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If there were no coronavirus, we’d be in the midst of a critical time in Colorado politics. 

The state legislature would be entering the home stretch of its session, finalizing the budget and referring bills to the governor’s desk by the dozen. We’d be talking about whether voters or lawmakers should decide the future of paid family leave and wolves in Colorado.

And the Democratic U.S. Senate primary contest would feel much hotter as underdog Andrew Romanoff works the caucus process and both major parties look forward to a fall race with national importance. 

Instead, the public, politicians and journalists are focused on all coronavirus all the time.

In this week’s Spot, Justin Wingerter considers what this new reality signals for John Hickenlooper and Romanoff, and Conrad Swanson looks at how Denver politicians are trying to get work done in the time of quarantine.

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You can send tips, comments and questions to me at aburness@denverpost.com or to the other Post reporters below.


Top Line

Governor of Colorado Jared Polis looks ...

Eric Lutzens, The Denver Post

Gov. Jared Polis looks over his papers prior to giving Colorado residents the order to stay in place due to the presence of coronavirus in the state during a press conference Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Taped to the door is a sign that reads “No Disneyland without the wristband.” All people that enter the building are screened for symptoms of the virus and given a wristband if cleared.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ voice has gone hoarse from shouting at press conferences and being on the phone nonstop calls, he tells The Denver Post during a 15-minute interview Wednesday at the state’s emergency operations center in Centennial. His eyes were nearly closed for parts of the conversation. It’s been four weeks since Polis announced the state’s first coronavirus cases, but it feels like a lifetime ago. See what the governor had to say during that interview.

Capitol Diary • By Alex Burness

Remainder of 2020 session can start to take shape

We finally have some idea of what lawmaking in Colorado might look like the rest of this year.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in a split decision this week that the legislature, which shut down the Capitol just after the midway point of the 120-day session, can pick up where it left off, and finish out the 120 days whenever it’s safe to do so.

Democrats, who control state government, were thrilled by this news. Republicans were not; all 40 GOP lawmakers had argued that the court should find that the 120 days must be served consecutively.

Assuming the coronavirus cloud lifts by some point this summer, the ruling means that the Democrats can advance the agenda they left on the vine when the Capitol closed. That agenda covers many important areas, including guns, vaccines, health insurance and paid family leave.

The real wrench in all this, though, is the budget. Economic forecasts are ugly right now, and it’s clear that there won’t be much money for new spending this year. In fact, leaders at the Capitol have said several times now that any bills that come with fiscal notes are unlikely to pass this year, though there may be a couple exceptions, such as the bill to provide paid family and medical leave statewide.

If and when lawmakers do get back to work this year, they’ll not only have to address the 350-plus bills that have already been introduced, but they’ll also almost definitely be introducing some new ones inspired by the coronavirus pandemic, which, like any disaster, has exposed holes in current laws.

Steve Fenberg, the Senate majority leader, told me on a recent call that lawmakers are already starting to work on coronavirus-inspired legislation, though he said it’s too early to know what those bills might be. I spoke with a few House Democrats last week who told me one idea concerns relief for renters and homeowners who’ve lost jobs and/or fallen into outright poverty.

One of those House Dems, Jonathan Singer of Longmont, said he’s frustrated that the legislature can’t nimbly respond to the housing instability issue, among others, since it’s not in session right now.

“It was a terrible, hard decision that had to be made,” he said, of closing the Capitol.

With less money to work with, an ambitious agenda unfinished and a likely slew of new — and potentially costly — ideas hatched during this outbreak, we’ll be watching closely to see how Democrats reprioritize. We should have a better sense of that well before the Capitol reopens.

More Colorado political news

#COSen 2020 • By Justin Wingerter

Romanoff wins while no one watches

In a normal election year, with normal dynamics, Andrew Romanoff would be on a roll. 

Every week, Democrats in counties across Colorado determine Romanoff is the best candidate their party has to offer for U.S. Senate, a choice made easier by John Hickenlooper’s decision to stop competing in assemblies. The party faithful been doing this since March 7, when Romanoff won in-person precinct caucuses, and they have continued at digital and phone assemblies since.

And that matters less now than ever before. Typically, the caucus and precinct leader would be touting wins, gaining supporters and rallying the grassroots. But a worried public is largely ignoring politics, and the state’s political press is likewise mostly covering coronavirus-related news.

“It strikes me that the people who are most tuned into the race are siding overwhelmingly with my team,” Romanoff said in an interview Wednesday, referring to caucus and assembly attendees, who are often party activists. “Obviously, that represents a small fraction of the total electorate in June, but what it tells me is when people get information about my platform and my record and the other candidates, they pick me.”

Romanoff will likely be on June 30 ballots against Hickenlooper and maybe one more Democrat. Frank Ciruli, an independent pollster and analyst, says these unprecedented times favor Hick.

“Along with freezing the primary process just as rivals needed visibility from rallies and party activities, the issues have shifted from the Democrats’ left-center divide to competence,” Ciruli wrote last week. And Hickenlooper’s executive experience shows competence, he argues.

CARES Act politics

The $2.2 trillion economic stimulus that was signed into law Friday has made for some unusual political posturing among Colorado Republicans.

Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton supported it; Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn opposed it. An interparty split is not all that odd, but here’s what is:

  • Buck and Lamborn both cited President Trump, whom they strongly support, in explaining their opposition to a bill that the White House negotiated and Trump unabashedly signed into law.
  • The Colorado GOP, on social media and in a party newsletter, touted the bill, despite the fact that Buck, the party’s chairman, strongly opposed it.
  • Lauren Boebert, a Rifle Republican running a spirited primary challenge to Tipton, criticized the congressman’s support of the bill because it will send government employees a $1,200 check. But when I asked if she would have voted against the bill, she was noncommittal. “Hypothetically, I’d be in Congress and fight for the right language to be in the bill before deciding on how to vote,” Boebert said. “The Democrats found time to exclude President Trump’s businesses from benefiting from the stimulus funds under the premise he shouldn’t benefit from this crisis. Neither should unaffected public-sector employees.”

RELATED: Cory Gardner once opposed economic stimulus bills. Not anymore.

Ads: Senate Majority PAC, the Democratic group, says it will spend $5.2 million on TV in Colorado after Labor Day. Its GOP counterpart, Senate Leadership Fund, plans to spend $5.5 million on TV here.

Endorsements: James Iacino, a Democratic candidate in Tipton’s 3rd congressional district, was endorsed Wednesday by Attorney General Phil Weiser. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, was endorsed Thursday by Giffords, the gun control group.

More federal election news

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

A new normal for Denver City Council

Denver City Council is still meeting weekly in the days of the coronavirus pandemic, but those gatherings look decidedly different than normal.

Council votes are needed to approve regular contracts — like those paying workers to keep the city clean — and to allocate fresh cash to bankroll the city’s war on the virus.

But public comment sessions are no longer allowed, to keep human contact to a minimum. 

The seating arrangement is different, too. During Tuesday’s meeting, six council members sat in the pews in the public gallery to allow for the appropriate amount of space between members.

There was no shortage of space: Only one person arrived to watch the 30-minute meeting in person Monday evening. 

The substance of the meeting still concerned Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who argued that three agenda items didn’t require immediate attention from the body.

Those items include two contracts for AEG Presents — Rocky Mountains LLC and Live Nation Worldwide Inc. — for $8.5 million and $2 million, respectively — to promote and book live concerts in Denver. The third was a $1.1 million contract with John Elway Chevrolet to buy 28 Chevy Tahoes for the Denver Police Department. 

“I believe that at a time like this we need to be recalibrating and digging deep into our budget to reallocate dollars more appropriately to meet the needs of this crisis,” CdeBaca said, warning the council she would vote against all three contracts. 

Councilwoman Robin Kniech noted that while she also has some concerns about the items, the concert and event contracts are meant to generate revenue for Denver once the city is up and running again. Plus, that money is paid on commission rather than out of Denver’s general fund, so it couldn’t be reallocated. 

Still, Councilman Chris Hinds lamented that Denver is apparently stuck with those two companies, who are known for their lack of customer service. 

All three agenda items passed with only CdeBaca opposing them.

“Replacing the cars, the vehicles, doesn’t feel like it’s something that should rise to the level of prioritizing tonight and I would like to go on record as a no,” she said. 

More Denver and suburban political news

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