As I’ve warned, single-party dominance of Colorado government by Democrats probably will be, on net, a bummer for Colorado’s liberty voters.
Yet those who advocate economic and personal freedom also can find major reasons to celebrate the recent elections, particularly in the victory of Jared Polis for governor.
Sure, Polis is a Progressive Democrat — but how many Progressive Democrats do you know who call Ayn Rand’s pro-capitalist manifesto Atlas Shrugged “a great book” or who read obscure essays on classical liberalism?
To review a few highlights, Polis calls (or at least called) for the privatization of the U.S. Post Office, supports charter schools, defends the freedom of kombucha beverage producers, advocates the freedom to buy raw dairy, supports legal marijuana and endorses “gun ownership rights [even] for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses.”
Moreover, Polis’ astounding success building internet companies undoubtedly gives him more insight into business and practical economics than most politicians have.
Overall, Polis has a much stronger pro-liberty streak than do many Republican politicians — although Polis also has a tax-and-regulate Progressive side.
Polis has earned something of a pro-liberty reputation nationally. Congressman Justin Amash pointed out that Polis was the “lone Democratic member” of the Liberty Caucus. The libertarian Reason magazine said the “libertarianish” Polis supported “bolstering Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted searches and surveillance.” Polis even wrote a 2014 essay for Reason arguing that libertarians should vote for Democrats.
Aside from Polis’ political beliefs and policy agenda, Polis’ victory marks a profoundly important advance for liberty. Although Polis understandably was reticent about the issue during the campaign, the fact that he’s our first (and the nation’s first) openly gay governor is a monumental achievement in light of past legal abuse of homosexuals.
Perhaps most remarkable about Polis’ sexual orientation is simply that it was no big deal. After he won, Polis brushed off national headlines about him being gay, telling 9News, “When it comes to fixing our traffic and our roads, it has nothing to do with whether you’re gay or straight.”
I did see one news story about some anti-gay stickers that someone (illegally) put up on public property and on Polis yard signs. Obviously bigotry against homosexuals is not entirely a thing of the past, and that is disappointing. But, to me, the real story is that there were so few such stories.
Overall our society has made profound moral progress regarding the treatment of homosexuals. According to a history by the Gay & Lesbian Archives of the Pacific Northwest, at different times, Colorado government threatened homosexuals with death (!), prison, or “psychiatric treatment.” Although Colorado decriminalized sodomy in 1971, police arrested homosexuals for kissing in public into the 1970s. Polis was born in 1975.
It already seems hard to believe that the Supreme Court did not fully recognize gay marriage until 2015. I remember, years ago, arguing that “domestic partnership” would be just as good as gay marriage. But then someone pointed out to me that I was essentially arguing for “separate but equal” status for gay couples. That changed my mind. Now it seems strange that was even an issue.
Fittingly, in his victory speech, Polis recognized “the LGBTQ pioneers” who fought for “equality in the generations before me, who endured so much hardship and hurt.” Polis also proudly introduced his spouse, “the first ‘First Man’ in the history of Colorado.”
Coloradans will continue to disagree about whether government should punish businesses for declining to bake cakes for gay weddings and the like.
But no one who takes liberty seriously thinks that government ought to punish consenting adults for their private sexual practices or that government itself should legally discriminate against gay people. By that standard, Polis’ victory caps a stunning historic achievement for individual rights.
The upshot is that liberty voters have much to celebrate with Polis’ victory. But it remains the case that Polis ran mostly on Progressive issues, not libertarian ones.
Polis ran mainly on the platform of expanding government spending on preschool and kindergarten, restricting fossil fuels and subsidizing solar and wind, and expanding the government’s role in health care.
As I’ve suggested, if Polis were checked by a Republican state House or Senate, he’d make an excellent governor from a liberty perspective. As it is, Democrats will be tempted to send him a slew of Progressive bills and not a lot of liberty-oriented ones (granting that the two sometimes overlap).
In a must-watch episode of Jon Caldara’s Devil’s Advocate, Democratic strategist Ted Trimpa explains how Democrats won and suggests that Democrats will proceed with moderation in the legislature.
At the same time, Ian Silverii of ProgressNow Colorado argues (via email) that the “overwhelming victory for Colorado progressives is a mandate to lead.”
I fear hard-left Democrats from safe districts have a built-in incentive to run hard-left bills that leadership will not necessarily like but that they also will not enjoy trying to stop. And when those bills land on Polis’ desk, he will face strong political pressure to sign them.
Whether Polis as governor, in the context of a Democratic legislature, is a net-positive for liberty remains to be seen. But liberty advocates do well to look at the bright side of the ledger and to seek common ground where they can.
I’ve often told people, “Colorado’s Democrats are better than most states’ Republicans” from a liberty perspective. Now Polis and Colorado’s Democrats have an opportunity to prove me right.
Ari Armstrong (@ariarmstrong) publishes the Colorado Freedom Report and is the author of Reclaiming Liberalism.