Source: Vital for Colorado

In pushing back against a ballot measure that threatened tens of thousands of jobs in oil and gas and other sectors of the Colorado economy, the effort to defeat Proposition 112 came down to people power and personal outreach to friends and neighbors.

Simon Lomax, research fellow for Vital for Colorado, a statewide group of business leaders focused on energy policy, told Western Wire the authenticity of family, friends, and neighbors within the industry drove the message that beyond policy this campaign was really about the people.

“The men, women and families of the Colorado oil and natural gas industry really were the heart and soul of the campaign,” said Lomax. “They did so many things to make a real connection with voters: Letter writing, sign waving, attending rallies and town halls, appealing to voters on TV and over social media, having one-on-one conversations with their neighbors and friends, and more.”

Overall, Proposition 112, a proposed 2,500-foot setback that would have kept more than 85 percent of the state’s non-federal lands off-limits to new oil and gas development, failed by nearly 280,000 votes, a 12-point margin, 56 to 44 percent.

In places like Weld County, Colorado’s top oil and gas producing county, the measure saw a 48-point margin of defeat, and failed in three of the other top five resource producing counties statewide. But those expected outcomes were combined with Proposition 112’s defeat in urban areas like Adams, Arapahoe, and Jefferson counties where strong 10 to 18-point margins added to the measure’s defeat, demonstrating the connection Lomax described.

Tracee Bentley, Executive Director of Colorado Petroleum Council, agrees. “Our industry proudly employs Coloradans from every walk of life. The threat of Proposition 112 united us in full force, irrespective of title. Engineers and accountants stood side by side with welders, office managers, mechanics and geologists,” Bentley told Western Wire.

Industry workers and their families rallied several times across the state from Adams County to Grand Junction, including one on the west steps of the state Capitol on August 2, that drew thousands with an “Energy Proud” message. Once the ballot measure was headed to a vote in November, the rallies continued, in part driven by the spread of the workers’ message to the leaders in their communities—mayors from across the state.

By October more than 50 mayors from cities small and large had joined in with their residents who work in the industry, calling Proposition 112 “extreme” but also emphasizing the critical nature of the jobs, families, incomes, tax revenues, and other effects that a vote for the measure would endanger, threatening communities at their core: the residents who lived there.

The most direct message, “I Am Colorado Oil & Gas” yard signs created by Vital, became a regular feature at rallies and at homes as the campaign progressed.

“I think that connection made a big difference. The national groups behind Prop 112 tried their best to demonize our state’s oil and gas industry with false claims, scare tactics and personal attacks. But it didn’t work because people saw families like their own fighting for the right to live and work in Colorado. As a result, I think people paid closer attention to the arguments against Prop 112 on TV and in the press, and they were more motivated to vote in defense of working families,” Lomax argued.

The New York Times took notice of the centrality of rank-and-file energy workers in its October profile on the campaign.

“The people that oppose this industry, they treat us as if we’re really evil,” Cody Doane, told the Times.

“They want to ban oil and gas and chase us out of this state,” he said.

The paper noted that the loss of well-paying jobs—twice the state average at $117,000 per year—would drive blue-collar workers from their homes in Colorado.

That includes residents who work in adjacent trades that support the oil and gas industry, like Krystal Awang, a member of Pipefitters Local 208, whose previous job as a waitress was not enough to cover her basic needs, like health insurance.

“I now have a steady paycheck and health insurance,” she said. “So if I need to go to the doctor, I can go to the doctor and I’m covered. I’m not just living on tips and hopefully making enough each day. I’m able to live on my own and take care of myself.”

For her, the opportunities provided a lifeline and the independence to move up.

“If I wasn’t part of this trade, I would be working two jobs, living with my parents and I wouldn’t have anything that I have now. It has given me a way to provide for myself, instead of asking my parents to keep providing for me, which so many young people have to nowadays,” she added.

“Everyone knew the stakes and Industry workers were eager to do their part at rallies, sign waiving, and letter writing. We are and will remain grateful to every person who stood up for themselves, their colleagues and their families, because we wouldn’t have defeated this disastrous measure without their commitment,” Bentley added.

Lomax said the effort against Proposition 112 came down to residents “fighting for their right to live and work in Colorado” and the voters of Colorado eagerly came to their neighbors’ defense.

“I have watched, chronicled and worked on campaigns for 30 years, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like it. I am humbled by the hard-working men and women in Colorado’s oil and natural gas industry,” said Dan Haley, President of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, told Western Wire.

Haley described the “personal” effect and heartfelt grassroots campaign of workers fighting for their own jobs and family future was critical in showcasing the importance of the tens of thousands of jobs at stake in the election.

“It’s difficult to find words that capture how much they meant to this effort. Their engagement, respect, and activity, showing up for rallies, sign waving, writing postcards and walking neighborhoods and going door-to-door, it was so impressive. This effort was personal for these men and women who, in many cases, are not political at all, and seeing that made me more determined and want to work even harder,” Haley added.

Another group that campaigned against Proposition 112 said that it was exactly the personal connections made in this campaign that resonated throughout the state, looking no further at the many disparate counties both rural and urban that rejected the measure’s extreme intent.

“Elections aren’t strictly won at a macro level. Voters react to things that affect them personally. Spirit of Colorado wanted to tell a story from several unique perspectives,” said Amy Oliver Cooke, Director of Spirit of Colorado.

“We didn’t need to glamorize or romanticize Raul Sanchez, Mark Weinmaster, or New Raymer residents’ experiences; theirs were worth telling without frills or fireworks. Judging by the overwhelmingly positive reaction to their stories and the outcome of the vote, Coloradans connected with them,” she added.

Spirit of Colorado’s ads went up outside of the Front Range market, playing in places like Pueblo, Colo. Pueblo County sent Proposition 112 a strong message—the measure failed by a 25-point margin, 62 to 37 percent.