The Aurora Sentinel, May 11, on the presidential primary process:
In what most pundits agree is the most surprising, confusing, convoluted and unpredictable election season in recent memory across the board, one thing is perfectly clear: It's time for change.
After Colorado Democrats and Republicans experienced the state's discount food-processor version of a presidential caucus in March, it looked like change was at hand.
And the uproarious Republican primary race for U.S. Senate candidates is so chaotic, it's hard even for pundits and the candidates themselves to keep up.
As for presidential politics, March Democratic caucuses were overwhelmed with voters who'd never been through the process, and there were so many, they overwhelmed the clunky and archaic system of counting noses in a straw poll.
Republicans were even more repulsed by the process because GOP leaders last year removed their straw poll from the caucus process. In essence, Republicans didn't get to pick a favorite presidential candidate, instead voting for delegates who would choose a candidate later at a statewide convention.
The system more than stretches an everyman's understanding of civics and just turns voters off. While the notion of a caucus — where the working Joes and Janes talk politics for a night and pick delegates and favorites — is quaint and admirable, it's unrealistic. In a world where Colorado can barely get people to fill out mail-in election ballots, the caucus system is toast.
So state lawmakers were fast — too fast — to jump into the quagmire, quickly offering to reinstate Colorado's expensive but inclusive presidential primary. But these are actually political party events, not traditional democratic votes. The parties make the rules. If Colorado returns to a presidential primary, taxpayers pay the estimated $7-million bill — but only registered Democrats and Republicans get to vote.
There are lots of unanswered questions here. Should or can the state parties continue other aspects of caucuses? Can the state preclude having two, expensive primary elections in presidential years by combining presidential and statewide primary questions? Should unaffiliated voters be allowed to participate in primary elections, even under the conceit of "temporarily registering" for a political party and then un-registering after the vote?
As to the GOP race for U.S. Senate nominees, it's obvious among allegations of petition fraud and petition mismanagement that that primary process also needs help. Since it appears that the petition process is nothing more than an expensive fee some candidates pay to get on the Colorado primary election ballot, lawmakers should scrutinize the process and criteria for how partisans choose nominees.
In both cases, important questions about the state's partisan system can't even be asked because the cycle hasn't even ended. Proposals in the Legislature for a presidential primary in 2020 fell apart at the last minute, but they were premature, given that the 2016 election cycle isn't even over yet.
Lawmakers should take the time to allow the public to digest this election and then think long about what changes would be best for voter convenience, voter participation and — more important — providing fair elections and fielding the best candidates.
There's plenty of time, use it.
The Durango Herald, May 11, on funds for roads and education:
On Tuesday, state Senate Republicans walked away from an estimated $200 million that Colorado could have used for roads or education - and that would not have required one penny of increased taxes. It was money that was, in effect, just sitting there waiting to be applied to any of the state's needs.
At issue was Gov. John Hickenlooper's plan to reclassify the hospital providers' fee as an enterprise fund. And while the details of the plan sound complex, the essence of the idea was simple: more money for needed programs with no tax increase.
Opposition seems based on party politics and fear of growing government. Both are poor reasons to short roads and schools.
To their credit, state Reps. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, broke with their party and voted for House Bill 1420, which embodied the reclassification plan. That took courage and common sense. Nonetheless, the state Senate's Finance Committee killed the bill on a 3-2 party-line vote.
The hospital providers' fee is collected from hospitals and generates federal matching funds. The resulting pot of money is used to help cover the cost of uncompensated care and Medicaid. Hospitals end up ahead and the poor get medical care.
But when the program was set up, the Legislature did not think to designate it an enterprise fund. The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights allows government entities that operate as businesses, such as state universities and parks, to collect money that is not subject to TABOR's population-plus-inflation revenue cap.
Without the enterprise label, provider fee revenue is considered general fund money and has been instrumental in the state running up against the TABOR limit and triggering taxpayer refunds. Reclassify the program an enterprise fund and the state can keep millions of dollars more of the money it has collected under existing tax rates.
But is it legitimately an enterprise fund? Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, a Republican, said in February that it qualifies. Her predecessor, former Attorney General John Suthers, also a Republican, said so as well.
Senate Republicans should have listened. That money could have been put to good use.
The Denver Post, May 9, on holding the Aurora theater responsible for the 2012 mass shooting:
If a jury concludes that Cinemark should have foreseen the sort of mass shooting that occurred at its Century 16 Theater in Aurora in 2012, it will send an alarming message to businesses around the country — and especially those that host paid events.
They'll know they are likely to be held responsible even for tragedies that have no precedent in their sphere of commerce — that are nearly the equivalent of a lightning strike.
How is that fair? Nor is it even clear whether such a message would actually reduce the number of mass shootings in this country — or even at theaters. Opportunities for determined killers abound, guns are plentiful, and armed guards cannot plug every vulnerable gap.
Meanwhile, businesses have to try to keep their relationship with customers as frictionless as possible, rather than treating them all as potential homicidal maniacs.
And yet the plaintiffs in the civil trial that opened this week in Arapahoe County obviously believe they have a strong case.
"Our belief," said Ken Citron, one of the lawyers for the victims suing the theater chain, "is that Cinemark had inadequate security measures to guard against a foreseeable danger. And, had they implemented proper security measures, this act would have never happened and our clients would have never been injured."
Perhaps the set of facts laid out at trial will be powerful enough to sustain the attorney's argument. Certainly it's possible a jury might embrace the idea that Cinemark was obliged to have armed guards and other measures in place for the opening of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises."
It seems to us, though, that a genuinely foreseeable massacre for which someone other than the killer alone should be held accountable should at least have a precedent in a similar venue. Either that, or it should be preceded by a reasonably specific warning.
Otherwise almost every mass shooting is "foreseeable" in the sense that we can be certain another one will occur.
The Greeley Tribune, May 9, on the state Supreme Court's decision on fracking:
Last week, the Colorado Supreme Court weighed in on one of Colorado's most contentious and long-running questions. Do local governments have the right to ban oil and gas drilling?
Anyone who's spent much time in Greeley could have predicted the answer. No, the court said, communities such as Fort Collins and Longmont cannot ban or indefinitely delay drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
The ruling offers something of a vindication for Greeley and Weld County officials who have maintained they lack the power to keep drilling out of this community. They knew this, they said, because of a 1992 court ruling that happened when Greeley officials tried to ban drilling in city limits.
"The Supreme Court today did not strike a blow to local control," Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said May 2, after the ruling. "It said you cannot take someone's personal property under any circumstances."
Of course, we'll grant that the decisions Weld and Greeley leaders have made about drilling in our community haven't made everyone happy. A number of folks who have wound up with oil rigs too close to home for comfort have expressed their displeasure. And a host of activists who probably wouldn't be happy with fracking or drilling activity anywhere have been vocal in their opposition to the policies of the city and the county.
Still, in Greeley and in Weld, local officials have used their authority to impose a host of criteria on drillers, forcing them to mitigate noise, dust and other problems that come with having industrial activity close to homes or businesses. We suspect that had leaders in these other communities used these same tools, they could have done much to limit the effects of drilling in their communities without violating private property rights or overstepping their authority.
Of course, they couldn't have gotten everything they wanted. There would have been no outright bans, but they could have used an aggressive mitigation approach to get much of what they wanted. In fact, doing just that offers the best way forward.
The court's ruling isn't likely to end the dispute. In fact, it's likely to intensify it. Those who are opposed to fracking may well turn to the ballot box to seek support for their cause. Supporters of oil and gas are likely to respond in kind, pushing ballot measures that will make it more difficult to restrict drilling. Regardless of how the election turns out, it's a good bet the ballot box won't solve the dispute. Ultimately, both sides in the dispute over how to regulate fracking will need to find a way to compromise.
They'll both need to be willing to give a little.