The Virginia Legislature in March passed landmark clean energy legislation that has been in the hopper in Virginia for some time. The governor of Virginia is a Democrat, and after Democrats won majorities in both state houses last November, they achieved what is known as a “political trifecta.”
Then why, one might ask, was the clean-energy legislation in grave peril just days before it finally passed? It might come as a surprise, but the assault on the bill was from the left — legislators who wanted more, and who were, for a time, making perfect the enemy of the good.
This situation is not unique to Virginia, nor to state legislatures. In Congress, in statehouses, on city councils, and even on school boards, we see demagogues from the far left who will brook no compromise of their political orthodoxy with those who disagree with them.
It is as if the far left broke into the radical right’s locker room, and stole the playbook. It might be in reaction to the far right’s unsettling refusal to seek common ground, but that does not excuse it, nor does it make it right.
The situation is made worse when the left’s straight arm tactics of refusing to negotiate are accompanied by name-calling, shaming or outright demonetization. When a Denver City Councilwoman retweeted and voiced solidarity with a tweet that suggested we should spread coronavirus at Trump gatherings, she did herself, and her party, no favor. She could claim later that what she said was born of sarcasm, but it will not change how people on the other side of the aisle view it, and ultimately, how they will use it.
A political system, especially a two-party system, is like the human body. The brawn is on the far left and the far right, the shoulders and the biceps.
But the life-sustaining organs are in the middle. If we come to a place, and perhaps we have, where our political system has far more brawn, and far less heart and soul, we will not be enamored with what that system delivers.
As a native Coloradan who has been involved in public life most of my adult life, I believe that the people of this state want something much different from their leaders, on the left and on the right. They want public servants who have a core set of values, and who are informed by their values every day. But they also want effective leaders, women and men, who will engage with people who think differently from them, who will listen to the other side of the aisle, and who will allow the airing of differences to inform the debate. I believe the people of this state want to elect leaders for whom compromise, collaboration and common ground are not synonyms for political weakness.
As a former prosecutor and a former governor, I know there are some public policy issues that are much harder than others to eke out political solutions.
In point of fact, they might never be solved. Abortion and gun control are prominent among them. But that does not mean they should be absent from the public conversation, or when they show up in our public discourse, the conversation is defined more by incivility than by content.
There is only one solution to the problem of the intractable politics of the far left and far right. And that is to build back the center. It will happen at the voting booth, in primaries and in general elections, and it will happen because the voters in Colorado hopefully care more about problem-solving than name-calling.
It will happen because the 40% of the electorate in Colorado who are unaffiliated, and who have demonstrated their disaffection with an intransigent two-party system, will, along with moderate R’s and D’s, exercise their voting prowess in the proverbial booth.
It will happen because voters will demand a different tone in our political discourse, a different level of civility in our public dialogue. If it does not happen, the consequences are dire.
Colorado native Bill Ritter served as the 41st governor of Colorado after serving as district attorney for Denver. He is the founder and director of the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University.