Last Tuesday, voters in 11 northeastern Colorado counties were expected to pass nonbinding measures favoring leaving Colorado. The propositions were approved in only five counties. Weld County, with the biggest population, decisively defeated a separation measure.
So, what happened? What caused voters in six counties to say “no” to separation, when they were expected to approve? And what does that mean for realignment efforts not only in Colorado but also in other states, namely California and Maryland, where citizens’ discontent with their state governments have prompted burgeoning realignment movements?
Let’s first take a look at what may have been key factors in separation resolutions failing in Weld, Moffat, Lincoln, Elbert, Sedgwick, and Logan counties.
As reported in the third installment of our ongoing series, state Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican who represents 10 of the 11 counties that held votes, opposed separation, arguing that urban and rural Coloradans needed to find ways to reconcile differences. Not coincidentally, Brophy is running for governor in 2014.
Weld County district attorney, Ken Buck, the GOP’s 2010 U.S. Senate nominee, and in the hunt for the party’s 2014 Senate nomination, also opposed the measure. Brophy’s and Buck’s opposition helped blunt support for separation. Some believe their runs for statewide office may improve prospects of greater enfranchisement for northeastern Coloradans.
Furthermore, did earlier successful state senate recalls fire up and then pacify rural Coloradans, who had fiercely opposed the Democrats’ gun-grab efforts? The recalls of two Democratic state senators in Colorado Springs and Pueblo (cities not in northeastern Colorado) largely over the state infringing upon Coloradans’ 2nd Amendment rights appear to have demonstrated that the urban liberals’ agenda can be effectively challenged. Rural Coloradans weren’t feeling as powerless after the recalls passed.
Then there was Governor Hickenlooper’s Prop 66, which would have dramatically raised taxes to boost funding for public education. The measure went down in flames, losing nearly 2:1 among voters across the state. Prop 66 not only served as a vehicle for rural Coloradans to express discontent with Denverite Hickenlooper and the ruling Democrats, but also as an impetus for the governor’s own political demise. Prop 66 seems to have been the vehicle of choice – and not the realignment vote – for rural Coloradans to send urban Democrats a sharp message.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at at an election party for Amendment 66 in Denver, Tuesday Nov. 5, 2013. Voters in Colorado voted down Amendment 66 that would have created wholesale changes for how Colorado funds public education. Photo Credit: AP
Some also believe a “fear factor” existed among voters in northeastern Colorado, in that votes for separation would be met with reprisals at the state capitol. This is not an unreasonable position if one begins to study the over-reaching trends from Washington and many liberal-controlled state legislatures and cities. Others apparently believed that the realignment propositions went too far, reasoning that such a drastic response to Denver’s power grab simply wasn’t the best course of action, regardless their displeasure with the legislature and the Governor’s actions against them.
Those factors, to varying degrees, combined to dampen separation passions. But will last Tuesday’s results put an end to realignment efforts?
Keep in mind that Colorado is projected to trend bluer in the coming years, likely adding to Democratic majorities at the state capitol. Denver metro, more urban and liberal, will continue to grow as the powerhouse in state politics.
Will future liberal initiatives aim to accommodate rural interests, as Hickenlooper is now beginning to promise, or will beefier Democratic majorities make for harder ideological lines on critical economic issues like energy, agriculture, and mining? And will the successful recalls of the Democratic senators, John Morse and Angela Giron, the former whom was the body’s president, defeat gun-control efforts in the state or merely delay the state’s leftward march? Or, will a recall of a third pro-gun control state senator, Evie Hudak, stop the gun grabbing forces for good?
Though the original county separation notion is a drastic idea, it must be noted that almost half of the counties still voted to embark upon such a course of action.
And what might become of Governor Hickenlooper? Elected governor in 2010 as a popular Denver mayor, Hickenlooper came to office with a win percentage of 51-36 percent. A large portion of that margin was due to Republican self-destruction. Now, Hickenlooper stands for re-election next year in a much weaker political position.
In August, Quinnipiac University released a Hickenlooper re-election poll from a sampling universe of 1,184 Colorado voters that showed the Governor falling into a virtual tie with conservative former Congressman Tom Tancredo. The results gave him only a one-point lead over Mr. Tancredo, 46-45 percent. When paired with Secretary of State Scott Gessler, another announced Republican gubernatorial candidate, Hickenlooper’s advantage was only 47-42 percent, and against Senator Brophy, the Governor’s margin was 47-40 percent. In none of these examples is Hickenlooper even close to commanding majority support.
After the 2013 election, things look even worse for the Governor. Residents in five counties have actually voted to leave the state that he runs, more than 40 percent in the six counties that didn’t pass realignment also cast ballots to go. Voters throughout the state overwhelmingly destroyed the funding mechanism for the Governor’s pet education project, which he had hoped to make the centerpiece of his reelection campaign next year. So, come 2014, those discontented and disenfranchised voices in northeastern Colorado, and throughout the Centennial State, may yet have the opportunity to be heard, but in a much different way.
Feature Photo Credit: AP Photo/The Herald-Palladium, Don Campbell
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