If there was a truly bright spot for Democrats last November anywhere in red-state America, it was surely in Colorado (with Montana running a close second). Of all the Democratic candidates in close U.S. Senate races, Ken Salazar was the only winner. His brother, John, pulled off one of the few gains Democrats were able to make in U.S. House seats. And Democrats won control of both branches of the state legislature. Now they look poised to take back the governorship next year, and run the whole shooting match.
With Democrats around the country looking to Colorado Democrats as role models, you'd think Chris Gates, the state party chair who oversaw this remarkable election day would be on an extended victory lap. But no: yesterday the state party's executive committee ousted him as chair in favor of environmental activist Pat Waak (Gates is contesting the outcome based on a claim that certain proxy votes didn't get counted).
According to press reports, the coup against Gates was basically an act of revenge by "activists" unhappy with his less-than-secret support of Salazar in his Senate primary against fellow-activist Mike Miles. Presumably, Gates' perfidious maneuvering, in tandem with virtually everybody in the national party who wanted to win a Senate seat, was responsible for Salazar's photo-finish 73-27 win over Miles in the primary.
I don't live in Colorado, and thus don't know if something else is going on, but it sure as hell looks like suicidal cannibalism of the highest order. And it poses a real challenge to those outside Colorado who keep insisting that the post-election activist insurgency in Democratic circles is "not about ideology, but about Democrats winning." I know some people are unhappy with Salazar about his vote to confirm Gonzeles (which I disagreed with myself), but Jesus, folks, if the Democratic tent isn't big enough for Ken Salazar--a guy recently touted by no less a fire-breather than David Sirota as a hero of "populist progressivism"--then we better get ready for permanent minority status.
The Colorado Coup is especially bad news for new DNC chairman Howard Dean, who may now have to treat one of the most successful state party organizations in the country as yet another basket case. And it doesn't much help that at least a few of his more vocal and visible supporters are touting the Coup as part of a "silent revolution" spurred by the Dean movement. I know Dean has other fish to fry right now, and is trying to keep a relatively low profile. But if he should happen to feel the need for a bit of a Sister Souljah moment to instill a sense of political reality in Activist World, this would be a really good occasion to indulge it.
UPDATE: As I said, I'm not a Colorado Democrat, but if you want to see what they are saying out there, check out this interesting, wide-open Colorado politics site where the subject is being aired fully, with plenty of comments from both sides. I get the sense some sort of unity effort may get underway when the atmosphere of 2004 score-settling dissipates. --