Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy on the color purple
The Colorado Statesman
Colorado College political science professors Thomas Cronin and Robert Loevy are so confident that Colorado is a solidly “purple” state — decidedly up for grabs despite big wins by Democrats this year and by Republicans in the last election — that they went to the mat when it came time to design their most recent book’s cover. That’s why Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State, published in October as part of the University of Nebraska Press Politics and Governments of the American States series, is wrapped in a vivid, deep purple, setting it apart from more somber academic tomes.
Drawing on their decades of experience studying and participating in Colorado politics — Cronin, a Democrat, ran for Congress in the 1980s and Loevy, a Republican, was a vocal member of the state’s contentious legislative reapportionment commission last year — the authors visited The Colorado Statesman this month for a wide-ranging discussion about the state’s unique political make-up. In a lengthy, free-ranging interview, the two discuss everything from the Republican Party’s loosened grasp on its traditional stalwarts to the damage they say term limits has wreaked on the legislature, a conclusion they say is widely shared by close observers.
“The major problem facing the Republican Party,” says Loevy, is “that the conservative social issues are forcing the old upscale, well educated Republicans out, and this is strongest with their children.”
Authors Bob Loevy, Republican, and Tom Cronin, Democrat, pose in front of a large wall of campaign buttons in The Statesman office during a recent InnerView about their new book, Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State.
Photo by Ernest Luningf/The Colorado Statesman
While Colorado is no longer, in Cronin’s phrase, “default Republican,” Democrats can’t claim the solid allegiance of voters, either, the authors say. “Attractive, agile, adaptive Republicans who know how to moderate on some issues like immigration and same-sex marriage are quite winnable in the state,” Cronin notes, refuting suggestions that Coloradans have given up on the GOP. Not only was Colorado the fourth-closest state in the country in the last election, but its voters still sound more like Republicans than Democrats when they describe themselves.
“We’re a pro-liberty, anti-tax, anti-Washington state and that’s been consistent for the past 25 years,” Cronin says, pointing to extensive polling the pair commissioned when they wrote the book’s previous edition and conducted again this time.
Consistenly over two decades, Loevy says, Coloradans are more likely to call themselves conservative than liberal or moderate, and Democratic wins in elections haven’t done anything to change that. “You would think that if there was a real deep shift, some of those conservatives would be going to moderates, maybe some of the moderates going to Democrat, but that is not happening. So our final conclusion is either party can win here and it’s likely to stay that way for a while,” he says.
Cronin is the McHugh Professor of American Government and Leadership at Colorado College and is the author or editor of more than a dozen books on government, the presidency and leadership. Cronin has a first-hand grasp of politics at all levels, having served as a precinct committeeman to a member of the White House staff. In 1982, he was the Democratic nominee for Congress in the 5th Congressional District. This year, he is among nine Colorado members of the Electoral College casting a vote for President Barack Obama.
A member of the Colorado College faculty since 1968, Loevy is the author or co-author of a stack of books, including an account of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and an e-book offering an insider’s view of Colorado’s most recent legislative reapportionment process. Loevy has been observing politics up close since the 1960s, when he worked for Spiro Agnew’s gubernatorial campaign and was also a congressional aide. Draft chapters of Loevy and Cronin’s 1993 book examining Colorado politics were a direct inspiration for the state’s presidential primary, approved by voters in 1990.
Cronin and Loevy joined Statesman editor and publisher Jody Hope Strogoff and political reporter Ernest Luning for a 90-minute discussion in the newspaper’s Capitol Hill offices on Dec. 6, part of the newspaper’s InnerView series of in-depth conversations with the state’s prominent political figures.
The Statesman has regularly talked with the state’s party chairs, legislative leadership, federal candidates and others who hold sway in Colorado’s rich political scene. Find transcripts of The Statesman’s interviews with dozens of Colorado politicos archived online at www.coloradostatesman.com/innerview.
Below is the transcript of The Statesman’s conversation with Cronin and Loevy. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Colorado Statesman: The complexion of the state has changed tremendously…
Statesman: It’s not so clear cut?
Statesman: But it’s kind of a fun state.
Statesman: The Sagebrush Rebellion?
Statesman: Your book, which is decidedly purple, both in the title and the cover —
Statesman: They didn’t want to do it?
Statesman: It has to be purple.
Statesman: When did you deliver the manuscript?
Statesman: So before the most recent legislative session? In the month since the election, has your assessment changed at all? All the Republicans got reelected to Congress but it looks like a pretty Democratic turnout, and what some folks are saying might look like a kind of permanent realignment in the state. What’s your take on that?
Loevy: And as Tom already explained, the congressional delegation to the House of Representatives is 4-to-3 Republican. The lesser state offices went Republican in 2010. Perhaps the most significant thing is, as the voters have been turning more blue, the registration has not. Colorado has been very consistent in its voter registration, one third Republican, one third Independent, one third Democratic.
Cronin: And statistically right before the election Republicans were No. 1, Independents No. 2, Democrats No. 3. It’s all 34 to 32 (percent), but to reinforce what Bob has said, over the 20-year period, if you thought we were really trending Democrat or blue, you’d see some evidence of that, and the evidence hasn’t shown up.
Loevy: Not in the registration figures. It also doesn’t — we’ve been polling over 20 years and most Coloradans still describe themselves as conservatives. Forty percent call themselves conservatives. Liberals and moderates, yes, outnumber them, but those figures are not changing. You would think that if there was a real deep shift, some of those conservatives would be going to moderates, maybe some of the moderates going to Democrat, but that is not happening. So our final conclusion is either party can win here and it’s likely to stay that way for a while.
Cronin: And the Republican Party is going to do better in non-presidential election years. All of us here in the room know that Ken Buck would be the U.S. senator if he had just avoided a few paragraphs in his campaign. It was a Republican year, he should have won. Michael Bennett benefited from the other party losing, rather than his winning. So attractive, agile, adaptive Republicans who know how to moderate on some issues like immigration and same-sex marriage are quite winnable in the state. Not that they have to give up or become — nobody wants two parties sharing the same views, but here’s a point, too, that Bob and I share: both parties are tough to unify.
There are a lot of factions and a lot of people who are under the tent of both local parties. The Democrats had a hell of a hard time unifying their party in the 1970s during the McGovern years, before and after, and Republicans are having a real tough time in Colorado and in the nation doing that right now. But the fact is, both parties have management problems of managing their tents. It’s a given in the nature of our two-party system. And in Colorado — Bob and I agree on this — the Democrats have deliberately sought out more moderate state-wide candidates and I think [former Gov. Roy] Romer, [former Gov. Bill] Ritter, [Interior Secretary and former U.S. Sen. Ken] Salazar, [Gov. John] Hickenlooper — they’re not all the same, but some of them are what I call in the book, “chamber of commerce” Democrats. A chamber of commerce Democrat can win the state, just like a moderate Republican of the [former Gov.] John Love, [former Gov.] Bill Owens caliber can win in this state. And I think going forward that’s the same as the past but you have to manage — I don’t want to call them fringe groups, but people who are intense on the left and right in either party.
Statesman: Some of the factions in the party now, it seems to be straining at the tent a little more on the Republican side.
Statesman: What are the factions in the Republican tent now — the evangelicals, the small government folks and the chamber of commerce types?
Cronin: — and hard line on immigration.
Loevy: The backbone of the Republican Party for years was professionals — doctors, lawyers, downtown businessmen, people with good education. You would describe them in sociological terms as upscale and well educated. And the conservative social issues, which I just mentioned, are driving their votes out of the Republican Party.
Cronin: Not all, but —
Loevy: Not all, but enough to make a real difference.
Cronin: Enough that the state is in play.
Loevy: And where this happens is in — and this has become a very popular term with voting-behavior analysts — contiguous suburbs to major cities. Because those were the old Eisenhower suburbs. Eisenhower took the presidency back from Roosevelt and Truman in 1952 by sweeping the newly emerging World War II suburbs. But that’s why the manifestation of this is the shift — and the shift is very steady through the ‘90s — of Arapahoe and Jefferson counties, our two largest contiguous counties, from Republican or Democratic. So the view we take in the book is that is the major problem facing the Republican Party, that the conservative social issues are forcing the old upscale, well educated Republicans out, and this is strongest with their children. The parents, they vote Democratic for a while, but the children aren’t even joining the Republican Party.
Cronin: We met somebody today, earlier, who has a daughter who’s a very strong fiscal conservative but she’s non-religious, and she’s at odds with her family’s party. We saw this in the marijuana issue here in the state, we see it on immigration in the state. It was remarkable to see the Hispanic community turn out in greater numbers and move from about 66 percent in the last political cycle, presidential election cycle, to nearly 75 percent [Democratic]. A lot of that was micro-targeting, great base-getting —
Statesman: — really turning the vote out?
Loevy: Furthermore, the Democrats know this and have proven very skillful at —
Statesman: I’m sure they didn’t mind that there was a primary.
Statesman: When you say that Mitt Romney was forced to take on this position, it was a deliberate choice that he used to try to outflank Rick Perry in the primary, who he saw as his greatest rival, and didn’t move back to the center?
Statesman: And the thing with the women and high heels.
Statesman: But some folks would say, if they didn’t say those things who would they be? All the things you said of Mitt Romney, a lot of the popular perception is that that’s who the guy is, and he reinforced some of that after the election with his call to his fundraisers …
Statesman: Do the Republicans you’re describing who aren’t going to be drumming suburban, upscale voters out of the party with conservative, socially conservative issues exist anymore? Or have they already left the party?
Cronin: Paradoxically — I’m the Democrat and Bob is Republican — but let me point out there are people like Bill Owens who compromised on certain issues, on taxes for example, with his base — with his base. There are people like [Attorney General] John Suthers who hold a lot of these same views but know how to moderate these things. And take Tom Tancredo and Mike Rosen, two of the most prominent conservatives in the state. Tom Tancredo for years has said, “We should legalize marijuana,” for example, and he knew — it fit into his Libertarian notion. And Mike Rosen, we were on a show recently, has talked about you don’t have to stop believing in these issues but if you want to win, you have to be more inclusive and moderate. So these are three examples.
I think candidates like a John Suthers, or future people in that mold, can win statewide. Colorado is basically a conservative state on fiscal matters. We are the fourth lowest — we write about this in our book, Governing a Purple State — we’ve got the fourth lowest state tax rates in the nation, and we were the fourth-most competitive in terms of partisan election in the 2012 cycle, following just after Ohio, Virginia and Florida. We are a real purple state, we’re not decidedly blue nor are we any longer a Republican, conservative state.
Twenty years ago you could say the state legislature and presidential elections were predictably red. But people forget, a factoid we have in our book, that governorship of Colorado, since 1876, 58 percent of the time the governorship has been controlled by Republicans. So within this state, Democrats have been viable statewide. We’ve had Tim Wirth, Gary Hart and Ben Nighthorse Campbell in his original state — so we’ve had a number of Democrats do well in state-wide elections even over the past two generations. And right now, if you want another factoid, we were the only state, battleground state in the country to have two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor this year. There are 10 battleground states, no other one had (that configuration).
So Colorado can be a competitive state both ways — in 12 out of the last 16 presidential elections, Republicans won in this state, and one of those that they lost was Bill Clinton, who won because of Ross Perot. So this is one of the most fascinating states in the country, it’s one of the reasons why reporters around the country talk to people like you at The Colorado Statesman and call Bob and I a lot, because it’s unpredictableness, and we’re hard to figure out because we’re not — the Democratic Party has a lock on two coasts but we’re in the real Rocky Mountain West, and it makes it fascinating. It’s one of the reasons why Bob and I have loved writing this work on Colorado and it’s purpleness — I suspect if we were Oklahoma or Kansas or Illinois it would be far less fun to write the book.
Statesman: When you hear from folks from out of state, do they get what’s going on in Colorado or do they think that it’s going to come down on one side or the other and just hasn’t yet?
Loevy: When I make the argument I’ve made with you — that the key to this is the upscale, well educated voter — yes that’s very familiar to them. This is why New Jersey, which used to be a two-party state, is more or less solidly Democratic now. The state I grew up in, Maryland, was a two-party state; now it’s the second most Democratic state in the country. So the answer to your question is, they find the answers very familiar because they see it going on in their state as well.
I like to make the point that the Colorado Front Range is really a mini-corridor, like the Northeast corridor or the California corridor from San Diego to San Francisco, and that makes Colorado sort of a mini version of the entire country. Which is why I think we have moved from being a generally Republican state, or as Tom likes to say, a default Republican state, to being truly purple. There has definitely been a shift, but it’s been a shift from favoring the Republicans to being truly a two-party state.
Cronin: One fascinating factoid just to throw in here, is that something like 92 or 93 percent of the people live within shooting distance of either I-25 or I-70. And our friend Eric Sondermann likes to joke, “We live on I-25 and play on I-70.” But the fact is, there’s a population belt along I-70 as well and there’s really only about 7 percent of Coloradans who really live in a rural area. Ninety-five percent of Coloradans can see the mountains, which is another fascinating thing. But you go back to the question of what the East Coast people, reporters ask as about — most of them, when they visit Colorado, visit Denver or the ski counties and so they don’t understand that there are a lot of places — they haven’t been to Firstview and they haven’t been to Holly and they haven’t been to Meeker and they haven’t been to Creede.
Statesman: They go to Aspen, Boulder or Denver.
Statesman: And the water issue —
Statesman: How has some of that changed since the first edition of the book you wrote?
Statesman: How have some perceptions within the state changed since then?
I think on social issues is the one where you see the greatest difference, and that is, on marijuana, I think, and on lifestyle issues, Coloradans have attracted — we know we’re a very well educated state — there is a liberal tolerance I think even among Republicans and conservative moderates on those issues. I would say on one issue that has changed, and this is because of partisanship, more people identified themselves as environmentalists in 1990 than do today.
People will still embrace conservationist principles — if you know the distinction between conservationists and environmentalists — but we’re at two thirds of Coloradans, maybe even close to 70 percent of Coloradans viewed themselves as environmentalists back in 1990. Today you’ll find half of those who call themselves Republicans or conservatives will say, “I’m not an environmentalist,” and there’s a partisan divide. And the reason for that, I think, has been EPA and environmental regulations and the partisanship where we want to create jobs and regulations are getting — we see this in the fracking issue and all kinds of related issues — but the Republicans have waged war on regulations that seem to be anti-job. So you still have a large percentage of Democrats who’ll say, “I’m an environmentalist,” but Republicans, at best It’s 50/50, where that wasn’t the case. If you bring out Teddy Roosevelt and conservationist kind of ideology, they’ll say, “Yes, we need to have clean water and clean air,” but in terms of the nitty-gritty of some bill that’s before the legislature, it’s interesting. Bob, you probably want to clarify, add to that.
Loevy: Well, the thing that’s changed the most between the first book in 1993 and this book coming out in 2012 is the polarization of the two parties, and the polarization is strongest on the social issues that we’ve been discussing here. If you’re just looking at Arapahoe and Jefferson, Adams and Broomfield counties, yeah, it looks very balanced. But once you get away from those contiguous Denver suburbs, Colorado is highly polarized. The red areas are very red and the blue areas are getting bluer, but it’s most noticeable on the social issues. Most Republicans are pro-life, most Democrats are pro-choice.
Statesman: And that wasn’t the case so much 20 years ago?
Cronin: Another way to put it is, Boulder is more liberal and Douglas and Elbert Counties are more red, if you were to do it geographically.
Loevy: So the polarization that has characterized the two parties nationally is very definitely here in Colorado, and our polling shows it.
Cronin: And we see that in the state legislature on the issues like civil unions and stuff.
Statesman: When I first started covering politics, it seemed like the rural areas the voters weren’t so much partisan as, it was almost like the person mattered more than the party. Then there’s been such a decrease in the representation of some of those rural areas because of all the growth of the suburbs. It’s changed quite a bit, it seems. The suburbs control the state legislature, whereas 30 years ago it was some of these outlying counties.
Loevy: I think most Coloradans do not realize the extent to which the Denver metropolitan area and the Front Range dominate the population of Colorado, and thus dominate the politics. Eighty-two percent of Coloradans live on the Front Range, from Pueblo to Greeley and Fort Collins. Within that Front Range, 60 percent of Coloradans live in the Denver metropolitan area and those numbers are not dropping, they are actually growing. So I think not only are the people outside the Front Range losing influence, but, to me, the most interesting aspect is the way they are splitting between the ski counties and the farmer, ranching counties. And once you get a ski town going in a county, it changes very immediately from Republican to Democratic, so that’s an important new development as well. I have an expression for this: The further you get from the 16th Street Mall in Colorado, the more Republican it gets, unless you’re going skiing or down to southern Colorado.
Cronin: We say in El Paso County, by the way, a variation of Bob Loevy’s aphorism on that, is that the further away you are from Old Colorado City, the more conservative El Paso County is, and you know the geography there. But the 16th Street Mall notion generally works with the exception of ski counties. Ski counties are a very small population, so you’re talking about San Miguel, Pitkin County, 9,000, 10,000. But it’s fascinating, we know there are a lot of wealthy homes there that are third and fourth homes, but the people who are attracted to work and young people who want to take a couple of years off to live there, environmentalists or whoever, it’s fascinating how consistently. And the same is true in Jackson Hole. The whole state of Wyoming is conservative, except Jackson Hole, which goes for Obama. So it’s not just us.
Statesman: Park City in Utah, too?
Loevy: But the trend toward the Democrats in the ski counties — there are enough Democrats in those counties that you get legislators, Democratic legislators out of the ski counties. Which is something we didn’t used to have in Colorado.
Statesman: Before we move on from changes over the last couple of decades, a lot of folks will say that it’s been just consistent in-migration from California, Illinois, places like that that have turned the state a little bit more liberal. And it seems to me that you’re disagreeing with that, that the parties have shifted on their foundations enough or have hardened their positions on some things enough that — are the parties working with basically the same kind of population and just getting slightly different results, or has the population started to change some too?
Loevy: Well, I would not short-change the idea that the increase in minorities moving into Colorado and, as Tom pointed out, their shift toward the Democratic Party. But minorities have consistently voted for the Democratic Party, so I see that as a factor but not the determining factor. As I’ve already said, the real change, where you’ve got former Republicans voting Democratic, is with our upscale Republican voters.
One reason minorities don’t count for as much as they might in Colorado is we have this in-migration of non-minority voters and It’s hard to tell exactly what they are doing. My view is they are probably splitting the way the existing non-minority population has. But people forget, yeah, that a minority population can grow if you have large numbers of non-minorities moving in as well, that reduces the impact somewhat.
Cronin: Two other reflections on the same topic is that we did some controlling for how long you’ve lived in the state, what your ideologies are and interesting enough, it didn’t seem to, there didn’t seem to be a statistical correlation if you’d lived here less than 10 years versus if you are an old timer, you’re a native. I thought we’d pick up seeing there might be more liberal progressive, and that didn’t hold. And we do know we attract a lot of people with education degrees who come to Colorado for a variety of reasons, and that’s probably one of the reasons we get away with not funding our public higher education. But the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be progressive on social issues, and this is where it fits into what Bob was saying. There was a book written by a professor at Columbia a few years ago, Andrew Gelman called Rich State Poor State, [the book’s full title is Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do, published by the Princeton University Press] and one interesting thing he says is rich states vote blue, poor states vote red, but that rich people across the country vote red. One thing we found in our book that was somewhat surprising — this also correlates with what Bob Loevy was saying — is that there is no statistical correlation in the state of Colorado on income related to partisanship.
In other words, the Republican Party, which once upon a time was the party of rich people nationally — when I was growing up, it was suburbs and golf club people — in Colorado right now the Republican Party draws equally from every income group, and that’s not true nationally. So Colorado is a little bit different and maybe a wave of the nation, so that’s one little surprise.
The other — this is a little off-topic, but the other piece of information we’ve found in two statewide polls is that even though Coloradans are liberal on a lot of social issues — we saw this in the marijuana vote — the plurality of Coloradans believe in Creationism. We actually asked, with the help of Bob Drake and his survey people, twice the question of Creationism versus Evolutionism — the evolutionary theories of creation — and 43 percent of Coloradans believe that the world was created by God within the last 10,000 years. Forty-three percent. So there is not only an evangelical and rural kind of philosophy on this, but a lot of Catholics and others of other diverse faith and probably some non-religious people who believe in the theories. We had a three-part answer and the one that took, if you will, the biology department’s view of strict evolution over millions of years and God wasn’t involved only got something like 18 to 20 percent. And so in that sense we’re anti-tax and anti-federal government, but Colorado, maybe a larger picture of this, Colorado is less religious as a state than the South or the Missouri’s or the Oklahoma’s of the world in terms of religiosity. That is to say, larger numbers in Colorado similar to people in the Northwest and Alaska say, “I don’t go to church, I don’t pray very regularly,” but still there are some orthodox religious kind of beliefs that we tapped into. We asked it more than once just to tap into that, and it was a little bit surprising.
Loevy: As you might expect of two political scientists, we have a number of recommendations for Colorado. Our first is that we need to get rid of term limits in Colorado, particularly in the state legislature. It’s our judgment that the state legislature is now filled with rookies and novices, that just about the time they start to know what’s going on and are able to do good things, they have to leave. And we found considerable distress among observers of the state legislature that periodically exceptional people come along, do a really good job leading their party and, for no other reason than eight years have gone by, have to leave. And even one of our leading conservative lobbyists, Steve Durham, said he agreed that this was a problem.
Cronin: And (former Senate Minority Leader) Josh Penry and Bill Owens, who championed it, now tells us when we interview him, it was a mistake. Josh Penry’s for 12 (years), Bill Owens is actually for getting rid of it.
But the reality, though, Bob, is that we don’t find public support for this. So elites, namely reporters, legislators, activists in the Republican and Democratic Party, political scientists — [CSU professor] John Straayer, a good friend of ours, for example — are agreed that term limits has caused more difficulties and caused damage to a healthy, robust system but the public likes things like term limits.
Statesman: The public has been convinced to lift term limits in some situations where that kind of accumulation of expertise, for example a number of county coroners no longer face term limits.
Cronin: That’s a logical thing (laughs).
Statesman: Do you think it would make a difference in some of the executive offices in the state — governor or treasurer, for instance?
Cronin: Bob and I have a slight difference in this. I’m a strong believer in the Twenty-second Amendment for presidents and a two-term limit for people like governors. I think executive power is more subject to abuse. When you’re part of a group of a hundred people in the legislature, I think there are enough checks and balances. And right now Bob and I agree that by forcing people out after essentially seven years or so, you effectively are transferring power to lobbyists, the executive branch and bureaucrats and so on. But one other recommendation we make in the book — nobody writes about this very much — but we believe it’s long since due, to raise the salaries of state legislators and the governor. The governor gets paid $90,000 —
Statesman: Much less than a lot of his employees.
Cronin: Right, and legislators get paid $35,000, or whatever it is, and some per diem. But we now have the well-paid lobbyists get paid five times as much as a state legislator. Once upon a time the legislature was a real part-time job. I think a lot of the more thoughtful leaders in both of the parties, it has become a full-time job, and there’s something wrong about business executives and lobbyists being paid five, 10, 30 times more. And the governor of Colorado — we’ve had several wealthy people like Roy Romer and Hickenlooper be governor, that’s all fine, they don’t need the money — but it should be paid a couple of hundred thousand dollars at the least. Look at the football coaches that we’re talking about, millions and millions of dollars, whether it’s NFL or our fine state universities. There’s something wrong when we pay the Colorado State University football coach or basketball coach so much more money than the governor. It says something about what our values are.
And we also think that age limits for Supreme Court justices — when they wrote it in the 1960s, reformed it to the Missouri Plan, they built in 72. I think there was a concession because some people worried it would be too long, but the average age life expectancy now has increased by four or five years since that time, and think of all the Supreme Court justices like Hugo Black or Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who have served this country very well. It seems to me that raising it just a few years from 72 to 77, that’s a small change. In our book we have about a dozen things that we think should be considered. None of them is a silver bullet — we think on citizen initiatives the signature level should be raised to 60 percent. That’s not a big reform.
Loevy: Now the vote, we feel the vote to pass —
Cronin: — for a constitutional amendment —
Loevy: An initiated constitutional amendment should require a 60 percent majority.
Cronin: But we also would raise the level of signature requirements too.
Cronin: We favor the initiative process, but the fact is that we have the third longest constitution in the country, 10 times longer than the United States Constitution. We de-vitalize our Legislature and our constitutional republican processes by encouraging people left and right just to rewrite the constitution rather than try to work in the legislative process. And I think Coloradans of both political parties should come to their senses and say, “Yes, we should have this as a safety valve,” but it should not be the regular route to rewrite the tax laws. And we now have so many things in the constitution that essentially have made the legislature a backseat operator compared to being what a legislature should be, and that’s one of the themes in our book.
Statesman: The challenge to TABOR, the constitutional challenge you write about, though it’s gotten further into the courts then when you wrote about it —
Cronin: It’s just been postponed recently, David Skaggs told me. [Ed. note: Skaggs, a former Democratic congressman, is one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment to the Colorado Constitution.]
The big issue is what the Guarantee Clause of the Constitution — I wrote this in a book in 1989 on direct democracy [Direct Democracy: The Politics of Initiative, Referendum, and Recall, published by the Harvard University Press] — the big debate over it is, the Constitution in essence guarantees to each state a republican form of government. And court cases thus far, in the distant past, have generally decided that the initiative and referendum process are fine and states can do that. The question in this case, whether TABOR and some of these other amendments, Amendment 23 and Gallagher have constituted such a de-vitalization, if that’s a proper word, of the legislature that we really have moved away from a republic — that’s the question.
David Skaggs as a pro bono lawyer and some others are challenging TABOR on those grounds. My hunch is the state and national courts will probably not strike down things like TABOR, they’ll say — my hunch, and it’s really a hunch, it’s not a constitutional lawyers viewpoint really, is that the court will say, “Well, if people put something into the Constitution they can take it out the next cycle.” Just like the legislature, one quarter of the time, one quarter of the legislation that passes in any given year gets amended or rewritten or maybe even thrown out two, four, six years later. That’s part of legislative life. And if I were a Supreme Court justice, my thinking would be along those lines. Tim Tymkovich [a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit], for example, who was a student of ours, is likely to argue something like that. In that sense the public at large, it’s like a legislative body, they can repair their mistakes.
Loevy: I think the important thing here is, it’s so difficult to change the constitution. The legislature can meet and very quickly pass a bill and send it to the governor and correct a mistake. Our concern is this, that the initiative process — and this is a word we use, “initiative demagogues” — and of course the model of the initiative demagogue is the most influential Colorado politician of the 1990s, who was Douglas Bruce. TABOR affected everybody and every part of the state and we actually use these words in the book. The problem is Douglas Bruce and his imitators.
You see that those who are making out in Colorado are those who get their particular pet project in the constitution and financed in the constitution. And this has become a money process. The marijuana amendment was a characteristic example of this. A lot of the money comes from out-of-state. You can now pay people to gather signatures. So if you have a couple of hundred thousand or a million dollars you don’t know what to do with — and there are people who do — you can pay the signature gatherers, you can then — I’ve heard estimates between $3 and $8 million to get a ballot issue passed statewide, and then everybody has to live with it.
One of my favorite quotes in the book comes from state Sen. John Morse, now our senate president, who said to us words to the effect — you can look up the exact words in the quote — but he said, “When the public passes an amendment, no matter how ridiculous, the state legislature has to enforce it.” And that symbolizes what Tom is saying, people can sock this into the constitution.
I like to use this example of the imbalances, because it’s in the constitution that all the lottery funds will go for open space. We have these fabulous open-space programs throughout the state, Jefferson County, El Paso County. Because it’s not specified what will go for highways, I like to make the statement, “Yeah, we have the greatest open-space but pretty soon you won’t be able to drive to it because the highways will be so deteriorated.”
Cronin: We interviewed a large number of lobbyists and it’s fun that our friends from Wade Buchanan to Steve Durham all agree now that their work in the legislature is less important than initiatives. The power has transferred from your neighborhood here in The Colorado Statesman, your precinct, if you will, to people who can figure out how to get things on the ballot. And 20 years ago this was happening too, because TABOR and term limits past 20 years ago. But we’re one of those three or four states — the only thing that makes Colorado different — we’re one of those three or four states in which this ballot democracy and populism, if you will, ballot populism, is very vital.
I guess if we could rewrite these things, I think there’d be a lot of support in both political parties to try and make it much harder to change the constitution and try to get these people to make these things statutory so that the legislature, after a time — four years, six years, whatever, and you could put the term-limit kind of language in it — could repair, amend. And they’re up for reelection so if they do something that really is offensive to the public… But to put it in the constitution, as Bob says, our constitution is what, 75,000 words long? It’s the third longest (state) constitution. The marijuana thing, I think, is several pages, isn’t it?
Statesman: Yeah, that’ll add to it.
Loevy: I just want to say, in my view it’s not populism what’s going on with the ballot. Because of the amounts of money required to gather the signatures and get it passed, it’s easily manipulated. It’s also further manipulated because these people, these initiative demagogues, as we call them, will put five or six pages of language in the constitution and sell it with a slogan.
Statesman: People don’t read the whole thing.
Cronin: And I want to quote [former Denver Post assistant editorial-page editor] Bob Ewegen, he makes the point too, that particularly Common Cause issues and term-limit kinds of issues, a lot of Coloradans think ill of people in public life and of politics in the State Capitol, when in fact we’ve got one of the most honest state legislatures and cleanest governments. But term limits passed and Common Cause — which I’m a supporter of a member of Common Cause — passed things like you can’t have even a drink with the legislature, which makes no — it’s as if these people are really evil. We have, with very few exceptions, people who are enormously dedicated, and they’re making huge sacrifices, and to prohibit people having a dinner together or stay there just for seven years is unfair to people who are willing to contribute to public life. And these came about because of the initiative process. It’s very hard to say, “Well, we’re going to stand up for politicians.” But fortunately there are some groups like your newspaper who tell those stories and, I think, try to share that to the general public.
Statesman: As far as fixing some of that, the Single Subject Rule makes it difficult. TABOR can’t be unwound all at once, which is perhaps a problem with the Supreme Court, saying, “Send it back, the voters can fix it if they want to.” It’s very difficult to do.
Statesman: Is it time for a constitutional convention in Colorado?
I think with the marijuana issue, I think public officials publicly tried to stop marijuana, they held press conferences, the governor said he was against it. But anyone who knows how the ballot initiative works in Colorado knows, who are you kidding? You’ve got to go out, you’ve got to form a committee with some of the biggest political names in the state, you’ve got to raise three to $8 million if you want to stop something like that. The one example we have is Bill Owens and Ref C. [Ed. note: Near the end of his second term, Republican Gov. Bill Owens was among the prominent officials who championed the successful 2005 ballot measure Referendum C, which lifted TABOR’s spending limits for five years.]
Statesman: He’s still paying the price for that.
Cronin: I wouldn’t go so far as Bob saying they are relieved of being a leader of the legislature. They have to do that too.
Loevy: Well, no, I went a little far there.
Cronin: We ask a lot of the governor, and one of the fun chapters in the book is the one on the governors and we have little case studies on our governors. We’ve had an amazing number of good governors in the state, going back to Steve McNichols. If you look at the governors and their accomplishments, Colorado should be proud. It’s very exciting that the Ralph Carr [Colorado Judicial] Center will be opened up in a few weeks. John Suthers tells me they’re going to move in in January, in fact, to his offices over there. He was another famous, legendary governor. But very few states could point — there are a lot of states that could point to two or three governors who’ve gone to jail. Illinois…
Statesman: Oh yeah, Illinois, two in a row. We’ve got one here. [Ed. note: Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is serving a 14-year sentence on corruption charges at a federal prison in the southwest metro area.]
Statesman: Is that just luck or is that something about the makeup of politics in Colorado and the electorate that’s produced that?
Statesman: So it all traces back to the silver industry and endowing these folks with a sense of stewardship?
It’s an interesting thing to explore. It would be fun to have your readers kick in on that. The average Coloradan doesn’t take notice of this because they don’t look at the longer picture, but Colorado… Bob Ewegen is right, that we complain as people in other states do too, and we ridicule and roast our politicians, which is healthy up to a point, but this state by and large has not had machines. And one thing Bob Loevy and I talked about in the book also is, there’s no political epicenter, there’s no political establishment in Colorado, there’s no one faction or group. And we quote (former Democratic Gov.) Dick Lamm on this, if you want to lead the state you need to put together a whole group of people — not just Denver people but outside Denver. I think you’re probably aware of this more than we are, but leadership in the state can’t be done from the public sector alone, and it can’t be done from the private sector alone. There really do have to be, as our old friend John Parr, who’s a great hero of mine, used to say, you need public/private partnerships and you need to be willing to be in there for the long haul and to get the business community and the electoral think tank people and civic groups and you need to get the Wade Buchanans and the Steve Durhams to come to the table, if you will. Does that make sense?
Statesman: But the notion that there aren’t any political machines, I think the Stryker/Gill folks might disagree. [Ed. note: The so-called Gang of Four, led by wealthy Democrats Pat Stryker and Tim Gill, transformed politics in the state starting with the 2004 election, when they organized a suc-cessful effort to win majorities in both chambers of the legislature and put in place a political infrastructure that endures to the present.] That seems to be a recent development in Colorado and is serving as kind of a model elsewhere.
Loevy: My view is that the many attempts, mainly backed by liberals and Democrats to reform campaign finance in Colorado have failed completely. We do go into this in the book. The result has not been to limit campaign financing at all, the result has been to take the money away from the candidates and give it to the special interests who have been left free to operate through these famous 527s and other instruments that allow them to spend even more money without any public viewing at all.
The end result, of course, is that yes, the Gang of Four, four Democrats with lots of money to spend have poured that money into state legislative races and other kinds of races. The Democrats simply have been more adept about this than Republicans. My personal view is that Democrats are likely to care more about public issues and, therefore, wealthy Democrats are more likely than wealthy Republicans to put their money into this kind of thing.
Cronin: But there was Sheldon Adelson this year, Bob (laughs). [Ed. note: Conservative casino mogul Adelson spent some $100 million backing first Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney in this year’s campaigns.]
Cronin: And from parties.
Loevy: And from parties.
Statesman: And the political parties in the state.
Statesman: Since you wrote the book, you also wrote an e-book about your experience on the Reapportionment Commission. [Ed. note: Loevy, who was a member of the state Reapportionment Commission in 2011, published a short electronic book called “Confessions of a Reapportionment Commissioner,” freely available online, about his experiences on the body.] I’m wondering what your —
Statesman: Okay. Whether down the road reapportionment is something that needs to be tackled too? Should that be fixed?
Cronin: When the (Democrats’) base game and the targeting was better.
Loevy: That’s exactly what you want swing seats to do, go Democratic in a Democratic year, go Republican in a Republican year.
No, it’s a very difficult situation. My recommendation was that, No. 1, we have to face the fact that the Reapportionment Commission, which is really a redistricting commission, is not doing the job it was designed to do. Whoever has six of the 11 votes gerrymanders just as badly as the legislature did. I think our only hope is to institutionalize what happened this year through the clear intentions of the governor and the chief justice, require that three of the reapportionment commissioners be unaffiliated and hope that the unaffiliateds will swing the balance of power between the two parties and that, hopefully, as I feel it did this time, will produce a more competitive rather than a biased redistricting.
Cronin: But no system will take the politics out of redistricting in any state. Just like water off the top of the mountain…
Statesman: How many times campaign finance has been reformed over the last 40 years and each time someone gets around it?
Loevy: We don’t mince it at all — we say flat out, campaign finance reform has failed in Colorado, and failed in a way that actually makes it worse. At least with the old PAC system, you knew who was giving the money, you knew who it was going to and the candidate and the campaign manager ran the campaign. Under what we have now with campaign finance reform, you don’t know the source of the money, you don’t know the people who are running the campaign, and the manager and the candidate are kind of watching…
Cronin: And the parties are less important.
Loevy: And that’s what created the opportunity for the Democrats to legally create what appears to be a form of the committee system, which actually does coordinate the candidate’s campaign with all of this 527 money.
Statesman: The House Majority Project and the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund, yeah.
Statesman: Have you been doing a lot of traveling? It sounds like you’re on some radio shows and making appearances?
This is a book for people who want to understand the history of Colorado and the complicated nature of our constitutional system here in Colorado. We’re hoping that high school teachers will read it and your audience will read it and that people who want to become activists in politics or in civic life would learn from this larger perspective. The nature of our collaboration, it’s a bipartisan book. The interesting thing is, Bob and I are activists and lifelong Democrats and Republicans but we disagree about virtually nothing. And I think you probably have seen in your coverage that veteran members of the legislature wind up with much more agreement than disagreement. They’ll vote occasionally on some issue that they have to be loyal to their party, but after working together for six or 10 years they understand the big picture. And I think Bob and I, we’ve been on commissions — he was on the Planning Commission, I was a candidate for Congress.
Statesman: How long have you known each other?
Statesman: Oh right, yeah. I did see that.
Statesman: It gives us more power.
Statesman: Twenty years from now we’re going to have another edition of your book, or are we going to see something sooner?
We also tried very much to interview all the former governors. We interviewed a whole bunch of justices, like Rebecca Love Kourlis and Jean Dubofsky and Greg Hobbs. It’s a sufficiently small state that everybody is welcoming. There’s no lobbyist or no legislator who says, “Oh, I don’t want to talk to people.” You find this in your work, Coloradans like to talk about Colorado, and they like to ask you questions even as you’re asking them questions.
People like Roy Romer and Dick Lamm, Bill Owens would talk for hours and hours about what they did. I spent a weekend with Dick Lamm this summer, and he’s just as young as he was when he was governor. We did the Vail Valley Institute together. They love talking about issues, they love regaling stories and they’re willing to admit mistakes, every one of them. Roy will say, “The biggest affliction any one of us has is we become arrogant sometimes.” And he’ll say, as any good veteran politician will, “My biggest advice to those in public life is learn to listen, learn to listen.”
We conclude on the note in the book that Colorado has many, many virtues and assets but one of those assets is that people love living here, it’s a beautiful state and people care about problem solving. At least two thirds of (those surveyed) in politics and among the general public are non-ideological. They care about problem solving, they want clean air and they want good schools and they’re embarrassed that their higher education system is not being funded in a sensible way. They want oil and gas exploration but they also want safeguards, they want the water system to be good. And so one of our biggest assets is that a lot of good people, and most people are problem-solving, like a Hickenlooper and like a Roy Romer and like a Bill Owens.
The best of our politicians know that you have to occasionally take issue with your base, and you have to say no to your friends. We talked about that in our chapters on governorship. Virtually every governor, if they were sitting around our seminar table here would say, one of the first laws of politics is, if you’re going to be a leader you have to be able to say no to even your biggest donor occasionally, when it comes to serving the cause. And that’s, I guess one of my fondest memories of this book, not only working with a staunch Republican, but meeting so many people who care about the state, care about quality and who are willing to serve either as volunteers or to serve a stint in public life or serve as a judge.
Loevy: We do have a chapter on state and local government and we were fascinated by the rise of metropolitan-wide special districts for solving local government problems. The prime example, of course, is the Regional Transportation District in Denver. But Denver really has pioneered the idea of solving problems and financing those problems through the special district process. You have your special district for science and museums [the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District], and we’ve already mentioned the special district for transportation. That’s now spread down to Colorado Springs, we now have our Rural Transportation Authority. We had to use the rural law because when the legislature provided for that, they called them rural rather than regional transportation districts. Now all of the cities in El Paso County and Colorado Springs have combined a good bit of their roads program into a single regional roads program called the PPRTA. So we think regional authorities are going to be the wave of the future for local government solving problems in Colorado.
Cronin: And Coloradans, in terms of public opinion, overwhelmingly favor local government over state government and state government over the feds. I’ll never forget a fellow I interviewed in Crawford, Colorado, on the rocking chair of the general store, in Crawford, Colorado, and he said, “I like local government. Those state government officials, they waste a lot of money but those federal people, they really know how to waste money.” This is your proverbial rural general store, small-town Coloradan who has summed up, I think the attitude a lot of Coloradans even from Denver who prefer things to be done by the private sector, if not by local government but not by the state. And the attitude towards the federal government is not unsimilar to all our neighborhood states like Wyoming. The Sagebrush Rebellion towards the feds. The irony of that is that Colorado is hugely dependent on the federal government.
Statesman: Stay away.
Loevy: We have an entire chapter on the role of the U.S. government in Colorado, that’s how big it is. It’s an entire chapter.
Statesman: Which is not true in a lot of states, right?
Loevy: The further west you go, the larger the U.S. government role. And remember, we were not one of the 13 original colonies. Statehood was devolved on us by Washington so we don’t have the sort of, “hey Washington, you got all of your power from us” — only the 13 original colonies can make that argument. No, the significant thing, I think, is people don’t realize the extent to which Colorado has been made the place it is by the U.S. government. Things like water supply, air travel has been very important for making Colorado important, it’s made it easier to get to, and that’s heavily subsidized by the U.S. government.
Loevy: And most of the skiing industry takes place on National Forest land. When you start looking at just what has the national government paid for in Colorado, it is really extensive.
Statesman: We so appreciate you coming up here.
Loevy: Thank you.