Opinion

NOONAN | Tuesday’s ‘blue wave’ underscored by some stunning numbers

Author: Paula Noonan - November 7, 2018 - Updated: November 7, 2018

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Paula Noonan
Paula Noonan

This election delivered some astounding voter turnout numbers and left issues dogging the state for years unresolved.

Tied for the most astonishing number of the night: 761,124, the turnout of unaffiliated voters in the election. UAFs took the lead in registrations a couple of years ago, and recent figures show them at 39 percent of voters. In this election, they took the lead in turnout at 33 percent of active voters to 32.8 for Democrats and 32.6 for the GOP. The total turnout for this midterm was 68 percent of active registered voters, a tour de force for a midterm.

Tied for the most astonishing number of the night: 446,246, the overwhelming number of Democratic women who voted and ushered in a Democratic governor and likely a full slate of statewide officers plus control of the state Senate and House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis won by a margin of 6.2 percent of the vote. The other statewide offices were much closer, in the 1 to 3 percent range of Democrats over Republicans.

The second most astonishing numbers of the night:  $22 million Polis spent and 3 percent, or the extra margin that Governor-elect Polis gained above others on the Democratic statewide slate.

The third most astonishing number of the night: $186 million-plus, or the amount of money plowed into state offices, amendments, and propositions. Over $30 million came from the oil and gas industry to successfully defeat Proposition 112 on drilling setbacks. Prop 112 went down by 15 percent after a year of relentless advertising. But the initiative did better than two of three tax measures.

The fourth most astonishing numbers of the night: 19 percent, 21 percent, and 11 percent — the large defeat margins for initiatives to bring money for transportation projects and public education. The sponsors of Amendment 73 and Propositions 109 and 110 have not figured out how to make a tax case, statewide, to fix these money holes.

Left unresolved with the election are the three most contentious problems facing previous General Assemblies: funding for transportation, funding for public education, and oversight of the oil and gas industry’s drilling operations in the state.

Democrats cannot play kick the can with these issues, even though voters did. Democratic women who brought the General Assembly majorities to the Democrats will expect progress, at least, on public education funding, health and safety concerns around industrial drilling, renewable energy sources, and climate change.

Voters from age 18 to 40 have just about given up on the traditional parties, choosing UAF in large numbers. Yet their substantial turnout in this election shows they are engaged and, given the results, want some progress. A combination of Dem women and UAF’s did a triple down on the Democrats and it’s their job to deliver solutions.

Also unresolved are existential problems for the two political parties. Republicans in Colorado are not putting forth a vision for the state that grabs voters’ interest or commitment. The GOPs centralized funding strategy, with large dollars directed at PACs that don’t disclose their donors, failed. Candidates can’t control their own campaigns when so much dark money comes in sideways.

Democrats have lost men supporters. They barely broke 300,000 returned ballots, in contrast to Dem women who delivered almost 150,000 more votes and a winning margin. It’s not healthy when a party’s vision isn’t working across genders.

The final and most important lesson learned from the election: Competitive Senate and House seats matter. With Amendments Y and Z on gerrymandering passing with over 70 percent of the vote, the commissions Y and Z create must redistrict to design genuine contests across the state.

SDs 16, 20, 22, and 24 are the model. These districts pass muster for “common interests” and have almost equal numbers of Ds and Rs. They make the parties work hard. A 3 percent +/- margin between the parties delivers the most competitive bang.

The people didn’t settle the most difficult problems in Colorado. That was the right choice. Those issues are why legislatures exist. The next General Assembly begins with the new year. Citizens await their elected lawmakers’ hard and conscientious work.

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan

Paula Noonan owns Colorado Capitol Watch, the state’s premier legislature tracking platform.