The Spot: The suburban shift to the left, women in office and what’s up with regional rail?

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This week, The Post’s political reporters are having a Q&A session, answering a few of the questions readers sent in and highlighting some of our work from the past week.

But first … Colorado state leaders put forth a $700 million one-time stimulus plan this week, suggesting up to 40% of the money could go toward infrastructure and up to 15% toward “housing and community revitalization.” Check out the full breakdown from Wednesday. By the way, lawmakers will have to pass numerous bills in order for the full package to get to the governor’s desk. 

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Have a question about Colorado politics? Submit it here and it’ll go straight to The Denver Post politics team.

There are many correct answers, but what do you think has been the *single* the biggest factor swinging the Denver suburbs from Republican to Democratic? — Larry Parker, Aurora

Short answer: Demographic changes — specifically the increase in college-educated white people, which now make up a larger percentage of our state’s electorate than nearly anywhere else in the country. The Post’s Jon Murray touched on this after the suburbs helped carry Joe Biden to a landslide win here.

But you’re right that there are other factors. Trump was almost uniquely unpopular with many suburban voters, and his presence catalyzed a blue shift that was already underway. Previously safe red districts are now competitive in many areas of the state, and previous swing districts are now safely blue. That’s recently been true for state races, too. 

The GOP is not purely at the mercy of demographic shifts or national politics. The party and its candidates have agency over who they run, how they message and how they build coalitions. And by and large, the GOP has embraced a brand of far-right politics that simply doesn’t resonate with a majority of Colorado voters.

— Alex Burness, Statehouse reporter

With the mountains’ peak tourism months coming to a close and wider public vaccinations around the corner, what is Colorado’s plan for attracting tourists, who might be looking to get away from lockdowns and a sense of “cabin fever” but scared and scarred of the coronavirus disease, to stimulate our local economy and businesses? — Calloway Carlotto, Glendale

The pandemic isn’t over yet (still trying to achieve that herd immunity), but Colorado is loosening restrictions and trying to revitalize its economy.

State political leaders announced that $700 million stimulus package proposal and the state will see about $6 billion overall from the latest round of federal stimulus money, though it’s not yet clear where exactly that money will go.

But, like you point out, public confidence is important for tourism, too. That’s why the state’s tourism office has launched a campaign called “Do Colorado Right.” It’s seeking to bring in visitors while still adhering to safe practices, including wearing masks. Tourism spokesperson Jill McGranahan said it’s a shift from what the department was doing early in the pandemic — encouraging residents to explore their own backyards — to marketing to out-of-state visitors.

The office partnered with Olympic gold-medalist snowboarder Red Gerard, The Bachelor’s Ben Higgins and Top Chef contestant Brother Luck to promote tourism through some social media videos. The campaign’s website has a list telling visitors what they need to do before they visit as well as providing a link to what’s open in Colorado.

As the Colorado Restaurant Association indicated Wednesday though, restaurants and small businesses still have a long way to go before they’re back to pre-pandemic conditions — and hope to see more financial assistance.

— Saja Hindi, Statehouse reporter

More Colorado statewide political news

  • After months of COVID-related fears, it turns out Colorado’s budget situation is actually pretty stable … leading to the stimulus package we’ve mentioned twice.
  • Colorado is taking a hard look at marijuana industry regulations, with some big changes being floated that could ripple out nationally.
  • Business interests want Colorado lawmakers to take it easy on new regulations this year.

What efforts are being made to advance women candidates to higher offices, e.g. U.S. senator? — Diane Dash, Denver

Colorado is one of five states that has never elected a woman as governor or U.S. senator, despite having more women in its state legislature than 49 other states. That is a source of disappointment for groups like Emerge Colorado, which trains Democratic women to run for office at all levels.

“Now that we have two Democrats in the U.S. Senate, getting a woman into one of those two seats is going to be challenging, because there are no term limits,” Emerge Colorado Executive Director Michal Rosenoer said in an interview Wednesday. 

“So, Emerge’s strategy has been to build a bench of really strong women candidates at the state level, where we can be developing and training women who have the acumen and knowledge to run for things like U.S. Senate,” she added, referring to it as a “bottleneck.”

There is not a dearth of women willing to run. Republican Cynthia Coffman and Democrats Cary Kennedy and Donna Lynne were candidates for governor in 2018, but fell short in their respective primaries. In 2020, nine Democratic women and one Republican woman ran for U.S. Senate but didn’t make the ballot.

“The higher up the food chain an election gets, the more it’s decided by power brokers who don’t necessarily live in Colorado — donors and political players at the national level who are more steeped in traditional beliefs about who is and who is not electable,” Rosenoer said.

— Justin Wingerter, federal politics reporter

More federal politics news

  • Census delays leave Colorado candidates waiting and worrying about 2022.
  • Colorado has 33 federal labs and two of its congressmen want to find out if the buildings need repairs.
  • Coloradans in the U.S. House split along party lines Wednesday during the final vote for the $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package.

What are the current plans the state has for developing an enlarged commuter rail network? Can we expect to see a multi-decade plan with forecast dates of completion detailing such a network connecting Boulder, Fort Collins, Denver, Colorado Springs, etc., sometime soon? — Joseph Schlatter, Centennial

The answer to your first question is yes: There are plans to build a commuter rail network along the Front Range, a nearly 200-mile line connecting Fort Collins to Pueblo. But as to when we’ll see specific dates for completion, or even phases, that’s a ways down the track (as The Post reported in September, “likely a decade or so away from welcoming its first passenger.”)

In December, a draft report presented to the Front Range Passenger Rail Commission provided some new details about the cost, with the initial phase connecting Fort Collins to Colorado Springs estimated between $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion. 

Throw another $200 million to $300 million at a second phase, and the line could be extended south to Pueblo. The report even envisioned service between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs running two to six daily round trips.

You’ll need an ever bigger crystal ball beyond that: There is talk at the commission of a faster, more frequent and costlier line between Trinidad, Cheyenne and perhaps points south. Speeds would reach 90 to 110 mph on new tracks, with trains running every 30 minutes at peak times. The cost of that more ambitious undertaking: $7.8 billion and $14.2 billion.

— John Aguilar, suburban reporter

When the pandemic is over, what is our plan to revitalize downtown Denver? — David Rutter, Denver

Several projects are already underway — and a few are in more conceptual phases — to change the way downtown looks and flows. But it won’t all be finished by the time Denver begins to really open up. 

City officials plan to use about $98 million in bonds (currently under consideration by the City Council) to renovate the Colorado Convention Center with an 80,000-square-foot ballroom addition and a 50,000-square-foot outdoor terrace with mountain and downtown views. 

And Monday, the council cemented the city’s pick to renovate the 16th Street Mall to the tune of nearly $150 million. The group also accepted a $20 million from a state grant to help pay for the work. 

And there’s more in the pipeline, said Tammy Door, president and CEO of the Denver Downtown Partnership: the redesign of Skyline Park, the idea for which was originally unveiled in 2004;  and the 5280 Trail, a longstanding vision connecting five miles of downtown and several neighborhoods — though it’s a long way off.

— Conrad Swanson, Denver City Hall reporter

More Denver (and suburban Denver) political news:

  • In the COVID-19 pandemic, the very definition of a public health crisis, Denver spent less than 5% of federal stimulus money on public health itself. 
  • Douglas County effectively said it won’t enforce the state’s COVID restrictions anymore, and asked the governor to open up the state.
  • There’s a good chance the Denver metro gets up to two feet of snow this weekend. Here’s a small bit of what you need to know. And what huge snowfalls looked like in the city’s past.

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