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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The election that Democrats lost big time a week ago

Voting down education (ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Voting down education (ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Which is the most important result of Tuesday’s election?

A. A Republican governor won a landslide election in a blue state.

B. A Democrat was elected governor in a purple state during intense criticism of a new federal government program.

C. An outspoken liberal Democrat was elected mayor in a big city — where opposition parties had been in power for 20 years.

D. An education funding amendment lost in a mountain state.

If you said D, you’re correct.

On Tuesday, Amendment 66 was defeated in Colorado, with preliminary results suggesting a drubbing of two-to-one opposed. It would have improved education funding with slight tax increases and changed Colorado’s flat tax to a two-tiered, progressive structure.

The goal was a major overhaul of education finance, with reduced disparities at the local level and increased spending — including funding for early childhood programs, rural education and at-risk youth programs

Millions of dollars poured into the state to support the amendment. High-profile backing came from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Melinda Gates. But the more than $10 million spent in support of the amendment wasn’t enough to convince skeptical voters.

The defeat of Amendment 66 should worry Democrats. This is about as close as you can get to the main thrust of the Democratic Party’s progressive agenda: raise taxes on wealthier people to fund investments in the future.

Even in liberal Boulder County, however, the measure barely eked out a majority. Outside of Boulder and Denver, the measure failed miserably, including in largely Latino counties, like Adams (35 percent in support to 65 percent opposed), Arapahoe (35 percent to 65 percent), and Pueblo. Pueblo, you may recall, is part of state Senate District 3 — where Democratic state Senator Angela Giron was recalled in September over her vote to ban high-capacity magazine clips.

After President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election and recent Democratic victories in New York City and Virginia, many on the left suggested that the country is becoming overwhelmingly liberal. But the Colorado elections are a cautionary tale.

The big, bold education investments requested — a key pillar of the progressive agenda — were rejected by two-thirds of Colorado’s voters, and quashed in key Hispanic counties.

It’s tempting to blame these results on an off-year electorate. But the truth is likely more complex. Coloradoans have passed a great deal of progressive change in a short time — universal background checks for gun purchases, civil unions, marijuana legalization, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and mail-in ballots statewide. Perhaps voters felt a proposed major restructure of education financing funded by increasing taxes was, finally, too much change.

The federal government shutdown and these recent recalls of state legislatures who had support stricter gun laws may have created an environment conducive to the status quo in the wake of partisan struggles. Or maybe the problems with the Affordable Care Act website made voters leery of big government programs or major restructuring of government services.

Whatever the motivation of Colorado voters, two things are clear. First, they weren’t ready to raise taxes to fund widely popular education investments. Second, between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s 51 percent support from Latinos in his re-election victory and tepid support in Colorado for education investments in heavily Hispanic counties, it would be unwise for Democrats to assume Latinos are overwhelmingly liberal — or will be reliable Democratic partisans in future elections.


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