The Spirit of 1876

August 1, 2019—On this day in 1876, Colorado joined the Union as the 38th state. We were known then, as now, as the “Centennial State.” Colorado’s connection to our nation’s experiment in self-governance is one for us to celebrate. And I believe that Colorado has unique lessons to offer our nation in confronting today’s challenges of governance.

Our nation, stated simply, is facing a crisis of trust in our system of governance. According to a recent Pew Research Center Survey, Americans are increasingly less trusting in our national government and each other, thereby undermining the ability of our government to solve important problems. According to the survey, 75% of American adults think that trust in the federal government is shrinking, and 64% believe that low trust makes it more difficult to solve important problems.

In Colorado, we have an opportunity—and, I would argue, the imperative—of building trust in our institutions of governance and demonstrating how collaborative problem solving works. The opportunity for Colorado to lead the effort to repair our nation’s crisis of governance was captured last fall in a column by the New York Times’ Roger Cohen, who asked “Can Colorado Save America?” At the Department of Law, we are doing our best to demonstrate that the answer to this question is yes.

For a classic example of Colorado’s problem solving attitude, take the case of how we manage our water. It would be possible, as happened in an earlier era (say, with respect to Crowley County) to address water needs in Front Range cities by engaging in wholesale “buy and dry” efforts that shut down entire agricultural communities. But such policies would not reflect an effort to address water management that worked for the whole state. Consequently, Colorado’s Water Plan, and our work at the Attorney General’s office, call for collaboration and innovation to meet the water management challenges ahead. That’s just what we worked hard on in developing the Drought Contingency Plan that will enable us to meet our obligations under the Colorado River Compact.

As we look ahead at other priorities of our office, including addressing the opioid epidemic, improving our criminal justice system, and protecting consumers, we at the Department of Law are committed to channeling and protecting our collaborative problem-solving mindset. And we are committed to doing so through principled service to the public that advances the rule of law, protects our democracy, and promotes justice for all. That’s the spirit of 1776—and 1876. Our nation needs that spirit now more than ever. By demonstrating how we work together to solve important problems here in Colorado, we demonstrate that our nation’s commitment to self-governance remains a vibrant work in progress.