Year in Review

The Ten Biggest Colorado Politics Stories of 2022

As founder of Camp Bow Wow, Heidi Ganahl knows a thing or two about furbabies, but maybe not so much about furries.
As founder of Camp Bow Wow, Heidi Ganahl knows a thing or two about furbabies, but maybe not so much about furries. Camp Bow Wow

Colorado is no longer a swing state after turning a bluer shade of purple in the 2022 midterms. Although the Boebert-Frisch recount resulted in two more years of gun-toting tantrums, Democrats maintained their majority in the state House and Senate, but both sides of the aisle grieved the loss of Hugh McKean. Meanwhile, history in the remaking found the State Board of Education and History Colorado righting some wrongs, and RTD drove the point home that it's still a contender to keep Colorado on the road to car independence. That's nothing compared to the long, strange trip the state is about to embark upon with decriminalized psychedelics, however.

But, wait — there's more! Here are the ten biggest political stories in Colorado in 2022:

The Issue of Furries Turns Fuzzy


During the Colorado governor race, Heidi Ganahl, the Republican candidate, developed a fixation on one of the most unique topics ever to Ganahl claimed that Colorado schools were struggling with kids dressing up and identifying as animals and coming to class. While occasional furries — the name for students who show up in Colorado schools wearing tails or cat ears — do exist, school districts uniformly say that it isn’t an issue. Additionally, Ganahl’s claims fit in with a larger national narrative pushed by conservative activists and politicians who describe a furry craze that is disrupting schools and also leading educators to bend over backward to accommodate furries, going so far as to provide litter boxes for them to use as bathrooms, which is false.


MAGA Candidates Flame Out


Republican candidates in Colorado primary races that ran on MAGA and Trump-loving tickets generally got crushed throughout the state. For example, Ron Hanks, a Republican member of the Colorado House of Representatives who attended rallies on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C., that ultimately devolved into the riot and the attempted insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, lost to Joe O’Dea by 11 percentage points in the Colorado Republican U.S. Senate primary. And Tina Peters, the Mesa County Clerk and Recorder and election denier who faces multiple charges for election security breaches, came in third in the Republican Secretary of State primary, with the top vote-getter, Pam Anderson, frequently saying that the 2020 presidential election was fair and legitimate.


Colorado GOP Gets the Blues


Republicans in Colorado talked a big game in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections. Inflation was running rampant across the U.S., including in Colorado. Crime was up in the Centennial State. And the pandemic was continuing to make the lives of Coloradans challenging. At least some progress for Republicans seemed viable. Instead, Republicans lost seven seats in the Colorado Legislature and got swept across the board in the U.S. Senate, governor, secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer races. The 2022 election became the worst defeat for Republicans in Colorado history, with the state GOP left trying to figure out how to rebuild in a state that had a purple reputation but now looks blue.


Lauren Boebert Barely Survives a Scare


Republican firebrand Lauren Boebert, who seems more interested in shit-posting to own the libs than she does in policymaking, expected to stroll to a victory in the 3rd Congressional District race along the Western Slope. Adam Frisch, the Democrat with a lot less name recognition who was running against her, looked to be doomed to defeat, especially given that recent redistricting had made the already solidly Republican district even more so. But the race ended up being incredibly close, ultimately leading to a recount. Frisch lost to Boebert by just a few hundred votes. Sadly, that hasn’t prompted Boebert to tone down her rhetoric. She’s doubling down, and just recently announced a desire to impeach U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.


State Education Board Debates Nazi Ideology


Across America, the version of history that kids are taught in public schools has been the basis for one of the most controversial of culture wars. In Colorado, the State Board of Education took up the controversy, with Republican boardmember Steve Durham pushing the ideas that the Nazis were socialists, which has been rejected by prominent Holocaust historians, and that leftist regimes are more likely to commit genocide. Durham also wanted to strike the word "Nazi" from curriculums and have students and teachers use only the political party’s full name, the National Socialist German Workers Party. Pushback from Jewish leaders led to a compromise by the state board to include both "Nazi" and the party’s full name. The board ultimately voted in November to refer to the Nazi party as “fascist” instead of “socialist.”


RTD Attempts a U-Turn


The Regional Transportation District, like other public transportation agencies across the United States, had a tough pandemic. Many Coloradans started working from home and commuting less, which contributed to RTD’s commuter numbers plummeting. But RTD is attempting a comeback. The agency’s board of directors approved an overhaul to RTD’s bus network that focuses on more frequent service for high-ridership areas instead of lines in suburban and rural areas that receive fewer travelers. And RTD also experimented with fare-free service in August, offering commuters the chance to travel on buses and trains without having to buy tickets. How well RTD does over the next year or two could go a long way in determining if Denver metro moves farther away from its car-centric culture.


History Revisits the Sand Creek Massacre


In 1864, Colorado experienced one of the darkest days in its history when American soldiers massacred an estimated 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho individuals on the banks of the Big Sandy Creek. The massacre came after Southern Cheyenne tribal leaders were attempting to negotiate peace following a violation by U.S. settlers of an existing treaty. In 2012, History Colorado opened an exhibit focused on the Sand Creek Massacre that was inaccurate and insulting to the tribes and their representatives, who hadn’t been properly consulted on the content of the displays. A year later, the museum finally succumbed to public pressure and shut down the exhibit permanently. In November of this year, History Colorado opened a new Sand Creek Massacre exhibit that got the story right. The new exhibit has gotten a much warmer reception and won’t be closing anytime soon.


Both Sides Mourn Hugh McKean


In October, at the age of 55, Hugh McKean, the Republican Colorado House of Representatives minority leader, died unexpectedly of a heart attack, leaving behind two young adult children and his life partner, Amy. McKean got his start in public service in 2009 when he was elected to the Loveland City Council. In 2016, he joined the Colorado House, where he had served ever since. Upon hearing about his friend and colleague’s passing, then-Colorado Senate Minority Leader John Cooke noted that McKean “never made politics personal, but instead always greeted everyone with a warm smile and an open hand.” And outgoing Democratic Colorado House Majority Leader Alec Garnett called McKean the “very definition of a statesman” and “a genuinely nice guy who always wanted the best for our state and his constituents.”


Homelessness Budget Gets a Cash Infusion


The Colorado Legislature earmarked an unprecedented amount of money to tackle the issue of homelessness in the 2022 legislative session. One bill that was signed into law by Governor Jared Polis creates a $105 million grant program that will be available to local governments and nonprofits so that they can bolster services, shelter options, transitional housing and permanent housing. Another bill signed into law earmarks $50 million for a local government and a nonprofit to create a “navigation campus” to help people experiencing homelessness connect with the services they need. The state has not yet selected a location for this campus. And a third bill sets aside $45 million to transform the defunct Ridge View Campus in Watkins into a residential community to help people get out of homelessness. "This is truly a transformational package of legislation," Representative Iman Jodeh, a Democrat from Aurora, said when the bills were unveiled. "Every Coloradan deserves a safe place to live — but that reality is out of reach for so many."


Colorado Is About to Go on a Trip


Colorado voters approved a groundbreaking statewide measure to decriminalize natural psychedelics and create a legal-access model for psilocybin mushrooms and potentially other psychedelics in November. The measure’s passage came three and a half years after Denver voters made history by making the Mile High City the first municipality in America to decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms. According to the statewide measure, a 21+ legal-access framework for psychedelic mushrooms will be in place by late 2024. Mushrooms, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline, excluding peyote, are now all decriminalized, too. And by June 2026, according to the measure’s terms, the state could also get a legal-access framework for these other substances, too. Trippy!

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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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