- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Aurora Sentinel, Nov. 20, on the state’s redistricting process:

Finally, a vote of confidence in something more rational and reasonable when it comes to redrawing legislative and congressional districts in Colorado every 10 years.

This week a bipartisan group of state lawmakers and officials from both parties announced they would go directly to Colorado voters to try and fix one of the most compelling reasons we know of doing away with the two-party political system: redistricting.

Every decade, after the U.S. Census, state legislators redraw congressional and legislative districts. The idealistic goal is to draw lines that equalize constituent load while respecting communities of interest. In reality, the redistricting process is a loathsome process where both Republicans and Democrats lie, cheat and steal in an effort to protect individual offices, partisan seats and political power. Some of the worst of these political theatrics take place in states like Texas, where Republicans there did turnabout on Democrats to redraw congressional and legislative districts to make it nearly impossible for the GOP to lose power. The histrionics and deceits that Democrats and Republicans use in Colorado and states across the nation do plenty to dispirit potential candidates and voters, who all deserve better.

Here in Colorado, the process is only slightly better because the margins in both state houses are slim, so disputed district maps regularly go to the courts for final amendments. For congressional districts, that’s worked out pretty well for Aurora and metro residents. Judges in two cases took clearly gerrymandered 6th and 7th congressional district maps and created districts that relatively reflect the communities of interest the create. And in both cases, the court created two districts that are truly competitive politically, rather than gimmes for one party or the other, such as districts in Denver and Colorado Springs.

Legislative districts, however, are another story. Some of the district lines nearly scream in pain as both parties sign off on a number of “safe” seats for each side, dividing up voters and residents like political spoils in a seething partisan war. It means that there is more than one state House and Senate district that has constituents in some of the state’s most rural and agricultural parts, and constituents in the same district in hugely urban settings.

While no system may be able to create perfect districts, changing the system of partisan committee and bickering, tipping to whatever political party happens to be in power at the time can only help.

The proposed system would create a special panel to draw districts, composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and four non-affiliated voters. The most important part? Nothing could clear the committee unless it gets at least eight votes.

Perfect? No. But on the surface, the notion sounds much better than the political free-for-all Colorado has now. It could mean that Colorado could create even more competitive districts that force candidates to appeal to all voters rather than play to a party’s base, and create these competitive districts by design rather than by default.

The measure must garner almost 100,000 signatures just to make the ballot, and the final language still must pass muster, but for now, this sounds like something that can only benefit everyone in Colorado.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1Oj7gzy

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The Durango Herald, Nov. 21, on achieving the goals set in Colorado’s Water Plan:

Colorado’s Water Plan was released in its final form Thursday after more than a decade in the making. In the last phase of revisions, the plan gained its most concrete content: measurable goals for the many - and often competing - uses for which Colorado’s limited water is essential.

This gives the plan the teeth it needs to guide the state in addressing the growing gap between water supply and demand well into the future, and does so by engaging the expertise and commitment of Colorado’s local water communities. To the extent that it is embraced and implemented, Colorado’s Water Plan is poised to be a foundational guide for the state’s growth, resource use, environment and culture for generations.

The plan’s potential lies in its recognition that meeting the demand for water - anticipated to outpace supply by 560,000 acre feet by 2050 - requires compromise, creativity and investment from all water stakeholders. Agricultural interests, to which most of the state’s water is committed, will be asked and encouraged to explore conservation strategies that save water - including crop rotation and irrigation innovation - as well as alternatives to permanently selling agricultural water rights for municipal and industrial use. This buy-and-dry phenomenon has prompted much concern for Colorado’s water future, and the plan aims to combat the trend with water leasing and other options that will ultimately save 50,000 acre feet of water by 2050.

That savings is, more than its net water gain, indicative of the plan’s intent to shift the state’s water culture from one of conflict to one of cooperation. Such a mindset will be essential to accomplishing the plan’s goal of reducing demand - through conservation, primarily - by 400,000 acre feet in just municipal and industrial use by 2050. That conservation goal will be balanced by a 400,000 acre-foot increase in storage. This is a sensible approach that will draw on the storage possibilities identified in plans crafted by each of the state’s eight river basins - documents that informed the statewide water plan.

Colorado’s Water Plan emphasizes and encourages the importance of incorporating water issues into local planning efforts. Currently, just 12 percent of Coloradans live in cities or counties with comprehensive land-use plans that address water. The water plan aims to increase that to 75 percent by 2025, primarily by providing training and resources for local planning departments to use in assessing water supply and demand issues in their communities.

State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, sponsored a bill to that end that passed the Legislature last spring, though some municipalities pushed back against the legislation. Roberts and the water plan are right to tie land use to water planning. It is a critical underpinning to effectively addressing impending supply gaps.

There are many challenges to implementing Colorado’s Water Plan fully, but perhaps most significant is the funding component. Meeting all the goals the plan establishes is estimated to require $20 billion - much of which is already available through fees paid to water providers and existing state funding. Nevertheless, the plan anticipates needing $3 billion by 2050 - to the tune of $100 million a year beginning in 2020. Finding that money will not be easy - it rarely is in Colorado, regardless of the line item. Coloradans must prepare to invest in this essential effort to meet the state’s water needs, both of which are clearly articulated in Colorado’s Water Plan.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1Te7Ksq

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The Denver Post, Nov. 22, on access to voted ballots:

Coloradans achieved the important right to review voted ballots as open records through a costly legal battle culminating in a state court of appeals victory in 2011.

And the legislature affirmed this critical citizen right to see voted ballots in a bill it passed the following year.

But did the victory count for anything?

Do citizens really possess the right to review the work of elected county clerks after elections are over?

The answer seems to be they do if they’ve got a lot of money, and that’s unacceptable.

Election integrity activist Harvie Branscomb found this out when he served open records requests to eight counties after the Nov. 3 elections, seeking to independently audit the accuracy of new voting equipment being tested as a part of a state pilot program.

As reported by Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition Director Jeffrey Roberts, Brans-comb’s request to verify the Nov. 3 elections in those counties would cost him thousands of dollars.

Of the eight counties, six have said he must pay a total of about $20,000 in advance so officials can scan ballots for marks that could identify voters and redact the scribbles.

Only Adams County said the cost would be “near zero” to review and redact 73,103 ballot scans. Denver has yet to say how much it would cost.

But Jefferson County asked for an advance payment of $12,475 to review and redact 185,000 ballots. Douglas County sought $4,000 to review 88,000 ballots, and Mesa County asked for $1,500 to view 29,000 ballots.

Adams County says its system would allow it to quickly scan images of its ballots to look for markings and the cost would be next to nothing.

The Adams County vendor, Clear Ballot, is one of four being considered for statewide use. As Secretary of State Wayne Williams considers which of the four systems might be best for the state, one of his criteria should be the ease with which officials can comply with open records requests at a reasonable cost.

Legislation from 2012 gave election officials the authority to charge “actual costs” for records requests, but if the result is prohibitive, then the right to the records is meaningless.

Putting such high costs on a citizen’s efforts to examine voted ballots restricts public access and cripples an important check on election integrity.

New voting technology should make transparency easier, not the other way around.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/1QHtWwL

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The (Longmont) Times-Call, Nov. 20, on officer deaths by vehicle:

Lost in the rhetoric surrounding police officer shootings and the community’s interaction with law enforcement is the fact that firearm-wielding felons are only one type of deadly menace an officer will face.

The other major one is the driver behind the wheel of a two-ton missile.

Unfortunately, residents of Colorado are learning that all too clearly.

On Sunday, Colorado State Patrol Trooper Jaimie Jursevics, 33, died after being struck by a vehicle on Interstate 25 south of Denver. The four-year veteran trooper was struck by a suspected drunken driver returning from the Denver Broncos game earlier that afternoon.

The scourge of drunken driving persists even as education efforts have broadened across the generations, and another editorial on the need for drinkers to find a designated driver or to stay the night instead of driving an hour or two home would be a Sisyphean task.

However, too many in the public don’t know about the dangers that drivers pose to law enforcement workers. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a website that collects information from around the country on law enforcement officers who die in the line of duty, car accidents, vehicular assaults and vehicle-pedestrian accidents run neck-and-neck with firearms deaths as the leading killer of officers.

In Colorado, the numbers are more stark. In 2015, three law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty: Jursevics, Colorado State Trooper Joseph Thyfault and Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Sean Renfro each were killed by a driver and his or her vehicle. In 2014, the sole law enforcement death in the line of duty was Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. David Baldwin, who died in a motorcycle crash.

Some of the deaths were the direct result of criminal behavior; others were accidents. Each, however, meant the loss of an officer whose presence on the road was directed by a duty to protect the civilian drivers and passengers around them.

When you see a law enforcement vehicle at the side of the road, with its lights engaged, use utmost caution. The officer could be in the vehicle, but just as likely might be outside of it gathering information or directing other drivers.

The state’s drivers should make 2016 the year in which no officers were lost in the line of duty.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1OfU3t8

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