In 2008, the “Colorado Model” had its coming out party. Turning Colorado from red to blue had taken only four short years – with the help of four billionaires and stealth organization called the Colorado Democracy Alliance (CODA). This week, an earthquake hit Colorado progressives, and the myth of inevitability was shattered.
The earthquake was a recall election against Colorado State Senate President John Morse and another liberal Democrat, Angela Giron. They were yanked out of the legislature from districts with solid Democrat majorities. How did this happen?
The success of the progressive agenda in Colorado has been due to the successful combination of three advantages CODA has had over its disorganized and dispirited Republican opponents. The progressives have had the advantage of big money, the advantage of superior organization based on cooperation among a network of ostensibly independent groups, and the advantage of support from the mainstream media.
This week, for the first time those advantages proved inadequate to turn back a rising tide of public outrage – even when focused on winning two legislative elections instead of two dozen. The recalls were the first in Colorado history, and they spell trouble in paradise for the progressive movement.
The spark that lit the fuse of voter outrage was the anti-gun agenda of Colorado Democrats in the 2013 session of the legislature. At the behest the Obama White House and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Democrats used their majorities in the legislature to pass five bills that add new restrictions to gun ownership and use. They limited the time allotted for testimony on the bills and were openly contemptuous of concerns of law-abiding citizens. With no help or encouragement whatsoever form the Republican Party establishment, local citizens launched the recall campaign against several lawmakers.
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From the beginnings, the recall campaign, from the petition drive to force the recall to the door-to-door canvassing, was a grass-roots effort led by ordinary people, local citizens in each of the districts who felt betrayed by the actions of their elected representatives. They did not listen to the “professionals” who told them they could not win. They listened instead to their conscience.
That grass-roots effort is the decisive difference between this recall election and regular elections. Regular elections are organized from the top down. Grass-roots campaigns build momentum from the ground up.
This Colorado recall was started and run by amateurs, ordinary citizens who had passion and love of the Constitution as their main assets, but very little money. Regular elections are run by professionals who look upon grass-roots citizens as worker bees to be “recruited,” then tolerated and controlled.
The recall campaigns were outspent seven to one – over $3 million in mostly out-of-state money poured into the state to oppose the recall and support the two incumbent Democrats. Mayor Bloomberg wrote a personal check for $350,000 to support his two Colorado friends. The Colorado Democrat Party sent its best operatives, and the Denver Post editorialized against the recall.
All of that – the money, the media, the union muscle and the professional apparatchiks – could not defeat a group of passionate citizens determined to send the establishment a message: Keep your hands off my Second Amendment rights and pay attention to the views and values of ordinary, middle-class people.
That message was sent, but Colorado progressives have already rejected it. They are blaming the defeat on “voter suppression,” claiming that the absence of mailed ballots “disenfranchised” thousands of voters. Voters had to actually go to the polls over a seven-day polling period. Imagine that!
This unexpected victory exposes a weakness in the “Colorado Model” the progressives cannot mend. It reveals the difference between authentic grass-roots revolt and astroturf fantasies funded by shadowy multimillionaires. It exposes the dirty little secret of progressive politics: The progressive left does not trust a constitutional democracy of aroused, active citizens.
Whether this extraordinary victory in a recall election can be translated into a full-scale assault on the fortress of progressive legislation enacted in Colorado over the past six years is, of course, unknown. Can the coordination among different groups be expanded into 2014? Can the Republican party accept and form a working alliance with forces that cannot be controlled by party officials?
We do not yet know the answers to such questions, but conservatives will find out soon enough. On Nov. 5, voters in Colorado will be asked to approve a $1 billion tax increase and the abandonment of the state’s flat tax to pump more money into the Public Employees Retirement Fund and pump more money into a failed public school system.
What we do know is that for the first time in nearly a decade, there is reason for hope. We may be witnessing the emergence of a new Colorado model, a model for the restoration of constitutional government. It’s called a grass-roots revolution, and it doesn’t need billionaire plutocrats.