2024 Leg Session, Ari Armstrong, Politics, Uncategorized

Armstrong: Colorado at the precipice

The legislature is playing “Dems Gone Wild,” and the Republicans, having destroyed their own party, can offer no serious resistance. This is Colorado’s basic political problem. Is there still time to set Colorado back on the path of personal and economic liberty?

A heritage of liberty

Yes, a lot of Colorado’s history is decidedly non-libertarian, using that term loosely. Start with the abuse of Native peoples, including the Sand Creek Massacre. Original proposals for statehood did not allow black people to vote, and other racist policies continued into statehood. In 1880 a white mob rioted in Denver’s Chinatown. Colorado once was home to robust eugenics and Klan movements.

Still, Colorado culture also bears the deep grooves of liberty. Black leaders including William Jefferson Hardin, Barney Ford, and Joseph H. Stuart fought for equal rights. Colorado was the first state to achieve women’s suffrage, in 1893.

During the second World War, Republican governor Ralph Carr opposed the internment of Japanese Americans and spoke eloquently of equal rights for all. He said, “If a majority may deprive a minority of its freedom, contrary to the terms of the Constitution today, then you as a minority may be subjected to the same ill-will of the majority tomorrow. . . . An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen. . . . If you harm them, you must first harm me. I was brought up in small towns where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it.”

Jared Polis, the first gay governor of the state as well as the first Jewish governor here, made his fortune as a tech entrepreneur. He summarized, “We’re a state that values freedom.”

A socialist-leaning legislature

When Republicans turn their party into a clown show, Democrats no longer feel any pressure to run reasonable candidates. However crazy Democrats get, they simply cannot out-crazy the Republicans. So Democrats have little incentive to block extreme-left candidates in the primaries or in vacancy runs.

Although some state legislators have run away from Democratic Socialists of America given the organization’s extreme anti-Israel stance, seven Colorado legislators (out of the hundred members) have ties to the Democratic Socialists, and several proudly fly the socialist flag.

Far from running from the socialists, other Democratic leaders in Colorado proudly embrace them. For example, Javier Mabrey sports a Democratic Socialists of America endorsement on his web page along with endorsements from Planned Parenthood, the Colorado Education Association, Congressman Joe Neguse, and Attorney General Phil Weiser. Before he was selected by a handful of party insiders for a seat in the legislature, Tim Hernández proudly helped pass an “anti-capitalist” resolution through the Colorado Education Association.

To my mind, claiming to be a socialist is on par with claiming to be a fascist. Historically, a main difference between the socialists and the fascists is that the socialists murdered even more people. The socialist Mao Zedong is the worst mass-murder in history in terms of absolute number of victims. The socialists Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot and also slaughtered millions. I know, that “wasn’t real socialism,” right?

Yes, the Colorado Democratic Socialist movement is part of a broader movement led by Bernie Sanders and “the squad.” Yes, Colorado also had a socialist movement a century ago; Grand Junction of all places even elected a socialist mayor in 1909. Still, the largely unopposed rise of a vibrant socialist caucus in the legislature, in a state known for its libertarian leanings and tech-savvy business environment, is, to me, unnerving. Partly the difference is generational; I lived through the end of the Cold War and saw the remnants of the Berlin Wall.

A central Marxist idea is that owning productive property and hiring people are inherently exploitative. That’s why the old-school socialists called for nationalizing the means of production and why socialists in various countries persecuted and slaughtered business owners.

Today, the Marx-inspired Democratic Socialists hold owners of businesses and rental properties in suspicion if not outright contempt. Often the socialists express more sympathy for violent criminals, who, we are told, are victims of their material conditions, than for business owners. When Democratic Socialist representative Elisabeth Epps sometimes says she’s an “abolitionist,” she doesn’t mean we should abolish poorly constructed tax policies and regulations that harm Colorado businesses; she means (something like) we should abolish police and prisons.

I would characterize the current legislature’s overall stance toward business and property owners as one of outright hostility. To take a recent example, Polis signed the so-called “just cause” eviction bill, the sponsors of which include two Democratic Socialists, which violates the property and contract rights of the owners of rental properties.

We can note the exceptions. YIMBY coalitions have arisen across the nation and in Colorado in response to high housing costs. The legislature is considering several ways to restore more freedom to owners and developers of properties. But this is the exception that proves the rule. Polis has been a leader on the issue, and he is unabashedly pro-capitalist (whatever his flaws). The Progressive left sometimes begrudgingly follows along despite their antipathy for developers and property owners because they sympathize with renters and home buyers. At a certain point even they cannot ignore the economic realities of artificially restricting the supply of housing.

Then there is the proposed so-called “assault” weapons ban, the prime sponsors of which are Democratic Socialists. You might think that “power to the people” socialists who want to “abolish” the police would not want send armed agents of the state after regular people for buying semi-automatic guns. The bill says (wrongly) that arbitrarily defined semi-automatic guns are “assault weapons” with “no place in a civilized society” and with no “purpose other than mass killing.” So, of course, this Democratic Socialist bill explicitly says that only select elites, mainly police and members of the military, should be able to acquire such guns. These socialists, true to form, hold that everyone is equal, except some people are more equal than others.

Things can get worse

To some degree, the sometime-libertarian Polis checks the hard-left contingency of his party. He uses threats of vetoes and does some arm-twisting upfront to limit the number of horrible bills begging for his signature. And once in a while he does veto an especially bad bill.

Here is the problem. Polis is term-limited out in two years. Republican leaders busy themselves, like vultures, with picking clean the bones of their party. The Democrats’ strongest candidate probably is Phil Weiser, the central-planner wannabe who proudly endorses Democratic Socialists and gleefully harasses Colorado businesses for not operating the way he thinks they should.

Do you think someone like Weiser is going to oppose or veto a single bill from the socialist wing of his party? Ha! He’s going to cheerlead such bills from the starting line.

Democratic Socialists and their fellow travelers never will say that producers are taxed and regulated enough. However many controls they impose, they will always want to impose more. Whatever problems they find or imagine in society, they will always find a way to blame owners of businesses and properties. However much harm government does through poorly conceived interventions, they will steadfastly imagine more power in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats as the solution to what troubles us.

But here’s the thing. There is no Berlin Wall keeping businesses and liberty lovers from fleeing the state. California has become a net out-migration state, and the socialistic Progressives seem determined to drive Colorado down the same path. Colorado’s geese who lay the golden eggs do not have to place their necks on the chopping block; they can fly to somewhere like Texas. Once Colorado starts to spiral downward, the trend may become irreversible.

If the stray Democratic Blue Dogs, Republicans who actually care about economic liberty (rather than conspiracy mongering and wallowing in bigotry), libertarians (as opposed to the alt-right authoritarian sympathizers currently trashing the Libertarian Party), and liberty-minded independents wish to turn the state around, now is the time to grab hold of the rudder and pull with all your might.

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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