The Spot: What did you just do, Colorado, and what comes next?

For people, policy and Colorado politics

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Phew. That was an election for the ages, amiright? 

In addition to recuperating, The Denver Post’s politics team has been delving into the election maps to find the patterns and messages in how Colorado voted. 

Given the midterm election results, it wasn’t a surprise to see a jump in support for the Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. However, Jon Murray had some interesting findings about just where the state tilted more toward Joe Biden, and by how much. 

Alex Burness, meanwhile, attempted to unravel voters’ intent in passing a big new government program (paid family and medical leave) and an income tax cut and a Gallagher repeal and an initiative requiring ballot measures to create new taxes. Colorado, you’re crazy. 

We’ve also been answering the question “what next” a lot — as in, what’s next for wolves after voters narrowly supported their statewide reintroduction, and what’s next for Denver pit bull owners after city voters repealed the breed ban. We’ve looked at what kind of senator Colorado’s John Hickenlooper will be, and you can read on to find out from city reporter Conrad Swanson when those new Denver sales taxes will hit your pocketbook.

The coming weeks will also begin to shed light on what’s next at the Colorado Capitol. Even though the election didn’t make a lot of obvious changes there, with Democrats adding just one seat in the Senate and maintaining their big margin in the House, people are more than just numbers and can therefore be unpredictable. Alex has an example of that below.

What else do you want to know about the election results? Submit it here and it’ll go straight to The Denver Post politics team.

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Top Line

A Denver company that supplies voting machines across the United States pushed back Thursday against claims — shared without evidence — from President Donald Trump that millions of votes in his favor had been deleted.

Capitol Diary • By Alex Burness

When politics gets personal

As I’ve noted in this newsletter before, policy outcomes and various votes at the Colorado statehouse are sometimes determined more by the personal than anything else. The failed death penalty repeal of 2019 is a perfect example of that.

Here’s another good example: Last week, Senate Democrats voted to oust Sen. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada from her post on the Joint Budget Committee (JBC), replacing her with Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver, a former member of that committee. The committee loses a moderate voice in Zenzinger and gains a more progressive one in Hansen — but that’s mostly incidental.

You have to be a hard-core Capitol nerd to understand why this swap is so juicy, but it is: During caucus leadership elections, Hansen was nominated to the JBC by the committee’s chair, Dominick Moreno, who has served for the past two years with Zenzinger on the JBC. Moreno told his colleagues that he simply meshed better with Hansen, who generally has a reputation in the caucus as being easier to work with than Zenzinger. 

“These are hard things to say out loud, but it’s important that they’re acknowledged,” Moreno told The Post this week.

“Unquestionably, it would have been easier to avoid an awkward situation there” by staying out of it, he added. “These elections are painful because you decide between friends and colleagues you have a lot of history with.”

The outcome was certainly painful for Zenzinger, who had argued that she deserved to stay on the committee because she had done good work and because of the importance of women’s representation.

Hansen said he and Zenzinger, who did not return a text from The Post seeking comment, spoke after the caucus vote.

“She was visibly upset,” he said. “I think anyone in the room could see that. We exchanged a few words, and I tried to make it clear from my side that I was in no way going after her.”

One can appreciate why this might be hard for Zenzinger to swallow. She has put in two years of service on the committee, and in public statements her colleagues have nothing but good things to say about her work there. She really wanted to keep that title. The episode is a reminder of how personal politics can be, even among friends.

More Colorado political news

  • Alec Garnett is the new speaker of the Colorado House, and Daneya Esgar is the new House majority leader.
  • A soul-searching Colorado House GOP caucus picked Hugh McKean as its new leader.
  • Here’s how workers and businesses are reacting to last week’s passage of Prop 118, the paid family leave measure.

Mile High Politics • By Conrad Swanson

About those new Denver taxes

While Denver’s budget continues to suffer from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — and many wait to see if things will worsen economically with the possibility of a second stay-at-home order on the horizon — voters approved two new taxes last week.

The two new taxes — one for green initiatives and the second to help people experiencing homelessness — will raise Denver’s already-high sales taxes to 4.81%. Each is expected to raise between $30 and $40 million a year, depending on how the local economy is doing. 

Both will take effect Jan. 1. 

City officials behind the initiatives are now determining more precise details on how best to spend the cash, but they already have a loose framework. 

Cash from 2A must be spent creating green jobs, solar power, battery storage and other renewable energy technologies as well as neighborhood-based environmental and climate justice programs, among other things. 

Cash from 2B must be spent on things like shelters, catalytic projects and services for the unsheltered. Denver’s Department of Housing Stability will write annual reports on how the money is being spent and whether the investments are working, and an advisory board also review reports every other month and can recommend changes or investments. 

City Councilwoman Robin Kniech, who sponsored 2B, has said that the cash would become available to spend at the end of January 2021 and she, alongside other city officials, have until then to build on the existing framework. 

Many have criticized the taxes as regressive, meaning they charge more to those who can least afford it. But Kniech and Councilman Jolon Clark, who sponsored 2A, have said delaying action on climate and homelessness will only make matters worse and increase the eventual bill Denverites must pay. 

More Denver and suburban political news

  • Although partnering organizations have yet to file a formal application to open and operate Denver’s first sanctioned homeless encampments in Capitol Hill, those opposed — some high profile — are wasting no time.
  • Denver City Council approved the city’s 2021 budget Monday evening with some relatively minor concessions from Mayor Michael Hancock for increased investments in police reform and eviction defense, among others.
  • Denver voters approved two measures last week that effectively check Mayor Michael Hancock’s powers, shifting more authority to City Council.

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