Poll shows local control ballot measure could help candidates who support it


Congressman Jared Polis, D-Boulder, showing the fracking operation across the street from his home near Berthoud last summer.

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DENVER — The group behind a proposed local control ballot measure funded by Boulder Congressman Jared Polis is encouraged by some polling it did last month showing that a majority of Coloradans are likely to support candidates who support the measure.

According to the statewide poll by RBI Strategies, which is running Polis’s campaign, 51 percent of Coloradans are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports greater regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, by local communities than is currently provided by the state.

Just 34 percent of respondents say they’re more likely to support a candidate who opposes increased local control of drilling.

The survey challenges the conventional wisdom that a ballot measure to give local communities control of oil and gas drilling will backfire for Democrats, making them the targets of an estimated $50 million in spending by the oil and gas industry in an effort to defeat the measure.

Multiple sources also tell FOX31 Denver that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Cory Gardner, whose race against Democratic Sen. Mark Udall could determine control of the Senate next year, is rumored to be back-channeling with stakeholders and urging them to reach a compromise on legislation that could keep Polis’s initiatives off the November ballot.

Gardner has reportedly spoken with Tisha Schuller, the executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and urged her to consider a legislative compromise that could be passed in a special session ahead of the November election.

Gardner’s campaign denied that any such conversations have taken place.

“That’s absolutely not true,” said Alex Siciliano, Gardner’s spokesman.

On Tuesday, Schuller also emphatically denied that she’s had any such conversations with Gardner.

“Whoever your source is either completely wrong, woefully ill-informed, or is fabricating a story that a conversation occurred,” Schuller said. “I have not had any contact via phone, email, or text with Congressman Gardner on this matter.”

The Senate race, likely to be among the closest in the country, will almost certainly come down to unaffiliated voters.

When the RBI poll results are broken down by voter registration, 50 percent of unaffiliated voters say they’re more likely to support a candidate who supports local control, while 35 percent say they’re more likely to support a candidate who opposes it.

Among Democrats, 82 percent are more likely to support a candidate who supports greater local control of fracking; but just 40 percent of Republicans are more likely to support a candidate who opposes more local control.

“Normally, Democrats hate local control, but in this case as it relates to oil and gas drilling, local control actually increases Democratic turnout,” said Craig Hughes, a Democratic strategist who managed Sen. Michael Bennet’s 2010 campaign.

“It’s at least reason to rethink that conventional wisdom that these ballot measures are going to hurt Democrats. What they really do is create risk for everyone involved.”

Sensing that risk, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat facing reelection this November, continues to lead ongoing negotiations with the oil and gas industry, Polis, state lawmakers and the environmental community around a potential bipartisan legislative compromise that would satisfy Polis enough that he wouldn’t go forward with his ballot measures this fall.

Although the legislative session ended last week, Hickenlooper is willing to call lawmakers back for a special session, likely in early June, should all sides agree on a local control bill that can get the necessary votes to pass both the House and Senate.

While some Republicans would rather settle the matter at the Capitol than risk leaving a more far-reaching ballot measure in the hands of voters this fall, others see a potential special session as politically motivated.

“True to form, Governor Hickenlooper is doing the bidding of his pals at the expense of Colorado,” said state Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, in a press release this week.

“In this case, he’s trying to save Udall from Polis.”

Other Republicans, despite a wariness about whether Polis would actually pull his initiatives should a bill be passed, believe a bipartisan legislative compromise is more advantageous in terms of both the election year politics and the policy that would likely result.

“I know that there are people on the Republican side who are open to a legislative fix,” Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, told FOX31 Denver earlier this month. “We shouldn’t leave these things to hang out there until November. We should resolve what we can now.”

Udall, a strong backer of wind and solar energy who’s also supported natural gas, has yet to take a position on a potential ballot measure, telling reporters that he needs to wait before an initiative is officially on the November ballot before deciding where he stands.

“If there’s a ballot initiative, the language of that initiative will be really important to study,” Udall told FOX31 Denver in March.

Campaign money is already being spent, as the industry, along with the Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and coalition of business organizations, have mobilized its resources for a campaign against a ballot measure that could stifle what’s become a $30 billion industry annually in the state.

And billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer may join Polis and put his own considerable wealth behind the initiatives.

“It’s definitely going to make TV time more expensive for all the campaigns,” one operative said. “That much we know.”

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