In a year in which election results should have been the most dramatic news in politics, Colorado's lawmakers outdid themselves with one scandal after another. Inspired in part by the #MeToo movement, women came forward to accuse politicos in the Statehouse and City and County Building of sexual misconduct. While several state legislators succumbed to the accusations and the Golden Dome is reviewing its policies for dealing with sexual misconduct, Mayor Michael Hancock seems to have survived his own allegations...for now. Keep reading for ten of the biggest gaffes in local and statewide politics in 2018.
GOP's Election Night
Pundits expected bad news for the GOP, but few predicted just how crushing the Blue Wave would be in Colorado. After Democrats won every statewide office and the legislature, Republicans went home on November 6 licking their wounds. Looking ahead to 2020, it does appear as though the party is pondering how to win back the moderate voters who ran away from them in the fall. But based on the clear anti-Trump message Colorado voters sent during November's midterms, it will be difficult for the state's Republicans to mount a meaningful comeback while the Donald is still tweeting from the West Wing.
Michael Hancock’s Texts
Denver's mayor had a rough start to 2018. In February, Denver7 broke a story about inappropriate text messages Hancock had sent to Leslie Branch-Wise, a subordinate on his security detail who accused the mayor of harassment. Hancock seems to have survived the scandal relatively unscathed, but voters will decide whether they want to keep him as the city's leader during the municipal elections in May.
#MeToo Hits the Statehouse
Allegations of sexual misconduct hounded state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, from Democratic Senator Daniel Kagan, who resigned following allegations that he used a women’s restroom in the Capitol on multiple occasions, to GOP Senator Randy Baumgardner, who is accused of slapping a legislative aide’s buttocks several times in 2016. Meanwhile, Democratic Representative Jovan Melton has so far gone unpunished for two prior accusations of domestic violence. And speaking of #MeToo…
Steve Lebsock’s Ugly Expulsion
After allegations of sexual harassment from at least eleven women, the then-Democratic Thornton state rep got booted out of the Statehouse in early March by a 52-9 vote. It marked the first expulsion in over a hundred years at the Capitol, and just the second in state history. Lebsock fully burned the bridge on his way out, changing his party registration from Democrat to Republican minutes before he addressed the legislature for the final time so that his replacement had to be a Republican. So long, Steve.
Walker Stapleton’s Signature Fiasco
Days before April’s Republican convention, Walker Stapleton’s campaign staffers admitted that there were fraudulent signatures on their petition to get on the Republican primary ballot, which they blamed on a firm they’d contracted to help collect signatures. As a result, Stapleton needed to earn at least 30 percent of the vote from the April state GOP convention, or his gubernatorial campaign would have been over. He succeeded, but ultimately lost to the blue-sneakered man himself, Governor-elect Jared Polis, in November.
In September, a website ran a story about a police report involving Jared Polis and a former female employee from 1999. The website characterized Polis as the villain in the incident, when it was actually his employee who had been charged with a crime. Still, Republicans in Colorado and nationwide accused Polis of abuse, with the Republican Governors Association even going so far as to say Polis had "violently assaulted" a female employee. Luckily, voters saw through the spin machine.
Coffman's Swan Song
The Republican congressman in the swingy 6th Congressional District lost his seat by double digits this fall. Mike Coffman's party-line voting record was repeatedly and effectively attacked by Democratic opponent Jason Crow. But Coffman’s frequent stands against Trump mattered, especially on immigration and Russia. The day after Coffman lost his election to Crow, Trump called Coffman out by name, arguing that the defeated congressman's tepid support of the commander-in-chief was the reason he lost. Trump’s words were a steaming pile of bullshit, but it showed that Coffman’s anti-Trump rhetoric had gotten under his skin.
Cory Gardner’s Plane Moment
On the August day that Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to paying off women who allegedly slept with Trump, and Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found guilty of eight counts of fraud, the president held a campaign rally in West Virginia. As the Cohen and Manafort news broke, TV cameras fixated on Trump walking off Air Force One to attend the rally...with Colorado's own Cory Gardner just a step behind him. Timing is everything, and on arguably the roughest day of the 2018 Trump news cycle, there was Gardner, standing alongside the commander-in-chief. Expect that clip to play on repeat in attack ads leading up to the 2020 election.
Gardner spent the Sunday after the midterms on national news shows accusing Democrats of trying to steal senatorial elections in Florida and Arizona, taking a page out of Trump’s conspiracy-theories agenda and implying on both Meet the Press and CNN that Democrats had intentionally violated Florida’s constitution because of a delay in identifying how many outstanding ballots remained to be counted in one Democratic-leaning county. But we didn't hear much from the senator about allegations of voter fraud committed by a prominent Republican in a North Carolina race.
Jared Polis flooded more than $20 million of his own money into his successful gubernatorial race, and Jason Crow received a trove of outside cash to help him win the 6th Congressional District. But, look, no one blames the New York Yankees for buying every good player available; we blame Major League Baseball for not having a salary cap. There is simply too much money in politics, and state legislatures and Congress need to control it.