Colorado’s prisons are bursting at the seams. Lawmakers are searching for solutions.

Colorado lawmakers on Friday listened as state officials offered proposals and previewed bills that would tackle criminal justice reforms, including alleviating the state’s packed prison system and whether to reopen a $200 million empty building.

Members of the joint House and Senate judiciary committees heard from Gov. Jared Polis’ state planning and budgeting director — who offered short, medium and long-term solutions to prison overcrowding — along with the new director of the Department of Corrections, director of the Department of Public Safety and criminal justice reform advocates.

At the end of December, just 93 of 14,000 beds remained open in the state’s prison system. And the department has not met the recommended 2 percent vacancy rate for general population beds in more than a year. Annual drug felony case filings have more than doubled since 2012, and the state is now spending nearly $1 billion on its prison budget.

Here are some of the proposals aimed at reducing prison overcrowding:

Reopening Centennial Correctional Facility-South 

Whether to reopen the shuttered Cañon City prison — which has remained empty since 2012 when the state phased out solitary confinement — has come up every year in the legislature. And it’s been rejected every time.

Polis earlier this month announced he wants to use the facility — but only to replace beds currently being used at private prisons.

RELATED: The ICE detention center in Aurora added 432 beds last month. Those beds are expected to be filled almost immediately.

On Friday, Lauren Larson, director of the office of state planning and budgeting, told the committee that utilization of Centennial South would be on an “emergency backstop basis.”

“It would not be the full opening of the prison,” Larson said. “Our plan is not to use it. Our hope is not to use it.”

Larson also explained a proposal which would swap the purposes of the Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center with Centennial South.

Vacancy rates for mental health treatment providers is 30 percent in Cañon City, Larson said, and 10 percent in Denver. Bringing these services to the Front Range, she said, would be beneficial to inmates needing mental health services.

Larson made clear that this proposal is “bed neutral” — meaning any additional beds at Centennial South would correspond in a drop in beds at private prisons.

Lawmakers, however, were skeptical about giving $11 million to the governor’s plan, since the legislature would first need to vote to reopen the shuttered prison, something they have not been willing to do in years past.

Committee members asked Larson if a bill is coming this session, and whether it would pass.

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she said. “I think it’s a work in progress at this point.”

Larson also made clear the stakes of these proposals.

“We’re really excited,” Larson told the committee. “There’s new enthusiasm at the table … but we’re keenly aware of how tight our state prisons are already. If these proposals don’t work immediately, if they don’t have the intended effect, then we will be in a crisis.”

Tackling Recidivism

Dean Williams, the new director of the Department of Corrections, told lawmakers Friday that his biggest goal is lowering the recidivism rate — the rate at which people released from prison are going back.

“One of the biggest drivers of prison population is recidivism,” Williams said. “When you release people, and 50 percent come back, that’s your target population.”

Williams said he’s looked at successes from other states — in particular getting inmates low-skill jobs in agriculture or other industries before their prison term concludes.

Lawmakers this session are considering a new bill, SB19-143, which tries to tackle the recidivism issue through parole reform. The bill — sponsored by three Democratic lawmakers — aims to lessen the prison population by allowing parolees to avoid going back to prison for certain parole violations. It would also make it harder for parole boards to deny release to many low-risk inmates.

Vance Roper, legislative analyst for the Joint Budget Committee, told lawmakers that 25 percent of inmates deemed low-risk and high-ready for release are not being granted parole. The new bill would change the process so that a majority of the parole board would have to be against release for parole to be denied.

That bill will be debated in the weeks to come.

Criminal justice reform advocates

Christie Donner, executive director of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, started her remarks by commending lawmakers for passing some community reinvestment initiatives which are “taking off across the country.”

She did, however, harp on the fact that prisons too often are being used as primary sources of mental health treatment.

“If we don’t fundamentally change the system for substance abuse and mental illness, we will sit here forever,” Donner said. “We will continue to have fruitless conversations.”

Donner endorsed Senate Bill 143, which she said would attempt to do two things: increase reintegration of people leaving prison and ensuring a 3 percent vacancy in those prisons.

“(Centennial South) as an emergency backstop would be unnecessary,” she said, if the bill passed.

CU Boulder’s Turning Point USA chapter calls out Candace Owens following furor over Hitler comments

The University of Colorado Boulder chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative organization that has chapters at high schools and colleges across the country, joined several other chapters on Thursday in calling for the resignation of the organization’s communications director.

The communications director, Candace Owens, most recently drew fire for comments she made about Adolf Hitler. Her December comments resurfaced this month — the day before she appeared as the keynote speaker at the Boulder County Republicans’ annual Lincoln Dinner.

Her comments received criticism and condemnation, including by Colorado’s Democratic leaders, but Boulder County Republicans said her comments were misinterpreted, and the event went on as planned.

On Thursday, however, CU’s chapter shared a statement on Twitter condemning Owens’ role and the ways in which her personal remarks have reflected on Turning Point USA and its chapters.

Although she has the right to express her own thoughts and opinions, the statement said, her comments have been interpreted by others as a reflection on the organization.

Read more, including the students’ statement, at dailycamera.com.

Trump vows veto as Democrats try to block emergency order

By ANDREW TAYLOR

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats controlling the House have teed up a vote next week to block President Donald Trump from using a national emergency declaration to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, accelerating a showdown in Congress that could divide Republicans and lead to Trump’s first veto.

The Democrats introduced a resolution Friday to block Trump’s declaration, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House would vote on the measure Tuesday. It is sure to pass, and the GOP-run Senate may adopt it as well. Trump quickly promised a veto.

“Will I veto it? 100 percent,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Any Trump veto would likely be sustained, but the upcoming battle will test Republican support for the president’s move, which even some of his allies view as a stretch — and a slap at lawmakers’ control over the power of the federal purse.

Pelosi, D-Calif., said she’d honor her oath of office and uphold the Constitution, adding, “I wish he would have the same dedication to that oath of office himself.” Speaking to reporters in Laredo, Texas, she said, “This is a path I would not recommend he go down. I don’t expect him to sign it, but I do expect us to send it” to him.

House GOP leaders will urge rank-and-file Republicans on Monday to oppose the measure, Republican aides said. If all Democrats and at least 55 Republicans vote for it, it would pass by a veto-proof margin — a two-thirds majority. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity to describe leaders’ plans.

A staff aide introduced the measure during a short pro forma House session in which Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., presided over an almost-empty chamber.

“What the president is attempting is an unconstitutional power grab,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, the sponsor of the resolution, on a call with reporters. “There is no emergency at the border.”

Trump’s declaration of a national emergency gives him access to about $3.6 billion in funding for military construction projects to divert to border fencing. But the administration is more likely to tap funding from a federal asset forfeiture fund and Defense Department anti-drug efforts first.

Trump’s edict is also being challenged in the federal courts, where a host of Democratic-led states such as California are among those that have sued to overturn Trump’s order. The House may also join in.

For Democrats, the vote is another chance to challenge Trump over funding for a border wall, the issue that was central to the 35-day government shutdown. It also puts some Republicans from swing districts and states in a difficult spot, as many have expressed misgivings about Trump’s action despite their support for his border security agenda.

Should the House and the Senate initially approve the measure, Congress seems unlikely to muster the two-thirds majorities in each chamber that would be needed later to override a Trump veto.

Republicans who oppose the emergency declaration on the first vote might switch and rally behind a Trump veto. But an initial roll call with strong numbers of Republicans defying him would be an embarrassing show of GOP rifts.

The measure to block Trump’s edict will be closely watched in the Senate, where moderates such as Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have signaled they would back it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is only a reluctant supporter of Trump on the topic.

Trump’s GOP allies promised they would uphold any veto denying Democrats the two-thirds votes required to overcome one.

“Democrats’ angst over Congress’ power of the purse is unwarranted, especially since the commander in chief’s authority to redirect military funds for a national emergency is affirmed in a law passed by their own branch,” said top House Judiciary Committee Republican Doug Collins of Georgia.

The battle is over an emergency declaration Trump issued to access billions of dollars beyond what Congress has authorized to start erecting border barriers. Building his proposed wall was the most visible trademark of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Congress last week approved a vast spending bill providing nearly $1.4 billion to build 55 miles (89 kilometers) of border barriers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley while preventing a renewed government shutdown. Trump had demanded $5.7 billion to construct more than 200 miles (322 kilometers).

Trump wants to use an emergency declaration and other authorities to gain access to an additional $6.6 billion for wall building. That money would be transferred from a federal asset forfeiture fund, Defense Department anti-drug efforts and a military construction fund. Federal officials have yet to identify which projects would be affected.

Two senior defense officials said Friday that it will take months for the Pentagon to assess a still-to-come Department of Homeland Security proposal to siphon anti-drug funds to build barriers, sign contracts and begin construction. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to provide information that has not yet been made public.

Castro, the resolution sponsor, said that he has already garnered support from most of the House and has at least one GOP sponsor, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.

___

Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Lolita C. Baldor and Alan Fram in Washington contributed to this report.

Trump administration sets up abortion obstacles, barring clinic referrals

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Friday set up new obstacles for women seeking abortions, barring taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from making abortion referrals. The new policy is certain to be challenged in court.

The final rule released Friday by the Health and Human Services Department also would prohibit federally funded family planning clinics from being housed in the same locations as abortion providers, and require stricter financial separation. Clinic staff would still be permitted to discuss abortion with clients.

The move was decried by women’s groups and praised by religious conservatives, but it could be some time before women served by the federal family program feel the full impact.

Women’s groups, organizations representing the clinics, and Democratic-led states are expected to sue to block the policy from going into effect. Administration officials told abortion opponents on a call Friday that they expect legal action, according to a participant.

Planned Parenthood, whose affiliates are major providers of family planning services as well as abortions, said the administration is trying to impose a “gag rule,” and launched a full campaign to block it.

“We’re going to fight this rule through every possible avenue,” said Emily Stewart, the organization’s vice president for policy.

Planned Parenthood and other groups representing the clinics say the new requirements for physical separation of facilities would be all but impossible to fulfill. Planned Parenthood said the administration action is another attempt to drive it out of business, after efforts to deny it funding failed in Congress.

Religious conservatives said the administration’s policy is a major step toward breaking down what they see as an indirect taxpayer subsidy of abortion providers.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called it “a major step toward the ultimate goal of ending taxpayers’ forced partnership with the abortion industry.”

The regulation was published Friday on an HHS website. It’s not official until it appears in the Federal Register and the department said there could be “minor editorial changes.” A department official confirmed it was the final version.

Known as Title X, the family-planning program serves about 4 million women annually through independent clinics, many operated by Planned Parenthood affiliates, which serve about 40 percent of all clients. The grant program costs taxpayers about $260 million a year.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman.

An umbrella group representing family planning clinics also decried the administration’s decision.

“This rule intentionally strikes at the heart of the patient-provider relationship, inserting political ideology into a family planning visit, which will frustrate and ultimately discourage patients from seeking the health care they need,” Clare Coleman, head of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement.

Although abortion remains politically divisive, the U.S. abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 in 2014. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, according to a recent scientific report. Polls show most Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

These are the Denver council incumbents facing the biggest financial challenges

Denver is on track for one of its biggest elections in years as 66 candidates run for 16 elected positions in city government. But a few challengers have pulled away from the pack, a Denver Post analysis shows.

Money isn’t everything — but even in local races, it’s important. Unknown candidates need to spend money to get noticed in the May 7 election. And their fundraising totals can show political momentum, taking the place of polling data that usually isn’t available in city races.

“The average person does not know who these people are. And so to cut through the clutter of everything, they have to spend,” said Halisi Vinson, a local political organizer and former candidate. “I cannot see someone winning a typical race for under $75,000. Unless they’ve got this volunteer ground game that we don’t see, what are they going to do?”

As the March 13 filing deadline for candidates approaches, here’s a race-by-race breakdown and the full campaign contributions data set. The totals may differ slightly from those detailed in fundraising reports due to returned donations and other changes.

Closest races

East Denver’s District 5 has two challengers raising significant money. Challenger Amanda Sawyer has reported about $68,000, compared to about $22,000 raised by incumbent Mary Beth Susman since June 2015.

However, Susman has more than $50,000 in the bank, thanks to leftover money from her previous run.

Sawyer is partially self-funding her campaign, giving herself about $40,000 in December. She describes Susman as “out of touch” because she supported a failed rezoning that would have allowed 23 condos to be built along Holly Street. Susman has made mobility and urbanism her focus since her election in 2011.

A second challenger, Michele Fry, also has raised about $23,000 through January, though $16,000 of that was self-donated. Fry calls for government accountability, “economically diverse development” and greater transit investment.

Northwest Denver’s District 1 is looking like a scramble. There are seven candidates with active bank accounts — and no incumbent, since Councilman Rafael Espinoza dropped out. Firefighter Mike Somma, running on a public safety and public employees platform, leads with more than $33,000 raised. But the other candidates are close behind, with Amanda Sandoval, David Sabados and Scott Durrah raising at least $10,000.

Central Denver’s District 10 might have Councilman Wayne New a bit nervous. Two of his challengers — Chris Hinds and Tony Smith — are into the $40,000 range, and Antonio Mendez has picked up $18,000. But New has nearly doubled his nearest challenger, and he has $57,000 in the bank. Hinds’ platform focuses on transportation and affordable housing; Smith’s on neighborhood preservation and affordability; and Mendez’s on infrastructure, traffic and crime.

West Denver’s District 2 is another open seat: Councilman Paul López has reached his term limit. Among the four challengers, Jamie Torres and Veronica Barela are out-raising their competitors, at about $20,000 and $29,000, respectively. Barela is a longtime figure on the west side, including as the longtime leader of NEWSED Community Development Corp.; Torres also has deep neighborhood roots and works as deputy director of Human Rights & Community Partnerships for Denver. Both focus on housing and culture, among other priorities.

Northeast Denver’s District 7 shows a significant challenger for incumbent Chris Herndon. Blair Taylor, one of five challengers, has raised about $24,000 compared to about $52,000 for the incumbent. She was inspired to run by the Fairfax land-swap affair, which focused on concerns about development and green space.

Two other candidates have shown broad bases in the race: Patrick Thibault, who emphasizes renters’ rights, had about 111 contributions. Miguel Cabellos-Ruiz, who grew up in Montbello, positions himself as a progressive alternative with a focus on social justice. He reported 88 contributions — but he and Thibault don’t have as much money because their average donation amounts are smaller.

In North Denver’s District 9, incumbent Albus Brooks has a strong financial advantage — he has raised about $194,000, more than any other non-mayoral candidate. But one of his challengers, Candi CdeBaca, is also among the strongest citywide fundraisers, reporting about $36,000 in her “people’s champion” campaign. Both candidates have broad bases, with more than 400 individual contributions each.

In the citywide at-large races, challenger Tony Pigford has posted $44,000 in fundraising on a platform that ranges from civil rights to housing and transportation. But he trails both of the incumbents, Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech.

In the race for clerk and recorder, Peg Perl has raised about $30,000, while Paul López has reported about $52,000 in this cycle as he attempts to switch from his council seat.

The safest incumbents are in south Denver: Paul Kashmann and Kevin Flynn face no current challengers. Council President Jolon Clark has a single challenger who has raised $140.

The mayor’s race has attracted the most funding by far — a combined nearly $2 million so far. Mayor Michael Hancock has collected more than half that money. Former challenger Kayvan Khalatbari had the broadest base of any candidate except Hancock, collecting donations from more than 1,000 people. Khalatbari suspended his campaign in October but has said he could reactivate it.

“We suck in Denver, huh?” Here’s how development is shaping the mayor’s race in 2019

Mayor Michael Hancock sat and listened for 45 minutes on a recent Saturday morning as three people explained why he should lose his job. He was the last speaker in a forum featuring the major mayoral candidates in Denver’s contentious election.

The challengers’ attacks were plentiful, but they shared one common theme: the city’s explosive development. They said the city was on “an unsustainable path of growth and development,” that “residents have felt ignored,” and that Denver is “dramatically out of balance.”

So, when it was finally his turn to speak, the incumbent grinned and adjusted his sport coat.

“Well, that was fun,” Hancock told the crowd of local politicos. “We suck in Denver, huh?”

He was joking, of course — but the moment illustrated how development is driving one of the city’s most crowded election cycles in decades. Hancock, who cruised to a re-election victory in 2015 amid an economic boom, now faces a referendum on growth and its impacts in his final re-election campaign.

Denver has added 100,000 residents in less than a decade, although the population growth is slowing. The competition for limited housing has driven apartment rent in Denver from a median of about $850 in 2011, when Hancock was elected, to nearly $1,500 today — a surge that has only recently slowed. Meanwhile, automobile traffic grows heavier, transit use stagnates and the spread of development is inspiring waves of resistance in newly affected neighborhoods.

Amid mounting frustrations, Hancock’s three major challengers have promised new approaches to development. Each says that they’ll give residents more power to shape development, and that they’ll ensure new construction delivers better results. None has embraced the “NIMBY” mantle — they all say growth will continue — but their ideas reflect a weariness and frustration that has only grown since 2015, when voters rewarded several lower-office candidates who ran on development-skeptical platforms.

Hancock, meanwhile, is trying to put his grander vision for the city in focus.

“In reality, I think people have very short memories. This city has had not a good or great but absolutely phenomenal run. We have challenges — but I would challenge everybody to point to a city that doesn’t.”

Where it’s happening

Ahead of election season, The Denver Post analyzed the city’s construction trends since 2016 and interviewed more than a dozen candidates and experts.

While urban neighborhoods like Union Station, parts of Five Points and Golden Triangle have seen the greatest concentration of large apartment buildings, it’s the redevelopment of lower-density areas that has attracted the greatest criticism.

The Post has identified three areas outside the urban core to demonstrate how development is reshaping the city’s politics. These places and topics will be the focus of Denver Post reporting over the next two months.

Northwest Denver

In northwest Denver, redevelopment is everywhere. Two neighborhoods — West Colfax and Lincoln Park — have together absorbed more than 1,000 new condos and townhomes, about a third of the city’s total for that category. With Councilman Rafael Espinoza stepping down, District 1 is a wide-open conversation about the side effects of construction and the design of the city’s new urban areas.

The spread of “slot homes” in this area shows a major challenge for the mayor: Some voters perceive new construction as cheap, ugly or out of character. On the other hand, the District 1 race isn’t focused on development as a yes or no question. Candidates and voters at a recent elections forum talked about how to deliver walkability, transit and affordable housing in an urban environment.

“The density doesn’t bother me. It’s the affordability that makes me sad,” said Jessica Dominguez, a 41-year-old teacher and real estate agent in the district.

“I just wish it wasn’t so ugly,” said Mike Huling, 38.

East and south Denver

Apartments and multifamily buildings have started to appear at the edges of single-family neighborhoods — a result in part of the citywide rezoning in 2010, just before Hancock took office, according to Ken Schroeppel of CU Denver.

While the scale of development there is smaller, the response is just as loud.

Incumbent Councilwoman Mary Beth Susman, who represents east Denver neighborhoods like Hilltop and Hale, says that inner-ring suburbs should expect some growth on their edges. One of her opponents, Amanda Sawyer, is gaining momentum with a message that would give residents more power to shape — and shrink — development.

It’s all part of a bigger debate. A nascent yes-in-my-backyard movement says that housing development is the solution, rather than the cause, for the housing crisis.

“The diversity of housing cannot only be for certain neighborhoods,” said Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, who represents far northeastern Denver. “I welcome the challenges of older, more established neighborhoods becoming more diverse and inclusive. If that’s really the city we’re all trying to get to, you need to allow folks to live in your neighborhood.”

That message has traction among some district-level candidates and incumbents, but the mayoral challengers haven’t embraced it.

Northeast Denver

In northeast Denver, billions of dollars worth of public projects are happening simultaneously, including the state’s widening of Interstate 70 and the city’s work on the National Western Center.

This wave of public spending, along with the rise of River North in Five Points, could accelerate private development in lower-income neighborhoods like Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, where residents already are struggling with closed roads, construction noise and rising rents.

“They’re older areas that don’t have a lot of money or power. They don’t have a lot of push-back that you would get in other areas,” Maria De Luna Jimenez, a longtime community advocate in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, said through a translator. “It feels like every day, we’re no closer to the end. We’re right in the middle of the tsunami. Rents are going up and conditions are going down.”

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 25: As Denver continues to grow, a lack of green space in the city has become more of an issue for its residents. Aerial support for photos was provided by LightHawk on September 25, 2018 over Denver, Colorado. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)
RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file
An aerial photograph of downtown Denver on Sept. 25, 2018.

Hancock’s report card

Hancock tells Denver’s story like this: When he took office, it was reeling from the economic recession, but it was ready to boom.

“Having grown up in this city and studied the decisions key mayors made, Denver’s been primed to make this kind of boom since (Mayor Bill) McNichols,” he said in an interview. McNichols and Federico Peña invested in major public projects, such as the airport, while Mayor John Hickenlooper later oversaw regional investment in transit.

“We’ve seen development respond to the demands of the market — and the good thing is that it’s responding with a balance of development and transit and mobility,” Hancock said. “We’re victims of our own prosperity, but now can meet those challenges.”

Asked what he would have done differently about development in his first two terms, he first named the city’s “aesthetic” challenges, such as slot homes.

Hancock’s response to growth kicked into gear in his second term. In 2016, the Denver City Council and his administration created a $15 million-a-year affordable housing fund, which has since doubled to at least $30 million a year. In that same year, his administration officially began work on the Denveright project, which sets the vision for Denver’s next 20 years.

Today, those plans are nearly ready for a vote by the council. The documents revise the city’s old concept of “areas of change” and “areas of stability.” Instead, Denveright says every neighborhood may change to some extent — whether that’s through apartment construction on major corridors or simply allowing homeowners to build accessory dwellings.

The plan also calls for transit investments along major road corridors, ranging from new buses to bus rapid transit and rail lines. That could cost between $1 billion and $5 billion or more.

But the plans mostly remain just that: plans.

For example, Hancock has talked about creating a city transportation department to supplement RTD’s services. That’s still in the works. The city has launched a major corridor improvement project — the Colfax bus rapid transit line is funded and in planning — along with a $48 million sidewalk expansion plan, but Denveright’s grander visions could be years in the making.

Meanwhile, the city’s new overarching plans face a new political challenge: The Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, a citywide residents’ group, recently asked that the city postpone the approval of the Denveright plans until after the election, describing the 1,000-plus-pages of documents as “incomplete and vague.”

Brad Buchanan, the former planning director, said the new plans are based on tens of thousands of residents’ comments and hundreds of meetings over 30 months. It wasn’t done earlier because the city was still dealing with its massive 2010 land-use revision when Hancock took office, he said.

Denver also has launched an effort to draft area plans for each of its 78 neighborhoods, but with limited staffing it could take 14 years to cycle through the entire city.

Challengers’ proposals

In interviews, Hancock’s rivals didn’t challenge the broad strokes of the administration’s plans for development along transit-enhanced corridors and around growth centers — but they described them as too late and too vague. Each of the challengers said they would get residents more involved in the development process and try to ensure that it delivers better results for the people who live here now.

Jamie Giellis has positioned herself as a bridge-builder who can help communities figure out development.

“It’s not just development and density. It’s development, density and design,” she said. “Neighborhoods are not only frustrated (that) development is happening, but also concerned about the quality of construction and the design of construction.”

She points to her work on customized design requirements in places like River North and Old South Pearl. Those kinds of specialized rules can frustrate developers, but Giellis said they improve results. She also has promised $1 billion for “attainable” housing over a decade. Hancock’s administration dedicated $15 million per year to the cause in 2016 and recently doubled that commitment.

In a recent interview, she talked about her visions of a transit-connected, greener Denver — perhaps with streetcars — and she contrasted herself with the mayors who made their names as city builders.

“We talk about the quality of life and we talk about the economic sustainability of the city — being inclusive and being transparent and being accountable. That’s not as great of a pitch line as ‘Imagine a great city,’ ” she said, riffing on Federico Peña’s 1982 mayoral campaign motto.

Penfield Tate III said he would “sit down with developers and tell them open season is not open.” Like Giellis, he said he would give more influence to neighbors and more funding for affordable housing.

“We’re so overdeveloped. It hasn’t been planned, it hasn’t been designed, it hasn’t been directed,” he said. “The quality of life and the things that made Denver, Denver are disappearing.”

He’s not anti-growth, he explained. He’s skeptical, though, of Denveright’s projections that the city will grow to 900,000 people by 2040.

“I believe that there’s support that Denver is going to continue to grow, but there’s just no support for Denver growing and expanding how it has in the last eight years,” he said. “They want a change, and they’re going to get a change.”

He’s dubious, too, of emerging urbanist ideas, especially limiting parking in order to discourage automobile use.

Lisa Calderón frames housing as a question of justice and inequality.

“I would describe the development in Denver as privileging the wealthiest as opposed to workers and working families,” she said.

” … The city is chasing corporate agencies to come in and give them essentially corporate welfare when we don’t have the infrastructure to support a huge influx of people, and we’re not taking care of our current residents. That’s where I think people push back on growth.”

She called for a “village concept,” where residents are considered experts and have a greater decision-making role in their areas. She also wants a more holistic focus on raising wages to keep people in Denver — an issue that the other challengers and Hancock himself have raised too.

With a different approach, she said, opinions on growth could change.

“People tend to conflate growth with gentrification, and those are not necessarily the same thing,” she said. “We want to grow and we want to revitalize. That’s a good thing to me.”

What do you want to know?

Submit your questions about development, density, transportation and the city election to akenney@denverpost.com or call 303-954-1785.

Kevin Hamm contributed reporting and analysis to this story.


Michael Bennet introduces himself to Iowa: “We don’t have to settle for disgraceful politics”

DUBUQUE, Iowa — U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced himself as a possible presidential candidate Thursday night at a small Iowa house party where he called for a new political culture in America, one that rejects the worst of the past decade and builds upon the nation’s greatest success.

“We don’t have to settle for disgraceful politics. We don’t have to settle for being as terrible as Donald Trump,” he said. “We don’t have to settle for Freedom Caucus tactics — those guys are tyrants. We don’t have to accept that. In fact, we can’t and have this country be what this country really can be.”

Bennet, Colorado’s senior senator, is in Iowa, home of the nation’s first caucus, to explore a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Bennet, who has served in the U.S. Senate for 10 years, has been flirting with the idea of a bid for months. However, he is far from announcing any formal campaign.

During the hour-long house party attended by about 30 Iowans, Bennet danced around the living room like a boxer in a ring, taking questions on health care, climate change and economic equity.

Early in the evening, he hugged a woman who broke into tears while sharing her trouble navigating the health care system after her husband died earlier this year.

“The system is so unfair,” she said, wiping away tears.

Bennet told the room he supports the federal government creating a public option for individuals who do not receive insurance from their employers. He said, though, that he does not support eliminating the private marketplace altogether because he doesn’t want to take away insurance benefits that millions of Americans enjoy.

When asked what he would do during his first 100 days if elected, Bennet said he’d work to reverse President Trump’s tax cuts and focus on improving the nation’s schools. Before he was appointed to his Senate seat in 2009, Bennet was the superintendent of Denver Public Schools.

He pushed back against the idea that he was a moderate Democrat, instead proclaiming himself a “pragmatic idealist.”

“Anyone who thinks they’re a progressive should be interested in making progress,” he said.

Bennet caught the attention of the nation last month when he delivered a fiery speech on the Senate floor condemning the partial federal government shutdown.

It was that speech that brought him to the attention of Helen Varner, who hosted Thursday’s house party.

“I was very impressed. You can tell he’s very passionate,” she said after Bennet spoke. “I like the idea that he’s someone new, totally. He doesn’t have any baggage with him. He comes out with the ideas and answers we need.”

Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet visits ...
Joe Amon, The Denver Post via Getty Images
Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet visits with other Democrats at the home of Helen Varner on Feb. 21, 2019, in Dubuque, Iowa.

After the party, Bennet told The Denver Post that elected officials must work to reform government at the same time they tackle the nation’s biggest issues.

People “need health care now,” he said. “And we have to find a way to make the government work to get stuff done.”

Bennet also told The Post that he is in a position to help lead a reform of the federal government because he knows where the nation went “wrong.”

“I have a very clear idea of what the Freedom Caucus has done to this country by terrorizing both the Republican Party and the America people,” he said. “The American people can’t afford to have another 10 years like the last 10 years.”

Bennet’s tour of Iowa continues Friday with both private and public meetings. He’s scheduled to meet with the Polk County Democrats. On Saturday he’ll visit a farm.

“This was a great evening tonight,” Bennet said. “I enjoyed it. It makes me enthusiastic to come back.”

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is closer than Bennet to announcing a formal bid, is also in Iowa. On Saturday, he’ll have coffee with Woodbury County Democrats in Sioux City. Later that evening, he’ll share the stage with U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at a fundraiser for the Story County Democrats. Harris and Castro both have already declared their candidacies.

Colorado “red flag” gun bill testimony begins, with law enforcement arguing both for and against

Colorado law enforcement officials, gun owners and those directly touched by gun violence renewed the debate Thursday over a bill that would allow the removal of firearms from owners believed to have a high risk of harming themselves or others.

The debate at the House Judiciary Committee hearing kicked off state Democratic lawmakers’ second attempt to pass a red flag bill, also called an extreme risk protection order bill. In 2018, a similar piece of legislation failed to pass out of a Republican-controlled Senate. This year, however, Democrats hold the majority in both chambers.

“I have to tell you that this is a strange day for me. Today would have been Zach Parrish’s 31st birthday,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock told the House Judiciary Committee during testimony in support of the bill.

Spurlock’s deputy, Zackari Parrish, was shot and killed by Matthew Riehl at a Highlands Ranch apartment complex in December 2017 after trying to negotiate with Riehl, who was in the midst of a mental health crisis. The bill’s sponsors, House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, D-Denver, and Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, named the bill after the fallen deputy.

Spurlock told the committee he believes Parrish would be alive today had this law been in effect back in 2017. His deputies knew Riehl was spiraling out of control for weeks.

“His mother called law enforcement,” Spurlock said. “His mother said, ‘Help me.'”

The bill would let law enforcement, a family member or a household member ask a judge to temporarily remove a person’s firearms. The judge would hold a hearing — without the gun owner being present — to decide whether to grant that order for up to 14 days.

During those two weeks, all the parties would have to appear before the judge, who would then determine whether the firearms should be kept for up to 364 days.

Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams asked the committee to vote against the bill said lawmakers should instead focus their efforts on changing Colorado’s emergency mental health hold law.

“I know that mental health reform seems like a daunting topic, but that is the true issue here,” Reams said.

The threshold for committing someone on a 72-hour mental health hold in Colorado is “imminent danger,” whereas the proposed extreme risk protection order would let a judge to look at the “preponderance of the evidence” to decide whether someone “poses a significant risk to self or others by having a firearm in his or her custody.”

Lowering the threshold for a mental health hold to something like significant risk isn’t without its own problems, Garnett said, noting that being mentally ill is not a crime.

“Amending the mental health law will not fit this need,” Fifth Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown said. “We are broadening the scope of who this could apply to, to people who are not mentally disabled but are just really, really angry.”

Eighteenth Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, a Republican, was an outspoken supporter of Colorado’s 2018 red flag bill, but he testified against the 2019 version Thursday night. He said the changes made over the last year “went too far.”

Brauchler’s main problem with the current bill is a shift in the burden of proof for returning firearms from the petitioner to the gun owner.

“When it comes to depriving someone of their rights, I think the burden ought to always be on the petitioner,” he said.

Two other concerns repeated throughout the hours of testimony by opponents were the potential for abuse of this law by a spiteful former spouse and the risk of someone being shot by police because they are surprised by a knock at the door to serve a warrant for their weapons.

Spurlock told the committee his officers would have waited until Riehl left the apartment to serve an order for his weapons, but Maryland police shot and killed a man in November 2018 while attempting to enforce their state’s extreme risk protection order law.

Kelly Murphy, whose brother is serving a life sentence after he shot his wife and killed his neighbor during what she described as a delusional episode, said this law could have helped her family intervene before the shooting happened.

“We had no way to intervene. His poor wife was waiting until he was crazy enough to call 911 … ,” Murphy said. “I have had talks with my brother in prison. He’s told me he wishes to God there was something someone could have done to have stopped it from happening.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

The Spot: After apparent snub, has Jared Polis regained this group’s trust?

It has been 205 days since then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis declined to debate his Republican opponent, Walker Stapleton, in front a crowd of Western Slope movers and shakers.

While Polis’ apparent snub of Club 20 meant little to the general public, his calendar conflict sent shock waves through the state’s political class and reinforced — rightly or wrongly — a long-held belief that Colorado Democrats don’t care about the rural parts of the state.

I was reminded of this minor storyline Wednesday when I received a media advisory that Club 20, which is composed of Western Slope counties and local governments, is meeting next week in Grand Junction to talk about a wide range of policy issues, including health care, transportation and tourism.

It made me wonder how Western Colorado was feeling about the 2019 legislative session, in which both chambers are controlled by Democrats, and the new Polis administration.

The reviews are mixed.

“It’s about what I expected,” said state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican. “You can almost think of it in two separate tracks. One, we’re getting real stuff done. We’re getting good bills done. The other track is a series of contentious issues that are to be expected. We’ve had the national popular vote, sex training in the schools. We’re waiting for the next shoe to fall.”

Of note, Rankin said, is school finance, including fully funding kindergarten. The budget writer is also cautiously optimistic about increasing transportation funding — up to $350 million. And there’s funding in the works for rural startups.

The “next shoe” for Rankin and others on the Western Slope is oil and gas reform. Democrats have been working quietly behind the scenes to put together a bill that would change how the state regulates the sector. More details and plenty of debate are expected in the coming weeks.

The big fear among those west of the Continental Divide is a loss of oil and gas jobs.

“These are well-paying jobs,” said John Justman, a Republican Mesa County commissioner who also suggested Polis’ zero-emission vehicle standard would not bode well for rural Colorado.

Not all issues on the minds of rural Colorado are as high profile as the oil and gas wars. On the horizon, they say, is the possible reintroduction of the northern gray wolf. While no legislation has officially been introduced, rural officials are on high alert.

“If you’re an agricultural producer or a cattle rancher, you’re already fighting off bobcats and mountain lions to protect the herds,” said Club 20 Executive Director Christian Reece. “No legislation has been introduced yet, so we haven’t taken a position. But we have grave concerns.”

Wolves aside, Reece said she believes a lot of progress will be made this session to improve Western Colorado, including steps to drive down health care costs, improve roads and find a workable balance on energy.

As for Polis not attending Club 20’s candidate forum?

“We’re putting that behind us and looking for ways to move forward because we’re ultimately in this together as one state,” she said, adding that her organization is working to ensure more positions in the Polis administration are filled by Coloradans from the Slope.

The Club 20 Winter Policy Meetings begin Feb. 28 at the Ute Water Conservancy District. The meetings are free and open to the public.


Welcome to The Spot, The Denver Post’s weekly political newsletter. Keep the conversation going by joining our Facebook group today! Forward this newsletter to your colleagues and encourage them to subscribe. And please support the journalism that matters to you and become a Denver Post subscriber here. Send tips, comments and questions to ngarcia@denverpost.com.


Countdown

31 days until the Senate begins debate on the budget; 71 days until the General Assembly adjourns; 348 days until the Iowa caucus.

Your political digest

  • The national popular vote bill passed the Colorado House 34-29 on Thursday and is headed to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk. Denver Post
  • Colorado lawmakers won’t vote on safe injection sites in 2019. House Democratic leader blames Denver. Denver Post
  • Colorado attorney general joins the lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s emergency border wall declaration. Denver Post
  • The drought that has gripped much of Colorado since late 2017 didn’t abate in 2018, and despite recent snowfall, the prospect of relief is still well down the road. Denver Post
  • In Jefferson County, a look at how the rural-urban political divisions have reached the suburbs. AP via Denver Post
  • How five best friends successfully won seats in the Colorado Senate. NBC News
  • Colorado Republicans are in the midst of a cold civil war. And at the center is the Neville family. Colorado Politics
  • Congress must reach across the aisle and protect the Grand Canyon. Former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall via Washington Post
  • A new kind of left-wing doctrine is emerging. It is not the answer to capitalism’s problems. Economist

Capitol diary

Most Coloradans could not pass this test

A new survey of 41,000 Americans conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found most Coloradans couldn’t pass the citizenship test that naturalized citizens must take.

According to a media release, just 41 percent of Coloradans passed the test — 27th best among the states.

Vermont was tops at 53 percent, followed by Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana and Virginia. Seriously, Wyoming did better than us!

Among the questions individuals were asked: “Who was not an author of The Federalist Papers?” and “When was the Constitution written?”

For the record, I took the test. It was hard, but I passed with 95 percent. My colleague Anna Staver received an 84. Take the quiz for yourself here!

Bills on the move

After a marathon floor debate last week, the state House gave its approval to the controversial sex education bill. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Upon final passage, state Rep. Susan Lontine, one of the bill’s sponsors said in a statement: “Colorado’s students deserve access to age-appropriate, accurate and comprehensive information regarding sex education to keep themselves and their classmates healthy and safe. This bill is also about teaching our students that not everyone is exactly the way you are and that’s okay because every Coloradan should be allowed to live our authentic lives.”

What Democrats killed this week

Senate Democrats on Tuesday killed state Sen. Rob Woodward’s bill that would have simplified and reduced sales tax remittances for small business owners.

The Loveland Republican had this to say: “The Senate Finance Committee had a chance to provide some relief to Colorado small businesses, and despite testimony from many of them from across the state, Democrats killed this bill. Unless there is last-minute intervention, each small business in Colorado must bear the burden of determining the sales tax at every single customer among 750 taxing districts then collecting, licensing, and filing the returns. That’s unacceptable.”

Colorado politicos on the move

A number of high-profile political types have announced job changes within the past week:

  • Tracee Bentley is leaving The Colorado Petroleum Council for The Permian Strategic Partnership. The partnership is a coalition of energy companies that works at the local level to advance issues such as school reform and affordable housing.
  • Juan Gallegos is leaving the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition for Conservation Colorado. He’ll be the director of Protégete: Nuestro futuro vale la lucha. Protégete is a program focused on climate change.
  • Daniel Cole, the former communications director for the Colorado Republican Party, is taking over the GOP’s Senate Majority Fund, which will be focused on reclaiming control of the state Senate in 2020.

Colorado in Washington

DeGette promises more oversight committee hearings

Denver Democrat Diana DeGette has scheduled another oversight committee meeting. This time, DeGette is taking the Trump administration to task over its environmental policies.

“We want to know why the EPA is apparently just sitting on the sidelines and giving polluters a free pass,” DeGette said in a statement. “If the federal government isn’t enforcing our environmental laws, who is?”

The hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26.

The Stump

United States Sen. Michael Bennet speaks ...
AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet speaks to the crowd during the Democratic watch party in downtown Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

As you read this, Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet and former Gov. John Hickenlooper are on their way to Iowa for another round of 2020 election toe-dipping.

Unlike Hickenlooper, who began his exploration in the suburbs of Des Moines, Bennet is starting in rural Iowa. When Bennet took over Ken Salazar’s Senate seat, the San Luis Valley native told Bennet to always start campaigning outside in the rural parts of the state and work your way into the urban areas. It looks like he’s taking that advice in Iowa, too.

According to an advisory, Bennet has five stops planned. Read more about his trip here.

On Saturday, Hickenlooper takes the stage at the Story County Democratic Soup Supper. The evening will be a crucial test for Hick as he shares the stage with two declared candidates, including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., one of the purported front runners during these early days in the race.

Stay tuned to The Post and follow me on Twitter for the latest. Meanwhile, here are a few other 2020 headlines that caught our attention:

  • There appears to be a ‘sustained and ongoing’ disinformation assault targeting Democratic presidential candidates. Politico
  • Is Hickenlooper too nice to be president? 9News
  • Bookies still favor Trump re-election even after 12 challengers enter 2020 race. Washington Examiner

National popular vote bill headed to Colorado governor’s desk

The national popular vote bill passed the Colorado House 34-29 Thursday and is headed to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.

If the governor signs it, Colorado will join a multistate effort to change how the country elects its president.

The effort is called the national popular vote interstate compact, and a bill that would pledge Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes to whomever wins the national popular vote for president passed its second reading in the state House on Wednesday night. The bill, which already passed the Senate, will likely be on Polis’ desk by the end of the week.

The Democratic governor is expected to sign it.

Westin hotel at DIA evaded Denver officials’ attempts to dig into its operations and finances, audit says

City auditors came up short in their attempts to dig into the finances and operations of Denver International Airport’s on-site hotel because of resistance from the operator, according to a new report out Thursday.

The publicly owned facility was part of a $720 million project that also constructed a transit center beneath the Westin-branded hotel as the terminus of a commuter rail line to downtown Denver. Hotel profits above a certain threshold are supposed to go to DIA to help repay project bonds — a milestone that the 519-room hotel hasn’t yet passed, despite better-than-projected revenue each year since its November 2015 opening.

“This is a transparency and accountability issue,” Denver Auditor Tim O’Brien said in a statement. “If we could not get the documents needed for the audit in a timely manner, how could the airport be doing regular monitoring on its own to assure the proper care and management of the hotel?”

The new audit report says auditors ran into a significant hurdle in trying to assess not only the Westin’s balance sheet but how the hotel is run: DIA’s contract with Marriott International, which owns the Westin brand, contradicts the city charter by restricting the city’s ability to perform a full public audit. It allows Westin to guard proprietary information.

As a result, “auditors were met with significant pushback and delays regarding documentation and information requests that would have allowed us to provide assurance over Marriott’s and Westin’s internal control structure and ensure financial transactions and operations are in compliance with the hotel management agreement,” the audit says.

In some cases, auditors could look at records only if they agreed to confidentiality provisions or took limited notes, falling short of the city’s auditing standards.

Denver’s city charter gives the elected auditor the authority to publicly audit city operations and assets. During an audit committee meeting Thursday morning, DIA officials and city attorneys could not answer how DIA’s contract came to contradict that voter-provided authority.

City auditors’ chief recommendation was for the renegotiation of the 2011 contract with Marriott to allow for a full and open city audit. Patrick Heck, DIA’s chief commercial officer, says the airport will start those talks soon, with a goal of reaching agreement on an amendment by May.

“I hope you will take these (recommendations) with the spirit with which they are intended,” O’Brien said during Thursday’s meeting, noting that the hotel is a public asset. “If you don’t, it’s going to become a liability, and I don’t think any of us want to see that happen.”

But there is no guarantee Marriott will agree to the contract changes.

“It’s not just something we can absolutely change,” Heck said, speculating that Marriott could ask for concessions before agreeing.

In the meantime, DIA, through an oversight manager, hired two external auditors last year to look at the hotel’s financial performance and other aspects, but it’s unclear if those will be public when they are complete. The city audit questions those as “potentially unnecessary” costs.

It also recommended several steps DIA should take to strengthen its policies, procedures and monitoring of the Westin contract to ensure the operator is complying with its agreement. DIA agreed to each of those recommendations.

Controversial hotel has been successful, DIA says

DIA’s hotel and transportation project for years was clouded by controversy due to cost overruns and changing scope.

In 2016, a final outside review commissioned by the auditor’s office pegged the final price tag at about $719 million, or about 7 percent higher than a budget approved in 2013 by the City Council.

But DIA officials say the hotel, which accounted for $203 million of the cost, is beating revenue goals outlined in the Westin’s operating agreement.

Thursday’s audit backs up that assertion, saying that according to Westin-provided figures, the hotel’s revenue has increased from $43.2 million in 2016 to a projected $51.9 million last year.

Westin’s agreement requires it to share some revenue with DIA once it has built up an operating reserve equal to two months of expenses. A footnote in Thursday’s audit says that threshold should be met based on 2018 revenue, resulting in “excess funds sent to the airport for the first time” — but it does not specify how much.

Competition looms in Gaylord

The hotel includes an expansive conference center. DIA officials have talked about the potential for another large hotel on the airport’s expansive property in the near term, but the December opening of the 1,501-room Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center — also operated by Marriott — has introduced new competition just over the city line in Aurora.

Thursday’s audit report says DIA has postponed consideration of any additional on-site hotels.

Marriott’s dual involvement in those competing hotels raised some audit committee members’ eyebrows.

“There might be a potential conflict of interest in terms of controlling customer flow from one hotel to the other,” vice chair Rudolfo “Rudy” Payan said. “I don’t know how we address it, but I want to safeguard Denver’s asset instead of Aurora’s.”

Colorado AG files brief supporting stronger vehicle fuel standard opposed by auto dealers

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has filed a legal brief in support of stronger vehicle fuel-efficiency standards, saying the state recently adopted its own rules because the Trump administration is pushing for weaker ones.

The friend-of-the-court brief Weiser filed Feb. 15 says the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to replace Obama-era rules has left states scrambling. In response, Colorado adopted a standard similar to California’s to boost gas mileage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the brief says.

The brief supports a lawsuit by California and 17 other states that challenges rolling back rules intended to significantly boost gas mileage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

“The abrupt and arbitrary switch of EPA causes states like Colorado to scramble to evaluate, and in Colorado’s case adopt, California’s approach” of stronger rules, according to the brief.

The EPA didn’t follow the law when it announced in August that it would roll back the standards, a decision that “will cause more greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the severity of climate change and polluting our state,”  the brief states.

But Colorado’s decision to adopt California’s fuel-efficiency rule will drive up costs for Colorado car buyers and reduce their choices, the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association argues. A lawsuit by the association seeks to repeal low-emission rule approved late last year.

A consultant hired by the association to review the rule eventually approved by the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission said the rule will add an average $2,110 to a new vehicle’s sticker price in the state. The report by Energy Ventures Analysis in Virginia said adopting California’s standard for model years 2021 to 2025 would cost Colorado a cumulative $2.86 billion while saving less than $1 billion in fuel costs.

“Part of the added cost is having multiple standards,” said Tim Jackson, the association’s CEO and president. “It costs more to make different cars for different parts of the country.”

The report also says that Colorado regulators failed to address the effects of the state’s high altitude, which means the benefits of lower emissions and fuel costs could be overstated.

And there’s the fact that unlike California, about 75 percent of the vehicles sold in Colorado are trucks or sports utility vehicles, Jackson said.

When the Obama administration proposed boosting gas mileage, the EPA projected that the average per-vehicle cost would be roughly $1,100. In 2017, the agency estimated that people who took out a five-year car loan would see a payback within the first year and a net savings of $1,650 over the lifetime of the vehicle

“Unless you’re not planning to drive your car, we know that a fuel-efficient car will save you money over the long run,” said Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said a more fuel-efficient vehicle might cost slightly more upfront, but the state’s new rule should result in average savings in gas costs of $2,700 per Colorado household by 2030.

Advances in technology mean that the costs of making vehicles more fuel-efficient will likely be lower than the estimates by federal agencies, according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation. The costs will likely be from 34 percent to 40 percent lower than projected, said the nonprofit research organization that works on climate change and public health issues.

The Obama administration developed rules to nearly double vehicles’ mileage and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change.

In August, the EPA announced plans to replace the Obama-era rule with what it called more realistic standards that would give “a much-needed time-out from further, costly increases.” The administration said its proposal would cut regulatory costs by more than $250 billion and save car buyers $2,340 overall.

The administration is also targeting the waiver that allows California, which has long struggled to reduce smog, to set its own standard. States without waivers, like Colorado, can approve a separate standard as long as it’s identical to California’s.

Federal officials have conceded that easing the Obama administration’s rule would boost national fuel consumption by about a million barrels of oil per day and increase greenhouse-gas emissions.

The new Colorado rule requires automakers to boost fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon, which is the target goal on paper. The actual number for vehicles in real-world conditions works out to be roughly 39 miles per gallon. The rule will start affecting new lightweight and medium-duty vehicles in 2022.

Later this year, state regulators are expected to consider a rule based on California’s requirement that a certain percentage of vehicles sold in the state be electric.

Time-saving “diverging diamond” may be coming to busy I-70 interchange in Wheat Ridge

The diverging diamond interchange, a counter-intuitive yet increasingly popular way of safely moving large volumes of traffic through clogged intersections, is slowly shifting from curiosity to commonplace in Colorado.

The state already has three of the novel interchanges — in Grand Junction, Superior/Louisville and Colorado Springs — with at least another three on the drawing board. Colorado’s latest diverging diamond is proposed for the notoriously bogged-down intersection of Kipling Street and Interstate 70 in Wheat Ridge, where an average of nearly 200,000 vehicles pass under, over or through the interchange every day.

CDOT
A look at the proposed diverging diamond interchange in Wheat Ridge.

An open house on the redesign project, which doesn’t yet have a firm timeline or budget, was held last week at the Wheat Ridge Recreation Center.

“Traffic has outgrown that intersection,” said Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Tamara Rollison. “Diverging diamond interchanges are able to move larger volumes of traffic than a conventional interchange.”

The idea behind a DDI — the country’s first was built in Missouri just a decade ago — is to send traffic over or under a major highway using a crossover pattern, where motorists are routed to the left side of the road while crossing the interchange and then routed back to the right side of the roadway.

The crossover design eliminates obstructed left turns that can back up traffic for multiple light cycles and contribute to nasty T-bone collisions. The Federal Highway Administration concluded that DDIs by design reduce “vehicle-to-vehicle conflict points” by half and that overall crashes go down 46 percent in the first year a DDI is in operation compared to that same interchange five years earlier.

The agency also calculates that DDIs increase traffic “throughput” by 10 to 30 percent over a conventional diamond interchange, and can reduce delay by 15 to 60 percent in higher-traffic areas. That will come as welcome news to a metro area where it was revealed last week that the average driver lost a cumulative 83 hours to congestion in 2018, according to a report from INRIX Research.

The other big impetus for DDIs — there are more than 100 in the United States now with more coming every year — is cost. The FHWA said DDIs can cost up to 75 percent less than building a conventional interchange because they stay within the footprint of what they are replacing.

Alex Ariniello, public works director for Superior, said improvements at the McCaslin Boulevard bridge over U.S. 36 have been noticeable since the interchange connecting Superior to Louisville went to a diverging diamond design in late 2015.

“There’s smoother traffic flow, not as much delay and accident reduction of around 20 to 30 percent,” he said.

During the first year of the new interchange’s operation, Superior reported no injury crashes and a 36 percent decrease in noninjury crashes from the crossing’s previous configuration, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.

On the other side of the state, Paul Jagim, Grand Junction’s transportation engineer, said his city’s DDI — Colorado’s first — has done away with the broadside crashes that resulted from drivers making badly timed left turns across oncoming traffic.

“People were pushing the issue trying to make that left,” Jagim said. “This handles that left-turn movement very efficiently.”

Grand Junction’s DDI, located where I-70 intersects with U.S. 50 and U.S. 6 on the west side of town, opened in 2014. Jagim said drivers have taken to the quirky new road alignment without much fuss or confusion.

“It doesn’t generate the strong reaction that roundabouts do,” he said. “People are pretty neutral about it.”

That’s because diverging diamond interchanges are generally well marked with giant painted lane arrows and sign-posted in a way that makes traffic flow obvious, said Gilbert Chlewicki, division director with Advanced Transportation Solutions in Washington, D.C., and an expert on DDIs who runs the website divergingdiamond.com.

An aerial view of the Intersection ...
Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
An aerial view of the Intersection of I-70 and Kipling St. in Wheat Ridge, seen here on Feb. 16, 2019.

“A lot of people don’t realize they are going through a DDI until after they’ve gone through it,” he said. “There’s so much guidance — you just follow it through.”

There were complaints from some motorists when Colorado’s third DDI first opened at I-25 and Fillmore Street in 2016, according to a report from KRDO, but CDOT officials said that was largely due to the fact that the interchange was still under construction and traffic signal synchronization was still being refined for efficiency.

Wheat Ridge City Manager Patrick Goff said he doesn’t worry about drivers getting befuddled by a redesign at I-70 and Kipling Street. The current situation at the 1960s-era interchange, where vehicles often stack up across multiple traffic signals in an effort to squeeze into left-turn lanes underneath the interstate, “needs significant improvements for traffic flow,” Goff said.

“This design may take a bit to get used to by drivers but with proper signage and road markings the (diverging diamond) interchange is actually fairly easy to navigate,” he said.

National popular vote bill passes key test in Colorado House

The Colorado House signaled in a vote late Wednesday that it will support joining a multistate effort to change how the country elects its president.

The effort is called the national popular vote interstate compact, and a bill that would pledge Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes to whomever wins the national popular vote for president passed its second reading in the state House on Wednesday night. The bill, which already passed the Senate, will likely get a final House vote Thursday and could be on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk by the end of the week.

The Democratic governor is expected to sign it.

House Republicans spent several hours objecting and offering amendments, including one by Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, that implied Democrats were pushing this idea because of their disdain for President Donald Trump. All failed.

Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes nationwide in the 2016 election, but she lost the election in the Electoral College. Saine asked whether support for the compact would evaporate if Trump won the popular vote in 2020.

“I think we would see a lot of defections, and that’s hardly fair,” Saine said.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeni Arndt, D-Fort Collins, told The Denver Post in an interview earlier this month that regardless of how an individual election turns out, she believes a system of “one person, one vote” is better.

Most Republicans who spoke in opposition of the bill talked about whether this bill is constitutional, calling it an “end run” around the U.S. Constitution. And they said the national popular vote would diminish Colorado’s importance in future elections.

Arndt said the change could encourage more people — especially those in traditionally safe states — to vote because they could band together with Republicans or Democrats across the country to win the national popular vote. And she said she thinks the “genius” of the founding fathers is seen in their creation of a flexible rather than a perfect system.

“We as people need to care for our democracy as it breathes and grows and changes over time,” she said.

Jason Crow denied entry in surprise visit to Aurora’s ICE detention site amid another rash of illnesses

A rash of illnesses. A lack of medical providers to serve a growing number of immigrant detainees. And no communication from the federal agency at the center of it all.

These were some of the issues highlighted by U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a freshman Democrat from Aurora, on Wednesday as he took Immigration and Customs Enforcement to task for the conditions at the Aurora detention facility.

Crow, along with Aurora city councilwoman Allison Hiltz, showed up unannounced Wednesday at the detention facility — which is run by the private, for-profit Geo Group — and were denied a request to tour the building.

At a news conference outside the facility, Crow said there has been yet another rash of chicken pox there — the fourth since October — along with a new case of mumps.

“If there are continued outbreaks, we’re very concerned about that from a public health and safety perspective, Crow said. “There’s an urgency to this, a public health urgency.”

ICE confirmed that there have been two cases of chicken pox and one case of mumps, but activists said the illnesses are more widespread.

The congressman also delivered a letter addressed to Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, detailing some of his concerns and questions. These include:

  • The lack of coordination with local authorities and elected officials regarding the recent addition of 432 more beds to the facility’s annex
  • The fact that the building houses only one doctor for more than 1,500 detainees
  • The frequency of disease outbreaks

While they’re not aware of any federal law mandating ICE report changes in a privately-run facility to elected officials, Crow and Hiltz believe they should have been alerted when ICE added hundreds of beds.

“I’m mostly concerned that this was done in complete secret,” Hiltz said.

This is the latest recorded chickenpox outbreak at the facility, following one in October, and at least one more in January.

Every time there’s an outbreak, dozens of detainees are placed in quarantine. This means they lose the ability to meet with lawyers or attend hearings, which could determine their freedom, said Luis Angel, an immigration attorney for the Pangea Legal Services.

Angel’s client, Migel Angel, has reported one detainee lost an eye in detention, while another didn’t receive proper care after a stroke.

“The conditions in this facility are shocking,” Luis Angel said. “The level of negligence and lack of care or even responsibility for people in the custody of ICE and GEO is pretty unprecedented.”

The Aurora facility has faced criticism over the years for its treatment of detainees.

In December 2017, a 64-year-old Iranian immigrant died of a heart attack while awaiting deportation. And in June 2018, the American Immigration Council filed a complaint, demanding an investigation into “woefully inadequate medical and mental health care” at the detention facility.

New push to open Colorado police internal-investigation files to the public finds early success

A bill that would make Colorado police departments’ records of internal affairs investigations open to the public advanced out of the state House Judiciary Committee on a 7-4 vote Tuesday after hours of testimony and discussion.

Current state law allows police agencies in Colorado to release documents related to internal affairs investigations if they believe doing so is in the public interest.

But advocates of the bill, HB19-1119, pointed out that more often than not, those records are not released. In fact, most law enforcement agencies other than the Denver Police Department deny the requests, citing officer privacy and that releasing such information would be “contrary to the public interest.”

But Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, who introduced the bill for the second year, believes the release of those records accomplishes the opposite: more transparency and accountability in the public’s interest. The bill would allow agencies to provide a public summary of an investigation, and people would be able to request more records.

This year, Coleman and advocates of the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and the Independence Institute, collected feedback from law enforcement and stakeholders in a bid to make the legislation more palatable. The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, the Colorado Municipal League and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police this year did not oppose the bill, which has been touted as a bipartisan effort.

Coleman told the committee that he made concessions with this year’s bill, including more privacy protections and not allowing the law to apply retroactively.

But they weren’t enough for everyone: The Colorado Fraternal Order of Police opposes the bill, citing privacy concerns and claiming the current system works. If a person currently disputes an agency’s decision to withhold records, he or she can take it up in court.

Don Sisson, legal counsel for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the bill would “undermine and undercut principles of fairness for officers” and eliminate discretion of records release.

Advocates argued that the public and media shouldn’t have to — and often can’t afford to — go to court to get records about on-duty officer conduct.

Representatives from media organizations — including Noelle Phillips, a Denver Post editor, who testified as a representative of the Colorado Press Association —  stressed that the bill would help bring to light important public safety information.

“The public has a right to know how law enforcement officers conduct themselves while on duty and how misconduct complaints are investigated,” said Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.

Reporter Elise Schmelzer contributed to this story.

2020 presidential race: U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is on his way to Iowa following his viral moment

Late last month, over sandwiches and chips at a Des Moines, Iowa, cafe, Lisa Lemon and her wife ticked off the list of potential Democratic presidential nominees.

Kamala Harris. Cory Booker. Kirsten Gillibrand. 

And then there’s that senator from Colorado. His name escapes Lemon and Elizabeth Keest Sedrel, but they grow excited recounting his impassioned floor speech about the partial federal government shutdown.

“I’d suggest he do more of that,” Lemon said.

That senator is Michael Bennet, the Denver Democrat who broke out of his typical mild-mannered character  Jan. 24 when he delivered a rebuke on the shutdown to colleague Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican.

“I love that he said Cruz was full of it,” Keest Sederl said.

Now Bennet, 54, is traveling to Iowa to meet with voters there for the first time since talk of his possible presidential run arose. He’ll make several stops beginning Thursday in Dubuque, a town of about 58,000 an hour northeast of Cedar Rapids.

In December, there were news reports that Bennet was having conversations with leaders of the Democratic Party in Iowa. Then just after the New Year, he changed his personal Twitter account’s name from BennetForCO to MichaelBennet. Earlier this month, he said on “Meet The Press” that he thinks there’s ample room in the already crowded Democratic primary for him. He has been the subject of flattering columns in national media, including one penned by Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough. And later this spring, Bennet will release a book that focuses on today’s politics.

“I think Bennet has really caught fire, and I think he’s representing Colorado really well,” said state Rep. Leslie Herod, a fellow Denverite. “I think he wants to get more things done. I believe he’s considering running because he wants to move this country forward. And that’s a good thing.”

“This is a starting point”

While in Iowa, Bennet will meet with voters at house parties, tour a school and visit a farm. He’ll discuss his biography before he went to Washington and his record after getting there, said  Craig Hughes, Bennet’s longtime campaign manager. He also hopes to learn what voters want in their next president.

Elizabeth keest Sedrel (center) and Lisa ...
Joe Amon, The Denver Post
Elizabeth Keest Sedrel (center) and Lisa Lemon of Des Moines, discuss potential presidential candidates at the Scenic Route Bakery on Jan. 26, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.

“This is a starting point,” Hughes said. “Michael hopes to have great conversations. And it will help inform him on what a race could look like.”

Before he was appointed to his seat in 2009, Bennet served in numerous public- and private-sector roles. In the late 1980s, he was an aide to Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste. After Yale Law School he clerked for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Later, he worked for Anshutz Investment Co., where he helped build Regal Entertainment Group.

In 2003 he left the private sector to serve as then-Mayor John Hickenlooper’s chief of staff. Two years later he took over Denver Public Schools as superintendent until he was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. Bill Ritter.

Bennet has since won re-election twice, including a nail-biter in 2010, when Democrats across the country lost ground.

In the Senate, Bennet has never been one for the spotlight, despite being a crucial vote for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul and working on a compromise on immigration reform. The immigration bill cleared the Senate in 2013 with 68 votes but failed to gain traction in the Republican-controlled House.

Bennet also helped pass an overhaul of the nation’s education laws, fought automatic budget cuts in 2013 and supported Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.

Each primary candidate will need to raise tens of millions of dollars, something observers believe Bennet can achieve given the national connections he established helping run the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in 2014.

“Need to move away from old men”

But one of the open questions for Bennet and Colorado’s other possible presidential candidate, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, is whether a straight, late-middle-aged white man can break out of a field that so far includes six women, three nonwhite candidates and a gay millennial.

For example, Lemon, the Iowa voter, is ready to vote for a younger candidate.

“We need to move away from old, gray-haired men — bless their hearts,” said Lemon, 56. “It’s just the same thing over and over. Same arguments. Same results.”

Still, there’s polling to suggest that not all the party faithful are prepared to abandon white men. In fact, former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders are ahead of their peers in a recent MorningConsult survey of likely voters in early primary states.

Those close to Bennet and Hickenlooper suggest their temperaments would be welcomed by Democrats and disenfranchised Republican voters who cringe when they see another tweet from Trump.

“I think people are taking both of these guys very seriously,” said longtime Democratic strategist Michael Stratton. “Hickenlooper has done quite well so far. But the music and the chairs start to disappear after the Iowa caucus. One would say the field will be reduced to just a small handful by Super Tuesday” on March 3, 2020.

Unlike Hickenlooper, who has said he’ll make a final decision in February or March on whether he’ll launch a bid for the White House, Bennet does not have a timeline on making a decision.

Colorado hospital prices jumped despite “hope” Medicaid expansion would curtail costs, reports say

When Colorado began to consider expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, some advocates pitched what they believed would be a key benefit: Hospital prices and premiums for people covered by private policies would drop once more people were insured.

The theory was that by increasing Medicaid payments and reducing Colorado’s uninsured rate, hospitals would no longer need to shift as much of their costs to individuals with private insurance, thereby bringing their rates down.

But in the decade since the state expanded Medicaid, costs have not gone down for Coloradans with private insurance and overall health care expenses have yet to be reined in, according to two reports released in recent weeks.

Instead, Colorado hospitals’ costs grew 60.3 percent during a nine-year period, while payments to hospitals for the care they provide exceeded that, jumping by about 66 percent, according to a draft report by the state Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

“Medicaid expansion was definitely not a failure, but it also did not bring down costs for people outside of Medicaid,” said Joe Hanel, managing director of communications for the Colorado Health Institute.

The reports come as hospitals are facing intense scrutiny from lawmakers for rising costs and the profits they brought in amid a construction spree. State lawmakers, as well as the Polis administration, are seeking to check rising health care costs through legislation and the creation of a state office focused on the issue.

“Hospitals made strategic decisions and the strategic decisions enabled profits to go up and expenses to go up,” said Kim Bimestefer, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing.

Had hospitals taken steps to curtail costs, as much as $11.5 billion in savings could have been extended to Coloradans with private insurance during the nine-year period that ended in 2017, according to the state agency.

The Colorado Hospital Association has pushed back on the recent focus on providers’ administrative and building costs, and capital expenses, arguing in a recent report that the cost of living in the state and the expense of recruiting workers are partly to blame for high costs.

The association said in a statement that costs continue to be shifted to those on commercial insurance plans, in part because government payers — such as Medicare and Medicaid — pay less than the cost of services provided. And now more Coloradans are covered by Medicaid.

“Colorado hospitals recognize that the cost of health care for Coloradans are unsustainably high,” said Colorado Hospital Association spokeswoman Julie Lonborg in an interview. “And we are absolutely committed to being a solution to that.”

“I think that we would say,” she added, “that the debate around cost shift is probably less important than the focus on what we ought to be doing to lower health costs.”

The recent findings that health care costs have not dropped since Medicaid was expanded is noteworthy in that it is coming from a state agency, Hanel said. The institute released its own report on the topic last week.

“For the longest time, the idea of the cost shift was one that was promoted by, well, senior officials in our state governments and a lot of advocates for expanding Medicaid,” Hanel said.

After first expanding Medicaid in 2009, Colorado extended the program further after the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Since the expansion, the state’s uninsured rate for low-income adults has decreased by 29 percent.

To help hospitals cover the costs of caring for patients on Medicaid, the state also created the hospital provider fee program.

There was a “hope” that these policies would curb costs, but it was not a “well-designed hope,” said Cari Frank, a spokeswoman with Center for Improving Value in Health Care.

“There’s no motivation for them to bring down costs on the commercial” insurance side, Frank said, adding that “from a business perspective, it makes tons of sense for them to continue to do what they are doing.”

The prices set by hospitals are also influenced by “market dynamics,” such the rates facilities negotiate with insurers, according to the report by the Colorado Health Institute.

“We’ve really begun to realize we have a problem with prices in our health care economy,” Hanel said.

Trump chooses Jeffrey Rosen for deputy attorney general

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he intends to nominate Jeffrey Rosen, a longtime litigator and deputy transportation secretary, to replace Rod Rosenstein as deputy attorney general.

In this image provided by the ...
Department of Transportation via AP
In this image provided by the Department of Transportation, deputy transportation secretary Jeffrey Rosen is shown in his official portrait in Washington. President Donald Trump has nominated Rosen to be the next deputy attorney general.

In his current post, the 60-year-old Rosen serves as the Transportation Department’s chief operating officer and is in charge of implementing the department’s safety and technological priorities. He rejoined DOT in 2017 after previously serving as general counsel from 2003 to 2006.

From 2006 until 2009, Rosen was the general counsel and a senior policy adviser at the White House Office of Management and Budget. He also worked as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

Rosen held a variety of positions, including senior partner, at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the same law firm as the new attorney general, William Barr. Rosen spent nearly 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis in a variety of management roles, including acting as the co-head of the firm’s Washington office, he told senators at his confirmation hearing in March 2017.

“His years of outstanding legal and management experience make him an excellent choice to succeed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has served the Department of Justice over many years with dedication and distinction,” Barr said in a statement.

Rosenstein is expected to leave his post in mid-March. His departure had been expected since Barr was confirmed as attorney general last week.

Rosenstein has served as deputy for almost two years and it is common for new attorneys general to have their own deputies. Barr told people close to him that he wanted his own No. 2 as part of taking the job.

Rosenstein began overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation. Barr now has control of Mueller’s investigation, which is probing Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign.

Rosen, a Virginia resident who is married with three adult children, is a graduate of Harvard Law School.

Trump wants California to pay back billions for bullet train

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it plans to cancel $929 million awarded to California’s high-speed rail project and wants the state to return an additional $2.5 billion that it has already spent.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announcement follows through on President Donald Trump’s threats to claw back $3.5 billion that the federal government gave to California to build a bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed a fight to keep the money and said the move was in response to California again suing the administration, this time over Trump’s emergency declaration to pay for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“This is clear political retribution by President Trump, and we won’t sit idly by,” Newsom said in a statement. “This is California’s money, and we are going to fight for it.”

It’s the latest spat between the White House and California. Trump earlier in the day linked the emergency declaration lawsuit to the train, noting that California filed the challenge on behalf of 16 states.

“California, the state that has wasted billions of dollars on their out of control Fast Train, with no hope of completion, seems in charge!” the president tweeted.

The train project has faced repeated cost overruns and delays since California voters approved it in 2008. The Trump administration argued Tuesday that the state hasn’t provided required matching dollars and can’t complete certain construction work by a 2022 deadline.

Newsom declared in his first State of the State address last week that he planned to scale back the project and focus immediately on building 171 miles (275 kilometers) of track in central California. His office said he still plans to complete the full line, although he said the current plan would cost too much and take too long.

He’s pledged to continue environmental work on the full line, which is required to keep the federal money.

Congress nearly a decade ago approved the $929 million that Trump wants to cancel. The state has not started spending that money. But it has already spent the extra $2.5 billion that Trump now wants back.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said it is “actively exploring every legal option” to get back the money.

The grant agreement between California and the federal government, signed in 2010, outlines several scenarios in which the federal government could take the money back. It can take the money back, for example, if the grantee fails to make “adequate progress” or “fails to complete the project or one of its tasks” or if the state doesn’t meet its matching fund requirements.

If the federal government decides to take the money back, it doesn’t have to wait for California to write a check. The agreement states the federal government could offset the money it would pay California for different transportation or other projects.

California hasn’t yet fully matched the $2.5 billion in stimulus money. It’s in the process of doing so now, using money from the 2008 bond passed by voters and revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program. It can’t unlock the $929 million grant until it completes its match.

Still, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has already budgeted for the full $3.5 billion. It’s put toward constructing a 119-mile (191.5-kilometer) segment of track in the Central Valley expected to cost $10.6 billion.

Dan Richard, the outgoing chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors, said people’s livelihoods depend on the project through jobs and other economic development in the Central Valley.

“It would be very important to avoid anything that would disrupt the economic recovery in the Central Valley that has been brought about by high-speed rail,” he said.

Denver council votes to expand powers of police oversight office

The Denver City Council unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that will underline and expand the authority of the Office of the Independent Monitor, potentially resolving a conflict about the independent agency.

The OIM, which is part of the city, monitors the disciplinary process for law-enforcement officers and recommends policy changes. Last year, though, Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration excluded the office from part of a review involving former Police Chief Robert White.

The new bill gives the OIM the express power to monitor investigations into the police chief and sheriff. Hancock’s office had argued that those leaders are different because they are mayoral appointees, not regular city employees.

The bill also says that OIM can publish policy papers and in-depth investigations, and that the safety agencies must respond in writing to the office’s suggestions. It also bans retaliation against whistleblowers.

“Having the right rules in place helps to create that feeling of trust,” said Councilwoman At-large Robin Kniech, who worked on the bill with Councilman Paul López and Councilman Paul Kashmann. “… I don’t think the system we had was broken, but I do think it was outdated.”

The idea for the change originally came from Denver’s citizen oversight board, which also oversees police activity, Kniech said.

The city’s police union, the Denver Police Protective Association, initially raised concerns about the change. Detective Nick Rogers, the union president, earlier described the bill as “unnecessary.”

On Tuesday, though, Rogers said that the union was “OK with it.”

“All the changes that we requested were made, so we’re good,” he said. In a letter, the union raised concerns on a variety of topics, including the timing of certain reports to the OIM and the appointment process for the citizen oversight board.

The final bill included tweaks on those topics, but left in place the big-ticket items.

Council members Kevin Flynn, Chris Herndon and Mary Beth Susman were absent Tuesday.

Michael Flynn pushed to share nuclear tech with Saudis, report says

WASHINGTON — Senior White House officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia despite the objections of ethics and national security officials, according to a new congressional report citing whistleblowers within the Trump administration.

Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns that Saudi Arabia could develop nuclear weapons if the U.S. technology were transferred without proper safeguards.

The Democratic-led House oversight committee opened an investigation Tuesday into the claims by several unnamed whistleblowers who said they witnessed “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the Middle Eastern kingdom.

The report raises concerns about whether some in a White House marked by “chaos, dysfunction and backbiting” sought to circumvent national security procedures to push a Saudi deal that could financially benefit close supporters of the president.

The report comes at a time when lawmakers are increasingly uneasy with the close relationship between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia, which has raised alarms even among members of the president’s party in Congress. Trump has made the kingdom a centerpiece of his foreign policy in the Middle East as he tries to further isolate Iran. In the process, he has brushed off criticism over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudis’ role in the war in Yemen.

At the same time, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is developing a Middle East peace plan that could include economic proposals for Saudi Arabia.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the report, the nuclear effort was pushed by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in early 2017. Derek Harvey, a National Security Council official brought in by Flynn, continued work on the proposal, which has remained under consideration by the Trump administration.

Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, announced the investigation Tuesday.

Relying on the whistleblower accounts, email communications and other documents, the committee’s report details how NSC and ethics officials repeatedly warned that the actions of Flynn and a senior aide could run afoul of federal conflicts of interest law and statutes governing the transfer of nuclear technology to foreign powers.

Flynn is awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.

On Tuesday, a person close to Flynn’s legal team said that Russia special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has reviewed the matters raised in the congressional report and no charges related to it have been filed. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation.

Congressional investigators are also probing the role of Tom Barrack, a proponent of the nuclear proposal who ran Trump’s presidential inaugural committee, which is under separate investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Rick Gates, a former Barrack employee and cooperator in Mueller’s investigation, was also involved in advocating for the nuclear proposal.

A spokesman for Barrack said in a statement that he will cooperate with the House probe.

“Mr. Barrack’s engagement in investment and business development throughout the Middle East for the purpose of better aligned Middle East and U.S. objectives are well known, as are his more than four decades of respected relationships throughout the region,” the statement said, noting that Barrack never joined the Trump administration.

Harvey did not immediately return a request for comment.

According to the report, the whistleblowers came to the committee because they had concerns “about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress as required by law — efforts that may be ongoing to this day.”

A 2017 article by the nonprofit news outlet ProPublica detailed some of the concerns raised inside the National Security Council about the nuclear proposal — known as the “Marshall Plan for the Middle East” — advocated by a company called IP3 International.

IP3 is led by a group of retired U.S. military officers and national security officials, including retired Rear Adm. Michael Hewitt, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane and former Reagan National Security Adviser Bud McFarlane.

IP3 and other proponents of nuclear power in the Middle East argue that the U.S. needs to be involved because otherwise it will lose out to Russia, China and others on billions of dollars in business. They also say that U.S. involvement — and the limits on nuclear fuel that come with it — are essential to stem an arms race in the region.

“The only way to address concerns over development of weapons of mass destruction is for the U.S. to participate in the introduction and secure operation of international nuclear power plants,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. It also said it “looks forward to sharing what we know” with the House committee.

Up until the month before he joined the Trump administration, Flynn listed himself on public documents as a consultant to a previous iteration of Hewitt’s company advocating a similar nuclear power proposal, though the company told The Washington Post that Flynn was offered a role as an adviser but never formally came aboard.

Still, according to the report, Flynn served as a conduit for IP3 inside the White House.

Just days after Trump’s inauguration, the company sent Flynn a draft memo for the president’s signature that would have appointed Barrack as a “special representative” in charge of carrying out the nuclear power proposal and called on the director of the CIA and the secretaries of State, Energy, Treasury and Defense to lend him support. The report also quotes former Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland as saying Trump personally told Barrack he could lead the plan’s implementation.

The report also catalogs the actions of Harvey, the Flynn confidant who was put in charge of the NSC’s Middle East and North African affairs.

According to the report, upon entering the White House in January 2017, Harvey saw his mission as getting Trump to adopt the nuclear proposal despite the objections of ethics and national security officials.

Even when H.R. McMaster, who replaced Flynn as national security adviser, and NSC lawyer John Eisenberg directed that work stop on the proposal because of concerns about its legality, Harvey continued pursuing the proposal, according to the report.

Harvey was fired from the NSC in July 2017. He then joined the staff of GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California, a Trump ally and the former Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee.

Trump says he has “absolute right” to declare emergency

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Tuesday that he would prevail over a multistate lawsuit challenging his emergency declaration to pay for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he expected to do “very well” against the suit, adding that he had an “absolute right” to make the declaration.

“I think in the end we’re going to be very successful with the lawsuit,” Trump said. “I actually think we might do very well, even in the 9th Circuit, because it’s an open and closed case.”

A group of 16 states, including California, New York and Colorado, filed a lawsuit Monday against Trump’s emergency declaration. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleges Trump’s declaration is unconstitutional.

All the states involved in the lawsuit have Democratic attorneys general.

Using a broad interpretation of his executive powers, Trump declared an emergency last week to obtain wall funding beyond the $1.4 billion Congress approved for border security. The move allows the president to bypass Congress to use money from the Pentagon and other budgets.

Trump’s use of the emergency declaration has drawn bipartisan criticism and is expected to face numerous legal challenges. Democrats are planning to introduce a resolution disapproving of the declaration once Congress returns to session and it is likely to pass both chambers. Several Republican senators are already indicating they would vote against Trump — though there do not yet appear to be enough votes to override a veto by the president.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, would not explicitly say Tuesday whether she would support a resolution of disapproval if one came before the Senate. But she made clear she was worried about the precedent that could be set by Trump going around Congress to fund the wall.

“I’ll be very direct. I don’t like this. I don’t like this. I think it takes us down a road, and with a precedent, that if it’s allowed, that we may come to regret,” said Murkowski, who said she supports efforts to bolster security at the border but is concerned about an erosion of checks and balances.

A top White House adviser said Sunday that Trump was prepared to issue his first veto if Congress votes to disapprove his declaration of a national emergency. Stephen Miller told “Fox News Sunday” that “the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.”

Trump argued Tuesday that the wall was needed to “stop drugs and crime and criminals and human trafficking.” He has repeatedly sought to paint a dire picture of conditions at the border, though illegal border crossings are down from a high of 1.6 million in 2000.

After weeks spent battling with Congress over border funding and what constituted a wall versus a fence, Trump said, “I can call it a barrier, but I think I don’t have to do that so much anymore, we’ll call it whatever we want.”

Democrats quickly seized on the move as an example of executive overreach. The office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a press release Tuesday that stated: “No one is above the law. Republicans must join Democrats to uphold the Constitution and stand with the American people — against the President’s brazen assault.”

Earlier Tuesday, Trump singled out California for its lead role in the suit, seeking to link the state’s high-speed rail project to his plan for the wall.

On Twitter, Trump claimed the “failed Fast Train project” was beset by “world record setting” cost overruns and had become “hundreds of times more expensive than the desperately needed Wall!”

The estimated cost for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles train has more than doubled to $77 billion. That’s about 13 times more than the $5.7 billion Trump sought unsuccessfully from Congress to build the wall.

Last week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said the rail project “as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long.” He said the state would focus on completing a shorter segment in the state’s Central Valley while seeking new funding sources for the longer route.

__

Associated Press writer Becky Bohrer contributed from Juneau, Alaska.

__

This story corrects that the 16-state lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, not the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Jefferson County, a look at how rural/urban political divisions have reached the suburbs

DENVER — America’s suburbs are today’s great political battleground, long seen as an independent pivot between the country’s liberal cities and conservative small towns and rural expanse.

But it’s not that simple. It turns out that these places in-between may be the most politically polarized of all — and when figuring out the partisan leanings of people living in the suburbs, where they came from makes a difference.

Fewer suburbanites describe themselves as politically independent than do residents of the nation’s urban and rural areas, according to a survey released Tuesday by the University of Chicago Harris School for Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The poll also found that the partisan leanings of suburban residents are closely linked to whether they have previously lived in a city.

“In the last decade, particularly in the past five years, I’ve felt a shift in having some liberal neighbors,” said Nancy Wieman, 63, a registered Republican and staunch conservative who has lived in suburban Jefferson County outside of Denver her entire life. “The ones who are markedly liberal have moved from Denver or other cities.”

Suburbanites who previously lived in a city are about as likely as city-dwellers to call themselves Democrats, the survey found. Similarly, Americans living in suburbs who have never resided in an urban area are about as likely as rural residents to say they are Republican.

A new poll finds that partisan leanings of suburban residents are closely linked to whether they have previously lived in a city.

Just 15 percent of suburban Americans say they are independent and do not lean toward a party, compared with 25 percent of urban Americans and 30 percent of rural Americans who call themselves politically independent.

That divide extends to the White House: 72 percent of ex-urban suburbanites disapprove of President Donald Trump’s performance in office, as do 77 percent of city residents. That compares with the 57 percent of suburbanites who have not previously lived in a city and 54 percent of rural Americans who say they disapprove of the president.

Kevin Keelan moved from Denver to the sprawling suburbs of Jefferson County 16 years ago. Once a political independent, the 49-year-old registered as a Democrat a few years ago.

“Now it’s not even an option. I’d vote Democratic or independent, but there’s no way I can vote Republican anymore,” Keelan said. “It’s just being more open-minded, and I’d be that way if I was living here or in a loft downtown.”

Jefferson County is a cluster of subdivisions and strip malls huddled under the Rocky Mountain foothills. Once a right-leaning county, it has been reshaped by an influx of transplants from coastal, urban states. It now leans Democratic: The party swept countywide offices and won most of the state legislative districts there in 2018, and Hillary Clinton won the county by 7 percentage points in 2016.

Yet under that surface, election results from 2016 show it is a deeply polarized place. In 118 precincts in Jefferson County, one of the candidates won by more than 10 points. Clinton won 60 precincts and Trump 58.

“The chasm between the two sides is greater than ever,” said Libby Szabo, a Republican county commissioner. “It’s harder at this point, because the ideals are so different, to even change parties.”

The UChicago Harris/AP-NORC poll points to how that split between urban and rural America echoes through the suburbs.

About two-thirds of city dwellers say that legal immigration is a net benefit to the United States, much as the 7 in 10 former city residents now living in the suburbs who say the same. A smaller majority of suburbanites who have never lived in cities, 58 percent, and half of rural residents think the benefits of legal immigration outweigh the risks.

Urban residents are somewhat more likely than rural residents to think the U.S. should be active in world affairs, 37 percent to 24 percent. That mirrors the split between suburbanites who used to live in cities and those who never have: 32 percent of the former favor an active U.S. role, compared with 23 percent of the latter.

About 6 in 10 urban residents and ex-urban suburbanites say that the way things are going in the U.S. will worsen this year, while less than half of rural residents or suburbanites with no city experience believe the same.

S.A. Campbell is a general contractor who lives in the Kansas City suburbs of Johnson County, Kansas, which swung toward the Democrats in 2018 as it replaced a four-term Republican congressman with a Democratic woman who is an openly gay Native American. It is often compared to Jefferson County, with its highly educated population, high-quality schools and influx of previous city dwellers.

Campbell, 60, said his childhood in Kansas City is part of what made him a supporter of Democrats; his parents were both teachers active in their union, and his mother was a supporter of Planned Parenthood.

“When you’ve been raised in a certain fashion, your view of the world is more open than if you grew up in a household that wasn’t that,” he said.

Greg Stern, the newly elected clerk in Jefferson County, has lived in New York City and spent parts of his childhood on a remote Colorado ranch. He sees partisan attitudes hardening in the suburbs much as they have in urban and rural parts of the country.

But, he said, there’s a key difference: While there may be fewer independents in the suburbs, the mixture of loyal Democrats and Republicans found there means it’s still a place for both sides.

“You’re welcome regardless of your political beliefs,” said Stern, a Democrat and volunteer firefighter in a suburban department with a wide range of political views in the station. “It becomes harder to live in rural or urban areas if your political beliefs don’t match those of the majority of the people who live there.”

___

Fingerhut reported from Washington.

___

The AP-NORC poll of 1,010 adults was conducted Jan. 16 to 20 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

___

Online:

AP-NORC Center: http://www.apnorc.org/

Psychedelic mushrooms just put Denver at the center of the national drug debate — again

Denver is at the forefront of America’s next drug reform movement — again.

Thousands of residents have signed on in an effort to loosen restrictions on psilocybin mushrooms. In three months, a question about decriminalizing the psychedelic drug will appear on the city’s elections ballots alongside the mayoral election and more mundane affairs.

The campaigners behind the Decriminalize Denver measure already have made history: This is the first time U.S. voters will consider giving a second chance to the drug, which was the subject of great scientific interest before its reputation was annihilated in the 1970s.

Now, the measure has raised the same fear and excitement as the marijuana liberalization effort: Will it cement the city’s reputation as a mecca for drugs, effective progressive policies, or both?

“People from all over the world are getting in touch with us,” said Kevin Matthews, the 33-year-old, stay-at-home dad who is managing the campaign. “That’s what’s exciting about this: The fact that this is getting international attention, very positive attention, I think speaks to the movement overall.”

Here’s what you need to know about the drug, its legal history and the question on Denver’s ballot.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post
Kevin Matthews is leading the decriminalization campaign for magic mushrooms in Denver. He was photographed on Feb. 12, 2019.

The ballot measure

Even if voters approve the new law, it would remain illegal to buy, sell and possess the drug.

Instead, the measure would attempt to tie the city’s hands on enforcement. It would instruct police officers that adult psilocybin users should be their absolute lowest priority — the last thing they should do. See a person jaywalking and a person with a sack of shrooms? Get the jaywalker.

“I do believe that is the first ‘lowest law enforcement priority’ initiative for psilocybin,” said Art Way, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “In that aspect, it is groundbreaking.”

Arrests related to psychedelics are relatively rare, but the penalties are far more serious than for typical marijuana charges. Possession alone is a felony punishable by up to a year in prison and a hefty fine. Most defendants escape jail time, but it’s always a threat, according to attorney Rob Corry.

Since 2016, the Denver Police Department has counted about 158 psilocybin-related arrests. The proposed change applies only to people over 21.

Magic mushrooms are being weighed and ...
Peter Dejong, The Associated Press
Magic mushrooms are being weighed and packaged at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands, in this 2007 file photo.

What mushrooms do

Matthews’ psilocybin journey to the psychedelic reform movement started somewhere unusual: the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

“I had worked, up until that time, basically my entire life, to not only get into West Point but also to be a career military officer in the U.S. Army,” he explained in a Denver Post interview. But he left the academy after three years because of major depression.

“I didn’t graduate, I didn’t receive a commission — and honestly, that destroyed me,” he said.

Today, he said, he is using the leadership abilities he learned “in a totally different way” on the political campaign. He is one of many who say that psilocybin changed their perspective.

Psilocybin is a psychedelic drug that can send users into a mental trip for three to six hours. Its effects are variable, but users might feel as if time itself is slowing while their senses meld together and they’re confronted by hallucinations and spiritual experiences, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research.

New research from Johns Hopkins University has shown that those experiences can help people make permanent life changes — at least when used in a controlled, therapeutic setting. Researchers also have found that the drug can bring on terrifying and disturbing experiences, though.

“It allowed me to see outside the box that depression had created. It opened me up to a new world of possibility,” Matthews said.

But the decriminalization campaign won’t focus on the drug’s potential benefits, he said. Instead, it will argue that criminal penalties aren’t the right way to address a drug that many scientists rate as minimally dangerous.

“Psilocybin is safer than cannabis. Cannabis is safer than alcohol. There’s no reason for us to be criminalizing individuals and spending taxpayer money,” Matthews said.

But his most prominent critic says the initiative is a sneaky step toward full legalization and sale of the drug.

“It kind of feels like we’re the last ones in Colorado who are opposed to drug legalization, or decriminalization,” said Jeff Hunt, director of the conservative Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University.

Hunt is amenable to the argument that criminal consequences might do more harm than good, but he sees this measure as a step toward another legal drug industry.

“That’s my concern about psilocybin,” he said. “We’re setting up the argument for commercialization.”

Psychedelic mushrooms. File photo dated 07/09/08 ...
Anthony Devlin, Associated Press
Psychedelic mushrooms grow in a garden at an unidentified location in this 2008 file photo.

A long history

The history of psilocybin mushrooms dates back “at least hundreds and likely thousands” of years in Central and South America, according to one study. Encounters with the drug are recorded in the works of Spanish friars traveling through Central America during the 1500s — and the colonizers later outlawed the fungus and drove its use underground.

The subject was all but ignored by Western science until the 1950s, when Americans were admitted to secret ceremonies, launching a new, intensive study of the drug. LSD and psilocybin were studied and sold commercially into the 1960s — but they were classified as “Schedule 1,” the most restricted category of drugs, when the United States’ modern drug laws were created in 1970.

Research into the substances disappeared over the subsequent years, with the last legal dose of psilocybin administered in 1977 in Maryland, according to Michael Pollan’s new book, “How to Change Your Mind.” 

The modern age began in 1999, Pollan writes, as federal authorities approved a new research regime at Johns Hopkins University. In the 20 years since, hundreds of people have taken legal doses in controlled settings.

One small study from the university found remarkable results for cigarette smokers: After a combination of behavioral therapy and psilocybin doses, 60 percent quit smoking for at least 16 months — compared with success rates around 30 percent for medications. Another found that guided psilocybin experiences produced “substantial spiritual effects,” with an increased sense of well-being and life satisfaction lasting more than 14 months for most subjects.

There is no evidence of physical dependence or withdrawal among users. The drug is consistently rated by users and experts as one of the least harmful drugs, according to a Johns Hopkins paper published in Neuropharmacology.

But the drug also can have a dark side. While people in controlled settings report overwhelmingly positive experiences, trips can go wrong in the real world.

One survey found that people who have a bad trip on mushrooms often rate it as one of the worst experiences of their life, including three suicide attempts among about 2,000 respondents. And Johns Hopkins researchers have cautioned against giving hallucinogens to people who are at risk for serious mental disorders.

“There’s a small but real percentage of the population, 1 or 2 percent, that have active psychotic disorders, or they have a good predisposition to develop psychotic disorders,” said Dr. Matthew Johnson, who has researched psilocybin for 15 years at Johns Hopkins. “It’s very clear those people should not be exposed to psychedelics like psilocybin.”

Magic mushrooms are seen at the ...
Peter Dejong, The Associated Press
Psychedelic mushrooms are seen at the Procare farm in Hazerswoude, central Netherlands, in this 2007 file photo.

The cannabis comparison

Voters may approve the measure, but there’s one big question: Would it matter? Would the local government listen?

Denver voters approved marijuana decriminalization measures in 2005 and 2007, but the police kept enforcing the law. “I think the city continued on its merry way,” said Way, of Drug Policy Alliance. Still, those votes helped build public support for legalization, advocates say.

The psilocybin proposal does try something new: It bans the city from using its money and other resources to enforce mushroom penalties.

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann does not support the initiative, although she would like to see the issue studied more.

“Until we have had a longer period to learn more about the impact of marijuana legalization, I do not support the legalization of another federally-banned substance,” she said in a written statement.

And she would prefer a statewide effort to a municipal one, she said. Mayor Michael Hancock does not support the ballot measure, and Attorney General Phil Weiser declined to comment.

Meanwhile, campaigners in Oregon are taking a different approach. Their statewide ballot measure for 2020 would allow people to use the drug at licensed facilities.

Kevin Bommer, deputy director of the Colorado Municipal League, said the Denver mushroom effort looks pretty small in comparison.

“It’s just a single-city issue right now, and we’ll see what happens after it passes,” he said. “After marijuana, I thought I knew everything — there wouldn’t be anything more.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he’s running for president in 2020

WASHINGTON — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose insurgent 2016 presidential campaign reshaped Democratic politics, announced Tuesday that he is running for president in 2020.

“Our campaign is not only about defeating Donald Trump,” the 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist said in an email to supporters. “Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.”

An enthusiastic progressive who embraces proposals ranging from Medicare for All to free college tuition, Sanders stunned the Democratic establishment in 2016 with his spirited challenge to Hillary Clinton. While she ultimately became the party’s nominee, his campaign helped lay the groundwork for the leftward lurch that has dominated Democratic politics in the Trump era.

The question now for Sanders is whether he can stand out in a crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates who also embrace many of his policy ideas and are newer to the national political stage. That’s far different from 2016, when he was Clinton’s lone progressive adversary.

Still, there is no question that Sanders will be a formidable contender for the Democratic nomination. He won more than 13 million votes in 2016 and dozens of primaries and caucuses. He opens his campaign with a nationwide organization and a proven small-dollar fundraising effort.

“We’re gonna win,” Sanders told CBS.

He said he was going to launch “what I think is unprecedented in modern American history”: a grassroots movement “to lay the groundwork for transforming the economic and political life of this country.”

Sanders described his new White House bid as a “continuation of what we did in 2016,” noting that policies he advocated for then are now embraced by the Democratic Party.

“You know what’s happened in over three years?” he said. “All of these ideas and many more are now part of the political mainstream.”

Sanders could be well positioned to compete in the nation’s first primary in neighboring New Hampshire, which he won by 22 points in 2016. But he won’t have the state to himself.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California, another Democratic presidential contender, was in New Hampshire on Monday and said she’d compete for the state. She also appeared to take a dig at Sanders.

“The people of New Hampshire will tell me what’s required to compete in New Hampshire,” she told shoppers at a bookstore in Concord. “But I will tell you I’m not a democratic socialist.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of nearby Massachusetts will be in New Hampshire on Friday.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Sanders’ candidacy is how he’ll compete against someone like Warren, who shares many of his policy goals. Warren has already launched her campaign and has planned an aggressive swing through the early primary states.

Shortly after announcing her exploratory committee, Warren hired Brendan Summers, who managed Sanders’ 2016 Iowa campaign. Other staffers from Sanders’ first bid also have said they would consider working for other candidates in 2020.

The crowded field includes a number of other candidates who will likely make strong appeals to the Democratic base including Harris and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. The field could also grow, with a number of high-profile Democrats still considering presidential bids, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

While Sanders had been working to lay the groundwork for a second campaign for months, it was unclear whether he will be able to expand his appeal beyond his largely white base of supporters. In 2016, Sanders notably struggled to garner support from black voters, an issue that could become particularly pervasive during a primary race that could include several non-white candidates.

Last month, he joined Booker at an event in Columbia, South Carolina, marking the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. In 2016, Sanders lost the South Carolina primary, which features a heavily black electorate, by 47 points.

Sanders also faces different pressures in the #MeToo era. Some of his male staffers and supporters in 2016 were described as “Bernie bros” for their treatment of women.

In the run-up to Sanders’ 2020 announcement, persistent allegations emerged of sexual harassment of women by male staffers during his 2016 campaign. Politico and The New York Times reported several allegations of unwanted sexual advances and pay inequity.

In an interview with CNN after the initial allegations surfaced, Sanders apologized but also noted he was “a little busy running around the country trying to make the case.”

As additional allegations emerged, he offered a more unequivocal apology.

“What they experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign — or any campaign — should be about,” Sanders said Jan. 10 on Capitol Hill. “Every woman in this country who goes to work today or tomorrow has the right to make sure that she is working in an environment which is free of harassment, which is safe and is comfortable, and I will do my best to make that happen.”

Trump pleads with Venezuela’s military to back Guaido

MIAMI — President Donald Trump on Monday pleaded with Venezuela’s military to support opposition leader Juan Guaido and issued a dire warning if they continue to stand with President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything,” Trump said in a speech at Florida International University in Miami before large American and Venezuelan flags.

Trump added: “We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open.”

The Venezuelan military could play a decisive role in the stalemate but has largely remained loyal to Maduro.

In remarks broadcast on state television, Maduro accused the U.S. president of speaking in an “almost Nazi style” and lashed out at Trump for thinking he can deliver orders to Venezuela’s military.

“Who is the commander of the armed forces, Donald Trump from Miami?” Maduro said. “They think they’re the owners of the country.”

Trump said “a new day is coming in Latin America,” as he sought to rally support among the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S. for Guaido. The U.S. recognizes him as the country’s rightful president and condemns Maduro’s government and its socialist policies.

As the monthslong political crisis stretched on, the military has blocked the U.S. from moving tons of humanitarian aid airlifted in recent days to the Colombian border with Venezuela. The aid shipments have been meant in part to dramatize the hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine that are gripping Venezuela. Trump said of Maduro, “He would rather see his people starve than give them aid.”

Critics say Maduro’s re-election last year was fraudulent, making his second term illegal.

Venezuela’s power struggle is headed to a potentially violent showdown Saturday, when Guaido will try to run caravans of U.S. humanitarian aid across the Venezuelan border from Colombia. Maduro denies a humanitarian crisis exists, blaming the Trump administration for mounting a coup against him.

More than 2 million Venezuelans have fled the country in the last two years, most flooding across the border into Colombia, Brazil and Peru. Those left behind struggle to afford scarce supplies of food and medicine as inflation soars.

Maduro maintains support from Russia, China and Turkey, while Guaido has won recognition from dozens of world leaders in Latin America and Europe, who are demanding that Maduro holds new elections or steps down.

So far, Maduro isn’t budging. In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Maduro said Venezuela is ready to make an economic rebound once Trump removes his “infected hand” from the country that sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves.

Trump urged the Venezuelan military to accept Guaido’s offer of amnesty and refrain from violence against those opposing Maduro’s government. And he praised the Venezuelan opposition, saying of the people of Venezuela, “They are turning the page on dictatorship and there will be no going back.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said earlier Monday that the U.S. “knows where military officials and their families have money hidden throughout the world.”

South Florida is home to more than 100,000 Venezuelans and Venezuelan-Americans, the largest concentration in the country. Speaking in the presidential battleground state, Trump also sought to draw a contrast with the policies of progressive Democrats, which he brands as “socialist,” as he gears up for re-election.

Trump said that “socialism has so completely ravaged” Venezuela “that even the world’s largest reserves of oil are not enough to keep the lights on.” He added: “This will never happen to us.”

“Socialism promises prosperity, but it delivers poverty,” he said.

Trump was introduced by first lady Melania Trump and joined by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, who have all been outspoken in their criticism of Maduro’s government. Trump also spoke of the socialist governments in Cuba and Nicaragua, which have large expatriate communities in the Miami area.

“Socialism is dying and liberty, prosperity and democracy are being reborn” throughout the hemisphere, Trump said, expressing hope that soon, “This will become the first free hemisphere in all of human history.”

In Cuba, the foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, tweeted that he considered “offensive” Trump’s speech and that it “confirms the threat of military aggression against Venezuela.” He added, “Humanitarian aid is a pretext for a war.”

Shortly after Trump ended his speech, he tweeted, “I ask every member of the Maduro regime: End this nightmare of poverty, hunger and death. LET YOUR PEOPLE GO. Set your country free! Now is the time for all Venezuelan Patriots to act together, as one united people. Nothing could be better for the future of Venezuela!”

Guaido addressed the crowd in a pre-recorded video released by the White House and thanked Trump and the state of Florida for their support.

“Now there is a debate between the democracy and dictatorship — one between life and death,” Guaido said in Spanish. “Today this fight is existential.”

Trump said the U.S. is “profoundly grateful” to dissidents and exiles who have protested and raised alarms about the actions of the Maduro government. But his administration has also come under criticism for not doing enough to grant asylum to those fleeing the country.

“President Trump is two-faced on the Venezuela issue,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo. “He talks about fighting the Maduro regime, but his administration keeps deporting and detaining Venezuelans fleeing repression from the Maduro regime.”

Trump had been spending the holiday weekend at his private club in West Palm Beach, Florida.

___

Associated Press writer Scott Smith in Caracas, Venezuela, contributed to this report.

Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein expected to depart in March, official says

WASHINGTON — A Justice Department official says Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is expected to leave his position in the middle of next month.

The official was not authorized to discuss the move by name and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Monday night.

The White House is expected to name a replacement for Rosenstein this week.

Rosenstein’s departure had been expected with the confirmation of William Barr as attorney general last week.

Rosenstein has been on the job for nearly two years.

He oversaw special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. Barr now oversees the remaining work in Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and decide how much Congress and the public know about its conclusion.

DIA construction project faces potential 10-month delay over concrete strength issue

Testing showing weaker-than-expected concrete in the main floor of Denver International Airport’s terminal has slowed construction on a massive renovation project and could delay completion by up to 10 months, according to a new report produced by the contracting team.

The extent of the delay — and the severity of problems with the 25-year-old structure’s original concrete — won’t be known until at least April, DIA spokesperson Stacey Stegman said. That’s when intensive testing of the concrete that is now underway is expected to be complete.

DIA expects that testing will shed light on the concrete’s load-bearing ability before contractors bring cranes onto the main floor of the terminal and begin erecting steel.

But a preliminary estimate by Great Hall Partners, the private consortium carrying out the $650 million renovation project, is that the concrete issues could delay the project by 209 work days.

That would equate to roughly 300 days when weekends and holidays are added in — or nearly 10 months beyond late 2021, the original target for completion.

DIA and the contracting team say work is continuing on other parts of the project, but the delays affect a walled-off portion of the lower level beneath the airport’s tented roof. It’s the same main floor that includes the two main security checkpoints.

The contracting team, led by Madrid-based Ferrovial Airports and Centennial-based Saunders Construction, disclosed the potential delay due to the concrete problems in a monthly project report filed on Thursday. That report was first covered by CBS4.

“The projected schedule represents their estimates but does not include the airport’s review and analysis or ways to mitigate” the problem, said Stegman, DIA’s vice president of communications, in a statement. “The issue cannot be fully known or realized until April when the testing is completed and the airport is able to review and analyze the results with Great Hall Partners.”

It’s possible, she said, that adjustments to project plans or construction will be required, but engineering experts “have informed us that the airport is safe and can support the construction.”

DIA renovation project
Provided by Denver International Airport
A rendering shows how the main floor of Denver International Airport’s terminal might look after one of the main security checkpoints is moved to the upstairs level. Plans call for more concessions in a post-security gathering area before passengers go downstairs to take trains to the concourses.

Attempts to reach a spokesperson for Great Hall Partners on Monday evening were not successful.

“Compressive strength” in concrete is the issue

The root of the issue, according to both DIA and the Great Hall Partners report, was that the “compressive strength” of the concrete, or its ability to bear heavy loads, was found in early testing last fall to be lower than what the airport’s project plans specified. Stegman said the inconsistency with plans “isn’t uncommon” in such a large project — but it has paused some work until it the problem’s full extent is known.

Another issue on the radar is the potential for deterioration within the concrete, which caused the replacement of concrete in a DIA runway more than a decade ago. But Stegman said recent testing of concrete samples from the terminal “show no indication” that deterioration has occurred.

The renovation is part of a $1.8 billion public-private partnership deal with the Ferrovial team that also covers three decades of private oversight of expanded terminal concessions.

As part of the contract, Ferrovial agreed to a set cost for the renovation project, but with a big caveat: new requirements imposed by DIA and unforeseen construction challenges were to be covered by a $120 million contingency fund filled by the airport.

A recent accounting provided to The Denver Post by DIA shows that it has approved $7.2 million in additional costs, leaving a $112.8 million balance in that fund.

Work began last summer, and significant change is planned for much of the terminal. By the end of the project, the main floor security will move upstairs to expanded spaces on the north ends of each side of the terminal. Consolidated airline check-in areas that occupied the length of the upper floor are being consolidated in the south and middle portions of that level.

Downstairs, the south end of the main floor will become a welcome plaza. The north end will have new shops and other concessions that are walled off in a secure area that travelers will pass through as they descend from the new security checkpoints to the underground train that goes to the concourses.

Document: Great Hall Partners’ recently filed construction report
Discussion of the concrete issues is on page 14 (the final page in the digital version).

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, intelligence chair and Trump critic, to headline Colorado Democratic dinner

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, the congressman leading a bevy of investigations into President Donald Trump’s administration, will headline the Colorado Democratic Party’s annual fundraising dinner, the party announced Monday.

Schiff, who represents California’s 28th Congressional District, including a portion of Los Angeles County, is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. His position gives him subpoena power, which he has pledged to use to investigate the Trump administration. Among the issues Schiff is expected to investigate: Russian interference in the presidential election and Trump’s foreign financial interests.

“Democrats had a great night last November by taking back the House and winning state legislatures and governorships, and that wouldn’t have been possible without Colorado Democrats winning historic electoral victories across their state,” Schiff said in a statement. “Colorado will be absolutely critical in the Democratic Party’s mission to win back the White House and U.S. Senate, and I can’t wait to get out there and meet folks who are going to make sure Colorado goes blue again in 2020.”

Also speaking at the March 9 dinner is New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women elected to Congress.

Meanwhile, the state’s Republican Party is turning to anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist to rally its base this spring. Norquist is the founder of Americans for Tax Reform and famous for his no-tax pledge. The GOP’s fundraising dinner is March 29.

The fundraising dinners for both political parties will mark the end of their reorganization process and the selection of their party leaders. Former state Sen. Morgan Carroll is expected to stay on as the state Democratic chairwoman. Meanwhile, the state GOP will select a new leader after Jeff Hays announced he would not seek another term.