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What National Politicians Can Learn From Colorado

No matter who wins on Tuesday, the key to better government might just be right here at home.

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Over the past 10 years of covering politics in Colorado, I’ve encountered a persistent theme: Every one of our legislators, regardless of party, simply loves living here.

Whenever I’ve asked local or state pols why Colorado’s legislative system seems to work better than its counterpart in Washington DC, this shared, unconditional adoration for our almost perfectly square state invariably lands near the top of their list.

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As we reach the merciful conclusion (technically) of this uncommonly rancorous political campaign, it’s important that we remember Colorado’s unique commonalities.

Not everyone is so lucky to live in a place like this (even if lately it sometimes seems like the rest of the United States has decided to migrate here). If you want to know specifically why this is, what makes Colorado so great, there’s no need to rehash it here—especially when you can get your answer by opening basically any page of any issue of 5280. The weather, recreational activities, urban amenities, unusual characters, and everything else collectively comprise the “Colorado Lifestyle,” and it’s become the envy of virtually every other state in our fractured union.

Our lawmakers are keenly aware of this. They also know how evenly split our state is between the right, left, and middle, the very definition of a purple state. That’s why, when it comes time to govern, we tend to see far fewer polarizing disputes, debates, or abject holdouts. We’ve definitely had some sudden swings, on issues as varied as gay marriage and guns, but the petulant temper tantrums and reflexive obstructionism that have become the tragic norm on Capitol Hill are relatively rare under the dome that looms over Broadway and Colfax. We still have fringe elements on all sides, but for the most part they enjoy a voice that’s heard and respected without being able to hijack the entire political process.

Next up after Election Day, regardless of who wins and loses, will come the massive and long-overdue overhaul of the most damaged and neglected of all our crumbling infrastructural concerns: the government itself.

Or it won’t. If we choose to see Donald Trump as a mere outlying blip or Hillary Clinton as irredeemable, we’ll be ignoring one the most legitimate issues in a campaign packed with illegitimacy: That both candidates—sometimes intentionally, other times not—have shown us how broken our system is.

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But by following the example of most of Colorado’s legislators—putting place and communities and people ahead of personal vendettas or self-serving objectives—our national lawmakers might be able to rehabilitate the system they’ve helped cripple over the past few decades.

Colorado’s elected officials have usually done a good job of recognizing what a special place we live in, and they’ve often tabled or tweaked their philosophical differences to compromise—a four-letter word in today’s national political vocabulary. Our state’s lawmakers have always tried to make sure our coveted Colorado Lifestyle remains intact. Our national leaders would do well to remember that all that territory outside Colorado is pretty special, too, and equally worth treasuring and preserving.

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

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