Who will Oppose Senator Sonnenberg?

Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg is a cattle rancher when not serving in the State Senate. Photo Credit Here

We’re delighted to note that the Independence Institute, a Denver-based Libertarian think tank, has named Colorado State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) Californian of the Year.

For the record, that’s supposed to be an insult.

By singling Jerry out from among a sea of Californicating Democrats ripe for conservative ridicule, the Independence Institute has told us a lot about its agenda. Jerry originated and co-sponsored a bill that is credited for keeping the hospitals in Colorado’s rural areas from closing, by reclassifying a fee already allowed by Colorado law so that it can’t trigger a TABOR tax refund. This was a rare compromise in our divided legislature, as it preserved health-care access to rural Coloradans without raising any new monies [Democrats Rescue Rural Hospitals, June, 2017].

For this, it seems that he is to be widely mocked and derided by conservatives throughout the state. John Caldera, President of the Independence Institute, explains it this way:

“ Colorado character is best described as craving the freedom to make our own decisions. By contrast, Californian character, which is taking hold of our once ruggedly individualistic, freedom-loving state, is best described as making decisions for other people.”

Now, it’s not clear who appointed Mr. Caldera to be the arbiter of Colorado Character, but it sure seems as if labeling folks as to who’s got character and who hasn’t is a whole lot like making decisions for other people. Just sayin’.

And on closer inspection, what the Independence Institute would have preferred doesn’t look any better. Most people who are cattle ranchers, or beet growers, like an awful lot of Jerry’s Senate District 1 constituents are, would probably prefer that there’s a hospital in the nearest town. These are people who get sick, have all manner of accidents, and have to be rushed somewhere in case of emergency. The freedom that unbridled capitalism provides seems a lot less valuable when the nearest profitable hospital is hundreds of miles away. So isn’t letting the hospitals die, when you have an obvious and painless way to save them, also making a decision for other people?

It’s rare to find a public good that rural conservatives place ahead of tax cuts, and it’s rare to find a rural issue that city liberals are willing to make such a fuss over. Jerry and his Republican majority in the Senate squeezed and twisted that bill (SB17–267, Sustainability of Rural Colorado) until it just barely covered the shortfall that would have closed those rural hospitals. Not a dime extra. Not a penny. Even though allowing the bill, in its basic form, would have created a sheltered surplus. In a time when federal funding for health care is uncertain, it would have been prudent to keep the surplus.

It seems like this is just the sort of compromise that all people in Colorado could grudgingly accept.

But this is where Denver-based conservatives chose to take a stand. There is no sin worse than the sin of a believer crossing to the other side. Republicans could have chosen any Democratic success of 2017 to mock, but they instead turn to focus fire on their own.

Let’s be clear: Colorado conservatives no longer care about persuading. They no longer care about building. Their priority is enforcement. Their priority is to make certain that Jerry Sonnenberg never, ever places the needs of his own constituents above the orthodoxy that flows from Denver... and Washington.

The fear for the residents of Sterling is that Jerry will get the message. Like Republicans across the country, Jerry will fall in line. With enforcement like this, we may not ever get a functioning government again.

And so it’s time to ask: Who will oppose Senator Sonnenberg? As of this writing, he’s running unopposed. He was unopposed in 2014, too … from the left, that is. A fellow named Doug Aden from the ultra-right Constitution Party ran against him in 2014, garnering less than 15% of the vote. Seems the voters of SD1 aren’t much for doing without hospitals after all.

Last year, Jerry did some other things in the Senate that weren’t quite so benign as saving the hospitals.

In election year 2016, Sonnenberg voted with his caucus consistently.

Jerry voted against helping low-income people heat their houses in winter. He voted against testing drinking water in schools for lead! He voted to make it a felony to protest peacefully— if what you are protesting is fossil fuel development.

And back to the hospitals: even though the central idea of the bill, re-classifying the Hospital Provider Fee system as a Colorado Enterprise, could have created a surplus to put into a state health care contingency fund, Jerry’s colleagues, anti-tax ideologues one and all, made sure there was no surplus, and no contingency fund. That fund could now be put to good use paying the expired Federal CHP+ benefits for kids whose families don’t have health insurance, yet who aren’t quite poor enough for Medicaid.

In 2017, Sonnenberg rated higher on the Left because of his support for basic services in Rural Colorado. But overall, he remained loyal to Team GOP.

And on that account, WTF would like to see a Democrat oppose Jerry in 2018. WTF would like to help a Democrat oppose Jerry in 2018.

This is the first general election of the Trump era. Right now is the best chance we’ll have to change the balance of power in Colorado. The generic Democrat has a thirteen-point advantage over the generic Republican, and we are not done yet. This is no time to let perfectly good seats in our legislature go uncontested. Every progressive candidate who runs, win or lose, gets out our message of responsible government and advances the progressive cause.

We have to send a message to Jerry that he will be held accountable by more than just the Independence Institute. He will be held accountable by his constituents. ‘Rugged individualism’ requires that we be individuals, and not fall to a party line. Something Jerry is perhaps too close to forgetting.

So if you live in Cheyenne, Elbert, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, or Yuma county, look into your heart. If you live in Weld, check here: Jerry could be your Senator, too. Make your own decision. (It’s the Colorado Way!) Find the courage to put yourself out there. Then look at the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, where you’ll find this handy guide, that tells you how to begin.

Time almost ran out on Colorado’s hospitals. Let’s not let the opportunity to take a stand pass us by.