Last year as part of my journey from disengaged citizen to concerned activist, I found a book that describes how a phenomenon I had wondered about – the flipping of Colorado from conservative red to liberal blue – took place. Former Colorado Representative Rob Witwer and reporter Adam Schrager describe how a group of wealthy progressives became involved in Colorado politics and literally hijacked a State legislature, governorship and Congressional delegation.
In The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care [Kindle Edition], authors Witwer and Schrager take the reader through the brief biographies and motivations of the four primary movers behind this shift, how the “Gang of Four” put together their plan to wrest control of the Colorado Capitol from the GOP, how they achieved success and how they “went national” – seeding progressive organizations in other battleground states across the nation.
This book was published in 2010 so is not exactly new. Since then, we’ve had the 2012 presidential election, an off-year election and a highly contentious 2013 in the Colorado legislature, with a hard left agenda pushed by the progressive elements in the Democratic Party. I believe this book is highly relevant today and have written a review to promote it as a cautionary tale for libertarians and conservatives who complacently assume that control will switch again in November 2014 through pushback and the natural cyclical nature of politics. I think that vigilance, hard work, and strategies to anticipate and counter the progressives will be necessary to achieve the electoral results we want.
In the Preface, the authors describe how “What started in a smoke-free conference room in Denver during the summer of 2004 has become a blueprint that is now being used by progressives to win political races across the country. And as this book explains, there is also a direct link between the Rockies and the White House.” The last sentence is totally believable to any close observer of the gun control battles that waged in the capital building last winter. From boilerplate legislation to Vice President Biden cajoling lawmakers during legislative sessions, it is no surprise that Colorado was to be the petri dish for radical gun control and other progressive agenda items including civil unions, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, banning fracking, mandating renewable energy, education “reform”, and others.
Part One of the book introduces the aptly named “Gang of Four”, starting with Jared Polis.
Now, of course, he is familiar to most Coloradans as the US Representative from Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, first elected in 2008. Polis, a self-made multi-millionaire, became involved in politics at a young age, and his first electoral office was on the State Board of Education. He is also gay, and the only openly gay parent in Congress at the current time.
The second member of the Gang of Four is Pat Stryker, a billionaire with an inherited interest in
the Stryker Corporation. She lives in Fort Collins and has a history of supporting liberal causes including the defeat of Amendment 31, which would have required all public school classes to be taught in English. Throughout the period documented in the book, she donated millions of dollars to promote the liberal/progressive agenda in Colorado. Her brother, Jon Stryker, also a billionaire supporter of liberal causes, is gay.
The third member, Rutt Bridges, is a behind the scenes politico who is also a self-made millionaire. He created software that benefits energy companies by showing them where to drill. Using his financial resources, he created a think tank (Bighorn Center for Public Policy) with a political arm called Bighorn Action. While these two entities ceased operations in 2006, I have no doubt they served as a template for the political organizations later created by the Gang of Four.
Thanks to Colorado’s Amendment 27, state legislative contributions were capped at $400 per donor. According to the authors, “Amendment 27 effectively took message control out of the hands of candidates and handed it to outsiders.” Thanks to Amendment 27, “…the only people who could make a difference were super-rich donors – those who can give $100,000 or more to outside groups-and labor unions, who got special loopholes under the rules.” [Emphasis mine] If this wasn’t a recipe for subverting democracy I don’t know what is.
company called Quark into a successful business, eventually selling his interest and earning a net worth of over $400 million. The apparent galvanizing factor for Mr. Gill’s entrance into the political world was the passage of Amendment 2 in Colorado in 1992. This amendment which was later found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court prohibited local jurisdictions from designating gay and lesbian individuals as a “protected class”. This amendment is, in my opinion, the direct cause of the hard left turn that Colorado subsequently took two decades later. Through his Gill Foundation he promotes LGBT issues and other liberal causes.
With the intense desire of these four wealthy individuals to pursue their gay rights agenda, the Gang of Four was born. They next turned to their strategy for achieving their goals.
In Part Two, the authors describe how in 2003 to 2004, through a series of meetings including other players, the Gang of Four forged their alliance and set goals. As the authors describe, “Everyone wanted to throw out the Republican monopoly at the Capitol. To that end…Bridges, Gill, Polis, Stryker…agreed to pool their resources in pursuit of that objective. By the summer of 2004, they were ready to give money on a level never before seen in Colorado politics.”
The so-called “Roundtable” was created in the summer of 2004 to discuss strategies. It included the Gang of Four, and other progressive attorneys and activists including Ted Trimpa, Al Yates (former president of Colorado State University), Michael Huttner, Alice Madden (House assistant minority leader at the time) and others.
Today’s Republicans and Libertarians could take a lesson from the Roundtable – discussion of issues that might divide the group was “strictly verboten”. This group did not discuss policy, they focused on strategy – and winning elections.
These progressive activists went about setting up various 527 groups that became the focus of their efforts and the conduit through which their millions of dollars in donations flowed. They also made a conscious decision to devote their efforts to the state legislature, rather than trying to influence policy at the national level. History has shown that to be a wise decision on their part, as the gay rights movement is gaining ground at the state level.
With a businesslike approach that emphasized accountability, the 527s started to change the way it was done in Colorado politics. First, they identified their targets who were largely vulnerable Republicans as well as “safe” Republican incumbents who would have to be defeated in order to gain control.
Through the next several chapters, the authors document the inventive, some would say “dirty” ways in which the superior financial resources of the Roundtable were able to win these key elections. The Republicans didn’t help themselves in other districts where they engaged in “circular firing squad” type campaigning (sound familiar?), giving an opportunity to these smart and motivated opponents.
Even though election night 2004 was a victory for Republicans nationally, in Colorado the sea change that the Gang of Four had unleashed on the state was beginning to take place. After the previous election, Republicans had been firmly in charge, with both US Senate seats and 5 of the 7 House seats; the governorship and 3 other state offices; and 18-17 and 37-28 majorities in the Senate and House, respectively. After the dust settled in the 2004 election, the Democrats had picked up a Senate seat, a US House seat, and gained majorities in the Senate and House. The Gang of Four had succeeded in flipping the legislature.
Four years later the Gang of Four and their progressive network had built up the infrastructure and developed the power of the Colorado Democratic Party to lure the 2008 Democratic Convention and the nomination of Barack Obama, culminating in his acceptance speech in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
After the 2012 election, the Democrats had increased their hold on the Colorado legislature to a 20-15 majority in the Senate and 37-28 in the House. Since both Senate seats, 3 of 7 House seats and the governorship were in Democratic hands, they felt emboldened to embark on an ambitious progressive agenda in 2013 that many in the state felt was over-reaching. The resulting backlash triggered the recalls of two state senators and the forced resignation of a third, who stepped down so the Democrats would maintain control of the Senate. As the 2014 session starts, the Senate Democratic majority is down to one person.
Part Three of the book describes the permanent infrastructure created by the Gang of Four and their allies. ProgressNow Colorado, which shares office space in lower downtown Denver with several other liberal and progressive organizations, is now a permanent fixture in Colorado politics. State Senator Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, who is the current Majority Leader of the Senate was the first chairman of ProgressNow Colorado when it was created in 2003.
Even more disturbingly, these activists have created a donor network that funds progressive organizations in other states, with the objective of replicating what happened in Colorado. In other words, the “Colorado Model” went national. Tim Gill, with a “click of a mouse”, can line up donors to support progressive politicians in states far from his home. Conservative politicians in other states who oppose gay marriage have been voted out in large part to Gill’s resources and activism.
Today there are ProgressNow affiliates in 21 states including Texas, Ohio, and Florida. Just as they sought to flip Colorado, they are now setting their sights on bigger game. Conservatives, independents and libertarians in these states ignore these groups at their peril.
The Blueprint is well written with colorful anecdotes and is free from partisan bias. The authors interview people on both sides of the aisle including members of the Roundtable and people who were state legislators during the time these events took place. I strongly encourage all people who are concerned about the direction the country is taking to read this book. I hope that libertarian/conservative people with similar financial resources create their own networks to counteract this progressive machine.
By Richard D. Turnquist
January 10, 2014
Updated February 2, 2014 to add:
In the 2012 election, Republican candidate Rick Enstrom was defeated in his bid to unseat Colorado State Representative Max Tyler, D-Lakewood. During the election, a mailer alleging he had been arrested in 1985 was mailed to voters in his district. The source: a mailer from a group called “Colorado Accountable Government Alliance”, which has donors including Pat Stryker and Tim Gill. Clearly they remain active in Colorado politics.
Read the story in the Denver Post.