Six years ago, I sat across from several Colorado business leaders and warned, “If you don’t choose to play in Republican primaries now, you’ll be forced to play in Democratic primaries down the road.”
After a legislative session that many businesses found harrowing, I wouldn’t be surprised if that time has already come.
The rapid decline of the Republican Party in Colorado has been precipitated by an insistence from the conservative base that all candidates pass purity tests. Any deviation from the proper shibboleth renders candidates unfit to bear the party nomination.
Electability has not been a part of the equation. Or, rather, many primary voters in the Republican party believe holding fast to all tenets of conservative orthodoxy make a candidate the de facto most electable. Recent election results suggest otherwise.
There are some groups trying to change that dynamic, but with limited success to date.
When I made my proclamation, I was in the middle of running for state senate and engaged in a bitter primary. I had crossed a line with some conservatives by supporting civil unions, but believed that position made me an ideal candidate for one of the most competitive state senate seats up for election that year.
At the time, I needed the help of the business community to combat the support my opponent got from special interests hellbent against my nomination. Unfortunately, the business community had no appetite to engage in primary elections.
While the people around the table thought I’d make a great legislator and preferred me to my primary opponent, they didn’t view primary candidates as sound investments. They thought their money would be better spent helping whoever won to victory in November. I left with assurances that once the primary came to an end, they would contribute to help me win the general election.
I never got the chance to follow up. I lost my primary in a landslide and I watched helplessly as my opponent proceeded to lose by a little over two points in the general election. He’d lose again four years later by almost 16 points.
That brings us back to the current legislative session. Democrats swept to historic wins last November and control all levers of government. They flexed their new found power on a host of issues over the past five months.
Furthermore, Democrats don’t look poised to lose any power over the next four years, at the very least. Some conservative national commentators have declared Colorado a flyover state for Republicans based on long-term trends and demographics.
Consequently, while the business community may count a few legislative victories this session, many fought hard against paid family and parental leave before it finally fell, those wins may be short-lived. Bill sponsors will surely return next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, until the proposals pass or the sponsor is no longer in office.
With little hope of replacing Democrats with more business-friendly Republicans in the 2020 elections, that means the electoral strategy for businesses will need to be reevaluated and reimagined. And that could mean the time to play Democratic primaries has arrived.
While few Democrats will ever be the type of champion for business interests that Republicans have been over the years, some remain open and engaged with the business community. Compared to the hostile policies other Democrats propose, a potential ally becomes very enticing.
That strategy may seem contradictory for many business leaders accustomed to mechanically opposing any Democrat, but choosing the least bad option may be the most pragmatic choice left. Now that Republicans legislative power rests in the ability to stall legislation in the short-term, supporting Democrats who may actually kill it may be a necessary step.
The political landscape in Colorado has shifted dramatically left over the past decade and now the bill has come due as legislative policies have begun to follow. Reluctant business communities may find themselves forced to play in Democratic primaries if they want a seat at the table in future sessions.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, healthcare, and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq