Weld County Mayors Lead Statewide Effort Opposing Proposition 112, Calling It ‘Too Extreme’
What began as the effort of Weld County mayors to oppose a 2,500-foot setback ballot measure has mushroomed into a statewide coalition of more than 40 mayors, including top officials from all ten of the state’s largest municipalities, to defeat a proposition they call “morally wrong” and “too extreme” for their communities.
Spearheading that effort—Mayors Against Proposition 112 or MAP112—Johnstown Mayor Scott K James said, was a matter of principle and critical to protecting his community.
“For me, none of it is a political process or a political thought,” said James. “It’s more of a visceral, right vs. wrong, good vs. evil kind of level.”
“Proposition 112 is morally wrong,” James added. “It’s simply wrong.”
James said he realized he needed to act while he mowed his lawn and had to remove and replace his “I am Oil and Gas” yard sign.
“You know what, dammit, I’ve got to do something about this,” James explained. “I’ve looked at the research, I’ve looked at all the studies, there’s no discernible increase in health and safety, so why the hell are they doing it?”
Weld County leads the state with approximately 90 percent of the oil produced and nearly 40 percent of the state’s natural gas output.
“With last evening’s addition of Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison, the mayors of Colorado’s ten largest cities are members of MAP112,” James told Western Wire. James said Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell was the first to ask to join as a non-Weld County mayor.
“There’s no reason MAP112 should stay just in Weld County,” James said. In less than two weeks the number of mayors grew three-fold and now stands at more than forty mayors from across the state.
The list of 42 Colorado mayors includes Arvada Mayor Marc Williams, Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare, Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell, Greeley Mayor John Gates (12th), Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul, Pueblo Council President Chris Nicoll, Thornton Mayor Heidi Williams, and Atchison.
“And it struck me that it’s nothing more than an attack on the industry, an attack on my neighbors,” James continued. “My neighborhood in Johnstown, one of the vanishing middle-class neighborhoods you hear about, I would imagine 2 in 10 houses are occupied by someone working directly in the oil and gas business. The remaining 80 percent of the houses in that neighborhood are indirectly affected by the oil and gas business.”
“I’m a mayor, I ought to be able to do something about this,” James said. He then reached out to Greeley Mayor John Gates, a close friend, and they discussed the proper role of mayors and their place in the community.
“If a mayor is a good mayor, and that mayor sticks up for the members of his community—he does what’s right for the business community, he does what’s right for the citizens of that community—it’s my job as mayor to defend the best interests of the businesses and the citizens of Johnstown,” James argued.
Out of that conversation, according to James, sprang the idea to build a consortium of Weld County mayors to oppose the ballot measure. With more than a dozen mayors on board, James organized a rally that drew hundreds of people, mostly through social media.
Fifteen mayors represent Weld County municipalities, but the broad geographical and political diversity indicate a passionate interest from concerned mayors throughout the state worried about Proposition 112’s economic impact, James said.
That includes former mayors, like former Evans Mayor Lyle Achziger and former Denver Mayor and prominent Democrat Wellington Webb.
“Between now and the election, we’ll just continue to talk to anyone who will listen,” James said, with plans for door-knocking, educational events, and a few more rallies.
According to James, educating the public on the impact of Proposition 112, from education and economy to basic municipal services, is an important effort as the election draws near.
“For a municipality, it’s severance tax. Severance tax really pays, but it does not justify or tell the whole story of the economic pain felt by a municipality,” James said. “The true economic impact of property tax levels, of business and economic stimuli, we all know in our guts and in our hearts what happens.”
James estimated that the Weld County School District RE-5J that is shared by Johnstown and neighboring Milliken has 55 percent of its valuation in oil and gas. “That right there should say something,” James added.
“We know inherently that it’s going to affect businesses. And if businesses are turning in less sales taxes then less revenue is coming into municipal coffers. If the demand for housing goes down then the valuation of houses goes down, and less property tax comes into the city coffers,” James said.
“It’s a chain reaction that I don’t want to experience,” he added. James said Johnstown would be “foolish” to begin the budgeting process for 2019 and project revenues without considering the effect of Proposition 112.
“We will cut our revenue projections for 2019 just to gird ourselves against the measure,” he said.
As mayors and other public officials have examined the ballot’s language, more are concluding in a phrase common to many of their public statements that Proposition 112’s outcome would be “too extreme” for their city and for the state.
That sentiment was shared by the head of the state’s largest population center, the City and County of Denver. In a statement last week opposing Proposition 112, Denver’s current mayor called the measure “too extreme for Colorado.”
“Proposition 112 will irreparably harm Colorado’s economy,” Hancock’s statement said. “There are better ways to protect the health and safety of our communities while keeping our state’s economy strong, and I hope the next Governor and Legislature find a path forward with real solutions that protect our environment and support jobs and our communities.”
Gates, Mayor of Greeley, the 12th largest municipality in the state and the epicenter of Weld County, helped James organize and launch the group. The Greeley City Council voted 6-1 on October 2 to oppose Proposition 112.
On September 17, Weld County Commissioners voted unanimously, 5-0, to oppose the ballot measure.
“As I said in the hearing, I can’t think of a dumber idea,” Conway told Western Wire, referring to the commissioners’ vote. “If you sat down to design a proposition that would wreak this much harm, you couldn’t do it. You literally couldn’t put pen to paper to come up with a dumber idea that is going to eliminate jobs, is going to create challenges for education, vital public services, fire departments, sheriffs’ departments—and I don’t think we’ve fully figured out the total impact of Prop 112.”
In a 7-2 vote just a week before the Weld County decision, the City Council of Thornton voted on a resolution opposing the ballot measure, calling it “too extreme for Thornton.”
“It’s too extreme for Thornton,” Mayor Williams declared at the time. “As a native of Colorado, it’s too extreme for Colorado.”
Williams is a member of MAP112. Another member of Thornton’s City Council, Democrat Jacque Phillips, further explained why she opposed the ballot measure.
“I strongly oppose this [Prop 112],” Phillips said. “Also important to me is representing my constituents, and I know very well where constituents in Ward 1 fall on this because we have so many people that are union employees, that have jobs in oil and gas, and this is literally taking food off their table and that is something that we will never do.”
James echoed the importance of recognizing the interconnected nature of the state’s economy, and that Proposition 112 would not just pose issues of concern for communities closer to oil and gas development but would be felt statewide.
“To think that we’re not a regional or statewide economy is absolutely foolish,” James said. “[The State of Colorado] is doing well because of an economy stimulated by oil and gas. It will be felt statewide.”
A study by Common Sense Policy Roundtable found that more than three-fourths of the job losses resulting from the passage of Proposition 112 would not come from the oil and gas industry but from indirect effects on sectors like retail trade (11 percent), health care (8 percent), construction (7 percent), and accommodation and food services (6 percent).
Loren Furman, Senior Vice President of State and Federal Relations for the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry said Proposition 112 would affect all Coloradans.
“We are a major oil and gas producing state and you cannot effectively ban oil and gas production without causing huge damage across the entire economy,” Furman said. “That is why you are seeing the business community working so hard to defeat this measure and to convince our fellow Coloradans to vote no on 112.”
In mid-September a group of more than 30 civic and business groups organized by Vital for Colorado, including the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Club 20, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Colorado Municipal League, and the Colorado chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, joined forces to defeat Proposition 112.
James said MAP112 was planning to hold a rally on October 16th at noon on the west steps of the Colorado Capitol.
MAP’s list of participating mayors, as of October 2 (Weld County municipalities in italics, top 10 population centers + Greeley in bold):
– Ault Mayor Rob Piotrowski
– Arvada Mayor Marc Williams
– Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare
– Bennett Mayor Royce Pindell
– Brighton Mayor Ken Kreutzer
– Broomfield Mayor Randy Ahrens
– Centennial Mayor Stephanie Piko
– Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers
– Craig Mayor John Ponikvar
– Dacono Mayor Joe Baker
– Delta Mayor Ron Austin
– Denver Mayor Michael Hancock
– Former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb
– Eaton Mayor Kevin Ross
– Evans Mayor Brian Rudy
– Former Evans Mayor Lyle Achziger
– Federal Heights Mayor Daniel Dick
– Fort Collins Mayor Wade Troxell
– Fort Lupton Mayor Zo Stieber
– Fort Morgan Mayor Ron Shaver
– Frederick Mayor Tony Carey
– Greeley Mayor John Gates
– Greenwood Village Mayor Ron Rakowsky
– Hudson Mayor Dwayne Haynes
– Johnstown Mayor Scott James
– Kersey Mayor Gary Lagrimanta
– Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul
– LaSalle Mayor Andy Martinez
– Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman
– Lonetree Mayor Jackie Millet
– Loveland Mayor Pro-Tem Don Overcash
– Manitou Springs Mayor Ken Jaray
– Milliken Mayor Beau Woodcock
– Monument Mayor Don Wilson
– Northglenn Mayor Carol Dodge
– Platteville Mayor Adrienne Sandoval
– Pueblo Council President Chris Nicoll
– Severance Mayor Don McLeod
– Thornton Mayor Heidi Williams
– Westminster Mayor Herb Atchison
– Windsor Mayor Kristie Melendez
– Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy