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Posted: August 01, 2008

Colorado at the crossroads

State political leaders assess the West's role in the November election

Mike Cote

A moderate coalition including pro-business Republicans swept moderate Democrats into major power positions in the state. Is Colorado a bellwether for the national election in November? We posed that question to political leaders, regional advocates and academics, asking them to write about the role of Colorado and the West in the general election.

After a few people said they didn’t necessarily agree with our assessment about a moderate coalition, we offered to let them veer from the script if they chose. As you’ll see on the following pages, we attracted a diverse group of perspectives from people on both sides of the political fence.

It’s safe to say they share at least one thing in common: a deep love and respect for the state of Colorado and its people. --Mike Cote

Bill Ritter Jr.,governor, 2006 to present (D)
Without question, the national spotlight is shining brighter than ever on Colorado. Not only is Colorado hosting the Democratic National Convention, but we are widely considered one of a few key states that will help select the next president of the United States.

While much of this national attention involves election-year politics, the real Colorado story has nothing to do with Republican or Democrat, right or left, red or blue.

The real story — the lessons Washington, D.C., and other states are learning from us — is our nonpartisan collaborative approach to solving problems, getting things done and making a positive difference in people’s lives and businesses.

Look no further than our economic development successes and Colorado’s New Energy Economy to see what I mean.

A recent Denver Post editorial noted, "Colorado’s economy is doing well, even as the pulse of the nation’s business slows." National business analysts are taking notice, too. CNBC named Colorado No. 5 in its annual list of Top States for Business because of Colorado’s business-friendly climate and our growing New Energy Economy. The Milken Institute ranked Colorado No. 3 in the nation for our strong technology sector.

Our signature economic development successes involve Colorado’s New Energy Economy — a marriage of our traditional energy industries with Colorado’s growing renewable energy sector. The arrival of companies like Vestas Blades and ConocoPhillips demonstrate the incredible job-creation and business-development potential of the New Energy Economy.

ConocoPhillips will bring an estimated 7,000 new jobs to Colorado with its alternative-fuels research center and worldwide training hub in Louisville. That, in turn, has triggered a boom of economic-development activity along the U.S. 36 corridor.

The seeds of our New Energy Economy were planted in 2004, when Colorado voters passed Amendment 37, the country’s first voter-approved renewable-energy standard. A year later, that bipartisan — nonpartisan is a more apt description — spirit continued when voters passed Referendum C, a budget-fixing measure supported by virtually every business organization in the state.

The convention will put a national spotlight on Colorado and our pragmatic approach to economic development. That spotlight will continue to shine through the November elections and beyond, not because of partisan politics, but because of our ability to set partisan politics aside and make real progress on the issues that really matter.

John Hickenlooper, mayor of Denver, 2003 to present (D)
I think a lot of what has happened in Colorado over the last 10 years is a powerful model of what this country needs to do. Colorado and Denver are places where people will fight a partisan battle. But once the election is over, they put down their weapons; they come together.

When we passed FasTracks (public transportation expansion) for the metro Denver region — eight counties, roughly the size of the state of Connecticut — we got all 32 mayors, Republicans and Democrats, big cities, little towns, all unanimously supporting FasTracks. It’s a remarkable achievement.

In the Rocky Mountain West, it doesn’t matter who your parents were and what your grandfather did for a living. It matters who you are and how hard you’re willing to work to achieve your dreams. This is a place where people collaborate and come together — I always say that there were a lot more barn-raisings than there were shootouts at the OK Corral.

I think running a business is the best training you can have for elected office because you learn that there’s no margin for having enemies. Every customer is going to talk to their friends. You just can’t afford to have enemies. Too often, elected officials like to be adversarial because they think by diminishing their opponent, they lift themselves up in the public’s eye. That’s crazy.

I think there’s a huge group of people in this country who are tired of fighting over social extremist issues, and really care about making sure that their kids will have a better quality of life than they did.
(Adapted from an interview with John Hickenlooper for ColoradoBiz TV.)

Bill Owens, governor of Colorado, 1999-2007 (R)
With the Democratic convention coming to Colorado, the conventional wisdom is that Colorado is a traditionally Republican state that is now moving Democratic. Like most conventional wisdom, this perception is largely incorrect.

Yes, Colorado Democrats have been successful in recent years, but Colorado is not traditionally a Republican state. Instead, Colorado has — for almost as far back as you go in modern times — been in play for both parties, a veritable battleground for Democrats and Republicans.

Take — please — Colorado governor: Since 1970 there have been nine gubernatorial races in Colorado, and Democrats have won seven. If Colorado were truly a red state, I don’t think I’d be the only GOP ex-governor in the last three decades.

And a look at Colorado’s U.S. Senate races since 1970 makes my point as well. Since 1970, we have had 11 Senate elections in Colorado — and Democrats have won six of the eleven.

So, since 1970, Democrats have won seven of nine governor’s races and six of 11 Senate races. With numbers like these, Democrats might well want more "Republican" states like Colorado.

But what about presidential races? Isn’t Colorado a reliably Republican state that is now trending Democratic? Well, no and perhaps. Colorado is reliably a state that mirrors the national results; we may in fact be what economists call a trailing — rather than a leading — indicator.

Colorado usually votes for the winner in national elections, and that winner in recent years has usually been a Republican.

Thus, since 1980 Coloradans voted for Reagan twice, George H. W. Bush once and George W. Bush twice — but so did the country. And in 1992 when the country voted for Bill Clinton, Colorado did as well. As goes the country, so goes Colorado.

The exception was 1996 when, after four years of "change" under President Clinton, we bucked the national trend and voted for the older, less charismatic war hero, Bob Dole. (Perhaps this is a leading indicator for 2008?)

And while Colorado often votes for moderate candidates, this fact will spell trouble for Sen. Obama, whose style may be moderate but whose voting record isn’t.

While Sen. McCain’s independent streak has frequently caused heartburn among his fellow Republicans, Barack Obama is clearly, definitely and directly a liberal.

I don’t use that term as a pejorative but rather as a descriptor.

Voting analyses done by numerous nonpartisan organizations consistently rank Sen. Obama as the most liberal senator in the Senate — to the left of, for example, Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy.

So if "moderate" Democrats have won in Colorado, that certainly does not prove the case for a very liberal Sen. Obama.

My party has had a tough time recently, both nationally and in Colorado, but I am convinced our message of strong national defense and lower taxes — while not saying "how high?" every time big labor says "jump" — will win.

If the presidential race comes down to Colorado’s nine electoral votes, then Jan. 20, 2009, you will find me in Washington, D.C. — celebrating the inauguration of our 44th president, John McCain.

Wellington Webb, mayor of Denver, 1991-2003; current president of the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce (D)
The presidential election in 2008 will be the most lopsided election since Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona lost to Lyndon Johnson.

In my autobiography published in 2007, I mentioned the road to the White House comes through the West. Since Lyndon Johnson’s support of civil rights legislation during his presidency, the Democratic Party has primarily become a minority party in presidential politics. Since we have abdicated Southern states and the Rocky Mountains, our only two election victories came when our ticket was headed by Southern governors, Jimmy Carter of Georgia in 1976 and Bill Clinton of Arkansas in 1992.

Sen. Barack Obama will overwhelmingly win the electoral college, the popular vote and sweep most of the Rocky Mountains; Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Montana and North Dakota. Sen. Obama will do well in the West because he represents all of the history of America. Unlike the East Coast and the South, where economic and social pedigree are so important, we in the West value independence, our environment, respect for the government, keeping your word and the value of a handshake.

In the West, the only pedigree that is important is how you can get the wagon train across the mountain. It’s not about birthright or economic privilege. It’s about, "Can you cut it, can you do the job?"

Today in America a black man has finished first, and a white woman finished second in the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. These two finishes have come a long distance from the slave status of the Constitution for black people and the invisible status of women in early America.

But if we look at history, we see two groups still advancing to fulfill their destinies in American politics. One group is heir to slaves who were enslaved firstly by the letter and intent of the Constitution, on to the failed abolition of slavery in 1808, then on to a Civil War where only relatively recently admission of its true purpose was to free black Americans, and finally to the addition of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

The right of freedom and all that it guarantees, including the abolition of slavery, the granting of citizenship, and provision for the right to vote, was "given" on the one hand, and taken away on the other hand, through disenfranchising poll taxes, and the fear, as a black man, of being lynched, where thousands of black men were actually lynched.

Simultaneously, on another track, women were left out of the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution; they were not being lynched but were never given the right to vote until they fought for it and won that struggle in 1920.

So, in 2008, we are here as the result of two competing histories of struggle. The development of that history has brought us to more recent political times for both groups. On the one side you have the Jesse Jackson presidential campaigns of 1984 and 1988 emphasizing proportional delegate votes, specifically targeting caucus states built upon the groundwork previously laid by the McGovern anti-war campaign in 1972, and the Jimmy Carter campaign in 1976.

This groundwork laid the basis for a tactical, political base for a future generational candidate Sen. Barack Obama, the next president of the United States, and it will all begin in Colorado.

Norma Anderson, Colorado state senator, 1986-2006 (R)
Will Colorado be a bellwether for the upcoming national elections? In my opinion, no. In the past, the vote in Colorado reflected the winner of the presidency. President Bill Clinton was a good example. That has changed.

It is extremely important for our candidates to look at the West and spend time here as the issues are different and more extensive, including water, drilling, mining, wildlife and many, many acres of federal land. Our population is growing quickly and will have a stronger voice in the politics of the nation. For this reason, it is the West and not just Colorado controlling future elections.

The business community in Colorado has changed the dynamics of our politics by supporting Democrats over Republicans. I remember when I could rely on business to help elect a Republican legislative body. This has ended due to a combination of events that have happened over the years.

Referendum C is a good example. The state budget needs repair and is not flexible to meet the demands of governing a state. Many Republicans opposed this modest timeout. FasTracks is another example. With the high price of gas, what would we do without a transit system? Again, Republicans were opposed.

We may not like to pay taxes, but it is a necessity to have a responsive government. We need an efficient and lean government, which takes a budget that is flexible and transparent. At this time it appears the voting public, including the business community, is trusting the Democrats to do this job. Again, the vocal Republicans are absolutely against any tax (it is a dirty word) whether it is needed or not.

On the national scene the Democrats were in charge for many years. After a time the public became very tired of their spending habits. Each and every congressperson had an idea that needed funding and could not spend the money fast enough. The Republicans took control and the extra spending ended for a while. What a pleasant surprise. Then it changed. The spending sprees started again. I believe the dome in D.C. affects the mind of good, decent people after they are elected.

We now have the Democrats in control in Congress again, and the public wants different leadership. The war has been the rallying subject. Will that continue?

Politics is a pendulum that swings back and forth with the mood of the country. We could learn lessons from history and the many times leadership has alternated. But do we? With this election, remember, it still is the economy that controls the pocketbook and many times the vote.

Richard Lamm, governor of Colorado, 1975-1987 (D)
I hope Colorado can be a swing state, but I am skeptical. I have been down this road so many times before.

History is against Colorado being a swing state. The only recent victory of presidential Democrats was because Ross Perot was on the ballot. It wasn’t the Democratic message but divided voting that made the difference. We can hype our state, we can hope, but when the voting is over, I suspect Colorado will again go into the Republican column.

Colorado voters like Democratic state office holders but are very suspicious of federal Democrats. The federal government is the landlord of 36 percent of Colorado, and people don’t much like landlords.

However, there is magic in Obama! He does have the power to move people, to make armies of citizens march. I think on it for two minutes, and I allow myself to become excited, hopeful, dream. Yes, he can; yes, he can. Am I dreaming? Skeptical but hopeful.

Wayne Allard, U.S. senator, 1997 to present (R)
Historically, Colorado has been, and continues to remain, a "swing state." Coloradans have seen some successes for Democrats in recent years because Democrat candidates have embraced some of the traditional values of the Republican West — such as pro-family issues, economic growth, adequate roads and highways and a genuine concern for rural constituencies. Democrats have also moderated their traditional positions on unnecessary environmental regulations and land control issues.

Coloradans believe in many things that East and West Coast Democrat party elites haven’t previously been able to bring themselves to endorse. Chief among these are: Water rights should be respected and protected — for agricultural, business and residential usage. We believe in a strong military. We believe that land and wildlife management should allow for local input and control, because the people who work, live and play on the land are as vested in its protection as federal bureaucrats, and more often better informed as to its needs as well.

We believe that Second Amendment rights are meaningful and worthwhile. We believe that the tremendous natural resources of our state can be responsibly developed, to the benefit of both our state’s and the nation’s citizens and economies. We believe that individual responsibility, achievements and freedoms should be as respected and encouraged as civic pride and commitment. Finally, we believe that the Denver Broncos are due another Super Bowl, the Rockies another trip to the World Series, the Avalanche another run at the Stanley Cup, the Nuggets an NBA World Championship and the Rapids another shot at the MLS Cup.

Whether national politicians have followed the template of some successful Colorado politicians in moving away from extreme liberal positions should be soon evident at the upcoming convention in Denver. Federal land grabs, threats to water rights, opposition to local control, Second Amendment attacks, land management mandates, prohibitions on responsible energy development and the like have been pushed by politicians with agendas far removed from what Coloradans, and I believe most reasonable Americans, support.

Gathering in Denver as they are, we will have a chance to see if the national party’s leaders are moderate enough to echo the reasonable values of our state, or whether they are too beholden to special interest blocs to move away from some of the more ideological fringe positions.

Ken Salazar, U.S. senator, 2004 to present (D)
The next president will enter office at an important crossroads in American history. Whether tackling the health-care crisis, restoring our standing in the world, reviving a struggling economy or freeing ourselves from our addiction to foreign oil, we have significant challenges to overcome as a nation that will require independent thinking and bipartisan leadership in Washington. Across the country, voters are tiring of divisive partisanship and are looking for leaders who recognize the need for pragmatism and consensus-building in governance.

It is fitting, then, that the road to the White House in 2008 runs through Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. Westerners have long known that cooperation and inclusion have been the building blocks for our greatest accomplishments and that a diversity of peoples, faiths and cultures makes our communities stronger.

We are men and women of hope in the future, of optimism in the face of adversity. These core values of Western life are precisely what the country needs to usher in a new era of politics, one in which we come together, roll up our sleeves, and get to work on the challenges we face as Americans.

Moreover, with the Democratic National Convention coming to Denver and competitive races shaping up for the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives, Colorado has an unprecedented opportunity to spotlight policy issues of importance to Western states, including renewable energy development, rural revitalization, and the stewardship of our natural resources. Just as the country will benefit from competitive races in the West, so too will the West benefit from Americans of different regions gaining a better understanding and awareness of the concerns that are central to our way of life.

Cathy Shull, executive director, Progressive 15 (Northeast Colorado advocacy group)
Changing demographics, growing populations and the hosting of the Democratic National Convention have secured Colorado a major role in national politics. We are no longer the "flyover" area of predictability but rather have evolved into a group of independent thinkers who have shown a tendency to deviate from the historical norm on both issues and candidates.

Colorado and the West also are at the heart of energy production, both traditional and renewable, and have become major players in advocating for renewable energy and protecting our environment and water while maintaining our economy. Colorado also has become a player in research and development in those areas through institutions such as National Renewable Energy Lab, Colorado State University, Colorado School of Mines and the University of Colorado.

Colorado also has a strong military presence, making it vitally tied to the war on terror. Finally, the growth in Hispanic population in the state draws attention to immigration issues. All of these issues have been high on the national political agenda.

When we look at Northeast Colorado, which is the area represented by Progressive 15, it is mainly rural and contains many of the resources and issues discussed in the national platform. We are among the top producers of food and fiber for the nation, have two of the top oil producing counties in Weld and Yuma; and have been very progressive in helping the nation become energy independent through "renewables" such as biodiesel, ethanol and wind energy.

Combining those resources with traditional oil and gas production and the discovery of uranium has elevated the voice of Northeast Colorado. These resources are important in the voting patterns of our citizens as they are the base of our economy. We also have in place the open space to create transportation corridors for movement of goods and services and transmission of electricity from east to west and north to south.

As noted by Lilias Jarding, a Progressive 15 board member from Larimer County, "the growth of the ‘New West’ and shrinking of the ‘Old West’ have created profound impacts on electoral politics in the region, and Colorado is at the center of this power."

Northeast Colorado, with a population of more than 1.5 million in the 15-county area represented by Progressive 15, is a vast part of that "power."

Ken Conyers, Chairman, Action 22 (southern Colorado advocacy group)
Is Colorado a bellwether for the national election in November? Like a number of you, I continue to read articles and listen to astute political observers telling me why Colorado and the West can, should, or at least might be a key presidential battleground this year.

The pollsters can tell you how many left-handed people are leaning right or how many blue-eyed, gray-headed boomers are leaning left, and oh, so much more. I have come to the conclusion that the answer to this question is a definite maybe! But really, so what? What if Colorado is in the thick of the campaigning, garnering lots of attention from both candidates prior to the November elections? Will it make a lick of difference come January? Will it matter in 2011? Don’t Colorado voters have more pressing issues?

Take our constitution, for instance. It should protect our rights as citizens, but we have allowed it to be amended too easily and too frequently. It shouldn’t be a vehicle used by special interests to mandate ideas that sound and feel good at the time but produce "unintended consequences" or ultimately render representative government null and void. We need to take steps to protect the document that protects us.

What about the collision course that labor unions and right-to-work advocates are on? Guess I’m just a simple country boy, but I thought the Colorado Peace Act had served Colorado business and labor well for the last 65 years. Why are these groups trying to out-flex each other now? And why do they want their proposals in the constitution?

Rather than speculate about how "red" or "blue" Colorado might be in November, we should be appalled with the escalating deterioration of our transportation funding and our transportation system. We should be horrified at the fact that Colorado is 49th (maybe 50th by now) in funding for higher education. I suppose we could take some comfort in the fact we can’t go any lower.

It is flattering that our state has the potential to play a key role in the presidential elections. We can’t let the allure of those "15 minutes of fame" detract from the real issues that Colorado must address.

Andrew Romanoff, state representative District 6, speaker of the Colorado House of Representatives (D)
Four years ago, the people of Colorado steered our state in a new direction. They put Democrats in charge of the House and the Senate for the first time in more than 40 years. Two years later, the voters gave our party larger majorities in both chambers and sent a Democrat to the Governor’s Office as well.

What explains this sea-change in Colorado politics — and what does it forecast for the rest of the nation? I’ll leave those questions to the pollsters and the pundits. The more important question, as far as most Coloradans are concerned, is this: What are we doing to improve the quality of life for the people we represent?

The point of getting political power, after all, is not just to keep it. My colleagues and I didn’t seek office for the fame (fleeting) or the fan clubs (few). We ran because we wanted to energize our economy, strengthen our schools, and curb the cost of health care. That is exactly what we are doing.
In four short years, we:

  • Enacted the most significant economic-development package in decades;
  • Secured an additional $1 billion in transportation funding;
  • Eliminated the personal property tax for 30,000 small businesses;
  • Made Colorado a world leader in "green-collar" jobs by doubling the state’s renewable-energy standard and promoting new-energy research and development;
  • Passed a plan to make high-quality preschool and full-day kindergarten available to 30,000 more children;
  • Produced the single largest investment in school construction in state history, leveraging as much as $1 billion to repair and rebuild hundreds of school buildings, especially in rural Colorado;
  • Rescued Colorado’s community colleges and public universities from financial disaster by approving landmark increases in higher-education funding;
  • Boosted Colorado’s bid to become one of the healthiest states in America, by expanding access to immunizations, cancer screenings and other forms of preventive care, community-based health centers, telemedicine, drug and alcohol treatment and mental-health services;
  • Reduced the price of prescription drugs by pooling Colorado’s purchasing power with other states’ and negotiating deeper discounts from the pharmaceutical industry;
  • And brought health insurance within reach of 50,000 more at-risk children.

Our progress resulted both from Democratic leadership and from a broader commitment to bipartisanship. We built a coalition of Democrats, independents and moderate Republicans — united by a desire to solve problems. That turns out to be the best way not only to win an election but to govern a state.

Andy McElhany, state representative, District 12, Senate Republican leader in the state Legislature (R)
John McCain will carry Colorado and even beat President Bush’s victory margin of 2004. We are still a pretty conservative state no matter what conventional wisdom holds at the moment.

As just one indicator, look at how Coloradans voted in 2006 to support the citizens’ initiative upholding traditional marriage and to oppose the ballot issue that would have recognized domestic partnerships. We are not turning into a blue or even a purple state.

The disenchantment we are seeing among independent voters in Colorado has a whole lot to do with the economic downturn. The Obama campaign will try hard to pin that on the current administration and on Republicans in general, but many of our state’s independent voters won’t buy it. They will vote for leadership, now more than ever, and that will place them squarely in McCain’s camp on Election Day.

John A. Straayer, professor of political science, Colorado State University
Political winds shift over time, and recently they’ve been blowing in the Democratic direction.

In the mid-1980s every Rocky Mountain governor was a Democrat. By 2003, all were Republicans. Now, in the five Western states from Montana to Arizona they’re all Democrats. Colorado Democrats have captured and solidified complete control of the General Assembly, and Bill Ritter lives in the Governor’s mansion.

Democratic advances track to several national factors, including public unease with the war and the economy, and the Bush presidency. In Colorado, Democrats have benefited further from a troubled Republican party — one divided for example, over the Beauprez-Holtzman and Coors-Schaffer contests and Referendum C. To some extent, the party of "Gerry Ford" migrated toward a party of "Grover Norquist and James Dobson"— from "business and investment" to "anti-government and values."

As the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) and the 2001 recession took a toll on state budgets and state services, Colorado’s majority-party Republicans failed to respond effectively. Kitchen-table talk moved from gay marriage, abortion and gun control to road conditions, college tuition and health care for grandma and grandpa. As pragmatics began to overtake ideology, votes handed the full set of Capitol keys to the Democrats for the first time in more than four decades.

With the November 2008 election coming, what to expect? Will Colorado Democrats hold their newfound advantage, and can their presidential nominee carry Colorado? Political prognostication is always risky, but I would say yes and maybe. The Democrats will maintain majorities in both state legislative chambers, and the odds are at least even that Obama will carry Colorado. This may be critical in a close election.

Voter registration numbers have long favored Colorado Republicans, but the margin is shrinking. The Democratic participation surge in the March caucuses will carry over to the general election and bring to the polls young voters whose preferences tilt heavily in Obama’s direction. African-Americans will vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and a sizeable majority of the growing Hispanic population will as well. Bush, the troubled economy and the war continue to plague Republican candidates. John McCain’s age and health through the grueling campaign could be a wild card.

The Reagan-era small government reaction to Great Society big government, plus the "values" agenda, put the wind at the backs of Republicans. But that’s over. Small government and ideology aren’t fixing roads and universities, they aren’t ending war or purchasing health insurance, and they are not easing economic anxieties. As worries over bread and butter issues make Coloradans and Westerners feel blue, their voting fingers turn increasingly purple — at least for now.

Buie Seawell, chair and clinical professor, business ethics and legal studies, University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party 1985-1989
Colorado clearly seems positioned to have a major effect on the coming general election because we are a young state, and the energy of this election is amazingly generational and future oriented.

Already the candidates are positioning to take advantage of this political shift — choice of vice presidents and Cabinet "pretenders" are feeling the surge of political change. And for a change (pardon the pun) both parties will be playing for keeps in the Centennial State.

But Colorado is also a player this time around because we are a state of entrepreneurs and not of large, traditional "Rust Belt" corporations. Businesses here are not letting the present economic downturn destroy their spirit of productive adventure. Rather than hunkering down, we are venturing forth. Not just politics but the economic recovery in the United States will be following Colorado’s lead.

And finally, Colorado is a player, like much of the Western United States, because political parties are nearly inconsequential to the decision-making process of most of our voters — even the 60 or so percent of us who are registered either Democratic or Republican don’t vote at the state and national level based exclusively on party affiliation.

In the most "dynamic" election since 1912 (Wilson/Roosevelt/Taft) Colorado is quintessentially a dynamo of the future of American politics. The sign at DIA as both parties flock here to convene and connive should read: "Welcome to Colorado: Gateway to the Future."

Mark Udall, U.S. representative, District 2 (D)
One-hundred years ago, recovering from a difficult war in the Philippines, Americans were talking about our role on the world stage, the balance between business and labor, immigration and how to create an economy of prosperity for all, not just the wealthy few.

One-hundred years ago, the Democratic Party also staged its presidential convention in Denver, Colorado. It was the first and only time that a major political party in America held its nominating convention in the Rocky Mountain West.

This year, Democrats will make history for our region and the country when we gather, once again, in Denver, Colorado — only this time to nominate Barack Obama, an African-American whose ancestors would not have been welcome at the 1908 convention.

Times change (thankfully). Times also remain strangely similar.

In 2008, Americans are talking about how to end a costly war, our proper role in the world, the balance between business and labor, immigration and whether our economic policies are bringing prosperity or ruin.

We are also talking about an issue that Coloradans know so well, and that is how to produce the energy we need to keep our economy strong.

And just as Colorado and its vast natural resources have been key to this country’s economic development in the past — whether it’s been gold and silver, coal, oil or natural gas — we are now poised on the cutting edge of America’s new energy economy. A sustainable economy, not one prone to the booms and busts we’ve known too well over the past 100 years and more.

The challenges of our energy needs are great, but so too are the opportunities it presents for Colorado. With historic investments in alternative energy, from wind and solar to geothermal and biofuels, Colorado is moving America toward energy independence and creating new jobs and economic development across our state at a time when too many families are losing ground.

I am proud that my party — the Democratic Party — has come, once again, to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West for our presidential convention. What’s important, however, is not that the Democratic Party will stage a political event in the West but that the party absorbs the experience of this region, listens to our people and leaves Denver with a better understanding of the challenges we face together.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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