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Farming, water and Wall Street on Colorado’s Western SlopeAgriculture producers in Grand Valley face difficult questions over the future of water in the West1200800Joe Bernal works on his family's farm on Sept. 1 in Fruita. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun)LOMA – Just as Joe Bernal starts to back a shiny-green John Deere tractor out of a massive garage on his family farm a few miles north of downtown Fruita, his son Bryan appears in his line of sight and starts waving his hands around, pointing at his head.“Oops,” Bernal says, removing the ball cap he’s wearing.Bernal had mistakenly grabbed the wrong hat a few minutes earlier. He hops out of the tractor’s cab and flicks the hat toward Bryan, who tosses him one in return.“See you later, Bryan,” Bernal says, climbing back into the cockpit. “We’re gonna go cut ends from west to east.” Under the blazing afternoon sun, Bernal navigates around a row of older farm equipment. “That particular tractor my dad bought in 1975,” he says. “It’s gonna stay around here.” Bernal continues down an expansive gravel driveway, passing the gray, single-story home he grew up in. A barking dog darts around a fenced yard adjacent to the house.On the far side of the building, Bernal hangs a right onto Q Road. He begins pointing out the land his family has acquired over the years. His grandparents had 150 acres over there. His parents bought this land here. His great grandparents, who showed up in 1925, lived in a house right there.Surrounding Bernal’s land are the vistas of the Grand Valley, a strip of high desert situated on Colorado’s Western Slope marked by dusty mesas and cliffs and the winding, ever-present Colorado River, which plunges down from the mountains to the east. Grand Valley farmers and ranchers use the water to irrigate tens of thousands of acres, growing everything from peaches and corn to wheat and alfalfa.But since 2000 flows on the river have declined 20% and water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead have dropped to less than 30% of their combined storage. With the river overtaxed, Grand Valley farmers now face difficult questions regarding the future of water in Colorado and the West. Questions about how irrigation, which accounts for about 70% of the state’s Colorado River water use, can be more efficient, whether water can be conserved and banked in Lake Powell and what, if anything, to do about someone looking to make a buck on the state’s most precious resource, so-called water speculators.In the Grand Valley, much of the concern around private, profit-driven investment in the river has focused on a New York investment firm called Water Asset Management, or WAM. Run by co-founder Disque Dean Jr., son of a New York real estate developer, WAM has spent millions buying farmland with valuable senior water rights in this part of Colorado. The company is the largest landowner in the influential Grand Valley Water Users Association, which operates the 55-mile Government Highline Canal. Western Slope farmers rely on the canal to irrigate about 24,000 acres of farmland.When the New York Times declared in a January 2021 headline that “Wall Street eyes billions in the Colorado’s water,” Colorado water users voiced significant concern about the company’s motives.“The worry was that a New York hedge fund’s outside investors would not have the same economic and sociological calculus in deciding to lease or sell their water as a longtime resident would,” Anne Castle, a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado, said. “Generational farmers and ranchers are going to be thinking about the impact on their neighbors, the local communities and what their kids do if the water leaves the ranch.”0VideoYouTube480360State politicians looked at addressing private water speculation during the most recent legislative session. Colorado law already requires water be put to a “beneficial use,” say, to irrigate a farm, supply taps in cities or be left in the river for environmental or recreational purposes. You can’t just buy water rights and sit on them. A draft state bill, however, tried to examine whether it might be viable to curb the sale of water in Colorado purchased specifically to turn a profit later on. But telling people what they can and can’t do with their private property rights is a tricky proposition. The bill did not make it beyond the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.Three years ago, Water Asset Management purchased a farm from a landowner who was leasing the land to Bernal, who farms alfalfa, corn and other crops. A member of the water users association board, Bernal has since leased a few other WAM-owned fields. The way he puts it, he’s neither WAM’s advocate nor their adversary. “I keep saying, ‘So far so good,’” Bernal said. “Am I glad they’re here? Not really. Would I have invited them in? No. How are they now? They’re as good as any landlord I’ve had.”Water savings programs1200800The Bernal family from left: Joe, holding his grandson, Trevor, standing with his son, Bryan. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun)1200800Joe Bernal holds an ear of corn grown at the family’s farm in Fruita. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun)A few years ago, through the Grand Valley Water Users, Bernal enrolled some land in a water conservation project known as the System Conservation Pilot Program, sometimes referred to as a “buy and dry” or lease-fallowing program. The project, which ran from 2015 to 2018, was designed partly as a test of how paying farmers to voluntarily and temporarily fallow land might actually look in practice.Restarting the program was a key part of a plan the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming released in June in response to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton’s call to cut between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water use by next year. The original, four-year Upper Basin program, funded by major water utilities and money from the Walton Family Foundation, spent more than $8 million and reduced consumptive use by roughly 50,000 acre-feet, according to reports compiled by the Upper Colorado River Commission. In the Grand Valley specifically, the program ran for two years, enrolled about 2,300 acres and saved about 6,000 acre-feet of water.Colorado’s U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper introduced legislation in late July that would effectively reauthorize the program. If the bill, which has yet to make it out of the Senate, eventually passes, there appears to be money on the other side. The $4 billion in drought funding included in the Inflation Reduction Act, spearheaded in part by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, will be available through the Bureau of Reclamation to pay water users to voluntarily reduce use.“As we drafted that language, we spent hours on the phone to make sure it worked for our state and for the Upper Basin,” Bennet told the audience at Colorado Water Congress in late August. “That would be true of any agreement we make going forward for the Colorado River.”Any water saved under the original version of the conservation pilot program was considered “system” water, meaning it wasn’t specifically tracked and no one got credit for whatever extra amount eventually flowed into Lake Powell. It’s one of the reasons the Upper Colorado River Commission eventually decided to stop the pilot. “The commission believes that any viable demand management program requires the ability to accumulate and store conserved water over multiple years. However, no means for accounting, measuring, conveying or storing water have currently been established,” a 2018 commission memo halting the program reads. “As such, any water that is currently conserved is subject to downstream water users or release from existing system storage prior to being needed by any emergency drought conditions, thereby defeating the purpose of any demand management.”1200800Joe Bernal drives a tractor on his family’s farm on Aug. 31, in Fruita. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun)Since then, the commission and the other Upper Basin states have investigated the viability of a demand management program that would give the Upper Basin states credit for banking conserved water in Lake Powell in a 500,000-acre-foot “account” created under the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. All four states would have to agree on the implementation of that kind of program. Earlier this year, Colorado paused its investigation to let other states catch up with their studies. The Upper Colorado River Commission is slated to release a demand management feasibility report sometime this year.The difficulty of moving and tracking water from somewhere in the Upper Basin to Lake Powell, a technical process known as shepherding, is one of the reasons the Grand Valley is a popular target for any kind of agricultural water savings program. The valley’s proximity to Utah makes it easier logistically to get any conserved water to Powell, more than 150 miles to the southwest on the Utah-Arizona border. As the water flows to the edge of Colorado and through the rest of Utah, the river doesn’t pass that many other users.When Bernal first heard about the pilot program concept, he thought it could open up some useful possibilities for him, a way to optimize his operation. Maybe he could get some guaranteed income. Or maybe this would give him a chance to do some land leveling on a field he wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. Heck, maybe he could even just work a little less.Grand Valley Water Users Association board member Troy Waters, a fifth-generation farmer north of Fruita, said he was at first resistant to this type of program, but did eventually participate in the initial pilot project and learned a lot by doing so.“With all the issues that are going on on the Colorado River, I think programs like this might become a necessary evil,” Waters said. “I think Colorado is going to have to do their part; even though I still feel this whole mess is the Lower Basin’s fault – they created it. The Lower Basin states have just been willy-nilly drainin’ them reservoirs.”When Waters decided to enroll some of his land in the initial system conservation program, he purposefully selected a variety of fields, some more productive ground and some less. He said he noticed that it took his land with more fertile soil a couple years to get back to producing the same yield as it did before it was fallowed. “When you fallow ground without irrigating it for a year it hurts your soil,” Waters said.Any compensation for a program like this, Waters said, should pay farmers not just for the fallowed year but also for the time that it takes to get that land back up to full production.Two basins, one river1200800The Colorado River flows along Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon in August 2021, near Glenwood Springs. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun)Since Commissioner Touton told the seven basin states to find a way to cut as much as 30% of the usage on the river, the position among top Colorado water officials has been fairly consistent: Yes, Colorado and the Upper Basin can help, but the majority of water cuts need to come from the place that uses the majority of the water in the Colorado River, the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.The same day the commissioner made her announcement before a Senate committee, Chuck Cullom, the executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, presented provisional numbers showing that Upper Basin water use had declined by about 1 million acre-feet from 2020 to 2021, dropping to 3.5 million acre-feet. At the same time, water use in the Lower Basin increased to roughly 10.5 million acre-feet after accounting for evaporation losses, Collum said. The figure includes Mexico’s allotment.Sen. Bennet also highlighted this discrepancy during his Water Congress visit. “We know temporary Band-Aids won’t cut it,” Bennet said. “Any long-term solution requires permanent reduction in use by the Lower Basin. All parties have to live with what the river can provide.”Bernal thinks about that discrepancy, too. “The Lower Basin uses 10.5, we use 3.5 and we’re each supposed to get 7.5 – whose problem is this? It’s theirs,” Bernal said. “Are we going to get away with not helping? I doubt it.”Given that, Bernal said he’d rather have a say in any role Colorado and the Grand Valley will play in efforts to better balance the amount of water used each year with the amount actually flowing through the river. He doesn’t want to find out what a federal threat of “unilateral action” could mean. “I don’t want to know what that might hold,” he said.Designed correctly, Bernal thinks some kind of water banking program could work in this part of Colorado. “I think a widely distributed water banking program can have a low impact on a community and I think it can still be beneficial to what we’re doing.”But he also worries that efforts to decrease water use could alter the character of the place he grew up, a region that includes the deep canyons and red rock formations of Grand Junction’s Colorado National Monument. If too much land is fallowed, Bernal is concerned it could negatively impact the local co-op or the seed producer or the trucker who lives down the road or the part-time mechanic he employs or his son Bryan or nephew Mario Baleztena who do this work with him full time.“Imagine if we didn’t have this irrigation system,” Bernal said. “There wouldn’t be anything to look at but the Monument.”But it’s a delicate balance, he said. For instance, he knows the land he leases from Water Asset Management could be enrolled in a restarted system conservation project, bringing new revenue for the owners. “WAM would sure like to see a program,” he said.“It could hurt the entire system if they try to put too much in,” Waters said of WAM potentially enrolling land in any future water savings program. Waters said he would want a program that didn’t allow any one individual to enroll too much land or for there to be too much ground fallowed in the valley as a whole.“If you take out a quarter of the farm ground,” Waters said, “if it ain’t managed right, this whole valley will turn into a dust bowl.”So far, Waters said, he feels like WAM has been relatively open about what its doing. “All the ground is being leased and farmed,” he said. “I can’t say anything bad about them right now. Are they somebody we need to keep our eye on? Yeah.”Public entitiesDenver attorney James Eklund, who advises Water Asset Management as a client, last month drafted a letter on Sherman & Howard letterhead titled “a letter of intent to conserve and lease water.”The letter, dated Aug. 10, does not mention WAM, but rather appears to offer to start a sort of water conservation program, to sign up farmers via a “lease conservation agreement” to conserve water. The letter identifies a 5% cost of due diligence to be “borne by the Bureau of Reclamation, other governmental agency, or as provided in the LCA.”Eklund said that in discussions he’s had with agricultural water users they wanted to know how they could demonstrate interest in a demand management program, and that he put together what he described as a nonbinding letter of intent as a way for farmers to demonstrate that interest. He said that the 5% was his attempt to “cover the cost of running a program.”“I’ve been very vocal and supportive of a demand management program,” said Eklund, who grew up on a Grand Valley ranch his folks still own and previously served as the state’s Colorado River Commissioner. “I didn’t find it acceptable that we were just going to say, ‘nope, we’re blaming other states,’ so I put something together on my own letterhead and I went out and started talking to my own family and friends and people we ranch and farm with.”Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, said he has significant concerns about the letter Eklund drafted.“It’s unacceptable that a former government official for the state of Colorado would be acting in this way,” Mueller said. “If you read all his statements about caring about ag and caring about our community, really what he’s doing and what he’s showing with this document is that his law firm intends to take a 5% profit off the private market of water. He saw an opportunity to try to set up that private market.”Mueller said the larger concern is that while the River District and the state examine these kinds of water savings programs from a public interest perspective, other entities might not, and that a program could attract “unscrupulous outside investment which doesn’t share the same values about protecting ag.”“It’s a real threat,” Mueller said, “and anyone who says differently is trying to line their pockets.”The final language in the Inflation Reduction Act, signed by President Joe Biden on Aug. 16, put specific parameters on the drought money. A spokesperson for Bennet said the senator pushed for the language that makes the funding available “to and with public entities or Indian Tribes.” The spokesperson said the language was necessary to “protect against speculation of private entities seeking to buy water to make a profit.” The specifics of how the funds will be distributed from the Bureau of Reclamation to public entities will be up to the bureau, the spokesperson said.As for whether Water Asset Management would take part in any kind of water conservation program, Eklund said he hoped they would participate – though he joked that they’d likely be criticized for doing so. “Just as we feared, these terrible New Yorkers are now going to get paid for conserving water,” Eklund said in jest. “No, that’s exactly what we should hope they would do. We should want to incentivize them as we are incentivizing anyone else in this area to conserve water.” Eklund said WAM owns less than 10% of the shares in the Grand Valley Water Users.Waters, the Fruita farmer, wanted to make it clear that the Sherman & Howard letter has “nothing to do with us.” He said the Grand Valley Water Users Association would only work with the state or some other public entity if approached to go in that direction.As far as next year goes, Bernal said he’s proceeding with caution about whether any kind of system conservation program might be up and running through the Grand Valley Water Users. “My hope,” he said, “is that we don’t screw up what we have going here.”The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
Agriculture producers in Grand Valley face difficult questions over the future of water in the West
Motorcycle rally returns Labor Day weekend to Durango, IgnacioThree-day event will feature stunt riders, annual parade and noise16001235Last year, the Four Corners Motorcycle Rally had an estimated 7,500 participants. This year, organizers are predicting anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 participants. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)The Four Corners Motorcycle Rally will return this Labor Day weekend for its 29th year with new events and a return to camping at the Sky Ute Fairgrounds in Ignacio.The rally will feature new events such as The Brawl, Ives Brothers Wall of Death and American Motorcycle Association flat track races at the La Plata County Fairgrounds. The Wall of Death shows will take place at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. “It’s kind of a big cylinder wooden thing where these guys ride motorcycles,” said rally coordinator and Harley-Davidson Dealership owner Trevor Bird. “They’re up vertical on the wall riding around in a circle as people stand above it, looking down and they grab dollar bills and tips out of people’s hands.”0VideoYouTube480360Bird said The Brawl is the largest stunt riding competition in the country. Fifteen of the best stunt riders are invited to compete for cash prizes. The event will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Friday at Sky Ute Casino.On Saturday night, the rally will welcome the AMA flat track races, an event that Bird is excited about.“It brings in some of the top flat track talent from across the country where these guys are competing for an AMA No. 1 plate, which is like a big deal in the motorcycle racing community,” Bird said.The three-day event will also feature Harley-Davidson factory demo trucks. Those interested in trying a new ride can visit the Harley-Davidson dealership to demo a plethora of motorcycles. The three-day rally is loved by some and loathed by others. It provides a financial shot in the arm near the end of the tourism season for some businesses, especially hotels and restaurants. But the rumbling bikes raise the decibel level in town, all but ruining the ambience for some people strolling the shops or enjoying al fresco dining on Durango’s Main Avenue.The rally creates commerce opportunities for Durango businesses. With an estimated 8,000-10,000 visitors over the Labor Day weekend, Durango Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Llewellyn said the rally provides a financial boon. “A lot of commerce happens in both Ignacio and Bayfield in addition to Durango and some of the other communities that they ride to such as Silverton, Telluride and Ridgway,” Durango Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jack Llewellyn said. But he said the economic impact has decreased over the past decade. In 2013, the rally brought in about 20,000 participants to the Four Corners. “I think it’s slowed down especially with the pandemic,” Llewellyn said. “But I think it’s starting to reboot.”While some people may not like the rally because of the noise, Llewellyn said Durango businesses typically benefit. He said the rally provides funding for good causes and is more family-oriented compared with other rallies such as Sturgis. “If you’re going to go downtown during the parade, it’s going to be loud – wear hearing protection, plan ahead,” he said. The Four Corners Motorcycle Rally will host a block party Friday night at the corner of 10th Street and Main Avenue. The block party will feature performances from Kirk James and The Rudy Boy Experiment. Between performers, there will be a rally hall of fame ceremony where event founders, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Mike Lovato, will speak. Two after parties are scheduled for the weekend and include the Dixxon After Party from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday at El Rancho and the Kruesi Originals and Chopper Kings After Party from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday at the Garage.The rally will also coordinate with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe for the first time in Bird’s five-year tenure.“The rally originally started at the Sky Ute Fairgrounds, and we’re really honored to work with the Southern Ute tribe to be able to allow camping, tent camping and RV camping for the event,” he said. Those involved with the rally have already raised money for multiple nonprofits, including $10,000 for Building Homes for Heroes. To benefit nonprofits, Bird said he had sponsors forgo writing checks to the rally and instead had them sent directly to the organizations the rally is benefiting.“So Jack Daniels, for example, offered a $10,000 sponsorship, which in return we asked, ‘Why don’t you guys just write that check directly to building homes for heroes?’” Bird said.Proceeds raised through the rally will go to other nonprofits. The rally worked with Durango Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4031 on a benefit ride Friday morning in which proceeds will provide funding for the Ignacio Space Camp Scholarship.Bird said the fund allows children from the Southern Ute tribe to attend space camp. The rally has already raised $5,000 – enough money to send two children to space camp.Bird is excited about the new changes and additions this year, but he still finds the community aspect of the event his favorite part. He said Sunday is his favorite day because of the downtown motorcycle parade, which begins at 11 a.m. in Durango.“Sunday's usually one of my favorite day is being able to ride in the parade downtown and see all the families up and down Main Street waving tall the different riders and then going out to purgatory ski resort and watching the Motorcycle Hill Climb races,” Bird said. Last year, the rally was estimated to have around 7,500 participants. This year, Bird is predicting anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 participants.He said the rally is under a new ownership structure, which helped with the addition of some of the newer events. More specifically, Bird said the addition of Chip Lile, owner of El Rancho and executive director of Snowdown, has been beneficial.“Chip joined our leadership team at the end of last year,” Bird said. “With Chip’s experience in the local community and experience with Snowdown along with his expertise in community relations, he has just been a real joy to work with.”tbrown@durangoherald.com
Three-day event will feature stunt riders, annual parade and noise
M-CHS golfer Plewe participates in Broncos media dayEvent includes athletes from all fall sports20001333Montezuma-Cortez senior golfer Thayer Plewe participates in the CHSAA/Denver Broncos Media Day on Monday in Denver. (Gabe Christus/Denver Broncos)Montezuma-Cortez High School senior golfer Thayer Plewe was one of just two students from the Western Slope that were invited to attend the Denver Broncos/CHSAA High School Media Day on Monday at Empower Field at Mile High in Denver.The event included two special sessions – a prep sports media roundtable and rolling press conferences featuring 17 of Colorado’s top returning football teams across all classifications. In addition to football, dozens of the top returning athletes in all other fall sports and activities attended, including boys golf, cross-country, esports, field hockey, gymnastics, boys golf, boys soccer, softball, spirit, boys tennis, girls volleyball and student leadership. Plewe joined Bruce Davis, student body president of Grand Junction Central High School who was a student leadership representative, from the Western Slope. Golfer Ben Harding of Silver Creek also attended the event, as every activity besides football and girls volleyball had two student athletes in attendance.The teams and athletes rotated through other breakouts during the event: a media relations 101 session with the Broncos public relations staff, including education on how social media can positively and negatively impact their reputation and high school experience; a photography session with professional photographers; the press conference; as well as a facility tour.13332000Montezuma-Cortez senior golfer Thayer Plewe participates in the CHSAA/Denver Broncos Media Day on Monday in Denver. (Gabe Christus/Denver Broncos)After the media relations breakout session, Plewe participated in a press conference with boys soccer and student leadership representatives. Plewe was asked about traveling for competitions, teams from the Four Corners and his thoughts on M-CHS hosting the regional golf championships, among other things. Travel, he said, is “definitely a factor,” especially when the team occasionally has to compete soon after arriving at a course, which he called “trunk to tee.” Plewe added, “it’s important to remember why we travel there – so we can compete.”Being an underdog, coming from a small town, he said, gives him motivation. See the press conference below: 0VideoYouTube480360
Event includes athletes from all fall sports
U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea believes abortions should be legal up until 20 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions afterBennet’s challenger had refused until Friday to provide specifics on his stance56163744Joe O’Dea, Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Michael Bennet, speaks during a primary election night watch party on June 28 in Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe O’Dea believes abortions should be legal up until the 20th week of pregnancy, after which the procedure should be allowed only in cases of rape and incest or when a mother’s life is at risk, his campaign told The Colorado Sun on Friday.O’Dea announced his stance after he told The Sun on Thursday that he voted for an unsuccessful 2020 ballot measure that would have outlawed the procedure after 22 weeks of gestation, or 5½ months.“I voted for that,” O’Dea said in a brief interview after an event in Greenwood Village with U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican.O’Dea had refused until Friday to provide a specific date at which he thought abortions should be outlawed.He had said earlier that people should be able to legally get an abortion early on in a pregnancy and that he believed late-term abortions should be banned. But he wouldn’t say what constitutes an early term or late-term abortion in his mind, only that he thought the procedure shouldn’t be carried out in the last three months of a pregnancy.“Before viability, in that first 20 weeks, there should be a law that protects the right of women to make the decision for herself – and she shouldn’t have to travel across state lines to do it,” O’Dea said in a written statement to The Sun on Friday.O’Dea added: “Abortion is one of these issues tearing this country apart. We have to find a balance so we can start the long process of moving the country forward and give women certainty. I was adopted. This issue is real to me in a way it never could be for someone like Michael Bennet.”According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99% of abortions happen before the 21st week of pregnancy. Ninety-three percent of abortions happen during the first 13 weeks of a pregnancy, while 6% happen between 14 and 20 weeks of pregnancy.The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says “with very rare exceptions, babies born before 23 weeks of pregnancy do not survive.”56163744PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN THURSDAY, JUNE 9, 2022Joe O’Dea, a candidate for U.S. Senate, during a campaign appearance June 9 at a brew pub in south suburban Littleton. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)O’Dea’s campaign said O’Dea isn’t planning to pursue abortion legislation if he’s elected to the Senate, but that the 20-week threshold is what he will use to determine whether or not he will vote “yes” on a bill.O’Dea is more moderate than many fellow Republicans when it comes to abortion, and has taken heat from some in the GOP for being too soft on the issue.Still, he came under attack this week from his opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, over his position on the procedure.Bennet’s re-election campaign launched an ad criticizing O’Dea for being opposed to Colorado’s new law codifying abortion access in the state with very few exceptions.0VideoYouTube480360The new Bennet ad features five women discussing their shock about Roe v. Wade being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June after nearly five decades and highlighting the different abortion stances held by O’Dea and Bennet.“It makes the race for Senate even more important,” one of the women says.O’Dea’s campaign fired back with a video featuring O’Dea’s daughter saying her father “will defend a woman’s right to choose” and calling Bennet “a sleazy politician who will say anything to keep his job.”0VideoYouTube480360O’Dea’s daughter, Tayler, tells viewers to Google her dad’s name to find out his position on abortion.O’Dea also opposes tax dollars being spent on abortions and believes that religiously affiliated institutions shouldn’t be required to carry out the procedure. Finally, he believes parents should be notified before their child has an abortion.He has touted support from anti-abortion advocates and called himself “pro-life,” but opposed Roe v. Wade being overturned.Bennet, meanwhile, supports legislation prohibiting government restrictions on abortion access, according to his campaign, including the Women’s Health Protection Act.Selina Najar, political director for Cobalt, an abortion-rights nonprofit in Colorado that has endorsed Bennet, said in a statement that O’Dea “does not share our pro-abortion rights Colorado values.”“Every time Joe O’Dea has to answer in specifics, (it) turns out he’s anti-abortion rights,” Najar said.Proposition 115, the 2020 ballot measure in Colorado that sought to ban abortions at 22 weeks, failed 59% to 41%, an 18 percentage point margin.“I think Coloradans want balance,” O’Dea told The Sun on Thursday of his abortion stance. “My position is my position. I’ve been there the entire time. I haven’t wavered at all. I disagree with Michael that we need late-term abortion. He’s about late-term abortion. I don’t think that should be an elective procedure. And I don’t think Coloradans are there either. I really don’t.”During his campaign event Thursday, O’Dea again defended himself against Bennet’s offensive.“He’s trying to make it an issue and that’s because of his failed policies,” O’Dea said. “He doesn’t want to talk about them. He doesn’t want to talk about groceries. He doesn’t want to talk about inflation. Crime, it’s out of control. He wants to talk about abortion and that’s it.”O’Dea called Bennet’s ad “dishonest.”The general election is Nov. 8.The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
Bennet’s challenger had refused until Friday to provide specifics on his stance
Demolition derby rivets a sold-out crowd at La Plata County FairDrivers compete at crumpling each other’s rides across full-size, minicar and pickup categories27191539About 25 vehicles competed Saturday in the Demolition Derby at the La Plata County Fair. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)The La Plata County Fair’s 25th Demolition Derby at the fairgrounds drew a sold-out crowd Saturday with 1,496 tickets purchased before the event began.Spectators watched 27 drivers across three categories smash and crash into each other’s vehicles in the muddied-up rodeo arena.The derby featured three main events for cars, mini cars and trucks. Although the derby had more entrants than in recent years, only one driver in each weight class could claim “last vehicle standing.” Kevin and Crystal Black traveled from Aztec to cheer on Stacey Suutherland, who was driving car No. 13. Kevin said Saturday was the first time they’d attended La Plata County Fair’s Demolition Derby but they’ve been to plenty other derbies in Cortez and Ignacio.They both love derby and racing events. Kevin said he used to be on the pit crew for a family who raced.0VideoYouTube480360Rob and Timi Sachs of Durango said they attended the derby for the fun of it and to spend time with their grandchildren who are 2 and 3 years old.Rob said he wasn’t rooting for any driver in particular, but he was looking forward to the day.Lin Dobbins, county fair demolition derby co-superintendent, said the derby attracted more contestants than in previous years, making the event larger, which she said is a good thing.About 60% of participating drivers were return derby entrants from previous years, she said.Eight drivers entered pickups into the “truck” category, six drivers peeled into the “full-size car” category and 13 drivers jumped behind the wheel for the “minicars” category, she said.The derby’s first round got underway after Freya Underwood of Bayfield sang “The Star-Spangled Banner.”The drivers participated in what Dobbins called “one and dones,” where they’d do a single round and the last driver able to drive a vehicle was named victorious.If a driver went too long without hitting another vehicle ‒ commonly because the vehicle was too damaged to move or was stuck in the mud ‒ the driver would be disqualified.During the minicar derby, the emcee had to shout at drivers to stop their vehicles because somebody noticed one driver wasn’t wearing a helmet. No injuries were reported, but the driver was given a helmet and the derby resumed.Jeromy Lanier, No. 290, took first place in the “pickups” category. He said there isn’t much strategy to winning the derby when drivers are hitting each other’s vehicles from all angles. Any one of the drivers could have driven away with a victory under his belt ‒ it mostly comes down to luck, he said.The closest thing to strategy, besides preparing the vehicle as best one can, is driving backward into other cars to protect the engine.“Your heart and soul’s up front so you want to hit it with the back as much as you can,” he said.26731512It was a sold-out crowd Saturday at the Demolition Derby at the La Plata County Fair. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Drivers in the pickup derby had to restart the contest because the arena was initially too muddy to be navigated. Lanier said he isn’t sure he would have won if it weren’t for that second start, which all the drivers agreed to before the green flag.“Couldn’t have done it without them, my teammates,” he said. “ … Everything was really sloppy and super, super sandy. But there was really no strategy to it, anybody could have done that.“The lord was looking out for me and so was my grandpa,” he said.The first-place title came with a prize of $1,450. But Lanier said the derby isn’t about the money.“It’s about making (little kids) smile,” he said.Lanier spent more than a month working on the pickup he entered. He said the last month of work was the hardest. His pickup was fitted with tractor tires so he’d have optimal traction in the arena.He said he knew at least one other driver was using forklift tires on his vehicle.The 2022 fair’s derby is Lanier’s third that he’s competed in. He said he took third place in his second derby and came back to take first place this year.27131531About 25 vehicles competed Saturday in the Demolition Derby at the La Plata County Fair. Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)He said he’s grateful for his employer, C&J Redi Mix, for sponsoring the pickup that got him through the derby.“They take care of us over there, they treat us really well,” he said. “What other company could you work for that sponsors a derby truck?”He said he is a mechanic for C&J and his skills definitely helped him in fixing up his truck for the derby.The full derby results are:Minicars: First, Gene Felker in car No. 4; prize: $1,575. Second, Dennis Spencer in car No. 157; prize: $945. Third, Joeleen Archuleta in car No. 7, prize $630.Full-size cars: First, Jim Griffin in car No. 103; prize: $1,400. Second, Tanner Smedstad in car No. 607; prize: $840. Third, Ted Neergaard in car No. 42; prize: $560.Pickups: First, Jeromy Lanier in car No. 290, prize: $1,450. Second, Ralph Brawley in car No. 86½; prize: $870. Third, Morgan Virag in car No. 86⅛, prize: $580.cburney@durangoherald.com
Drivers compete at crumpling each other’s rides across full-size, minicar and pickup categories
Search and rescue data shows dangerous patternsMost incidents in Sangre de Cristo Mountains are clustered together1000753Kim Jones Thomas stands on the summit of the 14,203 foot Crestone Needle, in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on Sept. 18, 2021. (Courtesy of Kim Jones Thomas)Five spectacular 14,000-foot peaks in Southern Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains are also perilous. Known as the Crestone group, these peaks regularly claim the lives of climbers and hikers and are the site of dozens of rescue missions.Now, Custer County Search and Rescue – which responds to calls for help in the backcountry of the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, about an hour west of Pueblo – is using GIS mapping technology to identify dangerous climbing patterns on the five 14’ers: Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Mountain, Challenger Point and Humboldt Peak.It’s a project that started last year when Emily Griffith Technical College student Kim Jones Thomas began mapping six years of search and rescue mission data for the Crestone group. The map she created shows where fatalities, lifesaving and other kinds of missions happened and includes other information about each situation – like the number of people in the group and what they were doing on the mountain.She found incidents often clustered in certain areas, usually when climbers were descending from the summit. The number of rescue missions for people who were on their way down was more than double that for those going up.“It's not that these people don't know what they're doing,” Thomas said. “It’s just (that) the terrain definitely leads to being confused, especially at that altitude, and you're tired (and) dehydrated. It's easy to make mistakes up there.”Longtime CCSAR member Cindy Howard said problems often occur when climbers get off route after reaching a summit. Especially if they are alone.450600Custer County Search and Rescue member Cindy Howard aboard a UH-60 helicopter en route to a mission on Crestone Peak in July 2015. (Courtesy of Custer County Search and Rescue)“The best thing to do when you're descending and you realize you’re off route is to regain that elevation,” she said. “A lot of times people don't want to. They're tired, they just want to get down.”People need to remember that getting to the top of a mountain is only half the trip, Thomas said. “So while you celebrate that you made the summit, you still have to get home.”Mapping mission data highlights terrain traps and other critical information that rescue teams can later use, according to Howard.“It helps us with our mission preplanning,” Howard said. “We know where certain things happen.”It also validates some of what they already had observed about the dangers of hiking in these places but had not tracked, Howard said. They knew there were a lot of navigation issues on Kit Carson Peak and Crestone Peak, for instance, and that they often happened when people were coming down a different way than they’d gone up.“We know that there are terrain traps that we look for on missions on any of the peaks, couloirs or cliff bands where people get in trouble,” Howard said. “So by actually plotting them and mapping them, we were able to see patterns where individuals became cliffed out in a certain spot or if they fell, they potentially fell from a spot where others have become cliffed out.”Cliffed-out means to get into terrain that is so technically challenging that a person can neither go up or down from where they are.It’s vital that people understand and consider the risks they are taking as inherent to climbing and mountaineering, according to Thomas. “It's not, just make a call and a helicopter is going to be there to pick you up in half an hour,” she said. It often takes hours for search and rescue teams to reach you and assess the situation, and a helicopter rescue is not always possible depending on multiple factors.900601The Crestone Group in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, pictured Wednesday, about an hour west of Pueblo, in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, includes five 14'ers: the Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Mountain, Challenger Point and Humboldt Peak. (Shanna Lewis/KRCC News)Howard said it’s crucial for backcountry users to have good navigation skills, acclimate to high altitude before they climb, and that they carry survival supplies.Carry these 10 essentials, she said, because it’ll help you stay alive if you get in trouble:Navigation: Map, compass, and GPS system, and know how to use them before you head out.Sun protection: Sunglasses, sunscreen and hat.Insulation: Jacket, hat, gloves, rain shell, and thermal underwear. Also, have an extra layer of clothing that reflects the most extreme conditions you could encounter.Illumination: Headlamp is preferred because it’s hands-free, along with extra batteries.First-aid supplies: Start with a premade kit and modify it to fit your trip and your medical needs. Check the expiration date on all items and replace them as needed. Consider including an emergency guide in case you are faced with an unfamiliar medical emergency.Fire: Matches, preferably waterproof, a lighter and fire starters.Repair kit and tools: Duct tape, knife, screwdriver, and scissors and/or multi-tool.Nutrition: Food, preferably no-cook items that have good nutritional value.Hydration: Water and water treatment supplies.Emergency shelter: Tent, space blanket, tarp, and bivy.0VideoYouTube480360
Most incidents in Sangre de Cristo Mountains are clustered together
Michael Bennet launches first TV ad in U.S. Senate raceMajority Leader Mitch McConnell indicates Republicans plan to commit resources Colorado election60004000Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., center, flanked by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., left, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the House Appropriations Committee chairwoman, speak about the tax credit during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington on Feb. 8. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press file)U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet began campaigning for re-election in earnest Thursday with the launch of his first 2022 television ad, a reintroduction to Colorado voters touting his work to get big money out of politics. “Washington could learn a lot from Colorado,” Bennet says in the ad, which highlights the Democrat’s efforts to ban members of Congress from becoming lobbyists and from making personal stock trades while in office.The ad also points out that Bennet’s campaign isn’t taking money directly from corporate political action committees.But while the ad, powered by $600,000 in spending over two weeks, may not jump off the screen – it features Bennet hiking alone in the mountains – it comes as Colorado becomes a growing focus for national Republicans hoping to win a congressional majority in November. 1VideoYouTube480360The GOP’s chances of unseating Senate Democrats in other states, namely Georgia and Arizona, don’t appear to be as solid as they once were, mainly because of the GOP’s slate of candidates in those places.“Those are races that the Republicans this year should be in a good position to flip,” said J. Miles Coleman, associate editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a nonpartisan election prognosticator at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “But they’ve nominated very risky candidates.”That means it’s possible more Republican money and effort is placed on trying to oust Bennet, who has been in office since 2009.Bennet this year faces Republican Joe O’Dea, a wealthy first-time candidate who owns a Denver construction company and is trying to position himself as a moderate.56163744Joe O’Dea, Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Michael Bennet, speaks during a primary election night watch party late June 28 in Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)Democrats spent millions of dollars in the GOP primary trying to boost O’Dea’s opponent, state Rep. Ron Hanks, an election denier and hard-line conservative, in an unsuccessful effort to prevent Bennet from facing O’Dea in November.While Sabato’s Crystal Ball and other election analysts still think Bennet’s seat is likely to remain in Democrats’ hands – and O’Dea has dramatically less money in his campaign account compared with Bennet – they say in an election year that’s shaping up to be rough for Democrats it’s possible Bennet could be at risk.“I think it goes back to you really can’t catch a wave without a surfboard,” Coleman said, explaining that Washington is another Democratic state where the GOP is making a concerted effort to win a Senate seat. “If you want to win these races you have to have good candidates.”Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, tossed his full support behind O’Dea on Tuesday night at a fundraiser in Washington, D.C., according to Axios, vowing to be “all in in Colorado.” While McConnell’s embrace of a GOP candidate certainly isn’t surprising, his commitment to help O’Dea in a state whose voters backed Joe Biden over Donald Trump by 13 percentage points in 2020 is notable.“We think we can win this race,” McConnell said, Axios reported, citing an unnamed person who attended the event.National Republicans, however, have yet to commit resources into the Colorado Senate race. And Democrats are now attacking O’Dea’s close link to McConnell as an indication that he’s not actually moderate.Bennet is starting his TV advertising much later than Colorado’s Senate incumbents, including himself, have in past years.Bennet started airing TV ads in April during his 2016 re-election campaign, ultimately spending $9 million on TV. That included about $602,000 worth of ads in July.Restoration PAC aired $609,000 worth of ads in July 2016 supporting Republican Darryl Glenn, who lost to Bennet in 2016. That PAC spent $1.3 million supporting Glenn that year.Incumbent Colorado Sens. Mark Udall, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, began airing TV ads in their failed re-election bids in spring of 2014 and 2020, respectively.Outside groups also advertised earlier in past election cycles. Nonprofit groups that don’t report their donors began airing ads critical of Gardner in fall 2019. Similar groups on the Republican side aired ads critical of former Gov. John Hickenlooper starting in March 2020.Hickenlooper spent more than $16 million on TV advertising in 2020, while Gardner spent $12 million. Outside groups spent nearly $36 million on TV ads that year.While Bennet’s campaign isn’t taking money from companies with their own political action committees, it does take money from PACs operated by business associations, including the National Association of Realtors, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, and the Wine and Beer Wholesalers of America. Union PACs representing teachers, public employees, postal workers and construction trades have also donated to Bennet’s campaign.In fact, the campaign has received nearly $900,000 from PACs, including from leadership PACs, which are run by other lawmakers and that take money from corporate PACs.The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicates Republicans plan to commit resources Colorado election
30001466The parks were full if people enjoying the Fourth of July holiday and waiting for the fireworks to start. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)Cortez and visitors celebrate Fourth of JulyA pleasant summer day greeted thousands of people at Cortez parks as they enjoyed Fourth of July festivities and a memorable fireworks show.Soren Piotrowski gets in the spirit for the Fourth of July holiday. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)30001775Multiple fireworks explode over Parque. De Vida.(Sam Green/Special to The Journal)28873000Fireworks stream into the sky for the Fourth of July. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)30002920The Cortez Fire Department set off the fireworks this year for the Fourth of July.(Sam Green/Special to The Journal)30002274Fireworks stream into the sky for the Fourth of July. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)23493000Fireworks light up the sky for the Fourth of July. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)19373000The Quinns from Chinle wore patriotic attire for the July Fourth celebration in Cortez. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)449720Lots of volleyball games were played during the Fourth of July celebration in Cortez parks. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)421720The Marquez, Smith and Sanchez family were having a blast at the Fourth of July celebration in Parque de Vida Monday. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)300720The parks were full if people enjoying the Fourth of July holiday and waiting for the fireworks to start. (Sam Green/Special to The Journal)14663000The Four Corners Community band played patriotic numbers during the Fourth of July celebration at Centennial Park. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)404720
A pleasant summer day greeted thousands of people at Cortez parks as they enjoyed Fourth of July festivities and a memorable fireworks show.
Biking beyond bordersZambian cyclist featured in TGR film visits Durango16001163Cyclist Gift Puteho, from Zambia, watches Durango Devo racers Wednesday at Test Tracks with his coach and Durango native Nora Richards, who rode for the Fort Lewis College cycling team. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)Teton Gravity Research’s latest mountain bike film, Esperanto, mixes “the rock stars of the sport with a cast of unknown and up-and-coming heroes,” according to TGR. “The film explores how we share our dreams through a universal two-wheeled language no matter what our native tongue may be,” TGR says. “The sacred ritual of the ride might sound different all across the world – whether it’s a full-face getting pulled down to drop into a big jump line or wheeling a beat-up bike out of a mud hut to pedal to school – but it’s a universal process no matter what language we speak.”One of the cyclists featured in the film, Gift Puteho, who is from Zambia, was in Durango recently, working with some Devo riders and attending Fort Lewis College’s cycling camp. His coach on the Kansanshi Cycling Team, Nora Richards, is from Durango and a former Devo, Fort Lewis College and University of Colorado rider. Puteho, who is 17 and has two years of school left, said his part in the film is “mostly joy riding and sharing my story.”“Being on a bike is really cool,” he said. “When you go out riding, you get to feel nice. And if you have stress, you can lose it. … It’s addicting.”Puteho is from Livingstone, Zambia, home of Victoria Falls. He started cycling when he was 10 years old and spent two years training with the Livingstone Cycling Club.When he dominated a race, however, he caught Richards’ eye. “He was really fast,” Richards said. “He won by about 10 minutes.”After the two connected and he learned about the Kansanshi team, Puteho called Richards every week for 15 months until a spot on the team opened up. The Kansanshi copper mine started the team, and Richards raced on it before coaching it. “I knew (Puteho) was serious, and I knew as soon as I recruited him he’d be into it,” Richards said.1300924Cyclist Gift Puteho, center, from Zambia, talks with Durango Devo riders, Kai Lokey, 15, left, and Emmett McManus, 15, during Durango Devo races Wednesday at Test Tracks. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)The team’s 13 elite riders get their education, housing and travel paid for, as well as a salary and bikes to ride.“It was really exciting,” Puteho said about making the team, adding that it eased some of the struggles he had finding food.The team also coaches roughly 100 community riders from about seven different schools.“It’s a beautiful country, and the culture is really compatible with Colorado and Durango,” Richards said. “It’s outdoor oriented. They have had a bike scene for about 10 years. Since then, it’s grown into one of the most popular sports.” Cross-country mountain biking, she said, has the most opportunities for the Kansanshi team. TGR, meanwhile, heard about Puteho from a friend of a friend of a friend. His film part was shot in Zambia on terrain near Victoria Falls and a nearby national park. Puteho attended the premiere of Esperanto in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist while riding bikes in Utah, meaning he was unable to ride for most of his trip. Puteho will head back to Zambia, which is about a 32-hour flight away, on Monday.“Durango is really cool,” Puteho said. “It’s cold, and the altitude is different. It was a great opportunity to come here, but I would love to come back when I can ride my bike.”Before getting injured, however, he got to meet some of the film’s stars and ride with them in Utah, including Carson Storch, Johny Salido and Sophie Gregory. 1254849Cyclist Gift Puteho, from Zambia, visits Durango. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)“It was really fun, until I got into that crash in Salt Lake City,” he said. Brandon Semenuk, Cam Zink and Darren Barrecloth are a few other pros featured in the film. Esperanto will premiere in Durango on July 29 at the Durango Arts Center. In English, the word Esperanto means “one who hopes.” Today, Esperanto might remain elusive, TGR said, but the dream of a shared language spoken worldwide still flourishes. And biking is a shared language. 0VideoYouTube480360
Zambian cyclist featured in TGR film visits Durango
Why the millions of dollars Democrats spent in Colorado’s Republican primaries didn’t workAll of the more extreme GOP candidates Democrats wanted to see win on Tuesday lost56163744Joe O’Dea, Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Michael Bennet, speaks during a primary election night watch party late Tuesday in Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)Democrats have little to show for the millions of dollars they spent over the past month on TV ads, mailers and text messages seeking to influence the outcome of Colorado’s Republican primaries for U.S. Senate, governor and in the hotly contested new 8th Congressional District.All of the more extreme GOP candidates Democrats wanted to see win on Tuesday lost, most by significant margins.The spending strategy has worked before in Colorado for Democrats, and it was successful for the party in Illinois, where they were able to help a far-right Republican gubernatorial candidate win his primary over a more moderate opponent backed by the GOP establishment. So what happened in Colorado this year that made all that spending and the deluge of messaging it paid for so ineffective?“The messages were confusing to me,” said Ted Trimpa, a longtime Democratic lobbyist and strategist in Colorado who worked on a successful Democratic effort to affect the outcome of the state’s 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary. “And I don’t think (the spending) took into account unaffiliateds voting in this primary.He added: “We’ve got to give voters credit. They’re smarter than you think. Trying to manipulate only goes so far.”In 2010, Trimpa was among a group of Democrats who ran TV ads to block former-U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis from securing the GOP gubernatorial nomination. The plan worked, as voters advanced tea party Republican and entrepreneur Dan Maes to the general election, where he lost to Democrat John Hickenlooper.“Playing in a primary like that is a one-trick pony,” Trimpa told The Colorado Sun. “We did it to Scott McInnis and it worked. One, it was new. Two, it went to a character issue. Our message in that primary was really, really simple. You could have had an eye popped out and an ear missing and you would understand what the message was.”The ads run against McInnis criticized him over plagiarism allegations. 0VideoYouTube480360The ads run by Democrats in this year’s Republican primaries mostly sought to boost the name ID of further right and more controversial GOP candidates, including state Rep. Ron Hanks in the U.S. Senate race, former Parker Mayor Greg Lopez in the gubernatorial contest and Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine in the 8th District. All three fell well short of winning.Democrats signaled that they thought Hanks, Lopez and Saine would be easier to beat in the general election because of their more conservative views. Hanks and Lopez, for instance, claimed that Donald Trump was the true winner of the 2020 presidential election, a claim that’s unfounded.One difference between the Democratic spending in Republican primaries in 2010 and 2022 was that in 2010 Democrats were simply amplifying an existing story about McInnis rather than trying to shape voter opinion. The ads run this year tried to make the case that Hanks, Lopez and Saine were “too conservative” as a way to make them more attractive to Republican primary voters.0VideoYouTube480360Alan Salazar, who worked on Hickenlooper’s 2010 campaign, said there had been a big lead-up, including intense media coverage, to the Democrats ads criticizing McInnis, now a Mesa County commissioner, in the GOP primary.“It was a thing,” said Salazar, who is now Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s chief of staff. “This was a problem for him. I think it worked in large part because it was based on a real problem.”A lot has also changed in Colorado’s voting system since 2010.Voters, each of whom are now sent a ballot in the mail, can now cast their votes early, and unaffiliated voters can decide whether they want to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary for just the third election cycle.With so few primary races on the Democratic side, many more unaffiliated voters opted to cast GOP primary ballots this year than in 2018 and 2022.Where the money was spent, and how much of itMost of the Democratic spending in the GOP primaries this year was in the U.S. Senate race, where Democrats made it clear that they didn’t want to face first-time candidate Joe O’Dea, a moderate Republican who owns a Denver construction company.Federal political action committee Democratic Colorado spent $4.1 million on TV ads trying to raise Hanks’ profile and attacking O’Dea. Other Democratic groups spent thousands on mailers with the same intent.13841161Outside spending in three key Republican primary contests in 2022. (The Colorado Sun)O’Dea, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to counter the Democrats’ strategy, crushed Hanks in the primary. He was winning by 10 percentage points as of Wednesday afternoon.Republican consultant Tyler Sandberg said the Democratic strategy may have backfired.“Yes, they trolled some people into voting for” Hanks, he said. “But they also lit up moderate and liberal unaffiliated voters to choose a Republican ballot and vote against him.” 20481366Republican U.S. Senate candidates Ron Hanks, left, and Joe O’Dea discuss health care, abortion and election integrity during a debate on June 20 hosted by The Colorado Sun and CBS4. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)Alvina Vasquez, a spokeswoman for Democratic Colorado, defended the group’s spending.“We know that Democratic Colorado’s efforts to educate voters on O’Dea’s record and expose his hypocrisy have laid the groundwork to defeat him in November,” she said.O’Dea will run against Democratic U.S. Sen Michael Bennet in November.In the governor’s race, Colorado Information Network, a state-level super PAC funded primarily by the Democratic Governors Association, spent $1.5 million on ads benefiting Lopez. A group affiliated with the liberal nonprofit ProgressNow Colorado spent another $467,000 on mailers contrasting Lopez with Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, painting Lopez as ultraconservative.But University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl was beating Lopez by 6 percentage points on Wednesday afternoon.24001620Republican candidate for governor Heidi Ganahl speaks during the GOP assembly at the Broadmoor World Arena on April 9 in Colorado Springs. (Hugh Carey/The Colorado Sun file)Democratic interests also appear to be behind mailers in the new 8th District contrasting Saine with Democratic nominee Yadira Caraveo, a state representative, painting Saine as highly conservative. Additionally, national Democratic super PACs, including one affiliated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, spent nearly $300,000 on TV and digital ads in the 8th District promoting Saine and attacking her opponent, state Sen. Barbara Kirkmeyer.Kirkmeyer won the GOP nomination in the district by a wide margin.Kristi Burton Brown, chairwoman of the Colorado GOP, trolled Democrats in a tweet she posted Wednesday morning featuring a gif of a man dropping cash into a fire.She joked that the gif was “live footage” of Colorado Democrats.Republican outside groups, plus better-funded candidates, winO’Dea, Lopez and Kirkmeyer also outraised their Republican primary opponents and benefited from significant spending by GOP outside groups.American Policy Fund, a super PAC funded by several Colorado contractors, spent $1.1 million supporting O’Dea, much of it on TV ads. O’Dea’s wife, Celeste, gave a shout-out to “the contractors association that also made this possible” during the couple’s victory speech Tuesday night.O’Dea’s campaign significantly outspent Hanks’ campaign, dropping at least $618,000 on TV ads alone. As for Hanks, his entire campaign’s overhead through June 8 was just 17% of the amount O’Dea spent on TV airtime, according to Federal Election Commission filings.Kirkmeyer received support from Americans for Prosperity Action and Let America Work, including canvassing, TV ads and mailers. Her campaign also outspent Saine’s campaign by a significant margin, $276,00 to $183,000, through June 8.Ganahl benefited from spending by state-level super PACs Defend Colorado and Make Colorado Affordable Again. And her campaign spent $1.1 million through June 22, compared to Lopez’s $135,000 in spending during that period.The Republican primary in Colorado’s 7th Congressional District was one race where the candidate whose campaign raised and spent the most money didn’t win.Erik Aadland, an Army veteran from Pine, won the contest despite being outspent by multimillionaire economist Tim Reichert, of Golden.But Aadland also was aided by For Colorado’s Future, a federal super PAC that supported him with nearly three times as much money as Reichert received from a federal super PAC that supported him, Conservative Leadership for Colorado.Mainstream GOP, progressive Democratic candidates prevail with outside helpMore than $2.7 million was spent by outside groups in Colorado’s legislative primaries, almost evenly split between Republican and Democratic races.13621157Outside spending in Colorado 2022 legislative primary contests. (The Colorado Sun)Ready Colorado Action, which is run by Sandberg, the GOP political operative, was the top spender on the Republican side, dropping $530,000 on contests. The group was followed by Make Colorado Affordable Again, which spent nearly $200,000 trying to influence the outcome of contests.Both of those conservative super PACs were funded primarily by nonprofit Ready Colorado, which advocates for conservative education policies.On the Democratic side, liberal super PACs backed by labor unions spent more money than in past election cycles and were successful in several contests.The top-spending progressive group was Colorado Labor Action, which was funded by the Service Employees International Union. The group spent about $530,000 on primary contests this year, including in the House District 42 Democratic primary in Aurora, where their candidate – Rep. Mandy Lindsay – won.Colorado Labor Action also successfully backed Thornton City Councilwoman Jenny Willford in her House District 34 Democratic primary in the northern Denver suburbs.Colorado Working Families Party’s state-level super PAC, which was also funded by the Service Employees International Union, was the third top Democratic spender. It supported criminal justice activist Elisabeth Epps in her House District 6 Democratic primary against Katie March, a former legislative aide. The race was still too close to call Wednesday.National nonprofit Education Reform Now Advocacy was the primary funder of a state-level super PAC called Raising Colorado. Raising Colorado gave money to another state-level super PAC, We Mean Business, which gave money to another group that backed March and opposed Epps in the House District 6 primary.The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.
All of the more extreme GOP candidates Democrats wanted to see win on Tuesday lost