Hello citizens, and welcome the Independent's 2018 midterm election endorsements.
We know you expect us to tell you how important it is to vote. But look, we assume you've been alive and conscious for the past two years. If so, then you know damn well you should vote. Plus, registered voters get a mail ballot, so it really couldn't be easier. We hope you do the right thing for your country.
Our endorsements board — Regan Foster, Ralph Routon, Matthew Schniper, J. Adrian Stanley and Amy Gillentine Sweet — considered this season's extremely long ballot very carefully. We interviewed candidates and looked over records — so you don't have to.
You'll notice we didn't endorse in every race. The ballot is very long, and in some races, we didn't feel good about endorsing either candidate. That said, we weighed in on the races we thought would be most important to you.
Read on, and remember: Election Day is Nov. 6. To get the scoop on where to drop off your ballot or vote in person, visit epcvotes.com. To register or to update your registration visit govotecolorado.com.
And please, please, for the love of God: VOTE.
The race for the state's chief administrator is a battle between a conservative member of the Bush dynasty and a left-leaning businessman with both executive and legislative experience.
When it comes to the question of Republican Walker Stapleton or Democrat Jared Polis for governor, our pick is clearly Polis. (For the record, Bill Hammons of the Unity Party and Libertarian Scott Helker are also on the ballot.)
When we interviewed Polis ahead of the June primary, we questioned his plan for funding his ambitious platform, especially its centerpiece of free all-day kindergarten for all Colorado kids.
He does have at least a rough fiscal roadmap in place now, such as prioritizing the program for general fund dollars, tapping available legacy dollars, and looking for private-public partnerships.
We are confident that Polis' experience as both an enormously successful entrepreneur and lawmaker means he has the financial expertise and coalition-building talents to make the project viable. The same holds true for his other priorities, which include fixing crumbling roads; ensuring universal, single-payer health care for all Coloradans; and putting the state on a path toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. Polis said he would work to reform constitutional budget and taxing controls like the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment, while working across the aisle to keep residents from being taxed out of their homes.
Stapleton, meanwhile, raised red flags early on by courting the Trump trumpet and now by espousing the president's nationalistic agenda.
The choice is stark and, for us, clear.
Congressional District 5
- Griffin Swartzell
That breath of fresh air that has been blowing across the Pikes Peak region for the past year is named Stephany Rose Spaulding — a new face for Colorado's Fifth Congressional District.
Spaulding, a Democrat and first-time candidate, is challenging Republican Doug Lamborn for the seat, which has always been held by the GOP. Libertarian Douglas Randall rounds out the ballot.
An associate professor of women's and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and ordained pastor with Ebenezer Baptist Church of Colorado Springs, Spaulding is the common-sense candidate the district deserves. To whit, this educator is an advocate for:
• Health care: Sure, Spaulding supports a single-payer system, regardless of pre-existing conditions, but she also takes it a step further. Some of her would-be constituents struggle to access not just affordable care, but really any care. And with a shortage of mental health care providers and a looming nursing crisis projected to hit a 12,900 deficit statewide by 2025, the candidate supports and has ideas for creative solutions: reduced- or low-cost academic degrees for young people hoping to fill the void and working with community colleges to create a pipeline from two-year to four-year degrees.
• Equitable funding for education: Per-pupil academic funding is set by the state, but often the lion's share of a district's financial burden is often paid by local property taxes. State payments are often limited due to a budget squeezed by constitutional controls like the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and the Gallagher Amendment, while financial inequality among districts leads to huge differences in local funding from one district to the next. Spaulding says that if we want our school system to be more equitable, per pupil funding will need to be a federal responsibility, with decisions on curricula and educational standards kept as local as possible.
• Comprehensive immigration reform: Spaulding believes in protecting America's borders, but also wants a transparent legislative fix that doesn't target a single race or nationality. She is in favor of protecting DREAMers' rights to remain in the U.S., and called the administration's zero-tolerance policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the border "a humanitarian crisis."
• Thoughtful military spending: Spaulding says these dollars should not only pay for mission-critical equipment, but also service members' needs for affordable housing, long-term physical and mental health care and employment opportunities for veterans and military spouses.
• Federal legalization of marijuana: Spaulding cites legalization as a way to ease bulging populations in prisons and jails.
• Tax reform: Spaulding proposes amending President Donald Trump's tax plan, which she notes will only increase the gap between the wealthy and everyone else.
• Bipartisanship: Spaulding is a diversity, equality and inclusion specialist experienced in working with people of all backgrounds and getting them moving in the same direction.
The incumbent, meanwhile, has a history of voting in lockstep with Republican leadership (while showing very little inclination toward rising to that rank himself), ducking the press, ignoring his constituents and accomplishing next to nothing during six terms in office.
The congressman has seen few of his bills become law, and those tended to be minor legislation. GovTrack.org ranked him: Colorado's least supportive lawmaker on government transparency; second-lowest of the state delegation when it came to co-sponsoring bills; second-lowest Colorado lawmaker when it comes to reaching across the aisle for bipartisan bills; and noted he held no committee leadership positions and was chief of only one subcommittee (the House Committee on Natural Resources' water, power and oceans subcommittee) during the session. The Koch brothers' hugely conservative Americans for Prosperity, on the other hand, gave Lamborn a 91 current score and a 96 career score.
- Courtesy Phil Weiser Campaign
The seat is open, and Republican George Brauchler, the 18th Judicial District attorney, is facing off against Democrat Phil Weiser, a former dean of the University of Colorado law school.
Early on, it seemed experience was the biggest contrast between the two. Brauchler has stressed his time in the courtroom, and dismissed Weiser as an academic. Weiser has accused Brauchler of lacking background in complicated subjects like water law, since the DA's career has focused on criminal justice.
But there are deeper lines here. Brauchler notes on his website that he'd, "Refuse to follow the sea-level states like California, New York, and Massachusetts in their ongoing hyper-liberal pursuit of legislation through litigation. I will not accomplish by lawsuit that which the legislature refuses to enact."
Perhaps if we were living in different times, Brauchler's approach might feel more suitable. But as the Trump administration continues its attack on basic norms, it appears that a little activism might be exactly what we need to protect what's precious about Colorado. Besides, we're not convinced that Brauchler is nonpartisan. We think he just agrees with the current administration.
Weiser talks a lot about fighting for consumer protections, particularly for students gouged by predatory lenders, at a time when the federal government is deregulating. He says he'd work to protect provisions of the Affordable Care Act that have allowed thousands of Coloradans to get health insurance. The child and grandchild of Holocaust survivors, he'd battle the federal government's illegal attacks on law-abiding immigrants and fight to protect DREAMers. As the Trump administration continues to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency, Weiser says he'd defend laws that keep our air and water clean, and allow Colorado to continue its good work toward a clean energy future. He also says he'd protect our marijuana industry and options for women's health care — both targets of the federal government.
These are strange times. We need an AG that will battle for states' rights, and stand up for the Colorado we love.
Colorado Secretary of State
- Courtesy Wayne Williams
It's always nice when Coloradans are asked to choose between two (or more) perfectly acceptable, qualified and talented candidates who would serve the state honorably and well.
Such is the case with this year's secretary of state race between incumbent Republican Wayne Williams and Democrat challenger Jena Griswold. They are joined on the ballot by Amanda Campbell of the American Constitution Party and Approval Voting candidate Blake Huber.
Williams, a longtime El Paso County resident and veteran politician, won his first secretary of state bid in 2014 and has turned the office, which oversees elections, business registration and nonprofit filings, into a national leader on election security. Not for nothing did The Washington Post pick Colorado as the nation's most secure election system, and with 90 percent voter registration, the state is also a national leader in potential participation.
Yes, there was a kerfuffle in 2016 when a trio of Democratic presidential electors took Williams to court because he required them to follow the voters' will rather than their own during the contentious Electoral College vote. But when voters cast their ballots, they did so with the historically grounded presumption that electors would vote according to the public will. Williams was simply holding the electors' feet to the constituents' fire.
Williams has also gotten some side-eye for moonlighting as a lawyer while holding office. The practice isn't illegal or uncommon, and Williams says he puts 50 to 60 hours a week into his main gig and doesn't allow his side biz to overlap. Still, we frown on the practice and, frankly, wish he'd stop.
On the other side of the ticket, Griswold, who says she would dedicate herself solely to the office, has much to offer. She is an intelligent, articulate attorney who is well versed on the issues. Her enthusiasm for public service is evident, and we would love to see her stay involved. We strongly encourage Griswold to keep active and build up her experience and resumé by making a bid for a different office.
But Williams has done a fine job running an effective, efficient and nationally recognized administrative office. He's earned another term.
Colorado state treasurer
- Courtesy Dave Young Campaign
In an election filled with important contests and ballot issues, the first impulse might be to skip over the Colorado state treasurer. But this office has become a crucial stepping stone for both parties in the past four decades: Democrat Roy Romer (1977-87) and Republican Bill Owens (1995-99) both advanced directly from treasurer to multiple terms as governor, and Republican Mike Coffman (1999-2005) later jumped to Congress. Democrat Cary Kennedy (2007-2011) and Republican Walker Stapleton (2010-present), ran hard for governor this year with Stapleton still in the battle. So it makes sense to consider the race between Republican Brian Watson and Democrat Dave Young, despite its low visibility.
Watson, a commercial real estate broker and investor, has raised red flags by saying he would like to continue running his businesses if elected. That's particularly alarming for a treasurer, who needs to separate himself from the potential conflicts of interest in overseeing the state's $6 billion financial portfolio. To us, that alone is a deal-breaker, magnified by the fact his turn-around projects included creating sites for charter schools, supported by taxpayer funds.
Young, a former longtime teacher at a Greeley junior high school, has served the past eight years in the state House. For four years he has chaired the House Appropriations Committee and been a member of the House Budget Committee, as well as adjunct faculty in the School of Education & Human Development at the University of Colorado Denver. That well-developed grasp of state finances, combined with his expertise in technology and website development, makes him a good match for the position. To us, this is an easy call.
Colorado Senate District 11
- Casey Bradley Gent
We'll admit it: We completely forgot who was running against Democrat Pete Lee and had to look it up. Apparently, it's Republican Patrick McIntire. Glancing at his website, we discovered that McIntire is a young small business owner with some typical newbie ideas about state government. (Prime example: The billions and billions in funding needed to fix our roads is hiding somewhere in the existing state budget waiting for a real conservative like him to uncover it like some fiscal Indiana Jones.)
There's no contest here. Lee, an attorney, is running for Senate after being term-limited in House District 18, where he's been a tireless public servant with a huge heart and a knack for bipartisanship that is rare in today's political climate.
Lee's main focus over the years has been transforming our criminal justice system to emphasize restoration and rehabilitation — especially for our youngest offenders, who only need some guidance to steer their lives in a better direction. He's also been a champion for small businesses. And he's well-known for really involving himself in his legislation — doing the research, meeting people on the ground, getting his hands dirty.
Senate District 11 is lucky to have a proven winner running for this seat and we're more than happy to support him.
Colorado House District 15
- Courtesy Brenda Krause Campaign
Colorado's sprawling House District 15 is a conservative stronghold. Any progressive candidate has a tough battle ahead to wrest the long-Republican seat from an incumbent.
Fortunately, newcomer Democrat Brenda Krause is up for the challenge.
Krause is a retired licensed professional counselor who worked in outpatient mental health care and with foster families and is also a former real estate investor and small business owner. This is her first campaign but she is no stranger to politics, having run the 2008 Clinton campaign office in Colorado Springs and successfully won a seat as a national delegate for Congressional District 5.
When it comes to the issues, here's a sampling of Krause's stances:
• Favors protecting DREAMers and providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrants.
• Believes in the transparent release of public documents.
• Supports increased funding for education, whether that be through tax increases, ballot measures or a reallocation of finances from the state general fund. She is also an advocate for increasing the number and ability of school counselors to provide crisis intervention and to shore up school security.
• Favors debt-forgiveness or low-cost degrees for college students who would agree to fill high-demand positions in Colorado.
• Supports a nationalized system of background checks for firearms purchases, as well as a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons.
• Supports Colorado's Medicaid expansion, as well as a single-payer health care system and an expansion of inpatient mental health care for those who need it.
Compare that, now, to the record of incumbent Republican Dave Williams:
• Opposes immigration to the extent that he introduced a bill this term that would have made it illegal for a home-rule jurisdiction or the state to create policies protecting undocumented immigrants. It would also have allowed victims of crimes committed by sanctuary-seeking residents to sue the government in question. Oh, and it would have made "rendering assistance to an illegal alien through a sanctuary jurisdiction" a Class 4 felony.
• Introduced a bill to make it more difficult for the public to obtain records of internal investigations into police behavior, even after the investigation closed.
• Sponsored legislation that would have allowed employers a work-around to the federal minimum wage by negotiating a pay rate that is "agreeable to the applicant or employee and the employer."
All those bills died in committee. They serve as a stark indication of the choice that district voters are facing: A progressive newcomer with the personal and professional chops to be a coalition-builder or an incumbent who is in lock-step with the Trump administration.
For us, it's a no-brainer.
Colorado House District 16
The race for Colorado's 16th House District pits incumbent Republican Larry Liston against newcomer Democrat Andrew Smith and Libertarian repeat candidate John Hjersman.
In this case, the choice is clear.
Liston is a well-known entity in Colorado politics, and first held the seat from 2005 to 2013, before he returned to the chamber in 2016. He has called the district home for more than 50 years, and over the course of his long tenure in the Legislature, has amassed a legislative and voting record that has served his constituents well.
His opponents include Smith, an Army veteran. While we like his ideas and would like to hear more, mandatory campaign finance filings thus far raise red flags regarding organization and time management (to wit, state records reflect a pair of penalties this spring and summer due to missed filing deadlines). Hjersman, meanwhile, is a county party officer who seems to be running in name only.
Back to the incumbent: In the 2018 session, Liston introduced six bills. Five earned the governor's signature and the majority earned bipartisan sponsorship in both houses. While we've had our differences with Liston over the years, we think he is willing to work across the aisle to ensure that legislation is both thoughtful and acceptable to the entire state, without too much of a partisan bent.
Do we agree with all of Liston's policies? No. Among the issues we part ways with him on:
• Protecting TABOR. (Liston is all for it, while we see much of it as overly burdensome and interfering with funding for critical government functions.)
• Efforts to fix inequities in health care. (He opposes the Medicaid expansion.)
• Federal gun control and abortion issues.
But when you get down to what changes can occur at the state level, Liston has proven a thoughtful and cooperative representative of the constituents of his conservative district. He has earned another term.
Colorado House District 17
- J. Adrian Stanley
Democrat Tony Exum Sr., the current incumbent, is once again battling Republican Kit Roupe for this Southeast seat that tends to oscillate between them every two years. Roupe takes it in midterm elections; Exum wins it back in presidential years, when more people vote. Honestly, we feel both candidates have generally tried their best, within the limits of their ideologies, to represent the district.
But we think that Exum, a retired battalion chief at the Colorado Springs Fire Department, a coach and lifelong resident of the area, is the better fit. Exum understands what it is to try to make ends meet and he's fought for bills that help regular folks, including one that allows hungry kids to get breakfast at school and another to provide energy assistance to low-income households.
Perhaps this is the year that Exum will keep his seat in the midterm. We're rooting for him.
Colorado House District 18
- Courtesy Charlotte Chance Bundgaard,Trystan Photography
Former Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder, a Democrat, is running in this liberal-leaning district against Republican Mary Elizabeth Fabian and political newbie Mailie Foster.
This is an easy one. Fabian is a place-filler. Foster appears to be a woman with a track record of success both in business and family, and it's hard not to like her. But she has no political experience.
Snyder is the only one who could hit the ground running. He served six years on Manitou Springs City Council, followed by six years as the town's mayor. Snyder led his city through the Waldo Canyon Fire and the floods that followed, through recession and recovery, through a difficult decision on recreational marijuana and the approval of the Manitou Incline trail. Through it all, he successfully gave the town a regional and state voice and left the government better than he found it.
Now he wants to work to battle climate change, help the poor, grow small businesses, enact stronger gun laws and universal health care, and work to reform TABOR and Gallagher to fund priorities like infrastructure and education.
Snyder's the guy to get it done.
El Paso County Commissioner District 1
- Griffin Swartzell
Let's start by acknowledging the obvious: Barring a miracle, Republican Holly Williams is going to win the race in this extremely conservative district. And you know what? We don't have a problem with that.
Williams has served the county before, notably as public trustee. It hasn't always been a smooth ride (there were some problems with an audit), but Williams (who is Wayne Williams' wife) says she's learned from the past, and we believe her.
She is both likable and reasonable. She's concerned about roads and water. She has ideas for helping the overcrowded jail but acknowledges that at some point we're going to have to expand it or build another one. She's not a fan of the way the toll lane proposed for the Interstate 25 gap was handled. When it comes to development, she believes in following master plans.
There's not much to object to, and we seriously considered endorsing her. But we were won over by Democrat Frank DeLalla, who moved here in 1998. DeLalla is a fiscally conservative moderate — he spent most of his career working as an executive at Lockheed Martin and L-3 Communications.
He's also dogged. He says he's been walking 10 to 14 miles door-to-door every day. DeLalla has let the people he talks to shape his platform, which includes the pace of development and the need for infrastructure to support it, along with water needs, wind farms and agriculture.
He says commissioners failing to tell voters that the gap would be a toll lane was "political cowardice" (ouch) and he's wants bridges and other infrastructure in the gap to be built to accommodate a fourth lane, which will be needed sooner rather than later.
DeLalla says he's not afraid to have unpopular opinions. He supports green energy. He doesn't understand why a new city deal was negotiated for Banning Lewis Ranch, saying "it seems like if you make a deal, you ought to live by the deal," and he believes the county should ask the people for stormwater funding, noting that it's either that or wait longer and pay lawyers.
We like DeLalla's spirit. And it sure would be nice to see some new blood on the commission.
El Paso County Commissioner District 5
- Griffin Swartzell
Technically, there are two candidates running in diverse District 5: Democrat Kari Frederick and Republican Cami Bremer. We say technically, because Frederick hasn't raised a dime and didn't bother to show up for our endorsement interview.
Does the Bremer name ring a bell? This candidate's husband, Eli Bremer, was once the chair of the El Paso County Republican Party. But Cami Bremer says that while she and her husband share many of the same conservative values, she's her own woman. Asked about her husband, she says matter-of-factly, "I expect to be fully supported."
Well, OK. Get it, girl.
We like Cami Bremer. She comes across as kind, thoughtful and earnest. She understands the limits of the office and plans to stay in her own lane. So while her website might tout her pro-life beliefs, Bremer is fully aware that she isn't deciding federal law. And she's fine with that. Her one deviation is saying that commissioners can and should be thought leaders on local problems, such as homelessness, transportation and public safety.
Bremer has spent her career in communications roles, including a stint with the local Chamber of Commerce, and it shows. "I promise to be approachable and listen," she says. Good, that's a lot of what a commissioner does. She also says she'd like to bring more information and services online to make them more convenient. And she wants to build relationships with leaders in the city, state and military.
She is critical of the how the toll lane proposed for the I-25 gap was handled, says the overcrowded jail should separate out the mentally ill into treatment centers, and seems fair-minded when it comes to land-use considerations. We also believe she might fill former Commissioner Sallie Clark's shoes as a champion for the Department of Human Services' efforts to protect abused kids.
El Paso County Sheriff
We really dislike incumbent Republican Sheriff Bill Elder, and the feeling is mutual — he once called a press conference just to berate our reporter.
Elder's leadership is based on intimidation and favoritism. He resists transparency, including with financial documents. He also inappropriately allows his staff to work on his campaign.
Anyway, we were really hoping to be able to recommend Democrat Grace Sweeney-Maurer. She is sharp on the issues and seems like a responsible person. But despite the claim on her website, she's never worked in law enforcement — or, not really.
Sweeney-Maurer explains that she was employed as an actor for a police department early on, helping to test officers' wits, and also as someone who uncovered shoplifters. She spent most of her career as an administrative assistant at government agencies, including the VA, where she probably did a much greater variety of work than any job description suggests.
Still, we are concerned about Sweeney-Maurer's lack of management and law enforcement experience. What if there's another major fire? Or a major investigation? Unfortunately, we just can't offer an endorsement on this one.
El Paso County Coroner
- Griffin Swartzell
Coroner isn't usually a political office, but outgoing Coroner Robert Bux sure has made it one. Bux's efforts to prevent public disclosure of autopsy reports — which the law clearly says are public records — have led to expensive lawsuits and a showdown at the state Legislature over youth autopsy reports that is threatening a repeat this year.
We in the media don't relish having to defend the release of kids' autopsy reports over the objections of grieving parents. But there is a reason these reports are public: They protect the public.
Several years ago, autopsy reports showed the state was doing a lousy job protecting abused kids, leading them to die in the custody of known abusers. When exposed by the media, the state enacted reforms. Autopsy reports also showed that our young people were killing themselves in record numbers, leading to major reforms in local schools that have drastically cut that rate this year. Autopsy reports are showing us right now how much young life we are losing to the horrific opioid epidemic.
You don't solve problems by hiding them.
Since Bux has led the charge to hide these important documents from the public, we are interested in who will replace him. The only candidate qualified to lead the office is Republican Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Leon Kelly.
Democrat Chauncey Frederick is a likable veteran, but he's not a doctor and he's never stepped foot inside the coroner's office.
Kelly is a doctor and has special training in forensic pathology and anatomical and clinical pathology. Kelly understands the role of a coroner is to seek justice and help prevent deaths in the future. He knows people often find the profession a little creepy, but he chose it because he saw a chance to make a difference.
What's more, while he understands his boss' reservations when it comes to releasing certain autopsy reports, he says, "My belief has always been that I can do more good by sharing information than by withholding it."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
- Chameleons Eye / Shutterstock.com
The Colorado Constitution still makes slavery technically legal as a punishment for a crime.
Seriously? It's 2018. This proposal, added by the Colorado General Assembly — meaning it was approved by at least a two-thirds vote of both chambers — is a no-brainer. No one wants to enslave fellow Coloradans who commit crimes.
Colorado — along with Utah and Arizona — has the highest minimum age requirements in the country to serve in the General Assembly.
Backed by New Era Colorado, a political organization aimed at boosting political engagement by young people, the amendment changes the age requirement for political service in the Legislature, from 25 to 21.
Young people are the largest voting bloc in the state, and they are already leading at local levels. It's time to embrace the next generation, allow for diversity and an open exchange of ideas.
Proposed by the General Assembly, this changes how ballots ask voters if judges should keep their jobs. Instead of asking the question for every judge, the new ballot would include just the judges' names and a yes or no option. Supporters say that the option cleans up ballot language and makes it easier to understand. We wonder how many people actually spend time researching judges and their decisions. Our guess? Very few.
But shorter ballots might equal more engagement, so we think this is a pretty benign change.
- Africa Studio / Shutterstock.com
Proposed by the Legislature, this amendment would remove the current definition of hemp in the state constitution, opting for the federal one.
First off, we wondered: What's the difference? Turns out the state allows hemp to have a .3 percent THC content or less. But the state Legislature wants that to be more flexible because of an anticipated move to legalize hemp at the federal level through the 2018 Farm Bill.
The folks at Cannabis Wire say the goal of the Legislature is to make sure the state's cannabis crops retain their competitive edge — and if a federal definition doesn't match Colorado's, farmers must destroy their crops to meet federal law. What a waste!
Passed to the voters from the General Assembly, this changes who is in charge of drawing the district maps. Right now, the Legislature handles it — and for 20 years, hasn't been able to reach a consensus. So who decided? The Colorado Supreme Court.
No more, says the Legislature. Instead, they want to appoint a 12-member commission with equal representation from the state's Democratic, Independent and Republican voters. It's the way they do it in California, Arizona, Idaho and Washington.
It's never been more important to get districts right — the state stands to add a congressional representative after the 2020 census. (Yes, all those newcomers add up to more than just traffic congestion and trying to find a parking space at your favorite trailhead.)
Equal representation on the commission means equal decisions and an end to gerrymandering, right? And more competitive districts mean views of the districts are sure to be represented in Congress.
The ballot measure has bipartisan support, and advocates say they want to take the decision out of the hands of career bureaucrats and political appointees.
This amendment allows the same independent commission to draw districts for state legislative races, with the goals of both fair demographics throughout the state and more competitive districts.
Here's the deal: The state needs more money for education. Supporters of Amendment 73 want to increase the corporate income tax from 4.63 percent to 6 percent. That would bring in $88.5 million the first year and $179.8 million the second.
In addition, people earning more than $150,000 annually would see their income taxes rise too, as the goal is to move from a single flat tax to brackets based on income.
While we support better funding for education, this isn't a great idea. It's bad for families and not great for job growth. Plus it adds yet another amendment controlling taxes to the crowded state constitution — one that will inevitably interfere with other controls and lead to unintended consequences.
The state needs more education funding. But what it needs more is a solution to the fiscal morass created by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23, the perfect storm already holding the state's fiscal well-being hostage to special interests. Let's solve those, and stop trying piecemeal solutions.
This measure, pushed by the oil and gas industry, requires compensation to landowners harmed by regulations put in place by governments — such as increased setbacks for drillers from homes and schools.
So if the actions of a government (state, local, federal) reduce the market value of your property — be it a home or a mineral right — the government would have to pay you for that decrease. The Colorado Farm Bureau supports the measure, and says current law doesn't protect landowners enough. They are represented by Denver-based attorney Jason Dunn, Trump's nominee for U.S. attorney in Colorado.
The problem? No one knows what "fair market value" is, says the Colorado Municipal League. That's a decision for the courts — and do we really need more litigation? Local governments could face lawsuits for rezoning decisions, for any decision that a homeowner doesn't like — and the courts would decide.
As written, the proposition is too broad and benefits only tort attorneys.
This proposal is aimed at creating opportunities for candidates without the deep pockets of people like Jared Polis. Proponents of Amendment 75 don't think self-funded campaigns benefit transparency or democracy.
The idea: Candidates who don't spend their individual fortunes on campaigns can receive up to five times the normal contribution amounts, but only if opponents spend $1 million or more of their personal wealth on the campaign.
Both gubernatorial candidates support the measure, which could make it easier for those of us who aren't insanely wealthy to run for office while also competing for campaign cash and attention.
State offices shouldn't belong to the wealthy.
Proposition 109 and Proposition 110
- Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com
"Fix our Damn Roads" (Prop 109) proposes borrowing $3.5 billion (yes, with a "b") to spend on transportation projects: roads, bridges and maintenance on 66 specific projects across the state. The proposal came from the libertarian think tank the Independence Institute, which is opposed to any form of tax increase, and has the support of Mayor John Suthers.
Prop 109 puts the debt burden on the state, with no dedicated revenue to pay it back. It will take decades for the bonds to reach maturity. And, of course, TABOR restricts taxes and revenue — and won't allow the state to save for infrastructure. In an economic downturn, those huge bond payments could be a bridge too far in the delicate balancing act the state Legislature must perform.
The second transportation bill, "Let's Go, Colorado" (Prop 110), raises sales taxes to pay for transportation. If it passes, the city would have the highest sales tax in the state for two years because Colorado Springs residents voted to fix our own damn roads with our own damn money, by raising sales taxes with 2C. While promoted by the Denver Chamber of Commerce and other economic development groups, this measure isn't good for Colorado Springs.
Suthers says if 110 passes, he won't ask for a renewal of 2C, and while 110 does include some local road dollars, it's not nearly as much money as 2C currently provides. Our damn roads wouldn't get fixed — but Denver's would.
We don't like either of these ideas.
Instead, residents should demand that the state Legislature come up with a better idea for state roads that doesn't increase our already hefty sales taxes and that includes high-speed rail along the Front Range, more public transportation and other solutions that ease our carbon footprint and reduce greenhouse gases.
And there are other ways to find the money. For instance, what about raising severance taxes for oil, gas and mining companies? Colorado should look at (deep red) Wyoming, a state with no income tax that instead relies on higher severance taxes and has some really nice roads.
This proposal would cap payday loans at 36 percent annually and eliminates other finance charges and fees.
Payday lenders prey on the working poor. There's not much else to say. Currently, payday lenders can charge up to 200 percent on a loan of $500. It's impossible to pay that back. A single health care bill or car repair can put people on the margins in debt to a payday lender indefinitely. It's unconscionable to earn so much money from other people's misfortunes — and we can't imagine an argument in favor of 200 percent interest rates. Can you?
- Matthew Schniper
Coloradans have a love/hate relationship with the oil and gas industry. On one hand, we love our cars (see not one, but two, transportation issues); on the other, we don't like fracking too close to where we live, work and play.
This initiative would change setback requirements for new oil and gas projects, banning them within 2,500 feet (a 1-mile circle) from occupied buildings and "vulnerable" areas. That includes homes, schools, hospitals, "playgrounds, permanent sports fields, amphitheaters, public parks, public open space, public and community drinking-water sources, irrigation canals, reservoirs, lakes, rivers, perennial or intermittent streams, creeks and any additional vulnerable areas designated by the state or a local government."
It does NOT include oil and gas development on federal land nor does it include drilling projects already underway.
The current setback is 1,000 feet from hospitals and schools, 500 feet from homes and 350 feet from playgrounds or other outdoor areas.
Supporters say there's plenty of land in Weld County and other places in the state to drill away from populated areas. It's not a ban on drilling, they claim, but an effort to protect schools and hospitals from oil and gas projects.
The usual suspects oppose the proposition: Dark money, industry-funded groups like Vital for Colorado claim it'd be impossible to situate an oil or gas drilling site in Weld County. But really, we don't think that's the main issue.
We sympathize with local governments and economies reliant on the oil and gas industry, which stand to lose money should setbacks be increased. But we also think that governments should protect the public health. And research study after research study highlight the need for larger setbacks from fracking to prevent serious illness, premature deaths and low-birthweight babies.
El Paso County 1A
- Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
This question would renew until Jan. 1, 2029, the .23 percent sales tax first passed in 2012 to support the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. We considered this question carefully. On one hand, there's no doubt the El Paso County Sheriff's Office could probably use the money. The community is growing rapidly. The jail is severely overcrowded. There aren't enough deputies on patrol.
But on the other hand, do we really want to give Bill Elder more taxpayer money? What would recommend such a move? Elder has failed to publicly account for the current tax funds in a meaningful way. And neither he, nor his predecessor Terry Maketa, spent all the money the tax produced each year. Frankly, when you ask the voters for money, they need to trust that you'll use it as you say you will. We just aren't seeing it.
Palmer Lake 2A and 2B
The supporters of selling recreational marijuana in Palmer Lake are back, hoping the third time's the charm.
Undeterred by losses in 2014 and 2016, supporters hope residents in the small town at the edge of Douglas County will agree to allow marijuana sales in 2018.
The reason: The town is struggling with infrastructure needs and could benefit from the taxes from recreational sales, say proponents of Community for a Peaceful Palmer Lake, an advocacy group in favor of the measure.
If approved, the measures only allow two dispensaries — and one would be inside a medicinal grow already in the city limits, a former bowling alley.
Opposition committee CALM (Citizens Against Legalized Marijuana) cites traffic and negative health effects as reasons why they oppose the measures.
We say: More recreational sales bolster the town's bottom line and give Manitou Springs some competition.
Harrison School District 2: 4E
- Cherries / Shutterstock.com
Parents and neighbors in Harrison School District 2 have the opportunity to invest in the long-term well-being of their communities this autumn.
The district is asking voters for the go-ahead to issue $180 million in bonds for capital improvement projects. The money would be used to improve and renovate all existing schools and facilities. Along with physical improvements to aging buildings, the bonds would replace out-of-date technology and improve safety and security.
Still not convinced? Here are details as laid out on question 4E itself:
• "Expanding Soaring Eagles elementary and Sand Creek International elementary to turn both into K-8 institutions."
• "Building a new, up-to-date facility for Carmel Middle School."
• "The district shall ensure accountability with a Citizens Oversight Committee which shall annually review and report to the public on the use of funds."
The bonds are expected to cost the average homeowner in the district about $15 per month, or roughly $180 per year. That seems like a small price to pay for safe and secure schools, especially when the taxpayers footing the bill will oversee the projects.
Manitou Springs School District 14: 4F
Manitou Springs voters will be faced with a decision this autumn that on the surface is a head-scratcher.
Question 4F asks, "May Manitou Springs School District No. 14 collect the property tax revenues permitted by (Colorado law) as previously approved by district voters in 2015 notwithstanding any mill levy limitation?"
In plain language, the measure would allow the district to remove the current mill levy cap and give the board of education the ability to control the tax rate. Approval of 4F would mean that the district could collect the entirety of the $1.8 million voters approved back in 2015.
It's not a new tax. It's a fix to the burdens that TABOR and the Gallagher Amendment have put on local taxing bodies and allows the district to actually obtain the money voters already said they wanted them to have.
The money's been approved, let Manitou schools use it.