A+ Colorado doesn’t have much good news to report on Colorado public schools, citing its updated research that shows how few of the state’s students enter the 300 most competitive colleges and universities in the country.
Looks like Grace Davis got the last word in Douglas County over the school board election. The conservative, pro-voucher board turned over. Board candidates who support local school funding for public schools won the day.
It’s not just the Republican party fracas that’s in the news. The Democratic party is scrambling too. Two feature news articles in Time and the New York Times describe the cri de coeur and muck of national Democrats. Then came Donna Brazile’s blistering takedown in her book, Hack, all puns intended.
Active independent expenditure committees, aka political action committees (PACs), currently number 61 registered at the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. These committees collect money to support candidates. The sources of the funds are undeclared, so only the total amount of donations shows in Secretary of State's Office forms. These PACS do not coordinate with candidates.
A recent poll conducted by Chris Keating of Keating Research, a polling and survey firm that consults primarily for Democrats including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, reveals that Colorado’s political environment parallels the nation’s, but preferences on energy issues are distinctly Coloradan. The results come from 605 active voters, with a margin of error at 4 percent, plus or minus.
As with the country as a whole, Coloradans hold President Donald Trump at 40% favorable to 58% unfavorable, and give Gov. John Hickenlooper a 60% favorable to 32% unfavorable rating. Numbers are more contrasting at the Very Unfavorable level, with 51% Very Unfavorable for Trump and 19% Very Unfavorable for Hickenlooper.
Since Keating works mostly for the left side of the aisle, it’s important to look at his call list. He called 48% men and 52% women. His age range was 18-24 at 10% up to 70+ at 15%. Voters with children age 18 or younger comprised 27% of the sample and the split by party affiliation was 25% Democrat, 26% Republican, and 45% Independent. Colorado’s active voter registration actually divides almost equally at 32% Dem to 32% GOP to 36% Unaffiliated.
Happily, the survey shows that 64% of Coloradans think the state is headed in the “right direction” with 28% favoring the down side.
The poll’s main purpose was to explore voter commitment to four energy types as sources for development: coal, wind, solar and natural gas. It sought especially to pinpoint voters’ views on what energy sources should increase or decrease in use. Coloradans now have a dim view of coal, with 57% of respondents saying its use should decrease and only 18% choosing to increase its use. Wind (+76%) and especially solar (+84%) showed the most support for increased use, with natural gas at +36%.
The survey suggests that Coloradans from both political parties want public utilities to collaborate on reducing carbon emissions: 89% agree/11% disagree. Voters want the state to work with utilities to increase the use of clean renewable energy at 95% agree/5% disagree. Almost 50% of voters support increasing the state’s 30% renewable energy standard to over 50%. Most Coloradans (83%) want to take control of their energy future without waiting for the federal government to jump in.
The polling numbers indicate that Xcel’s recent decisions to add more renewable energy to its portfolio makes sense. Closing coal plants is apparently generally acceptable to Coloradans.
Clearly, renewable solar and wind power are popular. Natural gas is holding its own despite opposition to drilling from some cities along the northern Front Range.
These results have implications for the 2018 governor and legislator races on both Democratic and Republican sides. Democratic candidates can feel comfortable promoting more renewables. The effect of fracking vs. anti-fracking positions on voter preference is less clear.
Republicans face a different picture in the primaries and general election. Anti-climate change Republicans may be in sync with a majority in their party during the primary season. But that position is deeply out of sync with a majority of voters who will cast ballots in the general election.
One other interesting set of data. While 45% of the polled population identified as independent voters, only 25% viewed themselves as moderates. These individuals were outnumbered by liberals at 34% and conservatives at 38%. It appears there’s a muddy middle spectrum of voters, a minority, who support reduced-carbon energy policy. They will make a difference in how the general election turns out.
Two interesting questions arise for the Democratic primary race for governor: How much money will the races attract, and how much money will it take to gain the number of votes to win the race? The first question affects both primaries and the general election. The second question concerns mostly the general election.
Money had to be a significant factor in U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s decision to drop out of the governor’s race. He was outraised by all the major candidates, with Cary Kennedy, former State Treasurer, matching the congressman’s pot in just one quarter of fundraising.
Polis will get dollars out of his own money-market account. Former state Sen. Michael Johnston has probably raised more than $1 million already, since his current report shows over $930,000. Kennedy has $330,000-plus. Donna Lynne won’t report until October, but her long reach into the Colorado business community should get her to a million pretty quickly. If she doesn’t get close to that early in 2018, she’s in trouble. The Democratic governor’s primary will require well over $1 million per candidate. It could easily pass $8 million total.
The breakout of Dem primary votes is anybody’s guess. Since primaries bring out the most active voters, candidates will jockey for the 1,046,832 registered Dems considered active voters plus some share of the 1,187,916 voters registered as unaffiliated. Dem candidates will look to individuals who’ve voted in multiple even-year elections and especially those Dems and unaffiliateds in predominantly Democratic counties who voted in off-year school board and mill and bond elections.
On an “issue” basis, fracking may be the most important. Over 580,000 Democratic voters live in Front Range counties where an anti-fracking position may be definitive: Arapahoe, Adams, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver and Larimer. That’s over half of the state’s active Democratic voters, which means candidates will have to take a direct position that could turn problematic in the general election.
Gov. John Hickenlooper finessed anti-fracking votes due to weak Republican gubernatorial candidates in 2010 and 2014 and his support of some regulation on the industry. As many have noted, however, the ongoing drilling in northern Front Range counties has upped the pressure.
Polis has established a solid record on the anti-fracking side, though activist Democrats and environmentalists objected to the deal he cut with the governor to keep oil and gas initiatives off the ballot in 2014. Lynne’s candidacy may be most vulnerable to activist Democratic voters based on her moderately pro-business orientation and the governor’s oil and gas record.
But that’s the rub for Democrats. If Polis wins the primary, many business interests, and especially extraction industries, will pour money directly to Republicans and indirectly to “issue” advertising to defeat him. An offset may come from renewable energy and technology enterprises that the congressman has consistently supported.
One other issue could potentially hurt Polis and Johnston: their strong support of charter schools. Polis funds his own charter and Johnston sponsored bills on public teacher evaluation and school finance. Teacher evaluation has been significantly modified and school finance was defeated at the polls. Both candidates may experience tepid financial and voter support among traditional public school teachers, a significant proportion of active Democratic voters.
The interests that have beefs with the various Democratic candidates have lots of money that can hurt in both primary and general elections. Republicans have their own problems, so they shouldn’t lick their chops. But the Democratic primary winner may come out of the primary with more than bumps and bruises.
Usually, large campaign expenditures occur in election years. But in 2017 candidates for Colorado governor from both parties are lining up their campaign consulting firms and spending loads of money now. Voters should brace themselves for the deluge.
Entrepreneur Victor Mitchell, a self-funder, has already sent out a multipage epic to introduce himself to GOPers. He’s picked Go Big Media as his outreach firm with a $73,000 investment. Former state legislators Al White, Dan Marostica, and Steve Durham, now on the State Board of Education, have added to Mitchell’s $15,676 in individual contributions. He’s loaned his campaign $3,002,700.97.
George Brauchler, district attorney in Arapahoe County, has Jeff and Lis Coors, David and Bonnie Mandarich, and prominent Jeffco politico and candy magnate Rick Enstrom among his contributors. In a July New Yorker article about Colorado Trump supporters, Brauchler was quoted telling fellow Republicans, “I’m not a rich guy.” He’s brought in $183,398 so far.
Doug Robinson, a Mitt Romney relative and a rich guy, has garnered $207,532 with a $57,022 loan. He’s hooked up with Strategic Partners Media from Maryland. No surprise, the company’s principal client is Mitt Romney. Robinson has spent $90,000 so far, with over $30,000 to Strategic Partners.
Walker Stapleton, Colorado state treasurer, hasn’t formally joined the GOP race, but he has $21,273 in his coffers. When he ran for treasurer, he used Red Print Strategy as his principal media firm. He won a close race against Cary Kennedy, a Democrat also running for governor. Stapleton has already held off-the-books fundraisers so he clearly intends to pick up enough money to compete with Mitchell and Robinson.
If Attorney General Cynthia Coffman jumps into the GOP governor’s primary, she’ll have a lot of catching up to do. She has $32,267.59 on hand for her AG race. When she ran in 2014, she had about $135,000, so her fundraising was modest. In 2014 she sent $85,000 to Mentzer Media Services for media buys. Maybe she has the formula for how to run for statewide office on the cheap.
Dem Cary Kennedy is no fundraising chump. She’s gathered $339,680 already and hired local company 4Degre.es, a firm with plenty of local Democratic clients, including the former candidate for governor Ed Perlmutter. She’s paid over $30,000 to get started.
Even so, Kennedy has lots more money calls to make. Former state Sen. Michael Johnston has $933,040 from contributors across the nation. He’s placed $30,000 with 270 Strategies, a firm out of the Obama world. The company takes on “clients who are committed to changing the world,” so Johnston obviously has bigly aspirations for Colorado.
Businessman Noel Ginsburg has $245,164 in total, including a $100,000 loan. He’s picked local firm Black Diamond Outreach to kick off his campaign. Steve Adams, Cory Nadler and Mike O’Connell have managed numerous state initiative campaigns and GOTV activities. Their expertise is in door-to-door walking. “BDO was founded with that sole mission,” with an emphasis on sole.
US Congressman and multi-millionaire Jared Polis won’t have a problem keeping up with Democrat Ginsburg or any of the wealthy GOP entrepreneurs. Right now he’s showing $273,812.25 in the pot with no loans. He just straight up gave his campaign $250,000. He’s placed $34,570 with Boulder Strategies, a self described exclusive media company with Jared Polis, Ed Perlmutter, Domenick Moreno, and Jeff Bridges, current state representative, as principal clients.
In the past, TV and radio stations and printers had to watch their cash flow in off election years. Not so anymore. Lucky them and not so lucky the rest of us.
Farmers and urbanites can be friends, despite their different residential environments. While many rural Coloradans are Republicans and a majority of Front Range urban Coloradans are Democrats, rural Coloradans do get considerable legislative support from all Democrats, including urban lawmakers living in Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins.
The 2017 session passed quite a few bills to mitigate the particular problems that come with living in rural Colorado. The Rural Veterinary Education Loan Repayment Program is a good example. Rural Colorado doesn’t have enough veterinarians, so the bill helps four young veterinarians per year repay up to $70,000 of their school loans if they practice in rural Colorado for four years.
The modest bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Joann Ginal of Fort Collins in the House and Republican state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg from Sterling in the Senate, received a YES vote from every Democratic legislator. Twenty-five House Republicans and 12 Senate GOPers voted NO, including several living in rural areas.
Sustainability of Rural Colorado, a grab bag of a bill, passed with every Democrat in both chambers supporting it and 16 House Republicans and 10 Senate Republicans against it. Republicans voting NO included some suburban, western slope and eastern Colorado legislators. The bill became necessary when Republicans voted down legislation to support rural hospitals that serve Medicaid patients.
The Sustainability bill also helps with transportation infrastructure. An earlier bill to set up a sales tax to provide money for rural roads and bridge repair as well as improvements for urban transportation went down in a Senate committee when three suburban Republican legislators, Jack Tate from Arapahoe County, Tim Neville from South Jeffco, and Owen Hill serving eastern El Paso County, voted NO. The Sustainability bill puts off a tax increase and provides substantially fewer dollars for rural road improvements.
A recent article in the Denver Post on the “Colorado Divide” talked about the difficulty of providing affordable child care in rural Colorado. The Child Care Expenses Income Tax Credit Extension that allows individuals with up to $25,000 adjusted gross income to get a child care credit passed with all Democrats voting YES and 45 Republicans in the House and Senate voting NO.
Another bill to address teacher shortages especially in rural Colorado passed with all YES votes from Democrats and 40 NO votes from Republicans. Only three Senate Republicans, Senate President Kevin Grantham, Larry Crowder from Alamosa, and Don Coram from southwestern Colorado voted YES. GOP representative Marc Catlin from western Colorado is the only House Republican who voted YES.
The BEST Building Excellent Schools Technology Grant Funding bill using marijuana taxes to boost technology in rural Colorado schools received 51 YES votes from Democrats, 15 YES votes from Republicans, and 31 NO votes from Republicans. Rural Republicans in the House who voted YES were Bob Rankin, Catlin, and Dan Thurlow. The bill was more popular with rural Senate Republicans including Crowder, Coram and Senate President Grantham.
The bipartisan mill-levy override bill that equalizes funding between charter schools and traditional public schools passed with help from Democrats. Some rural schools see the bill as further degrading their ability to provide enough money for regular school students. Of 23 NO votes, all but one, from Rep. Jim Wilson of Salida, came from Democrats.
The 2017 General Assembly record shows that rural Coloradans do get solid help from many urban Colorado legislators. It also shows that sometimes the “Colorado Divide” happens when rural lawmakers don’t get behind legislation designed to give rural Coloradans a boost.