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Gunfight Over Money in the Dark

What started over the debate on gun control now is an election completely overrun with money. The recall election of Senators Giron and Morse has given the public a rare look at how outside interests influence local elections.

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Tracking the connections and links is nearly impossible but PULP's investigation into the recall money shows the fundraising apparatus for both sides.  View a hi-res PDF of the chart. Tracking the connections and links is nearly impossible but PULP’s investigation into the recall money shows the fundraising apparatus for both sides.  View a hi-res PDF of the chart.

Local Efforts & The Start:

Pueblo Freedom and Rights, the committee that ultimately gained enough signatures to proceed with a recall election against State Senator Angela Giron, calls itself a tr…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Tracking the connections and links is nearly impossible but PULP's investigation into the recall money shows the fundraising apparatus for both sides.  View a hi-res PDF of the chart. Tracking the connections and links is nearly impossible but PULP’s investigation into the recall money shows the fundraising apparatus for both sides.  View a hi-res PDF of the chart.

Local Efforts & The Start:

Pueblo Freedom and Rights, the committee that ultimately gained enough signatures to proceed with a recall election against State Senator Angela Giron, calls itself a true grassroots effort that has largely gotten this far on their own.
“We never knew we were able to do this,” Victor Head told PULP. While most donations to PFR were small, there was outside help from other groups.
The Basic Freedom Defense Fund has been aiding PFR’s effort by picking up the tab on legal costs, according to Head on AR15.com on July 13.
There is record of BFDF giving money directly to PRF on August 8 with a $2,000 donation. Board members from BFDF have also donated money to PFR. Victor Head verified this in addition to saying in the beginning, BFDF didn’t even think the Pueblo group had a shot in succeeding.
Head met some of the board members on AR15.com’s forum. They began talking about the legislation and all planned to meet up at the capitol to protest. Even from that meet up, BFDF board members weren’t sold on aiding PFR, so the Head brothers borrowed $4,000 from their grandma to pay for legal counsel.
It was only after BFDF, having a major hand in the recall of Morse, and PFR were facing lawsuits in the same week that BFDF decided to provide help.
“After we came together, (PRF) had already succeeded,” Head said.
BFDF is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization that was created in correspondence with the creation of gun legislation. It also calls itself a grassroots effort.
“We are currently providing overall monetary, legal, organizational, outreach and media support to several issue committees targeting key offenders for such recall. Any donations given to the BFDF go towards the recall committees under the BFDF umbrella,” the organization states on its website.
While there are other groups involved in the recall of Giron, PFR hasn’t been working with them directly. The NRA hasn’t contacted PFR and there is no link from the NRA directly to PFR. Though a representative did show up to PFR’s grand opening, there has been virtually no contact between the two groups.

Five Key Donors:

Though the board members at BFDF don’t refer to their organization as big, they have had some help from some big names.
Keith Coniglio, a board member for BFDF said on a post on AR15.com the group received help from four groups, Americans for Prosperity, the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and a fourth unnamed source that was aiding in the very beginning but couldn’t contribute long term. Some of these names are expected but it’s how they donated and when a trail of who was involved and when becomes traceable.  Laura Carno’s efforts and groups in Colorado Springs also become important to the success of BFDF.

Laura Carno and I Am Created Equal:

In contact with Pueblo Freedom and Rights, the El Paso Freedom Defense Committee—the original group leading the petition drive against Senator Morse, started by the board members of BFDF, received $56,798 from I Am Created Equal, a 501(c)4 organization. I Am Created Equal did not give money directly to BFDF instead and according to Laura Carno, “I Am Created Equal donated the signatures to El Paso Freedom Defense Committee.”
The money was raised from “large and small donors all from Colorado.” Carno then paid Kennedy Enterprises to run the petition drive and from there she donated the signatures back to El Paso Freedom Defense Committee.
When asked for clarification if Carno donated voluntarily or was prompted by an outside group she said, “I would have to speak to my attorney on how to characterize that.”
Carno is also behind the IACE (I Am Created Equal) Action, a political action committee that is paying for some of the TV spots against Sen. Morse.

Americans for Prosperity:

Coniglio sites AFP as a contributor for their walking efforts and phone bank.  BFDF’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Kerns, has a connection to AFP but said in an email to PULP that she has had no activity with the Colorado chapter.
Kerns helped start the organization in California but she said in her email while she does an occasional project for California AFP, she has never worked for the Colorado sector.
Kerns was noted on a press release from AFP as recently as August 8. BFDF pays Kerns for her work even though none of the seven board members are not paid.
“The Basic Freedom Defense Fund was referred to me by a few women who knew that I was one of the first women who testified on the gun control bills in the Colorado legislature back in February,” said Kerns. In the 2013 Legislative cycle, Kerns worked for Coloradan…
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Trump on the Farm: Southeastern Colorado’s growers seem immune to President’s immigration, trade policies

Southeastern Colorado’s growers seem immune to the Trump Administration immigration, trade policies

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Despite national media reports that immigration and foreign trade policies from the Trump administration are hurting who they’re meant to help —U.S. farmers — there’s no smoking gun southeastern Colorado farmers are sharing that experience.

For instance, some say that Trump’s tough-on-immigration policy is making it difficult for farmers to hire H2A-visa workers to tend their fields. That doesn’t seem to be the case, at least in southeastern Colorado.

Marilyn Bay Drake, executive director of the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, said that the ongoing H2A worker issues have existed well before Trump took office. Among the problems farmers face, she said, lies with E-Verify — the internet-based system that is used by growers to determine whether foreign workers are eligible to work in the U.S.

Bay Drake said E-Verify must undergo significant changes or even be abolished altogether because far too often growers have to turn down potential farm workers because their names do not appear on E-Verify rolls.

Sakata Farms, located near Brighton, left the sweet corn business last year, mostly because it was not able to get a dependable work crew for its six-week season, Bay Drake said. The family operation has grown sweet corn for over half a century.

“They were a big grower,” Bay Drake said. “The annual maintenance cost of their packing house alone was about ($333,000) – so a huge hit to the local community.”

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

Despite national media reports that immigration and foreign trade policies from the Trump administration are hurting who they’re meant to help —U.S. farmers — there’s no smoking gun southeastern Colorado farmers are sharing that experience.
For instance, some say that Trump’s tough-on-immigration policy is making it difficult for farmers to hire H2A-visa workers to tend their fields. That doesn’t seem to be the case, at least in southeastern Colorado.
Marilyn Bay Drake, executive director of the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association, said that the ongoing H2A worker issues have existed well before Trump took office. Among the problems farmers face, she said, lies with E-Verify — the internet-based system that is used by growers to determine whether foreign workers are eligible to work in the U.S.
Bay Drake said E-Verify must undergo significant changes or even be abolished altogether because far too often growers have to turn down potential farm workers because their names do not appear on E-Verify rolls.
Sakata Farms, located near Brighton, left the sweet corn business last year, mostly because it was not able to get a dependable work crew for its six-week season, Bay Drake said. The family operation has grown sweet corn for over half a century.
“They were a big grower,” Bay Drake said. “The annual maintenance cost of their packing house alone was about ($333,000) – so a huge hit to the local community.”

Identifying the problems

The problems farmers face are often times complex.
Reid Fishering, owner of Mountain Quality Marketing in Montrose, told U.S. Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Purdue in a meeting this May that the process is just plain complicated.
“For our short window of harvest, we hire about 120 workers through the H2A program to pick sweet corn,” Fishering said. “I’m looking to work with the Department of Labor, who processes these visas, in a simple, streamlined way. The process is overly complicated and creates costly delays.”
Perdue said he wants his department to be the portal for the H2A visa applications and to coordinate with the State Department, Labor Department and Homeland Security to more efficiently issue the work visas.
But Sakata farms wants the H2A program to be more flexible by allowing workers to move between nearby farms. He says currently the program does not let growers send their workers to neighboring farms if those growers’ crops aren’t ready for harvest, but their neighboring growers have crops that are ripe. “This doesn’t make sense and is really costly,” he told Perdue.
Not enough housing for H2A workers is another issue facing Colorado growers, Bay Drake said. She believes that more cooperation between growers and possibly government assistance would be needed to build more temporary housing for H2A workers.
In that meeting with Purdue, Gail Knapp of Knapp’s Farms in Rocky Ford said she would like to see H2A workers’ wage, housing and transportation costs all rolled into a single payment. Knapp told Pulp that growers like her not only pay for housing and utilities, but for transportation for the workers to the fields and the grocery store, and even transportation from and back to Mexico.
Those housing and transportation expenses equate to about $3 to $6 of the hourly wages the growers pay workers, according to Knapp. That’s on top of Colorado’s minimum wage.
Still, she said she hasn’t seen the Trump administration making a huge difference. But under the Obama administration getting H2A workers became more difficult. The Bush administration, she said, was more employer-friendly when it came to H2A workers.
Eric Hanagan, owner of Hanagan Farms in Swink, said finding workers isn’t much of a problem for his operation,
“They are standing in line for visas,” he said, adding that he’s had H2A workers come from Mexico and as far off as South Africa and Eastern European countries to pick his 27 varieties of vegetable crops corn, wheat, and hay.
“One of the best crews I have ever had, came from Thailand,” Hanagan said.

Not Taking American jobs

Bay Drake said it is a fallacy when people say H2A workers are taking away American jobs. She explained that many times local workers do express an interest in becoming farmhands, but after they show up for job orientations and they realize the work that is involved, they never are seen again. She said it’s hard to find people locally willing to work 50 hours a week during Colorado’s short harvest seasons, and then those workers …
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Growth continues for Pueblo’s cannabis industry but criticism remains unchanged

As more data comes in, the impact of legalization is generally positive infusing economic growth into the county.

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In one of the most monumental moments in history: when Colorado became one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Commercial sales of cannabis rolled out January 1, 2014, and the Centennial State has never been the same.

For almost five years, Colorado has been at the forefront of the marijuana movement. The Colorado Department of Revenue reports that Colorado pot shops pulled in over $1.5 billion in medical and recreational marijuana sales in 2017, yet there are only 25 out of 64 counties that currently permit some kind of marijuana business.

Pueblo is one of these counties and is leading the way in Colorado’s rapidly expanding legal pot industry. As the first county to allow outdoor and greenhouse commercial cannabis grows, many contend that it’s the perfect place to grow marijuana, likening it to the Napa Valley of weed. Los Sueños Farms is the largest of almost 200 outdoor cannabis farms in the county with a projected 20 tons expected in 2018.

Legal cannabis in Pueblo has created jobs. Saved a struggling economy. Brought in millions of dollars in revenue.

In a recent pilot study, economists at Colorado State University – Pueblo Institute of Cannabis Research found some $35 million was generated in Pueblo from legal cannabis sales alone.

Chris Markuson, Pueblo County economic development and geographic information systems director says…

!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

In one of the most monumental moments in history: when Colorado became one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. Commercial sales of cannabis rolled out January 1, 2014, and the Centennial State has never been the same.
For almost five years, Colorado has been at the forefront of the marijuana movement. The Colorado Department of Revenue reports that Colorado pot shops pulled in over $1.5 billion in medical and recreational marijuana sales in 2017, yet there are only 25 out of 64 counties that currently permit some kind of marijuana business.
Pueblo is one of these counties and is leading the way in Colorado’s rapidly expanding legal pot industry. As the first county to allow outdoor and greenhouse commercial cannabis grows, many contend that it’s the perfect place to grow marijuana, likening it to the Napa Valley of weed. Los Sueños Farms is the largest of almost 200 outdoor cannabis farms in the county with a projected 20 tons expected in 2018.
Legal cannabis in Pueblo has created jobs. Saved a struggling economy. Brought in millions of dollars in revenue.
In a recent pilot study, economists at Colorado State University – Pueblo Institute of Cannabis Research found some $35 million was generated in Pueblo from legal cannabis sales alone.
Chris Markuson, Pueblo County economic development and geographic information systems director says that the explosive growth of the recreational cannabis industry “literally saved our construction community” during the end of the recession and has accounted for more than half of Pueblo county’s construction revenue for the last three years.
In 2017, 210 Pueblo County High School students received $2000 each in scholarship money that came from marijuana taxes. In early 2018, there was nearly $750,000 in funding available for these scholarships, with Pueblo County officials estimating to award some 600 in the 2019-2020 academic year.
As legal as pot may be, not everyone is exactly on board with recreational weed in Pueblo. Remember, marijuana was illegal for a really, really long time, and there are still plenty of people that think it should stay that way.
First, there’s the whole “gateway drug” theory. Pueblo addiction psychiatrist Libby Stuyt holds strongly to the idea that marijuana is indeed a gateway drug that can ultimately lead to harder drugs.
She says that over the past few years that cannabis has been legal, there’s been a significant increase in patients whose main addiction is marijuana – although many also admit to using alcohol, cocaine, meth, or opiates.
A 2018 analysis report published by LiveStories who specialize in civic data analysis, looked at drug use trends following marijuana legalization in Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. While it found that while marijuana use did increase following legalization in these states, there was little evidence that proved it to be a “gateway drug.”
According to Adnan Mahmud, founder of LiveStories, “We haven’t found any strong correlation that suggests increased marijuana use leads to increases in other substance abuse.”
He noted that heroin and opioid deaths in Colorado, while obviously a great concern, are actually slightly lower than the national average. Cocaine use in Colorado is slightly higher than the national average and has risen a bit in the last year, but Muhmad says that cocaine use in Colorado prior to marijuana legalization was somewhat higher than it is today.
Then there’s Pueblo’s homeless population. Anne Stattelman, director of non-profit organization Posada which offers housing assistance to Pueblo’s homeless population, believes legal weed is to blame for rise in Pueblo’s homeless population. She estimates that around one-third of those who end up homeless in Pueblo came to the city because of marijuana.
“You remember the Gold Rush? We call it the Pot Rush. Not only do people think they’ll be able to smoke marijuana,” Stattelman said, “but people think they can get jobs working in marijuana fields.”
Is legal pot really to blame for the rise of homelessness in Pueblo and other cities across Colorado? Homelessness is everywhere and whether or not the increase in cities like Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and Denver is because of legal marijuana, it’s undoubtedly something that’s widely debated.
Pilot research that looked into the impact of legal cannabis in Pueblo County foun…
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Alive and Well: Despite layoffs, a Southern Colorado hospital battles perception it’s closing

Six months after staff eliminations and attrition, St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center is battling the perception that it’s closing.

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A robot-like concentration on five clinical areas, a recent expansion to its Flight For Life Colorado fleet, a new urgent care facility in Pueblo West, and even an ongoing plan to improve parking at its main Pueblo facility is a sign that St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center is thriving after its reorganization.

That didn’t seem to be the case about six months ago when, back in April, 275 positions were eliminated at the hospital and other employees left their jobs voluntarily – and St. Mary-Corwin CEO Mike Cafasso canvassed the local media trying to quell rumors that the hospital was closing.

“Our biggest challenge in the past few months has been the misinformation in Pueblo and the surrounding communities,” Cafasso said. “The biggest thing we hear is that people think the hospital is closed or that our ER is closed. … Our ER continues to offer 24-hour emergency room services. Wait times average less than 30 minutes in our ER and 88 percent of the patients treated in the St. Mary-Corwin ER do not need to be admitted to the hospital or transferred. These patients are treated, released and go home with their families, usually within a couple of hours of arriving.”

As for the employees who lost their jobs, Cafasso boasts that by mid-June nearly 90 percent of the 275 workers who had their jobs eliminated found new jobs elsewhere. “We hosted numerous job fairs and many of our associates found roles at other Centura facilities,” the CEO adds.

But even Cafasso admits it is “no secret” that times were tough at the hospital earlier this year. “Now, six months later, some of those associates who chose to leave (on their own terms, not part of the layoffs) are returning to St. Mary-Corwin,” he said. “To be clear, we are not filling the positions that were eliminated but instead, as we grow orthopedics and oncology services and align our new nursing unit, new positions have been created and those positions need to be filled. It is heartwarming to see people come back to work at St. Mary-Corwin. We feel we are a stronger workforce having gone through the challenging times, and are excited for what the future holds for us here at St. Mary-Corwin.”

Yet the rumors of St. Mary-Corwin’s demise persist. And St. Mary Corwin’s staff confronted those rumors by hosting a booth on Sept. 1 at the Colorado State Fair at which they passed out fresh fruit as a means of engaging the community. “That’s just one example of how we have been talking to people – one-on-one – answering questions and dispelling rumors. St. Mary-Corwin has been part of the Pueblo community for 135 years. Yes, we may look a little bit different than we did a year ago, but we are committed to Pueblo and Southern Colorado.”

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!– BEGIN THEIA POST SLIDER —

A robot-like concentration on five clinical areas, a recent expansion to its Flight For Life Colorado fleet, a new urgent care facility in Pueblo West, and even an ongoing plan to improve parking at its main Pueblo facility is a sign that St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center is thriving after its reorganization.
That didn’t seem to be the case about six months ago when, back in April, 275 positions were eliminated at the hospital and other employees left their jobs voluntarily – and St. Mary-Corwin CEO Mike Cafasso canvassed the local media trying to quell rumors that the hospital was closing.
“Our biggest challenge in the past few months has been the misinformation in Pueblo and the surrounding communities,” Cafasso said. “The biggest thing we hear is that people think the hospital is closed or that our ER is closed. … Our ER continues to offer 24-hour emergency room services. Wait times average less than 30 minutes in our ER and 88 percent of the patients treated in the St. Mary-Corwin ER do not need to be admitted to the hospital or transferred. These patients are treated, released and go home with their families, usually within a couple of hours of arriving.”
As for the employees who lost their jobs, Cafasso boasts that by mid-June nearly 90 percent of the 275 workers who had their jobs eliminated found new jobs elsewhere. “We hosted numerous job fairs and many of our associates found roles at other Centura facilities,” the CEO adds.
But even Cafasso admits it is “no secret” that times were tough at the hospital earlier this year. “Now, six months later, some of those associates who chose to leave (on their own terms, not part of the layoffs) are returning to St. Mary-Corwin,” he said. “To be clear, we are not filling the positions that were eliminated but instead, as we grow orthopedics and oncology services and align our new nursing unit, new positions have been created and those positions need to be filled. It is heartwarming to see people come back to work at St. Mary-Corwin. We feel we are a stronger workforce having gone through the challenging times, and are excited for what the future holds for us here at St. Mary-Corwin.”
Yet the rumors of St. Mary-Corwin’s demise persist. And St. Mary Corwin’s staff confronted those rumors by hosting a booth on Sept. 1 at the Colorado State Fair at which they passed out fresh fruit as a means of engaging the community. “That’s just one example of how we have been talking to people – one-on-one – answering questions and dispelling rumors. St. Mary-Corwin has been part of the Pueblo community for 135 years. Yes, we may look a little bit different than we did a year ago, but we are committed to Pueblo and Southern Colorado.”

What’s different?

Pulp asked Cafasso to give as many details as he could about the hospital’s future plans.
During the transition since the layoffs, he said the hospital has zoomed in on five areas of concentration – refocusing on these areas, which he believes are St. Mary-Corwin’s “clinical strength.” The first is orthopedics, which includes joint replacement procedures and sports medicine. The hospital has an inpatient unit dedicated to joint replacement – and as Cafasso put it, the dedicated unit “expands patients’ access to leading-edge techniques and the most advanced technology.”
The second area of clinical specialization is cancer and breast care. The hospital’s Dorcy Center provides screening, diagnosis, and treatment with surgery, radiation therapy, radiation and medical oncology, chemotherapy, and an ambulatory infusion center. And the St. Mary-Corwin Breast Center of Excellence provides mammography screening, breast cancer diagnosis and treatment in partnership with the Dorcy Cancer Center.
Emergency and trauma services make up the third area of focus at St. Mary-Corwin. The facility provides 24-hour emergency room services and a Level III Trauma Center with general surgery, orthopedic surgery and full-time anesthesia coverage. Flight For Life Colorado provides life-saving services across Southern Colorado and operates from St. Mary-Corwin with ground and air transport.
The hospital’s third area of concentration is emergency and trauma services. They include 24-hour emergency room services and a Level III Trauma Center with general surgery, orthopedic surgery and full-time anesth…
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One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you can change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

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