“We’re just concerned that you’re joining this current wave of populism,” a community leader told us the other day, referring to a recent Business Journal editorial supporting an elected Utilities Board.
We chuckled, but we understood. Like it or not, we’re in a new political world, one so unexpected, so unlikely and so scary that it seems immune to rational analysis.
Let’s start at the top, with Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.
Republicans! What were you thinking? Don’t you realize that Trump is a mountebank, a fraud, a swindler, a con artist, a buffoon, a short-fingered vulgarian and a chronic fabulist? He lies, he cheats, he scams and he postures — of all the third-rate reality show stars in the world, why are you choosing this one to represent the party of Lincoln? And as for all the sniveling GOP elected officials who have jumped on the Trump Dump truck (let’s not call it a bandwagon), they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Democrats! The United States is not Denmark, Canada or France. We’re a big, brawling, complex, infuriating mess of a country, somehow obliged to be the world’s police and fire department, economic engine, keeper of the peace and wager of wars. Democratic presidents from Roosevelt to Obama have understood this, and guided us as best they could — as have Republicans from Nixon through both Bush presidencies.
So what’s this love affair between cranky old Bernie and folks who ought to know better? Do you really think that electing Bernie will bring free health care, free college and the forgiveness of existing college debt? Sounds great, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Bernie isn’t a scoundrel — he’s just a delusional one-trick pony, a guy who’s been complaining about income inequality since 1976. Please, please come to your senses and choose Hillary.
Moving to the local political scene, things are just as strangely unsettled. Five-term incumbent Republican Congressman Doug Lamborn shows up at the Fifth District Assembly expecting an orderly re-anointing, and nearly gets knocked off the ballot by Calandra Vargas, an obscure Republican worker bee. Vargas wowed the delegates with a fiery speech, as did Darryl Glenn at the State Assembly.
Glenn knocked GOP favorite Tim Neville out of the U.S. Senate race, and seems poised to become the GOP’s pick to take on Michael Bennet. He’s running against four weak rivals (Jack Graham, Jon Keyser, Ryan Frazier and Robert Blaha) who haven’t developed much traction, so it’s hard to imagine that Glenn won’t be the choice of the party regulars who usually decide primary elections.
Can Vargas take out Lamborn? Her job is a lot tougher than Glenn’s. Lamborn is an impeccably conservative, canny and experienced incumbent. Democrats and fellow Republicans have mounted attack after attack upon him, and Lamborn has always walked off the battlefield unscathed. It used to be said of Ronald Reagan that the political landscape was littered with the bones of those who had underestimated the genial Californian — and the same might be said of Lamborn.
A recent mailer reminding Republicans to vote in the June 29 primary featured a cheerful, casually dressed Lamborn and his spouse Jeanie near the Garden of the Gods. And where does the congressman stand on the issues? He hasn’t changed — he’s pro-life, pro-family and pro-freedom. He tolled the familiar bells of the GOP right and never mentioned Vargas.
Is this a “populist wave”? It sure seems like it to the TABOR-hating Colorado political establishment. A bipartisan coalition of business, political and nonprofit leaders launched an initiative this week that will pretty much put the kibosh on future “populist” initiatives.
The proposed “Raise the Bar” state Constitutional amendment would require proponents to obtain the signatures of 2 percent of the registered voters in every state senatorial district to qualify for the ballot. If it passes, voter-driven initiatives without hundreds of thousands to spend on signature gatherers will be out of luck. Rural areas of the state will have a far greater say, and the urbanized Front Range will have far less. And if you manage to get your measure on the ballot and it passes 54-46, too bad for you — “Raise the Bar” will require 55 percent voter approval.
It’s a profoundly undemocratic scheme, one that could only be put forward by a spooked and frightened political class. Actually, you can’t blame them — all of this upheaval, and Douglas Bruce is still in jail?
We’d better do what we can before he gets out.