Archive for July, 2011

Once unconcerned, Tipton now sounding the alarm about economic consequences of not raising the debt limit

Friday, July 29th, 2011

Along with throwing his support behind House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to raise the debt ceiling, Colorado’s freshman Congressman Scott Tipton changed his tune yesterday about the economic consequences not taking action.

Yesterday, Tipton sounded extremely worried about the economic impacts of not raising the debt limit, but two days previously not so much.

As the Grand Junction Sentinel reported today:

“I don’t think I can overstate” the economic dislocation that would take place if the debt limit isn’t increased, Tipton said.

A reduction in the nation’s credit rating would affect all Americans because no individual can have a higher credit rating than the nation. Mortgage, credit-card rates and other forms of borrowing would immediately become more expensive, he said. 

Contrast this with what Tipton told the Durango Herald Tuesday:

Tipton, however, argued that Obama overstated the consequences and that enough revenue would be coming in so that most of the United States’ bills, including to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, would be paid. “We do have the ability to meet those obligations,” he said.

Tipton also told KVOR-AM 760’s Jeff Crank July 16 that the U.S. could meet its financial obligations, even if the debt limit was not raised. Listen to the audio here.

Crank: Let’s hope we can hold the line much like was done on health care, where really every Republican stayed firm and solid on that point and that we don’t have people getting nervous. This President and the media is very complicit in this, trying to equate a vote on the debt limit increase to the defaulting—the US government defaulting. Those are two very different things and we need, I think as conservatives to do a better job at education that those are different things. Just because the debt limit isn’t raised does not mean that the United States government automatically defaults on its obligations.

 TiptonNo it doesn’t. The revenue that’s going to be coming in just over the balance of this month not only has the ability to cover the other areas we talked about just earlier but also be able to pay all of our interest payments as well. We have numerous economists, and I think maybe the most telling thing that ought to drive a lot of our decisions finally came out of S & P and Moody’s, the rating organizations. It isn’t a matter of just increasing the debt ceiling. They say that there has to be real reform, cuts up to $4 trillion, so that they can give a AAA credit rating to the United States. They understand, finally, at these credit rating agencies that if we don’t get our fiscal house in order we are in the pathway of Greece.

Please correct me if I’m wrong, but Tipton appears to be the only Member of Congress who’s flipped his views on if extending the debt limit matters, and reporters should find out what changed his mind on this.

Tancredo gives up his talk-radio show but is open to offers

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

When I called Tom Tancredo to find out why he walked away a few weeks ago from his late-night talk-radio show on KVOR in Colorado Springs, I expected him to say he was planning something else, something bigger and anti-illegal immigrant.

But he told me that hosting the show at 10 p.m. was “too late for an old man.”

His dog was falling asleep at his feet, as he did the show on his home phone, he said. That was his final signal to move on.

So even though KVOR execs were happy with the ratings, Tancredo gave it up, leaving his weekly column in Worldnet Daily as his only regular public offering, though, he says, “wherever two or more people are gathered, and it could be my dog, I’ll speak.” (I assume his dog would have to stay awake?)

Tancredo says he’ll consider doing an earlier talk radio slot, if one is offered to him.

“I don’t think anyone will be knocking on my door, but if they knock, I’ll answer,” he said. (Tancredo had a weekend show on KOA, and guest hosted for the station for a spell. He also had a regular two minute commentary on KLZ 560AM, home of flagship tea party show, Grassroots Radio Colorado, before his failed run for governor last year.)

Tancredo doesn’t miss the radio show much, saying, “It’s kind of nice to be free.”

But he does miss the venting.

“During the day I could get so pissed off about something, and I do every day, so I had a cathartic experiences at that hour,” he said. “That was the best part of it.”

How about blogging, I suggested to him, expecting him to say that he already has a blog.

But he said, “You have to be a little more focused [to blog] than I tend to be.”

At first I took this as a back-handed compliment to us bloggers.

But when you look at what Tancredo has managed to do in his life, with less focus than a lowly blogger, (elected to Congress, raising millions of dollars, repeatedly capturing the imagination of bamboozled reporters), you realize that being able to focus ism’t a good thing. It’s an obstacle to success in politics nowadays.

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?

Ghost of Walter Conkite makes an appearance on righty talk radio show

Monday, July 18th, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: When conservatives are cozying up to each other on talk radio, I find myself imagining what the radio interview might look like if a real journalist, or possibly a fact checker, magically appeared to liven things up. Here’s what such a person might add to a June 1st interview on Seng Center, hosted by Jimmy Sengenberger:

Sengenberger: How is life not in session?

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Yes, how is summer treating you two Representatives? Hello? Can you not hear me? Why are you ignoring me? Just to be safe, I’ll continue to ask my questions.

Conti: While I would say that we’re finally getting an opportunity to do the things that we did not have an opportunity to do before the last session. And that is do a lot of research, meet with proponents and opponents of bills that you are producing, get people on board and so forth and those are the kind of things that make you write more successful legislation that we had no opportunity to do prior to last session.

Sengenberger: Rep. Ramirez, what have you learned as a freshman member of the statehouse from that experience?

Ramirez: Coming into this we felt as though, alright we had a Republican majority in the House, the Democrats majority in the Senate and it was going to be just this battle of not getting anything done this whole session. What I did realize is that if you’re willing to do the work and you are willing to work with people you can come up with some very good legislation and get something done and the realization is that not everyone is willing to do that.

Sengenberger: What did you learn Rep. Conti?

Conti: The highs are great and the lows stink but you can find a lot of joy in the journey and it is fun to work with your other colleagues and collaborate and a great spirit and there were some genuine times of bipartisan spirit.

Sengenberger: Before we jumped into some of the more particular issues like redistricting and other measures that I want to talk about, I want to give both of you a chance to share with us the bills or couple of the bills that you submitted and pushed forth in the House and how they did up faring through the Legislature.

Conti: One of the bills that I was most excited about was a charter school bill. House Bill 1089 I believe it was. It allowed our charter schools to compete, to step into the arena and compete in the competitive grants at the federal level and competitive grants of the state level categories. Prior to that they had been excluded from those opportunities to step in and compete like about nine other states surrounding Colorado. So this finally allowed our charter schools to do that and that was pretty exciting.

Sengenberger: And that went through the Senate as well?

Conti: Yes, signed into law by the Governor.

Ramirez: That was a really good bill.

Conti: And I also had a bill…the other two were basically unintended consequences that we were fixing. One of the things that a lot of people don’t know is that in order to fix a bill or kill previous legislation you have to write more legislation to do it. And that’s what we were doing with the window tinting law. We had police officers out there who were having their undercover surveillance equipment, if there were in detective operations and that kind of thing, that undercover surveillance equipment was being discovered because of the limited window tint that they were legally allowed to put on their windows. So they asked for an exemption for those vehicles only that are in those detective operations so they could tint their windows darker and conceal some of that equipment that they might need to have in their cars. And so that also did pass through the House and Senate and the signed into law, as well as a disabled veterans bill. In our privacy requirements, one of the things that they have to do as soon as they verify the Social Security number when people are asking for property tax exemption, which our 100 percent disabled veterans are eligible for, that they have to strike all but the last four digits. The problem is the first people that were verifying that number were the veterans and then the county also needed to verify that. So the county was having to verify based on the last four digits and match the last name and go on a hunt and peck. When the economy was good they probably only had about 50 of those requests a year. But when the economy turned south, all of the sudden 50 turned into 3, 4, 500 of those requests per year and it was just bogging down their office and bogging those claims being processed. So we were able to go in and get that changed so they didn’t have to strike it until after the county had an opportunity to do their verifications.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Conti, I believe you numbers might be a little off. According to the State Division of Property Taxation, 3,012 veterans took the exemption.

Sengenberger: Essentially boosting efficiency for them.

Conti: Exactly.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Conti, one of your main talking points during the campaign was your desire to repeal the FASTER legislation. Early in the year you introduced SB11-095, which would have fulfilled that campaign promise. Was there a reason you chose not to include that bill in your summary just now? Is that because you are still upset with Speaker McNulty because he encouraged you and the other freshman to run on that issue and then he reneged on his support of the bill when he took power?

Sengenberger: Rep. Ramirez what were some of the things that you advocated?

Ramirez: I had six bills this year. The first one met an untimely death. It was to allow RTD to use more private entities in order to perform the services they want to perform; everything from drivers to mechanics and everything else. And it turned into a union bill and was really kind of a vicious battle and it in no way was intended to be against the unions. It was just trying to say, ok RTD, you have a certain amount of money. In order to continue the same rate of service, you’re going to have to use more private contracts or else you are going to have to cut some services. And what is going to end up happening is they are going to have to cut some services. So that one died. It was actually a jobs bill.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Ramirez, if I can just ask for a clarification. You say your RTD bill a jobs bill? It’s my understanding that the bill replaced a 58% ceiling with a 50% floor of contract work. Interestingly, RTD was currently using 57% outside firms. It seems to me that RTD was already doing a pretty good job handling this issue by themselves. However, you did oppose an amendment that required the private companies doing contract work with RTD be domestic or have principal places of business in the U.S. Was your goal in passing this legislation to protect big international companies or American jobs? [HB11-1054, Second Reading Vote, 2/08/2011]

Ramirez: Another one that went away was a bill to make a two-thirds majority vote for any debt accumulation by the state. Sounds like a great idea but when you get the bills drafted, you pull them and look at them and what I realized is that it was going to end up costing the state anywhere $800 million to $2 billion a year in lost revenues because the buildings they could have purchased on a lease purchase, money they could have saved on rent, money that could have been made by renting out parts of the buildings they were purchasing. So I killed that bill…

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Wow, your legislation almost cost the state $2 billion? What type of research did you do before the bill was introduced?

Ramirez: And then last Friday, what I consider one of my larger accomplishments, were two bills that require schools not to hire people with very specific violent felonies. That is anything from murder, rape, felony domestic violence, most of your felony sexual type crimes. And it passed. Also felony drug abuse. Both of those passed. One of them was 54 to 9 out of the House and unanimous out of the Senate. And the other two were unanimous. And the reason why they went through, because two years in a row this bill has been killed, but it went through this time. Not because we had a majority in the House because if that were the case it wouldn’t have gone through the Senate. It was because we sat down with all the entities involved. All the school groups, everybody, and said look, this is what we have to do. With everything going on in the news, teachers having relationships with students they shouldn’t be having. Some of them we would have not even higher had this law been in place. We need to work on this and need to protect not just the kids under our care but the employees within our schools. So they are very good bills.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Sorry, I believe SB11-266 passed the House 62-2 on 5/11/2011. You don’t want Becker and Sonnenberg getting mad for distorting their voting record.

Sengenberger: Very well. It seems like the two of you have really been moving and shaking already off in the beginning. And that is a good thing to have all these Republican successful bills looking at it from a political standpoint. Especially when they are good legislation. It seems like both of you Reps. Conti and Ramirez have been successful in pushing forth some good bills. One of the issues I was talking about earlier on the program with Republican National Committeemen Mark Hillman was the redistricting topic. Which in the requirements in the Colorado State Constitution that the State Legislature pass the redistricting bill. The House of Representatives passed a redistricting bill that was fairly similar to what we’ve got now is my understanding in terms of how you break up the lines. Because this follows after the Census you are supposed to rearrange congressional districts. Yet something different happened in the Senate. Want to talk a little about that?

Ramirez: In the House, our map, since 10 years ago it went to the courts, we decided we want to do like we are supposed to according to the statute in the Legislature. And the bill went round and around and around until it finally came to us in the House. It looked very similar to what the courts designed before. We went by the rules and statute set up for the judiciary so that it would be fair and balanced. Not competitive but fair. And the districts that needed to lose people because they had grown immensely like down in the Douglas County area, the area has grown immensely. Those could be scaled back. In the districts that needed to grow could be expanded because they have lost people. So we worked very hard to make sure that was the kind of map that we did. It was fair. It was actually more fair to the Democrats then the current map is and less fair to the Republicans.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Ramirez, you probably saw the story about Sen. Greg Brophy admitting that the Republicans on the redistricting panel were skewing the maps to give the GOP an advantage. Any comments?

Ramirez: So we went at it as an absolute. This is a great way to work together, come up with a map that we can pass. And you would not believe some of the things that were presented. Some of them presented Grand Junction and Boulder in the same district. Some had a big “C” like they had a big Colorado flag and laid it down on the map and drew a “C” from all the way up in Boulder all the way through Summit, Gilpin and all those and down to Park and around El Paso and Douglas County all the way around Denver. And I said this is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. And then the Senate maps, both Republican and Democrat maps, they were just all over the place.

Sengenberger: And was it Rolley Heath who put forth the final bill in the Senate that ended up being filibustered by the Democrats and then they filibustered their own bill.

Ramirez: They killed our bill and filibustered their own bill. It was absolutely absurd. We did what we were supposed to do by statute and they just fell short is the best way to put it. Not fell short, they intentionally killed it. They wanted it to go to the courts and that’s what they got. And hopefully the courts are smart enough to figure that out.

Sengenberger: Rep. Conti, what do you think might be the implications? Well, first off, what is your take on this and what do you think will be the implications of it now going to court. And I know the lawsuit date is set for October 17th that week. What do you think?

Conti: Frankly I am optimistic. The courts obviously were the ones who drew the maps 10 years ago and we have tried to be respectors of the lines that they drew and keeping it as close to what they drew is possible.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Conti, did you just say respectors? Oh, you did. Well, if Sara Palin can make up words, so can all of us I guess. Treeambulist! That was fun.

Conti: And so frankly I am optimistic that they will see that. And if they liked the work they did 10 years ago, well, this is pretty darn close to it. I am hopeful that it will get settled as soon as possible because obviously there’s a lot of work that needs to be done after that. This is what begins the process where reapportionment with the State House and Senate races, those districts need to be set. And once those are set and of course there’s a very likely court battle over those and after that we have to turn it over to the counties so they can redraw precinct lines and get those out. And of course we have had a primary date that has been moved up. We are no longer in August, now we are in the last week of June. And so all of this has to happen in less time then what they have had in previous years and so it is going to be very…. caucus meetings instead of happening in March now are happening in February. So there is less time then ever to get it all together so I am just hopeful that they will move very quickly.

Sengenberger: Regards to redistricting in particular, I think they are in the Republicans favor is you have a stronger legal case to make for say keeping communities of interest together and so forth and the Democrats have saying some abstract competitiveness component which is what they have been saying they want to make these districts more competitive, whatever that means, yet there’s nothing in statute that says they have to be competitive.

Conti: Exactly. And repeatedly in the hearings the statute was read and the qualifications respecting county lines, respecting city lines, respecting community of interest and so forth. And we’ve really tried to do that. Take into account were people shop, what teams does that school play. For an example, my school and the schools in our area don’t really go into Denver to play the sports teams there. They largely play in Douglas County and around at Arapahoe County and so forth. And I commented in my testimony really nothing in my county in the city of Littleton, we really very seldom go beyond Bellevue. Everything that we need: we shop, we eat, our recreation, and everything that we do is pretty much is that South part of town. I really feel we did a very good job in respecting those communities of interest, county lines, city lines, and exactly what the statue asks us to respect.

Sengenberger: Which of course the Democrats don’t do. Shifting gears, with their proposal that’s what they didn’t do in this particular case. And I do want to say that gerrymandering or manipulating districts isn’t something that just a Democrats thing and Republicans have done the same thing. It is a party thing.

Ramirez: That is true. And we went at this time not to be a party thing. Most of us are sick and tired of party, party, party. We love our party but it is time that we start looking at what is important and that is getting Colorado back on track. And in order to do that we did things as fair and openly and balanced as we could to keep everyone working together. This map was a joke that Rep. Pabon proposed as an alternative map to the House map. They were talking about things like his communities of interests. He was so mad because the Republican map had four counties that had pieces of them cut up. Little sections of them had to be taken out to account for numbers. But yet when he showed his map there were nine counties that had been split up in different ways and cities that had been cut in half. You know they can have an argument but if you are going to argue something, stick to what you just argued about. If you are going to say that this map is black and this map is green, then don’t turn it around and say it’s pink and purple because it doesn’t work.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Well put Yogi Berra.

Sengenberger: Well put. Before we have to take a quick break with our guests Reps. Robert Ramirez and Kathleen Conti, I want to ask you and I’ll start with Rep. Conti, about this lawsuit that was just filed last week dealing with TABOR saying this violates the Federal Constitution’s Guarantee Clause we talked about earlier Mark Hillman. What is your take on this lawsuit?

Conti: I can certainly understand how they say that it limits the legislature. Although in the past five or six years we haven’t even come close to TABOR limits. So it really has not been too much of an issue in the legislature at all.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: That’s correct Representative. But the reason we are not getting close to TABOR limits is because we are in a recession. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that in a recession, “revenues often stagnate or decline and thus fall short of the TABOR limit for that year. Under the TABOR formula, that lower revenue level becomes the base for calculating allowable revenue growth in all subsequent years. As a result, it could take a state several years just to return to the level of allowable revenue that existed in the year before the recession.” Do you think once our economy starts moving again that TABOR will hinder our recovery?

Conti: The fact of the matter is, if you want to talk about things that tie the hands of legislatures, we would also have to take a serious look at Amendments 23 and the Gallagher Amendments as well, because what that does, it is a long and drawn out thing, what that does is artificially hold individual property taxes low while business property taxes high. And what that does is limits the counties income. And so the more the counties income is limited, the more than that they have the inability to fund their own schools, which shifts that weight onto the state. It used to be that literally the counties were coming in and they would pay for two-thirds of the school budgets and the state had to backfill one-third. Today that has absolutely flipped. Now the counties are only paying for one-third of the school tab and they’re asking the state to backfill two-thirds.

Sengenberger: Rep. Ramirez?

Ramirez: She is absolutely right. Which is one of problems with our budget. 46 percent of our budget goes to schools. 46 percent. You got a state like Wyoming where it is like 3 percent and that is just discretionary because their schools and colleges for the citizens of Wyoming is almost completely fully paid for through the oil and gas industry. Ray Scott had a bill, 1223, which was probably the one bill that could have created massive job increases, huge revenues to the state and put our state back in order, which would reconstitute the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Had he done that, we could’ve started drilling for oil and gas on school trust lands. They would receive the severance taxes, the royalties, more money directly to the schools where they are not having to go to the legislature for it. It’s their money. And the legislature is not having to say what are we going to cut because we don’t have any money. And when you look at an $800 million increase in Medicaid in one year, what do you expect people to cut?

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: To clarify for our listeners, the $800 million increase in Medicaid that the Representative is referring to was due to the passage of the hospital provider fee bill (HB09-1293). To clarify a point, no general fund money (besides a $2 million start up cost) was used to fund the Medicaid expansion that the Representative is referring to. Rep. Ramirez, does this mean you supported the repeal of the hospital provider fee (HB11-1025)?

Ramirez: Where do you expect it to happen? So that bill would’ve created between 50,000-100,000 jobs immediately.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Wow! Colorado’s oil and gas industry currently employs 50,000 people. By signing the bill, you are claiming that we would have increased the oil and gas industry by 150%? The current number of unemployed people in Colorado is 233,157. So by putting two more industry people on the board, we would have cut unemployment by 43%? That could mean a new job for every working-age person in your city of Westminster (70,893). This seems hard to believe. What am I missing Representative?

Ramirez: It would’ve created between $800 million and $1.2 billion in taxes to the state, not including income taxes, the money that people were spending in the community, the increase in other companies that would come here again and hiring more people. So that is a very conservative estimate.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Ramirez, where did you get the $1.2 billion figure? I am assuming not the Colorado Legislative Council, which is tasked to analyze how much revenue will be affected by bills, which puts this bill at a $0 increase.

Ramirez: That bill alone would’ve turned Colorado around.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Not to play devils advocate, but I read that the COGCC approved 5,996 drilling permits last year, the most since the recession began and the third highest in the commission’s history. It seems to me that the change in the COGCC membership, as well as recent oil and gas rules signed into law under Gov. Ritter, didn’t actually have a negative effect on the industry. Any thoughts Representatives? [Durango Herald, 4/05/2011]

Sengenberger: It’s really striking that you have such proposals. I’m not surprised that was unsuccessful. There is this idea out there that we need to be looking in a totally fundamentally different direction when it comes to energy and how we extract that.

Ramirez: I agree with that. I agree that we need to look at green energy. I agree we have to look at that. Wind, oh what a wonderful thing. But it takes one kilowatt of gas energy per hour for every kilowatt-hour of wind production. Because wind is not dependable. Second of all, there’s no way to store the energy to use it when you don’t need it. It’s just ridiculous. So until we come up with the storage plan for wind and the way to make solar energy cost effective, we can just destroy our economy and our livelihood based on just pie-in-the-sky.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: According to the International Energy Agency, wind is competitive in cases where local conditions are favorable. Studies also show that we do not need storage plans for energy for wind to be economically viable.

Sengenberger: I absolutely agree…I want to shift gears with you both to a few different topics that went on in this legislative session. The first one, this was music that came up out just this past Tuesday when Gov. Hickenlooper vetoed, his very first veto as governor, a bipartisan bill dealing with health-care premiums for people who are making below 250 percent of the poverty line, dealing with the Child Health Plan Plus Program. Rep. Ramirez, you want to talk a little bit about this?

Ramirez: Well first off, it is below 250 percent. Now 250 percent of poverty level is about $60,000 a year, $58,000. 205 percent is the bottom. So if you’re between 205 and 250 percent of the poverty level, which means if you are between about $47,000 and $58,000, then you are going to be required to make a small monthly payment for your insurance. Now my insurance, for me alone, is $120 a month. If we are taking about poverty levels in the state legislatures, let me tell you something, $30,000 a year, you take $115 -$120 a month, that adds up quickly.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Sorry to interrupt. I agree that $30,000 is a lousy salary for legislators. Are you advocating for higher salaries?

Ramirez: Now what we were asking is to pay $20 for their first child, up to $10 per child until you hit the $50 maximum if you are within that. So if you’re making between $47,000 and $58,000 a year, almost $60,000, you have to pay $50 a month if you have four kids.

Sengenberger: Not a big deal.

Ramirez: For full coverage insurance. Better than anything you or I have. It was bipartisan. I didn’t think it was unreasonable. It was really a low cost. And if you’re below that $47,000 level, you don’t have to pay anything at all. You just have to pay the $25 or $50 annual fee. But I will let Kathleen talk.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite (Channeled By Jason Salzman): What if families are required to pay more for their children’s health insurance, and they don’t pay? And what if, as a result of not ponying up, they don’t take their kids to the doctor for checkups and something goes wrong? And their kids, not their parents, ultimately pay the price? (Rep. Ramirez did answer these questions when I interviewed him, basically stating that if parents cannot afford health insurance for their children they should be turned over to social services)

Sengenberger: Rep. Conti, it seems to me that this bill, had it become law, would simply have had these people get some skin in the game so that they would just not be taking advantage of state run entitlement.

Conti: Absolutely. It’s my experience, especially as a parent, that if people don’t have any investment, they don’t appreciate what they have. Bottom line, I can point to numerous examples of that and I think we have all seen that. When someone is simply handed something and they have to pay nothing into it, they will have a tendency not to treat with respect that its do.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: OK, I will admit that some adults need a lesson in personal responsibility. But this bill specifically punished sick Colorado children for their parents’ mistakes. Is that the type of government we want in Colorado?

Sengenberger: Now Gov. Hickenlooper said in his veto statement that the focus of his administration in evaluating premiums and making changes will be to implement a change that is minimally disruptive, administratively efficient, effective and elegant, and supports the goal of insuring that kids have access to coverage. What you make a Gov. Hickenlooper statement and do you think that or why do you think that he vetoed a bipartisan bill like this?

Conti: I would also encourage him to look at the disruption that it’s going to be if this has an effect on maintaining a balanced budget. The budget was in a balanced status and I believe that is taking that bill into effect. If he is going to veto that, is it going to have a budget impact and what disruption is that going to have? So I would encourage him to really factor that in as well.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Let me read something from Gov. Hickenlooper’s veto message: “Because the expected timeline of SB11-213 would have been sometime in 2012, the process we will follow will implement a cost-sharing structure on a similar or earlier timeline.” Well good, it seems like he already did what you were asking.

Sengenberger: Rep. Ramirez?

Ramirez: I don’t know. Does he want to pull another $360,000 out of K-12? Because that is what is going to happen.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Ramirez, I’m not really sure where you are getting the $360,000 figure. “A fiscal analysis predicted the bill would save $5.9 million in 2012-13. However, only $1.2 million of that would be general-fund savings. The bulk of the remaining unspent money would come in the form of $3.9 million in lost federal matching funds for CHP+.” [Denver Post, 6/01/2011]”

Ramirez: Medicaid, which is what we are talking about here, its actually the child care program but it’s still Medicaid. Its government funded health insurance, which is 100 percent free to everyone, really, with the exemption of $25 a year. That’s free when one office visit is $150. It’s basically free. When we had an $800 million increases this year, which is why we had to cut money to schools, why we had to cut money to prisons…

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Wait, I’m going to have to stop you there Representative. Medicaid increase led to school cuts? That a little disingenuous because, once again, the $800 million increase in Medicaid was due to the passage of the hospital provider fee bill (HB09-1293). No general fund money (besides a $2 million start up cost) was used. Just to make sure we are on the same page now—the funding for the $800 million increase in Medicaid and Colorado school funding are not pulled from the same pot, correct?

Ramirez: [The $800 million increase in Medicaid was] why we had a cut so many different programs that are beneficial and productive, now we are going to have to cut more because he has taken the budget out of balance. And he has said he knows better. Well if he knows better, then he should better come up with a way to come up with another $360,000 to put back into the budget.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Are you saying that CHP+ is not “beneficial and productive?”

Sengenberger: Now his administration is saying that this doesn’t change anything with the budget agreement that came up before. So essentially they are just spinning with this is, saying we’re going to deal with this in other ways.

Ramirez: That is exactly right.

Sengenberger: Now let’s just stay on this topic of the budget. Rep. Conti, what do you make of what was approved, what was done in regards to trying to bring down the shortfall that we face in the state addressing the these budgetary concerns? What were some of the things that were done and some of the stuff that you take away from it?

Conti: This year’s budget was called one of the most responsible that has been put forth in about a decade. And that is by some legislators that have been there longer than that time period. It spends less than the 2010-2011 budget and we felt that that was very important. State spending had been on a rapid increase for the past four years. I think we went from 17.1 to 19.6 over a four-year stint and during that time, every year they were cutting more and more from our K-12 school system. So if we were going to be cutting and we are not going to be fully funding K-12, we better be spending and cutting somewhere. We better not be spending and increasing yet cutting K-12.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: As a parent I know you are worried about school funding. But how do you justify voting against suspending the vendor fee, which would have transferred $85 million into the education fund. [SB11- 223; House 2nd Reading COW on April 13, 2011; Colorado Statesman]

Conti: So I thought it was a responsible thing that we were able to cut the budget by hundreds of millions of dollars. It also contained 750 fewer full-time employees than what had previously been there. That’s because our Joint Budget Committee went on a good research stint and were able to find 750 of them that were unstaffed and they were able to eliminate. If you figure an average, I think its $62,000 a year salary, you can start to do the math on that. And again, that wasn’t cutting anyone’s job. It was unstaffed positions that money was still being allocated to those departments for. So great research work on behalf of our Joint Budget Committee.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: First off, I think the average salary for a state worker is $51,527 a year. Second, I have a story from the Denver Post that says, “While Republicans say the budget “contains 750 fewer full- time positions,” as many as 676 were “phantom” posts that departments had been authorized for in recent years but had not filled, usually because there wasn’t funding. The elimination of the positions from the state list of total full-time positions was essentially a cleanup action. In other words, no one lost their job, nor was money saved as a result of those positions being eliminated.” The Post is saying no money was saved by the “job cuts.” Do you disagree with the Post’s findings?

Sengenberger: Rep. Ramirez, what do you make of the budget actions that were taken?

Ramirez: I lost track there, I know we cut 750 FTEs, full-time equivalent positions. There were a couple of those that actually had people in them. Not very many. But a lot of people say we actually didn’t cut anything. You heard about the 5,000 increase in jobs during the recession that the Ritter administration and Democrats hired. That’s because those full-time equivalent positions were out there and they said hey they are out there, lets just hire somebody and put them in there. Then they have a permanent job, they’re good. We get rid of 750 of those that we found. In the different entities they are actually hiding these positions when they go to their budget review. So our JBC did a phenomenal job at finding these and cutting them. We cut the budget like Rep. Conti said, by over $250 million less than what it was last year. I had one gentleman, I’m not going to bring up his name, but he ran for offices last time and he’s listing he will know who I’m talking about, he confronted me at CRBC and asked where’s this $1.1 billion your talking about? It’s a myth number. You’re still going to spend about the same amount. There is not $1 billion you have to cut the budget. Well, when you look at $800 million increase in Medicaid, there you go. Now I got to come up with $200 million more. I got to cut the budget because we are not going to spend as much because that’s what we promised we would do. We would be responsible in what we were spending and be responsible with the taxpayers’ money. It’s not my money. It’s not your money. It’s not the state’s money. It’s the taxpayers’ money and we were responsible. We cut another $250 million. There is your $1 billion right there. So I think we did a phenomenal job.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Really, that’s how you think you cut the budget? I thought we already clarified this Representative. The $800 million increase in Medicaid was due to the passage of the hospital provider fee bill (HB09-1293). No general fund money (besides a $2 million start up cost) was used.

Ramirez: And it’s really strange because the Republicans in the House voted for it, the Democrats in the Senate voted for it and the opposite in each house didn’t.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: What? It passed the Senate 30-5 and the House 50-14. I think it’s really strange you wouldn’t remember what happened on one of the biggest votes of the session.

Ramirez: So we worked very hard to make things happen. We actually found an extra $90 million for K-12. So it wasn’t such a horrible cut. And going into next year with possibly a $700 million shortfall for K-12 because of the federal funding that we are going to lose. I’m actually petrified of what we are doing. So I think we went the right way in cutting the debt…

Sengenberger: Well I want to shift gears before we let our guests Rep. Kathleen Conti and Robert Ramirez go, Senate Bill 200, which has spurred controversy in conservative circles. This has been pejoratively named AmyCare for those of you listeners out there who want to put two and two together. I’ve stated on this program that I have serious issues with that legislation. I oppose it personally. But I want to get your take. I’ll start first with Rep. Conti as to why you voted, I understand you both voted in favor of it, and why you voted in favor of it?

Conti: Thank you Jimmy. I can certainly understand people’s angst over it after all that we have heard about healthcare exchanges and the likes of the federal act commonly called ObamaCare. However, not all healthcare exchanges are created equal and there was a very definite… the business community work very hard in the off-season to ensure that they were very tight guidelines that the board that is going to be put together as a stay within as they created this healthcare exchange. Some of those requirements: it had to be competitive; they could not disallow any insurance company to get into it; they could not set rates or dictate any rates that they would choose to set; it had to increase competition; it had to reduced cost; it had to increase availability. And so with these and then we have legislative oversight so if it does not accomplish these goals the legislature can go in and abolish it if it does not meet these goals. And then we have the simultaneous knowledge that if the legislature failed to pass something that Gov. Hickenlooper was well on record saying that he would do it by executive order and he would take either the federal plan or some type of more morph of it.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: On CPR, Mike Whitney reported, “Governor Hickenlooper has been trying to get the House and Senate to come to agreement on an exchange bill, but if they can’t, he has the power to set up an exchange on his own by executive order. The governor says he doesn’t want to do that. HICKENLOOPER: If I create it, it’s not going to have the same strength as if it’s created through legislation.” I guess we are looking at different records?

Conti: So you had your choices; you either had legislative control or the governor was going to do the federal plan or some kind of morph of it, which would most assuredly left us single-payer.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Assuredly left us single-payer? How do you figure Representative?

Sengenberger: So essentially the idea that Republicans would have at least had their footprint on whatever would end up happening.

Conti: And we had some type of oversight over it and our bill mandated that there would not be any single-payer option that would go into it.

Sengenberger: Rep. Ramirez, what is your take?

Ramirez: There are a lot of people that are up in the air about this. It was actually a very difficult vote but when I looked at it and you look at what the governor was going to do, he was going to put it under the Department of Health. Which means that the Department of Health was going to work directly with the insurance companies. Which means that the government now knows why you are going to the doctor, who you are going to the doctor to see, what’s going on with you, all your problems and that is precisely what the liberty groups and myself and most conservatives don’t like. That is what ObamaCare is. The healthcare exchanges it not…

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: That is a pretty crazy conspiracy theory. Do you and Dan Maes ever go bike riding together?

Ramirez: Exactly. And had we not done it, would’ve had a bigger bureaucracy created that is actually under a department within the government and that is hugely expensive.

Conti: Exactly this bill expressly prohibits the board from creating rules, mandates, regulating insurance, soliciting bids, price-fixing, purchasing insurance or using state funds to do it. It establishes an oversight board and there is also a five-year review process allowing for the repeal if the model fails to meet the strict guidelines established by the bill.

Ramirez: Every way this bill couldn’t possibly been put together and still pass, to both follow what we have to do by federal mandate which I don’t like any more than you do, I can tell you I like it worse, we did. Because regardless of whether the lawsuit passes this is not going to make a difference. We still have to follow by the law. I hope the lawsuit…what is the right word…I hope we win the lawsuit because, to be honest with you, I think it is a bunch of nonsense…

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: The Affordable Care Act is a “bunch of nonsense?” I’m assuming you don’t mean the protecting children with pre-existing conditions part. Or the banning lifetime on most annual limits. Or reducing the national debt. Would you mind clarifying the nonsense?

Ramirez: In this case, what we set forth was the most positive bill we could get out there that keeps us in compliance with federal law. And what most people don’t understand is there are strings that are attached to the federal government. Over the past five years we have taken so much money that we have no choice on where we are spending our money or how we’re spending it on a lot of things. This was the best way to do it, to where when the federal government, if they win and God forbid that they do, I am praying every day that they don’t, then the government has said you have to have an exchange and we will let you do your exchange.

Conti: It is proactively defensive and that is about the best summary you can give it.

Ramirez: I would rather not have one at all. I would rather not have Obamacare. Lets just say that, I would rather have Ferrari. But I’m driving a Suzuki…

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: I have driven a Ferrari and it was awesome. But I still think I would prefer to have most Americans covered by health insurance then to own an Italian sports car.

Sengenberger: What I do want to asked though, and I will throw this to Rep. Conti, is you had every Republican in the Senate vote against it, every Democrat in the Senate vote for it, you had only 13 Republicans in the State House, still a majority, not vote for it and you even had one Democrat vote against it. What are we to make of the fact that it has got Majority Democrat support?

Conti: In the Senate?

Sengenberger: In both.

Conti: Ehh…

Sengenberger: In both the Senate and the House.

Ramirez: Ha ha, we tricked them.

Conti: I would say that I think they were making a statement at the time. There were some amendments that they tried to put on that were consistently shot down, shot down, shot down, and I think that they were more making a statement about that then really looking at it. When I talked to some senators and asked them specifically and pointedly why did you not support it? Why did you vote no? The answer was because we could.

Ramirez: And I will give you an example. The budget. It’s not bad. What do you think?

Sengenberger: Decent. It could be a lot better.

Ramirez: I agree. But it is heading in the right direction. But when you’re fighting with things, trying to get things past and you realize you have a job to do, sometimes you’re not going to get perfect but it’s heading in the right direction. Do I have your agreement on that?

Sengenberger: With the budget?

Ramirez: Yes, the budget.

Sengenberger: Yes, ok.

Ramirez: OK, no Democrats in the House voted for it. No Republicans in the Senate voted for it. So similar thing here. What it is, that is a game of majority minority and that is a political game that I absolutely despise and I will tell you right now you’ll not find many votes at all…any votes that I played that game on. But what you will find it is it was used just immensely by the minority parties in both houses.

Sengenberger: So just to repeat what you just said, no Democrats voted for it in the House, no Republicans voted for it in the Senate, it was just the majority parties in each.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Yes, lets repeat what he just said. I’m pretty sure it passed the Senate 30-5 and the House 50-14.

Sengenberger: Well that is not the case though with this bill.

Ramirez: Well, no it’s not. But you asked why did all the Republicans in the House vote for it, because it is a majority party thing. Now in the House, the Democrats, they’re thinking Obamacare. Obamacare- great. But I asked a lot of them and a lot of them did not read it. Didn’t read it at all. I read through it and I sat through meetings on it. I had individual meetings about it. I talked to many people about this bill. It is what we needed to do and hopefully, if Obamacare fails, legislation is legislation and we can change things.

Sengenberger: I just find it interesting though that the Democrats would vote for this bill when they could’ve then…using this argument chosen the alternative, which is Gov. Hickenlooper or President Obama coming in and doing it.

Ramirez: I can’t answer that for you. I can tell you what they think it is. When I heard a lot of people, they were shocked when they found out that agents and brokers were allowed to be involved. They were shocked that wasn’t single-payer. After they voted for it they started talking, we need single-payer and I said it wasn’t in there. What? I think that is really a…what do you call it…a shell game. And the Republicans were playing it and so were the Democrats.

Conti: And I know that there were some Democrats who did read it who didn’t like it. As a matter-of-fact, we heard a lot of Sen. Boyd, who was the Senate sponsor, was taking a lot of heat from her party that it was too free market. So there was anger on both sides of the fence but there’s a reason that NFIB, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, did endorse the Colorado health care plan but is not endorsing the California health care exchange.

Ramirez: So did CACI, basically the state chamber of commerce for large companies, they did it. CRBC, the Colorado Republican Business Coalition endorsed it. These are small one-owner companies and they did a lot of research on it and they were late to the party. But they said you know what, this is the best bill that I have seen. It’s a good bill and a whole lot better than what we’re going to get stuck with and we have to something, so please do it.

Sengenberger: What I would like to see would’ve been an effort to repeal the legislation which prevented these coming up naturally and attempts to…I think the legislature would be able to try to do something when Gov. Hickenlooper would implement whatever he implements that there would be some check or something along those lines that down the road the legislature would be able to have.

Ramirez: An executive order is an executive order. You get no choice in the matter. You cannot do anything with it. That is why all Obama loves them so much.

Conti: That is why we have state employee unions-executive order.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Which I assume you oppose, correct?

Ramirez: I’ll give an example. Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Ridder changed it by executive order two years ago to include almost nothing but environmentalists and a couple of engineers. They used to have business industry experts, oil experts, engineers, and environmentalists. It was equal. The new proposal just added a couple of industry experts and a couple of oil and gas experts to it. It didn’t even take away from what was and yet he wants that power by executive order to say I’ll do whatever I want to do.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Rep. Ramirez, I seem to remember the COGCC was changed due to the passage of HB07-1341, not executive order. That bill decreased the number of oil folks from 5 to 3 (not 0) and only added two environmental people to the commission. Can we have someone check on that?

Sengenberger: I just want to say that I respect you both Reps. Robert Ramirez and Kathleen Conti for coming in here to talk about these different issues and standing by your vote. Like I have said in the past this is one issue where we disagree. Reagan said that you are 80 percent allies is not your 20 percent enemy. So there maybe a lot of conservatives who say that the 13 in the legislature who voted for it should not be supported in the future. We should have primaries against them and so on and so forth. I think that his is something that I firmly disagree with but I would not go that far to say they you’re now an enemy of our movement.

Ramirez: Hey, I was number 12 on the liberty watch list. I’m good.

Sengenberger: Well that is a plus. Well thank you so much for joining us.

The Ghost of Walter Cronkite: Yes, thank you very much. I enjoyed this. Even though no one answered my questions, it’s nice to be out and about for a change.

Why do some local TV stations have political beat reporters when most don’t?

Monday, July 4th, 2011

If you watch local TV news in different cities around the country, and I’m not suggesting you do so, you see that a small number of stations have political beat reporters, but most do not.


“Most stations where politics is a beat with dedicated reporter happen to be in places where politics is part of the culture,” Deborah Potter, who writes about television news for the American Journalism Rewiew.  “So stations in Des Moines,  for example, Chicago, New Hampshire, New Orleans, places where politics is what makes the world go round.”

James Pindell, the political beat reporter for WMUR-TV in New Hampshire told me that’s exactly why he’s covering politics there.

“My station is crazy about politics,” he says. “It’s the state sport. We spend a lot of time on politics. It’s very much based on market.”

Pindell, who’s on the board of the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, could not explain why a station in a place like Denver would cover politics so closely.

Potter said a local TV news beat may be driven by the “passion of an individual reporter.”

“Unless you have some kind of huge story involving a particular person and particular issue are you ever going to say that’s something that will get more people to watch,” said 9News News Director Patti Dennis. “It’s about being responsible.  It’s about all the things I believe a media organization is responsible for.”

9News has a political beat, including YourShow, a  public Sunday affairs program airing on Channel 20, that’s divided between Matt Flener and Chris Vanderveen. Dennis said she’s interviewing now to add a possible third reporter to the beat.

Fox 31’s political beat reporter Eli Stokols files daily stories about Colorado politics, taking a newspaper-like approach that’s highly unusual for any market.

I asked longtime Fox 31 anchor Ron Zappolo how the political beat got established at his station.

“I think we’ve always wanted to, but I think [Stokols] has been the impetus,” said Zapplo whose own interest in politics is refelected in the frequent political topics you see on his Sunday night show, Zappolo’s Poeple. “And I think he’s pushed it. Some people have been into it. Some people haven’t been. But I think he’s been the impetus to really put more emphasis on politics.”

“Our newsroom has gone through a lot of changes during the last couple years,” Stokols explained. “That change created an opening for me to stake a claim on this beat. I mean, when we were between news directors in 2008, at the end of that year right after the Presidential election and into 2009, it was easy for me to start showing up at the Capitol when the session opened. And I said, this is what I do every day. And I would call in and send them stories, and I would work long hours. After a while, they got kind of comfortable with it or used to it, because it like, all right, we don’t have to worry about him. He’s doing this on his own, and we’re getting it done. Four months later, we’d been at the Capitol every day.”

But Stokols says he’s not the only one driving the political coverage. His station manager was the one, he said, who came up with the idea of leading off the sweeps earlier this year with a five-part series on the state budget and schools.

“To do five nights on education and the budget, when most people are bending over backwards to show flaming cars and dancing bears, it’s quite a contrast,” says Stokols.

Stokols agrees with Dennis that political coverage won’t help Fox 31’s low ratings, at least in the short term.

“Shifting view habits will be pretty hard to do based on political coverage,” Stokols told me. “And even if that were going to take place, it would take a long time.

 “This is about building a brand that’s recognizable and respected,” Stokols said. “Because you want people to think , if we want political news we’ll go to Fox 31. And then when you build that brand up, eventually, that’s when you start to see, perhaps, the numbers picking up.”

Talk-radio host doesn’t ask Lamborn why a corporate-jet tax break is a “drop in the bucket” when he thinks similar spending on CPB is unaffordable

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

Rep. Doug Lamborn was invited on the Richard Randall Show on June 30 to discuss President Obama’s recent remarks on the debt ceiling. Rep. Lamborn took issue with the President’s plan to cut tax breaks for corporate jets:

Lamborn: [President Obama] keeps bringing up class warfare things. For instance, he talks about the corporate jet tax breaks. And by the way that was put into law as part of the stimulus package because it was thought of at the time, just two years ago, that if aircraft manufactures were making more private planes, that would create jobs. So it wasn’t an evil thing just two years ago but now all of the sudden it’s evil. And it’s only $300 million a year. Now I don’t have any particular affection or allegiance to corporate jet owners, but that’s a drop in the bucket Richard. That’s one third of a billion dollars per year when we have a deficit this year of $1.6 trillion. And he mentioned that in his speech six times yesterday. He is obsessed with it.

Rep. Lamborn seems to keep a fairly low profile and rarely makes national news, so it makes sense that a talk-radio host wouldn’t be up to date on Lamborn trivia.

But it’s hard to believe that Randall didn’t remember the barrage of press coverage Lamborn received when the Representative spearheaded a call to remove all governmental funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

One particular statement he made was:

“We have to start somewhere to get our fiscal house in order,” said Lamborn. “And public broadcasting, as good as it might be with some of their programs, is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

To clarify, CPB currently receives $430 million from the government to help fund stuff like National Public Radio, Sesame Street and PBS News Hour. According to Lamborn, this is a luxury we cannot afford.

However removing $300 million in tax breaks for luxury jets is a “drop in the bucket.”

Randall should have asked Lamborn why a drop in the CPB bucket is different from a drop in the corporate jet bucket.

He also let Lamborn off easy by not challenging his statement that he had no affection or allegiance to the corporate jet industry. Have no fear media consumers, I took the liberty to check out the statement, and it seems not to hold up to scrutiny.

According to FEC documents, Lamborn received $7,000 from the Boeing ‘s PAC in the 2010 election cycle and $1,000 in the 2008 election. I have yet to find any CPB PACs or associated individuals writing checks to Lamborn’s campaign coffers.

Fox 31’s Stokols becoming the face of political journalism on local TV news in Denver

Friday, July 1st, 2011

When you ask political junkies about Fox 31’s political reporter, Eli Stokols, many bring up Adam Schrager, who left 9News in February for a job in Wisconsin.

“With the departure of Adam Schrager, whom I think was an amazing reporter for television, I would say Stokols could be the heir apparent to Schrager in covering local politics,” Jon Caldara, of the Independence Institute told me.

“It seems he’s filled a void there that Adam left,” Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer (D-Longmont) told me. “Very few video journalists are really interested in state politics and what’s going on at the State Capitol, and he’s stepped up and filled that void.”

“I think Eli is filling the void that Adam Schrager left,” Colorado House Majority Leader Amy Stephens (R-Monument) said. “I think it’s a smart move.”

When I started asking people about Stokols last month, I wasn’t fishing for the Schrager comparison; the people I interviewed offered it up on their own.

And it’s true. Stokols is becoming the face of political journalism on local TV news in Denver.

But I think Stokols’ approach to political reporting is distinct from Schrager’s, and I actually had set out to write about the differences between the two journalists.

To me, Stokols is acting more like a newspaper reporter, filing daily stories, about the biggest political developments of the day, even if they’re not so big, while Schrager was on the air with broader pieces, fact checks of political advertisements, and YourShow, the public affairs program he developed and produced. Schrager didn’t cover the day-t0-day grind of political life in Colorado.

Both approaches have merit, and both are way unusual in the mayhem-and-fluff world of local TV news. Denver TV’s investigative reporters, while informing people less about the political issues and candidates, clearly have their value as well, even if their work over-dramatized or even silly at times. They stand out too  in an industry that specializes in bottom feeding.

But what Fox 31 (KDVR, Channel 31) is doing, dedicating a reporter to the political beat and airing stories most nights, is turning heads because, please correct me if I’m wrong, it’s just not done much anywhere by local TV news, much less in Denver, and even Schrager didn’t do it, especially toward the end of his career here.

“You look at the way TV news has evolved, and nobody dedicates a reporter down there [to cover the State Legislature) anymore, except there’s Eli,” said Marianne Goodland, who covered the Colorado Capitol for 13 years before taking a public relations job earlier this year. “A lot of TV people are there at the opening and end [of the legislative session], and they show up if there’s something hugely controversial. But day to day, that’s not something you see TV people doing. Eli is considered to be one of us, the capitol press corps.”

“He covers it like a newspaper reporter,” says longtime Fox 31 anchor Ron Zappolo. “He files a story every day. You know, he’s after it. He stays after it. He goes in there and he pitches these stories and he pitches them with passion. He convinces the powers that be here that, hey, we should be doing this and here’s why.”

“I think what’s unique is that we do it every day,” says Stokols. “That’s rare. News producers are generally inclined to look at a political story and say, that’s boring, unless it’s a sex scandal or unless there’s something juicy or outrageous about it. It’s taken me a while to get to this point in our newsroom, but thankfully I’ve gotten there because if I were still covering snow storms I probably wouldn’t still be in Denver.”

He adds that he still covers snow storms, just not nearly as often as he used to when he arrived at Fox 31 six years ago from Shreveport Louisiana, where got his first TV news job after graduating from the Columbia Journalism School in 2002.

So it’s not surprising that Stokols doesn’t see other local TV stations as his real competitors.

“I don’t just want to beat the other TV stations,” says Stokols. “Frankly, the other TV stations don’t seem to care about these types of stories. If they did they’d put people on them. But I want to beat Lynn [Bartels of The Denver Post]. I want to beat Tim and Jeremy and those people at The Post. I want us to be the place that people go to first, before they go to the Spot, which may be ambitious.  But if you’re not trying to be number one, what’s the point?”

“I’ve gone from reporting for TV and worrying about getting two minutes of television on the air by 9:00 to essentially being a blogger first, a newspaper writer,” continues Stokols, who wanted to be the next Tom Brokaw after it became clear that being a Major League Pitcher wasn’t in the cards. “You’re at [a political event], and you tweet it immediately. Then you go back and you get it on the web and beat The Denver Post. Then you worry about putting it on the newscast. You’re not that worried about beating your other three TV-station competitors, because they probably weren’t at the event to begin with.”

“I like to write,” continues Stokols, whose work also appears on KWGN, in an arrangement that was hammered this week story by the Colorado Independent. “It’s not hard for me to churn out a couple articles a day. If you want to make yourself and your reporting more far-reaching, you have to be able to write, you have to be able to do social media, you have to be able to tell that story in a newscast. You have to figure out how to do each delivery platform in the best way possible.”

As for the comparisons to Schrager, Stokols says: “Any comparison to Adam is humbling.  When I first got here six years ago, he was doing this and had already built a reputation. He was a model to show me that this could be done in local TV and done really well.”

Fox 31’s political coverage definitely gets the attention of political insiders, even if its impact on Fox 31’s low ratings is unknown. (I’ll address that topic in another blog post.)

You wouldn’t expect partisans or political activists to criticize a reporter like Stokols, but the near unanimous gush you hear from politicos of various stripes shows just how starved they are for TV reporters who regularly cover their events and report intelligently on what they do. There’s a huge pool of gratitude out there, all along the political spectrum, for a TV station that’s committed to covering politics every day.

“I greatly respect the outstanding work Eli Stokols did in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles for Channel 2 and Fox 31,” former GOP Chair Dick Wadhams told me via email. “Eli works very hard to be fair and objective but more importantly he seems to enjoy and understand the give and take of politics and campaigns.  Eli genuinely likes elected officials, candidates and activists and appreciates their roles in the political arena.”

“As the mainstream media pare down their scope, it is heartening to see the commitment both Stokols and Fox 31 have shown to providing their audience with in-depth political reporting,” said Kjersten Forseth, Executive Director of ProgressNow Colorado, which, for disclosure, I’ve advised on communications matters.

“Eli has brought a breath of fresh air to political reporting in Denver, ” said Mike Cerbo, president of the Colorado AFL-CIO, via email.  “He is interested in the issues and engaged in complex debates. His reporting is balanced and equitable. He is one of the few reporters in Denver who is covering politics as it relates to working families.”

Stokols told me he gets grief and epithets from liberals at rallies, who think Fox 31 is part of the national Fox cable network, of “fair and balanced” fame. Fox 31 Denver is an independent station with no connection to the Fox News Channel.

Maybe you’re tired about now, if not earlier, of my going on about Fox 31, when we know a content analysis would likely show the newscast to be, well, lacking big time, journalism-wise. And Denver has other journalists with more proven greatness than Eli Stokols.

Why am I doing this? I spent years documenting the obvious: that local news mostly sucks. Yes there’s good reporters, good intentions, and good stoies, and it could be worse, but still. I wrote about it a lot when I was a media critic at the Rocky.

Now, with journalism in free fall, and television still the most powerful force in politics, here’s a local TV news station that doing something that’s really, really the right thing to do.