A New Progressive Era in Colorado Springs? Local Political Scientist Thinks Not

Apr 18, 2017

Left-of-center candidates made out well in this month's Colorado Springs City Council election. Progressive favorites Richard Skorman, Yolanda Avila, and Jill Gaebler beat their more conservative challengers, and left-leaning David Geislinger was elected following an unopposed campaign. Together, along with at-large representative Bill Murray, these four could comprise a new, more liberal majority on Colorado Springs City Council. 

In the days after the election, media reports focused on the success of progressive-backed candidates in the race, and asked whether this election could represent a turning point in the politics of this conservative city. 

Joshua Dunn
Credit UCCS

"I think it's exaggerated," says Dr. Joshua Dunn, Professor of Political Science at UCCS. "Certainly city council has moved a little bit towards the left. It's difficult to know though how all of this is going to play out once the new members of council get on there." 

Dunn has written extensively about conservatism in Colorado Springs. He says he doesn't see signs of the city's longstanding commitment to conservative principles fading anytime soon. With the new council taking office this week[TK], we invited Dunn into the studio to discuss his take on the recent election and the fate of the right in the city.

Excerpts from the conversation:

On whether we're seeing the dawn of a new liberal era in Colorado Springs city politics:

I don't see a solid liberal voting block on city council. Even someone like Richard Skorman, he's a small businessman, he's in favor of many things that the left favors, but he's not by many standards terribly far on the left. You might see some things, like with [efforts to close down] the Drake Power plant, but with local politics you have different coalitions forming. Developers have had an interest in shutting down the Drake Power Plant as well, because they see it as an eyesore and they see that area as one that could be developed quite nicely for other purposes. So I don't know that we're going to see a sharp leftward tilt.

On whether the success of progressive candidates in this election can be seen as motivated by developments in national politics:

It could, you'd have to talk to those people. But I will say this, I think that the left in Colorado Springs--when there is an opportunity--I think they mobilize quite well and are very effective. If you look at the districts where they were successful, it's not surprising that they were able to pull it off. 

"I think [Colorado Springs] is going to be a conservative city as far as the eye can see."

On how low turnout in municipal elections affects results:

If you can mobilize and get your people to the polls, it gives you an advantage. Conservatives and the right in Colorado Springs can often take things for granted and be somewhat lethargic, so they might not turn out in force like they otherwise might. Certainly I think that played a role in this election.

On whether the stereotype of the "evangelical conservative" voter is still accurate in Colorado Springs:

No, and I actually don't think it ever was. If you actually look at the percentage of evangelical and religious voters in Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs is a remarkably secular city by national standards. There's a smaller percentage of city residents that belong to any kind of church, compared to Denver, compared to New York City, even to San Francisco. But you do have a concentrated number of evangelicals who are particularly active in the evangelical movement, there just aren't enough evangelicals around for them to control the city's politics. I still think the military voters are far more influential in city politics. The perspective they bring, many people who have served in the military will say, "I served in the largest bureaucracy in the world, and I know government waste first hand." So that makes them very skeptical about government spending and taxes, and I think that affects the city politics more than anything else. 

On whether conservatism is here to stay in Colorado Springs:

I think it's going to be a conservative city as far as the eye can see. Project out, you're going to have to see much more substantial changes to the make up of the city to say that it's going to shift in a strong leftward direction. 

Listen to the full interview in the player at the top of this page.