Elections are decisions, and Colorado voters clearly favored some over others this year. Here’s Colorado Politics’ take on who came out on top in the Colorado midterms.
The blue wave was a bit choppy nationally. Democrats captured the U.S. House and gained several governorships, while Republicans held onto the U.S. Senate. But in Colorado, it was a GOP washout.
Democrats retained the governor’s office, took full control of the Legislature along with the full slate of statewide executive offices — attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state. It’s been decades since that’s been the case.
Jared Polis was one of the four millionaire Democrats in Colorado who invested dollars with gusto in political races and progressive grassroots organizations in the early 2000s. Tuesday night he saw the return on that investment.
Colorado women turned out in big numbers to run in the 2018 campaign season. Eighty-seven women ran for statewide or congressional offices. Democrats put up 56 of the 87 candidates; 21 Republican women ran for statewide offices, mostly in the House.
Women ran in six of Colorado’s seven congressional races. The only district without a female candidate was in, of all places, the progressive 2nd, which includes Boulder County.
While Colorado hasn’t elected a female governor to date, Jena Griswold became the third woman and the first Democratic woman to be elected secretary of state in the last 30 years. A woman also will serve as lieutenant governor; Dianne Primavera is the fourth Democratic woman in that job in the past 20 years, joining current Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne, Barbara O’Brien and Gail Schoettler.
Two of the five key races for state Senate had only women as the major-party contenders, in Senate District 20 and 24. In the House, a dozen races were solely between women.
The result? Women are now the majority in the Democratic caucuses of the House and Senate, with 22 women included among the House’s 38 Democrats and 11 women in the Senate’s 19 Democrats.
Overall, out of 65 members of the House, women will hold 29 seats beginning in 2019.
The House Republican caucus lost two seats held by women and picked up two that were held by Republican men, leaving seven women in that group.
The Senate will have an even dozen women, with one Republican, Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins, as the only woman in that caucus of 16.
In Congress, before election day, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver was the ranking member on the House Oversight and Investigations Committee. She now is in line to become the committee’s chair, and announced Tuesday night she intends to begin investigations of the president in January. She also is running for House majority whip.
Win or lose, Polis was viewed as a barrier- breaker for LGBTQ Coloradans. For the duration of the campaign season he was the gubernatorial front-runner to become the nation’s first openly gay candidate to be elected governor — and Colorado’s first Jewish governor.
LGBTQ advocates were quick to point out a bit of history, that Colorado voters in 1992 passed Amendment 2, which prevented local and state government from recognizing the rights of gay Coloradans; it was ultimately struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Although Polis never campaigned specifically on issues that have been throttled at the statehouse — like banning conversion therapy for minors and making it easier for transgender people to amend their birth certificate — Democrats expect that those measures will finally show up on the governor’s desk and be signed into law.
Millionaire Walker Stapleton was expected to be the rich guy running for governor this year, but then Jared Polis got in the race.
The Republican’s father buys and sells Major League Baseball teams. The Stapletons — and the Bushes, on the other side of Walker Stapleton’s family tree — also hang out with the kind of civic-minded donors who command millions, if not billions, of dollars. Douglas County entrepreneur Victor Mitchell dumped $5 million into his run for the GOP nomination, and uber-rich El Paso County Republican Barry Farah poured some big bucks into his 11th-hour bid for the nomination, but neither got past Stapleton.
Before he got into politics, Polis hit the jackpot starting tech companies and then set about financing his campaigns for a seat on the state Board of Education and in Congress, where he has consistently ranked as one of the wealthiest members.
Polis dipped into his personal fortune to pay for nearly his entire gubernatorial campaign, spending many times the outlay of any previous candidate for governor.
The experts keep saying that campaign advertising will migrate to digital and leave TV behind, but anyone watching the tube this season saw blanket coverage, often with opposing candidates appearing in the same commercial break. The Colorado Sun reported that campaigns spent $70 million on TV ads this year.
To be sure, digital spending ballooned this year, too, on platforms ranging from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Pandora, as well as just about any web page (including ColoradoPolitics.com) that accepted advertising.
This election saw about $250 million in spending, so more than 1 in 4 of the bucks went to TV.
The flamboyant CEO of Denver-based kidney dialysis giant DaVita didn’t wind up running for governor — despite registering as a Republican and making noise last year about funding his campaign — but he might have left as much of a mark on the state’s political landscape as anyone.
After paying to support a ballot measure in the last election that allows unaffiliated voters to participate in Republican and Democratic primaries, Thiry led the charge this year on a pair of proposals to change the way the state draws congressional and legislative boundaries after every census.
Unaffiliated voters turned out in droves in the June primaries — with more opting for the Democratic ballot than the Republican one — and repeated the feat in the general election, proving that unaffiliated doesn’t mean uninterested or uninvolved.
Amendments Y and Z, referred to the ballot unanimously by lawmakers after Thiry and a competing group hashed out compromise measures, passed by big majorities in an election when voters didn’t pull the lever in favor of many proposals.
Like the creation of open primaries, the anti-gerrymandering measures give Colorado’s rapidly growing unaffiliated electorate a seat at the political table.
Can schools catch a break? Amendment 73 would have raised the state’s corporate tax rate and the income tax on high-earners, and lower-wage Coloradans would have even seen a tax cut. No dice, voters decided, rejecting the measure. In 2013, a ballot question to raise income taxes on practically everyone by an average of 4.63 percent failed by an even larger spread.
Polis has promised all-day kindergarten, free pre-school and higher pay for teachers. He must know a secret place in the state budget to find a pot of gold.
The president declared this midterm election would be a referendum on Donald Trump, and it was. In Colorado, where he lost to Hillary Clinton two years ago by 5 points, the taste for Trump has only soured further.
Stapleton was endorsed twice on Twitter by the president in the month leading up to the election — and lost by 6 percentage points. Five-term Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s record of voting 96 percent of the time with Trump — despite Coffman’s claim that he would “stand up to Trump” — was a frequent, and apparently successful, punching bag for Democrat Jason Crow and outside groups spending on his behalf. Crow will become the first Democrat to hold the 6th Congressional District seat and is one of the 23 seats required to give House Democrats in Congress the majority.
GOP power in statehouse
As long as Republicans held onto a one-seat majority in the state Senate, they served as a firebreak between the liberal-leaning Colorado House and a Democratic governor. Markedly more conservative than the House leaned liberal, the upper chamber killed “message” bills on abortion, guns and regulations.
Next year, after losing direct control over none of the floor or committee votes, Republicans will have to flag what the party sees as overreach so that it helps them regain power in the next election.
Propositions 109 and 110 each sought to steer billions of dollars into the state’s transportation system — one with a tax hike and one with a requirement on the use of existing tax dollars. Voters didn’t go for either.
Nonetheless, last session, Senate Bill 1 put $495 million into roads, bridges and alternative transportation this year, $150 million next year.
If voters approve it next year, the state can borrow $2.3 billion to be repaid over the next 20 years, tapping the state budget for $122.6 million a year.
Coffman, Secretary of State Wayne Williams, assistant House Republican leader Cole Wist of Centennial and state Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton all fell to political newcomers from the left.
Other Republicans to fall short were rising stars such as attorney general candidate George Brauchler, who gained fame as the prosecutor in the Aurora theater shooting trial, and treasurer candidate Brian Watson.
After eight years in state government, Stapleton’s always-expected ascendancy to the governor’s office — another jewel in the family crown in Colorado history — came up short by nearly 7 points.
Outside groups (and candidates, too) ran some of the nastiest ads seen in the campaign season. And it doesn’t appear to have helped, at least for Republicans.
They were especially aggressive in Senate District 22. A mailer supporting Tony Sanchez alleged people in the district would be shooting up heroin if Democratic Rep. Brittany Pettersen was elected. Pettersen has made no secret about her mother’s struggle with drug addiction and her legislative determination to stem addiction and extend treatment programs.
Meanwhile, Colorado Citizens for the Truth, an ironically named committee supporting Stapleton, spent big on ads that accused Polis of assaulting a women who worked for him in 1999, even though police on the scene and prosecutors at the time determined that he was the victim of a crime and was standing his ground.
In an unprecedented move, two Denver TV stations pulled the ad from the air, agreeing with the Polis campaign that the attack was “false, defamatory and malicious.”
Political parties and candidates have found that it’s easier and safer to use social media and scripted public access to avoid the direct glare of the public eye, where gaffes can dominate the news cycle the way a photo opp never could.
Stapleton loosened up when troublesome polls forced him to throw everything he had at Polis. Both gubernatorial candidates by far held public events as “meet-and-greet” gatherings in short brief visits, often at a campaign headquarters. Neither would release his income taxes to the press, and neither brought a record of accessibility to the race in their current jobs.
Dark money and other campaign committees had a field day with Colorado’s minimalist campaign finance rules, whether it was Noble Energy, which ran its own ads opposing Proposition 112, and under Colorado law doesn’t have to report how much they spent, or national “dark money” groups like the Sixteen Thirty Fund, which poured millions in state Senate races and three ballot measures (Proposition 111, amendments Y and Z) and as a 501©4 so-called “education and social welfare” group doesn’t have to tell you where it gets its money.
The pro-Stapleton Colorado Citizens for the Truth timed its registration and initial expenditures to take advantage of a loophole that allowed it to avoid disclosing its donors for weeks as it waged a last-minute campaign against Polis.
Who’s buying your vote? Who knows?