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DENVER — Those exiting the theater now that the credits are rolling on Colorado’s “Frack Wars” saga may not realize that there’s already a sequel in the works: “Revenge of the Fractivists.”
Colorado fractivists were furious after Democratic Rep. Jared Polis agreed Monday to pull his anti-fracking initiatives in exchange for a series of concessions, denouncing the Democrat-brokered deal and unleashing calls to resume the ballot fight for the 2015 election.
Within hours of Monday’s press conference, Shane Davis, who goes by “The Fractivist,” posted a petition on change.org accusing Polis of “betrayal” and insisting, “What you and the Democratic Party have done in this state is hijack our democratic process.”
“Your actions prove that we not only have an environmental crisis, but also a democracy crisis,” said the petition. “We are not bargaining chips in some sort of game of Chicken with the Democratic Party and Governor [John] Hickenlooper.”
He called for activists to attend en masse a Polis town hall meeting Tuesday evening at the Meadows Public Library in Boulder.
In return for Polis ending his initiative campaign, Hickenlooper agreed to appoint an 18-member blue-ribbon task force to study local-control measures. Polis also said he would not withdraw his initiatives unless two pro-industry measures were also pulled.
Even so, the heated reaction from activists like Davis came as further evidence that Polis doesn’t control or even represent the state’s anti-fracking movement.
In a press release posted Monday on the Food & Water Watch website, a half-dozen Colorado activists condemned the “secret deal” and vowed to continue the fight.
“This deal only strengthens our resolve to work in our communities for real citizen initiatives that will ensure a safe and healthy future for all Coloradans,” said Russell Mendell of Frack Free Colorado. “It’s time for Coloradans to stand up take back our democratic rights.”
Cliff Willmeng, who ran an alternative anti-fracking initiative this year until he was forced to drop it due to lack of signatures, posted the following on Facebook: “The Colorado Community Rights Amendment will be gathering signatures in 2015. Stay tuned.”
Getting Polis to blink wasn’t easy, but convincing activists like Davis and Willmeng to back down may be next to impossible. The multimillionaire Polis had something to lose: He needs party support if he plans to move up the political ladder, and he was in danger of becoming a pariah.
“This was at least partially a ‘Save Polis’ activity since, number one, he may not have had the signatures, and number two, he was going to lose even if he won,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli. “His career was going to come to an end right here.”
The beginning of the end for Polis may have come in March, when Fox31’s Eli Stokols reported that the congressman was behind the initiatives. After that, foes of the anti-fracking measures were able to target Polis and paint him as a spoiled, out-of-touch limousine liberal holding the state’s economy hostage in a fit of pique.
That strategy is unlikely to work with activists like Allison Wolff, Kelly Giddens, Laura Fronckiewicz and Kaye Fissinger, none of whom appears to be interested in chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or running for Senate.
And while the Colorado fractivists may not have Polis’s cash, they know who does.
Funds are being funneled from wealthy New York and California foundations to non-profit environmental groups like Food & Water Watch, which then direct funding to anti-fracking groups in Colorado and elsewhere, according to a report released last week by the Senate Environment and Public Works minority staff.
As the report states, tracing the money is difficult if not impossible, thanks to campaign-finance laws that don’t require non-profits to reveal the source of their funding.
Ciruli said that while the agreement takes the heat off Democrats in November, it’s far from certain that the task force will be able to strike a compromise that satisfies both the business community and the anti-fracking movement before the next election.
Hickenlooper, working with industry and environmental representatives, had already floated a compromise bill in May that was hooted down by the anti-fracking movement. Groups like Protect Our Colorado, for example, have called for an outright statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing, which would effectively halt oil and gas development.
“This problem has not gone away,” said Ciruli. “One, they wanted a political solution, and they got that, but two, they wanted to have a long-term solution, which is what this committee is that’s going to come up with recommendations. And whether that’s going to accomplish its purpose is much less clear.”
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