|Colorado Political Profile|
Colorado is a state built on a cycle of boom and bust. It was a mining boom that attracted the first wave of settlers in the 1850s with the discovery of gold in the Rocky Mountains. That rush of development was followed by an economic depression after most of the gold was extracted -- only to be revitalized by the discovery of silver. Decades later the crush of the Great Depression devastated Colorado, but was again buoyed by the growth of skiing and other tourist industries after World War II.
Nearly 150 years after the first gold rush, Colorado experienced another booming decade. A diverse group of industries, especially technology and telecommunications, have helped buoy the state back into the glow of prosperity during the 1990s; making Colorado the third-fastest growing state in the nation over the last decade.
With snowcapped Rocky Mountains to the west and the expansive Great Plains to the east, Colorado's topography has strongly shaped its history. Settlers were initially drawn to the region by the lure of gold in the Rockies. Later, coal replaced gold and silver as mining material of choice and served as a base for Colorado's budding economy. Farmers and ranchers took advantage of Colorado's spacious plains to build their livelihoods.
As industrialization and urbanization grew in the state, Denver, situated at the base of the foothills, grew into a thriving manufacturing center at the convergence of major railroads.
From its nickname, Colorful Colorado, to its inspiration for the words to "America the Beautiful," Colorado has always recognized its natural beauty as an asset. Tourist industries built around skiing and outdoor activities revitalized the state over the mid-twentieth century. Colorado's numerous national parks stand as a testament to Coloradans' pride in their state's beauty.
Politically, Colorado appears, at first glance, to be like its neighbors in the mountain region. George Bush took the state comfortably in 2000, and its governor is Republican -- as are all but two of its eight members of Congress. But Colorado's politics have often changed as the boom and bust cycle brought new people to the state. In the 1970s came an influx of liberal-voting newcomers drawn to Colorado's rugged beauty. They settled in bohemian college towns like Boulder, voted for environmental causes and called for slower growth. They also elected a legion of Democratic leaders, including Gov. Dick Lamm, Sen. Gary Hart and Rep. Patricia Shroeder.
During the decline of the 1980s, the tide turned for Republicans as they regained control of the state legislature. Democratic governors Lamm and Roy Romer struggled to pass any of their legislative efforts. Bill Clinton managed to carry the state in 1992, and then-Democrat Ben Nighthorse Campbell won a U.S. Senate seat. After that, however, Republicans came back in force; Campbell switched parties in 1995, and the state backed Sen. Bob Dole for president in 1996. Republican Wayne Allard was elected to U.S. Senate in 1996, and in 1998 the governorship went to Bill Owens, the first Republican to hold the seat in 28 years.
According to political analysts, the reemergence of Republicans in Colorado coincided with rapid growth in more moderately conservative regions of the state, primarily suburban areas along the Interstate 25 corridor. In the 2000 presidential election, Bush took eight of the state's 10 fastest-growing counties, winning six by a wide margin.
What effect Colorado's newest influx of voters -- some one million new residents have moved to the state since Wayne Allard's election in 1996 -- may have on the current election is still to be seen. Republicans, hoping to maintain the status quo, say they are right in line with the state's political views. But Democrats are arguing their moderate candidates have more in common with the state's centrist voters.
--By Emily Birr, Online NewsHour