News broke on Monday that Gov. John Hickenlooper had reached a deal to avert dueling ballot measures related to fracking, and since we are a political blog and all, we had to swoop in and rank stuff.
Tuesday, we gave you our "Winners" from what we are calling Frackapalooza 2014, which culminated in the removal of four initiatives from the ballot (two backed by Polis, and two backed by the oil and gas industry) in exchange for the formation of a humongous "blue ribbon commission" that will make recommendations to the legislature.
Is this a good deal for Coloradans? A bad deal? As always here at Colorado Pols, we limit our analysis to politics while leaving the policy debate to others. Which leads us to…
Frackapalooza 2014: Winners, Losers, and Lessons
In the interest of both time and space (relative though they may be), we're going to break this up into three separate posts. After the jump, check out our "Losers" from Frackapalooza 2014 (you can find the "Winners" here):
There were no bigger losers in Frackapalooza 2014 than Republican Elected Officials and GOP-Friendly Interest Groups, which we'll call "The Belligerents" for the sake of brevity. Led by the likes of State Sen. Greg Brophy; Rep. Frank McNulty; Stan Dempsey (head of the Colorado Petroleum Assocation); and the Farm Bureau, The Belligerents basically refused to negotiate while criticizing every step of the process before reluctantly "supporting" the Fracking agreement that ended the standoff. In other words, they did nothing to help move a compromise forward and took every opportunity to snipe at Gov. Hickenlooper, Rep. Jared Polis, and everyone else who didn't just capitulate to their demands.
As a result, The Belligerents made a lot of new enemies without even winning a battle to show for it; much more damaging, however, is that Republican leaders in Colorado demonstrated that their participation in important policy discussions is basically irrelevant. Renfroe, McNulty, and their lobbyist loyalists could have chosen to play a more helpful role — which would have made sense given how few cards they held — but when they decided to be obstructionists instead, the grown ups in the room just worked around them. Machiavelli famously wrote that it was better to be feared than loved; but if you are neither, then you are just ignored.
You can also count Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez as a big Loser on this one. This was a rare election-year opportunity for someone like Beauprez, who could have used the impasse in discussions to step in and act like a leader — to show Colorado voters the kind of qualities that he only talks about on the campaign trail. But instead of trying to be the voice of reason and insert himself as a leader who could bring different sides together, Beauprez chose instead to sit outside the Capitol and throw rocks at the windows. He criticized Hickenlooper for trying to negotiate a compromise agreement — a compromise that had the support of the big oil and gas companies and was generally popular with the groups involved in the discussions — while falling hard into right-wing rhetoric land by jumping onboard the silly idea that this whole thing was a capitulation to Rep. Polis. Even worse, Beauprez drew attention to the fact that he really didn't understand the argument anyway, which even conservative apologists such as Vincent Carroll of the Denver Post couldn't ignore:
[Hickenlooper's] Republican opponent, Bob Beauprez, may think that any "grand bargain compromise" amounts to weak-kneed capitulation, even if acceptable to oil and gas companies, but Initiatives 88 and 89 were real threats to the state's economy. They may have been defeated — and probably would have been — but who knows? Now they're off the table.
The fracking issue is also essentially off the table in 2014, and in the wrap-up, it was Governor John Hickenlooper who emerged as the big winner.
We listed the Oil and Gas Industry (O&G) as one of the "Winners" from Frackapalooza 2014, but they can't escape here without a mention in the "Losers" section as well. The big O&G companies such as Noble Energy and Anadarko signed onto a potential deal early in the process, signifying both their willingness to cooperate but also their understanding that they were not holding a strong hand on their own. Fracking supporters have spent many months advertising on billboards and buses in an effort to convince Coloradans that the process is safe — yet we didn't even make it until August before the industry started going over-the-top negative with their "Flat Earth Society" ads. After failing to defeat four local ballot measures in 2013, there was plenty of reason for the industry to be worried about their messaging. We still think that the two fracking safety ballot measures promoted by Rep. Polis would have passed, and the industry definitely had no idea what to do about it.