Six years ago, Colorado was a Republican state. Now, suddenly, it’s not. How that happened is the subject of a new book called The Blueprint, written by long-time Colorado political reporter Adam Schrager and former Republican state representative Rob Witwer.
The story begins in 2004, when four affluent liberals decided to pool their money and began organizing for Democrats. Tim Gill, Rutt Bridges, Jared Polis, and Pat Stryker — progressives all, and collectively worth billions — spent just $2.5 million during their first election cycle. Result: Republicans lost majorities in both houses of the state legislature for the first time since the Kennedy administration. Democrats also flipped a congressional seat and picked up one of the two Senate seats the party took control of that year. (The other was Barack Obama in Illinois). By 2008, the transformation of Colorado was complete, with Democrats taking the governorship, the other Senate seat and 5 of 7 congressional seats.
How did they do it? Quietly, for starters. The four helped fund and organize non-profit 527s with generic names like Forward Colorado and Alliance for Colorado’s Families. Just in case those titles weren’t forgettable enough, the names changed each election cycle, part of a strategy to make the groups hard to track and research. In effect, the groups replicated the functions of a traditional party, settling on messages and pushing them with discipline.
In public, Gill, the wealthy founder of Quark Inc. and a high-profile gay-rights activist, sometimes sounded like an angry firebrand. In one 2008 speech, he announced that “the Republican Party is controlled by a bunch of bigots, and the only way the bigots are going to learn is if we take their power away from them. And the way we do that is … to find, hopefully Rick Santorum before he gets to the national level; to find the next Rick Santorum and end his career before it even begins.”
Yet behind the scenes, say those how know him, Gill was coolly calculating and strategic. As early as 2004, Gill and his colleagues were focused on the census of 2010. “They realized that whoever controls state legislatures in 2010 controls Congress for the next decade,” says Witwer.
And in an ironic twist, this small group of leftwing activists accomplished what conservatives spent much of the 1990s talking about: turning the states into laboratories for change. Gill, says Witwer, “understands that the way true change happens in states is at the local and grassroots level…There’s all this debate that’s going on about a federal marriage amendment. Meanwhile, Tim Gill is focusing on the state legislatures — where the laws actually are changing where states are passing laws adopting gay marriage, and same parent adoption and so on. He understands this is more important that the senate race.”