On the surface, these are the best of days for Democrat moderates in elected office and the worst of days for their Republican counterparts. Democrats John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet are cheerfully influential in D.C., while defeated Republicans Scott Tipton and Corey Gardner sit gloomily on the sidelines. Joe Biden passes consequential legislation without GOP support, while the Man from Mar-a-Lago calls on his followers to get rid of GOP moderates.
National politics have often been complex and unpredictable — just ask Hillary Clinton. I have no idea what’s going to happen in 2024, so let’s move on and focus on the Colorado Republican Party. Personally, I’m pretty much OK with moderate Dems in charge, but an enfeebled opposition is bad for the state and bad for democracy.
It has been a long, slow slide from the salad days of Gov. Bill Owens and comfortable Republican legislative majorities to today’s legislative irrelevance. Although only two Republicans have been elected governor during the last 55 years (John Love in 1970 and Owens in 1998), the GOP has always had success in other statewide races. Alas, Democrats swept every one in 2018.
Yet as Lauren Boebert’s successful challenge to Scott Tipton shows, the Repubs are eating their own. As former Republican legislator Lois Landgraf noted in a Gazette op-ed earlier this week, “unless we change our message and our tactics, we will continue to shrink in size until we are truly irrelevant.”
Right now, elected Republicans represent three of Colorado’s seven Congressional districts. District 3 includes Pueblo, Grand Junction and much of the Western Slope, District 4 is centered on Greeley and Weld County and District 5 is mostly Colorado Springs and El Paso County. D4 and D5 are firmly Republican, while D3 has trended right since Scott Tipton defeated Democratic incumbent John Salazar in 2010. Colorado Springs and Greeley are offset by Democratic districts in Denver and Boulder, while the two other Denver metro districts are now represented by Dems. It seems likely that the state will get another blue-trending Congressional district in 2022, making the stakes even higher for the GOP even higher.
State Republicans typically join their national peers in embracing gun rights, climate change denial, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and pro-Trump messaging. That’s counterintuitive in today’s Colorado. In a farcical display of Trumpian loyalty, State Sen. Paul Lundeen recently introduced a frivolous bill that would do away with Colorado’s mail voting system and require voters to request a mail ballot instead of automatically receiving one. It would also require all votes to be counted on Election Day. Like similar bills in other state legislatures, it was designed to slow the descent of the GOP by making voting less convenient.
Can Front Range moderates reclaim the GOP from Lundeen and his co-religionists? Sure — if they recruit, support and fund strong women candidates for office that can appeal to the urban/suburban constituencies that are trending blue. That doesn’t mean the hard-right conservative women who can pass muster with the party’s bankrupt gatekeepers — think rather of former Colorado Springs leaders like Marcy Morrison and Sallie Clark. As elected officials they were smart, practical and not particularly partisan. In today’s GOP, they’d never get on the ballot — liberal RINOs, both of ‘em!
Want to be elected to the Colorado General Assembly? Of the 100 members (65 in the House, 35 in the Senate), 45 are women but only seven are Republicans. Those are dismaying numbers for Republicans, and causes to celebrate for Dems, who have been building an equitable, inclusive and gender-blind party for decades. The Democratic bench is big and deep, giving the party an extraordinary cadre of experienced female candidates for statewide offices for many years to come.
Our state has never had a woman governor or senator, but we’ll see what happens in 2022, when Michael Bennet is up for re-election. The GOP will find a candidate — most likely a very conservative guy with who’s done some time in the Legislature. Or they might persuade Barbara Kirkmeyer, who succeeded Vicki Marble in the State Senate, to take on the likely impossible task of beating a Democratic incumbent.
Kirkmeyer has a strong résumé — worked in Bill Owens’ administration and served five terms on the Weld County Commission. Besides, she just authored an op-ed for The Gazette praising conservative women in Colorado politics. I predict she’ll carry El Paso County...