The Spot: Where’s Tina Peters?

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The Republican commissioners of Mesa County all voted for Republican Clerk Tina Peters in 2018, and their chairwoman defended her during a recall attempt in 2020. But they’re fed up now.

“I’ll tell you what’s kept me up the last couple of weeks: Tina!” Commissioner Scott McInnis said during a commission meeting Tuesday. “Tina’s hiding, by her own admission. Where’s Tina?”

Since flying to South Dakota for an election conspiracy theorist event Aug. 10, Peters has been absent from the state and largely incommunicado. It’s become one of the strangest sagas in recent Colorado political memory and has left her clerk’s office “rudderless,” according to McInnis.

Commissioners say Peters skipped a meeting with them Aug. 16 to discuss how the county will count ballots in November and didn’t send anyone in her place. On Sunday, she contacted commissioners “through a third person” for the first time since the alleged security breach was discovered Aug. 9, McInnis said, “and most of (Peters’ message) was biblical terms.”

“Tina could help us run the operations that she was elected to run in that clerk’s office … we need help on the day-to-day operations,” he said. Peters is now prohibited from running elections but remains the clerk. Her office also issues license plates and marriage licenses, among other duties.

“The way some of you talk, I’m assuming that you probably have communication with Tina,” McInnis told spectators Tuesday after several spoke in defense of Peters. “So, if you do — or if you know somebody who does — I’m asking you: Call Tina, tell her to come out of hiding.”

Three investigations — federal, state and local — are aiming to determine whether Peters turned off the county election office’s security cameras one night in May and then allowed an unauthorized person to photograph election equipment passwords. Images of the passwords were posted online Aug. 2 by a leading purveyor of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

“I voted for Tina, I supported Tina, even through the recall attempt,” Republican Commissioner Janet Rowland, the chairwoman, said Tuesday. “But if a Democrat clerk had shut off the cameras before bringing in an unauthorized person, not only would you demand that the machines be thrown out, you would demand the clerk’s resignation. That’s just the God’s truth.”

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Top Line

Gov. Jared Polis has said he doesn’t want a statewide mask mandate for schools. About two weeks into the school year, at least 14 new COVID-19 outbreaks are affecting some 115 kids. That’s almost certainly an undercount.

Capitol Diary, Part 1 • By Alex Burness

A shake-up in the Senate

Next year is Democratic state Senate President Leroy Garcia’s last in the legislature, and we’re starting to see signs of the end of his era. At least three key staffers won’t be back in January.

These include his chief of staff and right hand, James Lucero; comms director Bella Combest; and senior policy director Darin Raaf. The first two are moving on voluntarily and Senate sources say that Raaf — a moderate in an increasingly progressive Capitol environment — is not.

Garcia wouldn’t comment on the circumstances of Raaf’s departure, but he did say that political ideology wasn’t a factor. (Raaf declined to comment.)

Raaf’s job was a key one: A senior policy director can be something of a shadow legislator, proposing bills behind the scenes in addition to helping actual legislators with their own. Garcia said the change in that position doesn’t signal any shift to the left for the Democrats in the majority.

“The caucus is where is caucus is. And it follows policy objectives based on where we have the votes,” he said. “I follow the will of our membership. I can never discuss the details of internal HR matters in regards to anyone and I will honor that.”

For what it’s worth, two caucus progressives — Sens. Julie Gonzales and Faith Winter — spoke highly of Raaf and said they were surprised to learn he was out.

Turnover at the Capitol is common, so it’s not as though staff overhauls like the one in Garcia’s office necessarily signal dysfunction. Low-paid aides, in particular, often don’t last more than a year. As in other fields, this year many who work in and with the legislature appear burned out by the pandemic.

“At the end of this session I was so exhausted that I considered — I was like, do I want to do this anymore?” Gonzales said.

Speaking of turnover: Garcia is often discussed by lobbyists and even some of his own colleagues as a candidate to leave his post early. He’s tight with President Joe Biden’s camp and would be a logical fit for a job in the administration.

He takes exception to that talk and is unequivocal about his 2021 plans.

“I’m a Marine. I’m loyal in my commitment and to my task ahead,” he said. “I’m going to stay on my post until I’m relieved of my command.”

Capitol Diary, Part 2 • By Saja Hindi

A proposed marijuana tax hike

Colorado voters will decide whether to increase taxes on recreational marijuana to pay for after-school programs for impoverished students.

The Secretary of State’s Office on Wednesday verified that backers of Initiative 25 collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. It’s the first of three statewide measures that voters could see in November. The last day for election officials to approve signatures is Sept. 1.

Initiative 25 would create the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program to provide families with money for tutoring and other education programs for children. The current 15% state sales tax on recreational marijuana would increase by 5 percentage points by 2024, raising about $137 million a year for the program.

“Kids spend 80% of their waking hours outside of school. When students supplement school with well-rounded learning opportunities outside of school, they thrive,” said Amy Anderson, executive director of RESCHOOL Colorado, in a statement. “Initiative 25 will expand access to enriching learning opportunities in literacy, technology, arts, the outdoors, and many more (areas) that play a crucial role in youth development.”

The proposal has bipartisan support. Before making it to the ballot, the measure lost the backing of the state teachers union, which changed its stance to neutral over concerns about how the program would be implemented.

More Colorado political news

  • Complaint accuses Republican consultants of violating state redistricting lobbying laws, Colorado Politics reports.
  • Colorado Afghans rally for aid, bringing people back to the U.S. safely.

Federal politics news • By Justin Wingerter

Completing a 3,100-mile trail

Just outside Steamboat Springs, hikers on one of the continent’s longest trails emerge from stunning mountain wilderness and come across an unwelcome sight: State Highway 14.

“Walking near traffic is never ideal,” said Allie Ghaman, who hiked all 3,100 miles of the Continental Divide Trail in 2018. Fifteen of those miles are along the dangerous highway.

Since 1978, the Continental Divide Trail has spanned the United States from the Canadian border to the border with Mexico. It is the longest and highest of the so-called Triple Crown hikes — 900 miles longer than the more famous Appalachian Trail — and includes Grays Peak, a Colorado 14er.

But the trail is only 96% complete. Forty-three years after its creation, it still has gaps, such as Muddy Pass Gap near Steamboat and a gap in the Cochetopa Hills west of Salida.

“Many of the gaps are very small,” U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse said in an interview Wednesday. “These are small land parcels that the U.S. Forest Service has attempted to procure over time but, for lack of funding, hasn’t been able to do so.”

Neguse, a Lafayette Democrat, has introduced legislation that would order the USFS and the Department of the Interior to complete the trail by its 50th birthday in 2028. He believes there is now enough money to do it in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a pool of money that the federal government uses to buy land. The fund got a big spending bump last year.

“Completing the trail is going to allow more people to enjoy these beautiful, natural landscapes,” Neguse said, adding that there are also safety benefits for hikers and economic benefits for towns such as Grand Lake. The Continental Divide Trail runs through that town, a common resupply stop for thru-hikers.

The federal government would be prohibited from using eminent domain to acquire the land, limiting it to donations or sales by landowners. Neguse plans to shepherd the bill through a House subcommittee on public lands that he chairs this fall. It doesn’t currently have a Republican cosponsor but he is confident it will soon and suggested U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican, as a possibility.

More federal politics news

  • State Rep. Yadira Caraveo is running for Colorado’s new congressional seat, which doesn’t yet have district boundaries set.
  • Trump on Space Command leaving Colorado: “I single-handedly” did that.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

More for Denver’s November election

The Denver City Council has until the end of August to set ballot measures for the city’s Nov. 2 election and it’s wasting no time.

The council agreed Monday to put five measures — together making up Mayor Michael Hancock’s $450 million bond proposal — on the ballot. The council also agreed to move one more ballot measure forward (taking the first of two required votes) and shot down another.

The proposal moving forward would move up the city’s general election from the first Tuesday of May in odd-numbered years to the first Tuesday in April. The seemingly innocuous scheduling change is meant to give Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez’s office more time, in the event of a June runoff election, to send mail ballots to people traveling or living abroad.

Under the current schedule, a runoff election — a fairly common occurrence — forces Lopez’s office into a tight turnaround to send out an entirely new ballot. He expressed concern that eligible voters living outside of Denver don’t have as much time to consider their choices. Runoffs are required when no candidate in a race receives a majority of the vote.

Lopez, who won his own office in a 2019 runoff, recommended the change to avoid disenfranchising those out-of-town voters, of which there are about 5,200. Rejected alternatives to the schedule shakeup included the adoption of approval voting, in which voters select any number of candidates they like, or ranked-choice voting where voters number candidates in order of preference.

Either of those options would eliminate the need for a runoff election.

Without conversation, the council unanimously agreed to send the election scheduling change to the ballot during its Aug. 23 meeting. It will vote once more Monday to cement the decision.

The proposal that didn’t make it past that Aug. 23 meeting would have eliminated the council’s two at-large seats, resulting in the redrawing of district boundary lines across the city to make room for 13 instead of the current 11. Council members Candi CdeBaca and Kevin Flynn had backed the idea, but it ran into pushback from current at-large members Robin Kniech and Debbie Ortega, both of whom are term-limited from running again. They argued that it would have meant less representation for Denverites.

The council voted the measure down 6-7.

More Denver and suburban political news

  • Aurora Public Schools employees will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Classes started for Denver Public Schools on Monday and new Superintendent Alex Marrero kicked off the new year by touring several schools.
  • Residents of Denver’s Globeville-Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods say there’s nothing in it for them when it comes to Mayor Michael Hancock’s proposed National Western Center campus upgrades.

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