A standoff in the Rockies

Eben Carle Contributor
Font Size:

Maybe, just maybe, pundits have been a bit too quick to mock the emergence of “witchcraft” as an issue in this year’s election cycle. Has anyone even considered the benefits? A student of dark magic could prove useful when Americans under 40 require a séance to resurrect their Social Security contributions. Election seasons like this are a reminder of how good we have it in America. No matter how strange things get, at least we aren’t stuck near the Equator listening to Hugo or Fidel giving a six-hour reading of The Communist Manifesto.

Interesting campaigns are everywhere, but few trump the Senate race in Colorado, where Ken Buck and Michael Bennet enter Tuesday’s election locked in a dead-heat.

We would be remiss to think this is strictly about Buck versus Bennet. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent more than $6 million on the contest and $30 million of total outside money has saturated Colorado. The state hasn’t seen this much interest from outside investors since the Pikes Peak Gold Rush.

To complicate matters, Colorado’s secretary of state has released the absentee vote tallies broken down by party registration in advance of the election — a practice which, while not illegal, ought to be. It reveals that Independents are out in droves. Two years ago, when Independents were Democrats who had made a little money, that trend worked against Republicans. This year, with the money gone, it spells trouble for incumbents everywhere.

How will this play out tomorrow? I’d wager two cases of Coors Light that I have absolutely no idea. No one does. Not even the candidates, because Coloradoans take a wry pleasure in defying expectations. This year that contrarianism is out in full-force. In addition to the barrage of outside money, there is another element at play: the standoff between Old Colorado and New Colorado.

Old Colorado is the place where people built homes in avalanche alleys and constructed mountain roads without guardrails. It is where, looking upon this challenging driving terrain, the locals undertook to brew more beer per capita than anywhere on Earth. At last count, the state was home to more than 300 microbreweries. Most notably, Old Colorado is the place that, when awarded the 1976 Olympics, turned the committee down under the thoughtful belief that the influx of people offered nothing more than an Olympic-size headache.

Colorado once personified the individualism of the libertarian West.

Then, as native Coloradoans still recant with horror, “they” came.

All those listless souls who followed the counterculture west in the 1960s, transforming California into a Porta-Potty with a soundtrack, turned their backs on the Pacific and marched into the Rockies. By the mid-1990s, the heirs to the counterculture were everywhere.

Locals suddenly found themselves stuck in traffic jams with Eco-Warriors driving SUV’s, lecturing them about everything from licenses for dog ownership to the scarcity of infant changing tables in restaurant men’s rooms. All along the Front Range, the English language got the California Treatment, wherein people began applying emphasis to the end of each sentence, turning formerly-clear statements into upbeat questions. A newcomer would stroll right past your “No Trespassing” sign and introduce himself: “Hi, I’m Tom?!”

Senior citizens would take their grandkids for the annual drive up Mt. Evans to view the Big Horn Sheep, round a corner and swerve to avoid a grown man in neon spandex — only spandex — bicycling uphill like some high-altitude porno for clowns.

Overnight, Colorado became Cirque du Soleil.

The natives tried everything. They reasoned with the newcomers, “Look, you should dial it down a notch, remember why you came here,” but quickly learned that like Spotted Hyenas, when confronted the crazies just get louder. The natives then tried moving deeper into the mountains, but no sooner did they pave roads into the South Park Valley than along came people who never recovered from Bob Dylan’s switch from folk to rock. In the end, Old Colorado shrugged and accepted a basic lesson: Modern liberals are people who pitch a tent in your backyard while you sleep, and are at your door the next morning demanding breakfast.

So the locals invoked their final option: they issued license plates with the phrase “Native” to distinguish between themselves, the Coloradoans, and this new breed: the Colofornians.  And that’s the way it’s been for 20 years. A stand-off between libertarian Colorado and the newcomers, who came to escape the past but forgot to leave themselves in it.

Tomorrow, Coloradoans will go to the polls and take another step toward solidifying a political identity. Absolute predictions are futile. Colorado has proven to be the graveyard of far more obvious outcomes. Yet a recent anecdote is telling. The absentee ballots of a nuts-and-bolts conservative and an arch-liberal were compared, and both voted for Ken Buck.

Conventional wisdom says that the House is a lock but Republicans have little shot at taking the upper chamber. Conventional wisdom always overstates the political chastity of the Senate. Since World War Two, the House of Representatives has rolled over six times, and each time found itself eye-to-eye with the Senate.

Eben Carle served in the White House as an Associate Director on the Homeland Security Council from 2008-2009. He received a master’s degree in American studies from Columbia University and is currently writing his first novel.