State Democrats gain in elections; so does oil and gas

Laura Bradford, right, reacts with stunned amazement as she is told she has taken the lead in the returns over incumbent Bernie Buescher for state representative from District 55.

The 2008 election reinforced Colorado’s emerging blue hue, helped deliver a fifth congressional district to the Democratic Party and affirmed the Democrats’ hold on the state Capitol.

From a lonely Western Slope Democrat in the state House to a triumphant interest group, here are a handful of the wins and losses that resonate beyond the ballot box:


• Colorado Democrats — Though the Democratic bloc lost a handful of seats in the state Legislature, voters handed the party a fifth congressional seat and an open U.S. Senate seat. Though Democrats are hardly assured victory in 2010, they will force the GOP to spread its resources around the state to regain its footholds in Colorado’s state and federal ranks.

• House Republicans — Make no mistake: Knocking off state Rep. Bernie Buescher, D-Grand Junction, represented a serious coup for Collbran Republican Laura Bradford and her peers in Denver.
In a year when the Republican Party lost big in Colorado, GOP Chairman Dick Wadhams can count this as a victory akin to the party knocking off U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., in 2004. (Wadhams was the man behind that unexpected victory.)

• The oil and gas industry — Just as they did in 1976, energy companies flexed their financial and political muscles and toppled a proposed severance tax hike from a Democratic governor. And just as the 1976 election set the tone for the following year’s severance tax reform discussions, the industry will enter the 2009 session from a position of power.

• Ken Salazar — Colorado’s soon-to-be-senior senator not only helped deliver the Centennial State into the hands of Barack Obama, he also has a Democratic compatriot, Mark Udall, to accompany him on the Senate floor.
Salazar’s position as a leader of western Democrats and his party’s expanded majority — including new senators from New Mexico and Colorado — will only help him accomplish his goals ahead of his 2010 re-election campaign.


• The Colorado Constitution — The failure of Referendum O leaves the Colorado Constitution open to yet another round of amendments in 2010. Whether it failed on its merits or because of an overcrowded ballot, the biennial constitutional muddle will continue.

•  Western Slope Democrats — Thanks to an upset in Grand Junction and the failure of Democrats to make any pickups along the Western Slope, Gunnison Rep. Kathleen Curry has been left the sole Western Slope Democrat in the state House. This, combined with her stalled run to join House leadership, could hurt the region’s prestige in “the people’s house.”


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