If you are of a certain age (say, 60 or above, which is still young, darn it all) and you have a memory for political trivia, you may recall the old political maxim that, “As Maine goes, so goes the nation.” For decades the state of Maine was the main state, so to speak, in predicting the main outcome for elections, and presidential elections in particular. Maine was the “bellwether” state for many, many years, even though most folks using the term don’t know its origin. The term “bellwether” comes to us from Middle English, regarding the placing of a bell around the neck of a (wince) castrated ram – known as a wether – who lead a flock of voters, I mean sheep. There, now even if you don’t agree with me about anything political, at least you can say you learned something by reading my column. (Ed: just barely)
Fast forward a few decades and I now declare from atop my rickety soapbox that Colorado is the new bellwether state. Our lovely square of the Rocky Mountain region is remarkable for many things – beautiful mountains, lovely rolling plains, and more. (Did you know we are the headwaters state? That means that every river that flows in Colorado startsin Colorado. No “alien” rivers flow into our state. There, that’s two things you learned.) (Ed: ok, but please get to the point)
Simply put, the main state for political vision is no longer Maine. No, the main state is now Colorado. Clear?
During my run for Congress in 2008, I noticed something. Everyone came to Colorado. I got to do a couple events with Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Joe Biden, and more. I’m pretty sure they didn’t come to Colorado to help me. Rather, they realized the new truth in American politics: Colorado is the place to be.
A glimpse at this year’s ballot – containing no fewer than 13 statewide propositions and amendments – will help me to explain. We’ve already demonstrated that Colorado is on the cutting edge of important issues. This year’s ballot contains measures proposing to actually take on and fix gerrymandering. It has proposals that take on, at least to a degree, campaign finance reforms, as well as a fairness proposal to reduce the age qualification for serving in the state Legislature from 25 to 21. One measure you may not have read too much about, but should support, is Amendment X, which would change the definition of “industrial hemp” in our state constitution to allow farmers to grow more industrial hemp, which has a myriad of uses from rope to clothing to much more, and no one will get high smoking their sleeves.
The good and kind heart of Colorado’s citizens will, I trust, be shown in support of prop 111, which would reduce the ability of payday lenders to largely destroy people in deep financial trouble. Payday lenders often target military folks, so that one strikes close to home for this retired Air Force officer.
Even our controversial ballot measures point to Colorado as the national leader on political thought. Prop 112 would further regulate new fracking sites, and the support and opposition to this proposal is intense and bipartisan on both sides. Both Jared Polis and Walker Stapleton oppose the measure, and support is also eclectic. And thus, here Colorado shows the conflicts inherent in a political system are not always entirely partisan.
One odd bit of historical trivia will, I assume, be fixed by Amendment A. As it turns out, Colorado did not technically make it unconstitutional to “enslave” criminals, rather than just jail them. So, Amendment A will fix that. It’s a bit embarrassing that we still had that in there, but I’m betting the good people of our state will fix that one overwhelmingly.
Therefore, from top to bottom of our political system, Colorado shows itself to be a national leader, and we should be very proud of that. Our nation is moving west, both figuratively and politically, and Colorado isthe new Maine. On both candidates and issues, we are now the bellwether state (that may make our local rams uneasy).
While I think we should be proud of this, it is not without cost. You’ll get more phone calls from polling organizations and from campaigns. But the inevitable future of American politics will often flow, just like our rivers, out from Colorado to the nation.