BIDLACK | Diverse Colorado has it all — and that doesn’t have to divide us

Author: Hal Bidlack - June 19, 2018 - Updated: June 16, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

There are few bright stars visible in Denver.

I mean that literally. Like most cities, Denver has a severe light pollution problem, so you don’t see too many bright stars. Look up on a clear night from the steps of the Capitol, and you’ll see a couple sparkling things in the sky, but not too many, there is just too much ambient light shining upward, wastefully, from parking lots, street lights, car dealers, and lots and lots of home with globe lights in the front yard.

I spent much of last week as far from lights as I can get, pursuing my passion of astronomy. My local astronomy club in Colorado Springs sponsors one of the largest “star parties” in the west, on 35 acres of land we own not too far from Gardner, Colorado. We picked that spot because it has some of the darkest skies in the country. It is so dark down there that I can walk around at night around hundreds of fancy telescopes navigating by no more than the light of the Milky Way.

In Denver, you can’t see the faint band of light we call the Milky Way spanning the sky, and that’s a pity. There is something deeply spiritual/primordial/meaningful about seeing the wonders of the night sky with your own eyes — having photons of light hit your eyeballs that left distant galaxies millions of years ago, or glimpsing a moon orbiting far-off Neptune.  Yet these wonders are lost on the nearly 80 percent of Americans who have never seen a night sky unpolluted by light.

Which, of course, brings me to a recent Colorado Politics story on the Colorado legislature…

In the June 11 report, CP reviews five Democratic races — two Senate and three House — to watch in the upcoming primary. Given that the story is about the important Democratic contests, it is not surprising that we see seats in the Denver area listed. But what is at least a bit surprising is that all five contests declared important by CP are in the greater Denver area. Is that a problem?

Every presidential election year your eyes are assaulted with maps showing various political divisions. The GOP supporters always tout a map showing a resized United States, based on geographical areas won by the Republicans, while Democrats show maps demonstrating the total number of voters won, rather than area, arguing that sparsely populated Montana, for example, has fewer voters than some counties in California. Such maps are interesting and allow both sides to declare victory. But the maps matter because of what they tell us nationally, and here in Colorado.

Maps showing which party carried which county in Colorado often look like a red square with a big blue strip down the middle. If corrected for population density, it becomes more of a blue strip with red trimming on the sides, but however you paint the picture, it shows a divided Colorado. The Front Range is, for the most part, Democratic territory while the west and east lean Republican. Colorado Springs, my town, is an interesting red city with a blue underbelly — while it is true there are many, many Republicans here, there are a surprising number of Dems. Smart, statewide Democratic candidates spend a good bit of time in El Paso County, knowing that if they can get a good turnout from the 81,000 registered Dems here, they can do much better statewide.

Which brings me back to the stars at night.

Democrats, both nationally and here in Colorado, tend to live in cities, while Republicans are more spread out. That’s how you end up with, for example, Hillary Clinton (I toss her in from time to time to irritate my GOP friends) getting a fraction under 3 million more votes, but she did that by piling up huge margins in cities.  Unfortunately for her, with our Electoral College system, it doesn’t matter if you won, say California, by a huge margin or by one vote.

Republicans likely see more stars, because they tend (overall) to live more spread out, more rural lives. This gives us a state legislature made up of people with very different backgrounds and points of view. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in our modern Trumpian world, cooperation is seen as un-American, and whoever shouts loudest wins.

Our state is divided by magnificent mountains, but it need not be divided by point of view. Disagreement is as American as apple pie, and we should embrace it. So, my Democratic friends, drive out into the country some clear night and marvel at what you miss in the big city. And my GOP friends, please pop over to Denver sometime and marvel at the art museum, the science museum, and (if you are like me) gawk a bit at the tall buildings. Both ways of life are honorable and enjoyable. But the best news is that you can experience both.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.