Traffic backs up on Interstate 25 through Colorado Springs
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Traffic backs up on Interstate 25 through Colorado Springs. (The Gazette file)

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Colorado voters had a word for a host of major measures on their general election ballot: No.

Proposals to restrict oil and gas development, tax the rich to fund schools, pay back property owners for the cost of regulation and lower the minimum age for state lawmakers were all going down to defeat in early returns, as were two competing plans to finance transportation improvements.

But voters said “yes” to a pair of reforms intended to end gerrymandering of electoral districts.

In all, Colorado has 13 statewide ballot measures this year.

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The General Assembly forwarded six measures for the consideration of voters statewide, and another seven initiatives made their way via petition onto the general election ballot.

While three of the 13 statewide ballot measures are “statutory measures” calling for rewriting Colorado law, the nine others asked voters to amend the state constitution. Six of those proposed amendments came from the legislature; the other three are “citizen initiatives,” although big money (and in some cases, big corporations) are responsible for a lot of their support.

All of the constitutional measures required at least 55 percent voter approval each in order to pass, the result of changes made to the state Constitution under 2016’s Amendment 71. Statutory measures pass with a simple-majority “yes” vote.

Here’s a look at all 13 statewide measures, and how they were faring in early returns as of 8:30 p.m. MT:

Constitutional amendments from the legislature

Amendment V was losing by a nearly 2-1 margin. It would have lowered the minimum age for service in the legislature from 25 to 21 years of age. It would have put the state in line with 43 other states that allow House representatives to be somewhere between ages 18 to 21. About half of the states allow senators to be that same age.

The only listed opponent for the ballot measure was Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

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Amendment W: Probably too close to call, with the “yes” votes ahead slightly. It is something of a technicality dealing with judicial retention. Currently, county clerks, when putting together the ballot, have to write a separate question for each judge who is up for retention. Under Amendment W, that would be shortened slightly by grouping judges under one question per court.

Proponents, including the Colorado County Clerks Association, claimed such a change could lower printing costs, although the state Judicial Branch maintains it could be confusing to the point that voters might skip judicial retention questions.

Amendment X was winning. It would take the definition of industrial hemp out of the state constitution, leaving the definition up to state or federal law. Hemp is a version of cannabis with almost no THC, the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, and is used in products including textiles and food products. A definition of industrial hemp, as well as its THC level, was placed in the state constitution in 2012 under Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana.

Proponents claim that taking the definition of hemp out of the constitution would put Colorado’s definition in line with any future changes made at the federal level. Opponents, including marijuana lawyer Rob Corry, said the definition should remain in the constitution. He said that’s the intent of Amendment 64, and that the current definition provides hemp growers with certainty.

Amendments Y and Z, both winning by big margins, deal with how the state draws its congressional and legislative maps. Currently, the General Assembly draws those maps, which has resulted in court battles in which judges eventually drew the maps, both after the 2000 and 2010 censuses.

Amendment Y pertains to drawing of congressional maps. This becomes even more important because Colorado is likely to add an eighth congressional seat after the 2020 census. Amendment Z applies to the state maps for the 35 Senate seats and 65 House seats.

Each amendment seeks to set up a committee of a dozen commissioners to redraw the maps. Four of the members would be from the largest political party, another four from the second largest, and the last four would be unaffiliated. That’s led to complaints that minor parties (think Libertarian, Green, etc). would be excluded from the process. Under both measures, eight of the 12 commissioners would have to approve new maps.

Amendment A, also winning, is a second bite at the apple to remove language allowing “slavery” as punishment for a crime from the state constitution. A similar measure in 2016 lost by just six-tenths of 1 percent, about 16,000 votes short out of 2.5 million votes cast. But almost 280,000 of those voters didn’t vote on the 2016 measure, which may have been due to confusion about what the measure would do.

The General Assembly approved this year’s measure unanimously, but it now faces the hurdle of gaining 55 percent voter approval instead of 50 percent, as was the case in 2016. It has no listed opposition.

Constitutional amendments from citizens

Amendment 73 was losing by a 13-point spread. It was sponsored by a group called Great Schools, Thriving Communities and sought to raise $1.6 billion for public K-12 education funding through a tax increase on people with incomes above $150,000 per year, along with an increase in the corporate tax rate.

The committee raised $1.25 million through Oct. 29 to support the measure, with donations from a number of education groups and teachers unions. Its chief opponents were Bruce, former state Rep. Jim Kerr and a group called Blank Check, Blatant Deception, which raised $1.4 million mostly from the oil and gas industry through the Colorado Economic Leadership Fund, and the pro-voucher group Ready Colorado, which doesn’t disclose its donors through TRACER, the secretary of state’s campaign finance system.

Amendment 74 was trailing narrowly. It would have required state or local governments to reimburse property owners when new regulations have the effect of lowering property values. Its public face was the Colorado Farm Bureau but the real power behind it was the oil and gas industry, which put $11 million into the Committee for Colorado’s Shared Heritage. The measure’s proponents were criticized for mailers that falsely claim the Colorado Springs Gazette editorial board still endorses the measure.

Amendment 74 was opposed by the Colorado Municipal League, Colorado Counties Inc., Club 20, Action 22, and a host of other civic organizations. A committee formed to oppose the measure, Save Our Neighborhoods, raised $6.5 million, mostly from groups like Conservation Colorado and the League of Conservation Voters.

Amendment 75, which was losing by a wide margin, would have changed contribution limits when candidates contribute or loan $1 million or more of their own funds to their campaigns. The contribution limits would increase five times for the candidate’s opponent(s).

The measure was backed by former state Rep. BJ Nikkel of Loveland and former state Sen. Greg Brophy of Wray. A committee set up to support the measure, Stop Buying Our Elections, raised just over $13,000, including a last-minute $10,000 contribution from Extraction Oil and Gas. The measure appeared to have only token opposition, primarily from Bruce.

Statutory measures

Proposition 109, going down to defeat, would have directed the state to raise $3.5 billion in bond for 66 identified highway projects. The bonds would have been paid for with existing state revenues, up to as much as $250 million per year. Its primary backer and funder, to the tune of $635,000, was the Independence Institute, which doesn’t disclose its donors through TRACER. However, SourceWatch claims the institute gets its money from the National Rifle Association and Donors Capital Fund, which is backed in part by Koch Industries.

Opponents claimed the measure would require the state to take money from other priorities, such as education and health care, when the state hits another economic downturn.

Proposition 110, seen as an alternative to 109, also was failing. It would have increased the state sales tax by 6 cents on a $10 purchase, and use those dollars to finance $6 billion of the state’s $9 billion transportation wish list, for about 137 projects. Proponents claimed the measure would create a long-term funding solution for transportation; opponents, including the Independence Institute, say a tax increase is unnecessary.

Coloradans for Coloradans raised $7 million to combat Proposition 109 and back Proposition 110. Their donors include the construction and real-estate industries.

Proposition 111, an overwhelming winner, would cap interest rates and fees on payday loans to 36 percent, down from the high of 180 percent. Its primary proponents appeared to be the progressive Sixteen Thirty Fund, which contributed most of the $2.6 million raised by its issue committee, Coloradans to Stop Predatory Payday Loans. The fund has been active in Colorado since 2013, when it backed efforts to fight a recall of two Democratic state senators over gun control legislation. The Center for Responsible Lending also supported Proposition 111.

While the payday loan industry is opposed, it has not funded any opposition.

Proposition 112, which appeared headed to defeat, was easily the most controversial measure on the 2018 ballot if the spending against it by the oil and gas industry is any indication. The measure would have established a 2,500-foot setback between occupied buildings and new oil and gas development, up from the current buffer of 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.

Protecting Colorado’s Environment, Economy and Energy raised $41 million from the oil and gas industry since Jan. 1, most of it to fight Proposition 112. The measure was backed by Colorado Rising for Health and Safety, which also opposes Amendment 74, seen as a response to 112.. The group raised more than $1 million as of Oct. 29, with large donations from the Washington, D.C.-based Food and Water Watch, whose donors include the Park and Annenberg foundations, according to Influence Watch.

The oil and gas industry claimed the measure would have devastated the industry and the state economy; proponents claimed the setback distance was based on health and safety studies.

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