Lawmakers concerned about lack of true Eastern Plains representation on state boards

Colorado’s agricultural center is the state’s Eastern Plains, whence comes 84% of the state’s gross agricultural sales.

The Colorado State Fair is among the biggest events every year that celebrates that agricultural impact.

But you wouldn’t know it to look at the state fair’s board of directors. The only alleged representative of the Eastern Plains lives in Boulder County.

That’s not sitting well with Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol, and a fair number of Democratic lawmakers aren’t pleased with it either.

On the last day of the 2020 legislative session, the Senate, which confirms the governor’s appointments to various boards and commissions, came grinding to a halt over who the governor has picked — or in this case, hasn’t — to represent Colorado’s agricultural Eastern Plains on the state fair board.

The issue on June 15 was the State Fair Authority, but it’s only one appointment among many that are raising concerns that Gov. Jared Polis is doing his best to make sure the voice of the Eastern Plains is left off of boards and commissions that he controls.

The three appointments to the state fair board had been awaiting confirmation from the Senate since they were approved in February and officially on the Senate calendar on May 27.

Among the nominees: Brian Coppom of Longmont, who runs the Boulder County Farmer’s Market. His appointment is listed as unaffiliated, but he’s made seven campaign contributions in the past four years to Democratic House lawmakers who later ran for Boulder County commissioner. This year, that includes term-limited Rep. Jonathan Singer of Longmont.

The delay game began on May 27, with Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder laying over the vote on those nominations. That happened for the last 20 days of the session.

In the meantime, Sen. Don Coram, a Montrose Republican, was racking up votes against Coppom’s nomination and that of two others, both from the Western Slope. By June 15, he told this reporter he had at least five votes, perhaps as many as 10,  from Democrats willing to vote down the nominations, based on those concerns about lack of Eastern Plains representation.

On June 15, Fenberg asked for the confirmation to be laid over to the next day, in effect killing the vote.

That led to a dustup in Senate President Leroy Garcia’s office that included Garcia, Fenberg, Coram, Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker and three of the Democratic senators likely to vote against, including Sen. Nancy Todd of Aurora, the Senate president pro tem, the number two in the Senate.

While the meeting was behind closed doors and unannounced, this reporter invited herself in under the state’s Open Meetings Law, which states that any meeting of two or more lawmakers discussing state business is a public meeting.

The sparks flew.

Coram accused Fenberg, in sometimes not so polite language, of “rolling him.” Fenberg fought back, accusing Coram of trying to embarrass the governor.

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