A recent Gallup poll placed Americans’ interest in a third major political party at an all-time high: 62% of Americans say the parties do a poor job representing the American people and a third party is needed. Only 33% believe they are doing an adequate job of representing the people.
The fact that 42% of active Colorado voters register as unaffiliated is a clear rejection of the two-party system. Merely five years ago, Colorado party registration gave Democrats 32%, Republicans 33% and unaffiliated voters 35%. Today, Democrats have 30% and Republicans 27%. Unaffiliated voters have increased by a stunning 570,653 total voters.
To understand this dynamic, look no further than former Denver City Councilman Albus Brooks, a Democrat, and state Rep. Norma Anderson, a Republican, who both recently switched their party affiliation.
Albus Brooks, a lifelong Democrat, moved to Colorado in 1997 to attend and play football at the University of Colorado where he was once named one of the Top 10 hardest hitters by Sports Illustrated. Before running for office, Brooks worked as then-mayor John Hickenlooper’s statewide outreach and political director in his first gubernatorial campaign.
In 2011, Brooks defeated 38 opponents and became the youngest African-American ever elected to Denver City Council. As Denver City attorney, I watched firsthand how the freshman city councilmember inspired, fought for his constituents and thought outside of the box.
He served two terms on Denver City Council, including two terms as council president, which means he was well-liked and respected by his colleagues.
Brooks pushed forward a progressive agenda and had significant wins, including dealing with affordable housing, expanding the Denver Preschool Program, and providing universal access to preschool for all four-year-olds. And yet he has kicked his party to the curb.
Norma Anderson, a lifelong Republican, has been an icon in her community and Colorado politics for more than forty years.
Anderson was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1986. Anderson, who I worked with while serving as a Democrat in the House, was a conservative’s conservative. Anderson was always fair, transparent and collaborative. She was also very effective.
During her 19 years in the legislature, Anderson passed some of the most important legislation in Colorado’s history. She sponsored legislation which created the Colorado Department of Transportation and helped create a 20-year transportation plan. She also authored the School Finance Act of 1994, which provided more equal funding to each school district.
Anderson was the first woman in Colorado to serve as both the majority leader in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Brooks and Anderson are now unaffiliated voters.
Brooks cites polarization and populism for his decision to leave the Democratic Party.
“Political parties today have placed their own self-interest above pragmatism and the best interests of the people. You can’t disagree with people in your own party. If you do, you’re canceled and that’s unhealthy for our political system. There is no longer an open forum for debate on a statement of facts. Each polarized group comes with their own non-negotiable statement of facts.” In today’s environment compromise is punished, “you’re dead in the water if you come to an agreement with the other party.”
The tipping point for Brooks was the populism that fueled the Jan. 6 insurrection. “You can’t just look at the Republicans. You have to look at the cracks in our own party. People are angry and leadership is feeding off of anger, rather than diving into solutions.” Brooks aptly noted, that, “you’re not supposed to hate and have enemies in a legislative body,” but that’s precisely what has happened.
Brooks said Trump was a gift for Democrats and gave them an opportunity to come together and avoid an all-out civil war.
Anderson, was raised in the Republican Party. She called herself a Lincoln Republican, who fought to end slavery and stood for equal rights, justice and opportunity. Anderson’s Republican Party understood the importance of our Constitution, the rule of law, believed in smaller government and fiscal responsibility.
“It doesn’t matter if someone is a conservative or not; what matters is whether you like and support Donald Trump. Republicans have lost their way with Trump, and this is not the Republican Party any more.”
Anderson faults Republicans who have idolized Trump and failed to stand up for their constituents, traditional core values and failed to tell the truth. “The Republicans nominated an oversexed playboy who has spent his entire career lying to people,” she said.
The father of 3, Brooks saw a chance to lead the next generation to someday re-imagine a new political system, with several major political parties.
Let’s hope that works.
Doug Friednash is a Denver native, a partner with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck and the former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper.
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