Success, as they say, has many parents.
In the case of Proposition CC, the statewide ballot measure rejected this week by Colorado voters, so, apparently, does failure.
The statutory question, referred to the ballot this spring by Democrats in the legislature, asked voters whether the state can keep tax revenue that exceeds an annual limit set by the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the constitutional amendment known as TABOR that’s been restraining government spending and requiring a vote to raise taxes in Colorado since the early 1990s.
In the days after the votes were counted — including late-arriving ballots that narrowed CC’s margin of loss to about 7.5 percentage points — the battle to turn out voters quickly became a battle to win the spin.
CC opponents declared that the results demonstrate Colorado isn’t as blue as Democrats have been claiming in the year since their candidates swept elections statewide and in more than a few traditional GOP strongholds.
Maybe voters don’t like Republicans, but they don’t like taxes either, goes the argument, steering closely into territory the kids these days would call a self-own.
Not so fast, respond TABOR foes, who say the drubbing at the polls doesn’t prove anything — other than that the state’s voters have again refused to loosen TABOR’s restrictions on state finances.
Some liberals have even suggested that CC failed because it didn’t go far enough, and that voters should have the chance to repeal TABOR in its entirety.
But mostly the CC crowd has been licking its wounds while trying to put a brave face on the latest attempt to weaken TABOR, a constitutional hamper enjoyed in Colorado and nowhere else.
A few weeks before the election, a bipartisan group of veteran campaign consultants reached across the aisle to agree that the measure would go down, though most of them said they thought it could be close.
More than anything, the political poohbahs faulted the strategists and politicians behind the CC campaign.
The panelists offered their pessimistic predictions about CC’s fate as part of a discussion at the University of Denver about the state’s political landscape as the 2020 election year looms. Sponsored by pollster Floyd Ciruli’s Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, the talk featured Democrats Steve Welchert and Sheila MacDonald, and Republicans Kelly Maher and Dick Wadhams.
In quick succession — between observations about Sen. Michael Bennet’s quixotic chances in the upcoming Democratic presidential primaries and the slim likelihood Republicans will vote to remove President Trump from office — they offered a surprisingly uniform take on CC’s prospects.
Conceding that CC’s ballot language was “brilliantly drafted” — the brief question began, “WITHOUT RAISING TAXES,” in the all-caps format mandated by TABOR — Wadhams said he was confident voters would ultimately see enough of the opposition’s case to neutralize that advantage.
He added that he was “perplexed” why the elected Democrats leading the charge on CC — Gov. Jared Polis, state House Speaker KC Becker and Senate President Leroy Garcia — had waited months after putting it on the ballot to start their campaign.
“They didn't talk about it until like a week ago,” he chuckled.
“Democrats put this on the ballot then basically went away for four months,” she said, recalling how it took endless campaigning, month after month, to persuade voters to pass a similar TABOR time-out, Referendum C, back in 2005.
“When you pass a ballot issue, the work is done over the summer,” she said. “That's when you get out to every community.”
Echoing the word Wadhams had used, she said that she, too, was “perplexed” at the strategy behind CC.
“The strategy is, they're going under the radar because the ballot language is so strong,” MacDonald said, adding that CC supports were unnecessarily making it harder to pass the ballot measure.
Maher said she was thrilled the opposition had handed state Republicans a great issue to rally the party’s supporters — particularly on top of another GOP-led campaign to repeal a bill that would award Colorado’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, which goes before voters next year.
“I think the Democrats have really given us a gift if you look at the two-year story arc” she said. “We have CC, then we go into National Popular Vote (repeal). We have two years as Republicans to talk about non-social issues.”
Welchert dismissed the pro-CC campaign as “a little bit of political malpractice,” though he added that he wouldn’t be shocked if it won because Colorado is filling up with newcomers who weren’t raised on TABOR and are used to paying for things like roads and teachers.
“I don't get it,” he said. “This talk about going under the radar is spin — it's spin for losers.”