A Republican's Dismay in a Democrat's Colorado

By Dave Crater crater@wilberforcecenter.org Another Colorado election is past, and the state GOP has taken another couple steps downward with the skinny victory of the state’s central tax-and-spend ballot measure, Referendum C, and the skinny loss of C’s sister D. D could easily have won as well. Dismaying to say the least.

State leadership in the campaign against both C and D came from three main places: the energetic head of the Independence Institute, Jon Caldara; the editor of this site, Mr. Andrews; and TABOR author Douglas Bruce and his grassroots network on the front range.

Against them were arrayed all the “faux GOP” (to use Caldara’s phrase) forces at the top of Colorado’s Republican Party, led by the state’s fauxest of Republicans, Gov. Bill Owens, who deftly used the language of “fiscal sanity” in his advocacy for increased government spending.

This is more than an honest difference of opinion. In my book it is a betrayal of the state GOP by those who lead her, who use the language of conservatism to cover their abandonment of conservatism – a betrayal that has now manifested itself in five years of steady GOP electoral losses, including both houses of the state legislature, ballot measure upon ballot measure, and many local races like the school board election in Colorado Springs, where the GOP actively campaigned on behalf of a slate of conservative reform candidates who lost big.

When Gov. Owens took office in 1998, there were 40 state House seats held by the GOP. Today there are 30. In 1998, the GOP owned 20 state Senate seats. Today that number is 17. The state budget is over 40% larger since 1998, and with the passage of Referendum C, it looks to grow even more. All of this in more detail is here.

There really is little more for the state GOP to lose. To be fair, isolated positive signs over the Owens years include Bob Beauprez’s pickup of a marginal congressional seat in the Denver suburbs in 2002 (which he easily retained in 2002), isolated local victories like the election of tax-cutter Douglas Bruce as county commissioner in El Paso County (despite the opposition of Owens-esque GOP leadership), a good slate of three school board candidates in Colorado Springs in 2003, a school choice bill or two at the state level and the successful defense of CSAP testing and other school accountability measures, the defeat of Referendum A in 2003 for expanding state water works (Owens led the charge for the needless A), and tax cuts signed by Owens early in his governorship.

But Owens has now largely offset those positive tax moves with his leadership in passing Referendum C -- and what real hope does the GOP have that the above good measures will remain in place going forward with a state legislature they have now yielded to Democrats after 40 years of GOP control? Former state GOP chair Bruce Benson raised cocktail glasses with the state’s leading Democrats on election night in Denver, whimsically telling the Denver Post how entertaining it was to be in a room with people he never thought he’d be celebrating with. (We didn’t think so either, Mr. Benson.)

Leaders like Owens and Benson show no sign of any sense they have betrayed the conservative idea the GOP faithful expect they are advancing. There is thus little reason at present to believe the GOP will regain ground in the 2006 state elections. Already in Colorado Springs there are primaries being orchestrated against solid conservatives who have already run campaigns -- for example, Kent Lambert in House District 14, which is being vacated by Rep. Dave Schultheis to run for Senate District 9 -- as the party pursues the aimlessness and unity-lessness created by leaders constantly calling for unity.

For the Colorado GOP, this is the Nixonian era of fiscal irresponsibility advocated by Republicans talking of fiscal sanity; of party haplessness created by leaders who cast no vision, show no courage, enjoy cocktail parties with Democrats on election night, and, as on auto-pilot, faithfully emit the language of conservatism; of the fruitless pursuit of unity while all that makes unity meaningful is destroyed from the top.

Next comes a 2006 gubernatorial election where the GOP looks poised to lose in name a governor’s mansion many feel we have already lost in substance -- and afterward, if that occurs, the subsequent years of wandering in the political wilderness, the result of which is anything but certain. Welcome to a Democrat’s Colorado.