Governor Hickenlooper's continued popularity gives him a great deal of leeway in dealing with sensitive issues, which he generally just avoids altogether, but that doesn't mean he can safely oppose a victim compensation fund for the Lower North Fork Fire started by his own administration. The bill, which just passed the state House and now goes to the state Senate, is designed to deal with a massive tragedy that resulted from state government negligence.
Reports The Colorado Observer's Leslie Jorgensen:
DENVER– The House advanced a bill on Tuesday that would establish a commission to evaluate damage claims against the state by victims of the Lower North Fork Wildfire. The 6-member commission would also investigate the delayed emergency responses to a controlled burn that ignited a massive fire on March 26 that killed three people, destroyed 27 homes and scorched more than 1,400 acres south of Conifer.
Victims can sue the state for damages, but state law currently caps that amount at $600,000. Proponents of House Bill 1352, sponsored by Republican Reps. Cheri Gerou of Evergreen and Bob Gardner and Sen. Bill Cadman, both of Colorado Springs, said the measure would pave a way for the victims to recover more money for damages.
Victims of the wildfire would be allowed to file claims for damages that were not compensated by their insurance coverage, but exempts non-economic damages and attorney fees.
Hick and his administration have truly botched the aftermath of this state-caused tragedy. In his first press conference on the fire, Hick channeled Al Gore and tried to blame it on global warming, rather than the bureaucratic negligence everyone knows it to have been.
Since then, the Governor has yet to take a strong stand on anything but bureaucratic reorganization through recommending moving prescribed burns away from the Colorado State Forest Service and into the Department of Public Safety.
That's not going to cut it when the state government is responsible for the tragic death of three people and the destruction of 27 homes.
During a press conference last week, Hick's indecisiveness left a wide gap in crisis management to be filled, specifically how to make whole the citizens whose lives were torn apart by governmental error. From his presser, per 9News:
He repeatedly declined to say whether the state should lift or waive its liability cap, which will divide a maximum of $600,000 between dozens of fire victims who lost millions.
If Hickenlooper won't act, somebody has to. Refusing to lead or take on the issue of compensating victims is not a place politicians ever want to be, made very clear by the fact that the two Democrats who voted in favor of the GOP's Fire Commission bill, Reps. Pete Lee and Daniel Kagan, are in contested re-election races.
If Hickenlooper wants to oppose a victim compensation bill he may see the fire spread from the Lower North Fork Valley onto his own political mountain. And no, that won’t be global warming’s fault either.