Good decisions, bad decisions. Governments, voters and individuals make plenty of both, and we all manage to muddle through. As individuals, we tend to put our mistakes behind us, concentrate on our successes and move forward.
That usually makes sense. I don't wake up in the morning and beat myself up for failing to buy a decrepit brick mansion in the heart of Aspen when it was on the market in the mid-1950s for the then-outlandish sum of $17,500; instead, I beat myself up for failing to buy a few Westside rental cottages in the 1980s for the then-outlandish sums of $25,000 or so.
And yeah, I never should have sold my 1956 MGA or my 1969 Mercury Cyclone with the 428 super cobra jet, or even my 1931 Model A roadster — not that I have garage space for any of 'em.
But our individual successes and failures are usually invisible. Not so for governments, which get an especially bad rap in this era of populist upheaval. Partisan gridlock! Weak, uncertain leadership! Disastrous programs & policies! Crushing debt levels! Governments at every level in thrall to ruthless special interests!
But let's consider our own beautiful state. Despite the clamorous partisanship of left and right, Colorado has been well governed since the 1950s. Voters, legislators, local governments and the Feds have done their best to make things better. So here are some success stories.
Colorado's state budget: Every year, the governor and the General Assembly have produced an on-time, balanced budget. They've done so without the kind of trickery that has infected many state governments (e.g., New Jersey and Illinois). Perhaps not coincidentally, state government often has had balance as well, only rarely with one major party controlling the governor's office and both houses of the Legislature. If only we could take our act on the road and show Washington how it's done.
Voter-approved gambling: In an ideal world, there would be no casinos, no lotteries and no gamblers. But that's not the case — like many Coloradans, I buy an occasional lottery ticket or drive up to Cripple Creek to try my luck. Win or lose, some of the casino cash finds its way to History Colorado, while Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) benefits from lottery sales. Those two organizations have funded historic preservation and parks/open space throughout Colorado for a quarter-century. Every county, every city and every town in Colorado have benefited from the unthinking largesse of the gambling class — so keep feeding those slots! You may lose, but Colorado wins.
The Greenland Ranch: Back in the mid-1990s, open-space advocates correctly foresaw that growth in the Interstate 25 corridor could create a gigantic strip city, an unbroken line of development stretching from Denver to Colorado Springs. Of the vast ranches that once defined the landscape, only the 22,000-acre Greenland Ranch in southern Douglas County remained undeveloped. After years of negotiation, the ranch was purchased by the Conservation Fund in a five-way partnership with GOCO, Douglas County, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Colorado State Parks and rancher/magnate John Malone. It's now protected by conservation easements in perpetuity, ensuring that this beautiful land will remain what it has always been — a cattle ranch.
Wilderness areas: Thanks largely to the 1964 Wilderness Act, Colorado contains more than 3.5 million acres of federally protected wilderness within 41 separate wilderness areas. Those are, by law, places "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." No cars, no dirt bikes, no target shooting, no mountain bikes — great for the environment and wonderful for visitors. Absent the Wilderness Act, these amazing spaces would not exist.
Air Force Academy: Unlike the ancient service academies of the Eastern seaboard, the AFA embodies the open, adventurous spirit of the West. Designed by 37-year-old architect Walter Netsch, the Cadet Chapel is sui generis, a government-funded structure unlike any other. The Academy is far more than a government-funded flight school — it's our Harvard, our Cal Tech and our Division I sports power. And now that the Santa Fe Trail has reopened, it's also a crucial trails link. Not bad for a government-conceived, government-funded, government-maintained and government-sustained project. Can't we have another just like it?