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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Letter from Colorado

posted by on April 17 at 14:37 PM

Once upon a time everything we knew about Colorado we learned watching Mork & Mindy. Then one day the American Evangelical Movement upped and move to Colorado, turning Colorado Springs into their batshitcrazy Vatican, and in 1992 Colorado voters passed an anti-gay-rights amendment to their state constitution. (It was later overturned by the US Supreme Court.) Colorado voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004.

So Colorado—it’s a red state, right?

Maybe not. Something is up in Colorado. In the last few weeks Colorado state legislators—did you know that Colorado has a Dem governor and that Dems control both houses of the Colorado legislature?—passed a pro-gay adoption law; now state legislators are moving on a law that would ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace.

What’s going on in Colorado? I put that question to Noel Black, one of the crazed geniuses behind the late, great Toilet Paper and now Newspeak, and a resident of Colorado Springs. Here’s Noel’s take:

Yes, it’s a good questions why Colorado is suddenly a bastion of pro-gay state legislation like THIS, and THIS.

We’ve got a Dem in the governor’s mansion (Bill Ritter) and a Dem controlled house and senate. In all honesty, I have no fucking idea why this is happening beyond what my “work spouse” (isn’t that a disgusting term!?), Aaron Retka, posted HERE. Pointed out as the obvious, Retka says: Ted Haggard pretty much ruined the credibility of evangelicals everywhere, George Bush and the Republicans on the national level are fuckin’ up the program for lesser neo-cons everywhere, the war is dumb, etc.

Jay Ferguson, a friend who works for the rapidly growing El Paso Country Democratic Party here in Colorado Springs, notes that, “the thing that’s interesting in Colorado is that if you look at it is as a whole, we’re basically divided neatly into thirds between dems, republicans and independents. So it really just depends on which way the wind is blowing.” He believes the numbers show that Colorado will continue to blow even farther blue for forseeable future.

He also pointed out that social issues aren’t on people’s minds right now as much as things like water, and our lack of it. And Ritter ran on energy and water. A lot of the new democratic legislators also ran on issues of energy and they tend pragmatically progressive. Jay also suggested that many repubs may have voted for Ritter and other democratic legislators because if we run out of water, the housing boom will end and wealthy areas like Castle Rock and South Denver are going to be hard hit.

Now, there’s the paradox of Referendum I, which was also on the ballot in November 06 and got beat 60/40 53/47. That ref would’ve legalized civil unions for same-sex couples, and polls at the time suggested that it had about a 50/50 shot at passage. Jay again pointed out an odd fact about the way Colorado voters tend to behave at the polls: We almost always vote no on amendments we don’t fully understand or don’t think can be reversed. Interestingly, says Jay, Ref I simple didn’t motivate a lot of voters and didn’t end up being a wedge at all. So, even though Ref I lost in the election, polls indicated that there was enough political will to begin passing progressive protections for queers in the legislature.

It is intersting that the Dems will be holding their convention in Denver in 08. I think they see Colorado as a model for state tipping.


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State tipping ... sorry, makes me think of my early days in farm communities (PA and BC) and all the stories about cow tipping.


Posted by Will in Seattle | April 17, 2007 2:50 PM

Ref I failed by only a 53-47 margin, not 60-40, and even the "marriage is between a man and a woman" Amendment 43 passed by only 56-44. I think someone was a little bit confused.

Posted by Matt from Denver | April 17, 2007 2:51 PM

“the thing that’s interesting in Colorado is that if you look at it is as a whole, we’re basically divided neatly into thirds between dems, republicans and independents..."

interesting, indeed, as it goes against my (and is suspect many people's) impression that it was majority repugnican. thanks so much for the informative and uplifting post, dan. are you planning on going to the convention?

Posted by ellarosa | April 17, 2007 2:58 PM

You're right, Matt. Thanks.

Posted by Noel Black | April 17, 2007 2:59 PM

Actually, thank Noel for the informative post...

Posted by Dan Savage | April 17, 2007 3:05 PM

I'm from Colorado, and my folks have nearly always voted adamantly against *any* amendment, on the grounds that the measures proposed in them mostly ought to be laws instead. And we've gotten ourselves into messes before--look up TABOR and its interaction with the constitutionally-mandated increase in education spending every year.

Posted by Kiru Banzai | April 17, 2007 3:14 PM

Water's going to be THE defining issue all across the West in the next couple of decades. There's too damn many people living in the desert already, and they're going to double in twenty years or so, and the aquifiers and the rivers are drying up and the result is going to make the California drought of the late 80s look like a splash in the pool.

I don't expect that to result in liberal policies. Expect to see a lot of those people show up around here.

Posted by Fnarf | April 17, 2007 3:21 PM

Don't forget about the influence of Tim Gill, the founder of Quark, whose been revolutionizing gay rights organizing at the local and state level. Gill's been working in many states, but he got started (and lives in)... Colorado.

Posted by Frank Bruno | April 17, 2007 3:25 PM

We should also thank Noel Black for coining the term "fundotardalism," which gives me a good chuckle on a consistent basis.

Thanks, dude.

Posted by Original Andrew | April 17, 2007 4:03 PM

I completely agree with the 'thirds' comment. I grew up in Denver (moved there from DC when I was 11) and found that to be very true- there's Colorado Springs, but there's also Boulder. There are redneck mountain towns and mountain towns consisting mainly of hippies who dropped out and never went back. If any red state is going to go blue, it's likely to be Colorado.

And my dad is incredibly excited that the '08 Democratic convention is in Denver. Might have even beaten his excitement when Carmelo Anthony went to the Nuggets.

Posted by Abby | April 17, 2007 4:10 PM

Dan, read Markos Moulitsas' (the founder of Daily Kos) book "Crashing The Gates". He details Colorado's people-powered movement that has made the place much bluer.

Posted by Will of Horses Ass | April 17, 2007 4:27 PM

Out of curiosity... does anyone know if Ted Haggard has been tested for HIV? Considering his use of meth and penis I would think a test is in order.

Posted by Carollani | April 17, 2007 5:10 PM

It was actually—ahem—I who coined the term fundotardalism, just to nitpick. Noel would claim credit for "metrosexual" if you let him.

But I think the changes in Colorado are indicative of national sea change, not an isolated regional trend. You've got voters coming of age whose values-vote buttons the GOP can't press and to whom the environment, the war, the economy and other traditionally lefty causes are much bigger issues. You've also got people abandoning evangelism in droves, the Repubs' increasing unpopularity. It's the "bad dream" phenomenon of the Truman years, where as a whole America rejected one set of values for another. Damned if that doesn't sound awesome right about now.

Posted by Aaron Retka, the Work Spouse | April 17, 2007 6:23 PM

Actually, it's "evangelicalism," Aaron, honey. And yes, I freely admit you coined "fundotardalism." I would've confessed if I'd gotten here first, and I certainly never took credit for that, nor would I for metrosexual, though I still like "retrosexual." We'll talk about it tomorrow.

Posted by Noel Black | April 17, 2007 6:51 PM

I would like to coin the term "exoskeletonitism" right here, right now. It's when older men with soft bodies and too much money by flashy cars with hard bodies to compensate.

Posted by Dan Savage | April 17, 2007 6:54 PM

The lefty muckraking site Colorado Confidential has an article they published last week about Colorado's changing voter registration numbers. GOP still has a bit of an edge but it shrank during 2006, particularly around the primaries in August.

What it all means has been a subject for debate on our local political blogs. One thing that should be noted is the split (almost schism) in the Colorado GOP between hardcore wingnuts and more moderate types they deem "RINOs" (Republican In Name Only). That surely played a part in our statewide politics and they hardcore types can be really nasty about the RINOs. Also, our statewide Democrats (Gov. Ritter and Sen. Salazar) are pretty moderate (Salazar is one of the few Dems who stuck by Joe Lieberman's side and has yet to add his voice to the chorus of elected officials calling for AG Gonzalez's resignation; Ritter is pro-life but with a laissez faire attitude about it - and he did sign a contraceptives bill of some sort that I can't remember into law). So we're a long way from being a progressive state, but the Dems are united at this point so I'll take it.

Posted by Matt from Denver | April 17, 2007 6:57 PM

It hasn't gotten much/any national press, but the Indiana house recently defeated attempts to pass a gay marriage amendment on to the is confusing how states who should be be "red" or "conservative" don't always fit their label.

Posted by Eric | April 17, 2007 7:22 PM

It hasn't gotten much/any national press, but the Indiana house recently defeated attempts to pass a gay marriage amendment on to the is confusing how states who should be be "red" or "conservative" don't always fit their label.

Posted by Eric | April 17, 2007 7:23 PM

The Bill that Ritter signed requires doctors to notify rape victims about the availability of emergency contraception.

Posted by Noel Black | April 17, 2007 7:25 PM

There was a time once, long long ago, when Colorado was notoriously blue in a sea of surrounding red states (Wyoming, Utah, Nebraska). Once upon a time we had Gov. Dick Lamm ( and no evangelicalism - and Boulder.

I remember those days well and long for them still. The way I see it, Colorado's swing toward the blue is on a par with the national swing, nothing more. (Landing the '08 Dems was a fluke; you just watch, Denver will blow it somehow.) Kiru @ 6 is right: Coloradans don't vote for amendments when simple statute changes are what's called for.

I believe it's merely a matter of time before we get some decent gay rights legislation on the books here in CO.

Posted by ChillyMama | April 17, 2007 9:37 PM

I agree, Chilly. It seems odd that CO would be among the leading states, though, doesn't. I remember the Dick Lamm days too, when I was a kid. Colorado Springs has been conservative since, well, pretty much forever. But I think the weird leap into the blue is interesting to watch, particularly if we do pass pro-'mo legislation.

Dan and Aaron: I coined "pro-'mo"!

Posted by Noel Black | April 18, 2007 7:16 AM

More on Colorado's red to blue swing: Until recently, we had two Rebublican U.S. Senators, now it's 1-1. And, last November we went from our US House of Reps delegation being 4-3 Republicans to 4-3 Democrats. We didn't fall that far short of making it 5-2, actually.

But, and it's a big butt: Our Democratic senator, Salazar, is about as far right as you can be and be a Democrat. We've become blue, but kind of libertarian blue, not Cambridge, MA, blue.

Posted by Eric from Boulder | April 18, 2007 7:26 AM

Well done, Noel. Let's not forget, too, that Colorado is at the heart of the immigration debate. The CS Indy ran an interesting story last week that stated because of the Colorado's baroque immigration policies (most of which Tancredo helped push through) farmers are having to depend on convict labor instead of migrant workers. 'Mos and 'grants: these are almost certainly the defining social issues for upcoming election cycles.

(Can I claim "'mo-grant"? I've got requests in at the Lexicon Patent Office.)

Posted by Aaron Retka, the Work Spouse | April 18, 2007 7:30 AM

We stand a very good chance of taking the other Senate seat next year with Allard's retirement.

Posted by Aexia | April 18, 2007 8:15 AM

How many people from Colorado read SLOG? Seems like a lot.

Posted by darksandal | April 18, 2007 9:42 AM

Colorado will never be Massachusetts or Oregon, at least not in my lifetime. One thing folks outside the state should understand is that the Dems controlling the legislature can thank redistricting for it. The repugs controlled things in 2002 and gerrymandered it so badly that the courts got involved and ended up doing the redistricting themselves. (Too bad things didn't work out that way in Texas.)

While there is a blue shift occurring both locally and nationally (thanks for that, W), we'd still have a GOP legislature if they had their way five years ago, and quite possibly even if they had left things as they were.

I don't want this to sound discouraging to progressives, but what's going on in Colorado and other red states is, I believe, the result of overreaching by W and the social conservatives. Old school fiscal conservatives, laissez faire libertarians, and the like find the Democrats more attractive given the Big Government spending and Bill of Rights shredding that the social cons and their leader in the White House are doing. But that means that the Dems have to shift to the center - hence leaders like pro-gun Howard Dean, anti-abortion Bill Ritter, and pro war Joe Lieberman. I think it's worth it if we elect a Dem, any Dem, president in 2008 while retaining both houses of Congress.

Posted by Matt from Denver | April 18, 2007 9:54 AM

@ 25 - I lived in Seattle for 8 years and read The Stranger every week. I like to keep up with what's going on there. But surpringly Slog seems to have a lot of readers all around. I guess it's because it's "Dan Savage's blog" to many.

Posted by Matt from Denver | April 18, 2007 9:56 AM

I grew up in a big city, and while I've come to like this little city well enough, I miss a big city vibe. I get a vicarious fix of that by lurking on the SLOG.

MfD's take on Colorado politics, especially the importance of redistricting, is exactly right.

For a little further euphoria damping, it's worth noting that while Colorado now sends only three repub Reps to D.C., two of those three are among the most whack-job Republicans you'd ever care not to meet in a dark alley -- Tom Trancredo and Marilyn Musgrave. And yes, those were horses you heard whinny in terror when I spoke those names. "Frau Blucher!"

But, dammit, the Dems kicked Repub butt in this state, not only in 2006, when Republican butt was getting kicked all over the country, but back in the otherwise grim 2004 as well. Let's take our victories where we find them.

Posted by Eric from Boulder | April 18, 2007 10:34 AM

I've said to many people out here, Colorado is not a red or blue state - it's purple - a mix of both you won't find in Oklahoma or Massachusetts. It's a frustrating place to live actually, especially if you're gay. One day we have the hope of equal rights, the next, we're on the receiving end of pending Focus On the Family-sponsered legislation. I gotta admit though, with a Dem gov, house and state, things are looking up. Now hopefully our new governor will sign these cool things coming to his desk.

Posted by Phil from Colorado | April 18, 2007 11:03 AM

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