November 3 2004, 7:59 AM
The mood last night at the downtown Marriott was swinging wildly all night as John Kerry sank in the vote count while Ken Salazar, and later John Salazar in the 3rd Congressional District, surged to victory. But the biggest shock of the night was when State Rep. Andrew Romanoff of Denver, who prefers to be called the "Democratic Leader" instead of the "Minority Leader," was introduced with a new title: Speaker Romanoff. Romanoff annouced to the amazed crowd that it looked like the Democrats were going to take control of the State House as well as the State Senate. I would have passed this off as mere election night bravado, but Romanoff is not known for making grand pronouncements that he can't back up. As it turned out, Romanoff was right -- this morning, Governor Bill Owens woke up to the news that Democrats have taken control of both the State Senate and the State House for the first time since 1960, overcoming a nine seat deficit to do it. This, of course, is pending a final count of votes from Democratic stronghold Boulder County, which is not expected to change the result. It looks like after 10 years or so of giving straight Republican voting a chance, Coloradans have reverted to the ticket-splitting ways they displayed in the 70s and 80s, when the state sent progressive Democrats like Gary Hart and Tim Wirth to the Senate and elected Democratic Governors Richard Lamm and Roy Romer while reliably voting Republican in presidential elections and at the state legislature level. Another way of looking at last night's result is to conclude that while George W. Bush convinced a majority of Coloradans not to change leaders in wartime, that national-defense oriented strategy had the effect of depriving Bush of any coattails whatsoever in this state. Voter anguish over the state of the economy helped down-ticket Democrats while not helping Kerry. Here in the Denver metro area, the state Republican leadership, led by Governor Owens, showed themselves to be out of touch by their opposition to FasTracks, the transit initiative that passed by a 60-40 margin. Owens may believe that he must oppose any form of tax increase if he wants to be a presidential candidate in 2008, but Denver area voters were willing to raise taxes for transit, for health care through Amendment 35, and even for cultural facilities through the reauthorization of the Science and Cultural Facilities District. Colorado voters also passed Amendment 37, perhaps the most traditionally liberal measure on the ballot, which will require the state to obtain 15% of its energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind power by 2015. 37's passage is a feather in the cap of US Rep. Mark Udall of Eldorado Springs -- his successful campaign on behalf of 37 could give him a platform to seek the Democratic nomination for Governor in 2006, where he might face Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, the primary supporter of FasTracks. (37 could also help its Republican co-sponsor, former Speaker of the House Lola Spradley of Beulah.) The 2006 campaign season starts today, and the playing field between Democrats and Republicans in Colorado has not been this even in a long time.