Friday, May 24, 2013

1972 Marked a New Era in Colorado Politics

The death of political activist and campaign consultant Jim Monaghan provides a moment to remember the tumult of the early 1970s when he and a cohort of Baby Boomers, angry about the war (Vietnam), idealistic about civil rights and advocates for the nascent environmental and feminist movements, burst into the national and Colorado political scenes.

As the national Democratic Party establishment collapsed after the 1968 Chicago Convention, new Democrats took over, changed the rules and nominated George McGovern for his ill-fated run against President Nixon.

In Colorado, 1972 was the turning point year with a host of new politicians and activists entering the process and changing the Democratic Party. Environmentalism was the main theme, and the 1972 referendum to stop a bipartisan establishment proposal to host the Winter Olympics was the vehicle. When it passed by a resounding 61 percent, it marked the state’s change in direction and became the platform that allowed legislative backbencher Dick Lamm to emerge as a serious candidate for governor and push aside longtime Democrats, Mark Hogan and Tom Farley.

It was Monaghan who committed the coup de gras on the party establishment by managing the defeat in a party primary of Democratic Congressman Wayne Aspinall, the long-time chair of the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, and the bĂȘte noir of the environmental community. Monaghan was 25 years old at the time; Aspinall had been in Congress 24 years.

Nationally, it was Watergate and the Nixon resignation in 1974 that brought Democrats everywhere to power. The new team was ready in Colorado: Dick Lamm became governor; Gary Hart, George McGovern’s campaign manager, became U.S. Senator; Tim Wirth, environmental advocate, won a U.S. congressional seat; and Sam Brown, organizer of the 1969 Moratorium against the war, was elected State Treasurer.

Although this group’s control over the state’s politics during the next forty years waxed and waned, they were the new Democratic Party.

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