Jim Martin thinks his former Republican Party is beyond redemption. After sustaining years of abuse from the rigid right of his party, the colorful former elected at-large University of Colorado regent of 12 years dropped the “R” after his name 14 days before the United States invaded Iraq. Recently resurfaced after laying low for a few years, Martin, an attorney from Boulder, is floating a new idea: Leave the dogmatists behind and launch a third party in Colorado.
“I was a Republican – 28 years,” Martin begins. “Like so many others who now vote Democratic, I didn’t leave the party — it left me. Based on the analyses this month’s election, it also left college graduates, suburbanites, and Hispanics in the Red State dust.”
Four years ago Colorado had a Republican majority in both houses of the state Legislature and the governor’s office. Both U.S. Senate seats were held by Republicans. Five of seven members of Colorado’s delegation to the House of Representatives were card-carrying Republicans. Get the picture? Now, in 2008, flip it around and change the word “Republican” to “Democrat.”
Martin is not the first to blame the implosion of the party — particularly at the county levels — on the Religious Right and its inability to attract broad appeal with voters because of obsessions with God, guns, gays and abortion.
Two weeks after an election that heaped more devastating results on the GOP, Martin is shopping around his idea — starting with GOP moderates with big money and via an essay distributed widely to newspapers and other media outlets, in which he lays out his vision.
“As much as the Republican Party needs reform, it won’t happen,” Martin writes. “The far right chorus still bellows ‘We Shall Not Be Moved,’ with solos by the three tenors of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly.
“The United States needs two healthy parties advancing ideas and solving our common problems. If the Republican Party is beyond redemption, what should we do?
“The answer comes from history. The Republicans came into being because the Whig Party had a split over slavery, a contentious fight they could not resolve. Progressive people, among them Abraham Lincoln, saw no point arguing with the recalcitrant’s, left them to bicker among themselves, and formed a new party. Honest Abe ran on the Republican ticket, and the rest was history.
“Now, today’s Republican Party is history.
“The times call for a new political party, one that looks forward and appeals to a new majority of Americans, ones who find themselves between the Democrats and the Republicans. The best place to launch this party — let’s call it the Progressive Party — is right here in Colorado.”
This week Martin says he is putting heavy feelers out, exploring the possibilities. He was inspired in part, he says, by comments made by Scott McInnis, the former congressman who considered running against Bob Schaffer for the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, but ultimately opted against it. In an interview with the Colorado Independent days before the election, McInnis blasted the far right of his party and claimed he would have been able to beat Democrat Mark Udall, who indeed ultimately won.
“I would have beat Udall; that wasn’t the issue,” McInnis said at the time. “Frankly I have more difficulties with the right wing of my party then I do with taking on a Democrat. Udall was not the biggest threat I faced in the election. My biggest threat was getting through the primary. Both parties have a pretty radical element to them.”
Martin, a longtime Republican who switched parties in 2003 and was one of the most outspoken critics of the athletic department sex scandals at CU, opted not to seek another term as CU regent in 2004 after serving 12 years. Since then, he says he has taken stock and determined that Democrats in Colorado, after many years of fielding and grooming good candidates, are far better positioned. By contrast, a look at the Republican farm team yields results that are, well, not so much.
“Certainly one person can’t do it but I think if the idea is out there, I know enough independents and moderate Republicans who believe [creating a third party is] an idea whose time has come,” Martin says. “In terms of timing, if it’s ever going to be done it should before the 2010 election.”
Where, Martin wonders, are the fiscal conservative, socially moderate Republican leaders of the past? The mold, which produced longtime leaders the likes of McInnis, former House and Senate Majority Leader Norma Anderson and other familiar names: Tom Norton, John Buechner, Don Ament, Bill Kaufman, Hank Brown, Bob Greenlee, Nancy Spence, Dottie Wham, Paul Schauer and Pat Hayes?
“I saw a [recent news story] identifying the potential gubernatorial candidates for 2010 and not one of those mentioned, in my opinion, would have a reasonable chance running statewide, either because of low name ID or extreme philosophical differences with the [majority of the voters]” Martin said.
“Social conservatives have held my party hostage, not just on a statewide level but national level and my sense, is you can’t reinvent the Republican Party.”
Hence, Martin’s notion to build a Progressive Party in Colorado.
“It has to be grassroots up, but it also it has to be looked upon from a leadership position of being a top down venture,” Martin says. “Obviously I need a well-known big name to support this idea.”
Yes, he has a call in to McInnis an obvious place to start. And who knows, third parties have indeed had their birthplace in Colorado — most notably the Libertarian Party, which has its roots in Colorado Springs.
However, not everyone is as keen on the success of such an effort. Anderson, the outspoken former majority leader who is known for her moderation in the GOP, said this week that her advice, in the wake of such losses, is for Republicans in Colorado to “settle down and figure out how to get along.”
“It’d be fun to create a third party, but third parties never work until there’s a real groundswell,” said Anderson, who left office in 2004. “We’ve been around a day or two and we know the pendulum swings back and forth — it always has.
“Follow history and it swings to the left and the right and eventually will hit the middle and Republicans, for now, are just going to have to ride the wave.”
But for Martin, nearly 20 years of riding the wave is no longer an option.
“Since 1990 people have said things are going to change, and it’s only gotten worse,” he says.