HUDSON | Is the California boogeyman really so scary for Colorado?

Author: Miller Hudson - July 23, 2018 - Updated: July 22, 2018

Miller Hudson

“All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California Dreamin’ on such a winter’s day”

It’s been more than half a century since the Mamas and Papas vaulted to the top of the music charts with their ode to the comforts of California. The Beach Boys were touting the wonders of the surfer life – perfect waves, muscle cars, woodies, convertibles and a pursuit of year round tans. The “Grapes of Wrath” refugees who had stopped fleeing the Dust Bowl when they reached the water’s edge were being elbowed aside by a new generation of lifestyle immigrants seeking better jobs, sunny days and the embrace of an alluring hedonism packaged by yoga and tai chi gurus together with the gratifying self-indulgence of primal screaming and nude soaks in the hot springs at Esalen. Along the Pacific coast of the American frontier the ‘times were a changin’, upended by a cultural revolution that, depending on your viewpoint, either promised or threatened that, “…whatever is happening in California is likely headed to your neighborhood.” For example, its legislature directed self-esteem taught in all public schools.

In the years since, the Golden State has had its ups and downs. During the ‘90s more and more Californians emigrated while clutching sacks of money stuffed with the fortunes earned from the sale of their homes. A troubling number then set their sites on Colorado, which was suffering through one of its episodic “bust” cycles. These immigrants snapped up properties at what were, comparatively, bargain prices. If you wonder when and what triggered the runaway escalation in our property values, those were the years. California seemed nearly ungovernable and headed for bankruptcy. Voters recalled Democrat Gray Davis, jerking him from the governor’s mansion in favor of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who would leave office after two terms nearly as unpopular as Davis.

It took the return of Jerry Brown to restore fiscal order. Brown has become the poster boy for the importance and value of experience in public office. It has proven nearly impossible to disturb the equilibrium of the self-described “canoe politician” –‘…first you paddle a little on the left, then you paddle a little on the right.’ This former California secretary of state, governor, mayor of Oakland, attorney general and three-time presidential candidate has proven leadership can make a big difference.

It’s a puzzle why so many Colorado Republicans are currently trying to convince voters that Jared Polis intends to ruin Colorado by imitating California. Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute recently leveled this charge in a Denver Post column. Presumably, he wasn’t trashing Jerry Brown’s $5 billion dollar budget surplus, or the economic supernovas spewing dollars in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. It’s unlikely that any but the most easily misled voters wake up each morning fretting over the risk that Colorado will soon be Californicated. Polis, after all, was born and raised in Colorado unlike Walker Stapleton who continued to manage his personal business interests in California for several years while continuing to draw a salary as state treasurer courtesy of Colorado taxpayers. Not a bad deal if you can pull it off.

During the recent Republican primary, Walker Stapleton promised to keep right on beating “the liberals.” Scrutiny of his claims of past success appears premised on the happenstance that several tax-and-spend initiatives failed with voters on his watch. This sounds a lot like the hunter who throws a roadkill buck into the bed of the pickup and later mounts the head. Once again, I wonder how many voters actually worry that the liberal threat to our prosperity should receive priority attention from our next governor. Just how large is the constituency that believes Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper were renegade leftists intent on bankrupting Colorado? Could they fill a meeting room at the Holiday Inn?

Raving about the danger of morphing Colorado into another California appears a 21stcentury version of political candidates’ Civil War practice of “…waving the bloody shirt”.  In 1973, when I first climbed Gray’s and Torrey’s peaks on the Continental Divide trail, I encountered placards advising hikers to micturate on the west side of the ridgeline “…because they will drink it in California.” (There are advantages to living at the top of the mountain and reasons why Coloradans will grin at this admonition just as I did 45 years ago.) Now that help from Washington has become a diminishing prospect, self-reliance may not be just the right path for Colorado – it may be our only path.  To the extent that California has blazed its own trail, there seems little wrong with that.

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com.