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Re: Wilberforce Center--The Colorado GOP's Historic 2004 Collapse

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  • bill Jambura
    Dave, Well stated echoes from the past. If the State Republican Party is going down, better that it fall on its sword than slide into the ditch. As for
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 19, 2004
      Well stated echoes from the past.  If the State Republican Party is going down, better that it fall on its sword than slide into the ditch.  As for Christian soldiers who charged forward saddled to their dreams, it's more honorable to return wearing blood than mud.  But for the rest of the elephants, it matters not.
      Bill Jambura
      On Fri, 19 Nov 2004 13:18:40 -0700 "Dave Crater" <crater@...> writes:
      The Colorado GOP's Historic 2004 Collapse
      by Dave Crater, President
      "The Conservative Party had far better go down telling the truth and acting in accordance with the verities of our position than gain a span of shabbily-bought office by easy and fickle froth and chatter."
      --Winston Churchill, Speech to the U.K. Conservative Party Conference, March 15, 1945
      There is a central reason the conservative party in Colorado lost overwhelmingly in 2004 while the conservative party nationally was winning in a landslide: there is a void in conservative leadership at the state level that does not exist at the national level.  President Bush is hardly perfect, but he gives off a spirit of believing in something, which is why protesters in the streets of New York burned him in effigy during the 2004 GOP convention, and this spirit permeated the entire 2004 national GOP campaign.  There were no protesters, however, outside the 2004 Colorado GOP convention, despite its being held in Denver, where many liberal protesters make their home.  The difference: Gov. Bill Owens has given protesters precious little to protest, and Republicans precious little to get excited about, during his six years in office.
      The lack of conservative leadership by Gov. Owens during his tenure in office can scarcely be overstated.  The results pre-date 2004.  Here is the party history of both the Colorado House of Representatives and the Colorado Senate since Gov. Owens was elected in 1998 (see attached if necessary):
      There is also the 2004 loss of a Republican congressional seat and the much-closer-than-it-should-have-been congressional race in the 4th CD between Musgrave and Matsunaka.  The only bright spot in the state was the decisive win by Beauprez in the 7th CD.
      Explanation: the spirit and strength of an organization are imbued by its leadership, and when the titular head of the state GOP is unreliable and downright dishonest, this spirit affects the entire state party and electoral collapse is only a matter of time.  Owens looks likely to take a job in the Bush administration and leave Colorado Republicans to pick up the pieces for years to come.
      Owens' leadership of the Colorado GOP is reminiscent of the Nixon and Ford GOP of the 1970's: directionless, philosophyless, spiritless.  Indeed, the 2004 Colorado Democrat landslide carries echoes of the 1974 Colorado Democrat landslide that came on the heels of Watergate and was the last time Democrats controlled the Colorado House.  And the GOP looks headed for a gubernatorial drubbing in 2006 to parallel the Carter national victory in 1976.
      Owens has blamed the 2004 collapse mainly on the money of rich Democrats and campaign finance reform, which has greatly restricted monetary support for free political speech, but everything rich Democrats did was legal and could have been done by Republicans.  The difference was the fight in Democrats not suffering from leadership who has abandoned them, but who instead called forth spirited electoral efforts and money, while an effete GOP suffering from six years of incoherent leadership could muster no similar spirit in opposition, despite Bush coattails around the nation that were clearly conservative.
      The list is long and distinguished, but here is one summary of Owens' political behavior while Governor:
      1.  Repeated increases in state spending, helping grow the state budget from approximately $10 billion in 1999 to over $14 billion in 2004--a 40% increase--earning himself a 33% rating in 2004 from the Colorado Union of Taxpayers, well below the GOP average and below five Democrats in each chamber of the General Assembly;
      2.  Dishonest accounting gimmicks in the state budget, all while giving public speeches against "Enron accounting";
      3.  Repeated offers to compromise the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR), both public and private, while taking credit in public speeches for the fiscal integrity TABOR has brought to the state and receiving glowing image-over-substance write-ups in national periodicals (see National Review's "America's Best Governor" of Sept. 2, 2002)  based largely on the results of TABOR;
      4.  Forcing a Republican legislature to sue him over his illegal expenditure of federal funds, a lawsuit the legislature won;
      5.  Compromises on gun rights following Columbine, causing him much embarassment at the 2000 state GOP assembly at the hands of gun rights supporters;
      6.  Offers of pork to legislators in exchange for votes on pet projects (such as tobacco securitization in 2004);
      7.  Public opposition to a judicial impeachment attempt by Rep. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) in 2004, based on what is likely the most perverse judicial ruling since statehood, and persuasion of other GOP legislative leaders into the opposition with him, all while talking in public about the dangers of judicial activism;
      8.  Failure to support, and often outright opposition to, major social legislation relating to abortion, homosexuality, and divorce, while exit polling data shows over 80% of GOP voters in Colorado made "moral issues" their number one issue in the 2004 election;
      9.  Failure to support Republican hero Bob Schaffer for U.S. Senate, instead actively recruiting the money and fame of Pete Coors, but after the Coors loss, telling a post-mortem gathering at the Governor's Mansion that a reason for the loss was that Coors was not a good candidate;
      And much more.  Owens did sign a major tax cut early in his administration and an education voucher bill in 2003, and cut off state funding for Planned Parenthood in 2002.  But he waited until an election year to do the latter, which is required by the state constitution, was a small move, and is his only pro-life effort, and the rest of the good is greatly outweighed by the bad.  In short: little leadership on taxes and spending, plus little leadership on marriage/family/life, plus little leadership on guns, plus little leadership on reducing the welfare state and much in expanding it, plus little leadership on education, plus a general spirit of self-interest and believing in nothing firmly, plus betrayal of state GOP heroes, plus suspicions of marital infidelity, equals little leadership on anything that matters to Republicans, equals weak Republican energy at election time.
      The dishonest spirit coming from the Executive Suite affects Republican legislators and conservative action groups directly, as they see it up close and personal, and the lack of coherent leadership and energy in general affects Republicans at the grassroots who may not be able to put their finger on the problem, but find themselves strangely unexcited about state Republicans.  This deadening influence through the legislature, interest groups, and Republican activists results in weak GOP energy throughout the state.
      The vacuum at the top results in other effects within the party, the most major of which is a U.S. Senate candidate who claims a socially and economically conservative platform, but who opposes the death penalty and supports lowering the drinking age, runs a company utilizing a sex appeal offensive to many Republican voters to sell its beer (remember 80% are voting on "moral values"), pays for abortions for company employees, and, late in the campaign, supports a Canadian homosexual festival celebrating, among other politically inspiring things, sado-masochism.  It is true Coors beat Schaffer in a GOP primary, but Schaffer was greatly hurt by the disloyalty of Owens and GOP leadership, and there is reason to believe the Coors campaign registered many new Republicans to vote on the strength of Coors' name, while many of these voters likely did not stick with Coors against a down-home Democrat with a rural image like Ken Salazar.  If this is so, the victory over Bob Schaffer in August resulted in the party's loss in November.
      Many said during primary season that Coors and Schaffer were too much alike.  In reality, Coors and Salazar were too much alike.  Liberal groups were hitting Coors from the right (on the death penalty, the drinking age, and the social issues) the last month of the campaign.  Hispanic voters are the likely divergence between a 53% Bush victory in Colorado and a 47% Coors loss:  Bush is credible on social issues with culturally conservative Hispanics and carried 44% of the total Hispanic vote; Coors is not and did not.  Coors Brewing Co. has fired up the "Coors Twins" ads in earnest now that the election is over, while Coors staffers blame the loss on social conservatives for not getting excited.
      With no unifying spirit coming from above, the party fracture continued further down the chain.  In Grand Junction, moderate GOP state senator Ron Teck endorses the Democrat opponent of conservative Shari Bjorklund.  In Greeley, outgoing liberal GOP incumbent Tambor Williams supports the Democrat opponent of conservative Pam Groeger.  In the third CD, embittered liberal Republican contender Matt Smith supports Democrat Ken Salazar over conservative Greg Walcher. Meanwhile, social conservatives get blamed for not being loyal to party when they don't agree with a candidate.
      GOP candidates statewide complain of a lack of support from the state party, which is focused on Senate and Presidential races, running cover for Gov. Owens, and marginalizing conservatives.  New GOP minority in the House elects liberal Joe Stengel (R-Littleton) as leader, who promptly informs the caucus, "I'm a uniter, not a divider" and that "something is wrong with our party," insinuating there are too many conservatives running around dividing the party.  Stengel ranked 33 out of 37 House Republicans in overall conservatism in our 2004 Legislative Rankings (view them at www.wilberforcecenter.org).  Prior GOP leader Lola Spradley ranked 23 out of 37, just outside the bottom third.  Smith and Williams, liberal Republicans who left the party to support Democrats in 2004, were both in the bottom third.  House GOP is moving in precisely the opposite direction from the corrective one.  Look for the downward trend in GOP House membership to continue in 2006.
      In general, with the conservative party in this condition, it is no wonder the conservative impulse on the ground has languished, with, in addition to Republican losses, tax and spending increases, RTD expansion, school district spending and debt increases, and more passing by popular vote--the same way campaign finance "reform" has regularly passed with minimal meaningful opposition from conservatives interested in conserving free speech.  Then again, perhaps social conservatives are to blame.
      A similar dynamic happened in Montana, where Democrats won everything (both houses of legislature, governor's office) back from Republicans after several years of weak Mark Racicot leadership.  Racicot's successor, former Lt. Governor Judy Martz, was no improvement, and it is now apparent Racicot's departure to Washington to run the Bush/Cheney campaign left the conservative party in shambles in a conservative state.  Any pattern discernible?  Nobody believes Montana has become liberal.  Democrat takeover was the result of GOP decay while leadership eyes personal advancement in Washington.  In 2004, as Republicans were losing, the first ever state legislator from the Constitution Party was elected over both a Democrat and a Republican in a 3-way race.  A leading conservative in the Montana legislature, Rick Jore left the GOP in 2000 to run with the Constitution Party after winning three times as a Republican.
      It is always good to recall the lesson Reagan taught the party, excepting most party leaders who, for all their invocation of Reagan's name and legacy, covet Reagan's results without the trouble of Reagan's character:  the conservative base knows what they are looking for, is very large--large enough to win--and when led by someone with substance, generates an infectious energy very attractive outside the party.  Or, as Churchill put it, it is better for the conservative party to speak the truth and act in accordance with the verities of its position than to angle for a span of shabbily-bought office by easy and fickle froth and chatter.
      American conservative godfather Russell Kirk once wrote an essay entitled "Wise Men Know What Wicked Things Are Written On the Sky."  As the conservative impulse atrophies in Colorado and Montana, Republicans should consider what wicked things are written on the Western sky if they cannot recover real leadership and a philosophy that inspires both party activists and the general population with the conviction that truth and virtue are real, and that fixed ideas about government, as well as personal ethics, still matter to the conservative party in a heavily conservative portion of the country.
      Dave Crater
      Wilberforce Center for Colorado Statesmanship
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