04 November 2009

2009 Election Redux

So, there was an election yesterday. What happened in Colorado?

Denver voters rejected (by an almost 7-3 margin) an initiative proposing mandatory car impoundment for driver's without licenses. It was opposed by almost the entire political establishment and was a loophole closing follow up to a prior impoundment initiative that has proven to be most invalid or unenforceable. Both impoundment initiatives were not so veiled anti-immigrant measures. Turnout of 81,553 voters in Denver's all mail ballot election was lower than any comparable recent election in Denver since 1999 when turnout was 81,489 in the November school board election.

Voters in Breckenridge, Colorado, home of a popular ski resort, voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana under town ordinances, with 73% of voters favoring decriminalization. State law remains in effect, so this measure, like a similar one that passed in Denver, is largely symbolic.

In Colorado Springs, Doug Bruce, the lead sponsor of TABOR (which limits the authority of Colorado governments to impose taxes without voter approval and imposes revenue limitations) prevailed at the ballot box where he had failed in local government and the courts. He was battling a stormwater user's fees that he called (without court agreement) a tax. TABOR also required Colorado Springs to seek voter approval to increase property taxes so it could avoid steep cuts in city services, and voters yesterday refused to go along. Most municipal governments in Colorado have "deBruced" with voter approval, but not Colorado Springs, so its revenues are strictly limited.

Had it been approved by voters, the permanent property tax increase would have generated an estimated $27.6 million in additional revenue next year and allowed the government to maintain services at 2009 levels.

Without it, city officials warned of having to close recreational and cultural facilities, slash 63,000 hours of bus service and lay off dozens of employees, including police officers and firefighters, among a host of cuts.

The 2-1 defeat of the property tax proposal in hard pressed Colorado Springs may presage how Colorado Springs would vote if state government put a tax increase or TABOR relief on the ballot to avoid further budget cuts. This means that any revenue increase proposal on the ballot in 2010 would need solid support outside this conservative anti-tax stronghold.

Teacher's union backed candidates will now hold four of the seven seats on the Denver Public School board, despite the fact that these candidates were less well funded in their campaigns. They won the two districts on Denver's West side. Mary Seawell, on the other slate, won the at large seat. The big issue was support for charter schools. Teacher's union candidates are lukewarm about charter schools without rejecting them out of hand. The other board members are more enthusiastic about the possibilities that charter schools offer.

Meanwhile, in Douglas County, Colorado, a conservative Southern Denver suburb, four school board candidates backed by the Republican party in the officially non-partisan race, defeated four candidates backed by the teacher's union there.

The voters in the City of Aurora (a large first ring suburb to the East of Denver) nixed a proposal to create a library district with its own property tax base. As a result (well publicized in advance), four of Aurora's seven libraries will close and the library system will lay off 40 people. I sympathize for an Auroran friend of mine who is in a library science graduate program right now.

While Aurora is shutting down libraries, Mayor Hickenlooper spared a branch library that was to have been shut down and Sunday hours at the Central Branch from this year's budget cuts. A replacement Colorado History museum is under construction half a block away from its current site (and in sight of the Central Branch library), which is being torn down to make way for a replacement to the structurally unsound state appellate courts building that shares the block with it. The appellate courts will move into the Denver Post Building across Civic Center Park from its current site in the interim. A new art museum is ready to break ground in December as a new addition to the Denver Art Museum complex, after a cost saving redesign and falling construction costs have reduced the estimated construction costs by $4 million dollars. Both the history and art museums receive major funding from the appointed Scientific and Cultural Facilities District in metropolitan Denver, a funding source that reflects the regional draw of these attractions.

The front range Regional Transportation District (RTD), in Colorado, in contrast, is far short of funds to complete its voter approved FasTracks rail expansion plan, but did win approval from a labor arbitrator of its contract proposal for its unionized workers while a more generous worker sponsored proposal was rejected. The arbitrator cited tough economic times for the district. Despite the FasTracks shortfall, RTD did not ask voters for additional funds in this election (nor did Denver).

No state level or federal offices or issues were on the ballot this year in Colorado.

Outside Colorado

Voters in Virginia and New Jersey elected Republican Governors. Both elections focused on personalities and local issues. Democrats kept a majority in the state legislature in New Jersey, while Republicans retained control in Virginia's legislature.

In Maine, a narrow majority of voters vetoed a gay marriage law enacted by the state legislature and signed by the Governor. Meanwhile, in Washington State were returns are always slow because ballots can be postmarked on election day, "Referendum 71, which sought to confer the same rights on domestic partnerships as civil marriages, was narrowly ahead in the latest returns."

Ohio voters authorized casino gambling in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo.

Maine and Washington State voters rejected proposed TABOR amendments similar to the one in place in Colorado.

Pro-streetcar candidates did well in local elections across the nation, including Cincinnati.

In New York State's special election to fill a Congressional vacancy:

Democrat Bill Owens defeated Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in New York's 23rd congressional district special election, 49%-45% (with 92% of the voting in), becoming the first Democrat to control the district since at least the 1890s. . . . It was something of an upset after it was widely considered a likely victory for Hoffman after the Republican pick, Dede Scozzafava, dropped out of the race over the weekend. Scozzafava did, however, endorse Owens -- though it was unclear what effect that would have. . . . Republicans now control just two of 29 districts in New York State -- one Upstate and one in Long Island. They have lost six districts Upstate just since 2006. They control zero seats in all of New England.

NY-23 is in rural northern New York State, north of Albany and Syracuse. Parts of the district have not been represented by Democrats since the 1850s, when the Whig party was the main party opposed to the Democrats. Democratic Congressman Bill Owens of New York is no relation to former Republican Governor Bill Owens of Colorado, despite the Today Show's screwup on that point.

Republican Mayor Bloomberg of New York City won a third term against a low profile Democratic party challenger, after a massively expensive campaign and the repeal of a term limits law. Bloomberg (like most Northeastern Republicans who hold elective office) is a moderate Republican in overwhelmingly Democratic New York City.

No comments: