2018 Midterms Provide Historic Firsts
The significance of the election results went beyond the gubernatorial race
In a historic midterm election that ended with the democrats flipping the House of Representatives, the republicans retaining their majority in the Senate, and the most women ever being elected to Congress, Colorado made history of its own.
Democratic Congressman Jared Polis became the first openly gay governor after defeating Republican challenger, former Colorado State Treasurer, Walker Stapleton, by over eight percentage points. The historic win came only two decades after Colorado was dubbed “The Hate State,” when Colorado Voters approved Amendment 2 in 1992. This prohibited both state and local governments from making sexual orientation a protected status and was eventually ruled unconstitutional in 1996.
“We are extremely proud that Coloradoans voted for equality and elected the first [openly] gay governor in the nation,” Steven Willich, Director of the Auraria LGBTQ Student Resource Center, said, “We’ve come a very long way since 1992.”
Polis embraced his sexual orientation during his campaign, even using it as a point of contention with the current administration. “I think it really gives Colorado an opportunity to stick a thumb in the eye of Mike Pence, whose view of America is not as inclusive as where America is today,” Polis said in a campaign speech, according to Vox.
Polis’ talking points fell in line with the national progressive platform, particularly with the issue of gun control. Polis aims to make changes to gun laws at a state level. Some of his proposed ideas include banning bump stocks or any other tool that could be used to fully automate weapons, working toward creating a better mental health system, and closing any loopholes that could enable former abusers or assaulters from acquiring guns. Polis advocates the importance of this issue particularly in the wake of deadly school shootings, such as in Parkland. “This is a case where the public interest in safety needs to win out over special interest politics,” Polis said in a gubernatorial debate in March.
Gun reform was a popular topic nationally in the midterms as well. According to NBC News exit polls, 60 percent of voters, including 42 percent of firearms owners, voted for candidates who support stricter gun regulations, and 1 in 10 voters stated that gun control was one of their most important reasons for voting for a certain candidate. Thirty-three NRA-backed candidates lost their races in the midterms.
However, some are worried about Polis’ progressive stance on gun laws. “I would hate to see Colorado laws passed that are most restrictive on guns. Although I think the mass shooting problem needs to be handled, I don’t think legislation is the way to go,” Maria Schanhals, President of Turning Point USA’s CU Denver branch, said.
Polis’ election was only the tip of the iceberg for the “blue wave” in Colorado. For the first time since 2014, democrats gained a majority in the State Senate and increased their lead in the State House. Additionally, Jason Crow defeated long-time Republican incumbent Mike Coffman for a position in the U.S. House, and democrats elected candidates to many statewide positions, including Democrat Lesley Smith winning the CU Regent-at-Large position. Democrats now maintain control in governorship, the state Senate, and the House.
Some believe the “blue wave” was indicative of a referendum of the current presidential administration. “I am hoping to see some progressive changes in Colorado and hopefully some pushback against Trump at a national level,” CU Denver freshman and political science major Olivia Neece, who interned for Polis and his campaign, said.
Colorado also made history regarding campaign spending. Before the General Elections began political action committees (PAC), lobbyists, and candidates had already spent $186 million on various Colorado elections, according to the Denver Post. A large chunk of that came from oil and gas companies’ efforts to defeat Proposition 112, a ballot measure that would have increased the setback minimum for oil and gas developments to at least 2,500 feet. The largest PAC against the measure, Protect Colorado, spent more than $36 million in its opposition campaign, according to The Coloradoan.
However, the proposition came closer than expected to passing, receiving “yes” on close to 45 percent of votes, according to Ballotpedia. “We overcame tens of millions in oil and gas spending—a 40:1 ratio—and lots of deceit and dirty tricks to come closer than was ever imagined,” Colorado Rising, an organization that advocated for the measure, said in an issued statement. “This is momentum that we will continue to build upon to protect our communities from a dangerous and belligerent industry.”
Proposition 112 was ultimately defeated alongside eight of the 13 ballot measures. Amendment 73, which proposed a state-wide tax increase to contribute to the funding of Colorado schools, fell short of the 55 percent it needed to pass.
Both Propositions 109 and 110, which were opposing bills proposing the funding of the state’s transportation and roads, also failed. Proposition 109 proposed borrowing $3.5 billion by selling revenue bonds. Meanwhile, 110 proposed raising taxes in order to fund a $6 billion plan.
Behind every election, voter turnout reached historic highs. Across the country, an estimated 113 million people voted, becoming the first midterm election ever to exceed 100 million votes, according to CBS News. This phenomenon was partially due to increased turnout from young voters. According to The Atlantic the number of voters aged 18 to 29 increased 188 percent from the 2014 midterm election.
“It warms my heart to see so many people get out and vote,” Schanhals said. “Although the election didn’t exactly yield the results I was personally hoping for, the number of young people that got out to vote… is amazing to see.”
That increase in turnout was particularly prevalent in Denver and on campus. According to Joe Szuszwalak, the Communications Specialist for the Denver Elections Division, there was increased votes citywide and at the Auraria Campus polling station.
The Denver turnout rate increased nearly 10 percentage points, from 64.74 percent in the 2014 General Election to 74.50 percent in the 2018 General Election. On campus at the Tivoli Vote Center, there was increased turnout as well, with a slight increase in in-person votes with 1,027 in-person votes cast in 2018, as opposed to the 948 in-person votes cast in 2014, and nearly double the amount of mail ballots reaching 2,876 mail-in ballots in 2018 as opposed to 1,749 in 2014.
“We didn’t have a chance in 2016,” Neece said. “This was our chance to help fix the problems that had been given to us by the generation before. It was our turn to color in the map.”