By Tori Richards | Colorado Watchdog
The eyes of the nation turned to Colorado in 2012 as it became the West’s epicenter for the presidential race, a groundbreaking new law and a never-ending drama over voting irregularities. Not to mention two disasters that destroyed hundreds of lives.
With Ohio to the east and Colorado to the west, it seemed as though other states mattered little when it came down to who would become president — President Obama and Mitt Romney’s campaigns visited the Centennial State a whopping 44 times.
“It certainly is in the top five, if not number two (in importance),” said Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call. “No question about that. Certainly it became the epicenter of the West.”
For months, the two candidates were neck-and-neck, with Romney ahead for several weeks leading up to the election, polling data showed. The University of Denver was home to the first debate Oct. 3, which focused heavily on the energy sector — a topic of utmost importance to Coloradoans.
The attention directed toward Colorado was a good thing, Call said.
“It forced the campaign and candidates to address issues of federal land use, water, energy, oil and natural gas development and renewable (energy),” he said. “Through that attention, Romney’s policy was publicized a lot more than it otherwise would have been. Now the Obama administration is paying attention to these issues more than they would have normally.”
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, was bedeviled by various county clerks who signed a letter of no confidence blaming him for all the voting irregularities in the state. Among the issues was a letter-writing campaign to identified illegally registered voters and a botched online registration process. To his credit, Gessler has made ferreting out voter fraud one of his main priorities and sometimes it becomes a politicized process.
Watchdog.org also launched a voter-fraud investigation and found that Colorado was one of the “dirtiest” states in the nation, meaning that it had more inactive voters on its rolls than most others. This scenario is a breeding ground for voter fraud because the voter database is public information, and anyone could show up to a polling place without a photo ID and vote.
Voters approved marijuana for recreational use, making Colorado and Washington the only states where this is allowed. Call says this ballot initiative passed only because the tight race with Obama brought out voters who normally would not go to the polls. The legacy will be a negative one, he said.
“It creates almost a tourist effect,” Call said. “Colorado doesn’t need to become the Amsterdam of America, or certainly the West. That’s not the culture or image that Colorado needs to be cultivating.”
The election returned seven members of Congress to their seats, four of them Republicans. One of the Democrats to win was Ed Perlmutter, who was opposed by Joe Coors of Coors Brewing Co. fame.
Coors brought attention to Perlmutter’s ties to environmental issues and how he created a new banking industry to further that cause.
Watchdog reported on how this happened: In the early morning hours when most people are asleep, Perlmutter inserted language into the massive American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, and the Democrats pushed it through to a successful vote hours later.
Specifically, it created Green Banking Centers, which were lending institutions that could offer preferred rates and overlook credit risks to individuals or companies seeking environmental- related loans, or whether they had structures with energy improvements. These loans are insured by the FDIC or, in other words, the taxpayers.
Watchdog decided to look further into Perlmutter and found that he and his father were trustees for MRIGlobal, a nonprofit that manages the government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden. Perlmutter quit that post when he was elected, but his father has continued on.
This lab pays its president nearly $1 million a year and his top lieutenants’ salaries between $400,000 and $600,000 annually, Watchdog discovered. Not only that, MRIGlobal created a secondary management company to oversee the lab, and together the three entities have raked in more than $1 billion in tax dollars since 2010.
This story prompted NREL employee Kerrilee Crosby to make the following post on Twitter:
“Have you ever felt like going on a murderous rampage? Start at @WatchdogCO’s offices. They perpetuate lies like this.”
A murderous rampage is something all too familiar to Coloradoans — the 1999 Columbine High School shooting and the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora last summer.
The response to the violence and bloodshed was a strong increase in approved background checks, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. The weekend after the shooting saw a 43 percent increase over the previous Friday through Sunday, with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation approving 2,887 people to buy firearms.
And in August, when students returned to University of Colorado campuses around the state, guns were again a topic — a new ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court forced the school to allow students with concealed-weapon permits to carry guns. The school has maintained a ban on guns at athletic and cultural events on school property and also instituted a policy requiring students who want to bring firearms on campus to live in separate housing.
Another disaster erupted in the state in March. The deadliest wildfire of the year started as a controlled burn west of Denver and then roared into a huge wildfire that killed three people, destroyed 23 homes and caused about $20 million in damage.
A few bills addressing different wildfire issues were introduced, including one to allow victims of fires caused by a prescribed burn to receive more than $600,000 — the normal governmental liability cap. The bills will be taken up by lawmakers when they meet again in January.
State officials blame the federal government in part for the blaze, saying old tree stumps were not removed and fueled the blaze.
Despite this, Colorado has banded together and not sought federal aid, as most other states do.
Call said, “We look first to our neighbors and our local community and not to the (federal) government for that kind of assistance.”
Mindy Seymour contributed to this story.
Contact Tori Richards at [email protected]