Colorado Dems are in tough spot — they control everything

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DonKeyHotey/Wikimedia Commons

Democrats now control the Colorado House, Senate and governor’s mansion, and that will likely turn out to be a real nightmare for the establishment wing of the party. It reminds me of the dilemma crooked promoters in the oil patch find themselves in when they accidentally hit oil. Let me explain.

You see, there have always been legitimate oil companies and promoters and then there are the other kind. The other kind make money by doing things like overselling interests in oil wells to doctors, trust funders and other well-healed folks. I even knew of one old guy who took his drilling proposals into churches and got the congregations to pony up by convincing them God was going to use black gold to reward them a hundred-fold for their faith. Yep, oil can be one sleazy business.

The scam worked like this: The unscrupulous promoter would buy a cheap and presumably worthless oil and gas lease in the middle of nowhere. He’d then propose a shallow (read cheap to drill) well on that lease. Let’s say for the sake of example and easy math, the promoter could poke a shallow hole in the ground for $500,000. What he’d do is sell out 300 percent of the well. That’s to say he’d sell a one-tenth interest in the well for 50K to 30 people. Then he’d go drill a dry hole and put a million dollars in his pocket.

The scam worked great. Each of the 30 investors who never knew each other existed would just write off their 50K expense and the crooked promoter would bank his profit and start looking for his next bunch of marks. There was really only one way that these guys ever got caught and that’s when they accidentally hit oil. If they actually made an unexpected discovery they had to start paying out their investors and that’s when 10 percent would suddenly turn into 3 percent and the lawyer’s phones would start ringing.    

I know, you’re thinking what’s this got to do with Democrats?

Well, political parties have a tendency to work a lot like crooked promoters. For example, take how the Dems are now operating in Congress or how the Republicans did things with Obama in the White House. Nancy Pelosi and the Dems in the U.S. House are talking all progressive like the next incarnation of FDR or one of those Kennedy boys. And you can bet they’ll be sending the Republican-controlled Senate every kind of progressive legislation they can dream up; environmental protections, end the government shutdown legislation, campaign finance reform proposals, forgiveness of college debt bills, maybe even an improvement on health care like single payer, and let’s not forget new gun laws on top of all that. But in the end, we’ll get stuck with the status quo again.

I just hope you, their intended patsies, see this oil-patch-type scam for what it is. They send along such legislation because they know as long as Republicans control the Senate and White House it can’t pass, and therefore they don’t have to worry about upsetting their corporate and billionaire donor base by actually creating progressive change. They go through this pretend process so we voters will think Democrats really want significant change and therefore vote for them come 2020.

I know it sounds pretty cynical, but think about it. This cycle has been repeating itself for decades now.

Ask yourself this; when Dems controlled the House, the Senate and the White House just a few years back, did they push through any of these progressive things when they had the votes to actually pass them? No, they did not. And if Dems should take control of Congress and the White House in 2020, the one thing you can count on is that all these progressive pieces of legislation will either disappear or get severely watered down.

Same thing with Republicans. Before they got control of everything they actually took 70 votes to repeal the ACA knowing that Obama would just veto their efforts and that they didn’t have the votes to override him.

But when they actually won control of everything in 2016, they didn’t pass any of the things they’d promised like repealing the ACA, building a wall or balancing the budget. But now that control of Congress is once again split, they are once again talking a big game knowing it will go nowhere and they can blame the other side.

Point being, all the posturing and deception practiced by both parties in order to keep their corporate cash flowing while fooling their poorly informed base of constituents works perfectly well until they accidentally hit oil, which in the political realm equates to taking control of both chambers and the executive branch. That’s when the truth is exposed and it’s never pretty.

Speaking of unscrupulous promoters hitting oil, let’s talk Colorado.

First, just a little reminder from the scientific community: We only have 11 years left to radically transform all aspects of our culture in order to stop climate change from running its terrifying and destructive course. Once the permafrost has melted to a certain point, global warming feeds itself and can’t be reversed. We basically have a decade to do the right thing or we’re done.

It would be nearly impossible to turn the tide even if we stopped using all oil, gas and coal tomorrow. And trust me, with our current political leadership on every level from the president to Congress to the governor to the State House to our county and city leaders playing the politically expedient game of incrementalism, that isn’t going to happen. 

I swear if I hear another politician blather on about how they support a ban on fracking or a 2,500-foot setback or the Martinez vs. COGCC case that argued for placing public health and the environment above oil profits while making excuses for why they can’t pass laws to that effect even when they control everything, I’m just going to stick my head through the noose and kick the chair out from under me. Which is just my way of saying our elected leaders need to either shut up or do something substantive about global warming right now.

I don’t know about you, but it sure seemed to me that all the Democrats running for office in this state during the last election cycle were talking about climate change, renewables and their disdain for oil and gas extraction in neighborhoods and near homes and schools. So now that the election is over and Democrats won, are we finally going to see all the progressive environmental legislation we were promised?

Are Dems going to pass that 2,500 foot setback that the state Democratic Party endorsed before the election, or was that endorsement just a ruse to pull in the progressive wing of the party? Will we finally see a bill that lets communities decide if they want to be poisoned or not by the oil industry? I mean, nearly all Dem candidates said they supported some level of community control when they were asking for our votes.

Or how about a ban on fracking? Some went so far as to promise that. Or at the very least can we change the wording in our Constitution to require that wells can’t be drilled until they can prove they won’t cause damage to human health or the environment, as was the intention behind the Martinez case?

I’m not holding my breath here folks. Sadly, I suspect Colorado’s blue wave means the establishment Dems accidentally hit oil.

I fear now that they control everything, they will be exposed as posers when it comes to oil and gas and the health of the public and the environment. Sure, we’ll hear the words “clean energy” and “renewables” darn near daily for the next few years. Dems may even toss in a few Hickenlooper-style imaginary protections like new and improved air regs that sound good but fail to improve air quality. (Note to math-challenged Dems: If you decrease poison emissions by 10 percent per well while doubling the number of wells, the air quality gets worse not better.) Or maybe Dems will pass a bill that says it’s illegal to blow up homes during the oil and gas extraction process unless such explosion prevention would make drilling less profitable. The Colorado Supreme Court pretty much just wrote that one in its Martinez decision.

If you’re not sure if a Dem proposal is real or just another incremental eco-placebo, here’s a quick test: if it’s tied to some far-off date like 2040, 2050 or my personal favorite, by the turn of the century, it’s a placebo. By the time we realize we didn’t hit those deadlines the scoundrels who kicked the can down the road and thereby let the planet die will have long ago left office.

In the last two weeks, the Martinez decision has been struck down by Colorado’s Hickenlooper-stacked Supreme Court and the Executive Committee of the Boulder County Democrats voted against a resolution to support a ban on fracking citing an excuse that sounded something like “a ban might have potentially created possible conflict or maybe shown prejudice that could have given an impression that might have been negative considering it maybe, woulda, coulda had an influence on other stuff we’re trying or might someday try to slow extraction…” blah, blah, blah, etc.

It would have been quicker if they’d just said “we vote no because it would piss off the Democratic party’s establishment wing headed by our new governor and a handful of billionaire donors who all like fracking.”

If you haven’t yet, you really should read the pro-oil-industry Supreme Court’s decision on the Martinez case. It actually says that we can’t put the public’s health ahead of oil industry profits if doing so would make the extraction process less cost effective. Think about that. They just ruled that some folks will just have to get cancer so oil companies don’t have to spend more money to produce their earth-destroying hydrocarbons. I swear it feels like we live in some backassward banana republic sometimes.

Our courts and many of our politicians including Democrats are now operating fully detached from the best science on climate change. Whether it’s Trumpism’s total disregard for environmental regulations or Democrats’ half measures that still allow for death by a thousand cuts, any proposals put forward by any party that don’t attempt to halt global warming entirely in the next decade are not based on science.

So, is there any hope?

In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Martinez case, State Senator Mike Foote put out a statement containing the following:

“While I am disappointed in the decision, it gives us at the legislature an opportunity to finally put health and safety first with oil and gas operations. It is well beyond time for us to protect Coloradans and our clean air and water. I am confident that my colleagues and I will come forward with legislation to do exactly that.”

I’m obviously not as confident in his party as Senator Foote seems to be, but I do appreciate his statement and I sincerely hope he can make it happen. I hope Dem party leaders use their new-found power to do the right thing this time around and not work behind the scenes as they have done in the past to undermine serious attempts to protect human health and the environment via serious oil and gas regulation. All I can say is Lord help the Dems if such political maneuvering ever comes to light again… and it will come to light.

The people of Colorado are watching, so please don’t try to pacify us with compromise and incrementalism that in the end accomplishes nothing but to create a sound bite for the next election cycle. 

The days of Dems shouting “save the planet” while passing their hat to pipeline companies, LNG export terminal owners, the oil and gas industry and Big Greens funded by supporters of natural gas need to be over. And yes, taking money from a green-sounding nonprofit funded by pro-oil money is the same as taking oil money. How stupid do you think we are? I take that back: You got elected doing just that, so too many of us are still too stupid. But I also believe that’s changing for the better.

I hope the Democrats’ actions over the past couple of weeks — and yes, we do get wind of what goes on behind closed doors at the capitol — are not indicative of what’s to come. Loyalty to a political party and its major donors is a lousy reason for elected officials to sit on their ass and watch the planet our kids are supposed to inherit be destroyed.

So, stop talking and start doing. If you don’t, it will be proof that the words and promises of the Democratic Party are just another oil-patch scam.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.