Colorado Government

Year in Review: The Ten Biggest Colorado Political Stories of 2021

Year in Review: The Ten Biggest Colorado Political Stories of 2021
Getty Images/Westword illustration
While COVID grabbed a lot of headlines and the attention of Colorado’s politicians, they had plenty of other challenges in 2021. There was the anticipated challenge of redistricting under a new system, the unanticipated challenge of the insurrection of January 6, and the impossible-to-imagine antics of Lauren Boebert.

Here are the ten biggest Colorado political stories of 2021:

Who’s on third?

From a holiday card featuring her children toting guns and sporting Raiders gear to her anti-Islamic attacks on Ilhan Omar, Representative Lauren Boebert continued to make headlines as the year wound to a close. But then, Colorado’s newest congresswoman had gotten off to a fast start when, just days after she was sworn in, she tweeted about Nancy Pelosi’s whereabouts during the January 6 insurrection. Charges against her were investigated, then dropped; meanwhile, Boebert doubled down on her pro-assault rifle stance mere hours after the shootings at a Boulder King Soopers. Her aim was just as off-target on the House floor; during her first year, all of Boebert’s attempts to get legislation passed misfired.

Last but not Eastman

The nation kicked off the year with an insurrection on January 6, and just two weeks later, several Coloradans were identified as participants in the riot; that number eventually jumped to eleven. But behind the scenes was an individual with strong ties to Colorado: John Eastman, then a visiting professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. Turns out that Eastman, who was at the White House on the day of the insurrection, not only pushed the line that massive election fraud had cost Donald Trump the election, but he came up with the strategy for persuading Vice President Mike Pence to declare that Trump was still president. Pence, who consulted with Dan Quayle, didn’t bite. And Eastman didn’t get to keep his CU gig; he’s threatened to sue.

Going to the mattresses

Although Colorado’s 2020 elections went off without problems, plenty of national controversy spilled into this state. While Dominion Voting Systems and former executive Eric Coomer started filing defamation suits over election fraud allegations, Mesa County Clerk and Recorder Tina Peters became the subject of major investigations by the Mesa County DA’s office and Secretary of State Jena Griswold after reports that her office had been accessed by unauthorized individuals and confidential information had been leaked to supporters of none other than Mike Lindell, the My Pillow king. Lindell, for his part, helped Peters hide out from the heat for a time before she returned to Mesa County, where former secretary of state Wayne Williams did Peters's job in the November 2021 elections. Meanwhile, Griswold is now asking for more funds for security because of threats related to those election lies.

Statewide ballot fail

The November ballot included three statewide ballot measures that all failed. Two of the three were sponsored by conservative nonprofit Colorado Rising Action; they focused on decreasing property taxes and transferring some funding decisions from the executive branch to the legislature. The other, which received the most attention, would have raised taxes on marijuana to support after-school programs; its defeat provided an education both in how voters feel about pot taxes and how they feel about questionable campaigns.

Behind the eighth ball

Independent redistricting commissions, created by 2018 ballot measures, reworked Colorado's political districts at both the state and federal levels. The commissions, designed to alleviate partisan gerrymandering, still managed to draw criticism, particularly in their efforts to create a competitive eighth congressional district that runs from the north Denver suburbs up to Weld Country. Despite complaints, the Colorado Supreme Court approved the map, and candidates are already announcing for the next election cycle.
click to enlarge In an October 2020 appearance before members of FEC United, Kristi Burton Brown talked up a Law & Policy Center connected to the organization. - COLORADO TIMES RECORDER VIA YOUTUBE
In an October 2020 appearance before members of FEC United, Kristi Burton Brown talked up a Law & Policy Center connected to the organization.
Colorado Times Recorder via YouTube
Party on
In March, the Colorado Republican Party elected a new leader, Kristi Burton Brown, then best known for pushing a personhood amendment when she was in her teens. But that changed when a lawsuit filed by a former Dominion Voting Systems executive identified Burton Brown as the former leader of FEC United, a group dedicated to pushing bogus election fraud claims. Burton Brown, who was then vice chair of the party, has since attempted to distance herself from the group, which still claims she was foundational to its current work.

Colorado unemployment claims

In March, then-Colorado Auditor Dianne Ray found that the state Department of Labor and Employment’s accounting was so sloppy that an audit couldn’t estimate the scope of any problems, including fraud. New auditor Kerri Hunter finally tracked down some numbers in December, determining that Colorado paid out $73 million in fraudulent unemployment benefits between March 2020 and April 2021. The department pledged to implement better tracking and analysis of unemployment claims in 2022.
click to enlarge Dick Lamm recalling his 1973 run for governor. - COLORADO PUBLIC TELEVISION
Dick Lamm recalling his 1973 run for governor.
Colorado Public Television
The death of Richard Lamm
Former Colorado governor Dick Lamm died in August at the age of 85. A state legislator when he began campaigning against using public funds to host the 1976 Winter Olympics in Denver, Lamm wound up walking his way to the governor’s office in 1974. After he moved out, he made a failed independent bid for president, taught a legendary course on “Hard Choices” and continued to share his opinion on controversial subjects ranging from abortion to health care.

Criminal justice reforms

In July, Governor Jared Polis signed ten bills into law that impact the criminal justice system in this state. The bills covered issues ranging from juvenile detention reform to when Coloradans can have their driver’s licenses revoked. At the top of many lists were two bills related to police reform. One updated last year’s Senate Bill 217, passed in the wake of protests related to George Floyd’s police-induced death. The other restricted first responders’ use of ketamine as a response to Elijah McClain’s death at the hands of Aurora police in August 2019. The state legislature also passed three gun bills this year, which focused on the proper storage of firearms, the procedure for reporting lost and stolen guns, and strengthening background checks.
click to enlarge Most of the Douglas County School Board members were unmasked at the December 7 meeting. - DOUGLAS COUNTY SCHOOLS VIA YOUTUBE
Most of the Douglas County School Board members were unmasked at the December 7 meeting.
Douglas County Schools via YouTube
Douglas County stays wild
Douglas County commissioners continued to make headlines in 2021. After determining that the county would leave the Tri-County Health Department over disagreements regarding mask mandates, the commissioners authorized three fireworks displays that ended up setting actual fires in residential areas. Meant as an end-of-year celebration, what started off as a collaboration between three locations instead ended up in smoke.
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Catie Cheshire is Westword's editorial fellow. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire