Something about bad weather puts me in a certain mood, and it's not always bad, just usually. That's one of the many things it shares with politics. I geek out on both, so indulge me a minute; I know what I'm talking about.
Like the hurricanes of my life before Colorado, a hard snow puts everybody on the same page. We all face the same challenge. We all slosh in the same slush, no matter how much we paid for our shoes. If only the government policies that dictate our lives were half as equitable as a snowstorm. A slippery road can't be evaded as fake news when you're on it. We've learned much the same about politics.
Perhaps it was fitting that Denver shivered under the first September snow in 20 years this week, after hitting a hundred degrees. It's been that kind of year, so the last leg of election season needed to start with a bang, like a starter's pistol.
Snow drives votes, because it's a test when everybody is depending on government, or at least it was back in the days when we went places, before the pandemic.
That's why Denver is so quick to let you know when its snow plows are rolling and the magnesium chloride is coating the pavement, well in advance. That's the legacy of Mayor Bill McNichols.
The way it's told, a Christmas Eve storm in 1982 dumped 2 feet of snow on Denver and paralyzed the city. People got in such a frosty finger-pointing tizzy they ousted McNichols in the next election.
I was sipping a frosty brew with the other brothers of Alpha Tau Omega in 1982, so I don't know, but I doubt it was that simple.
My friend Fred Brown, a wonderful statehouse reporter, wrote about it in his column for The Denver Post in 2006.
"The city was slow to clear main streets," Fred said. "Garbage trucks were deployed to pack side-street snow down to a navigable depth. Instead they created thin, dirty glaciers that lingered until just weeks before the May election."
McNichols had been mayor for 15 years, yet he was ousted the next spring by Federico Peña, the city's first Hispanic mayor who was half the age of the senior statesmen.
Yet, I believe sometimes you have to hit a skid before you change direction.
I live in Edgewater, a now bustling little Yuppieville on the west side of town, once marked by an incompetent City Hall.
Things turned a corner after back-to-back holiday blizzards in 2007, when unplowed streets turned into skating rinks. The reason? The city neglected to buy plow blades before the season, so most of their trucks were sidelined when the snow was packing into sheets of ice that stretched for blocks, while towns around us got back to normal.
Slipping on a storm is a sure way to put your politics in a ditch.
People forget now that John Hickenlooper proved his leadership mettle guiding Colorado through massive wildfires and historic floods early in his tenure as governor after managing the blizzard as mayor. If he were running a campaign for U.S. Senate now about who he is instead of who he is not, his leadership then would be front and center.
On Dec. 13, 1915, the San Diego City Council hired "moisture accelerator" Charles Hatfield, when hope was as low as the city's reservoir, for $10,000 and a handshake. He built a 20-foot tower from which to burn off the chemicals, so that people standing back could behold his modern marvel of meteorology.
“I do not make it rain," Hatfield disclosed, instilling trust. "That would be an absurd claim. I simply attract clouds, and they do the rest.”
On. Jan. 1, it started to rain ... and rain ... and rain, until 30 inches in a month destroyed the city's dam, washed out roads and railroad tracks, killing possibly 50 San Diegans.
The city then refused to pay Hatfield, reserving such providence of biblical proportions only to God.
Burt Lancaster played huckster Bill Starbuck, the title character in the 1956 movie about a town in distress, "The Rainmaker."
"We don't believe in rainmakers," said Noah Curry, who was played by Lloyd Bridges.
"What do you believe in," replied Starbuck, "dyin' cattle?"
That sounds a lot like the kind of false choice you might be offered in politics.
It also sounds like the brouhaha between Western Kansas and Eastern Colorado just a few years ago, when cloud-seeding in the Sunflower State seemed to be providing its rain to the parched Eastern Plains.
Politics feeds on desperation.
“Just can’t grow anything if there’s not any precipitation on it,” Kevin Larson, a researcher at Colorado State University's Plainsman Research Center in Walsh told me in 2016 during the political fuss over the windfall from the Western Kansas Weather Modification Program, basically cloud-seeding, that began in 1975.
“It’s as simple as that.”
That's why roving criminals across the Gulf Coast once made an untold mint selling worthless lightning rods to protect homes of the elderly and gullible in the 1970s and '80s.
Nothing makes up people's mind like uncertainty and fear.
And nothing delivers more than weather and politics.