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Election 2018: What Happened in Colorado

Whether you're red, blue, or somewhere in between, the 2018 midterm election was a historic one for the Centennial State.

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This may have been a midterm, but it was no small election. Coloradans turned out in historic numbers—more than 2.2 million ballots were returned according to numbers released by the Secretary of State office on Tuesday night—and reflecting a healthy mix of the state’s purple politics. As of press time, nearly 733,000 of the ballots were cast by registered Democrats; more than 728,000 by unaffiliated voters; and 725,000 by Republicans. Democratic women were the largest voting bloc.

Despite the state’s purple hue, a blue wave crashed into Colorado on Tuesday. Led by Jared Polis in the governor’s race and Jason Crow in the 6th Congressional District, Democrats won key victories across the state, leaving Colorado Republicans with very little to celebrate as the returns rolled in. Meanwhile, results of the statewide initiatives were mixed and a bit surprising, as several progressive ballot questions failed to receive voter approval (as of press time). 

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Here, we break down the results from an exciting night of Colorado politics.

Editor’s note, 11/7/18: This article has been updated with the results of the attorney general’s race. 

The Races

Polis Will Be Colorado’s Next Governor

In the most anticipated contest of Colorado’s election cycle, Jared Polis, the U.S. Representative for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, earned a victory on Tuesday, beating state treasurer and Republican nominee Walker Stapleton to become Colorado’s next governor. Polis will be both the nation’s first openly gay governor and Colorado’s first Jewish  governor. After an intense five months in which Polis and Stapleton sparred on issues including energy, education, healthcare, and taxes, Colorado voters elected the Democrat with nearly 52 percent of the vote. Polis will replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is exploring a presidential run in 2020.

News outlets across the country called the race shortly after polls closed and it was made official at the Democratic election party shortly before 8 p.m. In a tweet, Stapleton said he called Polis and conceded the race.

Phil Weiser Wins a Tight Race for Attorney General

Democrat Phil Weiser won a tight race to become Colorado’s next attorney general late on Tuesday night, defeating Republican George Brauchler. While the results were not final, Weiser took the stage at the Democratic election party around 11 p.m. to claim victory. At that point, he had claimed 49.7 percent of the vote, with Brauchler bringing in 47.5 percent. On Wednesday morning just before 11 a.m., Brauchler conceded. Weiser will replace Cynthia Coffman, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor in the 2018 Republican primary. For more on both candidates’ positions and how they view the office of attorney general, read our story from October. 

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Jason Crow Unseats Mike Coffman in District 6

Jason Crow will be the first Democrat to represent Colorado’s diverse 6th congressional district, which encompasses the suburbs of Aurora, Centennial, and portions of Highlands Ranch and Brighton. Crow unseats Rep. Mike Coffman, who has held the position since 2008.

Crow is a veteran Army Ranger and a first-time candidate, who mounted an aggressive and well-funded campaign against Coffman by consistently likening him to President Donald Trump. Despite reelecting Coffman in 2016, voters in the 6th favored Hillary Clinton in 2016 and President Barack Obama in 2012—one of only a dozen districts in the U.S. to split the vote between a Republican representative and Democratic presidential candidate.

This was one of the most expensive congressional races in the country, and it paid off big for Democrats. Shortly after 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, results rolling in from across the country showed that the Democrats will retake the U.S. House of Representatives.

At the Colorado Democratic Party’s election night celebration, chairwoman Morgan Carroll—who ran against Coffman in 2016—took the stage shortly before 8 p.m. to announce the news to the gathered crowd. “We won the 6th!” she cheered, calling the win “historic.”

U.S. House Race Winners

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-1)
Rep. Joe Neguse (D-2)
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-3)
Rep. Ken Buck (R-4)
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-5)
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-7)

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The Colorado Senate Has Flipped

Just after 9:30 p.m., the Colorado Democrats declared that they had regained control of the state Senate. As we previously mentioned, the future of the Senate came down to just five races: Districts 5, 22, and 20, which are currently held by Democrats, and 16 and 24, which are held by Republicans. The Democratic nominees—Sen. Kerry Donovan (5), Rep. Brittany Pettersen (22), Rep. Jessie Danielson (20), Tammy Story (16), and Rep. Faith Winter (24)—swept these races on Tuesday night.

This remarkable victory reflects a big shift in Colorado politics—with Jared Polis as the governor-elect and Democrats maintaining control of the House, Democrats will now hold the trifecta of elected offices for the first time since 2014. This also signals a so-called “pink wave,” as each of these seats were won by female candidates. At the Colorado Democrats’ election party, Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia (D-Pueblo) told the crowd, “We aren’t going to waste one moment of this incredible opportunity to pass along a better Colorado to our children.”

Jena Griswold Defeats Wayne Williams

One of Tuesday’s most surprising outcomes came in the race for Secretary of State, in which Democrat Jena Griswold—a voting rights attorney and former commissioner and clerk in El Paso County—defeated Wayne Williams, the Republican incumbent. Williams, who has reputation as a moderate and for administering secure and efficient elections in Colorado, conceded the race at approximately 9:30 p.m.

The Initiatives

Good and Bad News for Colorado’s Oil and Gas Industry

One less change for the Constitution: Amendment 74, which would have required that private property owners be compensated when a law or regulation reduces the market value of their property, was vetoed by Colorado voters, especially in urban areas (more than 60 percent of Denver County voted against it). 

Proposition 112, a statewide proposal to require a 2,500-feet buffer between new oil and gas developments (including fracking), and populated areas—like houses, schools, or parks—also failed to secure voter approval, after a well-funded opposition campaign backed by the oil and gas industry. 

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What About Transportation?

Earlier this week, we wondered what would happen if both transportation bills—which took two totally separate approaches to addressing the state’s transportation issues—passed. The question we should have asked is what would happen if both were nixed by voters? Because that’s what happened: Both statewide initiatives 109 and 110 were overwhelmingly rejected by Colorado voters. Proposition 109, aka “Fix Our Damn Roads,” would have given the state the green light to borrow $3.5 billion in bonds for repair, maintenance, and infrastructure projects. Proposition 110 would have raised taxes by 0.62 percent from for 20 years, with the same end goal of fixing Colorado roads. Looks like we can just stick with complaining about traffic for now. 

Voters Block Funding for Education 

Despite increased enrollment and concerns over teacher pay and subpar infrastructure, voters struck down a statewide tax to increase funding for P-12 education by more than $1.6 billion. Amendment 73 included a mix of tax increases, including raising income taxes for those earning more than $150,000 per year. According to Chartbeat Colorado, Lisa Weil of Great Education Colorado said at an event on Tuesday night that the conversation around school funding was forever changed by the proposal, and that the group is already looking to future. “We are within striking distance, and we are not going back,” she said.

Results of Colorado Ballot Initiatives

Amendment A passes. Colorado voted to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude as a punishment for convicted criminals—yes, really—after a similar initiative failed in 2016.

Amendment V fails. It appears Coloradans do not, in fact, want 21-year-olds representing them in the state legislature. The minimum age to be elected will remain 25 years. 

Amendment W fails. This proposal would have changed the way judges are listed for retention elections by simplifying the wording. While more than 50 percent of voters said yes to the change, the amendment needed to reach a threshold of 55 percent to pass. 

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Amendment X passes. This one actually removes something from the Colorado Constitution—the definition of industrial hemp (put there by the passage of Amendment 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in November 2012). This change frees up local agriculture to be more competitive in hemp and hemp-related farming.

Amendments Y & Z pass. This pair of constitutional changes puts the power of determining congressional district maps into the hands of a 12-member commission—made equally of unaffiliated voters, Democrats, and Republicans—rather than the current Colorado Reapportionment Commission (which is picked by the governor and legislature, and can have up to six of the 11 members from the same party).

Amendment 75 fails. Coloradans vetoed a potential spending increase for candidates running for office, when their opponent puts $1 million or more into their own campaign.  

Proposition 111 passes. The state is on board with limiting payday loan interest to 36 percent.

Editor’s note, 11/7/18: A previous version of this article mistakenly said that Amendment W had passed. It did not meet the required 55 percent of the vote. 

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