Politics & Policy

How Colorado Turned Blue

Supporters of Democratic Colorado gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis at an election-night party in Denver, November 6, 2018. (Evan Semon/Reuters)
Republicans should study Colorado’s change in tint, from purple to blue.

Denver — Social scientists, say Colorado boosters, have plausible metrics identifying their state as the happiest and healthiest state, the former quality perhaps producing the latter. Or the other way around. Or maybe the tangle of causation cannot be unwoven. Be that as it may, 300 days of sunshine — this Mile High City is practically cheek-by-jowl with the sun — entice people into outdoor activities that help the state have chubby America’s lowest obesity rate.

Among the least happy and healthy Colorado cohorts is the Republican party, which is less svelte than emaciated. This state is in many ways a glimpse of the nation’s future, so when national Republicans are done congratulating themselves on having lost only the most important half of what the Constitution’s Framers considered the most important branch — Congress is accorded Article I for a reason — they should study Colorado’s changing tint, from purple toward blue.

When asked whether his party’s rout of Republicans on November 6 indicated that many voters recoiled when they saw “R” next to a candidate’s name, Governor-elect Jared Polis demurs, saying that what they effectively saw was: “T.” Polis, and many of the Democratic candidates who will be in lopsided majorities in both chambers of the next state legislature, did not need much more help than Donald Trump. This flight from the president’s party matters as a national portent because Denver and its suburbs, which undulate east toward the plains and west toward the mountains, contain 50 percent of the electorate. Eighty percent is in the booming urbanization of the Front Range from Fort Collins and Greeley down to Colorado Springs and Pueblo.

Also, Colorado’s population has a lower median age than those of 38 states, and its Hispanic percentage, 21, is the nation’s seventh largest. The state ranks second behind Massachusetts in the percentage of residents with bachelor’s degrees. The state last elected a Republican governor 16 years ago.

Polis, 43, was born and now lives in Boulder, a university town that is the Paris Commune with skiing. He is a progressive apple that did not fall far from the tree: Both parents — one a poet, the other an artist — were anti-war warriors in the 1960s. But rather than manning the barricades to overthrow jackbooted capitalism, Polis opted for acquisition: As a Princeton sophomore, he and two friends started an Internet access company. Soon he founded two other Internet-related companies, eventually selling the three for over a billion, thereafter devoting his overflowing energies to public matters, including education, with charter schools aimed at helping immigrants thrive. Polis was elected to Congress in 2008, became the first same-sex parent in the House and will now become America’s first openly gay man elected governor, a fact that is interestingly uninteresting to voters.

Although Polis is capable of heterodoxy — in Congress he supported the conclusions of Barack Obama’s Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission more than Obama did — his progressivism is high-octane, from free all-day kindergarten to complete state reliance on renewable energy sources — all that sunshine and a good “wind profile” — by 2040. But Colorado, which in 2012 became the first state — indeed, the world’s first jurisdiction — to fully legalize the cultivation and sale of marijuana, has limits to its thirst for public-policy pioneering.

Two years ago, it resoundingly rejected, 79 percent (including Polis) to 21 percent, a ballot initiative to create a state-run universal health-care system. Even Boulder County spurned it, 110,509-68,312. This was two years after Bernie Sanders’s Vermont flinched from the plan for a universal single-payer system. Vermont’s governor who proposed it decided that doubling the state’s tax revenue with an 11.5 percent payroll tax, and business and premiums costing up to 9.5 percent of individual’s income, “might hurt our economy.” Might?

Colorado’s plan would have replaced private insurance, which probably displeased the state’s portion of the 157 million Americans who have employer-provided health insurance, most of whom like it. The issue got entangled with the progressives’ sacrament: abortion. Because Colorado’s constitution proscribes public funding of abortions, the state’s single-payer system would not have covered this, so Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups opposed the new system. Democratic presidential aspirants might want to trim their sails regarding government imperialism in health care.

Since George W. Bush carried Colorado by 8.4 points and then 4.7 points, it has voted Democratic in presidential elections by an average margin of 6.4 percentage points. Because it is increasingly young, urban, educated, and diverse, Republicans, who fancy themselves saviors of “flyover country,” might just as well fly over Colorado.

© 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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