It should be an interesting year in local politics, particularly at the multiple intersections of business and politics. I’ve learned from sad experience not to make specific predictions, unless you make so many of ’em that no one remembers the bad ones! So here are some guesses about 2019, some of which may even be accurate.
Nationally, the Trump circus will continue. Expect a lot of Sturm und Drang, periodic government shutdowns, maybe impeachment or even a forced presidential resignation, but one thing is sure: By year’s end, either Donald Trump or Mike Pence will be president.
And although Trump’s policy initiatives may please the majority of voters in El Paso County, they are unpopular elsewhere in Colorado. Just as Trump defeated Wayne Williams, Mike Coffman and George Brauchler, he may also doom Sen. Cory Gardner in 2020.
Gov. Jared Polis and his team, now including former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy, will spend a lot of time on legislative minutiae as they try to figure out how to run the state. Polis will soon learn the lesson that every Colorado governor before him has gloomily absorbed — he doesn’t really have enough power to do the job. In an exit interview with 5280’s Geoff van Dyke, Gov. John Hickenlooper compared the governor’s powers with those of Denver’s mayor.
“The mayor of Denver is the most powerful political figure,” Hickenlooper said. “The mayor hires everybody — there’s no review. There are 13 City Council members and it takes 9 of 13 [to overrule the mayor]. I don’t think I was ever overruled in my eight years there, and that allows you to take on a certain level of ambition … build 122 miles of new commuter and light rail track, borrow $320 million and make Union Station a $370 million jewel. That stuff is very hard to do as governor. Not only does he not have power, but pretty much everybody in the legislature thinks they would do a better job if they were governor.”
Yet with Democrats firmly in control of both houses of the legislature and every statewide office, Polis’ abundant political skills should help him get his way in most internecine conflicts Republicans may groan, protest and intro-
duce partisan bills that have no chance of passage, but they might as well save their energy for 2020. “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”
The April city elections will bring at least one new at-large city council member, and perhaps as many as three. Given the potential candidacies of former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, former City Councilor Val Snider and former State Representative Gordon Klingenschmitt, re-election of incumbents Bill Murray and Tom Strand is by no means assured. Mayor John Suthers is up for re-election as well, but appears to be in no danger. For him to lose, he’d have to face a qualified opponent and somehow get tangled up in a vast scandal. There’s no sign of the former, and I somehow doubt that our straight-shooting mayor has ever done anything criminal, aside from jaywalking once or twice. My prediction: Suthers wins re-election with 82 percent of votes cast. That’ll mean smooth sailing for Amazon’s 2.7-million-square foot distribution center at the airport, and (if necessary) prompt approval for any reasonable incentives for the project.
The fate of the downtown Drake Power Plant may also hinge on the election results. If Murray and Strand are both re-elected and Snider takes Merv Bennett’s open seat, Drake will be closed as soon as financially feasible. If not, a new council might shift to the right and delay decommissioning the facility for another 10 or 15 years. The prospect of such an outcome might encourage downtown business interests to commit substantial resources to the race.
And speaking of downtown, it’ll be interesting to see whether work moves briskly forward on the two proposed stadiums — one for the Switchbacks, the other for Colorado College’s hockey team. Of the two, the CC stadium seems the more problematic, since the absence of dedicated parking for the 3,000-seat facility may trigger strong neighborhood opposition. It’s also a very small venue for a Division 1 facility — does this signal a move to D-3 for men’s hockey and women’s soccer?
Finally, will the local economy lose a little steam in 2019? Probably so — as President Trump may learn when the Mueller report is released, all good things come to an end.