The Spot: The ethics of vaccinating Capitol journalists, a tense call with Boebert and the politics of food delivery fees  – The Denver Post

I received the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine Monday and, if you’ll forgive the navel-gazing, it brought up an ethical question.

The governor’s office gave specific priority to about 20 journalists who, like me, cover the Capitol. Reporting in person on the legislative session, which started last week and should pick back up Feb. 16, requires sharing indoor spaces with large groups of people — lawmakers, staff, some members of the public — and my understanding is that we were given priority, at least in part, because of those associated risks.

Still, part of me felt strange — flat-out wrong, even — accepting this golden ticket when there are so many people who need a vaccine more than I do. I’m young and healthy and can cover the legislature pretty well from home if need be.

Teachers can’t teach remotely when the kids are back in school. Prisoners can’t do much to protect themselves in their close quarters. What about older adults who barely leave their homes because they face such a heightened risk of death? Or other journalists — photographers, especially — who have to interact more regularly with the public than the Capitol press corps?

What sense does it make for me to have been vaccinated before my 85-year-old grandfather could even schedule his?

I spent some time pondering a tweet from journalist David Milstead, the former head of the Denver Press Club: “As a matter of public policy, journalists should not be vaccinated before teachers. As a matter of ethics, journalists should not be accepting vaccines set aside for them by Jared Polis.”

I tend to agree. If the state of Colorado was suffering from famine instead of a virus, and the governor’s office offered steak dinners to the core Capitol reporting crew, there would be an obvious ethical problem.

This one is not so cut and dry, of course: declining the vaccine wouldn’t help anyone. And there’s zero evidence that if I’d passed, the dose would have been set aside for someone who needs it more.

Still, I can’t shake the icky feeling, and I know some of my colleagues in the press corps feel the same. I’m curious to know what you think, so feel free to email me at [email protected]

Elsewhere in this week’s newsletter, Justin Wingerter takes you inside a tense call between U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and some high school students, Saja Hindi writes about COVID-19 aid challenges for the legislature and Conrad Swanson looks at the politics of food delivery fees.

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Top Line

Denver’s 16th Street Mall — which brings in about $75 million a year– is nearly 40 years old and now a step closer to getting a facelift that could cost up to $150 million. Conrad Swanson has more about today’s news.

Capitol Diary • By Saja Hindi

The work ahead

Colorado’s Democrats at the state and local levels have decried the nation’s federal response to the coronavirus pandemic over the last 11 months. With a new president sworn into office this week, they hope to see a different trajectory.

“I think we have, as Democrats, a new opportunity to work alongside our partners at the federal level to really address the root causes of problems that so many of our constituents have been navigating,” Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, told The Denver Post earlier this month.

In his first day in office, President Joe Biden already began to address some of those concerns, extending a federal eviction moratorium and continuing the pause on student loan payments. But state lawmakers, who are on recess until at least Feb. 16, have a lot of work ahead of them.

The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed 400,000 — with more than 5,400 deaths in Colorado. And vaccine distribution has a long way to go.

“Tackling the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including increasing the supply and distribution of the life-saving vaccine should be a top priority for the new administration,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.

But on Thursday, the governor and legislative leadership announced that they’re pumping the brakes on previous plans to finalize a more than $1 billion state stimulus package.

Now that Democrats have a trifecta in D.C. and it’s more likely there’ll be more federal stimulus money, Colorado Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg told The Post, they’d like to reimagine how to most effectively use what precious state money they have.

“We’re saying, let’s hold off and do this together based on the new reality,” Fenberg said. “It’d be silly for (state budget writers) to seriously consider and make decisions on a stimulus package that was proposed back when we thought the feds weren’t going to do anything and back when there was very little action out of D.C.”

Leaders will have to act quick, as the economic challenges in Colorado continue to mount.

According to a study released this week by Alignable Research Center, 30% of Colorado’s small business owners were unable to pay their January rent. The American Hotel and Lodging Association released its annual report for 2021, projecting half of hotel rooms will remain empty this year. Hunger Free Colorado’s most recent quarterly report on the state of food insecurity in Colorado, conducted in September, found 1 in 3 people are food insecure — triple the rate before the pandemic.

And in November, Colorado’s unemployment rate remained at 6.4% — compared to 6.7% nationally that month — with a surge of filings in December.

And the pandemic has become personal  for many lawmakers like Gonzales and Rep. Richard Holtorf, R-Akron, who lost loved ones to COVID-19.

More Colorado political news

  • There’s more police accountability, criminal justice reform on the state agenda for 2021.
  • Lawmakers craft bills that draw on their frontline health care experience.
  • Denver Broncos players push the governor on prison policy during COVID.
  • Enrollment in Colorado’s health insurance exchange is up.

Federal politics • By Justin Wingerter

“It’s just really sad”

On Dec. 8, then congresswoman-elect Lauren Boebert spoke to an advanced placement government class at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, taking questions from students for 40 minutes, as reported by the Sopris Sun. The school district declined to release a video recording of the talk, citing student privacy, but The Post obtained it last week.

The conversation was polite but occasionally tense. Boebert made dubious claims about people and policy on several occasions and the students scoffed at several claims. Twice, the teacher, who resigned the next day, cut Boebert off because she wasn’t answering a question or was taking too long. The Republican from Rifle, 40 miles west of the high school, had been given the questions in advance.

At one point, Boebert claimed former presidential nominee Beto O’Rourke was given the name Beto as an adult to appear Hispanic and win elections (it was a childhood nickname). At another point, she claimed a man was “brutally beaten” to death outside her restaurant. News outlets have been unable to confirm this and Rifle police have said there are no records of a killing there.

After being asked twice if she knows what a charter school is, Boebert said: “A charter school is like a private school, where you actually go and pay extra funds to be there.” Charters are tuition-free public schools. (Boebert’s four sons attend private schools, she told the RFHS students.)

“She doesn’t know what a charter school is!” Cliff Redish, the teacher who invited Boebert and presided over the discussion, said during an interview this week. “She said it’s a private school that you pay for yourself. That is just not even true and here I am, a public educator in her district. She doesn’t even have the competency to be in a position of power. It’s just really sad.”

Redish said “there was pressure from parents” after the Boebert event, but stressed it did not directly lead to his resignation. The district’s response to COVID-19, which he considered to be inadequate, was the primary reason, Redish said.

Much of what Boebert said Dec. 8 were things she had said before or since. She called the presidential election “contested,” recounted telling President Donald Trump in the Oval Office to keep trying to overturn it, and said Texas, which at that time was trying to reverse the election with a lawsuit, could be “the one state that saves our republic.” She reiterated her support of ultra-conservative gun laws, immigration laws and abortion laws. Her anti-abortion rhetoric drew groans from the teens.

“It was a great, great opportunity for my students and I know that it’s going to mean something,” Redish said. “Some of them are going to run for office some day because they’re realizing, ‘Oh my god, somebody’s got to take the reins here.’”

More federal politics news

  • Here’s how the congressional delegation responded to Wednesday’s inauguration, and here’s why a few Coloradans in Congress skipped it.
  • Boebert’s spokesman resigned after less than two weeks on the job.
  • Coloradans are playing an outsized role in the Trump impeachment trials.
  • One of Trump’s final acts was to pardon the son of Denver’s best-known lobbyist.
  • The first Democrat to launch a 2022 challenge to Boebert is a Glenwood Springs defense attorney who handily lost legislative races in 2018 and 2020.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

Every dollar counts for Denver’s restaurants

While the pandemic eats away at business for Denver restaurants, so do the fees that food-delivery companies like Grubhub, DoorDash and Postmates charge them. To help restaurants out, the City Council appears likely to extend a cap on those fees.

City Council approved the 15% cap on a total order in September; before that, sponsoring Councilwoman Kendra Black said some companies had been charging restaurants up to 40% of the bill.

The 15% cap is set to expire early next month, and while some Coloradans are receiving their vaccines, there is no indication restaurants will be able to safely reopen to full capacity  soon. So the council is considering extending the cap through mid-June, and will vote on the extension next week.

Delivery companies opposed the caps, and DoorDash even imposed a $2 “Denver Fee” for customers to make up for lost revenue.

But restuarants say the cap appears to have helped.

“Every dollar counts these days,” said Anthony Lygizos, owner of Leven Deli Co. in Capitol Hill.

Even so, he added, there are better ways to support local businesses. Ordering directly from those restaurants helps to cut out intermediaries like DoorDash and Grubhub.

Councilman Chris Hinds said he’s most interested in closing the loophole that allows for the “Denver Fees.” Meanwhile delivery companies want to increase the cap to 20%.

Absent an agreement on any of those changes, “the result is just to kick it down the road a few months,” he said.

Black said in a text she doesn’t want to make the cap permanent, but would consider other ideas.

More Denver and suburban political news

  • State health officials will decommission the emergency COVID-19 overflow site at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center after never serving a single patient.
  • While just how much Denver spends on each homeless encampment sweeps is unknown, recently obtained invoices and receipts show it’s at least $400,000. 
  • Although he might like to move on, Denver Mayor Hancock must defend his Thanksgiving flight to Texas before Denver’s Board of Ethics.

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