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Campaign manager Kyle Blakely is surrounded by supporters of Ballot Issue 2C to increase sales taxes for trails, open space and parks as early results showed the issue losing Tuesday night during a watch party at Patty Jewett Bar & Grill. El Paso County voters also turned down a measure that would have retained taxes for roads and parks. 

El Paso County and Colorado Springs voters said “no” on Tuesday’s ballot to funding recently popular issues such as parks, trails and open space, and county roads — results that may have been driven by Republican enthusiasm at the polls, economics and national frustrations.

Residents also endorsed a spate of right-leaning school board candidates across several large districts and declined additional funding and debt issuances for schools.

The refusal to grant local governments more money for services like education, parks maintenance and roads could be a return to the county’s right-leaning and anti-tax history, said Josh Dunn, a political science professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Voter approval of the city’s pothole tax and the trails, open space and parks tax have been recent exceptions rather than trends, he said.

“It’s Colorado Springs and El Paso County where tax increases are all guilty until proven innocent. That’s kind of the default setting,” he said.

President Joe Biden’s push to spend trillions on infrastructure projects could also be triggering a backlash.

“The president’s party almost suffers in the midterm — that keeps moving to races further and further down the ballot,” he said.

While turnout was low, it was on par with other comparable races in off-year elections, despite a cavalcade of candidates lining up for school board races and passion around masking policies and critical race theory, a graduate level concept.

El Paso County saw 36% turnout — or 173,083 — of its 474,886 registered voters participating.

During 2017, more than 34% of the county's registered voters cast ballots, and in 2019, more than 38% of registered voters made it to the polls.

The turnout this year included 75,221 Republicans, 60,773 Independents and 34,970 Democrats, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The county is home to 159,146 Republicans, 210,332 Independents and 93,083 Democrats who were considered active registered voters as of Oct. 1, state data shows.

So, while Independents outnumber Republicans locally, members of the GOP showed more enthusiasm in the election, the data showed.

The right-leaning passion was felt across three large school board races where nine candidates backed by the Springs Opportunity Fund, an independent committee with Republican ties, won their races.

COVID-19 mandates, such as rules around masking, and concern about critical race theory were key issues in these races and seemed to have carried the day for the candidates.

“We need to get back to educating our kids and not teaching them things that go against family values — especially things like critical race theory, and gender studies ... when they don’t know how to read, write and do math,” said Jamilynn D’Avola, who defeated incumbent Dave Cruson in District 49’s school board election. “I think the results have shown that people are realizing our education system has not been doing its job.”

Nationally, parents have also been concerned that school boards seem to be acting like they know better than families what’s best for children when most feel like parents have the right and responsibility to direct their child’s education, said Laura Carno, executive director of the Springs Taxpayers, a right-leaning group.

“I think a lot of school board candidates were able to amplify that theme that so many people were seeing on the national news,” she said.

Economic factors are also likely at play in results, several elected officials said.

City officials expected the trails, open space and parks .1% increase to pass based on polling data that showed strong support for an increase of an existing dedicated tax that’s been in place since 1997.

But Councilman Tom Strand said his confidence fell in the last two weeks based on his conversations with residents who are struggling with the rising costs for food, gas and the expected boost to natural gas costs.

“I just got this feeling in the last two weeks or so people were going to vote ‘no’ on a lot,” he said.

El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez said the county’s request to retain money for roads may have failed because families have been negatively affected financially by the pandemic and want to save money.

“Those … who may have been furloughed during COVID are recently going back to work and they’ve made decisions to save money. You see that general sentiment across the ballot,” Gonzalez said.

One of the exceptions to the long line of ‘no’ votes that voters doled out was voter approval of the city’s request to retain $20 million for wildfire mitigation, a measure that may have brought voters together in a divisive year, Councilman Richard Skorman said.

“Think about everything else that went down in flames. … The local voters really understood how important this is,” Skorman said. Work on mitigation projects will likely start in the spring, he added.

Still, the general understanding that "all politics is local" could be shifting as national discussions start having more of a pull in state and local races, Dunn said.

“I think there is a mood in the country and certainly locally that government needs to get its house in order,” Carno said. 

The Gazette's Breeanna Jent and O'Dell Isaac contributed to this report. 

Contact the writer at mary.shinn@gazette.com or (719) 429-9264.

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