Partisanship and money have dominated some Colorado local elections this year

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Colorado’s school board and municipal elections are non-partisan, but that’s really just the name.

While the candidates may not be identified as Republicans or Democrats on the ballot, a lot of partisan spending and support occurs behind the scenes.

This was especially true this year, when the Conservatives spent a lot to win the municipal election on November 2. The biggest Republican victory last week came in Aurora City Council contests, where Tory candidates won three of five races. The victories cost $ 829,000 in independent committee expenses.

Election observers say increased racial partisanship at the most basic level of governance is a mixed proposition.

“When elections get more partisan, voters have a better idea of ​​what’s going on,” said Seth Masket, a professor of political science at the University of Denver who heads the school’s Center on American Politics. “It becomes easier to follow factions in a city council. At the same time, you are also losing some of the pragmatic negotiation that can happen. And you lose some level of functionality in city government.

The Colorado Municipal League, which represents municipalities in the state, is monitoring the increase in partisanship, said Meghan Dollar, the group’s legislative advocacy manager. Dollar said it was possible that in the future cities would include labels with the names of candidates on municipal ballots.

“At the end of the day, whether municipalities decide to put an R or D or even an I next to it, the league has no position on it,” Dollar said. “We’re monitoring it to see if it’s something our members choose to do. “

A Colorado Sun analysis of this year’s competitive city contests found that of the Republican-approved candidates, 23 won, 23 lost, and a race result is pending a recount. The Democratic-backed candidates won 23 races and lost 10.

But, in particular, the GOP obtained or retained majorities in the city councils of Aurora, Westminster, Greenwood Village and Loveland.

The day after the election, Colorado GOP President Kristi Burton Brown sent an email touting wins in municipal contests. “WE ARE IN CONTROL NOW” the email was circulated about Aurora and several other cities.

Democratic Party President Morgan Carroll herself emailed supporters, praising the victories in several municipal elections, while also implicitly noting the losses: “So as you can see … the last night was a mixed bag!

Black currency GOP groups back Aurora candidates

Two Republican-aligned groups backed the candidates for the Aurora city council election.

These were Auroras for a Safe and Prosperous Future, which reported spending almost $ 603,000, and Aurora Forward, which spent nearly $ 226,000. The money was used for digital and radio ads, direct mail, text messages to voters, and other initiatives supporting GOP candidates.

Both groups were funded by the Colorado Rising Action Fund, which contributed $ 554,000, the Workforce Fairness Institute, which contributed $ 234,000, and the Better Jobs Coalition, which contributed $ 50,000. All three of these organizations are conservative nonprofits that do not disclose who gave them their money.

Compare that with just under $ 150,000 in spending by three committees – Conservation Colorado Victory Fund, New American Victory Fund, and Aurora Working Families Party – on behalf of five progressive candidates, of which only two won.

These committees have also been funded by nonprofits who also do not disclose their donors. Green Advocacy represented $ 60,000 in donations, the League of Conservation Voters $ 43,500, Colorado People’s Action $ 34,000 and the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition Action Fund $ 10,000.

The winning candidates supported by the GOP included Dustin Zvonek, who previously headed the Colorado branch of Americans for Prosperity and who also worked with Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman’s congressional campaigns. Zvonek and veteran and Republican-backed businesswoman Danielle Jurinsky won two seats overall. And restaurateur Steve Sundberg won the Ward II board seat.

Democrat John Ronquillo placed third in the all-around, about 2,500 votes behind Jurinsky.

“After that first report (on campaign funding), I knew it would be an uphill battle, which I thought we were going to be able to overcome,” Ronquillo said. “Although our partisan affiliations weren’t on the ballot, the money from this race was absolutely partisan.”

A letter sent by Aurorans for a Safe and Prosperous Future claimed Ronquillo would fund the police, ignore the housing crisis and allow “homeless people to camp near our homes, parks and businesses.” This is despite Ronquillo’s emphasis on affordable housing, police and firefighter retention, and addressing homelessness.

The outside group Aurorans for a Safe And Prosperous Future sent this letter criticizing Aurora city council candidate John Ronquillo, who said he was distorting his positions.

Following the mailing, Ronquillo said, “I lost the Democratic votes.”

Zvonek said the prevalence of out-of-home spending this year could be attributed to Aurora City Council’s decision last year to limit donations directly to candidates.

“When you limit the ability to give directly to applicants, it tends to find its way elsewhere,” he said. “There has always been a certain level of spending outside of Aurora. He just had never reached that level.

Two other candidates backed by Republicans and black money groups, Bill Gondrez in Ward I and Jono Scott in Ward III, lost to incumbent Crystal Murillo and newcomer Ruben Medina respectively. Murillo and Medina were both backed by Democrats.

Yet, as Burton Brown noted in his email, the victories shift the majority in Aurora City Council from Progressives to Conservatives. The GOP-backed candidates campaigned on tackling crime and homelessness, issues the party hopes to highlight in the 2022 general election at federal and state levels.

This news first appeared in The Unaffiliated. Subscribe here for the Colorado Sun biweekly political bulletin.

Lots of money in Loveland, Thornton contest

Meanwhile, in Loveland, a nonprofit called Advancing Northern Colorado spent nearly $ 114,000 to support three Republican-backed candidates in town hall contests. The candidates were Patrick McFall in Ward I, Steve Olson in Ward III and Jon Mallo in Ward IV.

Former University of Colorado regent Tom Lucero, a Republican, is listed as the group’s registered agent, which does not have to reveal its donors.

McFall and Olson won their contests, while Mallo led by just five votes in the Ward IV race on Wednesday, with a recount pending.

Mayor Jacki Marsh was re-elected against City Councilor Don Overcash, who was backed by Advancing Northern Colorado.

The Better Jobs Coalition state super PAC also said it spent more than $ 60,000 to support six candidates for the Commerce City and Thornton council competitions.

Rick Davis won the Ward III council seat in Commerce City, while on Wednesday morning Sean Ford edged Richard Thompson by 20 votes for the second of two open seats. All three were supported by Better Jobs.

In Thornton, Tony Unrein, Jessica Sandgren and Angie Bedolla were supported by the Better Jobs Coalition and business groups. The National Association of Realtors said it donated more than $ 56,000 to independent spending committees supporting Unrein, Sandgren and Bedolla, while a state super PAC funded by the Metro Housing Coalition spent $ 20,000 to support all three.

Unrein and Sandgren won their races, while Bedolla lost to Karen Bigelow.

Conservation Colorado, a liberal-leaning nonprofit, said it invested more than $ 1,800 in a committee that donated to four candidates, including Bigelow.

In Greenwood Village, the four GOP-backed candidates won city council seats despite a Democratic-oriented group called Future Forward Colorado, which spent about $ 29,000 to support seven candidates. There were eight seats in total up for grabs.

Democratic State Representative Meg Frolich of Englewood donated $ 13,500 to Future Forward Colorado and her brother Derek Kruizenga donated $ 8,000 to the group.

And in Broomfield, progressive candidates swept the mayoral race and council seats with little outside spending to support their campaigns. This contrasts with 2017, when the city was a battleground for oil and gas regulation.

Here is a list of municipal candidates approved by Republicans and Democrats and the results of their contests.


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