Sunday, September 02, 2007

Political Avalanche Relaunch Following Labor Day Weekend

This blog was left to wither on the vine last April, but the coming election year will find it up and running on local Colorado politics.

For coverage of all things Schaffer and Udall in Colorado's hotly contested Senate seat, visit Schaffer v Udall, the team blog devoted to that race alone. The Colorado Index has a daily roundup of conservative and Republican blogs from around Colorado,

Visit Slapstick Politics for eclectic postings on Colorado politics, culture, religion and history. Ben at Mt. Virtus continues to post on labor and education, and Michael at Best Destiny provides essays on education and politics of the moment.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Toe to Toe with the Treasurer on a Touted Tax Increase

In yesterday's Pueblo Chieftain, my opinion piece arguing the case against Governor Bill Ritter's property tax hike to subsidize state preschool and kindergarten programs ran as "counterpoint" to the argument for the Governor's proposal by State Treasurer Cary Kennedy. Kennedy skillfully avoided discussion of the back-door tax hike while plugging the benefits of the plan for Pueblo.

How? Under the Governor's revised plan, 33 school districts will receive a tax cut while most districts will receive a tax increase. Pueblo happens to fall in the latter category. But that doesn't take into account the plight of taxpayers in Grand Junction, Englewood, Pagosa Springs, Wray, or nearby Alamosa, among others.

But two points are worth repeating from my op-ed. First, the new version of the tax increase will raise an estimated $55 million to offset an $84 million increase to early childhood programs while somehow simultaneously saving the state budget:

The remaining $29 million would have to come from the current state budget. If the money isn’t available in the general treasury, lawmakers would have to raid the State Education Fund. Amendment 23 created the fund as a means to provide additional dollars to kindergarten-through-12th grade public schools.

However, the governor’s office has said the plan is necessary to save the State Education Fund from bankruptcy in four years. Paying out $29 million of state money on new programs wouldn’t solve the alleged problem. Even so, the bankruptcy projection is based on a worst-case scenario. A nonpartisan legislative staff report shows that Amendment 23’s school spending mandates are not expected to drain the fund.

And while the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights has effectively cut property tax rates in many Colorado school districts, property tax revenues for education have continued to climb:

Real property tax dollars per Colorado student grew 8.5 percent from 2001 to 2005. During the same four years, state school funding increased 15.6 percent per pupil.

Meanwhile, Phil at Clear Commentary makes an articulate philosophical and logical case against the tax increase - his arguments may be roundly ignored by liberal statists, but they are strong and compelling.

The Governor and his team - including Treasurer Kennedy - are trying to cool off the political hot potato of a property tax hike. But I'll do my part to keep telling you the rest of the story they would rather you not hear.

Cross posted at Mount Virtus

Thursday, April 12, 2007

With Democrats in Charge, Forget Common Sense

The reactionary Democrats in the State Capitol are at it again, and one of them got caught in a lie! This afternoon, the House Education Committee - on a party line vote - killed Senate Bill 73, a proposal sponsored by two commonsense Democrats (Senator Chris Romer and Representative Michael Garcia) and supported by the Republican caucus. The bill would require students receiving a public high school diploma to demonstrate basic English competency. It even lets local school boards define the standards.

SB 73 passed the Senate 33-1, with only arch-education establishment apologist Senator Sue Windels (D-Arvada) voting against it. But the House Education Committee is stacked with a flock of reactionary Democrats, who want to preserve the "soft" and uncompetitive education monopoly. Their reasoning for voting against English competency as a requirement for graduation?

1. It would be an "unfunded mandate" on public schools, with bundles of fixed costs tied up in paying union employees and administrative bureaucrats. "Oh, I see. You actually want us to teach kids English literacy? That's going to cost you."

2. The other excuse was even more pathetic. Many of them insulted the intelligence of anyone listening by saying they supported the concept but really didn't want to pass any "piecemeal" reforms before the Governor convened his (still theoretical) comprehensive education reform council.

But that didn't stop them from approving measures to strip the power of the State Board of Education to grant waivers to innovative school districts, to rob parents of educational choices by stripping power from the Charter School Institute, to undermine school accountability by weakening the CSAP test, to mandate sex education standards for school districts, to lower the minimum compulsory school age, to create a new teacher identifier system, to change the qualifications for the Commissioner of Education, and to generate more funding for full-day kindergarten. So don't buy the cop out.

We could have foreseen this coming two weeks ago, when I wrote:

Before the sex ed bill reaches them, the House Education Committee will have another test. The committee will have to decide on SB 73 by Chris Romer (D-Denver), the bill requiring high schools to make sure their graduates are prepared for life with basic English literacy. (Of course, as Mike Rosen pointed out, such an idea would simply be too sensible for the education establishment and their legislative allies to swallow.) Just one more chance for these Democrat lawmakers’ constituents to see where their priorities lie.

As long as the Democrats, working as proxies for the alphabet soup of established education interests to benefit the adults in the system (CEA, CASE, CASB), you can expect very few - if any - of even the most basic commonsense reforms that would benefit children. But it also makes you wonder why one of the committee Democrats' closest allies could play so fast and loose with the truth.

Democrat State Board of Education member Evie Hudak testified that the Board was all opposed to SB 73, even though no formal vote had been taken. Representative Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) did a little on-site fact-checking: while Hudak was testifying, he called a State Board member who indeed supported SB 73. So, the Democratic Board member had to backtrack. Ms. Hudak, you're entitled to your own opinions, but please don't presume to speak for the entire Board.

Kudos to legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, who are willing to take the step to connect the school system to the real world by preparing, and not patronizing, students who are not native English speakers. That goes for Sen. Romer and Rep. Garcia, who bravely brought their proposal forward against the wishes of the education establishment closely allied with so many in their Democrat Party. And the four Republicans in the House Education Committee - Cory Gardner, Victor Mitchell, Ray Rose, and Ken Summers - who voted to move SB 73 forward.

With Democrats in the charge, the State Capitol seems more averse to common sense with every passing day.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Colorado Legislature Passes Unanimous Tribute To Colorado's Fallen Soldiers

A rare show of bipartisanship--or flagrant pandering from a party that in the last two weeks has passed resolutions in both houses of the Colorado legislature condemning the Iraq war along party line votes?

Republicans opposed both Democrat-sponsored anti-war resolutions, and at least can be seen as being logically consistent.

For once a resolution aimed at honoring the soldiers from Colorado who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who bravely sacrificed all they had for their country:
"They do it for one reason. They do it because their country asks them to," said Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany. "I think it's important we take our time to honor those for whom time is standing still."
The importance of such recognition at a time when the country is clearly split over the war itself should not go unnoticed:
"With this resolution, we pay tribute to the brave men and women of Colorado who have served, and who are now serving our country in Iraq and Afghanistan," said House sponsor Rep. Stella Garza Hicks, R-Colorado Springs. "They have fought bravely and have served us all with tremendous dignity and honor. We owe them all a great debt for their service, and we will always hold a special place of honor for the soldiers and families who have made the ultimate sacrifice serving our country."

As taps rang out in both chambers, family members who've lost loved ones in the war wiped away tears.

Senate Joint Resolution 32, sponsored by Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Coal Creek Canyon, and Garza Hicks, named the 48 Colorado soldiers who made "the ultimate sacrifice" while serving their country in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It also honors Colorado military personnel who have served or are currently serving in the two countries.
Colorado Democrats, who hold a majority in both houses of the legislature, passed two resolutions condemning the Iraq war while also honoring the service of those who have or who are serving. The Senate version was more harsh than the House's rendition, but the effect was the same:
Littleton Republican Sen. Mike Kopp, an Army veteran who served in the first Gulf War, said he has received letters from soldiers in Iraq who complain that the resolution diminishes their sacrifices.

"We can chose the politics of abandonment or loyalty to our troops," he said.
The incongruity of such a display of political grandstanding--undercutting the troops by passing resolutions opposing the war they are fighting, and then subsequently praising their sacrifice. Liberal logic boggles the mind.

To demonstrate that this is just a political front, and reflects little in the way of true feeling on the Democratic side (other than taking advantage of a growing anti-war feeling), take note of one senator's threat:
Sen. Ron Tupa, D-Boulder, chastised House Democrats for gutting the tougher language of his Senate version. He said Senate Democrats have the votes to stick by their resolution, forcing the House to either back down or kill the measure.
Pandering. Plain. And. Simple. Taking a page right out of the John Kerry flip-flop guide to political action.

The Democrats have gone on record as being for the troops while being against the war. They have merely adopted the bumper sticker slogans so popular with the Left.

Colorado Republicans rightly rejected the Dems' resolutions. Their support for this resolution is clearly not in doubt.

But then again, liberals are known for demonstrating their support for troops in rather confusing ways.

(Cross posted from Slapstick Politics)

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Intra-Party Fights for Colorado Democrats Heat Up

The Democrat Party's intramural squabbles are intensifying, and Colorado is ground zero for the shakedown. The Denver Post reports this morning that the Teamsters' James Hoffa, Jr., confronted Governor Bill Ritter yesterday with the threat that the party's convention scheduled for Denver next year could "blow up" if Ritter doesn't kowtow to the Big Labor agenda. Still a bit angry about the governor's veto of House Bill 1072, don't you think?

The response from Ritter's office?

The governor has said he made the decision in order to advance a broader agenda. He declined an interview Monday on his encounter with Hoffa.

But his staff pointed to Ritter's recent restoration of a voluntary payroll deduction for state workers that automatically covered union dues. That option had been suspended by former Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

An interesting way for the Post reporter to phrase the action, but the governor's staff essentially admitted Ritter's executive order was a peace offering to Big Labor: "Here, have access to the state's payroll system."

Meanwhile, the governor's office has yet to speak out on the controversy generated by the revelation of deep-seated hatred and the viciously anti-charter school agenda of the state legislature's two committee chairs. In today's Rocky Mountain News, Senator Sue Windels (D-Arvada) pleads innocent for having been merely the recipient of the incendiary email.

As a result of the intense scrutiny, Windels also said she is going to let her anti-charter school bill (Senate Bill 61) go away and die. Why? In part because six senators from her own party have clearly stated they won't support the legislation now that the sponsors' motives have been exposed. One has to wonder how the growing numbers of pro-school choice Democrats feel about their party rewarding with power members who have a vicious hatred for their support of giving options to all parents - including many poor and minority students trapped in failing urban schools.

Governor Ritter is trapped in a brouhaha with Big Labor, with the peace offering of the state's payroll system not enough to satisfy union appetities. What's more, he has to be hoping the growing tensions within his party's ranks in the state legislature over charter schools and school choice will just cool down and go away.

Leading Democrats in Colorado are busy trying to put out fires that threaten to damage the state and national coalition. Politically speaking, I can't say I'm too distraught by the news.

But give them a chance to regroup, and the attacks on workers' rights and school choice will resume full force.

Cross posted at Mount Virtus

Schaffer Wins Straw Poll

The results are in from the unofficial Mount Virtus grassroots "Who Should Replace Wayne Allard?" straw poll. I kept the polls open a couple days longer than originally planned, but it did very little to change the final tally. So who was your first choice to be the Republican nominee for Colorado's open U.S. Senate seat in 2008?

No surprises. While he lost some of his early commanding lead, former Congressman Bob Schaffer never trailed from start to finish - earning 54 of 120 votes cast (45%). While it's still early to have to announce his candidacy, at the moment it looks like the field is clear for Schaffer to enter.

A crowd fought for the next four slots with about 10 percent of the vote each. Scott McInnis (who is officially OUT of the race) narrowly edged out Tom Tancredo, Bill Owens, and Marc Holtzman. Tancredo is already busy running for two offices, Owens has expressed no interest in throwing his hat into the ring, and Holtzman has been silent.

Ironically, all the remaining candidates who have expressed any interest in the open U.S. Senate seat finished in the bottom tier. Bob Beauprez, who has remained coy about whether or not he would get in the race, finished with 5%. Secretary of State Mike Coffman earned 4%. Dan Caplis, Bentley Rayburn, and Attorney General John Suthers shared the last 6 votes.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Friday Education Quick Hits

Kudos to the Rocky Mountain News editorial board for calling out Senator Sue Windels' attempt to overregulate online schools.

The Rocky also highlights yesterday's sensational discovery of the email from Representative Mike "Give 'Em Hell" Merrifield. In the article, Merrifield was rebuked by a prominent member of his own party:

"It shows there's absolutely no good faith on the Rep. Merrifield's part, who is clearly more concerned with defending a crippled and ineffective status-quo public education system then [sic] creating opportunities for all kids," said Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver.

Finally, Governor Ritter's plan to raise property taxes received a bit of good news, as the legislature's legal team said the plan could be enacted without TABOR's requirement for a vote of the people. Some Democrats might have been hoping that the move had been found unconstitutional so they wouldn't be forced to vote on a tax increase. A legal hurdle has been passed, but the hurdle of public approval is looking pretty tall.

Erratum: The Rocky story mistakenly said the tax increase is estimated to bring in an extra $84 million in revenue. The actual figure is about $65 million. Their confusion can be forgiven because of the confusing way the plan has been advertised - to raise $65 million more in taxes so the state can spend $84 million on preschool and kindergarten AND save the state budget from fiscal ruin. No wonder the Democrats are leery about increasing our schools' math standards.

Cross posted at Mount Virtus

Colorado Democrats: Sex Ed Trumps the 3 Rs (and Science)

On a party line vote today, the Senate Education Committee passed a bill sponsored by Senator Sue Windels (D-Arvada) to mandate standards on Colorado schools that teach sex education. Three committee members, all Democrats - Windels, Bob Bacon, and Ron Tupa - voted to support the House Bill 1292 mandate six weeks after voting against a mandate setting higher state graduation requirements for math and science (Senate Bill 131), and eight weeks after voting against a requirement that high school graduates have basic competency in English (Senate Bill 73). Suzanne Williams (D-Aurora) was the only committee member to cast votes for all three measures.More...

Last week the House Education Committee, chaired by Mike "Give 'Em Hell" Merrifield, shot down the math and science requirements after hearing support from a Jefferson County teacher, a university president (could have been two if Merrifield hadn't rescheduled the hearing at the last minute so CU's Hank Brown couldn't testify), and a Lockheed engineer. Said Merrifield:

"My contention is by forcing every child into this narrow curriculum, we are not making them more innovative, we are not making them more creative," the Colorado Springs Democrat said, citing a national report that calls a well-rounded education the "passport to a job in which creativity and innovation are the key to a good life."

The Witwer plan, Merrifield said, would make students "more regimented and more lock-step (with) less ability to think outside the box."

Because the more you learn about physics and algebra, the more atrophied your brain becomes? Or perhaps it's just not possible to take 3 years of math and 3 years of science in high school AND music, art, or drama? Or maybe Merrifield and the Democrats on the committee believe Colorado's high school graduates are performing so well in math and science already. This 2005 report from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education belies that notion: It shows that 1 in 4 of Colorado public high school Class of 2004 graduates needed basic math remediation in Colorado public universities.

The problem? High school graduation requirements don't match CCHE admission requirements, which get even tougher in 2008. Only 53 percent of Colorado's Class of 2004 would have been able to enroll under the 2008 standards (achieving a 19 in math on the ACT). And nationally, according to NAEP test results, only 23 percent of 12th graders are proficient in math.
Tell schools to teach kids a little more math and science to prepare them for college and life, and you run into a union-controlled, Democrat roadblock. Tell schools how they have to teach sex ed, and will the House Education Committee stand up for local control? Or for creativity and freedom to think "outside the box"? All eyes are watching.

Before the sex ed bill reaches them, the House Education Committee will have another test. The committee will have to decide on SB 73 by Chris Romer (D-Denver), the bill requiring high schools to make sure their graduates are prepared for life with basic English literacy. (Of course, as Mike Rosen pointed out, such an idea would simply be too sensible for the education establishment and their legislative allies to swallow.) Just one more chance for these Democrat lawmakers' constituents to see where their priorities lie.

Cross posted at Mount Virtus

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Start Of A Meme--McInnis The Wonder Moderate

Democrats seem eager to paint any forthcoming GOP candidate for Senate--especially Bob Schaffer--as the dreaded "social", "traditionalist" or "ultra" convservative candidate, while painting Scott McInnis as the friendly "moderate" who was the GOP's only hope for retaining a seat held by the conservative Sen. Wayne Allard.


To make Rep. Mark Udall seem less liberal.

A head-to-head match-up between Schaffer and Udall would be a true test over the political divide in Colorado. Neither candidate can easily be branded with the meaningless "moderate" label--meaningless in the sense that it usually only indicates the ideological position of the person using the term, and is not a helpful characterization of the candidate. For McInnis, this has turn into code for "less socially conservative", which is now being used as the attack on a potential Schaffer run.

It is no surprise that Democrats wish to capitalize on what they perceive as a sudden lurch to the left in American politics, and hope to establish some of their more liberal members as "mainstream" (another word for moderate), and not really "liberal" or the even "progressive". If the American voters truly moved that far to the left, their would be no need to abandon the labels or avoid accepting one's identity as a solid liberal on the issues.

By portraying Udall as a successor to the "moderate" Ken Salazar or Bill Ritter, Dems are appealing to Colorado's independent spirit, unaffiliated voters, and a general disdain for extreme West or East Coast liberalism, outside of the Boulder-Denver-Aspen areas. Demonizing Schaffer with the social conservative label--and therefore the only extremist in the race is both logical and also indicative of the extent to which they believe Udall is weak on his record as a "latte-sipping" Boulder liberal.

(cross posted from Slapstick Politics)

Democratic Deviousness In Action

When is a bad idea even worse? When it gets dismissed as predictable silliness, but has the long-term effect of eliminating possibilities for good governance.

Stay with me on this one--it's gonna take some work.

State Rep. Mike May (R) hands out the "Golden Anvil" Award every so often to Bad Business Bills which Weigh Down Colorado Commerce. I am on this mailing list, so I keep pretty well informed of what the Democrats are trying to do to ruin the Colorado economy. Tonight, though, something new piqued my interest.

The "Golden Anvil" citation included the following lines:

That is why House Republican Leader Mike May, R-Parker, awarded this week’s Golden Anvil to House Bill 1293, which was promoted this weekend by sponsor Rep. Gwyn Green (D-Golden) and anti-highway-expansion activists. . . .

As amended, HB 1293 would create a 500-yard bubble, the length of five football fields in each direction, around all public and private schools, making it more difficult for any highways to be built or expanded within that area.

This set off my radar, so I did a little reviewing of some stuff I took an interest in not too long ago.

The Colorado Deparment of Transportation, along with several other agencies, have been studying for several years now the feasibility of completing the Denver Highway Loop, which begins in the West at the intersection of C-470 and I-70, and circles south and east around the city to connect with E-470, which goes all around the east part of Denver and, with the recently completed connection, goes all the way around to reach Flatirons' Crossing Mall in the far northwest corner of the city. This leaves just the furthest West/Northwest corner of the Denver Metro Area without a leg on the Loop. And, as anybody who has tried to get anywhere in the northwest corner of the metro area can tell you, completing that loop would make a huge difference in travel around the city. CDOT has dubbed this project "The Northwest Corridor."

Two years ago, when this was first being looked at, I went to a couple of the public meetings held by CDOT to try to start a working plan. There was, as I recall, about 80 possibilities for this highway, though some were obviously better suited than others. But most of the most sensible alternatives involved the use and expansion of an already-existing four-lane highway, Colorado Hwy. 93, to complete the Loop into and through Golden, where it would hook up to C-470/I-70 and finish the Loop. If you look through the heading "Alternatives" at the above link, it will show you all the possible routes the NW Corridor could take.

The problem with that is that the residents of Golden--which, by the way, is about three times the size it was 20 years ago and sprawls up onto the sides of the foothills in every direction around the city--do not want a highway coming through their city. And, I suppose, I can't blame them: I don't want one coming through my part of town, either. But, given that there's already Hwy 93, CO Hwy 58, and CO Hwy 6 all passing through or around Golden, carrying traffic to Boulder and the gambling cities in the mountains, this is a smaller adjustment for that community than it would be for many others.

So how does Gwyn Green's HB 1293 come into play? Well, first, notice that Gwyn Green represents Golden. Second, check out this map on Mapquest, which shows the location of Mitchell Elementary School. Now, I'm no cartographer, but it looks to me like Mitchell Elementary School is within about 50 feet of Highway 93.

In other words, were HB1293 to pass and become law, the Northwest Corridor IS DEAD as a highway project. Hwy 93 could never be expanded as long as Mitchell Elem. still stands, and the residents of Golden, thanks to the cleverness of their representative, would never have to deal with being a part of the Denver Highway Loop.

Keep in mind, folks, that with the opening of Flatirons' Crossings Shopping Center, the redevelopment of the Rocky Flats region, and the otherwise normal expansion of housing in the northwest part of the metro area, NOT having an easy means of highway travel in this area will mean significant losses in terms of commerce, traffic congestion, lost time, and the massive environmental impact of cars idling in traffic jams. NOT completing the Highway Loop would be--twenty years out--a disaster for this area.

This disaster brought to you by the Democrats in your Legislature.

Addendum: Note that this bill passed out of the Education Committee, where it is more easily disguised. Had it gone through the Transportation Committee, somebody might have noticed the scheme.

Addendum 2: In case you were wondering, Mitchell Elem School (new facility) opened in about 1995--WAY after Hwy 93 existed in its current corridor.