Colorado’s Western spirit long has embodied a live-and-let-live creed that respects personal freedom and preserves the citizens’ control over government, both firmly rooted in the Colorado Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Those principles exist in constant tension as the governing majority seeks to impose its will on particular minorities, whether identified by race, geography, class, gender, faith or politics. Minorities resist, preferring to define their own pursuit of happiness.
Coloradans can pass on our Western spirit to future generations by calling a truce to culture wars and insisting that our government institutions remain accountable to the people.
As the pendulum of political control swings, most communities have experienced, at various times, the upper hand and the short end of the stick in our culture wars.
The gay community felt isolated after Colorado voters passed Amendment 2 in 1992 and rejected civil unions in 2006. Conservative Christians experienced retribution as the state prosecuted Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop for adhering to its owner’s religious faith regarding gay marriage. The cultural battlefield seems ever-expanding. Over the past five years, rural Coloradans have felt so disenfranchised as to take up the cause of secession from the state. Now gun owners find themselves in the political crosshairs as the city of Boulder seeks to create instant criminals of those who own weapons long permitted under state law.
Over time and regardless of the issue, the sweet smell of political victory fades well before the bitter aftertaste of political subjugation.
We must all recognize that people’s lifestyles and beliefs are vitally important to them, regardless of whether others find them weird or annoying. In a free Colorado, we must extend to others the same evenhanded freedom to pursue happiness that we want for ourselves.
A great future for Colorado also requires that “we the people” hold government accountable to us and to those we elect. We must carefully guard our right to determine how much we are willing to pay for government, rather than allow government to order us to pay always more to feed its insatiable appetite for tax revenue.
The spending lobby at the state Capitol relentlessly seeks to erode, undermine and repeal our Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, which guarantees that voters have the final word on tax increases. After drastically expanding entitlement spending, lawmakers now complain there isn’t enough money for education and transportation.
If these truly were lawmakers’ priorities, they would fund them first. Instead, these “priorities” receive leftovers as legislators and lobbyists gamble that voters can be guilted into approving new taxes for schools and roads.
If the people someday choose to relinquish their power over the purse, that will be unfortunate. For Colorado to remain a great state, we must do more than “co-exist.” We must treat each other with respect, realize that the state should not settle every disagreement, and insist that our government acknowledge that we are not its servants.
Mark Hillman, a Burlington wheat farmer, was state treasurer and GOP state Senate majority leader.