The Need and Opportunity for Independent Leadership in Colorado

Earlier this year, Unite Colorado announced its first slate of independent candidates for the upcoming 2018 state legislative elections.  

In 2016, Colorado took a first step in giving representation to the 1.2 million independent voters in the state by allowing them to participate in party primaries. In 2018, the next logical step is to give them representation in the state legislature with independent elected leaders.

As the most polarized state legislature in the country, the need for a third force to break through partisan gridlock could not be more clear. The fact that unaffiliated voters are the largest -- and fastest growing -- segment of the electorate demonstrates the opportunity.

Need #1: 1.2 Million Independent Voters & 1 in the Legislature

Despite the large population of independent Coloradan voters, an independent candidate has never been elected to Colorado state legislature. Representative democracies ought to be representative, and there’s no state where the discrepancy between the number of independent voters and the number of independent representatives is more stark.

Need #2: Most Polarized State Legislature | There  is also a growing need for the unique contributions that independent representatives can bring to state legislature.

Colorado currently has the most polarized legislature in the nation and it has polarized at a faster rate than any other state legislature. The state legislature is also more divided than it ever has been in the state’s history This is an increasingly problematic development as Colorado faces a myriad of long-term challenges that need to be addressed in 2018.

Need #3: Gridlock on tough policy problems | As Colorado’s population continues to expand, serious infrastructure problems will continue to emerge that could ultimately undermine the state’s growth. The consequences of statewide cuts to school funding in past years have compoundingly been felt across Colorado and now present another significant challenge for state legislature to address this year. However, the more polarized and divided the state legislature becomes, the more difficult it is for party-affiliated legislators to work across party lines, even on pressing issues like infrastructure and education. Polarization leads to gridlock, and gridlock does not produce legislation that will pave the way for success in Colorado.

Opportunity #1 -- Shifts in the Electorate | Independents are the largest and fastest growing segment of the electorate both nationally and in Colorado. Voters in both the Republican and Democratic parties are increasingly frustrated by the partisanship within their parties and are looking for alternatives. 71% of Millenials, whose portion of the electorate grows every day, say we need a third political party.

Opportunity #2 -- Introduce new competition | One of the unique value propositions that independent candidates offer is introducing competition into the political system where there might not already be competition. Colorado is one of 15 states with term limits, which creates more open seats than states without term limits. Gerrymandered districts, too, have resulted in one-party domination of certain districts; 11 seats are currently uncontested by one of the two parties in Colorado.  Open seats resulting from term limits and uncontested races due to gerrymandering have created an ideal pathway to victory for independent candidates in Colorado.

Opportunity #3 -- The Fulcrum | The narrow margin between Republicans and Democrats in Colorado’s legislature means that a small coalition of elected independents could exercise disproportionate influence. This coalition will be able to deny either party the majority, thus making bipartisan cooperation non-negotiable for passing legislation. The ultimate goal of this strategy is to pave the way for political reform in Colorado that will re-prioritize the needs of all Coloradans, not just those who happen to fall within the boundaries of party interests.

The How

Independents in Maine -- where neither party controls the majority -- have helped reform the state’s medicare system and offered alternatives to the state’s divisive tax debate and are currently pushing forward a comprehensive solution. Independents in Alaska have formed a bipartisan governing majority and have worked with Gov. Bill Walker (I) on criminal justice reform and to address the state’s growing deficit by both raising taxes and cutting spending.

So, the question of whether independents can bridge our growing partisan divide has already been resolved. Unite Colorado seeks to build the voter, volunteer, and donor community to help elect the common-sense independents who can take advantage of both the need and opportunity in the state.