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Record Heat in Politics

With Primary In Rearview, Minds Turn To November General

With two months in the rearview, this year’s legislative session has faded – at least temporarily. The talk for the past month has focused on Colorado’s June 26 primary election, in particular the campaigns for those seeking to become the next governor of Colorado.

For the Democrats, Jared Polis won. He will face Republican Walker Stapleton in the November election. Several other statewide races were also in play: For Attorney General, Democrat Phil Weiser emerged the likely winner as of press time, and will run against Republican George Brauchler. In the Treasurer’s race, Democrat Dave Young will run against Republican Brian Watson.

This was the first primary election in Colorado after the 2016 passage of Proposition 108, which allowed unaffiliated voters to participate in partisan primary elections. More than 1.1 million voters in Colorado are unaffiliated – that is, they are not tied to a political party. Roughly the same number of voters are identified with the Republican and Democratic parties, meaning that unaffiliated voters represents slightly more than a third of the active voters in Colorado.

Although unaffiliated voters could participate in partisan primary elections in the past, Proposition 108 changed and simplified the process. Very simply, unaffiliated voters received two ballots, one for the Democratic slate and one for the Republican slate in the primary elections. Those unaffiliated voters could fill out only one ballot – either the Democratic ballot or the Republican ballot. There were some glitches this year, as the Secretary of State reported hundreds of ballots were invalidated when voters completed and returned both party ballots.

As of press time, 24 percent of the ballots returned were from unaffiliated voters, which is a hugely significant number coming from those who previously had not participated in primaries before. And, those unaffiliated voters decidedly skewed blue.

All of the gubernatorial candidates took pledges to run clean campaigns, but negative ads graced the airways by virtue of the independent expenditure committees that operate legally but in the shadows of Colorado campaign finance laws. These independent issue committees, often aligned to one candidate or another, don’t take clean campaign pledges and are not reluctant to take shots at different candidates.

With the primary now over, the focus will quickly turn to the November general election. Likely these primary campaign winners, as well as pundits and engaged voters, will now be debating a number of the measures that were passed by the legislature and vetoed by Governor John Hickenlooper in a record nine vetoes after this year’s legislative session.

Marijuana “tasting rooms” and the issue around recreational and personal use of marijuana will likely be hot topics in the coming months.

Hickenlooper vetoed the legislation that would have allowed these tasting rooms to be established, pursuant to a regulator structure, throughout the state.

The veto of the bill prohibiting members of the state’s Sex Offender Management Board from financially benefitting from their panel discussions was also hotly contested. Hickenlooper called the bill redundant and overbroad, and many legislators on a bipartisan basis felt that members of the board had been engaged in inappropriate self-dealing based on their positions.

Another bill that would have allowed people with autism to be eligible to use medical marijuana was also vetoed by the governor, with the feeling that it was encouraging young people to look to marijuana as an antidote to their autism problems. Many parents impacted by young people with special needs were particularly disappointed in that veto by the governor.

Hickenlooper also vetoed another marijuana industry bill that would have allowed publicly traded corporations to invest in the marijuana business, while also loosening reporting requirements for counties to cover public financial information in newspapers.

Hickenlooper also vetoed a measure with broad bipartisan support that would have shielded child autopsies from public inspection.

Many county coroners and victims of crime had said that sharing this information regarding their loss with the public was unnecessarily painful and invasive. News organizations felt that exempting the autopsy reports from disclosure would have potentially shielded elected coroners from public scrutiny, and would have prevented investigative reporting into certain crimes with regard to children, particularly those who might have been at risk.

The nine vetoes were the most ever by Hickenlooper by a legislative session, with five in 2014 being his prior record.

Enjoy your summer, and enjoy the record heat. We have already set three record high temperatures during the month of June. Enjoy running in the backyard sprinklers.

Penfield W. Tate III is an attorney with Kutak Rock and serves on a number of nonprofit boards. He represented Park Hill in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1997 to 2000, and in the State Senate from 2001 to February 2003, when he resigned from the Senate to run for Mayor of Denver. Penfield’s adult daughter was born and raised in Park Hill, and he and his wife Paulette remain in the neighborhood.

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