In a recent op-ed column in The Denver Post, former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm expressed his hope that Amazon would bypass Denver and find some other city to host its $5 billion, 50,000-employee headquarters. Old timers may remember Lamm as the spoilsport who led the successful fight against the 1976 Winter Olympic Games, by the simple expedient of persuading voters to nix state funding for what was then not much more than an international ski weekend. It was an easy sell — the Denver Olympic Organizing Committee had clearly underestimated the cost of staging the Games, and voters feared that the state would be stuck with a $100 million-plus post-Games hangover.
Unlike the Olympics, the Amazon deal appears to offer lasting benefits to the city and state that wins the competition. The New York Times picked Denver to win, but the Wall Street Journal picked Dallas, ranking Denver a distant sixth in the sweepstakes.
That’s probably a good thing. If we look objectively at Denver, the Front Range and Colorado, we might conclude that we’re not quite ready for prime time. Here’s why:
• Transportation. Our transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate. Kudos to Denver for building Denver International Airport and light rail, but our state capital is an island of accomplishment in a sea of dysfunction. Interstate 70 west of Denver is a weekend parking lot, long stretches of Interstate 25 are still 1950s four-lane “superhighways,” and passenger rail is a periodically fashionable fantasy. And speaking of fantasy, how about the Hyperloop? That may well be part of our transportation system, provided Colorado voters are willing to pony up $25 billion or so to build it. Good luck with that, and we should all be thrilled that our visionary Colorado Department of Transportation is throwing a few hundred-thousand bucks at these visionary/delusional projects (you choose the modifier).
• Water. Despite the latest cheerful iteration of the Colorado Water Plan, we’re heading for a disaster of our own making. The state’s population, now about 5.6 million, has tripled since 1960. We’ve added 1.2 million since the 2002 drought, and the next one may bring a real day of reckoning. As the plan notes, “Since our projections suggest wide variability in future precipitation, we face the possibility of a significant water supply shortfall within the next few decades, even with aggressive conservation and new water projects.”
And what do we get without aggressive conservation and new water projects? Better hope the next drought doesn’t start in 2018.
• Government. Every state has a Legislature, and many exemplify the faults of democracy, not its virtues. Ours is no exception. Somehow, we’ve managed to combine relatively high taxation with low public investment. We can blame it all on citizen-initiated constitutional amendments like the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23, or we can try elect only thoughtful guys like Bob Gardner and Pete Lee to office. Alas, Bob, Pete and other members of the “sensible caucus” are often in the minority.
• Recreation. Dick Lamm’s 1976 anti-Olympic movement was called POME, for Protect Our Mountain Environment. Since then, the state’s population has doubled, as outdoor recreationists nationwide have moved to Colorado. That’s done more damage to the mountain environment than 100 Olympic Games. A popular bumper sticker in the 1970s attacked the “California burnouts” that then flocked to our fair state: Don’t Californicate Colorado. Maybe we shouldn’t be so eager to share our fragile state with the Amazonians.
Finally, what’s in it for Colorado Springs? Not as much as you might think. Amazon employees will likely live, work and play in Denver, not commute from northern El Paso County. We’ll certainly get a continuing economic boost, but we’d better consider the political impacts. Those 50,000 new jobs will translate into around 100,000 new Denver residents. How will they vote? Will they bring their liberal leanings from the West Coast? The Amazonians might turn our purple state deep blue. On the other hand, we might thrive as despairing Denver conservatives sell their homes to the new migrants and flee to a reliably red refuge beneath the shadow of Pikes Peak.
You can yell at us for being provincial, suburban, military, Trump-voting Republicans, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: It’s a great place to live. n CSBJ