Colorado Democrats Pull Support from Fracking Vote

Colorado Democrats Pull Support from Fracking Vote
August 13, 2014

Gov. John Hickenlooper and other influential Colorado Democrats announced they are pulling their support from November ballot initiatives that would severely restrict oil and natural gas production using hydraulic fracturing. In addition to imposing extensive setbacks in residential areas, the initiatives would give local communities authority to ban fracking.

The opposition of the state’s most highly visible Democrats appears to have crushed the prospects for the initiatives, which were likely a long shot in the first place.

Polis Pressures Legislature
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) served as the primary force in getting the initiatives on the November ballot. Polis said he wanted far-reaching regulations and restrictions on fracking and was disappointed legislators and environmental officials had not imposed the restrictions he seeks.

Polis launched and financed the initiatives to pressure state officials, saying he would withdraw support only if they addressed his concerns.

Democrats Caught in Crossfire
The Colorado legislature concluded its session in May without reaching an agreement, setting the stage for a November vote. Hickenlooper and other Democrats began feeling pressure to strike a deal after Republicans used the unpopular proposed restrictions as a wedge political issue. A Quinnipiac poll found only 34 percent of Coloradans oppose fracking, with only 32 percent of independents doing so. In addition, a University of Colorado study found fracking would bring the state widespread economic benefits. 

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner hammered Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Udall for failing to vigorously oppose the initiatives.

“If an energy ban is passed in Colorado, it will overnight wipe out 120,000 jobs, $12 billion of our economy, $1 billion of taxes that fund new roads and new schools,” said Gardner in a media interview, citing the University of Colorado study.

As Gardner’s attacks eroded Udall’s popularity, Udall moved strongly to oppose the initiatives. Hickenlooper, who is also seeking reelection this year, likewise began suffering political damage and worked hard to forge a compromise that would keep the initiatives off the ballot.

Hickenlooper Controls Committee
Under the compromise, Hickenlooper will appoint an 18-member panel to study and make recommendations to the legislature. Presumably, the legislature would give substantial deference to the committee’s recommendations.

The compromise appeared to placate incumbent state legislators who feared the initiatives would harm their prospects in the November elections. The natural gas industry also voiced its approval.

However, Hickenlooper’s Republican opponent in the November election, Bob Beauprez, said the compromise resolved nothing and merely kicked the can down the road.

“What happened is that this just creates more uncertainty,” said Beauprez.

The Coloradoan noted the compromise gives Hickenlooper authority to choose panel members, which could lead to political mischief.

“The formation of a blue-ribbon panel could be an inclusive and transparent boost to this process. But Hickenlooper also surely recognizes that this commission does not necessarily ensure that the will of the people of Colorado are represented. Nor is an appointed commission necessarily accountable to the public,” the Coloradoan explained.

Alyssa Carducci (ad.carducci@gmail.com) writes from Tampa, Florida.