A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Daily Camera, March 10, on why voters should know more background about donors to political campaigns :
When one thinks about how much credit and blame we give to voters for what goes on in this country, it's sobering to sometimes compare what Americans believe with our political reality.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken last year showed that 75 percent of Americans think there is too much money in politics. An almost identical number of them think that the amount of money in elections gives wealthy Americans more influence over politicians.
The numbers included the overwhelming majority of Democrats (8 out of 10), the overwhelming majority of Republicans (7 out of 10), and the overwhelming majority of independents (8 out of 10.)
In addition, non-buyers beware: Two-thirds of those polled think that politicians change their positions to appeal to or reward their donors. Only one-third thought that the money just flowed to the candidate who already agreed with the donors.
Who's that working for? In a USA Today poll this year, more than three of four Americans say the way Washington works is causing serious harm to the country.
These feelings about money and Washington aren't the result of toxic blend of attack ads during the first presidential election since the Citizens United decision in the U.S. Supreme Court. That decision opened the floodgates to negative attack ads funded by big-money interests. But similar polls found similar results in the years leading up to it.
So what gives? If the voting public feels so strongly about something, wouldn't the representatives they select reform the system?
No. They don't and they won't.
Consider: The most powerful person to speak out against the Citizens United decision was the President of the United States. Organizing for Action (OFA) — the nonprofit off-shoot of the Obama campaign — is precisely the type of "dark money" group derided by foes of the Supreme Court ruling. It says it will voluntarily disclose donors — all of them? Just the major ones? Just the major ones who consent? The fox is watching the henhouse.
Former Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps has joined with Common Cause, a progressive group that is concerned with media consolidation and money in politics. Copps stopped by the Camera this week to talk about, among other things, a tool he thinks the government already has to give the majority of the American people what they want.
The FCC requires "true identity" disclosure of all advertisers, political as well as commercial.
"You could name the PAC 'Citizens for Amber Waves of Grain' but you have no clue what that means. It could be a chemical company that's refusing to clean up its toxic dump," he said.
The Communications Act already names the "true identity" rule. The law says citizens have a right to know who is saying what. All the FCC has to do is enforce it.
Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald, March 8, on senior living facility employee refusing to perform CPR:
News reports last week about a nurse who refused to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on an elderly patient, who later died, have shocked the nation.
The employee at the independent living community in Bakersfield, Calif., where the woman was living, called 911 to request medical assistance, but insisted she could not administer CPR because of company policy.
On the 911 tape, the dispatcher pointedly and poignantly asked: "I understand if your boss is telling you, you can't do it ... as a human being ... is there anybody that's willing to help this lady and not let her die?" The employee's response: "Uh, not at this time."
The company at first defended her, saying she was following policy, but later said she had misunderstood the policy.
It should never be against any company's policy for staff to administer aid to someone clearly in need of help. But in this age of frivolous lawsuits, it's a danger that companies could enact such ill-considered practices.
Every state should have good Samaritan laws to protect people who step up and try to save lives. Colorado does have such a law, which provides civil protection for anyone "who in good faith renders emergency care or emergency assistance to a person not presently his patient without compensation at the place of an emergency or accident, including a health care institution."
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, all 50 states have laws that encourage medical professionals to act as good Samaritans by offering some level of legal protection to them. Colorado's goes further in extending that protection to people without medical backgrounds.
Though many people do not know how to perform CPR and others with training may never have had to put it in use, dispatchers are trained to direct them through the procedure.
There should be no excuse for failing to provide CPR to someone who has stopped breathing. We all have a responsibility to assist others in medical distress, a moral responsibility that means protection of life must supersede any corporate-protection policy.
The Denver Post, March 11, on updating the roles of Colorado coroners and how they are selected:
Douglas County Coroner Lora Thomas sees her office as more than a body removal service. She recently told Colorado state lawmakers about how law enforcement has kept her personnel from entering crime scenes for hours, allowing "time sensitive" evidence to get old. Thomas was one of several people who recently testified in favor of a measure that would set guidelines for the roles of coroners, whose job it is to determine cause of death.
It's a good step forward in modernizing and formalizing the role of coroners, a job that retains the vestiges of its Old West roots. Colorado's system of elected coroners was established in 1876.
We have long advocated for a broad overhaul of the coroner system, which still allows people who are not forensic pathologists or even doctors to be elected. A system in which coroners were hired by counties — instead of being elected — would allow local governments to tailor the office to their needs.
Sparsely populated counties with few deaths might appoint someone already on the county payroll who would largely contract with larger counties for medical examiner services. More populated counties could hire forensic pathologists, a medical doctor with specialized training in determining cause of death, instead of potentially electing someone who is not even a doctor.
But it seems as though Colorado is going to take on the role of coroners in a piecemeal fashion.
In 2011, a bill passed that delineated the circumstances in which coroners were required to investigate deaths, since they do not investigate all of the 30,000-plus deaths in the state annually. The problem was that some coroners weren't investigating deaths that they should have, and it was impeding law enforcement.
We thought that bill was a back-door way of getting around the fact that some elected coroners in Colorado were unqualified to do the job and thought a broader look was in order. We still do.
But we don't see the harm in the modernization efforts embodied in House Bill 1097. It says law enforcement "shall make all reasonable accommodations" to allow coroners to collect information such as the temperature of the body and the scene.
HB 1097 is well on its way to becoming law, and it will be of benefit. However, we still would encourage lawmakers to look at a broader restructuring of the system to better fit modern times and needs.
Aurora Sentinel, March 8, on Colorado's open government and records laws:
Colorado residents are fortunate; this is a place with a lot of sunshine.
The sunshine that makes Colorado a good place to live comes from the state's open government and records laws that are built upon a simple idea. Everything that every government in the state does is open to the scrutiny of the public and the press. This week, newspapers all across the country are asking readers to understand the importance of open-government laws, and ask elected officials to respect and strengthen them.
In Colorado, the burden to keep information and meetings secret falls upon the government. By design, the onus does not fall upon the public to get records or access to meetings. It keeps Colorado the sunny, accountable, remarkable place it is. That doesn't mean the public's interest isn't jeopardized by cloudy days of government transparency created by both unscrupulous or misguided public officials. There have been cloudy days in Aurora, and not so long ago. In September 2010, Aurora city lawmakers began the last part of a search for a city manager, seriously mishandling final interviews and disclosure of information about who was likely to become the most important employee in a city of 335,000 people.
City council members said in 2010 that the prospective city mangers they flew in and interviewed in secret at the Doubletree Hotel garnered them the "personnel" exemption to the state's open-meeting law. It did not.
In addition, the city narrowed its field of candidates to five. By doing so, they were able to avoid revealing the identity of any of the candidates, as required under state law. Even though statute makes it clear that cities must give out the names of finalists for executive positions, state lawmakers defined "finalists" as the top three candidates. Since Aurora had chosen five finalists, they were able to do an end-run around the law.
It was a cheap, shady trick that even the candidates questioned because it put them in a bad light. City lawmakers at the time made no bones about searching for ways to skirt Colorado's vital open government laws. They unanimously said that it was important to hide the identities of the finalists to protect their current positions.
It was hogwash. City managers of cities the size of Aurora are a relatively rare breed, and good ones are a hot commodity. Aurora has had numerous top executives become finalists for other city's management positions. Recently, Police Chief Dan Oates was courted by San Jose, Calif., for that top police job. How do we know? We read it in the San Jose papers. It's a badge of honor for a city to have its top officials sought after, and par for the course.
More importantly, the Aurora City Council's position made no sense. Council members said they skirted state law in order to protect the identity of those five finalists because it was so important to protect the current jobs and lives of applicants. Aurora's elected leaders believe that the comfort and convenience of potential city managers is more important than the public's right to be part of this process. That's not good government. And that's not what the law says.
Since then, Aurora has a new mayor who pushes sensitive and controversial issues into the public forum and out of secret meetings. And all Aurora residents benefit from that. But a valuable part of our democracy is its dynamic nature, and it's a danger. The next city council may not be so forthcoming, and so it's vital that Colorado protect and strengthen superior open government laws to prevent another episode like that from 2010. It's time to shore up state sunshine laws and close loopholes so that in the future, Aurora can stay on the path of doing not only the right thing, but the lawful thing, too.