th, 2017

I can’t tell ya how excited I was to read, “Is Medicaid Gobbling Up Colorado’s Budget,” in The Denver Post, and reporter John Ingold did not let me down.

The piece provides a sober look at the repeated Republican allegation, documented multiple times on this blog, that if not for Democrat-led healthcare spending on children, elderly, disabled, and other poor people, there would be no budget crisis and the pavers would likely be doing their thing on every street corner.

Here are some takeaways from Ingold’s piece:

Killing Obamacare won’t free up money for roads, schools, or other wish-list spending.

We already knew this, but Ingold nails the door to the crazyhouse shut by finding out from Henry Sobanet, Hick’s budget director, that the small percentage of Colorado dollars that pay for Obamacare, also called the Medicaid expansion, can’t be used for general budget expenses.

“We could cancel the expansion, and we wouldn’t save a dollar in the general fund,” Sobanet told Ingold.

But something tells me, if I turn on the radio this morning, I’ll still hear a conservative blaming Obamacare for Colorado’s budget crisis.

Expunging “able-bodied” people from Colorado’s Medicaid rolls won’t do much for roads or the budget

That’s because, as Ingold reports, cutting “non-disabled adults” from Medicaid would free up “hundreds of millions of dollars” out of a $10 billion budget:

…Colorado could remove all non-disabled adults from the program — cutting its Medicaid population almost in half —  and the savings to use elsewhere in the budget would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, not in the billions of dollars. (The state’s total general fund budget this year is $10.6 billion.)

And if you cut non-disabled people from Medicaid, you’re left with the collateral social costs of dealing with the lives you’ve blown up, not to mention the weight on your conscience from your decision to reject this group of people, who mostly the working poor.

Colorado’s Medicaid costs are increasing, but actual-factual ways to bring down costs look to be cruel and illusive. 

Ingold reports, “Tackling bigger areas of general-fund Medicaid spending means focusing on other groups. People with disabilities and people in nursing homes, for instance, make up 10 percent of the state’s Medicaid enrollment — but account for 42 percent of state Medicaid spending.”

Who are the “able-bodied” adults whom conservatives want to kick off Medicaid?

This question is left unanswered in Ingold’s otherwise excellent article, and it’s a seriously important question, because the phrase “able-bodied” has become a buzzword among conservatives at the top of the heap, like U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, to talk-radio hosts, and others at the bottom of the heap, for attacking Medicaid recipients. U.S. Rep. Ken Buck expressed the view clearly when he told The Boulder Daily Camera: “I’m not in favor of able-bodied people with no child care responsibilities getting squat.”

I’ll write more about this later, but it turns out, in short, able-bodied Medicaid recipients are truly poor people, most of whom are actually working.

In fact, 75 percent of the adults who got health insurance under Obamacare, about 400,000 in Colorado, who make up a sizable chunk of the “able-bodied” Medicaid group, are working. For a single adult, to be eligible for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, you have to earn less than $16,00. For a family of four, it’s about $32,000.

Bottom line: This article should help fact-conscious politicians have more informed debates about Medicaid spending in Colorado. And it should help stop the stomach-turning scapegoating of low-income people that we hear from conservatives.

 

Coffman’s support for killing Obamacare via repeal-later raises questions

August 10th, 2017

Recall that Congressman Mike Coffman of Aurora promised to vote for the first House measure to kill Obamacare, a measure that would have taken away health insurance from millions of people.

Then he voted against the second House bill, which also would have pushed millions off the health insurance rolls, and it seemed his first promised vote disappeared.

Now it turns out that he’d have also voted for the repeal-later measure, which would leave an unknown number millions with no health insurance.

Asked by 9News’ Marshall Zelinger Aug. 6 (at 1:30 here) if he’d support a “straight repeal,” Coffman replied:

Coffman: “If you said, ‘Well, okay, we’re going to repeal,’ and the date certain for the repeal was long enough out, where it wouldn’t disrupt the markets, and it gave Congress adequate time, I think that would be appropriate.”

It’s worth getting more details from Coffman, whose office doesn’t return my calls, in case it comes up again.

Why does he think there could be agreement on an Obamacare replacement in the future when there was no agreement in seven years?

When he says he wants a date-certain for an Obamacare repeal to be “far enough out,” does he mean longer than seven years? How long?

Why wouldn’t the uncertainty of not having a replacement in hand disrupt the markets no matter how “far out” the repael date is, given the inability of Republicans to agree on a replacement in seven years?

Those are a few of the questions for Coffman.

An early version of this post incorrectly characterized Coffman’s proposal as repeal-now-and-replace-later.

 

Why won’t Gardner have a serious conversation about what he’s doing in Washington?

July 26th, 2017

If you’re a reporter, what to do with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)?

Assuming he gives you an interview (it took 9News weeks to get one), you’re facing a politician who’s apparently committed not to discuss any of the details of the GOP’s landmark Obamacare replacement bill. He won’t say what he likes, what he doesn’t like, or how he’d vote.

Today, 9News political reporter Brandon Rittiman boiled it down to a simple, “Are there any deal breakers? Are there things you do not want to see in any legislation?”

And Gardner dodged.

Rittaman followed up with a specific example of what could be a deal breaker: “What about the people on expanded Medicaid in Colorado, because a lot of new people got coverage that way. Is it important that they can keep the coverage they got under Obamacare?”

And Gardner dodged.

Rittiman asked Gardner if he’ll hold “any sort of town-hall meeting” during the August recess.

And Gardner dodged.

So what do you do with Gardner?

How about something like, “Hey, let’s stop playing this game, Sen. Gardner. It’s clear you won’t talk about specific elements that you favor or oppose in the healthcare bill. Why?

Why do you have nothing to say about the substance of the bill or any parts of it? Do you think serious questions will hurt your negotiating position? Anger your constituents? Republican donors?

Why won’t you have a serious conversation about what you’re doing in Washington?”

 

 

 

Former GOP official says his Facebook suggestion to “disembowel” columnist Littwin was “figurative”

July 25th, 2017

Roesener littwin 7-2017A prominent Garfield County Republican told me that he was being “figurative” when he wrote on Facebook this week that “someone should disembowel” Mike Littwin, a columnist for the Colorado Independent, a progressive news outlet.

“You Mike Littwin, are such a nefarious, full of mendacity individual, someone should disembowel you on the stairs of the State capitol,” wrote Ron Roesener, who gave up his position of GOP Garfield County Chair this year.

“Well, it was figurative,” he told me when asked about the Facebook post, which was obtained from a source. “I am not going to come down there with my gun and shoot him. Don’t worry.”

That’s good news, and I believe him.

Roesener, who ran for state house in 2012, went on to toss out more commonly heard verbal assaults, calling Littwin a “spineless person.” He alleged that Littwin refused an invitation to come to Garfield County to debate a local Republican. Roesener called Littwin a “1960’s hippie” who should get a “promotion to CNN.”

I asked Littwin via email if he’s getting more extreme or threatening messages lately.

“There is more anger generally at the media today than any time I’ve seen, but that was growing, as I don’t have to tell you, long before Trump’s phony-baloney war on the press,” he wrote. “In most cases today, despite the occasional call for ‘figurative’ disemboweling, and despite congressmen who body-slam reporters, and despite presidents who accuse journalists of being enemies of the people, most of the angry mail I get is to accuse me of creating fake news and most of the nasty stuff I get on Facebook, at least when I post my Colorado Independent columns, is from a small group of trollers. I figure, at least they’re reading.”

As you’d expect to hear from a great writer who’s been at it for more than 30 years, Littwin has seen worse missives than Roesener’s.

“When I worked at the LA Times, at a time I wasn’t yet a full-time columnist, this one guy would write me long unsigned letters blasting every piece I wrote. When I left to become a columnist at the Baltimore Sun, I got a hand-delivered letter in Baltimore from this guy the day after my first column ran at the Sun. It was pretty creepy. But I never heard from the guy again. Such is the life of a columnist. I used to get a lot of really disgusting, anti-Semitic mail, just foul Nazi-style, skinhead stuff. When I wrote a part-time column for the Virginian-Pilot in my youth, I’d get a lot of what I called long-haired, n-loving, commie, pinko mail. I got a lot of that in Baltimore, too. Before anonymous email, you’d get anonymous snail mail, with pretty laughable (I hoped) threats to kill me or worse.”

You want to laugh when someone threatens you, but, as Littwin says, all you can do is hope.  I wish everyone would read about the horrible deaths and torture of reporters across the globe (46 died last year), from Mexico to Afghanistan to Turkey.

After Trump released a video cartoon depicting himself attacking CNN, Bruce Brown, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, stated:

“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. The press are the people’s window into the halls of power, and most importantly, they are the people’s check on that power. When the president attacks the press, he attacks the people.”