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Does passage of money questions mean political shift for El Paso - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Does passage of money questions mean political shift for El Paso County?

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El Paso County and Colorado Springs voters bucked tradition and reputation Tuesday by passing a series of measures that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars out of their pockets over the next two decades.  A 25-year effort to find a dedicated revenue stream to fix Colorado Springs' stormwater infrastructure deficiencies cruised to victory after two previous failed attempts in recent years, Colorado Springs School District 11 received a boost in property tax funding for the first time in 17 years, and widening of the I-25 "gap" between Monument and Castle Rock will receive a kick-start in funding, all thanks to voters who opted to spend rather than save.

Registered Republicans accounted for 48 percent of Tuesday's El Paso County vote, however 50 percent of ballots returned came from voters who are not registered as Republicans.  Despite the numbers, UCCS Political Science professor Josh Dunn says Tuesday's election results do not necessarily represent a political shift in El Paso County.  "The voting population might be moving slightly to the left," Dunn said.  "That doesn't mean it's on the left -- it's still very much a Republican city, a Republican county, a very conservative place."

Instead, Dunn says El Paso County and Colorado Springs voters' willingness to vote for pricey funding requests represents diminished skepticism in elected government leaders.  "You go back 10 years or so, there was just significant distrust of city government," Dunn said.  "City government was viewed as dysfunctional."  Dunn points to the late 2000s, prior to the current "strong mayor" form of city governance, when infighting between City Council members coincided with a major economic downturn to create distrust among the electorate.  "You had that major effort back in 2008-2009 to increase taxes when the City Council said, 'If you don't vote for these tax increases, we're going to turn off the street lights, we're going to stop picking up trash in the parks'," Dunn said.  "(Voters) felt like they were being held hostage by City Council, and they simply said no."

Dunn says the tide turned with the election of John Suthers as mayor in 2015.  The Colorado Springs native who spent decades in his hometown before building his political capital as a District Attorney, U.S. Attorney for Colorado, and state Attorney General brought a new spirit of strength, competence, and cooperation to the city's executive branch.  Suthers was the public face of the stormwater question, 2A, relentlessly campaigning in support of the measure he himself introduced.  2A followed successful passage of Question 2C two years earlier, a tax measure to fund roadway resurfacing projects amid complaints of too many potholes on city streets.  "The default setting is to vote against tax increases in Colorado Springs," Dunn said.  "City officials have to make an extremely compelling case to the voters and put their reputations on the line, and it probably took someone with Suthers' political capital to be able to do that.  I think the fact that he put his weight behind it, that lent more credibility to many Republicans voters who otherwise would not support it."

Wednesday, Suthers addressed the issue of voter confidence during a post-election press conference.  "I've always felt that to win an election in Colorado Springs when you're asking for money or a TABOR retention or anything else, you've got to say why you need it, where it's going to go, and you've got to be willing to explain it in detail and articulately," Suthers said.  "You've got to say exactly what you need, exactly what the money is going to be spent for, what the result is going to be, and you have pretty decent success, even in a politically conservative environment like El Paso County."

"You don't have public access Vaudeville on the television station where you have members of City Council fighting with the mayor and with each other," Dunn said.  "Things seemed to calm down significantly, so that has to make people think that, well, it's not so bad with city government anymore."

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