As the local election results poured in Tuesday night, voters across El Paso County sent some surprising messages.
Nothing caused more shock than the convincing passage of two — yes, two — tax increases, one renewing the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority’s capital improvement projects for another decade (through 2024), the other giving Sheriff Terry Maketa about $17 million more a year for his department.
People who have followed and participated in local ballot issues couldn’t believe it. Many feared that Maketa’s proposal would offend voters enough that it might even endanger PPRTA’s fate. That didn’t happen. PPRTA steamrolled through with nearly 80 percent support, while Maketa’s measure prevailed with about 65 percent — both with broad business support.
So much for the long-held assumption that at least a third of El Paso County voters, if not more, would always say “no” to any ballot issue involving taxes, no matter what. Especially in a shaky economy, which still is the case here with the prospect of sequestration now an imminent threat.
We also might have to reassess another view, that no tax increase would have a chance in this county without a long, diligent, well-planned campaign. Maketa only began his push in August, and he didn’t have the backing of Mayor Steve Bach, which was thought to be a huge problem. Obviously, it wasn’t.
Then there’s the state Legislature. For the past two years, our county has enjoyed the benefit of a Republican majority in the House, with local lawmakers in various key leadership roles. That will change now, after Democrats won enough races — including two in Colorado Springs, by incumbent Pete Lee in HD 18 and Tony Exum Sr. in HD 17 — to regain the House majority with a cushion of somewhere between 36-29 and 38-27.
Granted, that means some of our GOP lawmakers like Reps. Amy Stephens and Mark Waller will go from being House majority leaders to minority status (Waller was chosen Thursday as the new House minority leader), and all House committee chairs now will be Democrats. But rest assured that Lee, having now won twice from this county, will be rewarded by his party, and Exum will have every chance to assert himself quickly.
As soon as his victory was apparent, Lee talked about making sure that his pro-business agenda items, such as economic gardening, would take high priority for the General Assembly starting in January. Exum also is determined to press for legislation “good for jobs and small businesses” in his district, which covers many economically challenged areas in southeast Colorado Springs.
But if you’re thinking that Dems controlling the Legislature will mean a swift and easy path for regulating the commercial sale of legalized marijuana, think again. Both Lee and Exum opposed Amendment 64 and won’t be changing their minds, which means all of the county’s legislators will be in agreement.
We’ve already found out the new House and Senate leadership positions, with Sen. John Morse of Colorado Springs taking over as president of the Senate. Committee assignments should be coming soon. Meanwhile, our county still has some strong-willed, established Republicans in the Legislature, led by House veterans Stephens, Waller and Bob Gardner, along with Bill Cadman in the Senate.
Both sides have said they’re willing to work together. Now we’ll see if it actually happens.