Allen Fuller devotes plenty of his time and toils to the world of Colorado politics, yet he doesn’t come across like a lot of the pols and pundits, operatives and hacks who populate that ecosystem.
Grab a coffee with him, and you’ll get none of the motor-mouthed, mile-a-minute snap judgments and pat appraisals, or the rapid-fire bursts of ritual jargon so common to the trade. He’s contemplative and dignified, and he actually listens. And when he holds forth, it sounds as if he’s put some thought into it. He comes across like he’s more about promoting profound ideas than promoting himself. Decided views and firm principles yet able to remain above the political fray.
Just the kind of guy to lead Principles That Matter, a four-year-old Colorado think tank, “dedicated to connecting modern citizens with timeless principles.” The endeavor, as its website points out, is “singularly focused on reaching disengaged, moderate citizens and introducing them to effective public policy perspectives and solutions based on principles of the American founding.”
Disengaged and moderate? In other words, the kind of voter who is turned off by bombast, dogma and, of course, politics as usual. If you fit that profile, Allen Fuller is trying to reach you.
An unaffiliated voter by registration, an advocate of free enterprise and limited government by inclination, and an entrepreneur, techie and self-described “startup junkie” by occupation, he also happens to be married into an extended family of Republican brahmans; Colorado Republican former U.S. Rep. and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, as well as Republican former Gov. Bill Owens, are in-laws.
Not a bad network and all the better a platform from which to advance, “the principles of a free market, limited government, and individual liberty through research and education on public policy issues” — per his organization’s mission.
Fuller surveys Colorado’s political landscape in today’s Q&A — offering, among other things, his take on what went wrong for Colorado’s center-right on election day. And though he tilts right himself, Fuller doesn’t soft-pedal the impact of a controversial GOP president on the fortunes of Colorado Republicans. And he gives a frank rendering of what he thinks the state’s Republicans need to do to get back in the game.
Colorado Politics: The much-anticipated blue wave that swept Colorado last month must have seemed to Republicans like a twister that levels some buildings while leaving others nearby unscathed. Ours was among the states where the GOP felt the full brunt. Party thought leaders are still sifting through the rubble and piecing together just what happened. What have you been able to deconstruct so far about Nov. 6? Why did things fare so much more poorly here for Republicans than in some other parts of the country?
Allen Fuller: Like with any twister, you can't really avoid it. You just have to hunker down, ride it out, and hope the damage isn't too bad. Historically, midterm elections are tough for the party in the White House, but there was an open question about how much Trump would impact local races.
Coloradans are very civically engaged. We care both about what government does and how elected officials go about their jobs. Just as Coloradans in 2014 were upset with the Obama administration's failure to lead, in 2018 there was broad consensus that Donald Trump's behavior is not what we expect of a president.
That discontent created a situation where even good local Republican candidates could not get space between themselves and the national environment. Democrats, smartly, took full advantage of it. They had deep pockets to fund massive turnout and messaging operations that turned an F3 tornado into an F5.
- Director of center-right Colorado think tank Principles That Matter, since 2014.
- Founder, operator of digital agency Flat Creek, since 2005.
- Communications and digital director for the Beauprez for Colorado gubernatorial campaign in 2014.
- Chief operating officer of Boulder-based political technology firm Voter Gravity.
- Deputy campaign manager, Bob Beauprez for Governor, 2006.
- Press secretary, then-Colorado 7thCongressional District U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, 2003-2004.
- Press secretary, Mark Norris for Congress, 2002.
- Bachelor’s degree in communications, master’s in marketing and e-commerce, University of Alabama.
CP: What’s the path back to power for Colorado Republicans — which to a significant degree is to say, how will the GOP win over the state’s No. 1 voting bloc, unaffiliateds? And why are their ranks swelling in a state like Colorado?
Fuller: The good news for Republicans is that while Coloradans aren't too happy with the president right now, they very much believe in the ideas that Republicans rally around — limited government, free markets and equal opportunity.
Magellan Strategies, a Colorado-based polling firm, released a survey three weeks before the election showing a full 41 percent of unaffiliated voters were undecided on which party they wanted to lead Congress. 41 percent!! That tells me a lot of unaffiliated voters may not like Trump, but they definitely aren't sold on the Democrats' pitch.
The biggest challenge Republicans face if they want to win over unaffiliated voters like myself will be to recognize that there's a lot more to winning votes than having the facts and beating up the other side. Many Republicans I've talked to since the election are stunned that the current economic boom was not enough evidence to sway more voters to stay the course. But it was not enough, clearly. As we talked about earlier, Coloradans care both about the outcomes and how politicians go about their jobs.
There is a leadership vacuum in our country today. Both parties over-promise and under-deliver. If someone will focus on issues people care about without growing government – and do so with empathy – unaffiliated voters are hungry for that kind of leadership.
CP: What role does your endeavor Principles That Matter play in that effort? What prompted you to found the organization, and what’s its mission?
Fuller: PTM is all about connecting modern citizens with the timeless principles that inspired America's founders. America's story is pretty gnarly, but we have always fought for two ideas that were as revolutionary then as they are now: everyone should be equal in the eyes of the law, and the people get to decide government's role in society, rather than the other way around.
Over the past 200 years, America has led a global movement to maximize human potential through constitutional government and free enterprise. That movement has seen millions lifted out of poverty, dictators overthrown, and people for the first time being able to set their own course in life.
We think that's kind of a big deal and work every day to tell that story. I was fortunate to join PTM when it was still being incubated at the Centennial Institute. In 2017, we spun off from Centennial to be able to grow and build out our programs. It is without a question the most rewarding work I have ever done.
My hope is that leaders across the political spectrum will lean on us as a source for both solutions to public policy issues based on proven principles, as well as tools to effectively communicate those solutions.
CP: Both major parties in Colorado, as nationwide, have their factions. In each party, there seems to be a rift between a restless and motley movement of populists and the party establishment. And arguably for both parties, the challenge is great in attempting to bridge the gap. Democrats face the tall task of mediating the internal differences while wielding power; Republicans will have to do it while trying to rebuild. How do you think the Republicans should take up that challenge?
Fuller: From my experience, the reality is more complex than simply grassroots vs. establishment. There are factions, of course, and those who profit on division make for very unwilling bridge builders.
Imagine the outrage if the Broncos suddenly, mid-season, picked up Philip Rivers as quarterback. Then multiply that outrage by 1,000, and you arrive at the challenge of getting some groups to work together.
While Democrats have the natural benefit of seeing government power as coalition currency, Republicans are really good at living up to their reputation as rugged individualists.
If warring factions seriously wanted to get on the same page, they would have to begin by asking how many of their differences are genuinely ideological. If they were honest, I bet they'd find far more in common with each other than they realize.
Next, they would need to let go of their contempt for each other and park the gamesmanship. It's a big playground, and not everyone has to play King of the Hill every day.
If they made it this far, finally they would need to reach broad consensus on two or three big goals. Politics goes in cycles, and the GOP will get the chance to govern in Colorado again. What will they do when they get the gavel?
Without serious solutions on issues like transportation, education and health care costs (of course free market solutions count – they're the ones that work), Republicans will never have a shot at advancing anything remotely conservative in Colorado again.
CP: Without regard to your philosophical differences with Democrats, who do you think has been the most effective — most successful — officeholder in their ranks in Colorado in recent years, and why?
Fuller: There's so many Democrats I admire for their passion and willingness to roll up their sleeves and get involved in their communities. I just wish they would keep an open mind on the solutions to the problems they care about.
Gov. Hickenlooper, of course, comes to mind. He governed with a light touch and Colorado's economy was better for it. Thankfully, Colorado voters were smart enough not to give him the blank checks he so often pitched.
CP: You are, to say the least, a multifaceted guy with a strong tech side to you and a history of entrepreneurship in business. Some would look at you and ask why you’d bother to bite your nails, bloody your nose and maybe on occasion pull out your hair as an activist and operative in politics? Or, is it more the policy piece of it that attracts you?
Fuller: I love keeping one foot in tech and one foot in the humanities, and somehow keep ending up in this weird world of politics and policy. Once you've had a chance to do work that makes an impact for your community and your kids' future, it's hard to walk away.
Whether it's writing an article, creating a video, looking at data, building an app, or working with our team, when I get up in the morning I get to go to work and make a dent, and that's a very special opportunity.
CP: What do you see yourself doing 20 years from now?
Fuller: The last 41 years have been more fun, adventure and learning than I could have possibly imagined as a kid. In 20 years, I hope to have gathered enough experiences worthy to pour into others, just as my mentors have invested their time in me.
Photography is really special to me and hopefully, if I dare to imagine it, 20 years from now I'll be traveling to new and interesting places with a camera in one hand, holding my wife's hand with the other.