Newly elected legislators from El Paso County say the needs of businesses won’t be neglected in the coming session.
Democrats captured 41 of the 65 Colorado House seats that were contested in the Nov. 6 general election, increasing their majority while wresting control of the Senate from Republicans and sweeping the top state offices.
“There’s no denying there was a blue wave in Colorado,” said Rep.-elect Marc Snyder, a Democrat who won 57.56 percent of the vote in House District 18.
“But I don’t think it is a mandate for a super-progressive agenda,” he said. “Looking at the way [most of] the ballot measures failed pretty considerably reminds us that Colorado is still a purple state. Since the election, I’ve talked to a lot of our constituents who are urging me to be bipartisan and govern from the center.”
Democratic Sen.-elect Pete Lee said he looks forward to hearing concerns and proposals from businesses.
“Small businesses constitute 75 percent of businesses in Colorado,” Lee said. “To the extent they feel they have issues that the legislature could or should address, they should be talking to us.”
In El Paso County, with the exception of Snyder, Lee and Democratic Rep. Tony Exum Sr. in House District 18, the vote was more like a red tide than a blue wave.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton and his running mate, Lang Sias, garnered 56.38 percent of the vote in El Paso County, while Democratic Gov.-elect Jared Polis — with ticket mate Dianne Primavera — scored 39.28 percent, according to unofficial results from the El Paso County Elections Department. Statewide, Polis and Primavera won 53.25 percent of the vote, and the Stapleton/Sias ticket polled 43 percent.
The Republican candidates for secretary of state, state treasurer and attorney general won similar margins in the county, although their Democratic opponents captured the statewide vote for those offices.
And incumbent U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican, was re-elected, outpolling his Democratic challenger Stephany Rose Spaulding by 56.74 percent to 39.65 percent, respectively.
El Paso County is not a red monolith, however. Republicans represent 37.85 percent of the county’s registered voters, while Democrats are at 21 percent. The largest group of registered voters in the county, 38.85 percent, are unaffiliated, and of the 2.3 percent registered with minority parties, the largest segment, or 1.5 percent, are libertarian.
Lowering business barriers
Snyder said he is interested in doing all he can to promote and support small businesses, the bedrock of his district and the state.
“What I found out on the campaign trail is that there is a lack of capital,” Snyder said. “Right now, it is not easy to get access to capital. I’m very interested in developing that.”
Regulations on smaller banks are “very onerous and a disincentive to lending to small businesses,” he said. “I think we need to remove those barriers and create a more sustainable economic climate.”
Snyder said he would like to see the state Economic Development Council refocus its mission from courting big corporations to supporting small businesses.
“It seems to me we roll over backward and give [corporations] all kinds of concessions, and then they’re off to greener pastures,” he said.
Snyder said he would also prioritize transportation needs. In his district, “Highway 24 is a nightmare right now. That’s a state highway, and it is the responsibility of CDOT.”
Snyder said he is not a fan of public-private partnerships such as the proposed toll lanes for Interstate 25.
“Then again, I want to get things done, and I’m willing to swallow a little discomfort for that,” he said. “Everything is on the table right now — a gas tax and bonding in a better way than [propositions 109 and 110].” The two initiatives, which both failed, would have authorized bonds and a tax increase to fund transportation projects.
In the long term, though, “the secret to unlocking our funding shortages is tax reform,” Snyder said.
He supports a balanced budget and voter approval for tax increases — “I don’t want to do away with [the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights], but we are not allowing our tax funding to keep pace. If we don’t do something, we’re never going to be out of this dynamic we’re in right now. I do think we’re going to have some hard conversations.”
Fielding business input
Lee, who served as the House District 18 representative for eight years, won 61.8 percent of the vote in state Senate District 11, which encompasses El Paso County.
He has sponsored several pieces of legislation that benefited businesses. The Colorado Crowdfunding Act, passed in 2015, allows small-business startups to raise funds by selling stocks through crowdfunding.
Lee also sponsored bills for training apprentices in high-tech industries, helping veterans coming out of the military to gain the skills they need to find jobs, and requiring the state to contract with Colorado companies for goods and services and to employ Colorado workers before going out of state.
Lee encourages businesses to make their voices heard on issues that will be debated in the next legislative session.
“One of the biggest components of our economy is health care,” Lee said. “We spend more on health care than any other country in the world, and our outcomes are middling. I think that is an area that the business community should weigh in on — how to reduce the cost of health care.”
The legislature also could use some thoughts and ideas from businesses in solving the statewide challenge of lack of affordable housing.
“Right now, housing is putting a terrific strain on a lot of people,” Lee said. “Businesses and builders could come forth with innovative, creative solutions to increase the stock of affordable housing.”
Lee said he plans to continue pursuing an agenda to reduce mass incarceration in Colorado.
“We incarcerate more people than the average state and we don’t have very good results,” he said.
“I’m going to be pursuing a bill arising out of a task force I chaired concerning youths in the criminal justice system,” he said. “We met with stakeholders in the community, and we have come up with a series of proposals to improve outcomes for kids. … We need to be pursuing more restorative justice instead of retributive justice.”
Regarding the election, Lee said he was pleased that the voters “rejected extremism and divisiveness and supported candidates who were talking about solutions to problems that affect everyday Coloradans. … I think that there was a tremendous increase in participation by women and young people. Whenever there is increased participation, that’s good for democracy.”
Editor’s note: Read more about impacts the most recent election may have on local business here.