Colorado midterm election results

As the dust settled over the political landscape this morning, it seemed, statewide, last November’s blue wave seems to have receded. The $4 million campaign to permanently eliminate Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights-mandated state tax refunds via Proposition CC failed by a 55-45 margin, delighting conservatives, Republicans and Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded juggernaut that led the opposition.

Prop CC polled well earlier in the year, encouraging its backers and funders. Yet their $1.5 million campaign was eclipsed by AFP’s $4 million war chest. The money may not have been that important though, as CC supporters had to counter claims that the ballot language was deliberately deceptive.

The text:

“Without raising taxes and to better fund public schools, higher education, and roads, bridges, and transit, within a balanced budget, may the state keep and spend all the revenue it annually collects after June 30, 2019, but is not currently allowed to keep and spend under Colorado law, with an annual independent audit to show how the retained revenues are spent?”

Opponents claimed, not without reason, that it was the first salvo of an attack on TABOR itself and would foreclose future such refunds. Supporters didn’t have a convincing answer, and waited until October to launch their campaign.

By contrast, the “no” campaign was omnipresent on social media for months, as well as using traditional political advertising. Prominent anti-CC signs greeted motorists entering and leaving Woodland Park, anti-CC mailers flooded mailboxes and supporters found it difficult to explain the measure’s murky ballot language.

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Prop CC’s unpopularity almost took down Proposition DD as well, a measure that would tax sports betting in licensed casinos and use the proceeds to fund state water projects. After trailing in early results, the measure led this morning by 50.5 – 49.5 percent margin.

Locally, voters overwhelmingly supported measures 2B and 2C. The former renews the five-year “pothole tax” first approved in 2015, for another five years, albeit at slightly lower rate. The latter permits the city to retain $7 million in excess revenues, to be used to fund specific improvements to parks and trails.

Every election has winners and losers, and this one was no exception.

Winners: After the debacle of 2018, Colorado Republicans have made a dramatic recovery. The long liberal dream of getting rid of TABOR’s onerous restrictions is officially over, and voters have sent a strong signal to Gov. Jared Polis and the Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature. It’s simple: Back off! Democrats may think twice about forcing through measures that are anathema to Republican minorities, such as permitting state workers to unionize.

And while voters in the Denver metro area rejected multiple local tax increases for supposedly essential expenditures, including jails in Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, Springs Mayor John Suthers easily persuaded the normally tax-averse voters of Colorado Springs to open their wallets for roads and parks.

Can ecstatic Republicans build on these triumphs next November? As Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert pointed out last night, “[Proposition CC failed] despite the full endorsement of the Democratic power trifecta in Colorado.”

Republicans scored another win in Aurora, where former GOP Congressman Mike Coffman beat out four rivals to become the city’s mayor, a non-partisan office.

Losers: It was a bad night for Democrats and their ideological fellow travelers. Despite their control of state government, Colorado voters aren’t ready to give the donkeys an unlimited hall pass. Dems may need to collaborate, compromise and listen to their relatively powerless legislative partners, or risk becoming irrelevant themselves next November.

And as always, it’ll be fun to watch. Final takeaway: will John Suthers run for governor against Polis in 2022?