Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats is retiring in January 2021, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72.
Coats joined the court in 2000 after being appointed by Gov. Bill Owens (R). Before that, he was an appellate deputy district attorney for the Colorado 2nd Judicial District from 1986 to 2000. He was the deputy attorney general from 1983 to 1986 and the assistant attorney general in the appellate section of the Colorado attorney general’s office. Coats obtained his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Colorado in 1971. In 1977 he earned his J.D. from the University of Colorado Law School.
Under Colorado law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a 15-member nominating commission. The commission provides a list of three candidates to the governor, who must choose from that list. Initial terms last at least two years, after which justices must stand for retention in a yes-no election. Subsequent terms last 10 years. Coats’ replacement will be Governor Jared Polis’ (D) first nominee to the seven-member supreme court.
The chief justice of the supreme court is selected by peer vote. Beginning in January 2021, the chief justice will serve for a set term on a rotating basis. As of 2020, the chief justice serves indefinitely as long as he or she has the support of his or her peers.
In addition to Chief Justice Coats, the Colorado Supreme Court currently includes the following justices:
• Monica Márquez – Appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) in 2010
• Brian Boatright – Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2011
• William W. Hood – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2013
• Richard Gabriel – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2015
• Melissa Hart – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2017
• Carlos Armando Samour Jr. – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2018
In 2021, there will be two supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies are due to retirements. One vacancy—South Dakota—is in a state where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. The other vacancy—Colorado—is in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement.
In 2020, there have been 19 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Twelve vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Six are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.
Initiative #306 was certified for the ballot on August 17, 2020. The Colorado Secretary of State’s office found that, of the 198,538 signatures that were submitted, 140,058 were projected to be valid. To qualify for the ballot, 124,632 valid signatures were required.
The initiative would decrease the state income tax rate for individuals, estates, and trusts from 4.63% of federal taxable income to 4.55% for tax years commencing on and after January 1, 2020. The tax rate would also reduce the tax rate for domestic and foreign C corporations operating in Colorado from 4.63% of Colorado net income to 4.55%.
President of the Independence Institute Jon Caldara and Colorado State Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R) sponsored the initiative. Sonnenberg said, “Small business owners all over Colorado are feeling the pain of these shutdowns, and their incomes have suffered as a result. In many rural communities, there are no big-box stores, just small businesses. An across the board income tax rate reduction will allow these business owners and their employees to keep and spend more of their own money. State government doesn’t need to increase its already bloated budget.” Caldara said, “Coronavirus has crippled our state. Colorado needs to get moving again. Desperately. We must energize our economy. And in order to do that people need to be able to use more of their own money. It’s time to lower taxes. The state legislature could do it. But they won’t. So, we will do it for them.”
Ballotpedia identified two committees registered to support the initiative: Energize our Economy (306 Real Fair Tax) and Americans for Prosperity Colorado Issue Committee. Together, the committees reported $664,945 in in-kind contributions and $1,548 in cash contributions. The top three donors were Unite for Colorado, Independence Institute, and Madsen and Associates. Unite for Colorado contributed $625,000 as an in-kind contribution for signature gathering, resulting in a cost-per required signature of $5.01.
Prior to 1987, the individual income tax rates in Colorado were graduated, meaning those with higher incomes paid higher taxes, and those with lower incomes paid less in taxes. The Colorado individual income tax rate has been a flat tax rate since 1987. The flat tax was 5% from 1987 to 1998. It was lowered to 4.75% in 1999. The rate has been 4.63% since 2000. According to the Colorado Legislative Council Staff, the rates were lowered to “reduce the TABOR surplus.”
As of 2018, 32 states had graduated income tax rates, nine states had a flat tax rate, two states (Tennessee and New Hampshire) only taxed income from dividends and rent, and seven states did not have an income tax. As of 2018, flat tax rates ranged from 3.07% in Pennsylvania to 5.25% in North Carolina.
The initiative is the 8th measure to be certified for the ballot in Colorado. Four other citizen initiatives are on the ballot, including a veto referendum. Also on the ballot are two constitutional amendments and one state law referred by the legislature.
Three additional initiatives have submitted signatures and are awaiting certification. The measures concern higher maximum bet limits at Colorado’s casinos, paid family and medical leave, and voter approval of government enterprises.
Sponsors of five additional initiatives submitted signatures to the Secretary of State’s office by the August 3 deadline. To join the four citizen-initiated measures and three legislative referrals already certified for the November 2020 ballot, 126,632 valid signatures are required.
Sponsors of Initiative #257 submitted more than 200,000 signatures on July 28 to qualify a measure that would allow voters in Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek to vote to allow additional casino game types and increase the maximum single bet to any amount.
Michael Fields and Lindsey Sangers of Colorado Rising State Action submitted more than 196,000 signatures on July 31 to qualify Initiative #295 for the ballot. The measure would require voter approval of new state enterprises that are exempt from TABOR if the enterprise’s projected or actual revenue from fees and surcharges is greater than $100 million within its first five years. Michael Fields said, “Coloradans are sick of the Legislature using massive fees to get around a vote of the people, and the excitement around the ‘Vote on Fees’ initiative is proof of that.”
Also on Friday, Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, submitted around 197,000 signatures for Initiative #306. The initiative would decrease the state income tax rate from 4.64% to 4.55%. The Independence Institute said the measure was designed to “[Get] Colorado’s economy back to its former strength, by putting money back into the pockets of those who earned it.”
Colorado Families First, sponsors of Initiative #283 to create a paid medical and family leave program, reported delivering 205,443 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office on July 31.
Fair Tax Colorado, sponsors of Initiative #271, announced in an email Friday that the initiative would not qualify for the ballot. It would have repealed the flat tax and create a graduated income tax rate.
Sponsors of Initiative #200 also submitted signatures. An estimate of how many signatures were submitted was unavailable as of August 4. The initiative concerns expungement of criminal records for low-level, non-violent offenses and using expungement fees for programs that fund scholarships, education, housing, crime reduction, mental health, and others.
Three citizen initiatives, one veto referendum, and three legislative referrals are already certified to appear on the ballot in November. From 2000 through 2018, an average of about nine measures appeared on the statewide ballot during even-numbered years. A total of 108 measures appeared on the statewide ballot in Colorado during the 20-year period from 1999 through 2019. Of the total, 42% (45 of 108) were approved, and 58% (63 of 108) were defeated.
Local Choice Colorado, sponsors of Initiative #257, reported submitting over 200,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office on July 28. To qualify for the November ballot, 124,632 valid signatures are required by August 3. The secretary of state verifies signatures through a random sample of 5% of submitted signatures. If the sampling projects between 90% and 110% of required valid signatures, a full check of all signatures is required. If the sampling projects more than 110% of the required signatures, the initiative is certified. If less than 90%, the initiative fails.
The initiative would amend the state constitution to allow voters in Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek to vote to allow additional game types and increase the maximum single bet to any amount. The measure would amend state statute to make conforming changes.
Local Choice Colorado, the sponsoring committee for Initiative #257, reported $1.7 million in contributions and $1.05 million in expenditures according to reports that covered information through June 24, 2020. Penn National Gaming, which owns or operates 41 gaming and racing properties in 19 states, gave $750,000. Monarch Casino & Resort, Inc., which operates Monarch Black Hawk Casino, gave $200,000.
Currently, authorized games include physical and electronic slot machines, craps, roulette, and poker and blackjack card games. Colorado voters approved legalized gambling in the cities of Black Hawk, Central, and Cripple Creek through Initiative 4 in 1990. Statewide voters approved the measure in a vote of 57.31% to 42.39%. Gaming in the cities became legal on October 1, 1991.
Currently, the maximum single bet is $100. The maximum single bet was raised to $100 in 2008 under Amendment 50. Prior to Amendment 50, the maximum single bet was $50. Amendment 50 also allowed Central City, Black Hawk, and Cripple Creek voters to add roulette and craps as authorized games. The first 80% of the new revenue attributed to the expansions and maximum bet increase was designed to go to the casinos. Of the remaining 20%, 78% was to be distributed for community college student financial aid and classroom instruction and 22% was designed to be distributed to the cities where limited gaming exists for gaming impacts.
This 2020 initiative would amend state statute to include programs to improve student retention and increase credential completion in the revenue distributions to community colleges.
As of July 28, 2020, seven statewide ballot measures were certified to appear on the November ballot in Colorado:
1. A veto referendum determining whether Colorado will join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is on the ballot. States in the NPVIC agree to give their electoral votes for the presidential candidate that wins the most votes nationwide if the compact goes into effect.
2. Voters will decide on three citizen initiatives. One initiative would specify in the constitution that only U.S. citizens may vote. Similar measures are on the ballot in Alabama and Florida. One initiative would reintroduce gray wolves on public lands. One initiative would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks gestational age.
3. The state legislature referred a state statute to increase tobacco taxes and create a new e-cigarette tax to fund various health and education programs. The legislature also referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot: one concerning charitable games such as bingo and raffles and another to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, giving the legislature more control of property tax rates.
On Friday, July 24, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) announced that he would oppose ballot measures related to oil and gas in 2020 and 2022 on both sides to allow Senate Bill 181 of 2019 to take full effect. SB 181 was designed to make changes to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, create “additional public welfare protections,” and implement new rules related to oil and gas operations.
Multiple initiatives concerning oil and gas regulations were filed targeting the 2020 ballot.
Protect Colorado, proponents of initiatives #284, agreed to withdraw the measure following the compromise with Polis. The measure would have prohibited laws limiting use and installation of natural gas. Protect Colorado was also behind #304, which would have required fiscal impact statements to appear on the ballot for future initiatives. The group withdrew #304 as part of the compromise as well. On July 15, the group reported having collected around 140,000 signatures for each of the measures targeting the 2020 ballot; 124,632 valid signatures are required to qualify for the ballot.
Safe and Healthy Colorado proposed Initiative #174 for the 2020 ballot. It would have created setbacks for new oil, gas, and fracking projects. The campaign ceased signature gathering on July 2 after the Colorado Supreme Court blocked Polis’ executive order allowing remote signature gathering. Anne Lee Foster, who filed the initiative, said, “[Polis] is just speaking completely out of turn. We have absolutely not taken the option of a 2022 ballot initiative off the table.”
Initiative #312 was designed to prohibit the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission from amending or repealing certain rules—including those regarding safety, aesthetics and noise control, reporting, and emissions. Proponents withdrew the measure.
Polis said, “In recent years, those conflicts [between the oil and gas industry and environmental groups] resulted in expensive, divisive fights at the ballot box and the courtroom, which did not satisfy homeowners, environmentalists, or the oil and gas industry. There are no real winners in these fights, and for most of this election season it looked like we might see another round of the oil and gas ballot wars in 2020. But today, I’m very proud to report that we have a path before us to make those divisive oil and gas ballot fights a thing of the past.”
Joe Salazar, executive director of Colorado Rising, the group that sponsored Proposition 112 of 2018, said, “I don’t know what [Polis] means by a truce. We are keeping everything on the table — we are not saying yes and we are not saying no.”
In 2018, Protect Colorado spent $26.4 million opposing Proposition 112, which would have mandated 2,500-foot setbacks for new oil, gas, and fracking projects from occupied buildings. Gov. Polis also opposed the measure. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., Noble Engery Inc., PDC Energy, Colorado Petroleum Council, and Extraction Oil & Gas were the top donors to the opposition campaigns. It was defeated by a vote of 55% to 45%.
Protect Colorado also spent $10.8 million supporting Amendment 74 on the 2018 ballot, which would have required that property owners be compensated for any reduction in property value caused by state laws or regulations. According to the executive vice president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, Chad Vorthmann, Amendment 74 was designed to “[protect] Colorado’s farmers and ranchers from extremist attempts to enforce random setback requirements for oil and natural gas development.”
The Sixteen Thirty Fund, the League of Conservation Voters, and Conservation Colorado were top donors to the Amendment 74 opposition campaign. Amendment 74 was also defeated by a vote of 55% to 45%.
The Colorado Constitution requires petition circulators to gather signatures in person. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on May 17, 2020, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Executive Order D 2020 065, which authorized the Colorado Secretary of State to establish temporary rules allowing for ballot initiative petitions to be signed remotely through mail and email.
The Colorado Supreme Court rejected that provision of the order on July 1, holding that the governor cannot suspend constitutional requirements by executive order, and thereby requiring initiative proponents to gather signatures in person.
The executive order also suspended Colorado law that required signatures to be submitted within six months after ballot language is finalized, instead, allowing signatures to be submitted by the deadline set in the constitution, which is August 3, 2020.
To get an initiative on the November ballot, proponents need to collect 124,632 valid signatures. The remaining 13 initiatives that were cleared for signature gathering concern a variety of topics including elections, taxes, education, gambling, and paid family and medical leave.
As of July 24, 2020, seven statewide ballot measures were certified to appear on the November ballot in Colorado:
A veto referendum determining whether Colorado will join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC) is on the ballot. States in the NPVIC agree to give their electoral votes for the presidential candidate that wins the most votes nationwide if the compact goes into effect.
Voters will decide on three citizen initiatives. One initiative would specify in the constitution that only U.S. citizens may vote. Similar measures are on the ballot in Alabama and Florida. One initiative would reintroduce gray wolves on public lands. One initiative would prohibit abortions after 22 weeks gestational age.
The state legislature referred a state statute to increase tobacco taxes and create a new e-cigarette tax to fund various health and education programs. The legislature also referred two constitutional amendments to the ballot: one concerning charitable games such as bingo and raffles and another to repeal the Gallagher Amendment, giving the legislature more control of property tax rates.
A recall election seeking to remove Lance FitzGerald from his position as Ouray County Sheriff in Colorado was approved by voters with 92.8% of the vote on June 30, 2020, according to unofficial election night results. Justin Perry (unaffiliated) defeated Ted Wolfe (R) in the election to replace FitzGerald. The election was conducted by mail-in ballot.
The recall effort began in January 2020. FitzGerald was targeted for recall after he was arrested on DUI allegations on November 27, 2019. The Ouray County Republican and Democratic parties created a recall committee together to lead the effort. The recall petition stated that county citizens did not have confidence that the sheriff could “uphold the duties and responsibilities of his elected position.” FitzGerald did not respond to the recall effort.
Recall supporters had 60 days to collect 768 signatures from eligible Ouray County voters. They submitted 1,082 petition signatures in March 2020. The county verified 914 of the signatures in April 2020, allowing the recall to move forward. FitzGerald had 15 days to file a protest against the recall petition. If he had, a hearing over the recall petition would have been held. Because he did not, the recall election was scheduled.
FitzGerald was sworn into office in January 2019. He ran as an unaffiliated candidate and defeated Republican Joel “BB” Burk by 11 votes.
In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.
Lauren Boebert defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R) in the Republican primary for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. As of 9:15 p.m. Mountain Time on June 30, Boebert had received 54% of the vote to Tipton’s 46% with 85% of precincts reporting.
Tipton is the fifth member of the U.S. House to lose renomination this year, joining Reps. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), Steve King (R-Iowa), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and Denver Riggleman (R-Va.).
Former state Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush defeated James Iacino, the executive chairman of the Seattle Fish Company, to win the Democratic nomination in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. As of 8:00 p.m. Mountain Time on June 30, Bush had received 61% of the vote to Iacino’s 39% with 69% of precincts reporting.
Both candidates said their backgrounds would make them the stronger contender in the November general election, with Bush pointing to her legislative record and Iacino to his business experience.
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Cory Gardner (R) in the November general election. As of 7:30 p.m. Mountain Time on June 30, Hickenlooper had received 60% of the vote to Romanoff’s 40% with 58% of precincts reporting.
The Colorado Sun described the race as mirroring splits within the national Democratic Party. Hickenlooper’s endorsers included the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, while Romanoff’s included the Metro Denver branch of Our Revolution.
The statewide primaries for Colorado, Oklahoma, and Utah are on June 30, 2020. The filing deadline to run passed in March for Colorado and Utah and in April for Oklahoma.
One U.S. Senate seat and seven U.S. House seats are up for election in Colorado. A Democratic and Republican primary is being held for each seat. All eight incumbents are running for re-election, leaving no open seats. Seven incumbents are unopposed in their primaries; Rep. Scott Tipton (R-3) faces one challenger, Lauren Boebert. Entering the 2020 election, Colorado has one Democratic U.S. senator, one Republican U.S. senator, and four Democratic and three Republican U.S. representatives.
One U.S. Senate and five U.S. House seats are up for election in Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, unopposed candidates automatically advance to the general election. The 3rd Congressional District has no primaries on the ballot, the 2nd Congressional District does not have a Democratic primary on the ballot, and the 1st Congressional District does not have a Republican primary on the ballot. All six incumbents are running for re-election, leaving no open seats. U.S. Representatives Kevin Hern (R-1) and Frank Lucas (R-3) faced no primary opposition and advanced automatically to the general election. Entering the 2020 election, Oklahoma has two Republican U.S. senators and one Democratic and four Republican U.S. representatives.
Four U.S. House seats are up for election in Utah. In Utah, the Democratic and Republican parties hold conventions to choose their Congressional candidates. If no convention candidates receive 60% of the vote or if additional candidates petition to get on the ballot, a primary is held. The 1st Congressional district is holding both Democratic and Republican primaries, and the 4th Congressional district is holding a Republican primary. The remaining districts’ major party candidates were decided at the convention. Three of the four incumbents are running for re-election. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-1) did not file for re-election as he is running for Lieutenant Governor of Utah. Entering the 2020 election, Utah has two Republican U.S. senators and one Democratic and three Republican U.S. representatives.
Candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. If no candidates receive a majority of the vote in the Oklahoma primary, the two highest vote-getters will advance to a primary runoff on August 25, 2020. Colorado and Utah do not hold primary runoffs.
These states’ primaries are the 27th, 28th, and 29th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next primary is on July 7 in New Jersey.
Entering the 2020 election, the U.S. Senate has 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with the Democratic Party. Thirty-three of the 100 U.S. Senate seats are up for regular election, and two seats are up for special election. A majority in the chamber requires 51 seats. The U.S. House of Representatives has 233 Democrats, 197 Republicans, one Libertarian, and four vacancies. All 435 U.S. House seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.