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Most voters favor firefighters’ collective bargaining Issue 1 

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Nearly two-thirds of Colorado Springs voters favor Issue 1, local firefighters’ collective bargaining measure on the city’s April 2 ballot, a poll funded by the Independent shows.

That’s because 71 percent of Democrats and a whopping 76 percent of unaffiliated voters back the measure, while even a thin majority of Republicans (51 percent) support it.

Considering El Paso County is a GOP stronghold where Republicans, who generally oppose unions, outnumber Democrats nearly two to one, support for the firefighters’ Issue 1 might come as a surprise to some. But not to Joshua Dunn, professor and chair of the department of political science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

“Public safety and first responders generally have high levels of support among the public,” Dunn says. “If you have something about firefighters or police, you’re going to get a decent number of people supportive if it’s interpreted to be in favor of first responders.”

Indeed, while one Facebook post by Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters had 11,144 “likes,” Facebook posts by the “vote no” effort drew five or fewer, and many comments posted on the “vote no” posts favored firefighters.

Interestingly, though voters seem to be demonstrating solid support for Issue 1, which would give firefighters a voice in allocation of resources but not allow a strike, they do not appear to be lashing out against the “no” campaign’s biggest star: Mayor John Suthers. In fact, the same poll shows 51 percent supporting Suthers in his re-election bid.

Suthers, a Republican who’s held various elective offices for decades, helped form Citizens Against Public Employee Unions and appears on its website and in television ads urging defeat of Issue 1.

Dunn doesn’t see that as necessarily a contradiction.

“You can reconcile the results by saying even though a majority supports the initiative [Issue 1], they might not view it as the most important thing facing the city,” Dunn says. “So they would, overall, approve of Suthers’ performance [and] still support him because it [his opposition to Issue 1] doesn’t rise to a level of a significant issue.”

The poll was conducted Feb. 15 to 19 by Luce Research for the Indy. It quizzed 500 likely voters in the April 2 election, including 234 Republicans, 122 Democrats and 144 unaffiliated voters. Pollsters also selected respondents based on age, gender and race.

The poll showed that 35.6 percent of those polled said the country is headed in the right direction, and 54.2 percent said the city is on the right track. But Republicans flipped on those two questions: 56 percent said the country is on the right track, and 49 percent, less than half, said the city is heading down the right path.

In contrast, only 8 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of unaffiliated voters were upbeat about the nation’s direction; and 60 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of unaffiliated voters said the city is on the right track.

While this seems to suggest Democrats and unaffiliated voters are forming a blue wave in bright red El Paso County, Dunn is skeptical.

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” he says. “Once they actually show up at the ballot box, then I’ll believe it.”

Dunn also notes that less than half of Republicans not being high on the city’s direction reflects “factions” within the party — some very conservative, some more to the middle or left — that also are represented in city government. So the conservative anti-tax element could be reacting to new taxes and fees supported by Suthers, while another faction opposes bike lanes (which Suthers supports), a controversial topic.

Asked to identify the most important issue facing the city, many named growth issues: infrastructure and roads (24 percent), rapid growth (18.6 percent) and traffic and transit systems (8.4 percent).

Homelessness ranked third, with 14.6 percent, with another 7 percent naming housing prices and affordable housing as the top issue.

Job creation and the economy rated as the top issue for only 9.4 percent of those polled; another 5.2 percent named legalization of marijuana as the top issue.

Asked if the next City Council should take steps to allow sales and taxation of recreational pot, 39 percent said yes. It’s worth noting that the younger the voter, the more likely they are to support recreational weed: 67 percent of those 18 to 34 support it, and 51 percent of those 35 to 44 do so. But only 43 percent of those aged 45 to 64, and a mere 28 percent of those 65 and older favor recreational marijuana.

Older people cast ballots more reliably. In the Luce poll, which was directed at very likely voters based on past voting patterns, those 65 and older comprised 44 percent of the poll sample, while those 34 and younger comprised about 10 percent.

“The entire opposition is being driven by the 65 and older crowd,” Luce Research co-founder Todd Luce says. “The young people are very much for it. In 2020, there will be way more 18- to 34-year-olds voting. As time goes on, every year that young people’s 
category is growing.”

Regarding a parks question, a huge majority, 79.4 percent, said they’d support a ballot measure that requires a vote of the people before public park land is sold, traded, leased or otherwise conveyed to a commercial enterprise. The question arises from a potential measure, dubbed Protect Our Parks, being promoted for the November ballot by Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit group formed amid debate over the city’s 2016 decision to trade 189-acre Strawberry Fields to The Broadmoor.

As for candidates, Suthers should sail to a second term unless something major unfolds. In mid-February, 50.8 percent chose Suthers; 5.2 percent chose Juliette Parker, 4.2 percent chose Lawrence Martinez and 1 percent chose John Pitchford, who recently won firefighters’ endorsement.

Overall, voters are in the dark about Council candidates. Asked if they’d heard of the 11 people running for three at-large seats in the April 2 election, a majority of respondents (50.2 percent) had heard of only one candidate, former Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

Of the incumbents, 36.6 percent had heard of Tom Strand, while the name Bill Murray rang a bell for 44.8 percent of those polled (though he does share his name with a movie star).

Forty-one percent of those polled had heard of former State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, known for his radical views against the LGBTQ community.

Other candidates had less name 
recognition.

There’s nothing unusual about that, Luce says. “All across the U.S., we regularly see unawareness in the 60-, 70-, 80-percent [rate] all the time,” he says. “These [likely voters] are the people who actually read the paper and still don’t know who they are. If you polled the entire city of Colorado Springs, it would be half that.”

When pollsters asked if voters had heard of a range of other leaders in the community, Suthers scored the highest at 90.6 percent, which was higher than the 88.2 percent who had heard of Douglas Bruce, the author of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights and a frequent government critic.

Suthers scored a 67-percent approval rating, while Bruce was rated favorably by 14.4 percent.

Council President Richard Skorman’s name was recognized by 83.8 percent of those polled, and he received a 40.6 percent favorable rating, with nearly 17 percent disapproving.

Other poll findings:
• Only 49 percent of those polled had heard of Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, who’s represented the central District 5 for six years. Her biggest support, 38 percent, comes from 18- to 34-year-olds.
• Yolanda Avila, elected two years ago to represent southeast District 4, registered with 40 percent of those polled. Her biggest support comes from 18- to 34-year-olds (31 percent) and from non-white voters (57 percent).

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