Surprise! Colorado’s senate race focused on the issues

 

In Colorado, we just endured the most expensive U.S. Senate campaign in our state's history, with about $15 million spent to determine who would replace retiring Republican Ben Campbell, who was first elected as a Democrat in 1992. He changed parties in 1995, and easily won re-election as a Republican in 1998.

There was more mud than you'd find after a downpour during a tractor-pull, and national groups bought incessant negative advertising which demonstrated that one guy was a pawn of the evil trial lawyers, while the other enjoyed poisoning innocent fish.

But there was one nasty Colorado campaign tradition that neither side practiced. It's the mountain version of "Playing the Race Card," and I call it "Playing the Geography Card."

Basically, it means ignoring everything about a political issue, except location. That is, never mind if it's a good proposal or a bad one. Don't consider its merits or shortcomings. Just consider the source.

One skilled Geography Card player was Rep. Scott McInnis, a Grand Junction Republican who stepped aside this year after serving six terms in Congress. He represented Colorado's 3rd Congressional District — essentially, the western half of the state.

Every so often, the representative from Colorado's 1st District — Democrat Diana DeGette of Denver — would propose wilderness designation for some tract in McInnis' district.

As befits a rural Republican, McInnis opposed her suggestions. But he did not respond by pointing out that a given parcel didn't have wilderness characteristics, or that there were more suitable areas, or that wilderness designation might interfere with his constituents' livelihoods, or even that he opposed wilderness on principle.

Instead, he played the Geography Card; DeGette was from Denver, and therefore anything she had to say about the rest of Colorado should be ignored solely on that account. (Note, though, that McInnis never had trouble accepting campaign contributions from Denver residents, or even from outfits like the Florida Sugar Cane League and the Texas Cattle Feeders Association; geographic purity does have its limits.)

This year the Card appeared in the 4th Congressional District (northeastern Colorado), where supporters of Republican incumbent Marilyn Musgrave ran TV ads to warn voters that her Democratic opponent was getting aid and comfort from "rich radical liberals in Denver and Boulder," while Musgrave was standing firm to defend "Colorado values." (Musgrave opponents ran their own outrageous ads that won’t be forgotten for a long time; they featured a lady in a pink suit dunking a family in a tank of toxic waste, among other dramatizations.)

But Coors and Salazar couldn't play the Geography Card against each other, since both come from families that were established in Colorado before it became a state in 1876. Coors came from a German immigrant family, Salazar from farmers in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado — two ethnic lines recognized in the original Colorado Constitution, which established the state with three official languages: English, German and Spanish.

German was the only language that 20-year-old Adolf Coors knew when he dodged the Prussian draft in 1868 and stowed away on a ship bound for America. He made his way west, and started his namesake brewery in Golden in 1873. Pete Coors, the Republican Senate candidate, is his great-grandson.

The Salazars trace back to 1714, when one Antonio de Salazar petitioned the Spanish colonial government for land near Espanola, N.M. Led by Ken Salazar's great-great-grandfather, Francisco Esteban de Salazar, the family moved north to present Colorado in the 1850s, and they have been tilling the soil in the Rincones area (near Manassa in the San Luis Valley) ever since.

Both families suffered from Colorado bigotry and discrimination. Anglo oppression of Hispanics might have peaked during the Depression when Colorado Gov. Ed Johnson sent the National Guard to the New Mexico border to keep people out of Colorado. The anti-German bigotry came during World War I, accompanied by Prohibition — which was partly an effort to purge America of "foreign" influences like Teutonic beer. Coors survived it only by turning to malted milk and porcelain for the duration.

Neither candidate could call the other a carpetbagger, so Coloradans had the rare pleasure of a campaign that focused on policies, rather than the Geography Card. And in the end, we picked a mild-mannered centrist Democrat, rather than an affable but intense Republican business-owner. Good things can happen when we take the Geography Card out of the deck.

Ed Quillen is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of NewTowncarShare News (newtowncarshare.info). He publishes Colorado Central and writes columns in Salida, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of NewTowncarShare News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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