Editor’s note: Republican Lauren Boebert defeated Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush by a margin of 51% to just under 45.6% in the 3rd Congressional District race on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Republican Bob Rankin edged Democrat Karl Hanlon in state Senate District 8 by 986 votes. Garfield County commissioners Mike Samson and John Martin narrowly retained their seats.
Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District race for many years was an afterthought for political reporters in Denver – let alone nationally. A seemingly safe Republican seat held by an unremarkable conservative in Scott Tipton, there were rarely any big headlines.
Tipton, a Cortez businessman in the native pottery trade, edged blue-dog Democrat rancher John Salazar by four points in 2010 and spent the next five terms over a decade toeing the GOP line and making very few waves. He easily fended off four Democrats by between 22 and 8 points, including the current Democratic candidate, Diane Mitsch Bush, who came closest in 2018.
Then came open-carry restaurant owner, gun-rights hardliner and QAnon-dabbler Lauren Boebert, who hopes the dangerously false conspiracy theory is true because it would underscore America’s conservative “values.” Boebert knocked off the Trump-endorsed and Trump Colorado campaign co-chair Tipton — running far to his right — by a nearly nine-point margin.
Boebert is brash, outspoken — often contradictory and uninformed on critical issues – but she’s polling within a couple of points of Mitsch Bush and could win the district. Some Republicans in her home Garfield County have endorsed Mitsch Bush and others have said they support Boebert in principle but are not outright endorsing her – an odd distinction.
If Boebert does eke out a win in what’s expected to be another blue wave in Colorado, the seat will no doubt be competitive again in two years, with more traditional Republican opponents lining up in the primary and Democrats (likely other than Mitsch Bush after her two bites at the apple) suddenly quite energized.
However, there’s one big caveat to all of that, which is redistricting at the hands of Colorado’s new, bipartisan independent redistricting committee formed by a vote of the people in 2018 and charged with redrawing the congressional district maps using 2020 U.S. Census data.
The geographically massive 3rd District, which includes all of 28 of Colorado’s 64 counties and two-thirds of a 29th (Eagle County), will no doubt go under the redistricting knife. And Colorado as a whole could gain an eighth House seat due to population growth.
Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses the eastern third of Eagle County on down to the northern Front Range and is a virtual lock for incumbent Democrat Joe Neguse, could also see some changes in the redistricting process.
The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions are seeking nominations through Tuesday, Nov. 10 (see press release at the end of this story).
Karl Hanlon, a Carbondale rancher and Glenwood Springs attorney who lost to Mitsch Bush in the 2018 Democratic CD3 primary, is currently running for the state Senate District 8 seat held by retired Republican engineer Bob Rankin, also of Carbondale. SD8 is a GOP-leaning northwestern Colorado district that includes neighboring Summit County, but not Eagle County.
“I need to win the election that’s in front of me right now, and we need to see what redistricting looks like; [it’s] going to be interesting,” Hanlon answered when asked if he was eyeing the newly competitive CD3 race. “And we need to see what the world looks like in ’22.”
Rankin, a moderate Republican who’s had to work across the aisle in Denver because he’s been in the minority his whole time in the legislature, admits he would never say he doesn’t support President Donald Trump but also says he doesn’t “share his personality or his political methods.”
That being said, Rankin likes his work in state assembly and has no interest in going to Washington no matter what happens in the current election.
“I don’t want to be one of 435 representatives whose full-time job is raising money and trying to condemn his fellow representatives,” Rankin said. “I like working and I have a long investment in the Colorado House and Senate. I know everybody. I like people on both sides of the aisle. I enjoy the work.”
Rankin said he sides with Boebert on the Republican principles of small government, individual freedom and free markets even if she has some catching up to do on the big issues facing the nation.
“In principle, I agree with Lauren and I believe that she has the ability to learn the issues,” Rankin said.
Asked if, in retrospect, he would have thrown his hat in the ring knowing Boebert has suddenly made CD3 so much more competitive, Rankin reiterated his disdain for going to Washington.
“Shoot, I would have no interest whatsoever in running for CD3 and I would not have run against Tipton,” Rankin said. “He worked the way I do, on real issues and real jobs. Well, if I didn’t like my current job and I cared about making more money, I might. But … I would have had to have primaried Tipton, and I wouldn’t have done that.”
Regardless of what happens in today’s general election, CD3 is in for some big changes, with a woman guaranteed to represent the mostly Western Slope district for the first time and then redistricting for the next cycle. But, in many ways, its issues will remain the same.
Those issues center on health care access and affordability and overall economic opportunity. Democrats want to continue building on Obamacare, expanding Medicaid and forcing down prescription drug and hospital costs, while Republicans are more focused on scrapping Obamacare, getting government out of the way and letting free markets take over again.
That, of course, would mean insurance companies could go back to denying applicants for preexisting conditions for anything from a mild case of scoliosis to cancer to COVID-19. The Western Slope of Colorado, for a variety of reasons, has some of the highest rates in the nation.
Economically, the two parties diverge dramatically on the best model for generating and sustaining high-paying jobs. Boebert’s Contract With Colorado borrows the old Sarah Palin chestnut, “Drill baby, drill!”, while Mitsch Bush is more focused on renewable energy to combat climate change. Those differences are reflected on the ground in Garfield County as well.
Democrat Leslie Robinson, a longtime environmental activist who lives just a few blocks from Boebert’s Shooters Grill restaurant in Rifle, is running for Garfield County commissioner against three-term incumbent Republican Mike Samson, a former educator at Rifle High School.
Robinson believes residents of her county are sick of bending over backwards for the oil and gas industry, the way the three current Republicans have done for years. She’s hopeful that she and fellow Democrat Beatriz Soto, who’s challenging longtime Republican incumbent John Martin, can catch a blue anti-Trump wave and start a Domino effect on the Western Slope.
“If Democrats win Garfield County, then who’s next? Delta? Montrose? Some other counties?” Robinson said. “If Beatriz and I can crack that wall or chip that concrete ceiling and break it, over the years that is going to change the whole political complexity … It’ll take a while, but it could change the political conservatism into conservationism.”
Robinson says the current commissioners have foolishly been spending critical county funds on propping up the industry and lobbying against oil and gas safety regulations at a time when residents of the county desperately need help during the global pandemic.
“Those funds are now going to quote unquote, save the oil and gas industry, the most powerful and richest industry in the world,” Robinson said. “Instead of wasting money on that, wouldn’t it be better to put that money towards helping small businesspeople in Garfield County, maybe subsidize the rents, maybe react better to the food shortages going on?”
Samson argues government must step in to give the county’s leading industry a hand.
“The lion’s share of the prosperity to our county has been from oil and gas,” Samson said. “Why kill the goose that laid the golden egg? Do we need protections? Why sure. But why do they have to be so onerous? How brutal you want to make on the industry? It’s leaving; it’s leaving.”
Samson laments the fact there’s only one active natural gas rig running in the county – a factor of the global pandemic and associated economic downturn, most experts say. And he is dead set against overregulating the industry to combat climate change, which he argues is cyclical and not necessarily the cause of this summer and fall’s record-shattering wildfires in Colorado.
“Climate change throughout the history of the world, it comes and goes,” Samson said. “Sometimes you have a wet period and cycle and sometimes you have a dry [cycle]. It bothers me when people say all the forest fires are started because of this and that. I believe a big reason why these forest fires rage like this is because of the mismanagement.”
Hanlon says climate change can’t be avoided, whether it’s in energy-dependent Moffat County or tourism-reliant Summit County. Growing up on a ranch in Jackson County, Hanlon points out days in the 80s in the summer were a rarity and now they’re the norm, which makes the transition to clean energy and the mitigation of climate change a must – especially when it comes to replacing coal, oil and gas jobs with other industries and business models.
“Those are the kinds of things we need to be doing, and we need to be forward-thinking and investing money in places like that,” Hanlon said. “The Garfield County commissioners continue to beat the drum that if we just somehow magically make natural gas come back …”
He points to their obsession with the proposed Jordan Cove pipeline project that would connect Colorado natural gas fields to ports in Oregon for the transporting of liquified natural gas to Japan and other Asian counties. The project faces numerous hurdles.
“They’re investing money, taxpayer dollars in lobbying, taking out ads in Oregon and the [Portland] Oregonian, trying to pressure the governor to approve the Jordan Cove project,” Hanlon said. “And when you think about what they could have done with those resources, and more importantly, the time they had, knowing that we’re in a boom and bust economy and to work our way to something other than being in a boom and bust, it’s a failure of leadership.”
Rankin does not deny human-caused climate change and acknowledges the need to move toward renewables but he says the human toll of shutting down fossil fuels must be considered.
“It’s market forces, although regulations are hurting,” Rankin said of the slowdown in coal, oil and gas. “It’s unfortunate that it’s become an ideological debate, and that leads to my good friends in the legislature wanting to do what I consider symbolic moves to prematurely close the fossil fuel industry. I think it’s inevitable and good that we will transition more to renewables.
“But when I look at it, first of all I start with the misery inflicted on my constituents, but then I look at the impact on the world stage, and for negligible, almost nonexistent, impact on the world stage, we want to close the Craig coal mine,” Rankin added. “The benefit to climate change just doesn’t exist because others [around the world] are still building coal plants at a rapid clip.”
Independent redistricting commissions making final push for applications
Applications for Colorado’s first Independent Congressional and Legislative Redistricting Commissions close on November 10, 2020.
As of November 2, the Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission has received 349 applications, and the Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission has received 234 applications. An overview document with demographic information about these applicants is attached, and posted on the commissions’ website. Full listings of applicants for each commission are also available on the website at https://redistricting.colorado.gov/congressional_applicants/ and https://redistricting.colorado.gov/legislative_applicants/
The Colorado Independent Redistricting Commissions were created by Amendments Y and Z in 2018. The amendments anticipated at least 1,050 applicants for each commission, divided somewhat evenly among Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. Detailed information about the selection process is available on the commissions’ website under “Commissions.”
The 12 members of each commission will be selected from their respective applicant pools by a combination of random draw and review by retired judges and legislative leadership, after vetting by nonpartisan staff to ensure minimum qualifications are met. This process will begin in January 2021, with the full congressional commission selected by March 1, 2021, and the full legislative commission selected by March 16, 2021.
Anyone interested in the redistricting process may sign up for our mailing list via a subscription link on the website. Follow commission staff on Twitter @CORedistricting