Tea Party activist is now “executive editor” at the Colorado Statesman?

April 28th, 2016

If all you knew about Jennifer Kerns is her job title of executive editor of the Colorado Statesman, you may have been surprised if you attended last Thursday’s meeting of the North Jeffco Tea Party, where she provided an evening lecture titled, “Brokered Brand: How the GOP continues to compromise its brand and lose elections… and what you can do about it.”

A couple days before her Jeffco speech, Kerns’ Tea-Party conservatism was blaring from KNUS 710-AM, where she subbed for arch conservative Dan Caplis:

Kerns: We can’t forget that we have a big senate race coming up here in 2016, the race against Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the more liberal members of the U.S. Senate, very similar to Mark Udall, except, in my view, there’s one big problem with Senator Bennet, and that is, whereas Mark Udall was concerned about one thing and one thing primarily, your uterus–That was his nickname at least on the campaign trail, given to him by The Denver Post.–Sen. Michael Bennet has many, many interests that he wants to control in your life. And to talk about that a little bit is the executive director of Advancing Colorado, Jonathan Lockwood. … I want to go through some of the attacks you’ve made on Sen. Michael Bennet and rightfully so, given his track record. Let’s start with his support of President Obama’s nuclear deal that gives Iran basically unfettered access to nuclear material… Great work you’re doing, Jonathan Lockwood….

This doesn’t sound like a journalist who, a couple weeks later, would be writing a front-page Statesman article about the Bennet race. But, yes, Kerns authored the April 13 piece, headlined “Bennet will have a fight, but how much of one is TBD.”

The headline was fair enough, but the article hit a low note by repeating an inaccurate conservative attack against Bennet:

“[Bennet's] initial support of transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay detention camps was an unpopular sell to many Colorado voters,” Kerns reported.

Bennet never supported transferring GITMO prisoners here, and Kerns was immediately challenged on Twitter by “MissingPundit,” who pointed out that Politifact found it untrue that Bennet supported bringing Gitmo detainees to Colorado.

In response, Kerns called Politifact a “lefty site,” again repeating a conservative talking point that ignores the fact that Politifact won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. Kerns tweeted that Politifact is “lefty” in the same way America Rising is “righty.” In reality, America Rising was established to expose the “truth about Democrats”, while the mission of Politifact is fact checking.

In any case, to the Statesman’s credit, the falsehood about Bennet was later removed from the digital version of the article, but, unfortunately, there was no indication that a correction was made.

Asked to discuss this error and her conservative activism, Kerns, who’s also a favorite of KNUS’ Peter Boyles, referred me to Statesman publisher Jared Wright.

First, Wright said, he’s obviously aware of Kerns’ conservative background, and he points to her bio, often printed in the newspaper and online, as proof that the newspaper is being transparent about her:

Jennifer Kerns is an executive editor at The Colorado Statesman. She is an accomplished conservative political writer and contributor to several national publications including The Blaze, The Washington Times, and The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal. She also served as the communications director and spokeswoman for the 2013 Colorado recall elections to defend Coloradans’ Second Amendment rights. [and California's Proposition 8, BigMedia addition]

Calling the recall elections an effort “to defend Coloradans’ Second Amendment rights” is biased itself, but Wright said, “All of her stuff [online and print] goes through another editor and the fact-checking process. And there have been a number of times when we said, ‘You need to go get comments from the other side. You need to make sure the other side has its say.”

Wright said it’s “no excuse,” but his small newspaper has been hit with an overlapping staff crisis and vacations recently. A written correction should have been made on Kerns’ Bennet article, in line with the newspaper’s policy, and he promised to look into it.

The short staffing, he said, was partly the reason Kerns was writing the Bennet article in the first place, said Wright. The executive editor job is “more of an executive officer or an assistant to the editorial department,” he said. But Kerns will “pinch hit” as a reporter, as she did when writing the “Hot Sheet” feature when Wright, who usually writes the informative daily political briefing, was away recently.

Wright believes that advocates can make good journalists at a political newspaper like the Statesman, due to their insider contacts and deep political knowledge.

But, I told Wright, Kerns looks like a conservative operative at work at the Statesman, which, two sources say, is under the majority control of conservative power-broker Larry Mizel.

Wright said expects Kerns’ outside political work to end soon, though she’ll still have her opinions, and some of it was on tap before she started.

“I’m fully aware that Jennifer has her bent, probably more than anyone else on our staff,” said Wright, who’s a former GOP state lawmaker, now a registered independent.

“I want to have people who are opinionated,” said Wright, emphasizing his newspaper will be as transparent as possible. “It’s important to have journalists but also to have people who have been very active in politics, and of course the only place you are going to find those people is on one side of the aisle or the other. So as long as we have a balance of those people on the team, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

Who’s the balance for Kerns, who started last month?

“You know, we’ve also got [Statesman Capitol Bureau Chief] John Tomasic,” Wright said. “John will tell you he’s very opinionated on the progressive side and has worked for progressive publications [like the Colorado Independent].”

Kerns has a track record as an operative; Tomasic is a journalist, I told Wright.

He agreed that the two staffers are not comparable “in the way they are currently operating.” He said he might add a writer with a progressive background to his staff. [If you know someone, please see if they want to apply.]

With respect to Tomasic, he said, “There are times when we have to say, ‘John, you have to go talk to the other side. John, sometimes correctly, doesn’t trust the other side, and doesn’t have those contacts. It’s just all of us, working as a team, and keeping each other on track.”

The question is, given what we’ve seen so far, can the team control Kerns?

Clarification: An early version of this post implied that the Statesman is begging for progressive job applicants. This is not what I meant.  Also, the incorrect statement that Tomasic wrote for progressive causes was removed.

When will a reporter ask Woods why she likes Trump?

April 26th, 2016

How many times does State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) have to say she likes Donald Trump before a reporter will ask her the simple question of, why?

In an email to supporters Sunday, Woods wrote that she’d vote for Trump, if he were the nominee, adding, “I have liked Trump and Cruz, and at times I have disliked them both.”

Woods, who’s been more open about her support for Cruz, said earlier this year on KNUS 710-AM of the Republican prez candidates:

Woods: “My favorites are Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.”

Now, with Trump set to roll one step closer today to securing the Republican nomination–and with Woods apparently the only elected official in Colorado to affirmatively and proactively express her fondness of Trump–you’d think a journalist out there would jump on the local angle and ask her why.

Yet, apparently Woods has skated by the press corps, somehow avoiding the scrutiny you’d expect her to receive as the senator whose fate in November’s election will likely decide whether divided government comes to an end in Colorado.

So, with so much at stake, as well as a news hook the size of Trump, you’d think Woods would have explained her feelings for Trump many times over on the record.

To emphasize the point, and as a means to suggest a few obvious avenues of questioning that reporters might pursue in questioning Woods about Trump, here’s a video.

https://youtu.be/3xMMMWNqrj8

How to protect Colorado’s “non-prime population” from being exploited as a “market opportunity?”

April 25th, 2016

Reporters have done a good job informing us that most people who sign up for predatory loans are struggling.

But there’s a media gap in pointing out just how important the “struggling” part is to the business model of OneMain Holdings, the company backing legislation that would allow it to charge 36 percent interest on more and larger loans.

In a presentation a couple months ago, OneMain boasted to investers about its “Market Opportunity” in the personal loan business.

After noting that “Americans have $3.3 trillion in consumer debt,” and then identifying its “target market” as the 100 million Americans with low credit scores, the company pointed out where its pay dirt lies:

OneMain’s Market Opportunity: “Large non-prime population with limited liquidity–63 percent of American households do not have at least $1,000 in savings, more than 40% have no emergency savings.” [Emphasis added by OneMain Holdings, not by the BigMedia Blog.]

“Non-prime population?” That’s an unfortunate phrase for this company to use, but it spotlights the point.

A lot of poeple are struggling with debt problems, and they need loans. But they obviously need protection from a big company that targets them as a “market opportunity.” How much protection from interest-rate hammering is appropriate?

We’re never going to know exactly how much money OneMain Holdings is really making in Colorado.

We’re just going to get shards of information, like the company representative confirming 30 percent growth in Colorado during the last four years. Or the Colorado attorney general’s office confirming again that access to personal loans is not a problem here. Which indicates that OneMain is happily doing business here.

Objectively, it looks like the company is doing very well, thank you very much.

Except, OneMain claims that it’s not doing well enough, and one key supporter has said, if nothing is done, the company might have to walk away from Colorado!

So if you’re a state legislator, and you know OneMain will never open up its books for review (and you know that people need loans), do you err on the side of protecting those people with little or no personal savings? Or do you respond to the company’s complaints and help it out, to the tune of $9.5 million?

That’s the key question that reporters should zero in on. How much evidence is there that this company actually factually needs to make more money on the backs of Colorado’s “non-prime population?” In fact, is there any evidence at all, except what the company says?

Colorado GOP chair appears to side with those who think Trump doesn’t need magic number of delegates to win on first ballot

April 21st, 2016

Former Fox 31 Denver political reporter Eli Stokols writes that GOP operatives see Donald Trump winning the GOP nomination if he gets close to the magic number of 1,237 delegates.

Colorado GOP Steve House appears to agree, according to Stokols’ post yesterday:

When the convention opens in Cleveland in mid-July, roughly 200 delegates will arrive as free agents, unbound by the results of primaries or caucuses in their states. Trump’s campaign is confident they can win as many of them as they must in order to get to 1,237 on the first ballot.

“Trump has to get to 1,237, but there’s a lot of talk about, ‘What is the real number?’” said another RNC member. “Whatever half the uncommitted number is, that’s probably a reasonable number.”

“I think a lot of people think if he gets within 50 to 100 [of 1,237], he’ll be able to carry it,” said Steve House, Colorado’s GOP chairman and an unbound delegate already being courted by the Trump and Cruz campaigns.

House hasn’t said how he’d vote, but he validates the point that Trump has a serious shot a locking up the nomination during the first round of voting at the GOP national convention in Cleveland, even if he doesn’t arrive with all the delgates he needs.

This is a substantial departure from the narrative you hear most often in the news, that Trump has to have the full 1,237 going in to win on the first ballot.

Will choice matter in Colorado U.S. Senate race?

April 21st, 2016

In a radio interview yesterday, GOP U.S. Senate candidate Robert Blaha said choice is “not going to be an issue” in in Colorado’s U.S. Senate campaign because women are “really smart” and will not be concerned about Blaha’s opposition to all abortion, even for rape and incest (unless the mother’s life is in danger).

For perspective, I dredged up this video of Bennet arguing with then Weld Country District Attorney Ken Buck on the topic of abortion.

Blaha argues that he can turn the issue against Bennet by bringing up his support for partial-birth abortion, a rare procedure performed only when serious medical issues warrant it.

Watch the video above, and read Blaha’s comments below, and tell me if  smart women will side with Bennet or a candidate like Blaha. Reporters should keep the comparison in their pockets for November’s campaign trail.

Robert Blaha on the Dan Caplis Show – KNUS, 710am – April 20, 2016

Blaha: You know, people have got to realize that women — my women, the women I know — are really smart. And they think about far more than just the issues of abortion. That’s one issue of five or six or seven that move them. So, you know, I’m a pro-life candidate. I’m proud of that. I don’t move off of that, and I have an exception for the woman’s life. But besides staying on message, I don’t think you’ve got to back off a bit, because that issue — that singular issue — was a winner in ’10, it was a winner in ’11. It wasn’t an issue in ’12. ‘13 and ’14 and it’s not going to be an issue in ’16. It’s not a winning issue for the far left.

Caplis: Yeah, and I think if handled right, it backfires on him, because –.

Blaha: Exactly!

Caplis: and I think you are one of a number of candidates in the field who have the high intelligence and the verbal skills to, you know, just turn it on Bennet in a hurry, because he is the true extremist. And when you have the verbal skills you do, you know, you can pin him down. He supports late-term abortion through labor and delivery. And at that point he goes from looking like some kind of moderate to some kind of monster, so–.

Blaha: And, you know, I’m a — because of what I do for a living –I’m a stats guy. I am a data guy. I’m a numbers guy. You know, we can look at poll after poll, we can look at anything. When Michael Bennet and his ilk want to explain why it’s okay to kill somebody in their third term, near the end of a birth. When they can explain that to America and they can get America to embrace that, then I’ll worry about whether, you know, — whether he’s got a better position than I. Because he doesn’t. His position, actually, is the extreme position. Our position is not.

Post reporter stands out for asking predatory-lender about Colorado profits

April 20th, 2016

A predatory-lending bill, allowing lenders to make more money on high-interest loans, passed a state senate committee yesterday, with supporters of the bill telling reporters that increased profits are necessary to keep personal-loan lenders in Colorado.

That’s the major argument for the bill. Specifically, backers told the Durango Herald that the one company offering such loans will leave Colorado if it’s not allowed to make millions more here.

The Denver Post’s Joey Bunch was the only reporter to ask Springleaf Holdings, Colorado’s only lender of personal loans (after a merger last year with its competitor), how the company was doing. I mean, that’s the key question.

Is it struggling to make ends meet, like many of the folks it lends money to are? People who pay the company 36 percent interest on a $1,000 loan as it is?

Bunch reported:

Phil Hitz, who represented Springleaf Holdings, acknowledged that the company is very profitable nationally and confirmed the 30 percent Colorado growth over the past four years.

Bunch apparently didn’t ask Hitz if Springleaf would leave Colorado if the bill didn’t pass, but all indications are that it would not.

Last year, when a similar predatory-lending bill was debated, the Colorado Attorney General’s office testified that access to such loans is not threatened under the current interest-rate structure.  Similar testimony was reportedly offered yesterday as well.

So the bill’s backers haven’t refuted the key point that lenders of personal loans are profitable and thriving. Instead, the market in Colorado is actually growing. There’s no indication that the lenders will walk away from Colorado and its money.

To be fair, Hitz told Bunch that Colorado is the company’s lowest yielding state, and other states help subsidize it.

But lowest yielding state compared to what, astronomically-earning ones? We know the company is “very profitable” nationally. So the fact that it’s doing well enough in Colorado is a signal that states should protect consumers, many of them low-income, and adopt Colorado’s humane regulatory framework.

That’s another conversation reporters might have with Hitz.

Denver Post deceives subscribers with stealth fees for advertising and other inserts

April 20th, 2016

The Denver Post is shortening the length of subscriptions with a deceptive tactic, allowing the newspaper to collect more money by forcing subscribers to renew earlier than they might have expected when they signed up.

The ploy is to charge subscribers $3 for four newspaper inserts delivered throughout the year, unless subscribers, many of whom are elderly and likely struggle to track life’s details, proactively opt out of receiving the newspaper inserts. Three of the supplements are advertising inserts and one is a Broncos bonus, presumably filled with pages and pages about the football team.

Unless subscribers know about the inserts and assert, at the time of their subscription renewal, that they don’t want them, then the length of their subscriptions are reduced by $12 worth of deliveries, which is a bit less than a month. That’s a lot of money for the newspaper, if you multiply it by hundreds of thousands of subscribers.

In another effort to make more money on subscriptions, The Post has stopped giving subscribers credit for vacation stops. If you halted delivery of your newspaper during your vacation in the past, you used to be able to add extra days to your subscription. Now you can’t.

This isn’t going over well with some subscribers, like my mother-in-law, who cancelled her subscription recently. She follows life’s details to a fault, so the shortened subscription didn’t escape her attention or her temper. She’s done with The Post.

When The Post called me to renew my own subscription, I confirmed all of this from the telephone saleswoman.

But I cannot provide an official comment or verification from The Post because, unfortunately, multiple calls and emails over the last few months to Circulation Director Bill Reynolds and Publisher Mac Tully were not returned. Before he left the newspaper, former Post Editor Greg Moore referred me to them.

I think the vacation-stop policy makes sense.

But charging for advertising supplements and pages full of minutia about the Broncos that should be part of your subscription anyway? That’s sleazy. And it will drive away customers.

Are Republicans already giving up on Bennet race?

April 19th, 2016

After State Sen. Tim Neville was surprisingly knocked out of the Republican battle for the right to take on Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, State Sen. Justin Everett (R-Littleton) took to Facebook to lament:

Everett: “Sadly, our only chance to defeat Michael Bennet is no longer in the race. Thank you, Tim, we know you will always be on the front lines in the fight for freedom and liberty. God bless you and your family.”

Reporters might write off Everett’s comment as despondency after a shocking loss by Neville, whom Everett was obviously backing. But judging from the first quarter fundraising numbers, showing that none of the GOP primary candidates are, in Politico reporter Eli Stokols’ words, “really crushing it,” you have the privilege of wondering if Republicans are starting to join with Everett in thinking the race has already been won by Bennet, who’s sitting there with $7.6 million in the bank.

As The Denver Post put it:

No one in the crowded Republican field looking to unseat [Bennet] has reported more than $1 million cash-on-hand, and whoever emerges from the five-way fight likely will drained of resources just trying to win the June 28 primary.

The GOP fundraising leader, Jack Graham,the former CSU athletic director, dropped $1 million on his own campaign, and has, as ColoradoPols pointed out, more money in the bank “than the rest of the Republican field put together.”

Anything can happen, and big campaign spending may flow from 527 groups still unknown. But with the Colorado Republicans’ A-Team out of the race before they got in it, and the remaining B-Team not catching fire money-wise or otherwise, it’s a legitimate question for reporters to ponder: When will the toll of layers of candidates, piled upon divisiveness and Democratic unity, against the backdrop of an improving economy and even an increasingly popular president, make Republicans say, hmm, maybe we should throw our time and money elsewhere.

Breitbart should state that Woods likes Trump, making her involvement in pro-Cruz shenanigans unlikely

April 18th, 2016

Breitbart’s Julia Hahn reports that four Colorado lawmakers, who are members of Ted Cruz’s “Colorado Leadership Team, voted against a 2015 bill that would have created a presidential primary in Colorado.

Trump has said the absence of a primary or caucus vote helped Cruz trounce Trump in the race for Colorado delegates. And Hahn’s story implies that Cruz supporters in Colorado’s legislature might have been working to squash Trump as early as last year, when they voted against a bill establishing open primary that might have benefited Trump.

“Social media posts, along with Cruz’s campaign website, reveal that Sen. Ted Cruz supporters in the Colorado Republican Party were responsible for crushing an effort to give Colorado the ability to vote in a state primary…The four Republicans who voted against the initiative were Sen. Kevin Grantham, Sen. Kent Lambert, Sen. Laura Woods, and Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg.”

The trouble with this conspiracy theory is that Woods is actually factually on record as saying Trump is one of her top two favorite presidential candidates. As such, Woods is the only elected official in the state to affirmatively say she likes Trump.

Woods “narrowed the field” after watching the GOP prez debate in Boulder, and she concluded that her “favorites are Ted Cruz and Donald Trump” (here at 25 min, 50 seconds).

Later, Woods “liked” a Facebook post by The Conservative Update, which stated:

‘Like’ if you would vote for Donald Trump if he were the 2016 GOP nominee.

So if Woods was secretly in the tank for Cruz last year, when she voted against the presidential-primary bill, she, at a minimum, had a change of heart after being wowed by Trump at the Boulder GOP debate. But, more likely, she voted against the prez-primary bill for other reasons.

In any case, Hahn should update her post with the fact that Woods praised Trump and said he was one of her favorite candidaates along with Cruz, before she jumped on the Cruz boat.

Predatory-lending bill shouldn’t fly under journalists’ late-session radar

April 18th, 2016

Sometimes reporters ignore bills in the state legislature that look like they would surely die quickly in the hands of divided government. But here’s a piece of right-wing legislation that surprisingly cleared Colorado’s divided legislature last year, before a being vetoed by Gov. John Hickenlooper: a “predatory-lending” bill.

Similar legislation, introduced just last week, should be scrutinized by journalists, despite the end-of-session onslaught on top of the usual onslaught.

This year’s predatory-lending bill (SB16-185), which could be heard this week, would allow for an increase in interest rates on subprime “personal loans,” which are sold to people whose credit problems preclude them from obtaining loans with more favorable interest rates.

Such loans are convenient–and can actually help struggling families improve their credit ratings. But they’re costly, with the potential to be devastating economically for low-income people.

Lenders are getting 36 percent on the first $1,000 in a personal loan, and 21 percent on such loans from $1,000 to $3,000. Yet the senate bill would set up a mechanism to jack up the rates even more. Last year’s failed bill aimed to set the interest rate at 36 percent for all personal loans up to $3,000.

Personal loans average $6,000 in Colorado. They shouldn’t be confused with pay-day loans, which typically carry an even higher interest rate and can be no more than $500, under state law. So these are completely different types of loans.

In vetoing the measure last year, Hickenlooper was “particularly struck” by the Colorado Attorney General’s assessment that higher interest rates on personal loans would not make them more readily available to consumers.

This validates statements by the bill’s opponents that lenders of personal loans are profitable and thriving–despite allegations by the bill’s opponents last year that higher interest rates are needed to keep lenders from abandoning the business. And the number of personal loans sold last year is the highest since 2009, so the market is actually growing under the current regulatory structure, opponents say.

A number of groups have lined up against the predatory lending bill, including AARP Colorado, Bell Policy Center, Center for Responsible Lending, CLLARO, Colorado Catholic Conference, Colorado Center for Law and Policy, Colorado Council of Churches, Colorado Fiscal Institute, Gary Community Investments, Company, Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, One Colorado ProgressNow Colorado Small Business Majority.

Given what happened last year, and the public’s well-known demand to know what lawmakers are doing to help (or in this case hurt) working families, journalists should keep a close eye on this year’s predatory-lending legislation.