Panel examines lessons learned in November election


Three things are clear in the wake of last week’s election: Tax increases for education remain unpopular. Sin taxes are palatable. Recall efforts are gun barrel hot, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Those conclusions came out of the School of Public Affairs' seventh annual post-election event, "Recall: Colorado's New Power Tool," Nov. 6 at Cafe Rendezvous in History Colorado. The panel, moderated by SPA Dean Paul Teske, featured Patty Calhoun, editor of Denver Westword; Curtis Hubbard, a partner at OnSight Public Affairs; and Eric Sondermann, a political consultant and CEO at PR firm SE2.

A modest crowd, perhaps reflecting the public's hangover toward politics, attended the event.

And that cynicism is where the panelists started. They agreed that the recent federal government shutdown and the troubled Obamacare rollout both adversely affected the results for Amendment 66, the major statewide question on the ballot. The measure, which proposed a $950 million tax increase and a restructuring of the K-12 school finance system, failed by a wide margin -- 66 percent to 34 percent.

"It was too complicated for Coloradans right now. And with the Obamacare debacle I think people are upset with government," Calhoun said. "It was just too much for them right now."

Hubbard, who was communications director for the Amendment 66 campaign, said misinformation spread by opponents hurt the measure, but conceded that, ultimately, "the $950 million figure was too big for Coloradans."

Sondermann said the margin of its loss was even worse than the 36 percent who voted for Proposition 103, a proposed sales tax increase for education, two years ago. He noted that Proposition 103 "had no funding behind it whatsoever," compared to about $10 million spent to promote Amendment 66.

"The coalition that came together behind this -- combining the reform community with the establishment community -- I don't know how that holds together anymore," Sondermann said. "I don't see anybody's appetite for it -- starting with the governor, the Legislature, Democratic Party, anyone -- who wants to go through this for a third time anytime in the next several years. I don't see a morning after debate."

Calhoun and Hubbard, however, argued that another effort will be mounted. "The architects will try to come up with something a lot simpler," Calhoun said. Hubbard added, "I think one of the things that just about everyone agrees upon in Colorado is that we need to invest more in education."

There's a simple explanation for the easy passage of taxes for marijuana -- Proposition AA (statewide) and Question 2A (Denver). "Sin taxes work," Sondermann said. Hubbard remarked that only a "pittance" of money generated by pot taxes will go toward capital construction for schools. "It won't do anything to address the billion dollars that Colorado underfunds its K-12 education system."

Meanwhile, the recall efforts that saw Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron ousted from southern Colorado offices in September -- both due to anger about their votes on gun-control measures -- will become more common, panelists said. A group is currently circulating a petition to recall another Democratic senator, Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster, which, if successful, will give Republicans the majority in the Senate.

Teske asked the panelists if recall petitions will be the "new normal?"

"We're going to be endlessly seeing these, and I think we'll see Democrats starting it too," Calhoun said. "It's a pretty easy template. We've seen how easy it was in Pueblo."

"I think it's going to be more standard operating procedure," Sondermann agreed. "It just speaks to me of the really poisonous political culture that we have both in the state and in the country. There's no goodwill on either side."