As the counting wraps up and decisions become decree, Colorado voters turned out in record numbers to make their choices known on Tuesday. The Colorado Politics staff offers their takes on who came out on top in the "most important election of our lifetime" (this year, anyway).

Winners

Kent Thiry: The retired Davita CEO turned philanthropist and activist passed his fifth Colorado ballot initiative in four years, as voters gave the nod to Amendment B, the repeal of the Gallagher Amendment, by a wide margin.

Kent Thiry

Retired Davita CEO Kent Thiry speaks at the Colorado Capitol in favor of a then-proposed ballot question to ask voters to tax cigarettes and vaping products to pay for education on April 24, 2019.

In 2016, Thiry was the face of Proposition 107 to reinstitute Colorado’s presidential primaries. The same year, he also led Prop 108 to open major party primaries to unaffiliated voters.

Two years ago, he was the face of amendments Y and Z to name independent commissions to draft congressional and legislative districts, respectively.

Thiry should get partial credit for Proposition EE, the new taxes on nicotine products for education that voters approved Tuesday. He and Gov. Jared Polis hatched a similar plan last year, only to see a referred ballot measure bog down and die in the legislature.

The only race Thirty hasn’t put in the Colorado win column was when he briefly ran for governor as a moderate Republican in 2017.

Jena Griswold: In her first major test with the eyes of the nation on Colorado, the first-term secretary of state delivered the election on-time and without a hitch.

Jena Griswold Secretary of State Colorado

In this file photo, Jena Griswold, Colorado's secretary of state, speaks during the first stop of a statewide bus tour in October 2018 in Silverthorne, Colo.

Colorado has been using mail ballots since 2014, while other states were pressed into more vote-at-home options because of COVID-19.

While the secretary of state coordinates the elections at the highest levels, it’s the staff of the county clerks and a legion of poll workers who make elections work  this year under duress from the president and those who think the election was rigged, on top of a deadly virus.

Democrats: Voting down Trump, again, and vanquishing incumbent Cory Gardner from the U.S. Senate was the plan, and success was the result.

While the top of the ticket flourished, former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush lost a Democratic pickup opportunity on the Western Slope, as newcomer Lauren Boebert took the seat. 

The blue wave also lifted Proposition 113, pledging Colorado’s nine Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Colorado becomes the 15th state and Washington, D.C., have joined the charter, which now has 197 of the 270 it needs to take effect across the country.

As Democrats ruefully point out, the Republicans presidential nominee has only won the popular vote in one election since 1988.

Morgan Carroll, the chair of the state Democratic Party, said Colorado's Republican senator put his loyalties to his party in Washington ahead of his constituents back home.

"Coloradans were not fooled," she said. "Coloradans are ready for a Sen. John Hickenlooper, who will roll up his sleeves and bring people together to tackle climate change, expand health care, and bring change to Washington."

Lauren Boebert: The young, armed restaurant owner from Rifle is on her way to Washington after accomplishing something a Colorado politician hadn't done in nearly 50 years — taking out an incumbent in a primary.

She might have gone down in Colorado political history as an asterisk, however, if she hadn't managed to transform the scrappy, insurgent campaign that defeated GOP stalwart Scott Tipton into a powerhouse general election operation that kept the district in Republican hands by besting Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush's second attempt to win the seat.

After the devastation suffered by Colorado Republicans at the ballot box in the last two elections, the brash, outspoken Boebert is the new face of the GOP in the state.

Jason Crow: It was an open question heading into this year's election whether the freshman Democrat who took out Mike Coffman in 2018 could defend the suburban 6th Congressional District swing seat he represents, since members of Congress who topple incumbents in wave years are most vulnerable in their first bid for re-election, as Betsy Markey can attest.

But after building a portfolio of creative and often bipartisan legislation and being thrust into the national spotlight as one of just seven House members prosecuting Trump on impeachment charges, Crow sailed to a second term against an opponent who raised more than $1 million but ran a lackluster campaign.

It's worth noting Crow delivered a roughly 18-point win over Republican Steve House in a district that's still a battleground, on paper anyway, while Republican Doug Lamborn prevailed by about the same margin in the overwhelmingly Republican 5th Congressional District over underfunded Democratic challenger Jillian Freeland.

Some workers: Proposition 118 creates a paid family and medical leave program guaranteeing at least 12 weeks off for an illness, to take care of a loved one or bond with a new child.

Colorado became the first state where voters passed such an insurance requirement.

For those who need it, however, it’s a lifeline, while allowing small businesses to compete against corporations with another benefit.

“The voters have spoken,” said state Sen. Faith Winters of Westminster, the Democrat who tried for years to get the measure passed through the legislature. “Proposition 118’s historic win shows that when Coloradans see the need for something, they come together to make it happen.

“Coloradans believe in putting family first, so it’s no wonder we are the first state to pass paid leave at the ballot box. We look forward to creating a program our state will be proud of and ensuring we can come out of this pandemic with a stronger economy and safer communities.”

Other workers might not be so thrilled. They might have the benefit provided free or simply don’t think they need it, but they’ll be splitting the 0.9% dedication with their employer. Taxpayers will cover the employers' share if the business has 10 or fewer employees.

Amendment B backers: They did what many have said couldn't be done: whack away at Colorado's legendary fiscal thicket. The Gallagher Amendment is one of the constitutional measures that require local and state government to get permission to make changes.

The Gallagher Amendment set a statewide equation of property versus business taxes that didn't work for most covered by it, proponents argued.

The campaign leaned heavily on the star power of Gov. Jared Polis, who's got political capital with the folks on the left who put in the work and money to get it passed.

Progressive mega-donor Pat Stryker, Gary Community Investments (its CEO, former Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston (who was campaign co-chair) and the teachers unions via the Colorado Education Association and National Education all share the credit.

The first family: On top of Amendment B and Proposition EE, the governor had his hand in a number of successful campaigns. His biggest win, however, was as the political bandleader for the left as Democrats grew their majorities in the House and Senate.

The first gentleman, Marlon Reis, is an outspoken animal rights activist who was in the corner, and sometimes leading the charge, on Proposition 114, the wolf reintroduction bill that was in a close scrape but leading on Wednesday.

Only first pup Gia didn't have something to howl about post-election. 

Polis likes to say he's the governor for all of Colorado. The Democrats just appreciate him more.

Brianna Titone: Victory is the sweetest revenge. Colorado’s first transgender legislator won her rematch with Republican Vicki Pyne in House District 47, a race Titone won by just 439 votes two years ago.

She led by 2,328 Tuesday night. Titone also endured perhaps the direct personal attacks of the legislative campaign season when Rep. Stephen Humphrey, a Republican from Severance, spoke on a robocall accusing Titone of pursuing a “radical sexual agenda.”

Casino towns: In the shadows of this year’s elections, Colorado’s gambling towns — Cripple Creek, Central City and Blackhawk — picked up the right to vote on their own rules governing betting limits, hours of operation and the variety of games with the passage of Amendment 77.

The windfall would go to community colleges.

The state has steadily loosened the reins on games of chance since voters granted the three historic towns authority to offer low-stakes games in 1990.

Last year, Proposition DD legalized online sports betting by licensed Colorado casinos, with proceeds earmarked to the state water development and conservation plan.

Bruce Brown, the former mayor of Cripple Creek, and local small business owner Edie Smith deserve the credit for taking the initiative and, now, responsibility.

Smith gave voice to those hoping new games and hours help bring back a tourism economy pummeled by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Things won’t change overnight, but I believe this will help us get back on our feet,” Brown stated Tuesday night after the amendment passed by nearly 20 percentage points. 

The Approval Voting Party: Colorado's newest minor political party, which supports changing the way voters pick candidates, quickly grew to nearly 3,000 members, surpassing the size of the less focused Unity Party.

While the AVP still lags the more established Greens, Libertarians and American Constitution Party in Colorado, it fielded candidates for president and vice president, the U.S. Senate and Congress and the State Board of Education in the 1st Congressional District in its first general election as an official minor party, and managed to snag some votes, albeit under the balloting system it's trying to replace.

Denver City Council: Ballot Measures 2C, 2E and 2G each expanded the power of Denver’s legislative branch and each received the go-ahead from voters Tuesday night. 

Measure 2C grants the 13-member council the authority to hire professional services without needing approval from the executive branch, while 2E expands council members’ budgeting authority and 2G requires their approval for 14 key mayoral appointments. 

Councilwomen At-Large Debbie Ortega and Robin Kniech led Measures 2C and 2E, respectively, and Councilwomen Amanda Sawyer and Candi CdeBaca partnered to pass 2G. 

Voters also OK’d 2F, another measure led by Sawyer, that updates city charter language to give the council more flexibility to do its business, including in times of emergency.  

Denver’s homeless: A new solution to resolve Denver’s decades-long homelessness problem was approved with the passage of Ballot Measure 2B. Revenue from the 0.25% sales tax hike is estimated to pool together roughly $40 million a year for housing, shelter and services to support job training and mental and physical health for the city’s unhoused residents. 

The measure was led by Denver City Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech and backed by Mayor Michael Hancock, who said the city is “pulling every lever available to help people and ensure that episodes of homelessness are brief and one-time occurrences.” There are more than 4,100 people experiencing homelessness in Denver, according to the latest Point-in-Time survey. 

Losers

Republicans: For two elections, the party of Reagan, which became the party of Trump, has slipped further behind.

The GOP is third behind unaffiliated voters and Democrats and is growing the slowest of the three.

In 2018, they lost the state Senate majority and the majority in the state’s congressional delegation. The GOP controlled half the statewide executive offices before that election and none after, while they’ve struggled for a decade to maintain leadership of the state party.

At present, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck of Windsor is pulling double duty in Washington and as chairman of the state party. He's rumored to have his eye on the Senate seat held by Democrat Michael Bennet, which is up in two years, possibly setting up a rematch of their razor-thin 2010 contest.

Cory Gardner: He was losing long before Election Day. The junior senator was practically given up for dead by his own party, the happy-go-lucky pride of Yuma.

He had been weighed down by an unpopular president and a state much bluer than when he narrowly upset Mark Udall six years ago.

On Tuesday night, Colorado’s highest-profile Republican got  to use the technical term  shellacked. He took a double-digit whooping from former Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Don’t feel sorry for Gardner. He’s already being sized up to eventually run for governor as Colorado’s reigning top Republican.

Kanye West: Sure, the entertainer and friend of President Trump said his candidacy was real and absolutely not a cynical attempt to lure away Black voters from Joe Biden. Never. Tuesday 5,784 Coloradans thought Mr. Kim Kardashian was a worthy successor to Trump.

The "Knock You Down" singer, however, is out for the count. Unless he thinks he can win a recount by saying, “Imma let you finish …” 

On Tuesday, Mr. Kardashian wrote on Instagram, “Today I voted for the first time in my life for the President of the United States, and it’s for someone I truly trust … me.”

He plans to run again in 2024.

TRAIL MIX | Colorado election law attorney trains national spotlight on #KanyeConJob

Smokers: Because Proposition EE passed, smokers will pay at least $7 for a pack of cigarettes, and the first tax levied on e-cigarettes. The money will fund education, including full-day preschool.

“As our economy recovers from COVID-19, now is not the time to raise taxes on any Colorado voter,” said Mary Szarmach, senior vice president of governmental and external affairs and co-owner of Smoker Friendly and Gasamat store. “Instead of asking voters for millions, our state leaders should have focused on supporting Coloradans through this unprecedented time.”

Jake Williams, the executive director of Healthier Colorado, saw it differently.

“Our kids just won big,” he said Tuesday night. “Voters chose to make life-changing investments in our children by providing every kid with access to preschool and implementing smart policy to keep them from getting hooked on nicotine. This success required people of different political stripes from across the state to come together, and it’s a hopeful proof point that our health does not have to be a rancorous partisan issue.”

Abortion opponents: The failure of Proposition 115, the proposed 22-week abortion ban, is the fourth straight loss for those trying to restrict the practice, after three more far-reaching attempts also failed.

“Personhood” measures, declaring a fetus a human with protected rights, failed in Colorado in 2008, 2010 and 2014.

The skirmishes, nonetheless, are important, if a conservative U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade and would send the issue back to the states to decide.

Prop 115 failed 59% to 41%, which is in line with past margins around women’s reproductive rights.

Bill Hammons: Not the biggest surprise in the world, but the former Coloradan and catalyst for the Unity Party collected just 2,242 votes in Colorado and probably won't secure enough in other states to win the White House.

He ran for governor of Colorado in 2018 on the ticket with Eric Bodenstab, his running mate.

Hammons lost U.S. Senate races from Colorado in 2014 and 2016, as well.

Meanwhile, he got way less than half as many votes in Colorado as Kanye West.

Yet Hammons somehow saw victory gnawed up in the jaws of defeat.

"Without a doubt Tuesday night’s results were a Thumping Shellacking for America’s Third Parties,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “I have to admit I take special satisfaction in having personally edged out millionaires, billionaires and celebrities in multiple States in the presidential race, but the real question going forward is where does this great nation of ours go from here."

It's not going to put Hammons in the White House.

Casper Stockham: The district-hopping Republican congressional candidate qualifies for a special, lifetime achievement award after losing his third election in a row — in another landslide. Stockham has the distinction of being the only major party candidate in living memory to run for Congress in three different districts, something he accomplished in the space of just two years.

After losing twice to Democrat Diana DeGette in the overwhelmingly Democratic 1st CD — a seat last won by a Republican 50 years ago — Stockham dusted himself off and mounted a campaign this year against Jason Crow in the 6th CD, but a few months into that endeavor, after the GOP primary got competitive, he jumped across the metro area to challenge Democrat Ed Perlmutter in the 7th CD, instead.

While the Uber driver's unconventional runs against DeGette built up some underdog credibility for the "100% non-hyphenated American," Stockham mostly sidelined the platform he'd built around creative approaches to empowerment and inclusiveness for an angry campaign epitomized by a video of burning a face mask. He also toted around a "Cardboard Ed" to advance his questionable claim that the notoriously hard-working and ubiquitous Perlmutter was hiding from voters.

Climate change skeptics: Anyone doubting or denying climate change who lives or visits Denver won’t be happy about paying a higher sales tax to help reduce the city’s climate footprint starting next year. 

The passage of Ballot Measure 2A, a 0.25% sales tax increase, will begin allocating tax revenue in January to renewable energy efforts, including “steep reductions” in fossil fuel consumption and “significant improvements” in air and water quality. 

The measure, led by the Denver Climate Action Task Force and backed by Councilman Jolon Clark, was carried with 64% of the vote Tuesday night.

Political norms: Donald Trump and U.S. Rep.-elect Lauren Boebert prove you don't have to play by the rules to be a winner.

Boebert beat back the doubters, despite a trail of run-ins with the law and health inspectors, money problems, pandemic shutdown orders.

"The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined. It has been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments. It has been determined by all the little choices of years past, by all those times when the voice of conscience was at war with the voice of temptation."

Tax lovers: Propositions 116 and 117 curbed Colorado’s taxing and spending and each got the blessing of the electorate.

Proposition 116 lowers the state flat income tax rate from 4.63% to 4.55%, and Proposition 117 requires a statewide vote on fees that would collect more than $100 million in its first five years.

Michael Fields, the head of Colorado Rising State Action and public enemy No. 1 to taxers and spenders, was the face of both.

Fields, suffered one setback on the day: Amendment B. He put up a valiant defense only to see the Gallagher Amendment equation on property and businesses taxes get voted out of the state constitution.

 

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