Capitol Coverage

Capitol Coverage on 91.5 KRCC is a collaborative public policy reporting project supported by fifteen Colorado public radio stations providing news and analysis to communities statewide. 91.5 KRCC and KUNC in Greeley provide editorial oversight and management.

Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton squared off Friday morning inside of a barn in Kersey, just east of Greeley. The debate venue was so rustic, the tables in the barn were all equipped with fly swatters.

Here are three things that stuck with us after the debate.

The state's gubernatorial race grew a bit more heated Wednesday night on a debate stage at Colorado State University.

Republican candidate Walker Stapleton ignored the moderators' questions about statewide issues late in the debate as he repeatedly criticized Democrat Jared Polis for an incident that occurred nearly 20 years ago.

In 2002, voters in Colorado supported sweeping changes to state campaign finance laws. The goal was to rein in the influence of money in elections. The law contained a strong preamble about how large campaign contributions could corrupt politics and give special interests, corporations and the rich disproportionate influence.

Then along came the millionaires running for governor, spending millions of their own dollars on their own campaigns.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper weighed in Friday on the future of an embattled Democratic lawmaker, along with some other hot topics at an impromptu press conference at the State Capitol.

A printing error is keeping some Colorado voters from studying up on statewide ballot items this election season.

The error caused some of the state's voting guides, known as blue books, to be printed without some of the pages.

Colorado once turned to comedy to warn residents about the dangerous mixture of drugs and driving. Early advertisements featured actors who got so high, they were trying to start grills without propane. The ads warned that although grilling while high is not illegal, driving while high is.

But as more drivers under the influence of drugs get into fatal car crashes in Colorado, state officials are hoping a new, more simple advertising campaign will help reduce impaired driving.

Cathy Kipp was at a recent back-to-school night at Kruse Elementary School in Fort Collins. She was handing out flyers and printed information about Amendment 73.

"This is game changing," said Kipp, a member of the Poudre School District Board of Education. "This would be the best increase in public school funding that we've been able to get in decades in Colorado."

A computer science major in college, 25-year-old Garrett Hause would fit in at a Silicon Valley startup. But he said he prefers to stay busy and work with his hands, so he decided to do something different.

Last year he took over his grandparents’ farm in Lafayette, Colorado and replaced the fields of alfalfa with five acres of hemp.

In addition to electing a new governor this November, Colorado voters will also decide the fate of 13 statewide ballot questions, including two specifically aimed at funding transportation projects.

But beyond that shared goal, propositions 109 and 110 differ greatly.

Cliff Redish is a political exile. He lives in a world that's colored Republican red and Democrat blue. He used to be a Democrat, but now he's unaffiliated. Perched on a barstool in a pub in Carbondale on Colorado's Western Slope, he's hesitant to even talk about it.

"We're so divided," Redish said. "It's just unbelievable. It's hard to even bring this up in a bar right now."

This year's governor's race is like no other in Colorado history -- at least in terms of money. The $29 million contributed so far to candidates shatters prior records. A large chunk of that money comes from millionaires, spending big in hopes of being elected to a job that pays $90,000 a year.

"There actually are no limits to what an individual can contribute to their own campaign," said Steve Bouey, a manager with the elections division of the Secretary of State's Office.

As Colorado’s population has grown, so has the oil and gas industry. Its presence is an unavoidable part of the landscape. That’s why volunteer Patricia Nelson said she has spent part of her summer collecting signatures for Initiative 97.

Ann Perricone sat at her kitchen table in south Denver where she and her husband live with six children. They have two  teenage daughters of their own, and they are also fostering a 19-year-old high school girl and her  children, ages 5 and 1.

“Do you want to go outside? What’s out there? What do you see?” said Perricone to the one-year-old toddler.

More voters participated in Colorado’s June 26 primary election than ever before. Unaffiliated voters were mailed ballots for the first time and both political parties had contested races. As for the top of the ticket, the governor’s race has been narrowed down to two very different candidates.

In primary elections held Tuesday, Colorado Democrats and Republicans tapped their picks to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper. Winning the Democratic nod was five-term congressmen Rep. Jared Polis, while State Treasurer Walker Stapleton won the Republican bid.

Sexual harassment allegations at Colorado's Capitol came with a sizeable price tag for taxpayers -- $275,000. That includes everything from fees for attorneys, sexual harassment training and consultants to staffing for a special committee of lawmakers meeting this summer and fall to study changes to the Capitol's workplace harassment policy.

The last Republican governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, ended his term in 2007. That's why the GOP is pushing hard to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The four Democratic candidates vying to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper recently discussed everything from transportation and education to fixing the state's budget in a debate this week.

Colorado lawmakers wrapped up their annual legislative session this week. Even though the session was often overshadowed by sexual harassment allegations and the expulsion of former Rep. Steve Lebsock, lawmakers and the governor said it was one of the most successful sessions in history

After a dramatic and tearful day in early March, lawmakers voted out one of their own. Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock was the first lawmaker expelled in 103 years after allegations of sexual harassment, intimidation and retaliation from five women, were found to be credible.

But that wasn't the end.

Updated: This story has been updated to reflect additional comments from the Governor.

A punishment for Sen. Randy Baumgardner, amid allegations of sexual harassment that investigators found credible, has spurred a series of reactions at Colorado’s Capitol, and some critics described the discipline as a slap on the wrist. Senate Democrats have renewed their calls for Baumgardner’s resignation or expulsion and Gov. John Hickenlooper declined to say whether he thinks Baumgardner should step down.

Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, was removed from interim committee assignments for the summer, as well as his leadership position on the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Two letters from Republican leaders -- one from Senate President Kevin Grantham and another from Majority Leader Chris Holbert -- spelled out the punishment on May 2.

Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham has stripped Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, from serving on any active Senate committees effective as of May 2. Grantham requested the change after workplace harassment allegations from nine people have been found credible by two outside investigators.

A Republican House leader is facing a backlash from his own caucus for sponsoring a bill that would allow law enforcement and family members to get a court order to temporarily remove a person’s guns if that person poses a danger. The so-called "red flag" measure cleared the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday night along party lines.

A bi-partisan measure that would have updated and clarified how public and private colleges and universities address campus sexual assault failed in the Senate Appropriations Committee along party lines on Tuesday.  It had already passed in the Democratic-controlled House and cleared another Senate committee.

Thousands of Colorado teachers spent two days rallying at the state Capitol for higher salaries and more money for schools. They highlighted long-standing funding problems and potential changes to the state’s public employee pension program currently being debated by the legislature.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Brian Eason of The Associated Press and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal about the rallies.

Senate leaders expect to meet soon to address next steps in possible punishments for Sen. Randy Baumgardner. Three independent investigations by two agencies have found allegations of sexual harassment against him at the Capitol credible.

Democrats are pushing for swift action. Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, survived an expulsion vote on April 2. That vote hinged on the findings of just one of the three investigations, which concluded that Baumgardner more likely than not grabbed and slapped a former legislative aide’s buttocks.  The two other investigations had not been finalized at the time of that vote. They were only released to the accusers last week. We made them fully available to the public on April 24 with the accusers’ consent.

Two accusers who filed workplace harassment complaints at Colorado’s Capitol against Sen. Randy Baumgardner are now releasing the full investigative findings to the public.

The investigations from Littleton Alternative Dispute Resolution Inc. found allegations that Baumgardner, a Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs, sexually harassed people and was inappropriate to be credible. In a story on Monday (April 23), we reported on some of the key findings, involving six additional people who brought allegations as a result of the investigation.

A major piece of legislation to reform the state’s pension plan is making its way through the state legislature during the final days of the session. One in 10 Coloradans receives a public pension through the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). But PERA has unfunded liabilities totaling about $32 billion, and lawmakers are divided over how best to shore up the program.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Marianne Goodland with Colorado Politics and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal about the possible changes and its likelihood of passage.

An investigation determined that eight people's allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior from Sen. Randy Baumgardner were credible. The findings, by Littleton-based Alternative Dispute Resolution Inc., an independent firm, are in addition to earlier allegations a separate company found to have more likely than not occurred.

An outside consultant, who studied workplace culture at the state Capitol, found nearly half of the roughly 500 people surveyed had witnessed sexist and/or seriously disrespectful behavior. A third said they had experienced sexual harassment first-hand. And nearly 90 percent of those who say they were harassed didn’t speak out or file a complaint. Many said they feared retaliation from their accusers and others.

Those findings, by the Investigations Law Group, mirror what we’ve discovered in almost six months of reporting on this issue.

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