Updated 4:45 p.m. -- Change is in the air across Colorado after Election Day 2017. Denver's massive bond question passed, Douglas County schools appear set for a change in direction. Broomfield put limits on oil and gas drilling. We're updating those results and more here from environmental initiatives to more key school board races and efforts to support affordable housing in ski towns.
Denver’s $937 Million, 7-Part Bond Question Passes
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock declared victory Tuesday night for a big laundry list of projects through an almost billion-dollar bond issue, served up to voters as seven different ballot questions. "I’m proud to be a Denverite, I’m proud of what Denverites said tonight. They sent a resounding message, 'We’re moving in the right direction, let’s keep investing in our city,' " Hancock said. Here's how the measures break down:
- Question 2A: Transportation and Mobility, $431 million passes
- Question 2B: Denver Cultural Facilities, $116.9 million passes
- Question 2C: Denver Health and Hospital Authority, $75 million passes
- Question 2D: Denver Public Safety System, $77 million passes
- Question 2E: Denver Library System, $69.3 million passes
- Question 2F: Denver Parks and Rec, $151.6 million passes
- Question 2G: Denver Public Facilities, $16.5 million passes
Denver Public Schools Board Of Education
Union-backed candidates who oppose Denver Public Schools’ education reform agenda were unsuccessful Tuesday night, except for two: Carrie Olson, a current teacher at West Leadership Academy, managed to pry the District 3 seat away from incumbent Mike Johnson with a narrow lead. And Jennifer Bacon won a three-way race against an incumbent and an upstart.
Olson’s worries are not over yet, however. DPS policy prohibits current district employees from holding board seats. Olson has said that if elected, she would ask the rest of the board to reconsider the policy.
The three-way contest in District 4 ended in victory for Jennifer Bacon, who garnered union support and cash from a union-funded independent expenditure committee. Bacon’s victory is interesting considering she did not take hardline stances on charter schools or school closures that some other union-backed candidates campaigned on.
With a 10-point lead, Bacon beat out Rachele Espiritu, the appointee incumbent who had never before run for office. Bacon also beat out Tay Anderson, the 19-year-old recent graduate of Manual High School who won national media attention for his hard left campaign.
In District 2, which had no incumbent on the ballot, Angela Cobián handily won against Xochitl Gaytan. Gaytan had the backing of teacher’s unions, while Cobián was a virtual incumbent, backed by the support — and spending power — of current board members.
With a wide lead, Barbara O’Brien maintained a hold on her at-large board seat. She bested two candidates — Julie Bañuelos and Robert Speth — who campaigned on a change of direction for DPS. Both Bañuelos and Speth had backing from unions.
While Olson and Bacon’s wins signal a crack in the board’s iron-clad pro-reform agenda, tides are unlikely to change since union-backed candidates failed to overtake the board majority. However, the dynamic of the DPS board will definitely change.
Denver's Green Roof Initiative | Initiative 300
As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, backers of the green roof initiative continue to hold a few-thousand vote lead. Kathie Barstnar, co-chair of the opposition group, said Wednesday morning that it's unlikely her side will make up that gap. "We're going to take a few days to look at what our options are," she said.
Initiative 300 would require buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to dedicate some of their roof space to trees, plants, solar panels or a mix. The bigger the building, the more covering required. Existing buildings aren't covered under this rule unless they expand to above 25,000 square feet, or if they need a new roof.
Supporters say green roofs combat rising temperatures in the city, among other benefits. Critics don't disagree, but say a mandate is the wrong choice. Barstnar said she's telling worried developers to obtain their building permits before the measure would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
Mayor Michael Hancock was not a supporter of the initiative. But he said Wednesday, "We will have to have the city figure out how best to implement it within the laws and property rights that people have, and to make sure that the spirit of the law that the people have passed is implemented appropriately."
Aurora Public Schools Board Of Education
All four contested seats on the seven-member, all at-large Aurora Public Schools Board of Education will go to union-backed candidates.
That means change is on the horizon for Aurora Public Schools. Kyla Armstrong-Romero, Debra Gerkin, Kevin Cox and Marques Ivey made up the slate of winning candidates calling itself “Aurora’s A-Team.” Nine candidates total — including only one incumbent — were running.
Superintendent Rico Munn has, in recent years, moved to encourage charter schools under the APS umbrella. All four candidates have expressed reservations about inviting charters into the district, and they campaigned on slowing reform in order to shore up traditional district-run schools. Having won a board majority, it’s virtually guaranteed that “Aurora’s A-Team” will oversee a noticeable shift in APS policy moving forward.
Aurora City Council
There were five open seats, two of them held by incumbents being challenged by outsiders.
- Ward I: Crystal Murillo beats incumbent Sally Mounier
- Ward 2: Nicole Emily Johnston beats a field of four others
- Ward 3: Incumbent Marsha Berzins holds off all challengers
- At-Large (2): Allison Hiltz wins a a seat, and Dave Gruber has a small lead
Aurora's race turned into something of a proxy battle for oil and gas and environmental interests. The Aurora Sentinel reports an industry group dropped $100,000 dollars into the races at the last minute, although its preferred candidates did not prevail. In a press release Tuesday night, Conservation Colorado touted the victories of two candidates it was backing.
“Crystal [Murillo] and Nicole [Johnson] will bring a much-needed focus on diversity and inclusivity to the Aurora City Council, and will be champions on issues including oil and gas, transportation, growth, and social and environmental justice." Their election is expected to swing Aurora politics significantly to the left.
Grand Junction: Ballot Issues 3A, 3B Pass
In Grand Junction, voters handily passed both a sales tax boost and a property tax increase for schools and public safety. "We get to build a new middle school. We get to add five days to our academic calendar," said Kelly Flenniken, an organizer for the schools campaign. "We get to buy curriculum for the time we're [living] in right now." The measure marks the first financial boost for the public schools here since 2004.
Douglas County School Board: CommUnity Matters Slate Wins
Voters in the state’s third largest school district handed a resounding victory to four candidates who promise a different direction for Douglas County schools and an end to a contentious school voucher program.
The newly elected school board members -- Anthony Graziano, Chris Schor, Kevin Leung and Krista Holtzmann -- say their first order of business is to calm a district rocked with controversy since conservative members were elected in 2008. Since then a controversial curriculum, a market-based pay system for teachers, and cuts to high schools roiled many teachers and parents. All four winning candidates say the district has declined academically and the board lost public trust.
"Now we just need to get back to work on putting our students first, focusing on teachers and restoring fiscal accountability in our district," Graziano said.
Also high on the to-do list is rescinding a private school voucher program. It was initiated in 2011 but legal challenges blocked it from the get go. Though the school vouchers weren’t a big topic in campaign debates, the issue garnered national media attention because the case has legal ramifications for three dozen other states. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to Colorado to reconsider.
"I don’t know of any reason at this point why that wouldn’t be one of the very first things we do. To end that program, end the distraction," Holtzmann said.
Teachers at DougCo school board victory party: “It’s about parents who care so much about their kids.” “They [candidates] talked to teachers, they listened, and they got our backs.” #edcolo #ElectionDay pic.twitter.com/G9sxYkBw84— Jenny Brundin (@CPRBrundin) November 8, 2017
From the other side, "It’s a sad day for supporters of school choice in Douglas County, in Colorado, and in 37 other states.," said Grant Nelson, one of the board members defeated. "I want to wish Mr. Graziano, Ms. Shor, Mr. Leung, and Ms Holtzmann congratulations. They have worked hard and have a lot of work in front of them. I hope their victory will stop some of the raucous discourse that has been rampant in our community. I sincerely hope that they can lead with integrity, keep the best interest of county at heart, and keep our school district moving forward.
"The liberal left, the unions, and those who want to keep the status quo may have won, but, ultimately, I believe that they might have been able to fool some of the people some of the time, but they won’t be able to fool all of the people all of the time and someday parents' rights and what’s right for our children will prevail," he added.
Broomfield Oil And Gas Regulations | Question 301 Passes
The deadly gas line explosion in Firestone earlier this year helped propel Ballot Question 301, which states in part that, "Broomfield shall condition oil and gas development permits to require oil and gas development to only occur in a manner that does not adversely impact the health, safety, and welfare of Broomfield’s residents in their workplaces, their homes, their schools, and public parks in order to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare and to safeguard the environment and wildlife resources."
“We’ve been talking about it, the governor’s council has talking about it. Nothing has happened yet. And so we’re saying we’ve had enough," said supporter Neil Allaire Tuesday night. "When the city does regulate oil and gas that it will do so in a way that prioritizes the health, safety, welfare of the community and the environment.”
Supporters spent about $35,000 on their campaign, with most of the money coming from the Sierra Club. And they won despite being outspent heavily by business and trade groups, which together put about $350,000 into their failed effort.
Opponents of the measure, including Dan Haley, president and CEO of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, say the measure is illegal un that local governments are limited in how they can regulate oil and gas. Ultimately, he says, it’s state law that needs to look after the health, safety and welfare of citizens.
“It’s probably easy to read that and think it was a reasonable ballot measure. But in fact it is an illegal ballot measure," he said.
Fort Collins High Speed Internet | Ballot Question 2B Passes
Fort Collins voters approved Ballot Question 2B, which gives the go ahead for a $150 million bond issue so the city can build out high-speed internet. It was the biggest in a series of broadband proposals put to residents of cities and counties across the state.
Under the proposal, Fort Collins officials could decide to create and operate a telecommunications utility, partner with a private company or stay out of the business altogether. The Coloradoan reports that by late Tuesday the measure was leading with 56.77 percent of the vote.
Crested Butte Vacation Rental Tax | Ballot Initiative 2A
Ballot Initiative 2A, a tax on vacation rentals to pay for affordable housing programs, was passing by a wide margin late Tuesday. With just under 40 percent of the votes counted, about 80 percent of voters were backing the measure, according to the Secretary of State.
The Crested Butte News says a yes vote would mean an additional 5 percent sales tax on those rentals, worth about $300,000 annually. Ski towns are struggling with affordable housing for employees. Some blame the booming popularity of short-term vacation rentals for pricing locals out of the market.
Boulder voters appear to have narrowly approved a ballot measure that would extend a tax to study creating a municipal utility. It was a close vote. But supporters say next steps are clear. More work between Boulder and Xcel will reveal the true costs of the project. Voters will get the final say in three to five years.
In Pueblo County, voters rejected a proposal to raise the sales tax to build a new jail. The jail is one of the most over-crowded in the state and the local sheriff has warned the county could be at risk of a lawsuit if nothing changes. So, local officials banded together behind the idea of temporarily raising the sales tax by 0.45 percent to build a new jail, and re-purpose part of the old one as a detox center.
A similar plan to raise taxes for a new jail failed only two years ago ... and apparently Pueblo voters haven't changed their minds since then. In a statement Tuesday night, the county commission said it will have to take a hard look at how to address infrastructure, liability, and safety without additional money.
In Colorado Springs, Mayor John Suthers is celebrating after voters approved a new fee to fund storm water drainage. This means the city won't have to devote its own funds to the issue and Suthers can hire up to 100 more police officers. El Paso County voters in general were in a spending mood: the county will be allowed to put millions of dollars into widening I-25 instead of sending the money back to taxpayers.
Ann Marie Awad, Jenny Brundin, Grace Hood, Ben Markus, Xandra McMahon, Allison Sherry and Megan Verlee contributed to this story.