Colorado moves left, electing 1st openly gay governor in U.S.

Associated Press

Generating its own "blue wave," Colorado moved markedly left in the midterm elections, choosing the nation's first openly gay governor, ousting a five-term GOP congressman and capturing key state offices held by Republicans.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Polis handily defeated Republican state Treasurer Walker Stapleton in Tuesday's race to succeed centrist Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is term-limited and considering a 2020 presidential run.

It was a dramatic moment for Colorado, dubbed a "hate state" nationwide when voters in 1992 approved a ban on municipal antidiscrimination laws to protect gay people. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law as unconstitutional four years later.

Polis, who is also the state's first Jewish governor, acknowledged his landmark election, introducing his partner, Marlon Reis, as "the first first man in the history of Colorado" during his victory speech. He also thanked "LGTBQ pioneers" who fought through a 2006 Colorado voter ban on gay marriage.

"Simply put, this is an unprecedented and a historic night," said Daniel Ramos, executive director of One Colorado, the state's largest LGBTQ advocacy organization. "Tonight, voters rejected hate and division and elected leaders who will represent and fight for all of their constituents, no matter who they are or who they love."

In a state where unaffiliated voters outnumber both Democrats and Republicans, Colorado residents clearly opted for Democrats largely as a check on a Republican Party led by President Donald Trump, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric never played well in the state.

Resentment against Trump helped Democratic first-term candidate Jason Crow defeat longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman. Coffman pushed his self-described moderate stance on immigration and his occasional bucking of the GOP to try to persuade voters to keep him.

Democrats sought to take away the office of attorney general and captured both the state treasurer and secretary of state's offices from Republicans. Under Republican Wayne Williams, the secretary of state's office won nationwide accolades for establishing one of the most secure and voter-friendly elections systems in the U.S.

Democrats also were poised to seize control of the state Senate, which the GOP holds by a one-vote margin. With Polis as governor and party control of both chambers, Democrats vowed to pursue initiatives stymied by Senate Republicans on gun control, health care and Colorado's strict limits on taxes and spending.

But despite the political shift, Colorado soundly rejected several proposals that are often championed by the left.

Voters rejected yet another proposal to raise income tax rates to fund public education — the third such ballot measure in the tax-averse state since 2011. They also defeated competing proposals to issue bonds and raise taxes to fund needed improvements to Colorado's transportation infrastructure.

Colorado residents, who pride themselves on the state's natural beauty and outdoor recreation, also rejected a proposal that would have tightly restricted where new oil and gas wells could be drilled. Opponents said the measure would ruin the $31 billion oil and gas industry and drag down other economic sectors in the state.

Voters did approve nonpartisan redistricting procedures to eliminate gerrymandering when state legislative and congressional districts are redrawn after the 2020 census. They also removed an archaic and offensive reference to slavery in the state Constitution.

Polis, 43, invested a record $22 million of his own wealth in the campaign. The technology entrepreneur and five-term congressman promised to fight for universal health care, renewable energy standards and publicly funded preschool and kindergarten. He vowed to stand up to Trump's efforts to dismantle former President Barack Obama's health care law and work toward universal health care coverage.

Citing the threat of climate change to Colorado's outdoors industry, Polis proposed a 100 percent renewable energy standard for Colorado by 2040.

Stapleton, 44, insisted Polis' ideas for funding education, roads, energy and health care would bankrupt the state.

The vote for governor and many other offices was tied to Trump. The president endorsed Stapleton, who embraced the administration's antipathy toward so-called sanctuary cities that don't closely cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Perhaps Coffman, in his concession speech, put it best.

"I knew that my only hope of winning was to localize the race, and that if the race was nationalized, it would become a referendum on the president," he said. "In this race, it was a referendum on the president."

Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert contributed to this report.

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