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TRIPLETT: Colorado liberals risk all to oppose oil

Anti-fracking advocates could run afoul of Hispanic voters

- - Friday, July 25, 2014

Anyone who thinks that the American fracking revolution will have no effect on the 2014 election hasn't been looking at Colorado lately. There is a potentially huge tectonic shift going on there with very likely national implications, and Hispanics will be major players.

First, as The Washington Times' Valerie Richardson reported on July 22, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Mark Udall and Rep. Jared Polis, all Democrats, are locked in a civil war over fracking for oil and gas in Colorado. On one side is Mr. Polis, backed by an unlimited bank account of his own money and those of billionaire environmental activists. On the other side are Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Udall.

Not widely known nationally, Mr. Polis is one of the first openly homosexual men elected to Congress. Both of his parents were active in left-wing causes in the 1960s, which he has continued to support. An exceptionally able businessman, he and his partners made hundreds of millions in online enterprises, including greeting cards and flowers. Mr. Polis sold out for something in excess of $300 million and used his profits to turn Colorado from a traditionally red state to a blue state.

Having done what he wanted for the Democratic Party, Mr. Polis took care of himself, outspending his primary rival, the first female president of the state Senate, by 4 to 1. While under no serious opposition from the Republicans in his district, Mr. Polis has a large political action committee and is thought to be very ambitious.

The issue in question for Colorado is Mr. Polis' demand that two anti-fracking initiatives be considered by a special session of the Colorado General Assembly. Pro-fracking Mr. Hickenlooper refused to call the special session, and now Mr. Polis is collecting signatures to have them put on the ballot in November. He has until Aug. 4 to qualify. Most polls in Colorado suggest they could win in November.

One of the two initiatives calls for increased setbacks for fracking operations; the other gives local jurisdictions the power to ban fracking, no matter what state law says. That is, it's a classic "not in my backyard," or NIMBY, proposal. Since several local Colorado jurisdictions have already banned fracking, the industry suspects this is a salami-slicing operation aimed at an eventual statewide ban that could be replicated in other states.

What's at stake in Colorado? According to an "educational message" from the Colorado Petroleum Association, oil and gas contributed $29.5 billion in economic activity to the state of Colorado, and that amounts to $80.8 million "per day of the week, including Sundays." Oil and gas supported 111,000 jobs at an average annual wage of $74,811, which is 48 percent above the average for the state. All of this contributed $1.58 billion to the state in various taxes, fees and royalty payments. Since these are all 2012 numbers, and considering the rate of expansion for the shale revolution, by the end of 2014, they could be running at a level of 20 percent higher or more.

The industry-backed organization, protectcolorado.com, estimates that without fracking, the state would lose 93,000 oil and gas jobs, $12 billion in state gross domestic product and $985 million in state revenues. The website claims that a fracking ban would "demolish supply-chain industries that support oil and gas development such as real estate, retail and home builders."

There is sufficient truth in the industry's concerns that the Colorado Republican and Democrat political establishments, other than Mr. Polis and his supporters, have come together to oppose the anti-fracking initiatives. For example, two former Colorado governors, one Republican and one Democrat, have joined in the Protect Colorado pro-fracking publicity campaign.

Mr. Hickenlooper and Mr. Udall are both up for re-election in 2014. Both support fracking, but cannot afford to offend Mr. Polis' supporters. They were initially expected to be re-elected fairly easily, but that view is now on hold. In the case of Mr. Udall's race, the Republicans have nominated a very attractive candidate in Rep. Cory Gardner against him, and Mr. Gardner is making energy one of his major campaign themes.

Mr. Hickenlooper is opposed by Republican Bob Beauprez, a former congressman. Both races are too close to call. Who's up depends on what poll you are looking at and when the polling was taken.

Enter Diedra Garcia, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Denver. She is appearing on TV ads for Protect Colorado saying the following: "The truth is we all benefit from fracking. It creates thousands of jobs, takes us closer to energy independence, and puts millions of dollars into our communities."

To my knowledge, this is the first time in the United States that the welfare of Hispanic Americans has been tied so closely to the fracking revolution in a major election. Hispanics make up 20 percent of the Colorado population and any visit to a fracking operation in Colorado or Texas finds Hispanic Americans on the job as well-paid employees and as oil-field service entrepreneurs. No doubt they are well represented among the 111,000 oil and gas workers the industry pointed to.

Mr. Udall needs 10,000 environmental-activist voters to win. There are a lot more Hispanic-American voters in the shale industry. They vote; their families vote. If they turn out to elect Mr. Gardner the next Republican senator from Colorado, it could be enough to swing the entire U.S. Senate from the Democratic column to the Republican and the beginning an entirely new political movement.

William C. Triplett II is a former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.