Perhaps the most interesting drama in the aftermath of voters turning down Amendment 66, Governor Hickenlooper’s widely unpopular $1 billion tax hike, may be the infighting that has broken out among Democrats.
Colorado Democrats tend to do their finger-pointing behind closed doors — unlike Republicans, who have no problem airing their feuds in public—which is why we were intrigued by Miller Hudson’s postmortem in the Colorado Statesman.
A former Democratic state legislator, Hudson is no fan of conservatives. This time, however, his wrath is aimed at the cocky Democratic political operatives who thought they could finesse a win on the $1 billion tax hike, even though the polls, the mood of the electorate, and recent political history all screamed no.
Here’s a taste from his Nov. 8 column:
“Following the successful recall of two state senators by populist mobs and the clobbering Colorado voters administered to Amendment 66 on Election Day, it appears the progressive agenda for the Centennial State is trapped on a careening bus without brakes headed for a precipice. Unfortunately for Democrats their driver is humming ‘Rocky Mountain High’ while toking a big, fat spliff.”
While we would take exception to describing Colorado Springs and Pueblo voters as “populist mobs,” we will admit that Hudson has a way with words.
We especially enjoy how he singles out for criticism Amendment 66 campaign director Mike Melanson, whose strategy when confronted with polls showing the electorate divided 50-50 was to see if he could eke out another 2 percent by what Hudson calls “microtargeting just the right mix of voters.”
As any junior political hack can tell you, an initiative that starts out polling 50-50 is doomed to failure. Ballot measures inevitably lose popularity during a campaign, which means they need to start with at least 60 percent support to have a realistic chance of success.
Even so, Melanson thought that he and his team would defy the laws of political gravity with their brilliant plan. Instead, Melanson proved that “he can piss through 10, maybe 12, million dollars in just six months and lose voters each and every day,” says Hudson.
For those unfamiliar with Melanson, he’s the OnSight Public Affairs political guru who’s considered a genius for steering John Hickenlooper to victory in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
You remember that race. It’s the one where Hickenlooper barely eked out a 51 percent majority, despite Republicans practically handing him the win by imploding during the primary and then splitting the vote between unknown GOP nominee Dan Maes and then-indepedent candidate Tom Tancredo.
If that’s what passes for genius these days in Democratic Party circles, Republicans can only hope the OnSight crew is running the show in 2014.
Hudson argues that Democrats placed too much emphasis on strategy and not enough on crafting a clear, articulate message about the need for Amendment 66. He makes a good case, although we aren’t convinced voters would have dinged themselves for $1 billion no matter how creative liberals got with the message.
Still, their humiliating defeat on Amendment 66 shows that Colorado Democrats have a credibility problem. They’ve won races by running vague, unspecific campaigns, but in 2013, they followed those wins by blindsiding voters with an aggressive left-wing legislative agenda that was never mentioned on the campaign trail.
As a result, voters are starting to conclude that Democrats can’t be trusted. So when they promised that Amendment 66 would merely restore classroom art and music, Coloradans were, shall we say, disinclined to believe them.
Making a stronger argument for the funding redistribution formula embedded in Amendment 66 probably wouldn’t have propelled it to victory—but at least such a strategy would have been honest. It would have showed that Democrats are still capable of being candid and transparent on important issues.
Instead, the Amendment 66 campaign gives voters another reason to believe that they’re only seeing what the Democrats want them to see.