In the past 10 years, Colorado has undergone a transition from a fairly reliable red state to a decidedly purple one. Between 1960 and 2008, Colorado voters preferred the Republican candidate for president in every election but two—1964 and 1992. In 2008 and 2012, however, President Obama, a Democrat, won the state both times. Colorado’s governor is presently a Democrat, the Democrats are in the majority in the state’s House of Representatives and Senate, and both United States senators are Democrats. You would not call the state “blue” because nearly a third of the electorate is registered as independent, and even among registered Democrats there is an unmistakable libertarian strain (witness the passage of Amendment 64 in November 2012 that legalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana).
This transition is one of the subjects of Colorado Politics and Policy: Governing a Purple State. The authors, political scientists Thomas Cronin and Robert Loevy, update their earlier work (Colorado Politics and Government: Governing the Centennial State, 1993) with a thorough and competent look at the early history of the state and its people, the legal structure of the state and how it is governed, the impact of the state’s initiative process, and finally the shifting political realities that make Colorado the most interesting swing state in the West.
Colorado is a fairly diverse state. Its geography includes the Great Plains in the east, the Rocky Mountains in the state’s central and western portion, and the arid high desert areas of the Western Slope. It enjoys varied economic activities including manufacturing, energy production, tourism, and agriculture. The vast majority of the population lives in 10 counties on the Front Range, and yet rural issues remain important to people throughout the state and to its decision makers. Cronin and Loevy use a great deal of public polling and interviews with scores of citizens and elected leaders to make sense of what it takes to govern Colorado, and what barriers exist to being able to govern effectively. They also analyze the tensions between those who advocate a progressive track forward and those whose orientation is more conservative, more bent toward local (read smaller) government and fewer taxes.
Much of their work is specific to Colorado. But there are some broader lessons to be gleaned and shared with other states, including throughout the Great Plains. Cronin and Loevy include discussions of immigration policy, water issues, fossil fuel production, environmental concerns, and the public’s view on federal funding, to name just a few. My view of the Great Plains states tells me that no state, whether blue or red or purple, will be spared the burden of working through each of those issues in the coming decade.
In their final chapter, Cronin and Loevy discuss “Assets and Liabilities” of Colorado. Here, as well, readers will find some lessons that are useful beyond Colorado’s borders. For it is here, by addressing its liabilities and assets and paying close attention to its chief resource— its people— that the authors envisage what the state can still become.
Colorado State University
Governor of Colorado, 2007–11