The progressive’s guide to the 2021 Denver ballot

By Ms. Mayhem Staff

Oct 21, 2021 | Editorials | 1 comment

//The Colorado Capitol. Photo from Shuttershock. 

For an off-year election, Denver residents’ ballots are again extremely long this year. 

This year’s Denver ballot has 13 measures—eight from the Denver City Council, called referred questions, and five that got on the ballot after acquiring enough signatures, also called initiated ordinances. Three statewide ballot measures will also be included on the ballot. And you’ll see there are four Denver school board seats up for election in Districts 2, 3 and 4 and the at-large seat. The ballot covers everything from homelessness to marijuana taxes but there won’t be any major office positions up for grabs. 

Last year our progressive voting guide was wildly popular, so we’re back with more. We looked at progressive-leaning organizations’ voter guides and have put their recommendations on some of the measures below. For those without a recommendation, we did not find organizations that had spoken publicly. 

Your ballot should now be in your hands, but if it hasn’t made its way to you yet, you can track it here. Oct. 26 is the LAST DAY you can mail in your ballot. If you’d rather drop your ballot off or vote in person, you can find the closest drop box or election site here

Oct. 25 is the last day you can register and have your ballot mailed to you. But, Colorado is one of the states where you can register up to and even on Election Day! After Oct. 25, you’ll have to register in person at an election site. You have until 7 p.m. Nov. 2 to do so.

Nov. 10 is the last day you can “cure” a ballot that’s been rejected. You can find more information on that here. The answers to any other questions you may have regarding registration, your ballot or voting can be found here.


State Ballot

Amendment 78: Custodial Fund Appropriations Initiative

Explained- The heart of Amendment 78 has to do with what is called “custodial money,” which is any money the state receives from outside sources. That includes stuff like federal grant money or private donations. A recent example is the money Colorado received from the federal government through the CARES act. This amendment is asking Colorado voters whether to require the state legislature to have more control approving of the spending of all custodial money, which is kind of something that already happens.

Proponents- Michael Fields is the Executive Director of Colorado Rising Action, a conservative dark money group. Unite for Colorado, another dark money group that has contributed financially in the past to several issue committees that were attempting to cut taxes and diminish state revenue for public services.

Fields and other supporters have said they’re concerned with how the Governor spent the CARES Act funding and argue this amendment would bring more light to how monies like this are used and where they end up.

Opponents-Democrat Tamara Pogue is a county commissioner for Summit County. Scott Wasserman is the head of the Bell Policy Center, a think-tank concerned with raising state revenue and spending. 

Pogue and others opposing the bill filed a lawsuit to have Amendment 78 removed from the ballot, stating it would prevent the government from acting quickly in emergencies. State Sen. Chris Hansen said the amendment is unnecessary as the Joint Budget Committee already reviews custodial fund spending each year.

Recommendation- Progress Now Colorado says vote NO. “Instead of offering solutions to the complex issues facing Colorado today—from the COVID-19 pandemic to a historic drought and wildfires—conservatives have proposed another disastrously short-sighted ballot measure: Amendment 78. This constitutional amendment would financially handcuff our state and leave us powerless to render help to fellow Coloradans in an emergency. It’s like seeing that your neighbor has gotten a papercut, and offering amputation in lieu of a Band-Aid.”

Proposition 119: Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress Program

Explained- The basic idea here is that this would create after-school opportunities for children who need them by raising taxes on recreational marijuana. This new program would be called the Learning Enrichment and Academic Progress program, or LEAP. The money would go toward paying private tutoring companies or public school teachers looking for extra cash to provide things like after-school programs that are educationally beneficial. It’d be a total 5% hike from 15% to 20% spread out over three years. A total of more than $87 million would be raised starting next fiscal year, beginning July 2022. The bill would also pull money from the land trust fund that’s responsible for funding public schools for this program.

Proponents- Prop 119 has bipartisan support. The Yes on Prop 119 issue Committee has no outward political affiliation, but its registered agent is Michele Haedrich, who is the treasurer for the Lincoln Club of Colorado. Yes on Prop 119 received major funding from Ready Colorado, which bills itself as defining and advancing a conservative vision for education. Former Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston heads Gary Community Ventures, a private philanthropy group. Other proponents include former Republican legislators Bill Ownes and Bob Gardner and Democratic legislators Gov. Jared Polis, State Sen. Rhonda Fields, former Denver Mayors Wellington Webb and Roy Romer, and Sen. Mark Udall.

Proponents argue the proposition would help students who have fallen behind during the pandemic and empower parents to spend money on their child’s education how they see fit.

Opponents- The biggest organizations opposing the proposition are the Colorado Parent Teacher Association, the Colorado Association of School Boards and Colorado Leads, a pro-cannabis business group created to educate the general public about political issues surrounding cannabis. Other opponents include former Democratic State Rep. and current chairwoman of Advocates for Public Education Policy Judy Solano and President of Taxpayers for Public Education Cindy Barnard.

Opponents argue the proposition is “basically a voucher initiative” and have concerns that the measure wouldn’t do enough to prohibit discrimination against students, possibly allowing religious providers to deny services to LGBTQ+ youth. Colorado Leads said the measure “imposes a regressive tax on people’s pain, especially veterans, teachers and the elderly who need cannabis for medicine but can’t get a medical card.”

Recommendation- League of Women Voters of Colorado says vote NO. “Support equal access to education . . . equity . . . adequate sources of revenue . . .Support a state finance system that would provide enough fund for public schools to equalize educational opportunity and relieve the property tax.”

Proposition 120: Property Tax Rate Assessment Rate Reduction 

Explained- Another property tax cut, but this time only for multifamily housing and lodging. It would reduce the tax rate from 7.15% to 6.5% next year. The tax cut originally applied to all residential and most nonresidential property and was permanent. However, Senate Bill 21-293, passed in June, defanged the measure by making it only apply to the aforementioned multifamily housing and lodging. It does lower some of the tax burden for the other properties 120 covers, however, the effect is only temporary instead of permanent. That way, local government resources for public services don’t suffer.

Proponents- Micheal Fields and Unite for Colorado are again behind this measure, with added support from the Apartment Association of Metro Denver. 

Fields argued that the measure is important for Coloradans because property taxes are skyrocketing, having the biggest impact on seniors, people on fixed income and families living paycheck-to-paycheck. He also said 120 would cut commercial property taxes, helping small businesses.

Opponents- Scott Wasserman opposes this tax cut, along with the Colorado Teacher Association, the largest union of educators in the state. 

Wasserman is concerned about the permanent nature of the cuts and how they don’t take into consideration the financial needs of local governments. Kevin Vick, the vice president of the CEA said Colorado has already severely underfunded the school system by about $10 billion over the last ten years in his estimation.

Recommendation- Leaders of Color Collaborative says vote NO. “This will reduce local government tax revenue by over $50 million annually, limiting critical services like water, transportation, and emergency/fire services.”


Denver Ballot

Referred Questions 2A-2E

Rebuilding for an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy or RISE is a $450 million bond package put forth by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. It is composed of Questions 2A through 2E, each addressing a different aspect of the city’s maintenance. The campaign backing the bond package claims that it will make it possible to fund projects the city needs by raising the city’s debt without raising taxes. Hancock also says the bond package is being built around equity, ensuring that residents in Denver’s most underserved neighborhoods are targeted with improvement funds. The bond package’s website claims that the package will generate more than $1 billion in economic impact, create around 7,500 jobs and also focus on infrastructure. A full list of endorsers can be found here

2A: Denver Facilities System Bonds

Explained- Would release money to repair infrastructure and buildings such as the Denver Botanic Gardens, science museum and other similar locations as well as the construction of two new libraries and an upgrade of the others by raising the city’s debt.

Proponents say the measure will invest in cultural institutions, local libraries and more to keep facilities accessible for generations. Opponents argue it will further increase property taxes in Denver and price lower-income workers out of the area after housing costs have already seen a big increase in the metro area.

2B: Denver Housing and Sheltering System Bonds

Explained- Would allow Denver to repair and make improvements to the city’s housing and sheltering system by issuing bonds that would raise the city’s debt by $38.6 million.

Proponents say the measure will help the city continue its efforts to address the homelessness crisis in Denver, which has seen an increase in unhoused people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Opponents argue the city has already put a lot of money toward this issue without improvement.

2C: Denver Transportation and Mobility System Bonds

Explained- Would raise money to repair and improve the city’s transportation infrastructure by issuing a bond that would raise the city’s debt by about $63 million.

Proponents say the measure addresses pressing transportation issues and that it’s important for Denver to prioritize transportation options and accessibility. Opponents argue the city provides transportation options where they’re not needed, such as bike lanes where people don’t bike. They also say repairs to the city’s sidewalks have been a failure and are years behind schedule.

2D: Denver Parks and Recreation System Bonds

Explained- Would raise city debt by about $54 million for repairs and improvements on the city’s parks and well, recreation.

Proponents say the measure gets the city closer to its goal of all residents living within a 10-minute walk of a high-quality park. Opponents argue that Denver voters approved the Elevate Denver plan in 2017 that was intended in part to revitalize parks, playgrounds and recreation centers and that the city’s 2020 report indicates 40% of that money hasn’t been spent.

2E: National Western Center Campus Facilities Bonds

Explained- Actually, this is more than just repairs and improvements to existing structures. Money obtained by raising the city’s debt by $190 million would also go toward building a new arena at the National Western Campus. There is actually some controversy around this one, with Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca opposing the measure.

Proponents say the measure would renovate the Historic 1909 Building into a public market that would bring fresh local food into the food deserts of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. Denver City Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, the most public oppositionist, said the money requested does not represent the interests of the people who live in this part of the city.

Referred Question 2F: Safe and Sound Denver

Explained- If approved, this question would repeal the group living amendment that Denver City Council approved last year. Denver increased the number of unrelated people who can live in one home. This makes it easier to find affordable housing by living with more roommates—especially needed with the price of homes right now. This ballot measure would overturn that increase and outlaw having more than one roommate live in a single house.

Proponents- Safe and Sound Denver is leading the charge to reverse the amendment, with the dark money political advocacy group Defend Colorado having contributed $90,000 to the effort.

Safe and Sound Denver and other proponents are concerned with the amendment’s impact on quality of life, arguing that the change could overpopulate neighborhoods and negatively impact their character, including increased trash and parking difficulties.

Opponents- Leading the charge to keep the amendment in place is Keep Denver Housed, a coalition of organizations, elected officials and community leaders, including Mayor Hancock and the 11 City Council members who approved the vote in February.

City Councilmember Robin Kniech said she’s concerned that a repeal would cause displacement throughout the city, which is currently struggling with a lack of affordable housing.

Recommendation- New Era Colorado says vote NO. “This initiative would create more barriers to housing in Denver, making housing more expensive. This measure would take away affordable housing options for working people and students.”

Referred Question 2G: Fill Future Vacancies for Independent Monitor

Explained- Basically, this would create a citizen oversight board, moving the power to hire someone to lead the Office of the Independent Monitor from the Mayor to the said group. The group would serve as a watchdog over Denver’s police and sheriff departments. The Citizen Oversight Board would be made up of four people appointed by Denver City Council, four people appointed by the mayor, and one person that both the mayor and city council can agree on.

Proponents- There is no official movement for Vote Yes, but proponents say the measure would improve checks and balances on city spending and allow the Denver City Council to be more accountable and responsive to taxpayers when the city is faced with unanticipated needs.

Opponents- There is no official movement for Vote No, but opponents argue the measure could weaken the strong mayoral system.

Referred Question 2H: Election Day Change

Explained- This would move municipal elections from May to April. These elections take place every four years and decide the city’s mayor, city council members, auditor, and clerk and recorder. Pretty self-explanatory.

There are no official proponents or opponents of this measure. It was one of two recommendations Denver Clerk and Recorder Paul López brought to city council to remedy the limited amount of time between the May election and the June runoff. This would allow more time for Denver Elections to prepare new ballots for military and overseas voters.

Initiated Ordinance 300: Pandemic Research Fund

Explained- This would create a sales tax increase on retail marijuana sales to pay for pandemic research. A group of vocal independent citizens want Denver to have its own pandemic research unit and want to raise marijuana taxes to do so. The research would be conducted by the University of Colorado Denver CityCenter which had no idea this was happening and is honestly kind of flummoxed by the whole thing.

Proponents- Guarding Against Pandemics is the lead proponent. The Delaware-based organization is spearheaded by cryptocurrency billionaire and Democratic philanthropist Sam Bankman-Fried. 

Proponents argue that the widespread devastation of COVID-19 “caught the entire nation off guard, and local communities like Denver suffered. It didn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t be for the next pandemic…because there has been almost no investment into protecting us from the next pandemic, we remain unprepared.”

Opponents- Joshua Scharf, the former vice-chair of the Denver County Republican Party.

Opponents argue that this measure is a “pointless tax grab,” that comes with responsibility CU Denver did not ask for. “Right now marijuana sales are the commodity of choice for those who wish to gain more money for more government spending by instituting another ‘sin’ tax.”

Recommendation- League of Women Voters Denver says vote NO. “LWVCO position on Fiscal Policy supports “an equitable tax system that is progressive.” Sales taxes, such as the one proposed here, are regressive. The League also opposes earmarking, especially in this case to a specific institution.”

Initiated Ordinance 301: Voter Approval Requirement for Commercial or Residential Development on City Park Lands

Explained- This measure would make it harder to build on the Park Hill Golf Course. This is really about the ongoing fight over what to do with the Park Hill Golf Course. Some people want to build apartments and stuff. Others like the open space. This one makes it so the Park Hill neighborhood can’t decide what to do with its own space and lets other people who live nowhere near the park vote on what to do with it.

Proponents- Save Open Space Denver, which wants to protect parks and open space in Denver from development. 

SOS Denver and proponents believe that the undeveloped land could address things like the city’s dwindling open space and growing heat island effect.

Opponents- Westside, the land developer of the space.

Westside argues that Northeast Park Hill has been historically marginalized as a predominantly Black neighborhood and that a citywide vote on this issue strips residents of their agency.

Initiated Ordinance 302: Change Definition of Conservation Easement

Explained- This measure is the general equivalent of, “I know what you are but what am I?” In a nutshell, if 301 passes, this measure will exempt the Park Hill golf course from needing a city-wide vote in order to decide what to do with it if also passed. It would also make the people behind 301 really mad.

Proponents- Westside (It’s their response to 301).

Opponents- SOS Denver

Initiated Ordinance 303: Require Enforcement of Unauthorized Camping and Authorize the City of Denver to Create Four Camping Locations on Public Property Initiative

Explained- This measure would modify the city’s urban camping ban. This initiative would make it illegal to camp on private property, which means the city could enforce its camping ban—which, by the way, a judge ruled is unconstitutional—on basically almost every type of property there is. To be fair, it also allows the city to create up to four new camping locations on public property with lighting, running water and bathrooms. Nowhere mentioned: The chronic need for more affordable housing that would probably solve most of these problems instead of just band-aiding as usual.

Proponents- Garrett Flicker, the chair of the Denver Republican Party received some funding in the way of $117,500 from Defend Colorado for this venture. For added hilarity, the problem of homelessness has also really irritated a certain Denver-based paper, which also supports this measure. 

Flicker said In a press release that the goal of his initiative is to be compassionate towards those experiencing homelessness and that requiring city officials to respond to encampment complaints within 72 hours, “empowers citizens and property owners to enforce this section of the law in court if the city will not.”

Opponents- The Hancock administration has spoken out against this measure along with Denver City Council. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is also opposed. 

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless said in a press release, “The proponents of the measure are using scare tactics and false promises to exploit the housing and homelessness crises facing our city and the measure could frustrate the work Denver is doing to begin recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Recommendation- New Era Colorado says vote NO. “This initiative would further penalize and criminalize people experiencing homelessness. Enforcing the camping ban more severely will not only cost the city an extreme amount of resources, it will do nothing to provide housing solutions. Unsheltered homelessness is a huge concern in Denver, but this initiative lacks a sustainable and equitable solution and would have far too many unintended consequences.”

Initiated Ordinance 304: Limit Denver Sales and Use Tax Rate to 4.5%

Explained- This measure would lower the city sales and use tax, then cap it. It’s another attempt to reduce the city’s ability to provide basic goods and services by lowering taxes and preventing the city from ever again inflicting upon its citizens the need to pay the appropriate amount for the goods and services they use.

Proponents- Garrett Flicker and Defend Colorado are behind this one as well, with the latter having dropped another $117,500 in contributions. 

Flicker said the measure would help low-income residents, who he believes are disproportionately impacted by higher sales taxes

Opponents- The Hancock administration and Denver City Council oppose Flicker and Defend Colorado again. 

Elected officials argue that passing this measure will directly impact the city’s ability to pay for services like infrastructure repair, park maintenance and helping those experiencing homelessness.

Recommendation- League of Women Voters Denver says vote NO. “We believe this ordinance does not match LWVUS Principles. In particular, League believes ‘…government should maintain an equitable and flexible system of taxation’ and ‘… promote a sound economy.’”

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1 Comment

  1. Killian

    It looks to me like the following recommendation was meant to be under 300, not 301?

    ‘Recommendation- League of Women Voters Denver says vote NO. “LWVCO position on Fiscal Policy supports “an equitable tax system that is progressive.” Sales taxes, such as the one proposed here, are regressive. The League also opposes earmarking, especially in this case to a specific institution.”’


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