Democrats solidified Colorado as a blue state Tuesday, with big wins in the state legislature and the gubernatorial race.
Democrat Jared Polis, who has served in the House since 2009, will become the next governor of Colorado. He defeated Republican candidate Walker Stapleton, former Colorado state Treasurer, with 51 percent of the vote to Stapleton’s 45 percent. Polis will replace Democrat John Hickenlooper, who was term-limited. The last time Colorado had a Republican in the governor’s mansion was more than a decade ago with Republican Bill Owens.
Colorado has long been considered a swing state, but it’s really been leaning solidly blue for some time now. It was one of the first to legalize marijuana, and Hillary Clinton defeated President Trump there in the 2016 election. Tuesday’s gains for Democrats punctuate the shift left. The party now controls the state legislature, in addition to the governor’s mansion.
Compared to his two Democrat governor predecessors, Polis represents the far left wing of the Democratic party. He not only supports traditional Democrat issues such as raising the minimum wage and gun control, but also advocates for single-payer health care, an all-renewable electric grid and state-funded full-day preschool.
Especially on health care, Polis, who regards healthcare as a human right, is determined to bring universal healthcare to Colorado regardless of the cost to tax payers. In the past, Coloradans defeated a ballot measure attempting to bring single payer healthcare to Colorado due to the estimated astronomic cost. However, as Colorado becomes more blue, a University of Colorado public opinion survey this year shows at least 50 percent of Colorado voters support a “single-payer” healthcare system “in which all Americans would get their health insurance from one government plan that is financed by taxes.”
So Polis’s extreme position on healthcare may have actually contributed to his win. Several conservatives I spoke to prior to the election told me that they would move to another state if Polis won, out of concern for the upcoming tax burden to fund his liberal agenda. Polis will also make the history for being the first openly gay governor in the U.S.
Another significant loss for Republicans is in Democrat Jason Crow unseating Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, a suburb close to Denver. A 2010 redistricting turned a solid conservative district into a battleground. Coffman had managed to keep his seat five times, even though both President Obama and Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton easily won this district. As this suburban district becomes more diverse, Coffman has made a great deal of effort to successfully build relationships with minority constituents in the district. He even learned to speak Spanish fluently.
But Coffman’s seat looked increasingly vulnerable this year as Democrats recruited Jason Crow, a military veteran, to challenge Coffman and turned this race into one of the most expensive in the country. Crow made this race all about Trump and tried to tie Coffman to the President. Given President Trump’s unpopularity in suburban areas, Crow’s campaign strategy paid off.
There are some silver lining for conservative Colorado voters. Several ballot initiatives that would raise taxes, including Prop 73 (increasing taxes to pay for education) and Prop 110 (raising sales taxes to pay for transportation) were defeated. The job killing Prop 112, which seeks to increase setbacks for new oil and gas development in Colorado, has been defeated too.
But, while Coloradans continue to favor property rights and lower taxes, the trend is clear. Despite their vote on ballot initiatives, Coloradans should expect an onslaught of progressive legislation in the next two years. In Colorado, Democrats made the 2018 elections a referendum on Donald Trump. Their strategy paid off as the state firmly rejected the president.