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Colorado Democrats fret over favored programs in the coming Trump administration

November 20, 2016 Updated: November 21, 2016 at 6:23 am
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Leaders of Colorado's political left are in a world of worry about what Donald Trump in the White House could mean to their causes here at home.

But before full freak-out mode began, some were willing to wait and see who will be sitting in the president-elect's Cabinet and whether he will carry out campaign promises on aggressive immigration enforcement, deregulation, expanded drilling and mining and gutting Obamacare.

The waiting period didn't last long.

The announcement Friday that Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a former federal prosecutor, will be Trump's choice for attorney general sent shivers through the state's legal marijuana industry.

As U.S. News & World Report said in a headline, "'Drug War Dinosaur' Jeff Sessions Seen as Existential Threat to Pot Industry."

In Colorado, the industry is on track to grow to more than $21 billion annually by 2020.

"Jeff Sessions is no friend of the legal cannabis movement and there is really no way to spin the nomination in a positive light," David Dinenberg, CEO, of KIND Financial software company, said in a statement.

He said he hoped Trump would keep to what he said on the campaign trail about respecting states' rights on such issues as marijuana legalization.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters are protesting, advocacy groups are urging unity and cities are figuring out what to do if the president-elect calls on them to round up undocumented residents for deportation.

Chill and drill

Patrick Davis, Trump's senior adviser in Colorado, suggested worriers just chill out.

"Turn off MSNBC and CNN and grab a turkey leg and relax," he said.

Pete Maysmith, executive director of left-leaning Conservation Colorado, said Trump's values don't align with most Coloradans on clean air, public land or renewable energy, and that doesn't bode well for a raft of valued polices.

"What are we worried about? When you hear a name like Sarah Palin or an oil-and-gas executive to run the Department of Interior, the first thing that comes to mind is 'drill, baby, drill."

State Sen. Ray Scott, of Grand Junction, Trump's campaign leader on the Western Slope, said the arrival of Trump's policies can't come soon enough to amp up the state's energy economy, bring better-paying jobs to help keep pace with housing prices in metro Denver and scrap a health care policy that's driving more people onto Medicaid, which is breaking the back of the state budget.

"The federal government has had its foot on the throat of the industry for eight years," he said of energy production, a $32 billion player in the state's economy in 2014 that's been in a slump since.

Protecting insurance, immigrants

After the election, Gov. John Hickenlooper said the way in which Trump carries out his plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, as he promised repeatedly to do, could have dire impacts on people who lose insurance they once couldn't get because of preexisting conditions. He also cited young people who couldn't afford insurance unable to remain on their parents' plans.

"We want to do all we can to make sure they remained insured," Hickenlooper said.

After meeting with President Obama at the White House, however, Trump said he liked those two features of Obamacare and might keep them.

Crisanta Duran, the state representative from Denver set to become House speaker when the next session convenes on Jan. 11, also will become the first Latina leader of the chamber in the state's history.

She has led the way on major bills such as helping undocumented college students get in-state tuition and creating a driver's license for undocumented residents.

She recalled her work as a labor union attorney during immigration raids at the Swift & Co. meatpacking plant in Greeley in 2006, when 273 undocumented workers were arrested, part of 1,297 arrested at Swift plants in six states. Most were quickly deported. Duran said people with no criminal history and with the ability to do brutal work were arrested, despite the company doing what it could to comply with the federal verification law.

"That has stuck with me since that time," she said. "And through the legislative process we've done all we can to address immigration reform at the state level."

Duran said state analysts are compiling data on the potential Trump impacts to the economy and state services on a number of fronts.

"We're absolutely thinking about how what happens at the federal level will impact us at the state level," she said.

Some things won't change

Bart Miller, the Healthy Rivers program director for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates, said the state's $20 billion water conservation plan can carry on fine with or without federal support. His organization takes on issues not candidates, he pointed out.

"In Colorado, not much changed," he said of Trump's election. "We have very much the same Legislature, we have the same governor, we have the same directors of state agencies, so as far as the plan getting implemented, I don't think it has much impact at all. It's still up to Colorado to do the work and spend the money and get the job done."

A close ally of Hillary Clinton and widely speculated to become a Cabinet member had she won, Hickenlooper, like Miller, said much of the work the state does needs little or nothing from Washington.

He cited government efficiency, local funding for transportation and workforce training, help for small businesses.

Many of the issues Americans care about were part of Hillary Clinton's agenda, Hickenlooper said, "so we're just going to have to work through them to see if we can find compromises to make progress on the issues people care deeply about."

The governor said those issues include the soaring cost of higher education, equity in pay and whether kids from low-income neighborhoods do as well in college as kids from upper-middle class neighborhoods.

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