It was an interesting year in Colorado politics, if slightly less so in Colorado Springs. Once the fons et origo of disruptive politics in Colorado and nationally (think Douglas Bruce and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, Dr. James Dobson and Amendment 2), the Springs has been a comparative island of calm in a national sea of conflict. Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor John Suthers glided through a productive year that culminated in the unanimous adoption of Suthers’ 2019 budget, the El Paso County Commissioners did little to either discredit or distinguish themselves and despite some well-publicized missteps Sheriff Bill Elder easily won re-election in 2018.
The El Paso county legislative delegation welcomed some new legislators, although the partisan split remained unchanged. After four terms in the House, Democratic Rep. Pete Lee moved to the Senate, replacing term-limited veteran legislator Mike Merrifield. Former Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder was easily elected to Lee’s seat. Both are experienced, moderately liberal, and business-friendly, a significant plus for the Pikes Peak Region. Another legislative newbie, former County Commissioner Dennis Hisey won election to Senate District 2, replacing term-limited Senate President Kevin Grantham. His fellow Republicans quickly appointed Hisey to the Joint Budget Committee, easily the most significant committee in the legislature. Thoughtful and eminently non-confrontational, Hisey will be an effective voice for both the region and its business community.
While Democrats swept every state office, even tossing out Secretary of State Wayne Williams, Colorado voters decisively rejected several Dem-friendly several ballot measures. One would have effectively banned fracking in all but a few rural counties, while two others purported to solve the state’s transportation funding dilemmas.
Are voters finally getting fed up with these complex, special interest driven measures that clutter state ballots year after year? Apparently so, creating a rare opportunity for Governor-elect Jared Polis and the Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature to do some bipartisan problem solving.
Such partisan beat-downs are usually followed by a wave of measures that the other party had blocked for years. If that template endures, expect a pile of gun control, climate mitigation, school funding, fracking mitigation, public transit funding and other Republican-unfriendly initiatives. But resurgent Dems in the state legislature and the governor’s mansion well understand that one man drove them to victory; President Donald Trump.
Except in Colorado Springs, educated suburbanites, women and young voters abandoned the GOP in droves. Agile centrist Mike Coffman, who had represented his Denver-area swing district in Congress since 2009, lost by 10 points to newcomer Jason Crow. As the Denver Post reported the day after the election, Coffman knew who drove him from office.
“I knew that my only hope of winning was to localize the race to a referendum on my leadership, and that if the race was nationalized as a referendum on the president, then I simply could not win this race,” Coffman said after calling Crow to concede. “In the end, the waves were too big for this ship of ours to stay afloat.”
Judging from a conversation with Jared Polis before he won the Democratic primary, the governor-elect is no radical firebrand. He well understands the Colorado electorate, the limits of his power as governor and the transience of party preferences. And as one who made (and kept!) hundreds of millions during the first internet boom/bubble, he knows business.
Before Republicans took over the House in 2010, a left-leaning analyst characterized CD-5 Representative Doug Lamborn as the “least influential” member of the 435-member body. Since then, he’s had a pretty good ride, going all-in for Trump after 2016. But now that Trump-despising Dems have a 40-vote House majority, his ability to advocate for the 5th Congressional District may be impaired during the next two years.
Yet in 2018, our region was well served by politicians from President Trump on down. The recreated Space Command will likely be headquartered in Colorado Springs, local military contractors have had an amazing year, work has begun on fixing the Interstate 25 Monument/Castle Rock chokepoint, our potholed streets are now smooth boulevards and some of our bitterest political discussions now focus on…bike lanes!
As one who experienced TABOR, Amendment 2, the Neumann System, dried-up parks and turned-off streetlights, that’s a giant leap forward. Still, maybe we should let the cyclists have their lanes and work with Suthers, Polis, Lee, Hisey and Snyder to solve homelessness.