John Colson: How are Colorado, Wisconsin like Russia?
Hit & Run
For those who’ve noticed, I’ve been gone for two months, dealing with a family health crisis back in Madison, Wisconsin.
The resulting anxiety and distraction unfortunately left me without the mental bandwidth to crank out my normal weekly column, but the crisis has abated and I’m back in the saddle.
I should note that I barely kept track of the news during the weeks I was away, only belatedly realizing, for instance, that Russia had attacked its neighbor, the former USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) satellite of Ukraine. After alarmed friends pointed it out, I watched in dismay as the tanks rolled across the Russian/Ukraine border and people started dying for what I believe is a doomed cause.
I visited the Ukraine twice, in 1988 and 1989, when I went on two International Peace Walk treks across parts of the country while it was still under Soviet rule. This was in the time of Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, a period known as “glasnost” (Russian for “openness”) and “perestroika” (which is Russian for “reconstruction”), when Gorbachev and his supporters tried to reorient the USSR into a more open, less autocratic empire.
That didn’t work, of course, and after a bit of internal turmoil and dissolution of the USSR, we got Vladimir Putin, a vicious former KGB officer with an inferiority complex and a deep desire to remake the old USSR in his own image.
The invasion of the Ukraine, then, is part of Putin’s ongoing attempt to kick-start his dream of world domination, or some such clap-trap, and it has reawakened nuclear-war fears some had thought we’d left behind.
As my family’s health-care crisis began to wind down and I resumed paying attention to the world, my immediate concerns were more domestic in nature, however. I watched with horror while Republican politicians in the two states I have mostly called home throughout my life — Wisconsin and Colorado — embarked on what I can only call their own delusional campaigns to keep themselves in power by hook or crook, just like Putin.
In Wisconsin, it took the form of a move by the Republican majority in the state legislature’s push to “decertify” the 2020 election and hand Wisconsin’s electoral college votes to the man who lost that election, Donald J. Trump.
Despite objections from wiser minds within the Republican ranks, who said there is no legal way to decertify the election, a core of Trumpist legislators believe that by merely wishing it were so they can magically reinstall Trump in the White House by hollering about nonexistent voter fraud and undermining voters’ faith in our democratic-republic form of government.
The “decertifiers,” as I call them, are without exception from the fringe-right portion of the state’s Grand Old Party, and just as Trump has done since he lost in 2020, they are throwing everything they can at the walls of the state capital to see what will stick.
For instance, they (like Trump) continue to obsess about Hillary Clinton, claiming without proof that her campaign “spied” on Trump during the 2016 election contest (never explaining why that should matter to us now, long after Trump’s win in that election cycle and Hillary having been sidelined). And they keep insisting (again, without any justification or evidence) that the 2020 election was somehow stolen from the Big Orange One, despite near-universal rejection of that idea from any but the most deeply deluded Trump backers.
This little political drama has yet to reach any conclusion, as has an unrelated drama in Colorado, where Republican operatives want to do away with our state’s long-established limits on campaign donations.
According to a story in the Colorado Sun, two Republican candidates — Greg Lopez running for governor, and state Rep. Rod Pelton of Cheyenne Wells seeking a state senate seat — have sued to immediately dump the state’s 20-year-old campaign donation limits.
That’s right, immediately. They want a judge to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing its candidate donation limits for the 2022 election. They are represented by lawyers from two conservative organizations — Advance Colorado and the national Institute for Free Speech — who maintain that the donation limits are out of date and too restrictive, despite the fact that elections in our state are quickly becoming contests in which only the wealthy need apply.
The Sun reported that, in 2002, 67 percent of Colorado voters approved limits on how much individual donors can give to candidates — $400 for state house candidates, $1,250 for gubernatorial, attorney general, secretary of state or state treasurer hopefuls.
The lawsuit, however, maintains that “much has changed since 2002,” citing such things as “America has seen three new presidents. Eminem, Ashanti and Nelly no longer rule the pop charts. Gasoline no longer costs $1.14 per gallon. Smartphones were invented and became ubiquitous,” and other non-sensical, supposed justification for doing away with the limits.
In reality, though, what they seek is to permanently make politics a game for the rich, to the exclusion of anyone who has the passion to serve but not a lot of money.
Objections include the observation by some that the changes, if they go through, would create a “wild west scenario” in Colorado politics, causing what Colorado Secretary of State called “massive disruption to the status quo that has prevailed in Colorado for the last half-century.”
And how, you ask, does this bring our state into alignment with Putin’s world?
Well, Colorado Republicans obviously believe they have more money to work with than Democrats do, and that they should be able to parlay that into permanent rule of state government. Like Putin, who controls the levers of government through intimidation and lies, our GOP has convinced itself that whatever it takes to win is the way to go, whether it’s honest or not.
In Wisconsin, the Republicans controlling the legislature have gerrymandered the state to the point where even though Democrats regularly out-poll Republicans overall in the state, the Republicans win elections through trickery — a similarly cynical but effective way of cheating their way to power, which is something I think Putin would appreciate.