On the campaign trail for president, a former Denver mayor and Colorado governor spoke about moderating Democrats from a revolution to an evolution, a pace that doesn’t trample those not as quick on the progressive uptake.
In other words, John Hickenlooper, until he exited the presidential race Aug. 15, talked about a sizable crowd of Colorado voters skeptical of partisan ways. Unaffiliated voters are still the state’s largest voting bloc for a reason: They’re not buying what the parties are selling.
The Denver City Council isn’t taking Hick’s guidance. It’s been full throttle ahead on ideas as bold and liberal as the electorate that put five fresh, progressive faces on the 13-member council this year.
The capital city already known nationally for embracing taxes, sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, and magic mushrooms took a fierce and aggressive stand against President Donald Trump’s immigration enforcement Aug. 5.
The council voted 8-4 not to renew $10.6 million in contracts with CoreCivic and GEO Group to operate six halfway houses that help former inmates transition back into society. Even the proposal’s chief backer, new Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, was surprised it passed.
The target seems clear but the impact to Trump and immigration policy is small and indirect, at best. A direct impact exists for unintended victims.
A week after the vote, a special committee of Colorado legislators was trying to untangle what Denver’s move means to the state prison system and the inmates who are near the end of their sentence.
CdeBaca, a Democratic socialist, spent her first bit of political capital to rally like-minded members and community groups against the firms because they operate immigrant detention centers nationwide.
When the two companies eventually close the halfway houses, the city and state will have to find other options for more than 500 inmates and a monthly influx of 100, and 140 workers will have to find other jobs.
Take that, Republicans.
Credit CdeBaca for delivering on her campaign promise to be an agent of change. She’s Denver’s version of AOC, the irrepressible U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City who leads the proposed Green New Deal, among the ways she’s shaking up Washington.
In May, however, Democrats who control the U.S. House passed the less-aggressive Climate Action Now Act to withhold federal money from unwinding the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. Trump pulled out of the international collaboration in 2017.
The Democrats’ bill also would force the Trump administration to provide a plan to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28% by 2025. The bill, however, has no chance as long as Republicans control the Senate and White House.
Members of the Denver council also are eager to do hasty battle on climate in a city that already has pledged to convert to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
On Aug. 13, the council’s Finance and Governance Committee heard a plan to tax commercial and industrial users six-tenths of a penny per kilowatt of electricity and 7 cents per therm on natural gas.
Backers say the tax would raise about $43 million annually for grants and incentives for businesses and residents to make upgrades for energy efficiency, install solar panels, and buy electric vehicles, while helping those who lose their jobs in oil, gas, and coal to train for other jobs.
Business costs, however, are consumer costs. Every time you check out at Walmart, you’re chipping in on the power bill. You can’t fairly criticize the consumer costs of Trump’s tariffs and yet make the case that costs inflicted by liberals won’t ultimately be paid by the rank-and-file, as well.
Denver voters could decide on the power tax on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and top Democrats in the state Legislature are supportive of the progressive concepts the new council embraces, but the pace and forethought so far has seemed erratic. Lawmakers and state prison officials said they were caught off guard by the council’s decision to end the halfway house contracts, though the move away from private prison contractors isn’t a bad idea, overall.
Before the council discussed the new taxes and other climate plans, Hancock sent them a letter urging them to slow down, calling their rush “deeply concerning.”
“I cannot stress enough the importance of engaging all segments of our community in this conversation, including low-income families, small businesses and those who may shoulder the burden of additional costs,” the mayor wrote.
This council will fix the potholes and pay the police officers, I’m confident. But as a beachhead on the left, Denver is providing a testing ground for more work on drugs, taxes, and transit for Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who needs little encouragement to put his signature on climate and health care policies and do so expeditiously.
My friend Kelly Maher of Compass Colorado took stock of Polis’ urban tilt and coined the dig “governor of Denver and Boulder.”
Yet, by comparison to the council in the city where he now works, Polis looks like a moderate piker.
Let’s see how long that lasts, if the Denver experiment in Democratic socialism pays political dividends.