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Going From Warm To Red-Hot

A Grab-Bag Of Summer Sizzlers

Well, we have now survived the wintery legislative session and the spring primary races. Now, the political dial turns from warm to red hot on the federal, state, and local levels.

The nation and the world are still reeling over Donald Trump’s July Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the hastily convened summit, Donald Trump:

• Accepted Putin’s controversial denial of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election

• Criticized the U.S. intelligence agencies that have found otherwise; and

• Committed to building a longer, closer relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

So astounding and controversial were his comments, Trump accomplished something rarely before seen. He united the entire Colorado congressional delegation – with the singular exception of Doug Lamborn – who all expressed disgust, anger, disappointment and amazement, at the president’s statements and apparent concessions in choosing Russia’s version of the truth over the entire U.S. intelligence community.

Congressional bipartisan opposition to Trump’s statements and behavior will likely reverberate well into the future. Although I rarely write about national issues in this column, this mess you simply cannot ignore. Made shortly after 12 Russians were indicted for interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, Trump’s comments in Helsinki must confound and startle even his most ardent supporters.

Polis and Stapleton off to the races

Here in Colorado, the race for governor has heated up. Republican Walker Stapleton, 44, chose state Rep. Lang Sias as his pick for lieutenant governor. Sias is 59, a former Navy pilot and has served in the state house for four years. A registered Democrat in the early 2000s, Sias twice ran for the state senate as a Republican and lost before winning his current office. In one campaign the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners branded Sias a “liberal” because they perceived him as too weak on gun rights.

Sias did support a number of bipartisan legislative efforts last session, including a bill to examine the state’s healthcare costs and the PERA compromise that has been detailed in previous columns.

Picking Sias appears to be an attempt by Stapleton to appeal to a broader swath of Colorado voters given his own significantly conservative leanings. Indeed, for reasons that astounded many of his supporters, Stapleton went out of his way to praise Donald Trump for the president’s recent policies against sanctuary cities and the even more controversial decision to separate children from their parents at the Mexican border.

In a state where Trump lost the Republican presidential primary to Ted Cruz, and given his family’s – the Bush family that is – antipathy toward Trump, it’s a real head scratcher to figure out why Stapleton has staked out these ultra-conservative policy positions.

Taking a different approach, Polis, 43, selected former state Rep. Dianne Primavera as his running mate. Primavera, 68, is the CEO of the Susan G. Komen Colorado foundation is a four-time cancer survivor who spent eight years in the state house. There, Primavera was a strong advocate for health care issues.

Running for governor and lieutenant governor, clearly Polis and Primavera intend to elevate healthcare as a major campaign issue, along with roads, schools, and affordable housing. Indeed, even during the primary and during some of his prior congressional races, Polis campaigned on a left-leaning proposal to have the state transition to a universal, single-payer healthcare system, similar to Medicare.

Flood of TV and mailers ahead

Despite their many and significant policy differences, Stapleton and Polis are each pursing similar approaches to move Colorado voters. Each has selected running mates with state legislative experience – something neither gubernatorial candidate has. Additionally, each has selected more seasoned running mates than themselves, to perhaps bring the visual of experience to their respective campaigns and approaches.

The contrast between Stapleton and Polis will become clearer over the next few months. I don’t think either is a particularly gifted campaigner. Polis perhaps has the advantage in light of his experience in Congress and more personable style.

Although Stapleton typically avoided public opportunities to be seen side-by-side with his primary opponents, and is often viewed as a somewhat clunky public speaker, he does have the advantage of eight years’ experience as state treasurer and a greater command of the state’s budget, fiscal policy, and related issues.

Both will have money to burn, as each has proven to be a prolific fundraiser – or self-funder – and campaign spender. Expect a flood of TV commercials, mailings, and social media hits leading up to Nov. 6, Election Day.

Hiding cases from public view

A recent Denver Post report shed light on the disturbing practice of Colorado prosecutors suppressing criminal and civil cases from public view and scrutiny. These suppression orders – sought in over 6,700 cases and still in effect with respect to over 3,000 cases – essentially shields all information about cases from public and press review or scrutiny.

More surprising was the significant differences in the use of the practice of suppression. In Denver during the recently ended tenure of former Denver district attorney Mitch Morrissey, the DA’s office had never sought the suppression of an entire case. Indeed, Morrisey was quoted saying that during his 33 years in practice, he had never heard of this being used.

However, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler – currently the Republican candidate for Colorado Attorney General – had the largest number of cases still suppressed from public view.

These suppressed cases are not the same as those that are sometimes sealed at the request of a party to litigation. Sealed cases often occur where someone is charged with an offense and is either found not guilty, the charges are dismissed, or the person receives a deferred sentence where, after completing a period of probation the charges are withdrawn and the matter is treated as if it never occurred. Those are limited instances and usually initiated by request of the person directly impacted.

Rather, these suppressed cases are requested by a prosecuting attorney, or in some instances initiated by the trial judge. This is a practice that has to stop. Suppression is sometimes appropriate to allow for an ongoing criminal investigation or to protect the identity and safety of witnesses. However, as an attorney of over 30 years I cannot recall a case where the defendant has been tried, convicted, and is serving time and still needs a case to be suppressed.

Hopefully the publicity around this practice will lead to significant changes.

Enjoy your summer and enjoy the record summer heat.

Penfield W. Tate III is an attorney with Kutak Rock and serves on a number of nonprofit boards. He represented Park Hill in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1997 to 2000, and in the State Senate from 2001 to February 2003, when he resigned from the Senate to run for Mayor of Denver. Penfield’s adult daughter was born and raised in Park Hill, and he and his wife Paulette remain in the neighborhood.

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