We are about to witness a fight for the soul of the Colorado Republican Party. The catalyst for that fight will be the bipartisan lawsuit brought over the constitutionality of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
A small group of moderate Republicans have joined a larger group of Democrats in a lawsuit claiming that TABOR is unconstitutional because the amendment does not allow the legislature to raise taxes without voter approval.
Their argument speaks to the very basis of our government model, saying that since we are a republic, representatives of the voters should be able to raise revenue as they see fit. The lawsuit argues that since we are not a direct democracy, allowing voters to control raising taxes is unconstitutional.
That sounds like a topic for discussion of a constitutional law course, or maybe a political philosophy class. And while it would be appropriate for those settings, I believe it will be the setting for Colorado Republicans to battle over what kind of party they will be in the future.
Many high profile Republicans have credited TABOR with saving Colorado from even worse budget problems than we are currently facing. Yet other Republicans blame TABOR for handcuffing government and for disabling the legislature to address the current fiscal issues.
The reason this fight will be for the heart of the Republican Party is because the fight breaks down along clear lines.
Supporting TABOR is about sticking to a principle that spending beyond current means should be difficult to do, essentially creating less government.
Attacking TABOR is about practical governing, and trusting legislators to know, and more importantly, carry out the wishes of voters, essentially allowing easier government growth.
The fight over TABOR is about whom you trust more, voters or legislators.
Republicans have been working hard to be the party that embraces the idea that government shouldn’t be trusted. To Tea Party activists, not trusting government is almost a mission statement.
But what about practical governing? Do we really want the legislature to go through an expensive election every time they need more money for services that we, the voters, are clamoring for? Do we want roads, schools and prisons to all become dilapidated due to ineffective tax campaigns?
That’s the other side of the coin, represented by many Democrats, and by some moderate Republicans. But these moderate Republicans are a dying breed and this battle may very well be their last stand.
If moderate Republicans can make their case effectively, they may be able to persuade the majority of Republicans to think practically and support their efforts.
But if moderates lose this fight, if they fail to convince the party faithful that government can be trusted with the purse strings, that asking voters for permission to raise taxes is a recipe for disaster, then they risk losing everything. They risk losing the future viability of moderate Republicans in primaries facing Tea Party supported conservatives for a considerable amount of time.
This lawsuit will likely become a litmus test for GOP candidates in 2012 and will probably do more to tear apart the party than unify it. The Democrats involved in the lawsuit have nothing to lose in their own party and they will be content to just sit back and watch the fun.
It may look like a Con Law discussion point, but the TABOR lawsuit has the potential to make a lasting affect on Colorado’s Republican Party. What remains to be seen is what affect that will be, and if moderate Republicans will survive the fight.
About The Blogger
- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.