Colorado GOP a Minority in Numbers, But Not in Voice

DENVER (CN) – Colorado Republicans exercised every power they could through the 2019 legislative session, refusing to be counted out as the minority party as they packed hundreds of constituents into committee meetings, filed lawsuits, and revived the tradition of reading full bills out loud.

Will it be enough to keep the swing state’s pendulum in motion?

“We’ve had one-party control in the state and we’ve always come back, whether that takes two years or six years; I don’t think there’s a permanent majority in this state for either party,” said Sage Naumann, communications director for the Colorado Senate Republicans. “I can’t predict when it will happen, but at some point in time, one of those legs will fall.”

While Colorado has traditionally swung between parties, it turned decidedly blue after the 2018 midterm elections packed Democrats into the Legislature and the governor’s house.

The formerly conservative 6th District elected Democratic Rep. Jason Crow over the incumbent, and two Colorado Democrats are running in the presidential primary: former Gov. John Hickenlooper and three-term Senator Michael Bennet.

By the secretary of state’s numbers, there are 992,797 registered Republicans, 1 million Democrats and 1.3 million unaffiliated voters.

“Conservatives are in a funk, let’s face it,” said Dr. William B. Allen, a visiting scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “But we still have an important thing going for us – that is to say from the founding we have proven that we can govern ourselves and we can return to that.”

With its lead, the Democrat-stacked statehouse passed a bill signed by Gov. Jared Polis this year putting the state’s three Electoral College votes into the national popularity pot – a thorn in the side of 40,000 Coloradans who joined a Facebook page to recall Polis over the issue.

“I think it’s vitally important that the conservatives take up this popular vote and bring it before the voters,” Allen said. “The leadership in the state of Colorado is sacrificing the interest of Colorado voters with the popular vote law and it’s going to mean Colorado will become insignificant in presidential elections from here after.”

In other states, conservatives have honed in on anti-abortion or free-speech platforms, but Republicans in Colorado carry messages that appeal to Libertarians and say many decisions should be made directly by voters. In addition to the popular vote, Republicans asked to let voters decide on major changes to Colorado’s energy sector.

They were denied on both propositions.

Another Democrat-backed bill establishing a family medical leave insurance program funded by employee-paid premiums also gained the ire of Republicans in the state.

“I’m insulted that the Legislature would think I couldn’t tell the difference between a premium and a tax,” said Patti Kurgan, formerly the Colorado field director for Americans for Prosperity. The Taxpayer Bill of Rights, enshrined in the state constitution, requires that all government tax increases be approved by voters.

In the end, the bill was watered down into a study on the impacts of such a program.

“We did everything we could to make sure that the voices of our constituents were heard loud and clear and to make sure that the overreach from the Democrats was made aware of,” Naumann said. “I think that Republicans in the Legislature did that and I think it’s the first time a minority has certainly in recent history really made its mark on the legislative session.”

Many say the party doesn’t need to adapt to win over voters in future elections.

“I think if it attempts to adapt, that we will see the demise of the Republican Party,” argued Kim Monson, host of the conservative-libertarian podcast Americhicks.

“I really think that American idea still pulses through our veins, and that the real trick is articulating that,” Monson said. “That’s the challenge because it’s a lot easier to tell somebody that you’re going to give them free stuff, than to say you’re going to give them the opportunity to prosper and go after their own economic well-being.”

But a good number of voters stand in the middle, and in Colorado, unaffiliated voters make up the majority.

Jason Freyensee, an electrician who described himself as a progressive among conservatives, is most concerned about having access to affordable health care and said he has yet to see a viable solution proposed.

Freyensee is attending political events in search of answers but he said is likely to support another red shift because “if you back a Republican against a wall, they’ll say, ‘Well, maybe I’m misinformed,’” he said. “If you back a Democrat against a wall, they turn on you and say, ‘You’re misinformed.’”

With the Legislature in recess, Polis is looking through the stack of bills on his desk, and many Republicans are resting their feet in anticipation of another marathon next year.

“Of course the Democrats got hung up near the end of the calendar and didn’t get things through that they wanted,” Naumann said. “I think we’re going to see things that didn’t get passed will be back next year.”

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