Coloradans decided on two major statewide ballot measures on Tuesday, but they also made key choices in a number of local races that will shape the state for years to come.
From the Aurora mayoral contest to a big Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights question in Jefferson County and the future of oil and gas drilling in communities along the Front Range, voters sent some key messages.
Here’s a roundup of some of the biggest trends to come out of the 2019 election in Colorado:
Mike Coffman’s apparent comeback, Kevin Kreeger lagging
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman appeared poised to become Aurora’s next mayor on Tuesday night, a political resurrection for the Republican who was ousted from Congress in the 2018 election.
Coffman was among five candidates running for the position, including two other fellow conservatives in Marsha Berzins and Ryan Frazier.
Omar Montgomery, a Democrat and the former head of Aurora’s NAACP chapter, won big endorsements from organizations like Giffords, which advocates for gun control, as well as several Democratic members of Congress.
The race drew a lot of money on both sides.
Montgomery received big help from environmental group Conservation Colorado in the form of $84,000 worth of canvassing. Giffords spent nearly $42,000 on digital ads on his behalf.
On the other side, Better Jobs Coalition, a conservative nonprofit, reported spending $35,000 on TV ads supporting Berzins. It also spent nearly $34,000 on canvassing, literature and phone calls supporting conservative city council candidates.
Prosperity Through Property Rights, another nonprofit, spent $44,000 on digital ads and phone calls opposing Montgomery and supporting Coffman and Frazier, according to the Aurora Sentinel.
Coffman, however, led the candidate money race with nearly $641,000 raised, compared with $249,000 for Frazier, about $190,000 for Berzins and $180,000 for Montgomery.
As of 9:25 p.m., Coffman was leading with 39% of the vote. The next closest candidate was Montgomery, who had 32% of the vote.
In Broomfield’s mayoral race, Kevin Kreeger looked poised to lose. The current city councilman who ran a campaign on limiting oil and gas drilling in the city was hampered by revelations in recent weeks about his arrest history.
Many of Kreeger’s political allies abandoned him in the wake of the news.
Pat Quinn, Broomfield’s former mayor and who takes a more moderate view toward oil and gas drilling, appeared to be headed toward a victory in the three-way race if the results held.
At 9:25 p.m., Quinn was leading with 36% of the vote. In second was Kimberly Groom, with 34% of the vote. Kreeger was in third, with 30% of the vote.
Oil and gas races
In the first election since the passage of Senate Bill 181 at the Colorado legislature, Democrats’ massive rewrite of the state’s oil and gas rules, results in local races where drilling was a major issue were mixed.
In Broomfield, while Kreeger may have lost the mayoral race, his former political allies running for City Council on a similar platform of limiting oil and gas drilling appeared headed toward victory.
Those five candidates are Stan Jezierski, William Lindstedt, Jean Lim, Laurie Anderson and Heidi Henkel. All were leading with large margins at 9:30 p.m.
Those five apparent victories give interests pushing for more local control over drilling, which Senate Bill 181 grants them, a supermajority on the City Council. Broomfield currently has a moratorium on new drilling permits through December.
In the meantime, the Wildgrass Oil and Gas Committee, a Broomfield community group, sued in Denver District Court last month demanding the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission stop issuing new drilling permits until new rules are written under Senate Bill 181.
Meanwhile, two of the three candidates backed by the Colorado Petroleum Council appeared headed for victory in Greeley. City council candidates Dale Hall and mayoral candidate John Gates were leading big on Tuesday night.
Gates is Greeley’s current mayor and Hall is an incumbent.
However, another city council candidate backed by the petroleum council, political newcomer Blythe Driver, was trailing.
The petroleum council spent nearly $148,000 on mailers and radio ads supporting Hall, Gates and Driver. Weld Strong, a group funded by oil and gas groups, and the Colorado Business Alliance spent more than $36,000 supporting Hall, Driver, Gates and Kristin Zasada, who was in close contention for an at-large council seat.
Voters reject big tax questions in Jefferson, Arapahoe counties
It wasn’t just Proposition CC that lost on Tuesday.
Major, separate tax questions in at least seven Colorado counties, including Jefferson and Arapahoe, also appeared headed for defeat.
In Jefferson County, voters rejected a measure that would allow the county government to keep revenue above TABOR limits for a seven-year period. The measure would have raised up to $16.1 million in 2020, money that county officials say is necessary to prevent potentially significant budget cuts, including at the sheriff’s office. Without the funding, the sheriff’s office said it would have to close floors at the jail and release inmates.
The measure was trailing by about 10 percentage points late Tuesday.
Over in Arapahoe County, voters soundly rejected a proposed property tax increase, estimated to bring in $46 million next year, to pay for the construction of a new jail. The county’s sheriff argued the new facility is badly needed. Opponents said building a new jail runs counter to criminal justice reform efforts that seek to rely less on incarceration.
“While it was well-intended, it would have been a big step in the wrong direction,” Juston Cooper, the director of the NO on 1A campaign, said in an emailed statement. “… Any future jail construction proposals should be part of a more comprehensive plan that places just as much emphasis on keeping people out of jail as it does on keeping people in jail.”
Several smaller tax measures also appeared on their way to defeat in communities across Colorado.
Voters in Park, Pueblo and Delta counties were rejecting measures to generate funding for law enforcement and public safety efforts, while measures to fund transportation projects in Ouray and Larimer counties were losing, as well.
Voters split on libraries
Residents in several counties and special districts across the state voted on measures to raise library funding, but the results didn’t tell a single story.
In Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison, La Plata, Pueblo and San Miguel counties, voters appeared to have approved tax increases to pay for libraries.
Voters in Delta and Adams counties looked to have rejected additional money for their libraries.
Municipal broadband moves forward
At least six Colorado cities on Tuesday sought the right to explore offering their own municipal broadband service.
Four of them — Edgewater, Greenwood Village, Mead and Parker — overwhelmingly voted in favor of approval. Results were not yet available for the town of Rico.
The exception was the city of Lakewood, where the proposal appeared to be losing most of the night. By as all the ballots were counted, residents voted in favor of broadband by 385 votes, or 50.44% vs. 49.56%.
Cities across Colorado have been asking their residents to sign off on publicly owned broadband infrastructure since 2009 in the wake of the passage of Senate Bill 152 in 2005.
More than 100 cities, towns and counties others across the state have since chosen to explore creating their own broadband service. This doesn’t mean those places will become an internet service provider, though some, like Longmont, have gone down that path.
Others, like Centennial, built a fiber backbone for public safety and city use. Centennial relies on private internet provider Ting Internet, which has expanded to more than a dozen neighborhoods.
“Generally speaking, these questions just sail through,” said Brandy DeLange, Legislative & Policy Advocate for the Colorado Municipal League. “Maybe the language (for Lakewood) confused people, but other than that, I don’t see this as a big referendum on local government or anything else.”
“Clearly, with Longmont, their citizens needed more information,” she said. “They added it and it passed.”
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Other big-ticket issues
Here are some other highlights from Tuesday night’s results:
- Brighton residents appeared to recall Mayor Ken Kreutzer by a wide margin. People began trying to oust him from office after revelations surfaced about $70 million in overcharged utility fees and the firing of the city’s manager as the official tried to investigate.
- Voters in the small town of Center in the San Luis Valley were expected to reject a ballot question about allowing retail marijuana stores and cultivation.
- Thornton City Councilwoman Jan Kulmann appeared headed to victory in the city’s mayoral contest. She was defeating former Republican state Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik and three other candidates.
- About 62% of Mead voters answered the question of whether to allow medical and retail marijuana establishments in their town with “no.”
- In Loveland, voters also declined to allow marijuana operations in town and said “no” to a tax on the sale of cannabis.
- Louisville asked voters to permit retail marijuana cultivation facilities within the city’s industrial zones, as long as voters also approve a retail marijuana cultivation facility excise tax in a separate question. In early voting, the tax was on the road to approval with 69.6% voting in favor, but retail cultivation was leading by a narrower margin, 53,6% to 46.5%.
- In Las Animas, voters were overwhelmingly in favor of taxing marijuana sales — 71% to 39%.
This story was updated on Nov. 6 with results from Lakewood’s question on broadband service.