SLOAN | Colorado voters embraced GOP’s ideas; its candidates, not so much

Author: Kelly Sloan - November 8, 2018 - Updated: November 9, 2018

Kelly Sloan

Election night has come and gone with the usual mix of elation or misery, allocated on the basis of whose ox has just been gored. Now come the seemingly inexhaustible homiletic exercises in post-mortem analysis. In that spirit, a few thoughts:

  • At the national level, it is clear that the much-anticipated “blue-wave” was not quite what the Democrats had hoped. Voters habitually reward the party opposite the incumbent presidency, and as expected the Democrats gained the majority in the House, putting Nancy Pelosi, once again, third in line to the presidency (one shudders at the thought.) These Democratic achievements must not be downplayed, but neither should the Republican gains; the GOP secured a solid majority in the upper chamber, picking up a net gain of at least three senate seats. In addition, governorships around the country were a mixed bag for the Democrats, with at least two states – Florida and Ohio – now appearing solidly and reliably Republican. The excesses of the Kavanaugh hearings certainly factored, but this was as good a political environment for Democrats as they could wish for, and it ought to be causing some indigestion among Democratic strategists that this was all they could muster.
  • Colorado, of course, was a different story. The Democrats deposed Mike Coffman, swept all statewide offices, and gained the majority in the state Senate, giving them the trifecta as it were.
  • The most remarkable thing about the state election was the schizophrenic results observed between issues and candidates; by and large, Colorado voters approved of conservative ideas, while rejecting Republican nominees. Proposition 112, for instance, was handily defeated, as were both tax increase measures. Admittedly, two conservative proposals, 109 and amendment 74, were rejected, but only after an enormous influx of last-minute spending by opponents (leftist organizations, for instance, poured upwards of $4 million to defeat amendment 74 in the last two weeks.) And, to be sure, a great deal of money was put towards the defeat of 112. Nevertheless, especially with their rejection of Amendment 73’s corporate rate hike and progressive income tax, Colorado voters again exhibited an adherence to economic sanity and fiscal restraint which was not reflected in their votes on candidates. There appears to be two parts to this dilemma: first, it suggests that the Colorado Republican Party still has an infrastructure problem with which it must deal, one that seems to have persisted since the end of the Owens administration. The other part is more philosophically inherent; conservatism has never been a redemptive creed – it offers a program to restrain government, the courts, radical social impulses and so forth, but not so much a vision; it therefore lacks the popular attraction of the more glamourous, carefree, and ideological left. Both issues will need to be confronted by the GOP in the state.
  • The numbers will be picked apart, and lessons gleaned from the results, but focus now adjusts to the future. Now that they have gained the majority in the U.S. House, and effectively taken full control of Colorado’s state government, the Democrats are faced with having to govern, and how they will approach it. At the federal level, they are in a bit of a pickle; the temptation will be strong to immediately begin a flurry of investigations into the Executive Branch, initiate impeachment proceedings and other trappings of political theater, and essentially grind any effective legislative action to a halt. But most of their pick-ups were in purple-to-red districts, where such shenanigans will not be taken too kindly, and while a number of those gains are probably temporary – such as Oklahoma, Utah, South Carolina, Staten Island, and Virginia – they undoubtedly hope to hang on to a few.
  • In Colorado, there is far less ambiguity; the state Democrats will try to govern from the left, after having been held in check for several years by a Republican Senate and a relatively moderate governor. Both of those obstacles have been removed, and the left wing of the party smells blood in the water. They are likely to draw the moderates with them; Ed Koch, in observing the goings on in his party some 30 years ago wrote, “there are some Democratic candidates who have taken responsible positions, but who, when they see crowds of extremists running at them fear getting run over, so they run to the head of the angry crowd and start yelling along with them.”

The risk of course is that they will have to own the results of their policies, and hope that voters will not, as they have done in the past, reject the eschatological presumptions that liberal policies can improve upon life itself. In two years, and in four years, the question before voters will be, “What has come about, economically and socially in the state, since the last election?” For which the Democrats alone will need to answer.

In the meantime, there remain some tempering factors: TABOR for instance (thank God for TABOR) will deny the mechanism of simply imposing punitive taxes in an attempt to fund the more ambitious and reckless programs; national economic success could help support the state whatever internal policies are adopted; and confrontation with economic realities may help to quiet the more aggressive collectivist impulses. Hope springs eternal.

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan

Kelly Sloan is a political and public affairs consultant and recovering journalist based in Denver. He is also an energy and environmental policy fellow at Centennial Institute.