On the Colorado ballot this year is Referendum I
, which will allow same-sex couples to register with the state and obtain many but not all of the basic legal rights associated with marriage. Polls show the referendum slightly ahead. Early voting has been going on in Colorado for a week with another week to go. Colorado Republicans are already laying the groundwork for a vicious civil war
after what they expect will be significant losses at the polls in this state. In addition to making an immediate positive impact on the lives of many Colorado families, if Referendum I passes it will throw fuel on the fire of the Republican civil war and symbolically end the era when conservative "crazies" controlled the political discourse in this state.
Even before Focus on the Family and other right wing religious nonprofits set up shop in Colorado Springs in the late '80s and early '90s, the Colorado Republican Party was split between the "crazies" (led by then-state Representatives Tom Tancredo and Marilyn Musgrave and the conservative Independence Institute "think" tank) and everyone else. The 1992 election, when both TABOR and the gay-bashing Amendment 2 passed, was the real turning point -- both were expected to fail, both passed, and the crazies seized the opportunity to proclaim that Colorado had become their state. (Clinton's win in the state was blamed on Ross Perot and spun so that Perot voters were considered Republican crazies too, even though Perot was very popular in places like Boulder County.) Even with this momentum, it took Bill Owens to unite the party and finally win the governorship in 1998 by convincing both "crazies" and country club Republicans that he was one of them (only the latter were correct).
I think it is safe to say that Bob Beauprez is no Bill Owens. He pretty clearly represents metro Denver business interests and does not have the trust of the "crazies," who backed Marc Holtzman in the bitter GOP primary. And so we may be entering another period like the '80s and '90s, where big bucks developers with little or no political experience vie with ideological right wingers for control of the Colorado Republican Party, with neither able to unite the warring factions.
The passage of Referendum I, in addition to being just plain good policy, will provide an easy political narrative -- the era of social-conservative dominance that began with the passage of Amendment 2 in 1992 ended in 2006 when Colorado became the first state to vote for tolerance by authorizing domestic partnerships through a popular vote. (Knock on wood.) But it will also undercut claims by social conservatives that the problem with Colorado Republicans is that they aren't pure enough on hot button social issues. The ultimate result will be to drive the political center in Colorado further to the left, which can only help progessive politics in the long run.