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October 26, 2008 8:59 PM

Would Amendment 46 cancel summer science camp for girls?

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Rock solid
Claim: Amendment 46 would end public sponsorship of such things as summer science camp for girls.
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Rock Solid

Emotions are running high on both sides of this proposed amendment to the state Constitution. So when we heard it might end summer science camp for girls, we were leery of hyperbole.

Turns out, both sides agree on what would happen to these camps and similar state-sponsored programs. The camps could either let boys in, or forego public funds and keep their focus on girls. But fair warning, both sides don't agree on what to call this change.
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"Our opponents say the initiative would abolish programs. It won't," said Jessica Peck Corry, a public policy analyst with the Independence Institute, who is leading the Amendment 46 campaign. "The programs can still go on, they just can't grant preferential treatment if they take state tax dollars."

"It's a strange argument to say programs like these wouldn't be eliminated," said Melissa Hart, a University of Colorado law school faculty member who is leading opposition to the amendment. "If you say it has to be gender neutral or it can't get public funding, either way, you're eliminating the original program."

But no matter how you define "abolish" or "eliminate," if voters approve Amendment 46, there are several programs that could not continue as they are with public sponsorship.

According to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which recently announced it opposes the measure, these kinds of programs could be impacted:

* The Women in Engineering program at CU, which encourages girls to pursue engineering careers.
* The Colorado Promoting Responsible Fatherhood Initiative, a network of 42 programs statewide that target low-income fathers, teen parents, fathers of children with disabilities, single parents, and families receiving child protective services.
* The adolescent maternity program at the CU Health Sciences Center, one of the oldest in the nation, which seeks to reduce medical complications common with teenage childbearing, prevent additional adolescent pregnancies and teach parenting skills.
*Battered women's shelters.

That last one is questionable, though. Would battered women's shelters be shuttered if Amendment 46 passes? Not likely, we find.

Amendment 46 would apply only to public employment, public education or public contracting. Domestic violence shelters in Colorado don't get state money. They do get federal funds administered by the state, and must follow federal guidelines that require they offer services to both women and men.

Could they get sued anyway? Sure.

Several lawsuits were filed against shelters in California after that state passed a law in 1996 almost identical to Colorado's proposed Constitutional Amendment 46. Both Amendment 46 and California's Proposition 209 are the brainchild of Ward Connerly, whose American Civil Rights Institute seeks to reform affirmative action nationwide.

We note that the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence says shelters in that state were sued even though they, too, offer services to men. The attorney behind the suits disputes that, though. The California attorney general's office says the state has spent at least $300,000 so far to defend one lawsuit filed in 2005.

A final note: Both sides of the contentious Colorado Amendment 46 argument agree on one more thing. If Amendment 46 passes, it will likely be followed by a spate of lawsuits here, too.

October 22, 2008 10:00 PM

Sarah Palin bungled VP job description after Colorado third-grader's question

Rocky Truth Patrol says: On shaky ground

Claim: Sarah Palin bungled VP job description after Colorado third-grader's question
Truth Patrol says: Shaky

When Sarah Palin visited Colorado on Monday, she took time for an interview with 9News' Adam Schrager, who posed questions for his series on Your Show called Questions from the Third Grade.

Brandon Garcia, a third-grader from Westminster, wanted an answer to a deceptively simple question: "What does the vice president do?"

Palin gave the following answer:

"That's a great question, Brandon, and a vice president has a really great job, because not only are they there to support the president's agenda, they're like the team member, the team mate to that president.
"But also, they're in charge of the United States Senate, so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom. And it's a great job and I look forward to having that job."

Last month, Schrager asked Democratic running mate, Joe Biden the same question. Biden rambled, but also talked about a role at the Senate. He gave the following answer:

"Brandon, what the vice president does is he tries to help the president make sure that the things the president wants to do get done. And in my case, because I've been a United States Senator, and I work with the Congress --they're the people that have to pass the law -- this President, President Obama, is going to ask me to spend a lot of time on what they call Capitol Hill. That's where the Congressmen and Senators work. That's where they pass the laws. Mainly to help the president do his job. That's the biggest thing a vice president does."

To determine whether Palin overstated the vice president's duties, we consulted the U.S. Constitution along with some experts on Constitutional law.

The Constitution gives the vice president only two explicit jobs. First, the vice president presides over the Senate, but has no vote unless the chamber is divided. In that case, the the vice president casts the tie-breaking vote. And second, the vice president becomes president if the president dies or is removed from office.

According to the Senate's official history, over the years, some vice presidents have spent considerable time at the Senate, but according to Senate historians, the role has become more and more ceremonial. John Adams holds the record for breaking 29 votes. But since the 1870s, every vice president has cast fewer than 10 Senate votes. Both Adams and Thomas Jefferson played an influential role presiding over the Senate, but more recently the role has evolved.

"Now, the vice president is usually seen as an integral part of a president's administration and presides over the Senate only on ceremonial occasions or when a tie-breaking vote may be needed," wrote former U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield along with the official Senate historian.

Constitutional law expert and former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Jean Dubofsky believes Palin stretched the job description by saying she would be "in charge" of the Senate and would have a major influence on policy.

"It's basically an overstatement," Dubofsky said. "I think she's got a foggy grasp of what happens in Washington. The role of the vice president, with respect to the Senate, has been a very limited one.

"The only power that the vice president has is to vote to break a tie. Otherwise the vice president doesn't participate in committees. And he or she does not have a vote on any measures."

Biden indicated he'd spend a lot of time at the Senate but implied he would be lobbying, not running the legislative chamber where he has served for more than 3 decades.

For the record, Dubofsky supports Obama and Biden. Jon Caldara, president of the conservative Independence Institute, thinks Palin's answer was excellent and accurate.

"Some vice presidents have taken the job more seriously than others,'' Caldara said. "She didn't say anything that was incorrect to answer a third grader's question. She did a terrific job."

Caldara cites Harry Truman as an example. Before he became president, he much preferred hanging out at his Senate office than his vice presidential office.

"They can be as involved or as uninvolved as they like,'' Caldara said. "Their answers are exactly the same. It's just that Sarah's answer is something that a third grader can understand and Joe Biden's answer is something that would put a 30-year-old to sleep."

Click here to see Sarah Palin's response to Brandon Garcia's question.

Click here to see Joe Biden's response Brandon Garcia's question.


October 19, 2008 10:00 PM

If Amendment 58 passes, higher gas prices will "pass through" to home heating bills

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Flat-out wrong

Claim: If Amendment 58 passes, higher gas prices will lead to higher home heating bills
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Just wrong

A worried mother cradles a baby on her shoulder under the headline "My Family is Hurting" in the "No on 58" mailer from Coloradans for a Stable Economy, the group spending millions of dollars to fight increased taxes on oil and gas producers in Colorado. The brochure strikes a similar theme echoed on TV and radio ads: if voters boost severance taxes on oil and gas producers, they will get hit with higher energy bills to heat their homes.

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The mailer says: "Amendment 58 is a poorly conceived energy tax that will push up prices -- especially natural gas prices for homes. Higher gas prices that will "pass through" to our home heating bills. Newspapers already report that home heating bills will go up at least 12 percent this winter. A record 72,000 households are expected to have their heat cut off."

Where do these scary figures come from and are they reliable? Xcel Energy released a forecast last month predicting that winter heating costs could increase by 12 percent this winter, but those prices have nothing to do with severance taxes. And, since that report was released costs for oil and gas have actually declined not increased, so the forecasts for natural gas costs this winter could actually go down.

Will oil and gas producers automatically be able to pass the costs of increased taxes along to Colorado consumers? Not necessarily. The gas market is extremely complex and the price, like any commodity, constantly fluctuates based on multiple factors.

We consulted an expert: Tim Carter, Director of Gas Supply for Xcel Energy, Colorado's largest supplier, which provides utilities to about 70% of Colorado homes.

"The market is going to set the price," Carter said. "The producers have a play in it. But supply and demand is what's going to set the price.

"The ability of the producer to recover this cost will depend on the market price on any given day,'' Carter said.

What's more, Carter said Xcel buys the majority of its gas from Wyoming suppliers, not those in Colorado. And, Wyoming has higher severance tax rates than Colorado. Therefore, the Truth Patrol determined that Amendment 58 opponents can't successfully make the case that there's a direct tie between increased severance taxes and higher home heating costs.

Dan Hopkins, spokesman for Coloradans for a Stable Economy, stands by his group's assertion that the pass-through is accuarate. He cites a guest column in the Rocky Mountain News from two former Public Utilities Commissioners who correctly reminded voters that Xcel charges consumers extra costs if they have to pay higher prices for gas. What the commisioners failed to acknowledge is that Colorado oil and gas producers will not automatically get to charge utility companies, like Xcel, more simply if their production costs increase. They'll be able to sell for the price they can command that day.

According to the Blue Book, if Amendment 58 passes, it will bring in an extra $321 million by budget year 2010 to support college scholarships for state residents, along with wildlife habitat, renewable energy projects and transportation projects in energy-impacted areas.

October 12, 2008 10:00 PM

Colorado Sen. Shawn Mitchell AWOL on Veterans' causes


Rocky Truth Patrol says: Flat-out wrong

Claim: State Senate candidate Shawn Mitchell AWOL on support for veterans
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Just wrong

This mailing comes from 21st Century Colorado and shows empty combat boots on a stark white background that blares: "When veterans needed him most Shawn Mitchell went AWOL.''

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Inside, the mailer says that "Mitchell opposed millions of dollars in funding for the Colorado Division of Veteran Affairs and veterans' nursing homes."

Then, it adds that "he even failed to support funding for homeless and disabled veterans."

On the opposite page, the mailer says: "Joe Whitcomb would never leave a good man behind. Joe Whitcomb: An Army Ranger knows what fighting's all about."

Shawn Mitchell is a conservative Republican who tends to support military causes, so this mailer seemed misleading from the get-go. Sure enough, this one is "just wrong."

On the first charge that Mitchell opposed spending for veterans, the 21st Century Democrats cite Colorado Senate Bill 07-239. It turns out that that bill is the entire state budget. And Mitchell is guilty of continually voting to slash spending.

"I voted against the budget because it was bloated and grew too fast and spent money we didn't have,'' Mitchell said. "I wanted there to be cuts in other places, not in the Department of Veterans Affairs."

On the second charge that Mitchell failed to support funding for homeless and disabled veterans, Mitchell was gone the day the vote took place. He was excused and said he would have supported that bipartisan measure. Regardless, we think it's a stretch to say Mitchell fails to support veterans based on these votes.

Said Mitchell: "It would be just silly if it weren't so sleazy."

October 12, 2008 10:00 PM

Bob Schaffer supports corporate greed and sticking families with higher health costs

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Flat-out wrong

Claim: Bob Schaffer supports corporate greed and sticking families with higher health care costs
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Just wrong

This charge came in a mailer sent by the Service Employees International Union. It shows a caricature of a Monopoly-style CEO gleefully tossing cash in the air.

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The mailing contends that "Bob Schaffer's health care record puts corporate profits over the needs of Colorado families." It adds that Schaffer "supports a health care plan that lets big corporations cut corners on costs by sticking their employees with higher out-of-pocket health care costs and less coverage."

The source for these claims is a 2004 story in our own Rocky Mountain News that ran when Schaffer was vying for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate against Pete Coors.

Here's the quote from the story: "Schaffer outlines a free-market solution to rising health care costs. The problem, he says, is Americans are disconnected from the price of care. If they know an insurance company will pay for treatment, he asks, then what encourages patients to make cost-effective choices?
His proposal: Accounts that would allow people to save money, tax-free, for health coverage, and spend at their discretion. Let insurance kick in much later. Give unemployed Americans a refundable tax credit that acts as a voucher for indigent health care."

Schaffer's campaign manager, Dick Wadhams, said the story accurately reflects Schaffer's current views on health care. He supports McCain's health care proposals and backs health savings accounts. Schaffer believes that individuals deserve the same tax incentives that businesses receive to spur them to spend health dollars wisely.

The mailer goes too far and doesn't present any evidence that Schaffer wants corporations to "cut corners" and "stick" employees with higher out of pocket costs.

The union and Schaffer have an honest disagreement. The union supports a single-payer system to boost access to quality health care while Schaffer backs a system of tax rebates to provide better care.

October 12, 2008 10:00 PM

Mark Udall voted against tougher regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Flat-out wrong

Claim: Senate candidate Mark Udall opposed regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Just wrong

Since the housing crisis has deepened, candidates can't run away fast enough from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the pseudo-government mortgage corporations that owned or backed about half of the mortgages in the U.S. and succumbed to a government takeover last month.

U.S. Senate candidates Bob Schaffer and Mark Udall have repeatedly sparred over Fannie and Freddie, most vehemently in a televised debate on Meet the Press.

During that encounter, moderator Tom Brokaw could barely get a word in as Schaffer accused Udall of voting against controls on Freddie and Fannie.

Said Schaffer: "There were attempts, actually led by Republicans in the Congress, to put more controls and to put more restraints on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Unfortunately, the vast majority of (Democrats)--including Congressman Udall--opposed those restrictions and those accountability provisions, and that probably more than anything else led to the immediate excesses that you began to see over the last three years."

Udall shot back: "I want to correct the record. Congressman Schaffer just suggested that in 2005 I didn't support reform efforts for ...Freddie and Fannie. I did, in fact. I worked with Republicans to make those changes at that time. So I've been on the leading edge of saying that this is a real problem."

So, who is right? To some extent, both sides are correct on this one. We checked with both candidates and reviewed the votes in Congress. The roll call votes on the Federal Housing Reform Act show that Udall supported overall passage of the bill twice. In 2005, the bill passed by 331 to 90, with Udall voting yes. He again voted for the bill in 2007, when it passed the House by 313-to-104. Both times, the Senate failed to take up the bill.

Summaries of the bill explicitly say it would have created an agency that would have supervised and regulated Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But, Dick Wadhams, Schaffer's campaign manager, stands behind Schaffer's attacks on Udall. Wadhams vehemently disagreed with our decision to label this "just wrong." He points to multiple amendments to the Reform Act - which would have toughened regulation of Fannie and Freddie. Udall voted against those amendments, including one by former U.S. Rep. Jim Leach, a Republican from Iowa, who first sounded the alarms about Fannie and Freddie.

"Big deal that he voted for the bill," Wadhams said. "One of the things about Boulder liberal Mark Udall is he loves to vote both ways. Clearly those amendments would have tightened the bill."

Udall said he absolutely supports regulation.

"It was my view that those amendments would have weakened the bill,'' Udall said.

Click here to see the official record of the 2005 vote.

Click here to see the official record of the 2007 vote.

Watch the Meet the Press Debate.


October 5, 2008 10:00 PM

Amendment 50 could lead to $24,000 poker table pot

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Rock solid

Claim: Amendment 50 could lead to an increase in the biggest potential winning pot at a poker table in Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek, taking it from $1,200 currently to $24,000.
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Rock Solid

Guess we should say: You betcha!

Amendment 50 would give residents of Black Hawk, Central City and Cripple Creek the chance to vote on whether to allow the maximum bet in casinos there to rise to $100. It's currently $5 per bet.

The Colorado Gaming Association says it doesn't know what the biggest potential winning pot would be. But the folks at the Colorado Department of Revenue do. Don Burmania says for a table of 10 poker players, who are allowed five raises each and who all stay in the game until the end, the pot would be $24,000 - 20 times higher than the current top pot of $1,200.

But, says Burmania, "the likelihood of that happening is very, very slim. Probably not everyone would raise to the max and not everyone would stay in the game."

It would be up to the casinos to set how many times each player could raise a bet. Currently, it's five times. But Burmania said most places with higher bet limits only allow three raises. In that case, the top pot would be $16,000.

October 5, 2008 9:34 PM

Obama T-shirt gets woman banned from the state Capitol

Claim: State law says you can't enter the Capitol building if you're wearing a "Vote Obama" T-shirt.

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Just wrong.

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Flat-out wrong

But that's basically what Laura Fry was told by a Colorado State Patrol trooper as she waited for a public tour recently.

Fry, a 37-year-old engineer from Phoenix, was in Denver for the Democratic National Convention in August. Before she headed back home, she wanted to do a bit of sight-seeing, so she decided to join a public tour of the historic state Capitol building.

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But as she stood in line at about 3:45 p.m. Aug. 29 at the north entrance of the Capitol, a state trooper approached and informed her that she couldn't enter the building wearing the T-shirt she had on.

Echoing the theme of many T-shirts seen in Denver that week, it said "Vote Obama."

"At first, I thought he was kidding," Fry told the Truth Patrol, noting that the trooper was grinning as he spoke.

But he wasn't kidding.

State Patrol spokesman Sgt. John Hahn confirmed Fry's version of events. But he told the Truth Patrol that the trooper at the Capitol based his actions on a state statute.

"The statute itself doesn't specifically say T-shirts" are banned, Hahn said. "That's what we're still researching."

The statute says: "No person, alone or in concert with another, shall picket inside any building in which the chambers, galleries, or offices of the general assembly, or either house thereof, are located, or in which the legislative office of any member of the general assembly is located, or in which a legislative hearing or meeting is being or is to be conducted."

Fry was not picketing, though. She was waiting in line to go through security for a tour.

Hahn said Fry's experience has caused the State Patrol to review its interpretation of the law and inform all troopers who work at the Capitol. It seems clear now, he said, that "if you're talking a 'Vote Obama' or vote whomever" message on a T-shirt, it would be allowed.

But if Fry decides to come back to Denver for the tour she never got, she might still be careful what she wears to the Capitol.

Hahn said that some T-shirts might be banned "if they're considered offensive, then, yes, the rules of decorum dictate they not be allowed in the building."

But experts in freedom of speech and the First Amendment disagree with the State Patrol's take on this.

"They can't do that," said Denver attorney David Lane, who specializes in such issues. "It's unconstitutional. It's not up to the State Patrol to decide what message citizens are allowed to put on a T-shirt."

Speech can be limited only under very limited circumstances, Lane pointed out. So while you can't yell fire in a crowded building, "it doesn't mean you can't wear a T-shirt in a crowded building," he said.

"I'm sure no Broncos T-shirts are banned."

For Fry, who left the Capitol rather than turn her Obama T-shirt inside out, it was a disappointing end to what she described as an otherwise "inspiring" week in Denver.

"In my mind, the Capitol is a symbolic place that represents the Constitution and our Democratic process," Fry said. "That day, neither our Democratic process nor my constitutional rights as a citizen prevailed."

October 5, 2008 8:00 PM

Barack Obama violated Colorado's Fair Campaign Practices Act with school visit


Rocky Truth Patrol says: Flat-out wrong

Claim: Barack Obama's rally last week at a Westminster public high school violated Colorado's Fair Campaign Practices Act
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Just Wrong

This excellent question came from one of our readers. And after checking with legal experts at both the Colorado Secretary of State's office and the Federal Election Commission (FEC), we can tell you that no, Obama's campaign didn't violate the campaign act by speaking at Mountain Range High School last Monday in Westminster.

It turns out that the act would not cover Obama or candidates like Mark Udall and Bob Schaffer because they are running for federal offices. The FEC governs all aspects of their campaigns.

And, federal candidates are free to use public spaces, like a school, as long as the facility managers offer the space to the other side as well.

"There is nothing in our law that would prevent a candidate from appearing at a school, so long as the school would make the same arrangements for other candidates,'' said Bob Biersack, spokesman for the FEC.

We talked with Janelle Albertson, spokeswoman for the Adams 12 Five Star Schools, the district that oversees Mountain Range High School. She was well versed on the guidelines.

"The rule of thumb is what you do for one, you do for all. We did not solicit this. However, when we got the phone call, we made every effort to bring such a great civics lesson to our students," Albertson said.

The call came late Friday night and by Saturday morning, Obama's campaign booked the school's gym.

Albertson said the district is billing the Obama campaign for all costs associated with his visit. And, she's already called Republican Party chairman Dick Wadhams.

"We wanted to make sure he knows we would love to host Senator McCain if he decides he wants to come to this area,'' Albertson said. "We want to make sure we are providing as much of an opportunity as we can for our students to take part in such an exciting election."


September 28, 2008 8:00 PM

Bob Schaffer is a top recipient of money from Big Oil

Rocky Truth Patrol says: Rock solid

Claim: Bob Schaffer is a top recipient of money from Big Oil
Rocky Truth Patrol says: Rock Solid

Several ads and mailings have talked about how much money Bob Schaffer has collected in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies.

Schaffer has taken $150,550 from oil and gas interests in his race against his Democratic rival, Mark Udall, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research organization that tracks money in politics. In all, CRP researchers said he has collected $216,000 from oil and gas donors since 1997.

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Schaffer ranks seventh among all Senate candidates in the amount of campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. He ranks 14th among all congressional and presidential candidates nationwide.

For the record, John McCain is the top recipient of contributions from the oil and gas industry with $1.66 million. Barack Obama ranks fifth with $464,023. Schaffer's opponent in the race to become Colorado's newest senator, Mark Udall, ranks 27th among all senate candidates in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

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