The Spot: Decoding Senate debate talking points, an exclusive Jena Griswold profile, voter guide sneak peek, and more

For people, policy and Colorado politics

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What you missed watching the debates

To follow politics in 2020 is to tune into a television show that airs nearly all day and, if you step away even briefly, will leave you scrambling to catch up on all that you missed. Oh, and there are multiple versions of the show playing simultaneously, depending on your politics.

Half the debates between Sen. Cory Gardner and John Hickenlooper are over. A few readers asked me to explain some of the candidates’ niche references in the first debate. They are diehard fans of the show but had missed an episode or two.

Allie Killey

“The Republicans had to create an artificial environmental nonprofit to go on screen and tell lies about how great he is,” Hickenlooper said about halfway into the Pueblo debate last Friday.

“You just besmirched a young activist Republican who was trying to start an environmental group,” Gardner responded. “Have you ever talked to her?”

The woman in question is Allie Killey, a former Republican statehouse staffer who appeared in an Aug. 13 Gardner ad as the founder of “Wild for Colorado” (which is an LLC, not a nonprofit). As first reported in this newsletter, the group hasn’t done environmental work to date and was founded the day Gardner introduced his Great American Outdoors Act. Democrats allege it is a front group created to portray Gardner as an environmentalist.

Gardner called that an unfair attack on a young environmentalist Friday. Hickenlooper apologized if he misconstrued the intentions of Killey, then returned to his larger point: “There doesn’t seem to be a traditional environmental group that’s willing to put their name on your ad.”

Cocaine and the court

“We’ve seen judges you have appointed in the news recently. One was covering up a cocaine ring in Northern Colorado,” Gardner told Hickenlooper after a question about judicial nominees.

Ryan Kamada was appointed by Hickenlooper to be a Weld County district judge in 2018 and, according to reporting by our colleague Sam Tabachnik, almost immediately learned of a cocaine trafficking ring involving a former high school acquaintance. Kamada tipped off his best friend about an investigation into the cocaine ring, was caught, resigned, and pleaded guilty to obstructing a federal investigation. Hickenlooper did not address it during the debate.

Don’t be surprised if Kamada’s name pops up in the last two debates Friday and Tuesday. Speaking of the final debates, I will be among the panelists for the one Friday, which will be co-hosted by Denver7, The Denver Post and Colorado Public Radio. It will air live beginning at 5 p.m.

In the meantime, you can read full coverage of the Pueblo debate here and a Telemundo debate here.

To support the important journalism we do, you can become a Denver Post subscriber here


Have a question about the upcoming election? Submit it here and it’ll go straight to The Denver Post politics team.

Top Line

In two short but tumultuous years, Jena Griswold has transformed Colorado’s typically low-key secretary of state position into something of a national spectacle. And Griswold, 36, is just fine with that. Read Conrad Swanson’s exclusive profile here.

Voter Guide • By Cindi Andrews

A sneak peek before ballots drop

The Denver Post is putting the final touches on our voter guide as clerks across Colorado prepare to begin mailing ballots Friday.

We wanted our Spot readers to be the first to hear about what’s coming — most of which is already available here. It includes:

  • Explainers on all statewide and Denver issues
  • Q&As with the candidates in all races for Congress, CU regents, state Board of Education and RTD
  • Q&As with candidates for all Denver metro area statehouse seats
  • Q&As with the DA candidates in the 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th judicial districts
  • Q&As with county commissioner candidates in Adams, Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties
  • An explainer on the judicial races — a perennial favorite

You’ll want to bookmark this page as a reference when you’re ready to fill out your ballot. Some of this information also will appear in the Sunday edition of The Post.

Our reporters will continue to break down the top issues and races via stories in the coming weeks. Let me know how else our team can help you in the final weeks of this extraordinary election season by emailing [email protected]

Capitol Diary • By Alex Burness

Both sides in family leave debate embrace “generous” label

I received a message from the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce this week arguing against Proposition 118, which would create a paid family and medical leave benefit for workers statewide. 

“Now is not the time to add additional pressures on employees and employers with an expensive new government program,” the email read. 

The economy is too fragile right now, argue the Chamber and other opponents of this measure — conservative and business groups, primarily. Forcing employers and employees to spend money on a new mandated benefit will only make recovery, and sustained vitality, harder to achieve.

To hear proponents of this measure tell it, now is exactly the time to pass Prop 118. COVID, that side’s argument goes, has exposed and exacerbated workplace inequalities. The vast majority of workers here do not currently have access to paid leave, according to federal labor statistics. This has contributed to pressure on low-wage workers in particular to show up for work during the pandemic, even if they feel unsafe doing so. Workers faced with that pressure have died of the virus.

It’s interesting to me that in many ways the two sides are using the same talking points to make opposite cases. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard proponents and opponents alike use the line that Prop 118 would create “one of the most generous” paid family and medical leave benefits in the country.

Both are right. It would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave time — 16, in some cases — and that is not only a dramatic shift from the status quo in Colorado, but also would put the state ahead of nearly all others with statewide paid leave. 

It’s remarkable that this is where we’re at, given the tortured history of this issue. Democrats at the legislature have failed for the better part of a decade to create a statewide paid leave benefit in Colorado.

The sponsors compromised on several big details to gain support from moderate Democrats and were prepared pre-pandemic to bring a new version that no one would have described as being nearly as “generous” as this ballot measure. All along, those sponsors have said they just wanted a “vehicle” to pass paid leave, and that they were OK with compromising to get there.

What’s funny is that the vehicle they were prepared to settle for at the Capitol, before coronavirus blew up everyone’s plans, was nowhere near what they’d wanted it to be at the onset. It would’ve involved the private insurance market and given workers fewer weeks of time off. They would’ve been glad to pass the bill, but it was far from deluxe. They’d made peace with a Honda, basically. Now, through the ballot, these proponents might get the Cadillac. 

That’s what has groups like the Chamber so nervous, and progressive groups so excited.

More Colorado political news

  • Guess which side of which issue campaign is winning the money race in Colorado? The answer can be found here.
  • There’s a good chance Colorado Democrats will post gains in November. But that’s not the whole story.
  • Colorado marked its first Cabrini Day this week.
  • Colorado’s Republican Party has echoed Trump’s voter fraud warnings after a misleading story retracted by CBS4.

Democratic presidential race • By Jon Murray

Both campaigns send relatives, but one cancels Colorado ad buy

As Colorado drifts into blue-state territory, it’s not a prime target for visits by President Donald Trump or Democratic challenger Joe Biden this fall – especially given the in-person campaigning challenges of the pandemic. But each campaign is sending well-connected surrogates this week as they try to drum up excitement among voters.

Trump campaign senior adviser John Pence, a nephew of Vice President Mike Pence, began a two-day swing for “Rally the Vote” events. In Denver, he was set to fire up volunteers before they headed out for door-knocking Wednesday night. On Thursday afternoon, he will head north of the metro area to speak at a MAGA Meetup at Erie Community Park with U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, who’s also the state GOP chairman.

On the Biden side, the husband of Sen. Kamala Harris is due in Colorado on Thursday, the day after the vice presidential candidates’ debate.

First on Doug Emhoff’s agenda: a Thursday-night “car rally” to encourage voter registration near Denver’s City Park. He’ll be joined by Democratic Senate candidate John Hickenlooper, Mayor Michael Hancock, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and state Rep. Leslie Herod. On Friday morning, Emhoff will take part in a health care roundtable discussion with state Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat.

Both campaigns have invested in Colorado operations, not only to support their candidates but also to rally their bases for Hickenlooper or Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. But with polls showing a comfortable lead for Biden here, Colorado is one of a few states where his well-funded campaign canceled TV ad buys this month, shifting the six-figure investment to states with close margins.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

Another challenge to Denver’s approach to homelessness

While Denver city attorneys emerged victorious last month from a county court case over the controversial urban camping ban, the lawyer behind that lawsuit struck again this week. 

Local attorney Andy McNulty, who plans to ask the Colorado Supreme Court to take up the case filed on behalf of Jerry Burton, filed a new suit Monday in federal court seeking an injunction to stop Denver officials from clearing out homeless encampments in the city. 

The new case is a class-action suit, McNulty told The Denver Post, filed on behalf of several people experiencing homelessness in the city. 

First, he argues that the sweeps violate the property rights of those living on the streets. Specifically, he cites a large-scale sweep near the Colorado Capitol where city and state officials showed up without notice, “took homeless folks’ property and summarily threw it away.” 

The second argument is that the sweeps violate federal recommendations, which say governments shouldn’t clear out encampments during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic unless there’s an alternative place for people without housing to stay. 

It’s unclear when the new case might see trial, but it appears the city won’t willingly stop its sweeps in the meantime. It conducted one in Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced months ago that the city would find a location for a sanctioned homeless encampment, but two possibilities have been shot down since then. And it’s getting cooler outside. 

More Denver and suburban political news

  • Denver’s 30 recreation centers — which closed as the coronavirus pandemic hit the city in March — will remain shuttered until mid-April at the earliest while the short-staffed Parks and Recreation Department pivots its resources.
  • About a dozen political signs supporting a variety of Democratic candidates in Douglas County were removed from a front porch in Parker last week, with some of the vandalized signs being tossed into the street.
  • The winner of the race to become the next district attorney in Adams and Broomfield counties will take over an office recently blasted into national attention for its decision to not charge officers in the death of Elijah McClain.

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