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Not pictured but still palpable: The color purple. —Courtesy of Shutterstock

Can Colorado’s Incongruent Politics Go National?

Newsweek tells everyone else what we already knew about Colorado, but its premise is flawed.

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The headline of Newsweek’s October 1st edition reads: “God, Guns, and Ganja: Colorado is the Future of American Politics.”

While the article does a reasonably good job of portraying our state’s curiously congruent political incongruities (bear with me), it doesn’t exactly make a convincing case for why or how our political landscape could be replicated nationwide.

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By focusing on the religious and Second Amendment strongholds in Colorado Springs and our rural areas, and on the more liberal-slash-libertarian movements behind marijuana legalization and sustaining pro-choice rights, the article accurately represents most of the competing forces at play in Colorado politics. (The author could easily have added a fourth “G”, as in oil and gas exploration, if she wanted another example of our unique brand of polarization and bipartisanship.)

The story unfolds in a series of vignettes that introduce some of Colorado’s most noteworthy activists—including Ted Trimpa, Dudley Brown, and Focus on the Family’s Jim Daly—and illustrates how they’ve been able to co-exist under one state’s banner, sometimes amicably and productively, sometimes not. If you don’t live here or are new in town, the story provides a helpful snapshot of the Centennial State and digs more deeply into what’s made Colorado work fairly well over the past decade or so compared to most other states.

But where the story falls a bit short is in showing just how Colorado’s political incongruities—pro-lifers and gun enthusiasts alongside marijuana advocates and lefties of all stripes—might be applied on a more national scale and result in some of those curious congruities.

For some time now, our state’s citizens have been divided into almost identical thirds: conservative, liberal, and independent. This means that whenever we’ve wandered too far in one legislative direction, it’s usually met with a quick about-face. This rarely makes everyone happy; plenty of folks are still ticked off about the 2013 gun laws resulting in the 2014 state recall elections, and the angry ones hail from all sides of that debate. But our 33-33-33 balance does mean that one group isn’t likely to be left out in the cold for too long before it rediscovers its voice and clout.

These splits fluctuate more wildly in American politics as a whole, usually as a reaction in favor of or opposed to whichever side is running things. As recently as this past January, a record 43 percent of Americans described themselves as politically independent. It’s a safe bet that many of these people are identifying with that category because of growing disgust and exasperation with our left–right divide.

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Making U.S. politics—and its political divisions—look more like Colorado’s is an intriguing goal, if only because it might help create more constructive and pragmatic legislation for any number of issues. But if there’s a magic formula for making that happen on a national level, neither Newsweek nor anyone else has discovered it yet.

Follow 5280 editor-at-large Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.

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