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The Republican Party in 2012 faces two challenges: how to replace Barack Obama, and how to steer the nation back to constitutional government. The two are related goals, but not the same. We saw in 1968 the election of Richard Nixon – and in 1969, Nixon created the EPA.

Mitt Romney can provide that restorative leadership if he chooses, but what about the leadership deficit in our 50 states? Has the Republican Party at the local level produced a generation of leaders, or a generation of wimps?

A mistake made in 1980 was in thinking that having Ronald Reagan in the White House meant a total reversal of the socialist tide of the previous 50 years. Conservatives neglected state and local government, and the left continued its march toward the nanny state.

At first glance the future of state-level conservatism appears bright when you look at the rising conservative Republican stars across the nation. In Indiana, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas, we see state officials – governors, lieutenant governors, attorneys general – leading energetic campaigns for conservative reform and return to limited government. The conservative “bench” appears blessed with talented and principled leaders.

And then, to balance the picture, there is my home state of Colorado.

Colorado has a Democratic governor elected in 2010 with 51 percent of the vote and a split state legislature. But three of its four elected state constitutional officers are Republicans, so the conservative “bench” might appear to be strong. Well, two of them are heavy hitters, but the third has a talent for striking out.

The newly elected Colorado secretary of state, Scott Gessler, is demonstrating courage in battling against election fraud and voter registration reforms. He takes a lot of heat from the liberal media for his fidelity to constitutional principles, but he is a hero to the grass roots, and that is enough for now.

The new Republican state treasurer, Walker Stapleton, has taken on one of the thorniest issues in state government, the reform of state pension systems. As a result, he is hated by the public-sector unions and fans of big government everywhere. A bright star on the Republican horizon? You bet!

And then, to balance the leadership ledger on the negative side, there is Colorado’s wimpish attorney general, John Suthers. Is he a principled conservative leader like Gessler and Stapleton? Not so much.

As seasoned observers of Colorado politics will tell you, John Suthers is cut from a different cloth. Suthers is the type of Republican loved by the liberal media and other purveyors of the newest political snake oil, “bipartisan consensus building.”

This sounds good in editorial offices and political science classrooms, but it has a fatal flaw. In practice, it means giving Democrats a veto over acceptable political reforms. This breed of Republican centrist not only does not seek controversy, he avoids it like the plague.

Two examples will suffice to illustrate the Suthers way of representing the public trust in legal matters. The first example shows lack of seriousness in enforcing state law, and the second shows how he backs away from offending any powerful interest group beloved of the state’s Democratic power elite. Both are related to the issue of illegal immigration.

In 2006, the state Legislature passed a law directing the state’s attorney general to sue the federal government to collect money owed to the state to reimburse the taxpayers for the millions of dollars it costs to incarcerate illegal aliens convicted of crimes. There is a federal program to provide such reimbursement. Suthers did file suit, but asked for only the cost of incarceration in state prisons, not the equal or greater amount of funds expended by local government for holding illegal aliens in local jails. His office had not even bothered to ask local sheriffs what those costs are.

And now, in June of 2012, the Colorado attorney general cannot find the fortitude to declare the action of a state college, Denver’s Metro State College, as contrary to state law when the school declares that beginning this fall semester, it will accept illegal-alien students at a new, lower tuition rate created specifically for them. The Legislature has six times voted against allowing colleges to do this, most recently only three months ago, but the attorney general is uncertain where he will come down on the question. He announced he will render an opinion only because he was forced to do so.

This is not exactly a profile in courage for a man who aspires to be governor of Colorado. Yet, his style of non-leadership is popular with many Republican officials.

Whether the issue is immigration enforcement, spending control, or education reform, the country’s dire situation demands more from our elected officials than a finger in the wind.

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