Ari Armstrong, Exclusives, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Reflections on a quarter-century of Colorado politics

It was 1998. The first segments of the International Space Station launched. “Titanic” earned its first billion dollars. President Bill Clinton did not have sexual relations with that woman. The Foo Fighters found a hero, Lenny Kravitz flew away, and Savage Garden stood with you on a mountain. Here in Colorado, Bill Owens won the governor’s race as a Republican (how times change!), and ecoterrorists burned down multiple buildings at Vail Resort.

According to Wikipedia (and when is that ever wrong?), the term “weblog” was coined in 1997, and “blog” was coined in May 1999. Wikipedia itself didn’t start up until 2001. With “HTML for Dummies” in hand, I started up the Colorado Freedom Report online toward the end of 1998, with the first articles postdated for January. So I’ve been blogging about Colorado politics since before the term “blog” existed.

That means I just passed my twenty-fifth anniversary (blogiversary?). But I was so busy, you know, blogging, that I forgot to celebrate. I plan to make up for it now by pouring a glass of Scotch (usually I don’t drink while I write!) and settling in to reminisce.

For my son, 1998 practically is ancient history. Last century! Can you imagine? In one of my early articles, after noting that various movies incorporated internet themes (“You’ve Got Mail”), I breathlessly predicted, “On-line movies themselves cannot be far behind.” There had been a bit of video streaming before then, but YouTube didn’t kick off until 2005, and Netflix didn’t launch streaming until 2007. Amazingly, Netflix, which mailed its first DVD on March 10, 1998, continued to send DVDs until just a few months ago.

Back then I remained naively optimistic that the internet would spread truth throughout the world. I didn’t realize that, just as the printing press was hugely disruptive as people learned to cope with the new technology, so would the internet be disruptive. Malicious and gullible people spread lies and conspiracy fantasies faster than honest and conscientious people spread truth. Even so, sometimes, the internet does help spread truth throughout the world.

Leaving the Libertarians

I predicted, “Libertarians have made much of the internet’s potential to advance freedom. The increased ease with which information can travel has already made pro-market ideas more readily available. Many see the internet itself as a paradigm for how markets operate.” Sigh.

In those days I was a hard-core Libertarian Party libertarian, and most libertarians were pretty normal people. Okay, maybe that second part is a stretch. But they were basically decent people who wanted small government. Now a lot of self-proclaimed libertarians are a step or two away from the Birchers or the white hoods.

It wasn’t until 2002 that my faith in the libertarian movement was shaken. I’ll let the Denver Post’s Howard Pankratz summarize the relevant events: Rick “Stanley was nominated by the Colorado Libertarian Party in May 2002 as its candidate for Senate, but he was later censured by the party after he called for U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard to be hanged ‘if found guilty of treason’ and forwarded an e-mail message calling for police and others to be ‘blown away.'”

Later, after he was convicted of illegally carrying a gun, Pankratz writes, “Stanley was convicted of two counts of attempting to influence a public servant after he threatened to have a militia force arrest the two judges who heard a gun case against him.”

So watching the Libertarian Party go into Full Crazy mode these last few years has not much surprised me. Eventually I fled to the Republican Party in the hopes of helping to push that party in a better direction than Trump. Whoops! I did not anticipate that the Republican Party would become about as bad, with party leaders relentlessly conspiracy mongering about the elections; downplaying the January 6 Capitol assault; and, in the case of the state chair, talking about civil war if Republicans don’t get their way on election rulings.

Here is the latest from Kyle Clark, the reporter that Republicans love to hate because he tells the truth: “Republican congressional candidate Trent Leisy calls for Colorado Supreme Court justices to be tried for treason, a crime punishable by death. Leisy plans a Dec 30 rally against the justices hosted by a GOP activist who has explicitly called for mass executions.” I’ve seen this movie before. The ending sucks.

Don’t wanna miss a thing

We’ve had other trying times. Floods. Fires. The pandemic. And human-caused horrors. On April 20, 1999, two students murdered thirteen people at Columbine High School. I don’t suppose that anyone who remembers that can, even now, think about that day without feeling their chest in a vise. The human tragedy was unfathomable.

I was a libertarian then, and I maintain a pro-free market, pro-civil liberties stance. One of the things I accepted was that people have the right to own guns, but that was one issue among many. Today I think gun laws should focus on keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of violent people.

I guess it was inevitable that those horrific murders would have downstream cultural and political consequences. Maybe you remember that, for a while, Marilyn Manson strangely entered the controversy. More prominently, the murders ignited the debate over guns that we’re still having.

We could talk about other horrible things. The Aurora theater murders. The unjust police killings of Elijah McClain and Christian Glass. On the national scene, we’re still dealing with the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But this already has gotten a lot more depressing than I’d hoped. So let’s try to get ourselves back into the holiday spirit.

I’ll be blunt. It’s late, I’m drafting this before Christmas, and I still have to pack up my ski gear. So I’m going to do what any desperate writer would do in our brave new world, ask Chat-GPT. Specially, I asked (using the free version—you think I’m going to pay for this?), “Please summarize the ‘good news’ stories in Colorado for the past twenty-five years, in 1000 words or less.”

I thought Chat-GPT did a pretty good job if what you’re looking for is something like a spin-job by the governor’s economic development PR hack. A lot of the news actually is good! The real news is just more, shall we say, nuanced.

We’ve had good economic growth (with out-of-control housing costs and increasingly burdensome regulations), “renewable energy leadership” (which is going to cost us plenty), solid conservation and outdoor recreation (no complaints about Colorado’s scenic beauty!), “education advancements” (I will say there’s “room for improvement” to be polite), “healthcare innovations” (but health insurance still sucks and access is mixed), “flourishing arts and entertainment districts,” legal marijuana (I figured Chat-GPT would have a little residual tech libertarianism), “proactive” water planning, strong “community service and volunteerism” (sounds good), and kick-ass sports teams. Or at least well-loved sports teams. “Championships and memorable sports moments have united communities and provided a source of joy for sports enthusiasts,” and you wouldn’t want to argue with Chat-GPT, would you?

Colorado is a beautiful, weird, mixed up, sometimes scary, ever changing, often constant place. I’ve been around awhile and hope to stay around awhile longer yet. Unless you tax-and-spend Democrats drive me to Texas or Wyoming. Oh, yeah, I’m a Democrat now too, only a Blue Dog.

This all reminds me of that old John Denver song, “Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.” Wait. No. The other song: “Colorado Rocky Mountain high, I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky, Friends around the campfire and everybody’s high.” I’m hoping the bit about fire is a reference to our beautiful sunsets and dramatic storms rather than an Oppenheimer prophesy. I love this place. By the way, I’m busily recreating my web page at in a retro style and hand-coded html. As Aerosmith sang back in 1988, I don’t wanna miss a thing.

Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.


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