As you travel back and forth to Denver, as you climb the mountains to the ski resorts, a nagging question remains: Is it true that some people want to “Keep Colorado Springs lame”?
Given the number of military retirees in the city — ranked second in the country by the Military Times, about 20 percent of the population — the conservative ideology they embody also dominates local politics and business. What are the implications here and now?
There are two strains that characterize conservative ideology, economic and social. Economically, conservatives embrace a neoliberal market-capitalism with competition as the engine that drives the train without government constraints. It also means balanced budgets and the integrity of the business world — transparent and accountable — maximizing profits with efficiencies that eliminate waste.
Being consistent with this conservative convention means that government policies should not interfere with businesses, so locally government should not be bloated like the city-owned utilities or all the military bases.
The ideology also means absolute freedom to pursue one’s economic dreams of prosperity — no matter how they might affect the rest of the community. Forget about controlling pollution or regulating hazardous materials in the air or waterways; forget about telling people what to eat and drink, smoke or listen to. Residents are consumers whose tastes and preferences ought to be left alone by public servants.
When it gets to social matters, the conservative line observed in the 2016 election cycle means laws restricting abortion, supporting the death penalty and reversing the social services that have been available since the New Deal — privatizing Social Security, abolishing ObamaCare, and finding Supreme Court justices who will undo liberal initiatives.
Since most of these are federal, we are left with narrow windows of government intervention into our local social choices, from recreational marijuana to allowing businesses to operate on Sundays (some are state laws, some city).
So, as another year ends and a new one is upon us, what direction will city leaders take? More importantly, who are our city leaders? Are they the elected officials, from the mayor to city council members? Or — as is more widely understood — are our leaders those with large real-estate holdings and family wealth? Perhaps both groups should think about their roles not to “keep Colorado Springs lame,” but turn it around into a vibrant metropolis.
To begin with, decide if Colorado Springs is the Soviet Union or a modern capitalist city. If it’s the latter, sell the utilities enterprise the way you sold Memorial Hospital. There are experts out there who can run it better and not make us sick from pollution. With a hefty endowment, you can afford to take care of our infrastructure without raising taxes.
Second, as true conservatives, we should reduce local regulations, from building codes to recreational pot shops. Let businesses thrive because there is consumer demand, and don’t tell people what they should or should not do. “1984” was a dystopian novel, not a blueprint for our city. Big Brother is still dictating who prospers with the kind of secret “double-speak” that George Orwell would find amusing.
Third, when old oligarchs of yesteryear still call the shots, when retired military personnel and wealthy people run committees and the council, how can young entrepreneurs expect to succeed? They move to Denver. Who takes care of training the future leaders of Colorado Springs? Unfortunately, the Chamber & EDC is more concerned with the low-hanging fruit of the military-industrial complex than in nurturing small businesses.
Fourth, the military-industrial complex has been good to the Springs, perhaps too good. It’s time to realize that under a new federal conservative regime, military budgets may shrink and waste will be curtailed. What is our contingency plan for decreased military funding? What have we done to cater to those in uniform who live here and are looking for an exciting environment beyond bars? We can’t even fund the Olympic Hall of Fame or a stadium downtown to demonstrate our commitment to athletes, soldiers and the outdoors.
Finally, if we plan on getting out of the “lame” category, perhaps all we need to do is look northward to Denver, a dynamic metropolis with more diverse industries than here, with greater percentage of young people in its population, and with a greater sense of open-mindedness and youthful energy. What’s their secret?
Two things stand out: First, leadership with a vision (beyond low taxes), and second, recreational pot that has less to do with smoking marijuana than with a mindset that is open and inviting, that lets all citizens, young and old, military and civilian, feel that the city supports their interests. Isn’t this what conservatism stands for?
Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com.