Election 2018LegislatureNews

ELECTION 2018 | Democrats hang onto control of Colorado House

Author: Marianne Goodland - November 8, 2018 - Updated: November 11, 2018

The Colorado House of Representatives (Joey Bunch/Colorado Politics-file)

As Democrats captured control of the Colorado state Senate on election night, they maintained their hold on the state House and appear to have added to their advantage.

That’s despite the fact that, as of Wednesday evening, it appeared two and possibly three races would be heading to an automatic recount.

Come 2019, the Democrats will have control over both chambers of the General Assembly to go with their wins in the race for governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer — a one-party hold on state government not seen in decades.

While all 65 House seats were up for election in 2018, various exits and primary losses meant there were 19 open seats in the House with no incumbent on the ballot.

Fifteen members of the House are leaving that body — 10 Republicans and five Democrats, including five term-limited members, all Democrats. Eleven (including one of the five who was term-limited) ran for other offices, such as for county commissioner, state Senate, state treasurer or lieutenant governor (Republican Rep. Lang Sias of Arvada).

The race for Sias’ District 27 seat — Republican Vicki Pyne versus Democrat Brianna Titone — was too close to call as of Wednesday night, with Titone ahead by nine votes — a difference of just 2/100ths of a percentage point — after trailing narrowly in earlier results. An automatic recount would be triggered by a difference of roughly 118 votes.

Then there were three House members who lost their primary races (Republican Reps. Judy Reyher of Swink and Phil Covarrubias of Brighton, and Democratic Rep. Paul Rosenthal of Denver) and another who quit for other reasons (Republican Rep. Tim Leonard of Evergreen). That seat, in House District 25, turned blue for the first time ever, with a win by Democrat Lisa Cutter over Republican Steve Szutenbach, who formerly served as a legislative aide to Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton.

Another neck-and-neck race is in House District 47 including Fremont, Otero and parts of rural Pueblo County. The race began with a primary loss by Reyher to fellow Republican Don Bendell. Factors such as voter registrations, campaign fundraising, and primary performance favored the Democrat, Brianna Buontello of Pueblo.

On Tuesday night, Bendell held a 259-vote lead over Buontello. But as of late Wednesday, that advantage had flipped, with Buontello was leading by 54 votes. An automatic recount, based on the total number of votes cast in the district, could be triggered by a difference of less than 149 votes.

And a third race both parties are monitoring is in the Greeley House District 50 seat. Democratic Rep. Dave Young held that seat but was term-limited and he is now the state treasurer-elect. The contest is between Democrat Rochelle Galindo and Republican Michael Thuener.

Thuener previously had been leading by a tiny margin, but as of late Wednesday, Galindo was ahead by 70 votes, a margin of 0.42 points. The 0.5 margin is around 72 votes.

Under Colorado law, a recount is triggered when the difference between two candidates is 0.5 percent of the vote total.

And vote totals could still change, days after Election Day. The Secretary of State’s office says that “many counties are still processing voted ballots, and all counties must wait eight days for military and overseas voters to return their ballots.”

Among the contests that are decided is House District 34. No Republican had held the seat in at least 30 years until Rep. Alexander “Skinny” Winkler of Thornton was chosen by a vacancy committee to fill the slot when Rep. Steve Lebsock was kicked out of the General Assembly in March amid accusations of sexual harassment. Lebsock had been a Democrat but switched parties at the last minute to Republican, which allowed the GOP to appoint his successor.

Winkler’s hold lasted 42 legislative days. The Democrat, Kyle Mullica, won in a landslide of 19 percentage points as of late Wednesday, returning the seat to Democratic control.

In House District 17, in southern Colorado Springs, a perpetual back-and-forth has been underway for the past three elections between Democratic state Rep. Tony Exum Sr. and Republican former Rep. Kit Roupe. Exum won the seat in 2016, taking it from Roupe, who took it from him in 2014.

In 2018, it wasn’t close: Exum won by more than 11 percentage points as of Wednesday night.

In House District 62, including the San Luis Valley, Democratic Rep. Don Valdez of La Jara survived questions about whether he actually lives in the district and defeated a latecomer Republican challenger,  Scott Honeycutt of Alamosa, by 13 points.

In House District 54, in Delta County, the Republican, Matt Soper, was also facing accusations that he didn’t live in the district as well as for what his family is willing to do to fix that. Two complaints were lodged with district attorneys in Delta and Denver counties over Soper’s residency claims. Nevertheless, Soper defeated the independent candidate, Thea Chase, by 32 percentage points as of Wednesday night.

Finally, there’s House District 41 in Aurora, where Democratic Rep. Jovan Melton picked up a late Republican challenge. Melton was asked by Democratic Party leaders in October to step down amid reports about a 1999 conviction tied to domestic violence. But the three-term Democrat shows no signs of doing that and he had strong support from some of the area’s most prominent African-American community leaders and politicians, including former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb.

The matter became an issue in the late innings of the governor’s race, with Republican Walker Stapleton faulting Jared Polis for not demanding his fellow Democrat’s resignation.

As it turned out, Melton wound up defeating Republican Lynn Myers by 25 percentage points as of Wednesday night. Myers entered the race after another Republican, Dahlia Jean Weinstein, dropped out in September.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.