Bente Birkeland

Capitol Coverage Reporter

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations, including KVNF, since 2006. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May, covering important bills, discussions, and the positions of our state legislators. 

On this week's Local Motion, we've decided to highlight political stories aired on our regional newscast. 

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and Republican challenger Bob Beaupre squared off in an hour-long debate Thursday, hosted by the Coloradoan and 9News. In front of a packed audience in Colorado State University's Lory Student Center, the candidates discussed a wide range of topics from marijuana to curbing higher education costs, birth control and same-sex marriage.

Democratic Senator Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner had a spirited debate Tuesday night hosted by The Denver Post. Both candidates are locked in a tight race and both stayed on message in the hour-long debate.

Udall attacked Gardner as extreme and out of touch, Gardner criticized Udall for being in lockstep with President Barack Obama.

With Colorado's U.S. Senate race too close to call, both parties are on an all-out blitz to court as many voters as they can prior to the November election. The youth vote has traditionally helped Democrats, but Republicans see an opening with national support for President Obama falling among the millennial generation.

Colorado's U.S. Senate race is a considered by many to be a tossup. Incumbent Senator Mark Udall and Republican Congressman Cory Gardner are trying to win over as many key voting blocs as they can before Election Day – and that includes women.

In the previous close Senate contest between appointed Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and Republican Ken Buck, women played a critical role. During the waning days of that 2010 race, Bennet focused his attention on the female vote – and narrowly won. With women making up 51.4 percent of all registered voters in Colorado this election, it's a scenario Democrats are hoping to repeat.

Judy and Harry Gaylor live in the mountains of Evergreen, west of Denver. The 70-acre stretch of land is covered with aspen and lodgepole pines and has been in Harry's family for close to a century. But, last year, a wildfire came dangerously close to burning his family house to the ground.

Harry credits volunteer firefighters from Evergreen Fire Rescue for containing the wildfire as it raged toward their neighbor's house.

Multiple polls on Colorado's U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races were recently released and there are some different perspectives on where things stand with just seven weeks until the November election.

Most polls show the U.S Senate race as being too close to call. The Denver Post recently gave incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Udall a narrow edge over his Republican challenger Congressman Cory Gardner, but within the margin of error. A separate USA Today Poll gives Gardner a one point edge. The most recent Quinnipiac Poll was more of an outlier. It gave Gardner the lead, 48 – 40 over Udall.

The Colorado Board of Health has voted against setting maximum patient caps for medical marijuana caregivers. The proposed rule would have limited caregivers to just 10 patients. After a tense and at times tearful hearing Tuesday, the board said the change was unnecessary.

In many parts of Colorado when you dial 9-1-1 to report a fire, the firefighters who arrive to extinguish it are volunteers. These firefighters have other jobs, and serve half of the state’s population. But Colorado has an ever-shrinking pool of volunteers, leaving many communities at risk.

Jake Ryan, Laura Palmisano, Patricia Naft
Skip Naft

On this week's Local Motion we are showcasing our news team.

Patricia Naft, the voice of KVNF's morning regional newscast, hosts the program that features six original stories by our news director Laura Palmisano and news producer Jake Ryan.

In a news conference Monday Governor John Hickenlooper, alongside Democratic Congressman Jared Polis and other supporters, announced a deal on local control for oil and gas, heading off a showdown on the November ballot.

Hundreds of people are expected to testify in Denver on proposed rules to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Denver hearing is one of several the Environmental Protection Agency is hosting across the country on the plans.

Colorado voters will once again decide on an amendment that would give unborn babies the same constitutional and legal rights as a person. The measure is bringing out some familiar faces – it’s also impacting one of the closest U.S. Senate races in the country.

While campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to back down from his comments made earlier in 2014, criticizing Colorado’s quality of life after legalizing recreational marijuana.

“We’ve got to stop in public life worrying about making everybody happy and faking it, like we’re going to agree all the time,” said Christie.

Governor John Hickenlooper has formally pulled the plug on the possibility of a special legislation session to consider stricter rules for the oil and gas industry. Hickenlooper said there weren't enough stakeholders on board for a bipartisan solution.

Colorado’s economy and job growth are already shaping up to play a central role in the November gubernatorial race. Both candidates are using their own figures to assess how the state is faring as it recovers from the recession.

Fresh off a primary victory where he bested former Congressman Tom Tancredo, Secretary of State Scott Gessler, and former state senate minority leader Mike Kopp, Bob Beauprez discussed some of the key issues in the upcoming governors campaign: from energy and the environment to guns and capital punishment.

The race to be Colorado’s next Governor is officially underway. Former Congressman Bob Beauprez will challenge Governor John Hickenlooper in November after winning a four way GOP primary race. Beauprez captured a four-point lead over his closest challenger, Tom Tancredo.

Colorado’s primary election is Tuesday June 24, and in many ways it marks the beginning of the political season that will culminate in November. Two GOP primary races are being closely watched.

There’s often a divide between Colorado’s rural lawmakers and those representing larger communities along the urban Front Range. That dynamic was apparent during the 2014 legislative session with Republicans routinely blaming Democrats for waging what they said is a "war on rural Colorado."

Governor John Hickenlooper’s office said he’s still in discussions about whether to call lawmakers back to the state capitol for a special session on oil and gas issues. The goal would be to pass a compromise bill and avoid a fight at the ballot box.

Four candidates are vying for the Republican Party’s nomination in Colorado’s 4th Congressional District after U.S. Representative Cory Gardner’s surprise decision to run for the U.S. Senate against Democratic Senator Mark Udall.

CBS 4 and Colorado Public Television recently hosted a debate with the four GOP candidates competing in the conservative and vast district that stretches from Wyoming all the way to New Mexico and the Kansas border.

People living in many parts of rural Colorado still don’t have access to high speed Internet. It’s a problem for schools and businesses, and in eastern Colorado it is making it harder for farmers to take full advantage of the latest technology even as state lawmakers passed legislation to try and even the playing field.

Four Republicans are vying to be the lone candidate to run against Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper in the fall. But with the primary election coming up June 24, only two of the candidates participated in a taped debate hosted by CBS 4 and Colorado Public Television.

Debate organizers knew ahead of time that former congressman Tom Tancredo never planned to be a part of the hourlong program. But Secretary of State Scott Gessler didn’t show up – even though his campaign confirmed that he would.

More and more companies are starting to use the new Colorado logo and slogan - “it’s our nature” - to promote their products, helping the state's efforts to strengthen its brand and global competitiveness. The branding effort though has been somewhat controversial and it will take some time to determine its success.

Governor John Hickenlooper signed two measures into law Wednesday, both aimed at tightening rules around marijuana edibles and concentrates. One goal is to make sure young children don’t accidentally ingest the drug.

The gun debate that riveted the state capitol in 2013, once again took center stage Monday. Fewer people came to the capitol to testify on a key gun bill than the last round, but emotions were still strong.

Could closing time change for your local watering hole? That's a statehouse proposal under consideration, allowing Colorado communities to decide whether to extend bar hours. Some feel a change to the law could do more harm than good.

Helping prevent and fight wildfires is one of the top priorities for Colorado lawmakers in both parties this session, but so far they’re only proposing minor policy changes.

As the 2014 legislative session opened Wednesday, newly elected state Senate President Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) – the second woman to hold the position – urged lawmakers to problem solve and skip the shouting matches in her opening day speech.