Now I’m wondering if Colorado is all that blue. Is it as blue as a high country sky? Is it as blue as the governor’s favorite sneakers? Is it bluer than blue, sadder than sad? I don’t know anymore.
Things were simpler on Monday. Democrats won every race that mattered last year, mad as heck about Donald Trump. They’re still mad at Donald Trump, probably madder than ever.
But on Tuesday, Colorado looked like the toss-up state it used to be when Democrats’ biggest and best chance to dismantle conservatives’ cherished monolith, the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, was soundly defeated.
"We found the edges of the Democratic era,” my friend Floyd Ciruli, the noted Colorado pollster, told me Wednesday morning.
It was a fair fight that was awash in campaign dollars, and the state that seemed headed hard to the left seemed to have at least momentarily slammed on the brakes.
Proposition CC got shellacked. There’s no other way to say it.
“That's hard to turn around. We're down 130,000 votes,” House Speaker KC Becker told Colorado Politics’ Alayna Alvarez, as the deficit cratered toward a 139,369-vote defeat. “That's obviously really hard. And I'm disappointed, but we think it was worth it a try.”
The governor left on a trade mission to India, (“Our economy is the envy of the nation but we can’t sit back,” he explained in a statement.) but on CC his office put out a statement noting voters don’t want to support taxes for transportation.
Polis didn’t mention voter rejection on statewide taxes for schools, which has happened four times in a decade.
“It’s clear that voters want elected officials to do more with their existing tools and legal authority,” Polis stated. “I look forward to working with Republicans and Democrats to develop new and innovative approaches to respond to the need to reduce traffic and congestion.”
I chatted with independent political guru Eric Sondermann early Wednesday to get his take. The governor’s statement struck him as crafted with intent.
“That’s a telling statement from Polis, because he’s obviously threw the transportation people under the bus,” Eric told me, “pun not intended.”
What mostly Democrats, education advocates and public contractors tried to do was get Coloradans to forego an occasional piece of their tax return. Well, sort of. Not everybody gets a piece of that tax return, and it only comes around like a comet when the economic forces and Washington tax breaks give the state a TABOR surplus.
Yet, it’s something to put into K-12 schools, higher education and transportation when the money’s available.
But it also took away a load-bearing pillar of TABOR, the spending cap that triggers refunds.
While Prop CC advocates said that was simply allowing the government to keep the revenue it already collects, opponents could make the case that keeping money in the form of taxes, by any other name, is still a tax hike.
And for a state that’s supposed to be as blue as the ring around Uranus, Coloradans seem predisposed to hang on to their tax dollars.
What Prop CC did not propose to do was to take away the public’s right to vote on future tax increases.
In fact, before it passed in 1992, on technically its fourth attempt, its main selling point was the reasonable ask that voters approve major spending decisions, especially new taxes. “Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado Constitution to require voter approval for certain state and local government tax revenue increases and debt; to restrict property, income, and other taxes; to limit the rate of increase in state and local government spending …”
Voters blessed it 54% to 47%.
And just about every city, county and school district in Colorado, at one time or another, has convinced local voters that letting the government exceed its spending cap or collect some extra taxes is a good solution to a local problem.
But not at the state level.
The money just seems to disappear; what the voters giveth, legislators taketh away, and the promises of brighter days for schools and roads never seem to get here, Jesse Mallory, the leader of Americans for Prosperity explained to me on election night.
He should know. He used to be the chief of staff for the state Senate Republicans.
TABOR is a creature of its era, but it’s seemed destined to stay.
In 1992, Bill Clinton won Colorado with 40%, but the late-Ross Perot, the Reform Party father of the government-shrinking movement of the era, got more than 23%, picking the electoral pocket of incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush.
With that political wind at its back — and a ballot measure on gay rights taking up most of the attention, TABOR passed on its third try, former Gov. Bill Owens told me at the No on CC watch party in the Tech Center.
If Proposition CC was a dress rehearsal for full TABOR repeal, then those against might need to bring in some big stars before opening night. This loss is going to sting awhile.
I’ve said it often, Colorado is a swing state. Its pendulum can be as plump and blue as 2018 and turn as lean and conservative as 2019, just like that.
Colorado is not blue or red, but a hue of both. We never met a line we wouldn’t blur.