Afternoon headlines, January 23, 2017

Coming off a mixed-bag November election in Colorado for the state’s Democrats, the party will start to re-organize its leadership as early as next week. Every two years the party holds meetings throughout the state where it elects new leadership at every level of the party structure. Those positions include county chairs and officers all the way up to state central committee. Following a 2016 campaign that split Colorado Democrats between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, some things to look out for will be how many fresh faces show up to the re-organizing meetings, and which wing of the party they represent. Though Sanders won big in Colorado’s caucuses, enough Democrats here rallied around Clinton in November for her to keep the state blue against Donald Trump. So why should people get involved? “Democracy isn’t something we do every two years,” says David Sabados, who chairs the Colorado Young Democrats and is running for First Vice Chair of the Party himself. “If you show up to the meetings you have the ability to express your views or talk about what you think is important for the future of the party. If you don’t show up you’re left to ranting on Facebook.”Anyone thinking about getting involved in the party’s restructuring should check the Colorado Democratic Party’s website for a calendar of their county’s reorganizing meetings.

Rep. Tim Leonard of Evergreen, a Republican state lawmaker who spent two weeks in jail in December, is now taking aim at one of the tests that got him into trouble. Leonard is the chief sponsor of a bill introduced at the state Capitol to eliminate all state assessment tests for ninth graders and social studies tests for all students in Colorado’s public schools. His interest in the issue is personal. Leonard spent two weeks in jail last month for contempt of court related to continued interference with his ex-wife’s sole authority to make educational decisions for their children. In 2013-14, Leonard told one of his sons’ schools to opt him out of state testing, a decision he did not have the authority to make. That earned Leonard, who was first appointed to his Evergreen house district last year, a $5,000 penalty, payable to his ex-wife’s attorney. Leonard interfered again with educational decisions, twice in 2016, causing a judge to sentence him to two weeks in prison in December. He is the first state lawmaker in memory to serve jail time while in office.

Now that the Trump administration is a reality, The Colorado Independent’s Tina Griego decided to take a look at how we got to this point, this president. And so she sat down with the closest Trump supporter in her life, her cousin, for an intimate conversation about what led him back Trump for president. It was a mix of things, he told her: Trump’s positions on the Wall Street bailout, illegal immigration, NAFTA and China. Adding to the mix were his own dislike of anything named “Clinton,” his distrust for the news media, and his sense of powerlessness after eight years of an administration he felt wasn’t responsive to his concerns. All those factors, he said, made him willing to overlook Trump’s shortcomings. Griego story is as much a look into the mind of a Trump voter as an attempt to bridge the red-blue divide that for years has gone without discussion in her families, and that causes friction in many families.

A new bill that would increase the punishment for tampering with oil and gas activity in Colorado is addressing a problem some argue is not a problem here, leading to allegations that it is intended to dampen environmental protests against the oil and gas industry. The bill would up charges for such tampering to a Class 6 Felony in Colorado, rather than the misdemeanor they currently carry. Republican Senator Jerry Sonnenberg, who is behind the bill, says his motivation is to protect communities from explosions that could result from tampering with well valves. He admits that Colorado hasn’t yet seen such activity, but that it has occurred in other states. Data from Colorado’s oil and gas regulatory agency shows only five incidents of vandalism against oil and gas activity over the past several years, with all but one involving vandals shooting equipment with guns. One incident in Garfield county led to a fire, which caused property damage but no injuries. It is unclear whether the data is comprehensive. In the midst of growing tension between the industry and communities, some Coloradans see the proposed bill as a way to suppress action against a powerful industry. “We see this as a clear attempt at political coercion and a clear threat to people that are legitimately protecting the right to their environment,” says Cliff Willmeng, a Lafayette resident who is leading the charge to pass a Climate Bill of Rights there. But Sonnenberg says the threat to public safety makes the bill more than necessary. “The problem obviously exists, and is expanding rapidly throughout the country. I want to make sure that we are proactive before a town like Lafayette, because of one or two silly protesters, blow up that town. ”

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