There was a large turnout for the Nov. 6, 2015, Buechner Breakfast First Friday titled “What Did We Vote For? And What Does It Mean?”
While 2015 was an “off” election year, there were a number of important local and statewide issues on the ballot, including:
- Jefferson County school board recall
- Denver tax issues: college scholarships (2A) and stock show (2C)
- School board races in Denver and Aurora
- State marijuana taxes (Proposition BB)
Election results show that all 3 JeffCo school board members were recalled; ballot measure 2A (college financial aid) failed while 2C (stock show) and 1A (airport commercial development) passed by wide margins; and, proposition BB (marijuana tax revenue) passed by a wide margin.
Four panelists discussed the results:
- Lynea Hansen, Senior VP at Strategies 360 (worked on pro-recall side of Jeff Co school board races)
- Sheila Atwell, Director of Jeff Co Students First (anti-recall group)
- Cary Kennedy, Denver CFO and Deputy Mayor
- Sean Walsh, President of Sean Walsh consulting (Republican strategist, involved with Aurora races)
Hansen stated that traditional media was the big loser in the JeffCo recall: both sides’ positions were misrepresented and misunderstood by mainstream media, and both recall supporters and opponents relied heavily on social media. Atwell noted that some of the language on the ballot in JeffCo was inaccurate; Hansen acknowledged that the language was actually pulled from the Denver Post and should have been better fact-checked before being placed on the ballot.
Kennedy noted that 2 landmark initiatives for Denver — the airport and stock show ballot measures — received overwhelming support and will have a positive impact on the city for years to come. She noted that support for 2C (stock show) was much stronger among those who have lived in Denver or Colorado for some time and had a better understanding of the show’s history and importance to the city.
While many elections and ballot measures resulted in intense polarization, Walsh noted that he was encouraged by examples of compromise and collaboration in Vail and Lake County. In both cases opposing sides were able to work out acceptable compromises for local ballot measures before the elections, resulting in both measures passing by large margins.
All panelists remarked on the need to encourage members of underrepresented groups to run for office and to increase the diversity of the candidate pool. An important part of that effort will involve searching for ways to address the barriers to running for office that members of underrepresented groups often face. Dean Teske noted in an earlier Inflection Point blog post that nationwide, despite changing demographics, candidates on ballots do not reflect those changes. While about 64% of Americans are white, 96% of Republican candidates are white and 82% of Democrats. In addition, about two-thirds of candidates are white males, who make up only about 32% of the population.
As for what this all might mean for the 2016 elections, Walsh stated that it really doesn’t have any bearing. Off-year elections tend to draw different voters who are focused on different issues than what you see in a typical election year — particularly a presidential election year. Walsh also noted that while large sums of money from out of state were spent on the 2015 elections in Colorado, it pales in comparison to what will be spent in the coming year due to Colorado’s swing state status.
A slideshow from the event is below. A recording can also be viewed on the School of Public Affairs playlist on YouTube.