Broadcasting from state Capitol, Andrews and Republican lawmakers repeated numerous falsehoods about Democrats

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

During a broadcast recorded at the state Capitol, KNUS 710 AM host John Andrews interviewed numerous Republican lawmakers who joined him in repeating false and misleading conservative talking points about state Democrats and legislation they have sponsored.

On the April 15 broadcast of KNUS 710 AM's Backbone Radio, host John Andrews aired a pre-recorded April 11 visit to the Colorado state Capitol during which he interviewed several state Republican legislators and allowed them to make false or misleading statements about Democrats and Democratic-sponsored legislation. Along with Andrews, Reps. Cory Gardner (Yuma) and Amy Stephens (Monument), and Senate Minority Leader Andrew McElhany (Colorado Springs) mischaracterized or made blatantly false statements about issues ranging from sex education legislation to labor reform.

Rep. Cory Gardner

After equating the remaining weeks of the current legislative session to "the fourth quarter of an NBA or NFL game," Andrews congratulated Gardner for "scalp[ing]" Rep. Mike Merrifield, who was forced to resign as chairman of the House Education Committee after an email he wrote denigrating charter school supporters was made public by the conservative website FacetheState.com. Later in the interview, referring to Merrifield's email, Gardner claimed, "We have members of the legislature who believe 7 percent of our children deserve a special place in hell." But Merrifield's controversial email never mentions children who attend charter schools; it attacked the supporters of charter schools, stating, "There must be a special place in Hell for these Privatizers, Char[t]erizers, and Voucherizers! They deserve it!"

In introducing Gardner, Andrews also repeated a quip that Gardner had made off-air about Colorado nearly becoming a "communist state." According to Andrews, Gardner "came in right off of an extended session on the floor of the House" and "shook [his] head and said, "Wow, we're just a couple bills short of being able to tab ourselves an official communist state." Gardner added, "It's frightening."

In addition, Gardner falsely stated that House Bill 1072, which Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter vetoed on February 9, would have "take[n] away people's rights" and "force[d] unionization on all shops." In fact, under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a collective bargaining agreement cannot compel all workers covered under an agreement to maintain full membership in a union, as Colorado Media Matters has noted. Gardner also repeated the false claim that "Ritter said the budget document is a moral document, and yet he is going to allow Planned Parenthood to fund taxpayer funds for abortions." Indeed, Ritter promised in his January State of the State address to restore "the eligibility requirements for state funding for pregnancy-prevention and family planning programs," like those offered by Planned Parenthood, which his predecessor, Republican Gov. Bill Owens, had previously eliminated. As the Rocky Mountain News reported on March 17: "At issue is about $400,000 Ritter insists will be used to prevent unwanted pregnancies, not end them."

Sen. Andrew McElhany

After Andrews claimed that Colorado Democrats are "still crying poor as though Colorado state government doesn't have enough money," McElhany repeated a misleading conservative talking point about the 2005 referred ballot measure Referendum C by saying, "[T]his is what's been called the largest tax increase in Colorado history." As Colorado Media Matters has noted, Referendum C neither raised any then-existing tax rates nor imposed any additional taxes. Instead, the measure permits the state "to retain and spend all state revenues" through 2010, suspending the revenue and spending restrictions imposed on state coffers by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). Conservatives such as Independence Institute president Jon Caldara and former U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) -- now chairman of the anti-tax organization FreedomWorks -- have mischaracterized Referendum C as "[t]he largest tax hike in Colorado state history."

Rep. Amy Stephens

After Andrews stated, "I thought I saw a headline that a bill has passed the House which is going to virtually make it impossible to teach abstinence as a form of sex education in our schools. Could that possibly be?" Rep. Stephens replied, "It's possible, and it is, and it's going to be signed at any moment." Stephens further stated that House Bill 1292 would "take away local control" of sexual education in schools and "do away with" abstinence programs. In fact, the bill states explicitly that schools offering planned instruction in human sexuality must "maintain content standards for the curriculum based on scientific research," and, at the same time, "emphasize abstinence and teach that sexual abstinence is the only certain way and the most effective way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and infections." The bill also exempts school districts that receive federal funds for "an abstinence education program" and requires that school districts "[e]stablish a procedure to exempt a student, upon request of the parent or guardian of such student, from a specific portion of the health education program on the grounds that it is contrary to the religious or personal beliefs."

Finally, in concluding the recorded broadcast from the Capitol, Andrews told his listeners, "You can make the kind of noise that was made that brought Governor Ritter around from an intention to sign that labor union payoff bill back in January, February causing him ... to surprise everyone by vetoing it." However, as Colorado Media Matters has noted (here and here), Ritter made it clear in his February 9 veto message that it was the failure of the bill's proponents and opponents to engage in "civil" debate -- not opposition to the bill -- that convinced him immediate enactment of the bill was not in the state's best interest.

From the April 15 broadcast of KNUS 710 AM's Backbone Radio:

ANDREWS: I've asked one of the younger but feistier members of the Colorado House of Representatives on the Republican side to take a few minutes with us. State Representative Cory Gardner was on a congressional staff. He won a special vacancy race to fill an opening in the state House of Representatives, and it hasn't taken him very long to be one of the most respected voices, one of the toughest-minded analysts of, of the implications of this avalanche of legislative bills in the state House or, for that matter, state Senate side. Give you a recent example: When that embarrassing email blew up and the world learned that House Democrat Education Committee chairman Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs believed that charter school supporters and advocates of parental choice in education should all, in his own words, go to hell, Representative Cory Gardner was a leader among those who put the pressure on and, and made sure that no wimpy Don Imus-style apology would get Representative Merrifield off the hook. No, within 24 hours of the news story breaking, Merrifield stepped down in disgrace from his leadership post on the House Education Committee.

And Cory Gardner, congratulations on that particular scalp. And thanks for all your good work that we know. Like the fourth quarter of an NBA or NFL game, you all are in the fourth quarter of a legislative session and a lot of the tough work has yet to be done. You look like you're holding up all right, Cory.

GARDNER: Well, thank you. You know, this really is the fourth quarter. There's just few weeks left, and unfortunately it signifies a giant leap left. If I could symbolize or say this session -- describe this session in one phrase, that would be that this is the leap leftward.

ANDREWS: Well, you came in right off of an extended session on the floor of the House, running into today's noon hour as we tape on Wednesday, April 11, here at the Capitol, and shook your head and said, "Wow, we're just a couple bills short of being able to tab ourselves an official communist state."

GARDNER: It's frightening. We --

ANDREWS: Surely you exaggerate, Representative Gardner.

GARDNER: Not too much. We continue to take away choice from parents and their education of their child. We continue to allow environmental extremists to lead the governor and the Democrat majority around by the nose. And today we further -- took one step further toward universal insurance.

ANDREWS: Government-run, socialized medicine health care is what you mean?

GARDNER: Exactly right. We took away the ability for healthy people to get rates better because they're healthy. It's silly. It's, it's nonsense.

[...]

ANDREWS: What do you mean about the extreme special interests that are having their way with the legislature, Cory?

GARDNER: Well, if we look at some of the bills that started the session off: the union leaders who said we are going to drive at breakneck speed a bill through the state legislature that takes away people's rights but forces unionization on all shops. If we look at bills like the long bill -- Governor Bill Ritter said the budget document is a moral document, and yet he is going to allow Planned Parenthood to fund taxpayer funds for abortions. If we look at bills backed by the trial lawyers to make sure that when an employee sues an employer and loses, that the employer has to pay for the frivolous lawsuits. When we look at special legislation sponsored by the teen-yer -- the teachers unions to take away parental choice. We have members of the legislature who believe 7 percent of our children deserve a special place in hell.

ANDREWS: Now, a lot of these are horses already out of the barn. For better or worse, Democrat-led House and Senate rammed them through and Governor Bill Ritter was quick to put his signature on them.

[...]

ANDREWS: But what most legislatures don't get involved in is increasing taxes, at least since -- at least since TABOR passed in the early nineties and entrusted the decision "will my taxes go up, or will a new tax be imposed, or will the public borrow money" was all entrusted to the voters of Colorado. And I'm a TABOR supporter, Andy, as I know you are.

McELHANY: Enthusiastic supporter, both of us.

ANDREWS: And yet, this legislative session, with Democrats running your state Senate, the state House of Representatives, and a Democrat governor taking over -- Bill Ritter -- on what we call the first floor here at the state Capitol where we're broadcasting from today, the, the field is clear for Democrats to have found ways to at least invite localities to raise all sorts of taxes. And, and the crowning effort is now in these final days of the session perhaps to raise local property taxes in many school districts across the state as well. But, Senator McElhany, just set the stage of what's already been done to make it easier for localities to hike taxes.

McELHANY: Well, I can do that. To also set the stage a little bit, and you eluded to almost an 18 billion-dollar state budget that's going through the Capitol as we speak. And what, what we also should point out is that's a huge increase over last year. I don't have the -- it's, it's more than a billion dollars higher than last year's budget. So -- and a lot of that comes from the Referendum C money, when voters --

ANDREWS: Referendum C is rolling in the revenue at a much higher rate than predicted, isn't it?

McELHANY: Absolutely. It was predicted to bring in 3.7 billion in five years. It's looking like it's going to be more like 6 or 7 billion dollars at this point. Ref. C was passed by the voters in Colorado a few years ago.

ANDREWS: You know, that's funny, because I seem to hear Democrats here at the Capitol and special interest groups and their allies in the mainstream media still crying poor as though Colorado state government doesn't have enough money.

McELHANY: Well, you're reading my mind again, because that's where I was going. Even though that this is what's been called the largest tax increase in Colorado history -- Referendum C -- even that's not enough money for this bunch. We're seeing proposals, as you mentioned, a huge property tax increase at the local level being proposed by Governor Ritter would be the largest property tax increase in Colorado history.

[...]

ANDREWS: Amy Stephens, I must have some -- I must have read the news stories wrong because I thought I saw a headline that a bill has passed the House which is going to virtually make it impossible to teach abstinence as a form of sex education in our schools. Could that possibly be?

STEPHENS: It's possible, and it is, and it's going to be signed at any moment. This has also been the session of let's pay back Planned Parenthood. This House Bill 1292 by Nancy Todd [D-Aurora] has cleared both the House and the Senate, is on the governor's desk, which we believe he'll sign. What it's going to effectively do is take away local control. You and I know many districts have worked out their sex ed content. There's been somewhat of a peaceful relationship. Abstinence programs get to come in, other programs. This will do away with all of that.

ANDREWS: And that content was not in some utopian denial. There, there was an effort to help kids understand how to protect themselves if they have sexual intercourse, but there was at the same time an effort to help them make smart choices. And now the smart choices character and values piece of it has, has been marginalized.

STEPHENS: That's right. That'll be at the hands of Planned Parenthood. We have 50 percent of kids in this state who are not sexually active, who deserve support through abstinence education and want that support. The key now is that all of that education will be at the hands of the state with a state-run content control.

[...]

ANDREWS: You can vote with your voice. You can make the kind of noise that was made that brought Governor Ritter around from an intention to sign that labor union payoff bill back in January, February causing him --

KRISTA KAFER [co-host]: That was a close one.

ANDREWS: -- to surprise everyone by vetoing it. And Krista, I think a lot of the difference was made because individual citizens, plus media organizations, plus some organized voices of the business community all said, "No way, we don't want this pay off to organized labor."

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