Last week’s somewhat stunning election results for mayor of Denver highlight that Colorado’s explosive population growth is consuming local election campaigns and outcomes.
All three high-profile competitors against current Mayor Michael Hancock — Jamie Giellis, Penfield Tate and Lisa Calderon — focused on the negative impacts of growth on the city of Denver and the metro area.
Giellis made “reining in growth and developers” a centerpiece of her campaign, and that may be why Giellis came in second place and has now forced Hancock to a June 4 runoff.
Hancock’s weak performance for an incumbent — getting just 39% of the vote — signals that he’s vulnerable in the runoff with now over 60% of the voters already having voted against him.
His election war chest — over $2 million — was lined with cash from big-time developers, the Chamber of Commerce and other growth supporters throughout the metro region.
It certainly remains to be seen who Tate and Calderon will support, but if they publicly support Giellis, Hancock could be in a run for his growth-backed money.
Last month saw a somewhat similar outcome in the City Council election in Fort Collins.
For the first time in history, a majority of progressive women were swept into the seven-member Council by voters. Although the election did not focus on growth as much as the Denver election, the familiar growth-vs-environment factions lined up in Fort Collins just as they did in Denver.
The Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce heavily financially supported the pro-growth candidates — most of whom got beat. Environmental interests – led by financial support from the Sierra Club — supported the ‘balanced growth and the environment’ slate that took over the council.
This November will likely see a similar battle play out in other City Council elections across the state, including in the city of Boulder.
A long-running battle between the pro-growth faction in Boulder, led by the Chamber of Commerce and its allies, and the slow/balanced growth faction, led by the Sierra Club and another group called “People’s League For Action Now” (PLAN-Boulder County), has already begun.
The Chamber of Commerce recently launched a public campaign attempting to frame the election in terms that will support and fuel more population growth in Boulder.
I hide nothing about which group I’m in – as a very active environmentalist for two decades in Colorado, I’ve supported candidates and campaigns that work to slow growth and rein in the developer-fueled cash that now overruns local elections in the metro area and northern Front Range. I have run campaigns, worked for campaigns, financially supported campaigns and volunteered for campaigns, and I will continue to do so to try protect what’s left of Colorado’s Front Range environment.
But it’s not just protecting the environment that voters are voting for in these local elections. The explosive population growth has caused a wide-scale epidemic in affordable housing, in traffic jams, and in the overall “sense of place” in the metro area and northern Front Range.
Housing costs have doubled or worse in the past five years, traffic jams on north Interstate 25 seem to now occur at all hours of the day (I just sat in stop-and-go traffic near Loveland at 2 p.m. on a weekend — where is everyone going?), and we all increasingly feel like we live in suburban shopping centers rather than an actual town or city.
It’s not just the growth and developers who have taken over, it feels like an invasion of commercial corporate culture cutting out the soul of what it means to live in a real neighborhood in an actual local community.
This growth invasion, and the backlash against it, has not reached this type of peak since the campaigns of Gov. Dick Lamm back in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s.
Call me a luddite or call me ‘stuck in the past’ — I don’t care — but If I was running for office (I’m not), I’d make “Slowing Explosive Population Growth and Reining In Developers” a centerpiece of my campaign.
Bill Clinton used the famous phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid”, to beat George H. W. Bush for president in 1992. In Colorado right now, the economy is way over-heated and is killing us. It’s the growth, stupid, that we need to slow down and rein in.
Gary Wockner, Ph.D., is an environmental activist in Colorado. @GaryWockner