Bente Birkeland

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American Public Media'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.

While the presidential race has taken up a lot of attention, local elections in Colorado deserve some time in the spotlight.  In the state legislature, Democrats hold a three-seat majority in the House, and Republicans have a one-seat majority in the Senate.

Matt Larson is in his mid-thirties and already concerned about what will happen at the end of his life. A year ago, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was treated, but there’s a 50 percent chance it could return. If it does, he wonders at what point he would want to die. In November, Colorado voters will decide whether terminally-ill patients can legally end their lives.

Flickr User: Pictures of Money / Creative Commons

Progressives have long fought for a single-payer health care system. The question as to whether Colorado should create one is on this November's ballot.

The supporters of Amendment 69, also known as ColoradoCare, say their system would be better than the current one created through Obamacare. It would be cheaper, they say, and ensure that no person is left without coverage. Opponents say the system is a massive tax hike that is not sustainable.

The one thing both sides agree on is that the current system is not working for everyone.

Colorado’s major party U.S. Senate candidates held their only televised debate of the election on Tuesday night – but it was disrupted by minor party supporters.  About two dozen Green Party supporters stood outside the History Colorado Museum in Denver where the debate was held, pounding on the glass doors for 60 minutes. The noise was clearly a distraction for the audience and for incumbent Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and El Paso County Commissioner Daryl Glenn, his Republican challenger.

The main party candidates in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race square off Tuesday for their only televised debate. The interest in the battle between the incumbent, Democrat Michael Bennet, and his Republican challenger, Darryl Glenn, so far has been low-key. That’s especially the case when compared to two years ago when Mark Udall, a Democrat, was defeated by Republican Cory Gardner in one of the most-watched contests in the country.

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Colorado is among a handful of states where voters are being asked if the minimum wage should be increased. Proponents say the bump for the lowest-paid workers would help struggling families. Many businesses say it could prompt layoffs.

LOVELAND, Colo. - Ashley Harrison held her baby son in a sling as she stood in line for the Donald Trump rally on a windy but warm fall day in Colorado. She’s a part owner of two 7- Eleven stores in Windsor and Milliken. She thinks Trump would give them tax breaks.


“You know all the support small business can get is the best because those are the job creators,” she said before Trump’s rally at Loveland’s Budweiser Events Center “We just really hope that we can get a conservative in office because that brings back our freedoms, and that’s what America is built on and you know: less government is better.”

Brennan Linsley / Associated Press

This election cycle has been anything but typical, and now Colorado voters will have their say in how the next election is handled. Two questions will appear on the November ballot, one would open local primaries to unaffiliated voters.  The other would switch the state to a presidential primary instead of a caucus.

Eighty-four-year-old Joyce Reiche has a two-bedroom home close to downtown Eagle, Colorado, on the Western Slope. Like many, she's trying to plan for the next phase of life.

"The things I used to like to do I can't do any more, like hike, cross-country ski, go up to the mountains, and do things like that," Reiche said. "I mainly stay home, but I'm content at home."

Colorado's population is not only growing, it's also getting older. Many of the state's counties are poised to see huge increases in the number of people over the age of 65 in the next 25 years.

Jim Hill / KUNC file photo

2016 hasn't been a good year for people who want to restrict oil and gas development in Colorado. Now the failure to collect enough valid signatures to put two anti-fracking initiatives on the November ballot means no foreseeable resolution to an issue that has divided the state.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Access to quality healthcare – and a doctor – can be difficult in the more rural parts of Colorado, especially along the eastern plains. That's why the state is embarking on a new training program to recruit and train more family practice physicians.

Hickenlooper file photo

Governor John Hickenlooper has already been front and center this campaign season. He had a prime speaking spot at the Democratic National Convention and has recently been hitting the campaign trail with Hillary Clinton.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado has, for several presidential elections, been cast as a swing state. The political pundits call it purple—a mix of Democratic blue and Republican red. This year, however, the tone has changed. Pundits say the state is trending blue and won't be a battleground.

Try to tell that to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Or, to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Both campaigns have made stops in Colorado a priority coming out of last month's party conventions.

Following Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech at the final night of the DNC, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a stop in Colorado Springs to try and gain momentum in a swing state that has so far provided lukewarm support.

"There is no reason we shouldn't win this state, heavy military and tremendous respect for law and order," Trump said. "We want law and order, we want a great military, we want our vets to be so happy."

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders handily won Colorado's caucuses. That fact was not forgotten after Hillary Clinton's speech Thursday night, accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. But four days of unity building in Philadelphia during the 2016 Democratic National Convention seemed to help.

State Rep. Jonathon Singer of Longmont, a Sanders delegate, said Clinton's biggest challenge is that many voters don't trust her. Think emails and the wounds of a long primary. Clinton will get his vote come November though, because he doesn't want Republican candidate Donald Trump to become president.

"It's not worth losing things like immigration reform and reproductive choices," Singer said.

The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia got off to a rocky start. Supporters of Bernie Sanders repeatedly booed speakers and even Sanders himself, when he urged his backers to support Hillary Clinton.

Some of the consternation came from Colorado's delegates, where Sanders won the caucuses.

"I'm a Bernie person all the way," said Cleo Dioletis, a delegate from Denver. "In my mind, I have to support a strong candidate who is ethically correct."

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

Now that Donald Trump is formally the Republican presidential nominee, the question in Colorado is whether his candidacy can bring the party together before November.

Colorado's 37 delegates made waves on Monday when they walked out of the convention hall in protest of the rules. On Tuesday most of them voted for Texas Senator Ted Cruz as the GOP nominee even though he was no longer in the race.

El Paso County Commissioner and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Darryl Glenn spoke in primetime during opening night at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Colorado's Republican Party has their man to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet in November: Republican El Paso County commissioner Darryl Glenn. With nearly 40 percent of the vote, the relatively unknown attorney and Air Force veteran won a five-way primary race. So what does this mean for the state's U.S. Senate race? We asked political reporters at the capitol to weigh in.

Republican El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn will challenge incumbent Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet this November. Glenn won a five-way primary race with nearly 40 percent of the vote in order to take on the sitting senator.

Former Colorado State University athletic director Jack Graham came in second to Glenn, followed by Robert Blaha, Jon Keyser and Ryan Frazier.

American Indian mascots draw controversy. They're most visible as the logos of sports teams… and some in Colorado call some of the symbols racist. Efforts at the state Legislature to try and ban the use or restrict the mascots at schools have failed. That hasn't stopped some schools from working with tribes to find the middle ground.

Strasburg, Colorado, is where the last spike was hammered in the nation's coast-to-coast railroad in 1870. This tiny town about an hour east of Denver is also home to the Indians, Strasburg High School's sports teams.

9NEWS/Chris Hansen

It's crunch time for the Republicans vying to be the nominee to run against Democrat Michael Bennet in Colorado's U.S. Senate race. The primary race is still wide open, and when the mail ballots are counted on June 28th, each candidate has a plausible shot of winning.

Republican voters have five candidates to choose from, and if that seems like a lot, it's worth noting that earlier this year the race had roughly a dozen candidates.


With only a few days left in the state's legislative session, lawmakers in both parties are trying to get something across the finish line that will help with the state's high cost of housing, while lots of other bills are failing.


A bill is making its way through the statehouse that would allow judges to reexamine the cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that it is unconstitutional for minors to have no possibility of parole except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the city of Longmont's hydraulic fracturing ban and the moratorium in Fort Collins Monday. The state's highest court said that Longmont's ban conflicts with state law and is invalid and unenforceable. The court ruled that state law also preempts the moratorium in Fort Collins.



With less than two weeks left in the state's annual legislative session lawmakers still have some big items they want to tackle.  As part of our weekly Capitol Conversation series, Bente Birkeland spoke with other statehouse reporters to discuss the end of the session.



Lawmakers in both parties have unveiled a proposal to bring a presidential primary back to Colorado. It's estimated to cost between five to seven million dollars to conduct, and the heads of both the state Democratic and Republican parties and the Governor support it.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

The Governor's commission studying American Indian representations in public schools released its report this week. The group recommends that public schools do not use American Indian mascots, but if they do, they should partner with a tribe to make sure it is done in a respectful way. Right now thirty Colorado schools use some type of American Indian mascot or imagery.

The commission went to four schools to bring American Indian and non-American Indian people together, community members, school boards, and students. This follows failed attempts at the statehouse to ban these types of mascots.


A bill that would force school districts to allow medical marijuana on school grounds is making its way through the state legislature. As part of our Capitol Conversation series, Bente Birkeland speaks with other statehouse reporters about the issue.

Bernie Sanders will be assured the majority of Colorado's delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Hillary Clinton though, still has momentum in the state with the support of super delegates, like Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. The support of party insiders means Clinton will likely have 37 delegates from the state versus Sanders' 41.

Which still makes it an open question for Colorado: If the state is pulling for Bernie Sanders, but the super delegates lean for Clinton, will voters opt to support Clinton if she's the nominee?