The much-touted blue wave didn’t quite materialize across the nation, but it dramatically transformed Colorado politics. Republicans lost control of the state Senate while Democrats held on to the House and the governor’s mansion. Losing the Senate wasn’t surprising, since the GOP held only a one-member edge, but the real carnage came down ballot. Democrats Phil Weiser, Jena Griswold and Dave Young completed the Democratic sweep, winning their races for attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer, respectively.
Griswold’s victory was particularly bitter for Republicans, since incumbent Wayne Williams had been nationally recognized for fair, efficient and nonpartisan management of Colorado elections. It had been widely assumed that Williams would win easily, and be perfectly positioned to claim the Republican nomination for Governor in 2022. But politics is neither predictable nor fair. Yet the Williams family still triumphed on Election Day, as wife Holly Williams easily won the District 1 seat on the El Paso County Commission.
Democrats also claimed another seat in Congress, as Jason Crow ousted Rep. Mike Coffman in District 3.
Governor-elect Jared Polis could claim that the voters gave his party a broad mandate to enact progressive legislation, but that interpretation would be questionable. Unaffiliated voters provided the margin of victory in every strongly contested race, and it seems highly likely that many were motivated by President Donald Trump — and not in a good way.
In Colorado Springs, a tranquil red island in a raging blue sea, voters gave Rep. Doug Lamborn another term in the House of Representatives, elected veteran Democrats Pete Lee and Marc Snyder to the state Senate and House, and gave Tony Exum another term in the House. Former County Commissioner Dennis Hisey returned to elected office, easily beating Stephanie Luck for the District 2 state Senate seat
Predictably, Springs voters turned down all the proposed statewide tax increases on the ballot — but so did a statewide majority. Turning down tax increases and putting Democrats in complete control of state government — how does that make sense?
It may be that the unaffiliated voters who determine statewide elections understand perfectly well that, thanks to Douglas Bruce, lawmakers have no power to raise taxes. It’s also possible that the confusing mishmash of opaque and complex issues on the statewide ballot led many to vote no across the board. Four easily summarized measures passed. One banned slavery; two conjoined measures depoliticized redistricting and a fourth capped interest and fees on payday loans.
What impact will Democratic control of state government have on the business community?
“We’ve been there before,” said Tony Gagliardi, the longtime state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “We had Democratic control of both houses of the legislature when Bill Ritter was governor. Ritter was willing to work with us, even veto things he didn’t want. I have a lot of respect for Jared Polis — he’s been a successful businessman. I look forward to talking to him, and I’ll be very interested to see who he appoints [to positions in his administration].”
While NFIB didn’t endorse in any of the down ballot races, many of their endorsed candidates lost. It can be argued that split control of the legislature benefitted Gov. John Hickenlooper, because he was never confronted with a torrent of overtly partisan measures. The House would kill Republican overreach, while the Senate would put the kibosh on similar Democratic bills. Nothing reached the governor’s desk without bipartisan compromise, sparing him from heated partisan battles.
Other than a stint on the Colorado Board of Education, Polis has no experience in state government. He’s never run a large public or private organization, and without the day-to-day experience of managing bureaucracies, the first few months of his term might be a learning experience. Yet his comfortable victory over a well-funded opponent may help.
“It’s clear that Jared Polis ran a great campaign,” said former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, who served on the Board of El Paso County Commissioners with Wayne Williams, “and it’s also clear that he has coattails. I sure didn’t expect that outcome in the secretary of state race.”
Whether Polis has coattails or not, one thing is sure — his campaign was well financed, as were many lesser races. The centimillionaire spent more than $15 million of his own money on the race, while outside money poured into multiple legislative contests.
“Millions of dollars in a State Senate race? I’ve been [involved in Colorado politics] since 1996, and I never thought I’d see this,” Gagliardi said.