John Hazlehurst

John Hazlehurst

So here we are, perched happily in the catbird seat of American cities. We’re near or at the top of a formidable set of ‘Best of’ lists: best city to start a business, move to, live in, have fun in, grow with, raise kids and have a good life. We’re a good-sized city without many of the ills of big city living.

Our weather is usually delightful (except when California sends us wildfire smoke), our property taxes are low, local governments competent and honest, and we are notably free of partisan squabbling. We don’t waste our time demonizing each other’s political preferences. We live the legacy of one of our greatest citizens, Fannie Mae Duncan: Everybody welcome!

But can we sustain our long run of growth, prosperity and good governance? History teaches us that cities, states and nations start to fall apart when they abandon or irrevocably change the very things that made them successful. Let’s look at California.

Growing up in Colorado Springs in the 1950s, my pals and I dreamed of leaving for California when we grew up. We wanted to live in the land of eternal sunshine where bikini-clad girls were tanned and beautiful, opportunity was everywhere and we could laugh scornfully at the hicks and rubes that chose to stay in the Springs. Besides, there weren’t any jobs unless you wanted to cater to Texas tourists in the summer (more hicks!) or start a hot dog stand. One thing was certain; Colorado Springs would always be a boring little city dependent on military bases and tourists. The great world beckoned. 

Many answered the call, and split for the coast. California lured thousands, including some of my closest friends. Many did well, built successful careers and companies and then left. Some returned to Colorado, some went to Texas and other western states, but all were dismayed by change. I had kept in touch with a few, who cited concerns about traffic congestion, crime, stifling regulations, urban disorder, uncontrolled immigration, soaring real estate prices and the disappearance of the California lifestyle we’d once yearned for.

“It was great for a while,” said Marty, a former classmate who left for Texas a few years ago. “I did fine, but I didn’t see a future for my kids and grandkids. Now we’re all scattered around the West —Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico. That’s where you can make money and have a good life — not California.”

Texas replaced California as the go-to destination for strivers years ago. Cheap housing, low regulatory burden, low taxes, warm weather and oh those wide open spaces! Like Colorado and Colorado Springs, Texas long benefitted from competent governance and civic harmony. Yet that may be changing, as blue-trending cities fight with small-city and rural Republican legislators over abortion and voting rights. Booming Austin is now the least affordable major metro area outside California, but that hasn’t deterred in-migration. The city’s population has doubled in 20 years, as major companies move in or expand. 

What can we learn from California and Texas?  First, we should remember that we’re not in high school any more — winning popularity contests may not benefit our city in the long run. To keep the Colorado Springs we love, we need to avoid rapid population growth, keep the political temperature low and limit unnecessary regulations.

Present-day Colorado is dominated by residents of a narrow strip of land along the Front Range, stretching from Wyoming to New Mexico. Everything else is an afterthought. That’s not a healthy situation for us, or for our state. More development in  the non-ski area Western Slope and the Eastern plains would create a more balanced regional economy, and help preserve moderate politics.

Finally, we need to take advantage of our present political clout. It’s inexplicable that President Joe Biden hasn’t acted to reverse his predecessor’s decision to move the Space Force to Alabama. Joe, have you somehow forgotten the first rule of politics? Three simple words: Reward your friends! 

Retaining the Space Force will cost you nothing politically, strengthen moderate Colorado Democrats and enhance national security. 

The long-term economic benefits to the state and region would be substantial, as would be the lasting benefits of our bipartisan push to get the deal done. It’ll happen — unless, as one of my GOP buddies suggested, Biden thinks that Rep. Lauren Boebert represents Colorado Springs… 

John Hazlehurst, whose great-grandfather came to Colorado in 1859, is a Colorado Springs native. He has worked as a reporter/columnist for the Indy since 1997 and the Business Journal since 2006.

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