There is an excellent story in today's Denver Post from reporters Tim Hoover and Lynn Bartels, two of the most experienced local political reporters left at the state's flagship newspaper after years of cutbacks. Expounding on a theme we've devoted a great deal of attention to since the beginning of this year, that is the inability of the Colorado Republican Party to moderate, even as critics local and national say the party must abandon its increasingly radical and bigoted image to remain viable–after almost a decade now of consecutive electoral defeats.
As we have said repeatedly, and Hoover and Bartels explore creditably today, the fact of the Colorado GOP's failure to moderate in the wake of 2012's defeats is not partisan propaganda. In the form of numerous pieces of legislation even more to the right than in previous years, such as freshman Rep. Steve Humphrey's near-total abortion ban and and pro-creationism in schools bills, and even less support for civil unions in the GOP caucus than existed before the election, the Colorado Republican Party's failure to recognize the changes need to stay competitive in this state appears likely to cost them yet another chance at recapturing legislative majorities in 2014.
Former Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry is frequently cited these days as a voice calling for change in the party–largely on the strength of a single op-ed he co-authored with former GOP Rep. Rob Witwer saying as much. The fact is, there is little in Penry's record to suggest he has any credibility in calling for Republican moderation–this is the same Senate Minority Leader who presided over the Dave Schultheis era of his caucus, refusing even to condemn Schultheis as he hoped babies would get AIDS (not kidding, new readers).
“People are entitled to their opinions,” the Grand Junction Republican said. “It’s not my job to go around and censure people and tell them what to say.”
Apparently Penry no longer thinks so. But when he had the chance to make a difference, Minority Leader Josh Penry was part of the GOP's problem.
We have said that the Republican Party needs to "moderate," but as Rep. Humphrey says, the bills he is running reflect the campaign platform he ran on and his constituents voted for. As Hoover and Bartels report, Sen. Owen Hill has been "savaged" by his constituent El Paso County conservatives after he announced he would support the ASSET legislation for tuition equity for undocumented students. Sen. Greg Brophy is held up as a positive example since he says he may vote for the bill, but from gun policy to Brophy's unapologetic misogynist attacks on Sandra Fluke, he's just not somebody that Republicans should be giving face time to.
In short, the reason the Republican Party can't "change course" and moderate is that is not who they are. It can't be solved by a facelift, and the moderation the party needs can never be realized if their base won't allow it. The Republican Party has always, at its heart, been a coalition between self-interested wealthy Americans, and allied popular constituencies of various and changing descriptions that gave the former enough numbers to win elections.
As Colorado continues its evolution into diversity and urbanization, the GOP and the shrinking minority of the population their coalition of wealth and ignorance represents makes us wonder if there is no turning back. Certainly something has to emerge to repesent these segments of the population, and others within the conservative coalition, but we can't tell you what it should look like. Or if it can ever be a majority in Colorado again.