The tea-party radio crowd is mad at Fox 31 reporter Eli Stokols for failing to report what they see as the real story behind Representative Chris Holbert's lone no vote against the state budget bill April 12.
Citing unnamed sources, Stokols reported Friday:
Republicans privately groused that Holbert's vote amounted to 'sour grapes' after the House GOP caucus refused to allow him to run an amendment dealing with abortion on Wednesday, when the House spent hours debating a few dozen 'message amendments' to the budget that aimed to make political points."
Stokols' story came after Holbert issued a news release stating he voted against the budget bill because it didn't set aside any money for a so-called "rainy day fund," to be used for unanticipated state needs.
Stokols reported Holbert's explanation, as well the view that allegedly "swirled around the Capitol" that Holbert was essentially lying about his real reason for the "no" vote.
"If I'm Eli Stokols and I'm a crack reporter, it's not that hard to get a hold of the people," Grassroots Radio Colorado's Jason Worley told listeners Monday. "It took me ten seconds to figure out everything [Stokols] says here [in Stokols' piece], which is complete supposition and rumor, is false, completely wrong."
On the radio, Worley claimed that it wasn't Holbert who wanted to run an amendment banning public funding for abortion in Colorado. Instead, it was Marsha Looper, who's in a primary battle with House Majority Leader Amy Stephens.
But leading House Republicans didn't want Looper to be able to say that she was fighting for an anti-abortion bill, because championing such a bill would help her in her primary campaign against "I-am-the-Christian-Coalition Amy Stephens" in "one of the most conservative districts in the state," according to Worley.
So, Worley said, Republicans made it look like the anti-abortion amendment was Holbert's, so that Looper couldn't take credit for it.
Looper told me that, in fact, it was she who took the lead on the abortion amendment, not Holbert.
"Chris and I talked to each other about a month ago," Looper told me. "And that was it. I was prepared to run the amendment to remind everybody that public funding for abortion is prohibited in Colorado."
"I had conversations with individuals, and they weren't happy with my running the bill, and [later] lo and behold, it was already in the bill," she told me adding that she didn't run the amendment when she found that it had been inserted in the "long bill on page 363." (Indeed, you can find it in a footnote in the state budget bill on page 363, as well as, and this is the funny part, in the State Constitution.)
"I'm sure Mr. Stokols isn't going to reveal his sources, but whoever his sources were, they pinned it on the wrong guy, " Worley said on the radio.
Asked if he still stood behind his sources for this story, Stokols told me via email:
I stand by my sources.
Representative Holbert made the conscious choice to send out his own press release and statement the day after the vote. Obviously, he felt the need to explain his vote for some reason. I wrote the story because he sent the press release, which ran counter to the other things I'd been hearing.
I don't blame Eli for using anonymous sources. He'd almost certainly never have gotten anyone to comment on the record, and given the importance of abortion issues in politics these days, airing the views is clearly in the public interest.
So Worley shouldn't be directing his anger at Stokols, who just reported what he was told.
Worley should focus on finding out who spread the Holbert story and give reporters specific names.
That's what Worley did Monday, saying on the radio: "And, you know, Reps like B.J. Nikkel who spread these rumors should know better."
I called Nikkel yesterday for comment, but have not heard back yet.
Unlike Worley, Holbert won't say who he thinks talked to Stokols.
All he'd tell KVOR talk-radio host Jimmy Lakey Sunday was, "Somebody planted that story."
Last year, someone came to Holbert with a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, and he was going to run it, but it was too late, Holbert told Lakey. This year, Holbert continued, he decided to look into it, but the language was too complicated. And when he heard that Representative Marsha Looper was working on a similar bill, he figured he didn't have to run it.
LAKEY: ...But this sour grapes, and so do you know who the sour grapes are up there [at the Capitol]?
CHRIS HOLBERT: I...
LAKEY: You want to name names here?
CHRIS HOLBERT: No...
LAKEY: No, I know you don't. You're a nice guy. I'll name na...! No, I don't know who they are either... Well, we'll come back, I want to wrap it up with Representative Chris Holbert. He stood firm and he voted 'no' on budget that spends every penny, every year, where it continues to kick some problems down the way. But Chris Holbert says he wasn't pouting. So there you have it. We'll continue to talk about this, wrap it up with Chris Holbert, and uh, I'll be glad to, in just a moment, tell you how you can contact Chris Holbert, or maybe help him out. He's the lone vote! Voting against some crazy stuff up there, and you ought to support a guy like that. So stick around! More to come! I'm Jimmy Lakey.
If you think tea-party radio shows are done with this strange story by now, a week after Stokols reported it, you'd be wrong. Worley was still talking about it Wednesday on KLZ. And he's still angry at Stokols.
My advice for Worley is, don't get mad at Eli Stokols. You should be thanking him for reporting what was said to him. You just need to find people with the guts to name names on the record.