For a decade and more, Clear Creek, like the state, has been trending blue. Governor-elect Jared Polis, along with every state and national Democrat, swept once-red Clear Creek by double digits.
Conservative columnist George Will recently wrote that Colorado turning blue from purple is not good news for Republicans. He says the “state is in many ways a glimpse of the nation’s future,” and that national Republicans “should study Colorado’s changing tint, from purple toward blue.”
“Because it is increasingly young, urban, educated and diverse,” he concludes, “Republicans, who fancy themselves saviors of ‘flyover country,’ might just as well fly over Colorado.”
In addition to blue, Will might have noted Colorado’s widening color spectrum. The number of women leaders, such as our representative KC Becker who will be Speaker of the House, continues to grow. Jared Polis has made history by being the first openly gay man elected to head a state. And Joe Neguse, a brilliant rising star taking Polis’s seat as our congressional representative, is the first Colorado African American elected to Congress. Colorado’s landscape is littered with shards from broken glass ceilings.
Two major factors have contributed to the paradigm shift. The first is the increasingly embracing attitude and accepting mores of Coloradans. The history of the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the state reflects it.
In 1992, Colorado passed Amendment 2 that allowed landlords to discriminate against LGBTQ renters. Four years later in Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned A2. In 2006, Colorado voted to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples. In Baker v. Nelson in 2015, the SCOTUS overturned that as well. Now, with an openly gay man elected governor by a ten-point margin, the debate is about his male partner’s title.
The second factor is the Front Range growth, especially in metro Denver. One can argue that growth has aided the shift in social mores, but it also can be argued it’s the result of Colorado’s culture blossoming. Whichever is the cause and the other the effect is heady stuff for academics. But there’s at least a correlation between them.
A similar pattern is trending in Arizona, the land of libertarian conservatism and its godfather Barry Goldwater, and in other western states once staunchly conservative. The commonality among them is a rising metro/megalopolis. Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa is the equivalent of Colorado’s Front Range.
While this might seem like inside-baseball for political scientists, it portends a progressive future for Colorado and the West, the advent of 21st-century Progressive Era akin to the early 20th-century period, which focused on labor rights, work and food safety, conservation (environment), and education.
Historically, a progressive Colorado led the way on women’s suffrage and reproductive rights. We were the first jurisdiction worldwide to legalize recreational use of marijuana. From that long-range perspective, the amendments permitting discrimination in housing and marriage should be seen for the anomalies they were: Immoral stains besmirching the state’s live-and-let-live, egalitarian, down-to-earth philosophy.
With progressive Democrats dominating state leadership, emphasis will be on health care, education, energy, and more. Because of that, the sky-is-falling warnings are already coming from the right. They call it “over-reach,” something that happens only when Democrats control government. Curiously, when Republicans do, it’s called implementing a promised agenda.
While traditional conservatives such as Will describe progressivism’s goal as the perfection of society, the reality is that progressivism is the pursuit of improving the human and world conditions in the face of the rise of the oligarchic state in which mega-corporations and the uber-wealthy rule.
In Colorado, traditional conservatism has been laid to rest. May it RIP.
Hereon, we can look forward to a can-do Clear Creek and Colorado with debate focused not on the what but the how. A worthy challenge for a robust, forward-looking populace. History shows Coloradans are up for it. It’s in our DNA.