DENVER — A bill that couldn’t move fast enough for one Colorado newspaper publisher, leading to accusations of fake news and threats of lawsuits, has now spent more time waiting for a committee hearing in the House than it ever did the Senate.
In the meantime, Grand Junction Daily Sentinel publisher Jay Seaton has shifted from threats of lawsuits to comparing Sen. Ray Scott, (R-Grand Junction) to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who after killing dozens of rebels with chemical weapons called the images a product of fake news.
Scott said sometimes he laughs at the irony surrounding his postponement of SB17-040, concerning public access to digital government files and what started the controversy in February. The House has delayed a committee hearing on the bill for more than a month.
It passed the Finance committee late Monday and moves on to appropriations.
But more often, he spends his times looking at the hundreds of letters, postcards and emails he got from people across country after Seaton threatened to sue Scott for Scott calling his publication “fake news.”
“Nobody went as far as a death threat, but I got hammered,” Scott said. “It was terrible. It was really bad. I feel sorry for those people that they don’t have a better grip on reality.”
Scott, who is considering throwing his hat into the mix of Republican candidates for Governor, said despite stopping short of death threats, some of them were intense:
“Ray Scott is a pathetic, goddamn loser —leave our free press alone, you piece of shit Putin-loving commie!” One person penned.
Others were just comical:
“Colorado, why do you have a boneheaded caveman like Ray Scott representing you?” Another person scrolled across the outside of an envelope mailed from Minneapolis, Minn.
And many of them came on prepared Women’s March postcards, appearing to be an organized effort to inundate Scott with hate mail.
It all started Feb. 6 when SB17-040 was scheduled to be heard in the Senate State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. Scott postponed it, saying he had heard from several stakeholders who wanted more time to work on it.
Two days later Seaton wrote an editorial calling on Scott to reschedule the hearing. Scott said the editorial said implied he was intentionally delaying the hearing to undermine updating the open records laws.
Soon after, Scott Tweeted out that the Daily Sentinel was Grand Junction’s own version of fake news, and that prompted Seaton to threaten a libel suit.
But most disturbing for Scott, he said, was the most recent opinion from Seaton, who has decided not to sue Scott, saying he’s doing for the taxpayers of Colorado.
“It was a ridiculous rant, by someone who knows they don’t have a case,” Scott said.
In his most recent column, Seaton said “assaults on a free press are the first play in any despotic regime’s playbook.”
He compared Scott’s Tweet of fake news to that of Assad’s.
“The “fake news” allegation against legitimate news organizations is now in Assad’s playbook, but it will also be used by anyone wishing to cast into doubt unflattering facts presented by an independent third party. Soon, we may not be able to discern real information from fiction. Assad, for one, is hoping so,” Seaton wrote.
Scott said he was embarrassed for Seaton.
“I thought, are you serious? You’re going to put me in the same sentence as Assad?” Scott said. “Am I that bad that I deserve that kind of comparison? That was a little bizarre.”
In the editorial, Seaton stands behind his original contention he is on solid ground for a lawsuit, but wants to spare the taxpayers the expense of defending Scott.
“Assaults on a free press are the first play in any despotic regime’s playbook,” Seaton wrote. “… From my vantage, it was defamation for which there is a viable legal remedy”
Scott said he simply wishes Seaton would have just called him and talked it out, but instead, Seaton took to his news pages again, Scott said.
“Hard to let this guy off the hook just by saying, ‘gee I’m glad this is over,” Scott said. “If he would have just said, ‘hey, I did try to call Senator Scott and talk to him about this, I was wrong, it’s my bad, let’s just all go home and have peace, I would have wrote something nice back to him, but oh, no, he has to put me in there with Assad.”
Scott said the editorial just made it worse.
“And he’s arguing about fake news?” Scott said. “Where he even came up with this stuff, I have no idea. It was kind of like a rambling manifesto about himself and how great he is that he saved the taxpayers money.”
Despite everything, Scott said he’s not sure what his next step is.
“I’ve always been kind of bulldog,” Scott said. “Maybe I should sue him for defamation of character.”
Likely, he said, he’ll just spend his time after session is over exploring the Governor race, something he is leaning favorably toward.
If he does decide to run, one thing is clear, Scott will govern the first floor of the State House the same why he does the second floor now — with his emotions on his sleeve — a trait he said Colorado residents want.
“I think people in Colorado are going to be looking for someone who is just like what they have in D.C.” Scott said. “(Trump) hit a cord with people that is just amazing. I’ve told people, when you get ready to vote in 2018. You better be looking for that person that doesn’t care about getting re-elected because that’s what it’s going to take to clean up Colorado.”