Let's be the Backbone State

  (By John Andrews, Centennial Fellow) What’s a state? For starters, an expanse of territory, a resident population, and a sovereign government. But there’s a lot more, when you think about it as I’ve tried to do in my new book, Backbone Colorado USA. A way of life, a set of values, shared history and traditions, all play a part. As Colorado marks 140 years of statehood this year, it has actually come to reflect a special state of mind.

When that much water has gone down the Platte, that many seasons of the Buffs into the book, that much Coors into the keg, a state becomes a statement of what’s important to its people – the families who have been here since pioneer days as well as the immigrants who just came.

American states have their nicknames and mottoes, some silly, some serious. To identify New Mexico with enchantment or Illinois with Lincoln is but chamber-of-commerce hype. The lone-star pride of Texas, on the other hand, conjures undeniable magic, as does the boast of California in being golden.

True, the latter’s luster is not what it was, nor is New York any longer the “empire state” that loomed large in FDR’s day. But the “show me” shrewdness of Missourians, the “sooner” drive of Oklahomans, and the defiance of New Hampshire’s “live free or die” still evoke the salty savor of those states and sing of the American spirit.

As Coloradans, of course, we’re tagged the Centennial State merely by the historical accident of entering the union in 1876 when the USA was turning one hundred. But the makings of a much better nickname are there on the skyline for all to see. Look up, neighbor. Look west.

For almost 20 years now, a few of us have been playing with the multiple meanings of our state’s mountains being the backbone of the continent and our state’s strong character being the backbone of liberty. I propose the time has come to acclaim Colorado the Backbone State – and start living up to that.

Nations die when they forget what they stand for. They go spineless before they go lifeless. The symptoms are all around us in today’s America. Fortunately, self-government within our federal system and self-determination within our pluralistic culture make it possible for any state among the fifty to buck the trend. Let’s be the one. Let’s be the state with some spine.

Moneyed interests and political insiders will offer you a slick deal on the ballot this fall. They want you to vote away your vote, not once but twice. Say yes and the government will never again have to ask your permission to grow faster than population plus inflation. Say another yes and a simple majority of citizens will never again be able to erect new constitutional protections for your liberty and property. Let’s have the backbone to say no.

The ballot will have other propositions testing whether we’re vertebrate voters or jellyfish. We’ll see a socialized-medicine scheme with whopping taxes that would double the state’s budget while entrusting your health care to the same bureaucrats who run the DMV. And we may see a nutty anti-fracking measure that would snuff out Colorado’s energy boom. On those, too, let’s say no.

Backbone isn’t ultimately political, though, nor is it always a left-right thing. Even as policy arguments continue to swirl around policing, race, drugs, guns, religion, and abortion, nothing stops Coloradans from choosing a spine of character that upholds respect, restraint, tolerance, fidelity, and life.

Admit it: “Backbone State” would look terrific as the tagline on our green and white license plates with the rugged mountain motif. But it’s not what we drive that matters. It’s how we live. Join me in that resolution for 2016.


John Andrews is the founder of Centennial Institute, former president of the Colorado Senate, and the author of Backbone Colorado USA: Dispatches from the Divide, published last month.  Order here.