A center-right agenda for Colorado

(Denver Post, Dec. 29) Unlike Washington, DC, where divided government will continue in 2013, the new year in Colorado will bring a return of unified control by Democrats. On Jan. 9, Rep. Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) takes the speaker’s gavel from Rep. Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch), whose GOP majority was ousted by voters in November. If you visit the state House that day, you’ll notice that Democrats are mostly seated to Speaker's left, Republicans mostly to the right. The custom dates from the French Revolution, when legislators enthusiastic for political activism massed on the left side of the chamber, while those more skeptical massed opposite them. As Ferrandino assumes power alongside incoming Senate President John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Colorado’s party of the left has another chance to show what it can do with dominance under the Gold Dome, an advantage Dems last enjoyed in 2007-2011. My housewarming gift, as a friendly opponent, is a memo from voters they probably didn’t persuade this time.

Colorado Christian University, where I work, polled some 1300 Coloradans shortly before the 2012 election with an automated phone survey by SmartVoice.com. We went for a center-right sample, with 44% of respondents self-described as conservative and 30% as moderate. Their views on the role of government may help caution Democrats against overreach while providing Republicans a roadmap to relevance.

The CCU-SmartVoice poll asked about the best way of fostering prosperity, protecting liberty, helping the less fortunate, improving the schools, and encouraging people to treat each other decently. That is, most of what we want in living together. In prioritizing what civil society can do voluntarily, over what activist government might promise, respondents reminded us the left isn’t the whole ballgame – not yet, at least.

What’s the key factor in higher living standards? Free enterprise, said 45% of center-right Coloradans. Better education was next with 38%. Government programs were named by only 9%.

What’s most important in improving America as a free society? “Revival of our founding principles,” said 54% of poll respondents. Federal, state, and local government were named by 28%. Just 18% chose “progressive reform like most other countries.”

What factor matters most in providing for children, the elderly, and the disabled, the poll also asked. Families and churches were cited by 46% of those polled, voluntary private charity by another 18%. Only about one respondent in three, 36%, said government programs matter most.

The citizens typified in this particular survey obviously weren’t the voting majority that gave Democrats a 37-28 edge in the Colorado House. But Speaker Ferrandino would be unwise to ignore them if he seeks to govern with broad consensus. And House Minority Leader Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs) should forcefully advocate for them during the upcoming session.

The teachers-union agenda, for example, calls for raising taxes by a billion dollars and softening tests, while blocking vouchers and charter schools. But the center-right agenda for education, as reflected in CCU’s poll, finds parental choice prioritized by 42% and higher standards by another 27%, whereas more spending is favored by only 31%. Jam-downs from the left will backfire.

Culture warriors on both sides, meanwhile, should take pause from the survey finding on how best to ensure decent treatment of one another. A mere 7% of respondents said it’s up to laws and government. Eighty-three percent said they’d rather look to families, churches, and schools for keeping America morally strong.

Polls can mislead, of course. Remember the statistician who drowned while wading across a lake that was an average of 18 inches deep. Our center-right survey respondents were older, more religious, and more female than Coloradans overall. But they count as much as their leftist neighbors – and one day they’ll be in the majority again.