Colorado mourns the loss of a statesman who exuded courage, wisdom and independence seldom seen in modern politics. A husband, father, accountant and lawyer-legislator, former Democratic Gov. Dick Lamm died Thursday night at age 85.
The Gazette’s editorial board often agreed with Lamm and sometimes did not. It did not matter in the long run. Anyone could trust and respect Lamm because he thought for himself, spoke for himself and never made decisions on a basis of conventional wisdom or the need for approval from big shots or anyone’s political party. Whatever he said or did, everyone knew he loved his country and his state, and he was doing his heartfelt best to improve our lives. That kind of conviction plows new ground.
Lamm rose to Colorado’s highest elective office after crusading against hosting the 1976 Winter Olympics in Colorado. At the time, it was an untested and radical position no state, country or leading politician had taken. It was ever-so-Colorado. Lamm argued hosting the Olympics would cost Colorado too much money, generate too much traffic and invite too much population growth. Voters put him in office and approved a ballot measure prohibiting Colorado state funding of the Olympics.
Lamm made similar arguments nearly 50 years later against Colorado hosting the second headquarters of Amazon, which had Denver on a short list.
Though often a loyal and mainstream Democrat — he was too articulate and bright for partisan marginalization — few could predict where Lamm would stand or what he might do on any big issue. He bucked his party for years by advocating tough border and immigration control. Lamm led a group in the early 2000s called Defend Colorado, hoping to stop illegal immigration into the U.S., in part because it brings crime and drugs to Colorado.
Lamm tried to attain control of the Sierra Club in the early 2000s, arguing that excessive immigration exacerbated U.S. environmental concerns. Sometimes referencing the controversial Lifeboat Ethics philosophy, Lamm argued that countries, states and societies must allocate resources cautiously and ethically to sustain themselves. Yet, he also became a skeptic of Malthusian concerns about world overpopulation.
“Sustainability advocates believe consumption patterns can’t be sustained,” Lamm told a Colorado Springs audience at Colorado College in 2004.
“They want to move now to stabilize U.S. population, and help the rest of the world to do likewise, and also reduce consumption, recycle, move to renewable energy. They believe that there can’t be unlimited and endless consumption. They feel that we cannot and should not have a Colorado of 8 or 10 or 12 million people, or an America of 500 million people, living our consumptive lifestyles. They contend that we live at a hinge of history, where society must rewrite the entire script.
“If they are correct, then our basic assumptions about life and even the great religious traditions and our economy, and how we deal with poverty and create wealth, are really obsolete. So far, those that sing this song are failed prophets.”
He got that one right by simply observing facts, regardless of his deep concerns about the distribution of resources he considered finite. The book that popularized the movement of population alarmism, embraced by much of the Democratic Party today, is “Population Bomb.” Written by married Stanford professors Anne and Paul Ehrlich, the 1968 release alarmed the world by predicting global famine that would occur in the 1970s and ’80s because of overpopulation.
India and England would be gone before the 21st century. Resources would become so scarce the average lifespan in the United States would drop to 42 years by 1980. By 2021, if there were such a thing in the Ehrlich vision, the living would envy the dead.
Of course, Lamm saw unprecedented growth in world population correlate with increases in the average standard of living and the reduction in worldwide poverty. So, he spoke the truth without regard for politics or anything the audience might have wanted to hear.
Lamm took marching orders from no one but always considered and respected the wisdom of his wife and best friend, Dottie. Lamm was so independent in mind and spirit that he ran for president of the United States as the Reform Party’s nominee in 1996.
Individuals should not hope for a society in which all politicians always agree with them or toe a party line. People should always think, listen, analyze, share conflicting ideas and speak for themselves.
We want leaders with the courage and wisdom to change their minds and adapt to information. This was Dick Lamm. Both major political parties need more leaders like him.
The Gazette Editorial Board