God, Guns and Ganja: Colorado Is the Future of American Politics
This cover story from Newsweek resonated with me, a life-long Colorado resident. I found it to be an adequate plea for finding the center of left wing and right wing politics.
As it turns out, Colorado has been very good at ‘finding the center’ over the years. This article attributes this to our state’s fringe elements, both left and right.
Colorado, geographical heart of the United States, home base for America’s air defenses, is also the nation’s fun-house-mirror Mini-Me, a schizophrenic state of political contradictions. Atheists fight Christian evangelical organizations in Colorado Springs, while anti-abortion evangelicals are trying to get voters to redefine embryos as persons. Two of the nation’s worst gun massacres happened here, and yet assault weapons and concealed carry are legal everywhere except Denver. But Colorado, as one political consultant puts it, is not Alabama. It is home to some of the nation’s most progressive institutions, ideas and individuals. It was the first state to legalize abortion; its post-Aurora firearms restrictions have withstood sustained attacks from the gun lobby; the nation’s top climate scientists are based here; and its citizens have been legally buying, growing, selling, eating and smoking weed since January 2014.
With God, guns and ganja entwined in the state’s culture, Colorado is the swingiest of swing states. The Rocky Mountain State went Republican in all but two presidential elections between 1952 and 2004—but then picked Barack Obama twice. A progressive coalition turned the state Legislature Democratic in 2004 for the first time since 1960, but Republicans have since recaptured the Colorado Senate. The two parties have been trading the governor’s office and two U.S. Senate seats with the slimmest of margins. And Coloradans get to vote on things like legalizing pot and defining embryos as people because there’s a relatively low bar for getting issues onto the ballot.
The wild card here is that while passionate, issue-driven groups manipulate some blocs of voters, the state is filling up with unaligned millennials. Leaning on contentious issues sometimes backfires: Colorado has clusters of vocal religious conservatives, but attacks on reproductive rights bring young, single women out to vote for Democrats. Colorado’s politics look extreme, but folks in Denver say the real action is happening toward the middle. National politicians who can navigate Colorado’s contradictions probably get America too. That might be why Hillary Clinton scheduled her first campaign stop outside the early primary states in Colorado.