DENVER — Coloradans are drawing a line in the asphalt when it comes to California’s growing influence on their SUVs, trucks and votes.
The Colorado-based Freedom to Drive Coalition filed a lawsuit this month against the state’s adoption of California’s zero-emissions vehicle standards, arguing that the rules violate state law and would add thousands of dollars to the cost of the heavy-duty vehicles favored by drivers navigating Colorado’s snowy roads.
Meanwhile, supporters of the Electoral College are balking at the lopsided flood of cash pouring in from California to prevent Colorado voters from overturning the National Popular Vote bill, which Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, signed into law in March.
Figures compiled by Protect Colorado’s Vote show that more than 98% of the donations to Yes on National Popular Vote have been from Californians, while Coloradans have contributed 99% of the revenue raised to exit the compact.
“Obviously, California is incredibly engaged in getting Colorado’s votes,” said Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, who heads the referendum campaign.
Right-tilting Coloradans have grumbled for years about attempts to “Californicate Colorado” as Californians flock to the Rockies, but the Democratic takeover of the state legislature in 2016 and its subsequent embrace of West Coast policies have intensified the backlash.
“We’re not San Francisco yet, but I think there are a lot of people who want Colorado to become a subsidiary of California,” said Jon Caldara, president of the free-market Independence Institute.
Adopting the vehicle emissions standard means that “quite literally the governor of California will decide what cars we can buy in Colorado,” he said, while joining the National Popular Vote means that “our nine electoral votes will go to whoever the people of California tells us to go to because they’ve got a higher percentage of the population.”
“It’s one thing that the Californians keep moving out here, but you’d think they’d come to get away from California control,” Mr. Caldara said, “when in fact, they still want California to control us. They just like the views better here.”
For three years, the Denver think tank has given out a “Californian of the Year” award to the Coloradan who best exemplifies California values, an “honor” nobody really wants. Mr. Polis was a nominee in 2017.
Technically, the governor isn’t a Californian. He was born in Boulder, but he attended high school in San Diego.
Mr. Polis’ executive order directing the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to adopt California’s vehicle emissions standard makes little sense at altitude, said Freedom to Drive Executive Director Kelly Sloan.
The mandate will require electric car sales quotas, driving up costs by about $2,500 per vehicle, he said, and Teslas and Bolts are impractical for Coloradans living in rural areas without access to chargers, as well as anyone driving in the mountains during the treacherous winter months.
“I don’t think there’s anywhere in California that matches the climate of Craig, Colorado, in the winter. They don’t have Vail Pass. Half of their state isn’t mountainous,” said Mr. Sloan. “In the middle of winter, an electric vehicle probably isn’t going to get you out of your driveway.”
Colorado is one of 11 blue states to sign onto California’s zero-emissions mandate, which requires 5% of cars sold by dealerships to be electric by 2023 and 6.23% by 2025.
Garry Kaufman, director of Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division, emphasized in an Aug. 16 statement that the “zero-emission standard does not compel anyone to buy an electric vehicle.”
“It only requires manufacturers to increase ZEV sales from 2.6% to 6.23%,” Mr. Kaufman said. “It’s a modest proposal in the face of a critical threat. Where the federal government refuses to act, states must lead. Time is of the essence.”
California donors are at the forefront when it comes to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Colorado voters will decide in November 2020 whether to rip up the pact requiring their state to cast its electoral votes for the winner of the presidential popular vote.
Protect Colorado’s Vote has raised $755,492 since its formation in February, and nearly all contributions came from Coloradans. Only six donors, or 0.36%, hail from out of state, and none of those is from California.
By contrast, wealthy Californians have been responsible for nearly all the funding raised by Yes on National Popular Vote, starting with Democratic megadonor Stephen Silberstein, who chipped in $500,000 of the $744,646 raised in the third quarter.
“When you see so little coming from Coloradans, you wonder how much they’re engaged on this issue on the ‘yes’ side,” Ms. Pugliese said.
Ray Haynes, national spokesman for the National Popular Vote and a former California state legislator, said Californians’ interest in fighting the repeal makes sense given the national implications. The compact doesn’t go into effect until it is joined by states with a total of 270 electoral votes.
“The Colorado referendum is an issue important to Colorado voters and voters across the country,” Mr. Haynes said in a statement. “The outcome will help determine if the candidate who wins the most popular votes in all 50 states will always be elected president.”
So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have entered the compact, bringing the total electoral vote count to 196.
“As the campaign continues, we expect donors from Colorado and all 50 states will be aggressively engaged and we’ll expect you to report future fundraising results as well,” Mr. Haynes said. “The national popular vote is as good for a conservative voter in California as it is any voter in Colorado or South Dakota or Vermont or Oklahoma.”
While the National Popular Vote effort is billed as bipartisan, the charge to upend the Electoral College has been led by blue-state Democrats, spurred by the 2000 and 2016 elections in which the Republican candidates captured the White House despite losing the popular vote.
Mr. Haynes, who served 14 years in the California legislature as a Republican, represented the campaign in last week’s debate at Colorado Mesa University, which compact opponents described as another example of California’s influence.
“It was interesting that they brought in somebody from California to debate me, especially in my hometown. But they did,” Ms. Pugliese said.
Other Californians seeking to defend Senate Bill 42 include Intel executive Craig Barratt, who gave $100,000, and National Popular Vote founder John Koza, who donated $55,000.
The Colorado Springs Gazette told readers in a staff editorial, “Do not let California buy your vote.”
“The donations tell a story that should frighten all Coloradans,” said The Gazette. “Beyond dispute, a few big-money California donors want to control Colorado. Between now and November 2020, they may spare no expense.”
The last time Colorado voters repealed a state law was in 1932, when it overturned a tax on oleomargarine. If the repeal succeeds, then it would represent the first time a state has withdrawn from the National Popular Vote compact.
Four Democrat-controlled states — Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico and Oregon — enacted laws in the 2019 legislative session to enter the compact. In Nevada, Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, vetoed the measure, saying it would dilute the small state’s influence in presidential politics.
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