The 2020 Colorado Outdoor Voting Guide

We sincerely hope you have already filled out your ballot at home and returned it to one of Colorado’s 368 ballot drop boxes. After a year that has included watching our solid snowpack fade into severe drought, then the onset of the state’s hottest August on record, and then the apocalyptic air-choking wildfire season, the climate crisis was probably front-of-mind as you sat down to vote. Or perhaps you were thinking of how the coronavirus pandemic has hit the state’s outdoor recreation economy, which is so dependent on our glorious public lands. Or both.  

If you haven’t voted yet, what are you waiting for? Grab your ballot, a pen and this unabashedly outdoors-focused guide to the candidates and issues and get it done now. We haven’t covered every question on every ballot, but here are the ones that count for those of us who cherish our time spent in wild places hiking, running, cycling, climbing, paddling, snowshoeing, skiing, forest bathing, meditating, reviving your spirit, bird-watching, walking the dog, catching up with friends and just remembering what it’s like to be a human in the world during this godforsaken year. 

Good luck, voters. Let’s crush it. 

Outdoors-focused voter guides

Protect Our Winters Action Fund: https://powactionfund.org/guidebook/

Enter your address in POW AF’s Voter Guidebook to learn more about your local ballot. You can also read in-depth analysis of how candidates in Colorado — the organization’s home state — live up to POW’s policy agenda at https://powactionfund.org/where-were-working/colorado/.

Sierra Club: https://www.sierraclubindependentaction.org/endorsements

Sierra Club draws from its vast network of local chapters around the country to develop their voter guide. Enter your address to learn more about the issues and candidates in your area, including who made it through their grassroots endorsement process. 

League of Conservation Voters: https://www.lcv.org/endorsements/

LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard has been a guiding force for voters focused on clean air, clean water, and public lands conservation issues since 1970.

Conservation Colorado: https://conservationco.org/2020/10/12/ballot-measures-2020/

In addition to offering endorsements and guidance on statewide candidates and issues, Conservation Colorado also endorses state legislators and makes recommendations on local mill levys. 

POW’s Jeremy Jones lobbies in DC. Photo courtesy POW.

President

Biden (left) and Trump.

POW AF, Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters have all endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for President. POW AF’s endorsement calls Biden’s climate plan “a bold, comprehensive and innovative plan to quickly enact forward-looking climate policy starting day one by rejoining the global Paris Climate Agreement.” In its endorsement, LCV Action Fund’s Tiernan Sittenfeld wrote, “Donald Trump is the most anti-environmental president in history, period. Voters are demanding action and we are confident that as president, Biden will immediately put our country on track for a 100 percent clean energy economy with policies centered in justice and equity that restore America’s global climate leadership.”

The Biden-Harris climate plan calls for a ten-year, $1.7 trillion federal investment in transitioning to a clean energy economy and reaching net-zero carbon emissions no later than 2050, with targets set for the end of 2025.

President Trump calls climate change a hoax, and his administration’s former fossil-fuel lobbyist political appointees have cut hundreds of clean air and water regulations and opened public lands to extraction industries. 

Senate

Sen. Gardner (left) and Hickenlooper. Photo Colorado Politics.

Incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner (R) has been trying to tout some outdoor cred by focusing the public lands conversation on his passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. This was indeed a landmark feat, but this singular legislative act didn’t move Sierra Club Colorado or LCV, both of which endorsed his opponent, former Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). “Coloradans won’t be fooled by Cory Gardner’s cynical election year ploys—he has consistently sold out our air, water and public lands and refuses to support the CORE Act,” Conservation Colorado Executive Director Kelly Nordini said in LCV’s endorsement. (CORE Act stands for Colorado Outdoor Recreation & Economy; introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse, it is designed to protect 400,000 acres of public land as well as “existing outdoor recreation opportunities to boost the economy for future generations.”) Gardner’s voting record in the senate isn’t helping him win over these organizations, either: He has voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and in 2019 alone, he voted to confirm the appointment of fossil fuel lobbyists to run both the EPA and the public-lands behemoth Department of the Interior.

Hickenlooper, meanwhile, has a track record that includes the creation of the state’s Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, mass-transit and electric vehicle infrastructure and methane-capture regulations. He’s backpedaling from his earlier support of fracking—remember when Hick drank fracking water in 2013?—with fresh pledges during this campaign season to end fossil-fuel subsidies and a call to transition to 100% renewable energy and net zero emissions by 2050. LCV, POW AF and Sierra Club have all endorsed Hickenlooper.

House

Bush (left) and Boebert. Photo Colorado Politics.

Colorado has seven congressional districts (though that’s expected to change once the numbers are in from this year’s census), but the neck-in-neck race to watch is in the 3rd. 

This district covers most of the western third of the state and wraps east to include Pueblo, encompassing acres of wilderness, thousands of miles of mountain and desert trails, rivers, ski areas, rock and ice, need I go on? Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush (D) faces Lauren Boebert (R), a pro-oil and extraction small business owner from Rifle. Sierra Club, LCV and POW AF have endorsed former state legislator Mitsch Bush. Boebert, a political novice, doesn’t have a voting record to draw from, but she’s against the CORE Act, calling it a “land grab,” while Mitsch Bush supports it, as well as legislation that addresses climate change. 

Proposition 114: Reintroducing wolves

Gray wolf, via Wikimedia Commons

Prop 114 asks voters whether the state should reintroduce the gray wolf west of the Continental Divide and offer compensation to ranchers who lose livestock to the apex predators. 

Colorado marks a gap in the gray wolf’s historical range. The state had thousands before the species was systematically wiped from the map throughout the early 20th century. Modern reintroduction programs have brought wolves back to the surrounding habitat in the northern Rockies and Arizona and New Mexico, but until this year, when what appears to be a tiny pack seemed to settle in, only the occasional lone wolf looking for love has wandered through Colorado. Reintroduction proponents have been trying to bridge that gap through the channels that worked in Yellowstone and elsewhere, but, shut down by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and politicians that won’t touch the issue, they made a last-ditch effort: asking the state’s voters to decide

Biologists say gray wolves are a keystone species that belongs here, and they cite studies out of Yellowstone that show the wolves’ beneficial impact on local ecosystems, in particular the reduction in elk overgrazing on riverbanks. They add that the measure includes a mandate to compensate ranchers (who oppose wolves) and say that with hundreds of thousands of elk and deer in the state, there’s plenty for both wolves and hunters (who also oppose wolves). Ranchers question how a compensation fund will help them deal with the generalized stress their livestock will experience (which could effect their weight and ability to reproduce) with predators stalking them. They also say wolves are already here, and that Colorado Parks and Wildlife has already opposed them; proponents say CPW’s wildlife commission that ruled on wolves was stacked with political appointees and favored ranchers and hunters (whose fees provide a significant slice of CPW’s funding) over biologists.  

Sierra Club Colorado supports wolf reintroduction. Conservation Colorado is neutral on Prop 114, citing their work with rural allies on land and water conservation priorities in western Colorado. 

Local issues

Colorado River District 7A

Gunnison River, Jeffrey Beall via Wikimedia Commons

If you live within the Colorado River District, which spans a 15-county swath of watershed that includes the Yampa, White, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison rivers, you’ll have a question about a mill levy for the river district on your ballot. If passed, the property tax increase is estimated to bring a $5 million boost to the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The ask? An increase of $1.90 for every $100,000 of residential home value annually.

In their endorsement, Conservation Colorado writes, “The Colorado River District has specific plans to use this money on the West Slope to protect clean drinking water supplies, healthy habitats for fish and wildlife, recreation opportunities, and water for farmers and ranchers.” 

St. Vrain River District 7A

Conservation Colorado also endorsed a mill levy for the St. Vrain River District in northern Boulder County, western Weld County and southern Larimer County. This one’s for $9 on every $100,000 of residential home value annually. 

Denver 2A

Downtown Denver, Chachpond, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is sales tax for climate, for visitors to the Mile High City as well as residents. Proponents say the .25% tax (2.5 cents on a $10 purchase, “with exemptions for food, water, fuel, medical supplies, and feminine hygiene products,” the measure reads on the ballot) would raise $36 million annually to fund infrastructure improvements and incentives for energy-efficient housing, buildings and streets, lowering GHG emissions. Conservation Colorado recommends a yes vote on this measure.

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