Recent rumblings from some West Slope residents almost sound like the frustrations expressed by English voters when they chose to support Brexit and have England leave the European Union. In polls after the Brexit vote, many supporters noted that they felt that many of the policies and programs that the European Union was adopting were at odds with their own views and values and further that the English people had less and less control over their own destiny.
With sentiments like this among West Slope voters about our state government, is WEXIT far off? This would be where the West Slope petitioned to decouple the region from certain state rules and regulations that they view as more applicable to urban areas and the Front Range of Colorado. That’s probably not feasible or practical, but I’m sure the thought has crossed the minds of some there.
Over the last several years as more progressive and urban-oriented legislation, rules and regulations have come forward, there appears to be a growing concern and frustration among a number of West Slope constituents as to the state’s direction.
The disenchantment by West Slope residents with Colorado state government may be somewhat explained by their difficulty in impacting legislation and policies in a legislature that has become more progressive and dominated by Front Range representatives.
As a case in point, there has not been a West Slope individual in any of the three major positions of power, including governor, president of the Senate, or speaker of the House, in over 20 years.
The reality is that being in the key seats of power matters. The president of the Senate and speaker of the House can control which committee legislation is sent to; what late legislative measures are considered, and they control the overall calendar of their respective houses and make committee assignments. One needs only look at Pueblo to see how that area benefitted from having Leroy Garcia named president of the Senate a few years ago.
It hasn’t always been this way. Prior to the 1990s, the West Slope had a number of individuals serve in these key roles in state government. Since then, several factors have contributed to the dearth of West Slope representatives in those key roles. First, the adoption of term limits that was passed by the voters in 1990 and went into effect in 1998 has proven detrimental to rural areas of the state in diluting the power that the West Slope and Eastern Plains once had. Generally the representatives from those rural areas prior to term limits had greater seniority, which translated into power. They amassed this seniority because they tended to be closer to their constituents as the populations in those areas were more stable than urban areas. As a result, voters in those areas continued to re-elect them to office. Term limits effectively minimized the power of seniority.
The other major development has been the substantial growth on the Front Range and particularly the Denver metropolitan area. This led to more House and Senate seats going to the Front Range at the expense of rural areas which had not realized as much growth. Further, many of the people moving into the Front Range have been younger and more liberal. Rural areas such as the West Slope tend to have older populations and long-term residents who tend to be more conservative. This has led to many of the seats on the West Slope being held by Republicans while those legislators on the West Slope who are Democrats are viewed by their Front Range Democratic counterparts as moderates who are not in step with the party’s current progressive direction.
The reality is that West Slope representatives in the Colorado legislature are some of the most talented in either house and they do an excellent job in representing the West Slope’s interests. They also do a good job of working together on issues of concern to the West Slope. The problem is that they are at a significant numeric disadvantage.
To have a portion of the state which makes up half of the its land mass and generates a disproportionate amount of the state’s tax revenue relative to its population, be out of any seat of power for over 20 years is out of kilter.
As both parties look at leadership positions in the next year, one would hope that some greater consideration will be given to someone from the West Slope to lead one of the legislative chambers. At this point the best chance may be Rep. Julie McCluskie from Summit County for speaker of the House if she wins her race and the Democrats retain control of the House. McCluskie is a talented legislator who most recently chaired the powerful Joint Budget Committee.
Greg Fulton is the president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents over 650 companies directly involved in or affiliated with trucking in Colorado today.