Ed Quillen: Referendum A: The real elephant in our room
Aspen Times Weekly
Recently, every political junkie I know has pointed me to the cover story by Fred Barnes in the July 21 edition of the Weekly Standard, a right-thinking political magazine owned by Rupert Murdoch. The article is called “The Colorado Model,” and it explains how a cabal of rich liberals has made Colorado less Republican and more Democratic.
In the Barnes tale, Colorado was once an idyllic GOP haven where all our thinking was performed by the savants at the Independence Institute. Then Tim Gill, Rutt Bridges, Jared Polis and Pat Stryker started spending some serious money to oppose antigay Republicans while helping build liberal think tanks (Bell Policy Center, Big Horn Institute) and other left-leaning institutions, like Colorado Media Matters, “to harass journalists and editorial writers who don’t push the liberal line” as well as “new media outlets with bloggers and online news and gossip, like ColoradoPols.com and SquareState.net.”
These efforts have doubtless altered Colorado’s political climate. But Barnes misses a factor that’s bigger than Mount Massive.
“On many levels, 2004 was a disastrous year for Republicans in Colorado,” he writes. “Bush’s margin of victory was cut in half from 2000. Democrats not only took over the legislature, but a gregarious rancher named John Salazar, a Democrat, won the U.S. House seat west of the Rockies, where Republicans have an overwhelming edge in voter registration. An even bigger blow to Republicans was the U.S. Senate victory by Salazar’s younger brother, Ken.”
Why did this happen in 2004? According to Barnes, term limits and campaign-finance laws, along with rich liberals. But the real explanation is Referendum A in 2003, which Barnes doesn’t even mention.
As you may recall, we were in a major drought then, and Referendum A was supposed to help by allowing the state to issue up to $2 billion in bonds for unspecified water-storage projects. It was overwhelmingly defeated that November with only 307,412 votes in favor, compared to 627,716 votes against. It did not gain a majority in a single one of our 64 counties.
But it had been supported by almost every prominent Republican in Colorado, led by then-Gov. Bill Owens. The only conspicuous GOP opponent was Rep. Scott McInnis, who then held that Western Slope house seat “where Republicans have an overwhelming edge in voter registration.”
McInnis chose not to run again in 2004. The Republican nominee for his seat was Greg Walcher, former executive director of Club 20 and then head of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources under Owens. John Salazar went after him for supporting Referendum A, and won.
The U.S. Senate election of 2004 featured Ken Salazar, who opposed Referendum A, against Pete Coors, who supported it. Care to guess who won?
Come the gubernatorial election of 2006, and the Republicans put up Bob Beauprez, another Referendum A supporter. There’s not enough room here to explain just how inept the Beauprez campaign was ” but Referendum A certainly didn’t help him.
It’s handy to have some liberal conspiracy to blame for Republican losses in Colorado since 2003.
But the main reason is Referendum A, which most prominent Republicans supported. Among them was current U.S. Senate candidate Bob Schaffer, who may have a hard time explaining why he should represent us after he favored something that two-thirds of us opposed.
If there’s a “Colorado Model,” it’s that Referendum A has been the political equivalent of cancer for Colorado Republicans, who have been losing ever since they tried to sell it to us. And Barnes missed it totally. So much for the political acumen of the Beltway media.
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