Shifting Demographics Give Coloradans Much To Reflect On After The 2018 Midterms

Nov 8, 2018

The morning after the highly anticipated 2018 midterms, friends Pam Whittall, Tom Moore and David Onn sit at a small table at the Linden Street Cafe in old town Fort Collins. They come here no fewer than three days a week after yoga class.

On this day, between sips of coffee, they talked about the outcomes of Tuesday’s election.

“We’re pretty excited about Jared Polis,” said Whittall.

All three are Democrats, so it’s no surprise they’re pleased with the many Democratic candidates that Coloradans chose to elect on Nov. 6.

Colorado experienced the “blue wave” many political experts predicted. The party won took control of both chambers of the legislature and elected Jared Polis to the governorship. Attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer were all claimed by Democrats.

But when it came to left-leaning ballot issues, which sought to fund education, transportation and further regulate the oil industry, local voters were far more conservative.

Whittall sees this a bit of a let down.

“The initiatives didn’t turn out the way we would have hoped,” she said. “The school one for sure.”

Whitall is referring to Amendment 73, which proposed raising taxes to fund public education. It was defeated by voters along with Proposition 110, which proposed raising taxes to pay for transportation.

Proposition 112, perhaps the the most hotly contested issue this election, also did not pass. It would have increased the distance of new oil and gas drilling from homes to 2,500 feet.

“Sending fracking to the moon failed,” said Onn. “That was unfortunate.”

The feeling at the table is that 112 failed because of a $40-million opposition campaign that was financed largely by the oil industry.

"I’m more interested in the person than the party really."

While 56 percent of voters opposed the measure, the organizers in favor of 112, Colorado Rising, say they’ll continue to push for what they say are “common sense regulations.”

Across Old Town, 79-year-old veteran of the U.S. Navy and Fort Collins native, Norm Cook, sips on his morning coffee at Starbucks. He’s already poured over last night’s results in this morning’s paper. He wasn’t rooting for either party but thinks the winning candidates are strong.

“I’m more interested in the person than the party really,” he said.

According to data from the Colorado Secretary of State’s office, voter turnout in this election was split three ways: Two parts were equally Republican and Democrat and the third share for unaffiliated voters like Cook was the largest. That’s a first in state history.

Cook didn’t vote for governor-elect Polis, who is the first openly gay governor in the country.

“That doesn’t mean he won’t do a good job,” said Cook. “That doesn't happen to be my preference of lifestyle but that’s his business.”

"I hate seeing Colorado go to the Democratic side."

A 40-minute drive east to neighboring Weld County, the morning crowd at Butters, a local diner, was sitting down to plates of sausage omelettes and french toast.

Josh Hamblen was with his wife and two young kids. Born and raised in the state, he wears a Colorado flag baseball cap. He wouldn’t comment about the new governor, but said elections did not go as he had hoped.

“I hate seeing Colorado go to the Democratic side,” he said.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton ran on the Republican ticket for governor and won the vote in Eastern Plains counties, including Weld, as well as most of the Western Slope.

But voters along the Front Range, an increasingly left-leaning area, decided this race. That’s troubling for Hamblen.

“I think it’s a disappointment. All the (transplants) from California coming over here,” he said.

According to political expert Rob Duffy at Colorado State University, Colorado may continue to be a friendly place for the Democratic party. He said the population is quickly becoming younger, more diverse and better educated — all indicators that they are more likely to vote Democratic.

“If those trends continue in terms of political affiliation, that can only help the Democrats and hurt the Republicans,” Duffy said.

In traditionally conservative counties like Weld, voters like Hamblen are concerned by what could be a growing cultural shift.

But he said there was one silver lining from the election: the failure of Proposition 112.

“That’s our family livelihood right there,” said Hamblen.

Like many in the region, Hamblen works in the oil industry and was concerned 112 would negatively impact Colorado oil, costing him his jobs.

He may not be pleased with the state’s new political representation, but he said, at least the failure of the more progressive ballot initiatives was in his favor.