The Spot: A weird August for critical Senate race, and Polis’ confusing messaging on a eviction moratorium

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On Tuesday morning, Sen. Cory Gardner stood in the East Room of the White House while President Donald Trump signed a public lands bill of his into law.

“In the midst of acrimony, in the midst of partisanship, in the midst of times when the American people probably look out and wonder if they can get anything done, Congress came together to pass the most significant (public lands) bill … in over 50 years,” Gardner said.

Meanwhile, over in the Capitol, there was plenty of that acrimony and partisanship, as Republicans and Democrats remain at loggerheads over coronavirus response legislation.

Around that same time Tuesday, John Hickenlooper was in his usual seat at home, peering into his usual webcam and talking about Congress’s failures, which fit neatly into a central premise of his campaign: Congress isn’t working, and Coloradans should send him there to make it work.

“Our nation is facing crises of epic proportions,” Hickenlooper said on a Zoom call, “and week after week, the U.S. Senate finds a way to fail Americans. They resort to finger-pointing and bickering.” A short time later, he added, “Senator Gardner really doesn’t seem to care.”

Tuesday was a perfect encapsulation of the subdued Senate race as it stands with 90 days to go. Largely relegated to online campaign events, Hickenlooper can only watch and react to what happens in Washington. That’s bad news for him when a Gardner bill is being signed into law but great news for him when Congress is tripping over its own feet.

Gardner, meanwhile, may be forced to stay in Washington through August — a typically campaign-centric month — as Congress searches for a compromise. That is good news when there is legislative progress he can tout, and bad news when Congress appears inept.

“There’s an advantage to being an incumbent, but the disadvantage to being an incumbent is that you have to work back in D.C.,” former Republican Rep. Scott McInnis told me recently. 

“While you’re in D.C., sitting there hour after hour while a lot of worthless speeches are going on, all you can think about is that while I’m here, my opponent is out in the battlefield moving on me and I can’t do a thing about it,” he added. (We were talking about Scott Tipton at the time).

But the battlefield is different this year. This is not the August that Hickenlooper expected, it’s not the August that Gardner expected, and it’s not the August you or I expected. 

So, stay tuned.

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Top Line

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis admitted he has only ever played two full rounds of golf in his life, and missed the ball entirely during a ceremonial tee shot in 2013. Nevertheless, he found himself back on the green Thursday to oversee the Colorado High School Activities Association’s first event of the 2020-21 school year, the DPS Invite at Wellshire Golf Course, The Denver Post’s Andy Yamashita reports.

Capitol Diary • By Alex Burness

The latest on evictions

The good news is that, so far, evictions aren’t happening in huge numbers in Colorado. Data from the courts show only a few hundred were processed in July — well below the pre-pandemic monthly average — and millions of dollars in rental assistance are still available at both the state and local levels.

Eviction defense advocates have warned that up to 400,000 people in Colorado could be vulnerable to eviction, and so the numbers have the housing industry boasting that, actually, things are going pretty well.

“The 458 evictions filed in a state with 5.8 million people is not a crisis,” said Andrew Hamrick, a vice president with the Colorado Apartment Association.

I’m not convinced things will stay this way, in large part because federal unemployment benefits — which put $2,400 a month in individuals’ pockets — just expired. 

Expecting and fearing the situation will worsen, perhaps dramatically, the eviction defense folks have kept vigilant, holding protests in Denver and pressing the governor to reinstate the eviction moratorium he let lapse a few weeks ago.

It’s been an interesting week for Gov. Polis on evictions. On Monday, he wrote me on Twitter that he wants more federal action, and that he had hoped the state legislature would extend the moratorium until November. What didn’t explain: Since lawmakers didn’t do it, why hasn’t he just done it himself?

On Tuesday, Polis went on Univision for a Spanish-language town hall about the coronvirus and the state’s response. He was asked by one viewer what he’ll do for people facing evictions, and speaking in Spanish, the very first policy the governor mentioned was his eviction moratorium — only he declined to note that it expired a while ago. As he spoke, the TV station ran a chyron that read, translated: “Executive order establishes a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures.”

It was misleading enough that the station felt compelled to correct the record on air the next day. Polis’ spokesman told me, “We realize that the Governor’s response could be misinterpreted, so our office proactively contacted the station to ensure that clarification was provided.”

The governor’s stance of late has been, basically: Things are generally back to normal economically, and so people should be able to work and thus to pay the rent, and if they need help they should simply turn to various funds designed to help them.

So why, then, would he tweet about how he wanted the moratorium to run through November, and tout the moratorium on TV with no mention of the fact that he let it die?

More Colorado political news

  • A proposed Colorado ballot measure comes up waaaaay short.
  • … And here’s news on two much more legitimate ballot efforts.

#COSen 2020 • By Justin Wingerter

The Hick health plan

John Hickenlooper unveiled his health care plan Thursday, a nine-page document that looks the way you would expect if you have listened to him for the past year.

The centerpiece is a public option for health insurance. Americans could keep their current health insurance plans if they prefer them, or sign up for a government-run insurance plan.

“Not only could it make benefits more portable — enabling people to maintain their policy when switching jobs or starting a small business — but it could increase marketplace competition, lower costs across the system, and close gaps in coverage,” Hickenlooper’s policy paper states.

The Democrat wants to bolster the Affordable Care Act by fixing what is sometimes called the “family glitch” and end surprise billing, which Colorado has taken steps to do. He wants the federal government to cover a higher share of Medicaid costs, promises to send more money to community health centers, and seeks better oversight of coronavirus relief dollars.

Gardner’s campaign declined to comment on the Hickenlooper plan Thursday. Democratic candidates across the country expected health care to be the top issue this year, and Hickenlooper has tried to make it so. He rolled out a new health care-focused ad Thursday.

“There’s a simple rule I learned in business: When you buy in bulk, you can insist on a better price,” Hickenlooper says in the ad. “So, Medicare should get amazingly low prices for prescription drugs, because no one buys more of them. But in Washington, they actually made it illegal for Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. It’s unbelievable.”

More federal election news

  • Rep. Doug Lamborn has asked a U.S. Treasury inspector general to investigate Hickenlooper’s spending from a federal fund. A state senator made the same request.
  • Strange but true: Kanye West makes the presidential ballot in Colorado.
  • Sierra Club endorsed Hickenlooper and said its volunteers will work to elect him.
  • In the 3rd District, Lauren Boebert continues to campaign in person and draw some significant crowds, the Ouray County Plaindealer reports.
  • Much of the federal data about Paycheck Protection Program loans in the Denver suburbs was grossly inaccurate, The Sentinel reports.

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