A group of centrist political strategists have moved into Colorado with the aim of installing enough independent lawmakers into power in next year’s elections to deny political parties a majority in the state legislature.
The Centrist Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that began by dedicating its resources to the U.S Senate, is now expanding its attention to the state level and recently transported its headquarters to Denver.
With Republicans holding a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate, and Democrats holding the House by 9, The Centrist Project sees fertile ground here for disruption. If just a handful of unaffiliated candidates gain seats in the legislature, the balance of power could shift to them.
That’s important, says project director Nick Troiano, because once elected, these independent lawmakers “wouldn’t be beholden to a small fraction of the base of their party or to leadership, but would be free to lead and help broker common ground agreements.”
Dartmouth professor and Centrist Project founder Charles Wheelan calls this the “Fulcrum Strategy,” which he laid out in his 2013 book “The Centrist Manifesto.”
In Colorado, the group is looking to target at least five specific House and Senate districts.
For such a strategy to to work here, though, it would likely have to be well-funded and smartly focused, says David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, whose public affairs and polling firm has researched the state’s unaffiliated voters.
“What is constant and has been there for years in our surveys among likely general election voters is the fact that, without question, the will is there for a middle way,” he says. “I would not rule it out at all.” If the Fulcrum Strategy takes hold in Denver, it would empower new independents with quite a bit of leverage to negotiate with the other parties, says University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket.
But it also could create quite a bit of chaos. “If no one knows which party is in charge at any given time— if you have one member who is essentially in a position to cut deals with one of the parties over whom they’re going to vote for for the chamber leadership— it makes it a lot harder to predict how the chamber is going to behave, it makes it harder to work through compromises with the other chamber,” Masket says. “I think there’s just as much possibility that it creates a less functional legislature.”
Denver neighborhoods are seeing significant demographic changes as more young adults migrate to the city.
This change, which means that neighborhoods are now populated with fewer children and people of color, affects Denver Public Schools.
Chalkbeat Colorado reports that the district, which has 92,000 students, has been the fastest-growing urban school district in the country, but that growth is slowing.
Not only that, but the district is more segregated now than it was ten years ago, according to a recent report by the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
In response to this, the Denver school board created a new committee to study the district’s gentrification. Over the next six months, the Strengthening Neighborhoods Initiative committee’s 42 members will see how the district can increase its racial and economic integration, as well as deal with the lower amounts of schoolchildren in Denver’s 78 neighborhoods.
The second-ever meeting of the committee occurred Monday night. It included an overview of the neighborhoods where DPS student numbers have declined from 2010 to 2015, as well as those that exhibited significant demographic or economic shifts in that time frame. Highland, in northwest Denver, had a 21 percent decrease in the number of students attending DPS over the five year span.
Northeast Park Hill, in near northeast Denver, dropped from 55 to 42 percent black residents, while white residents grew from 11 to 20 percent. Baker, in northwest Denver, saw a drop from 47 to 17 percent of residents living in poverty, while west Colfax saw the sharpest increase in poverty rate, from 20 to 35 percent. Additionally, the report highlighted neighborhoods where 80 percent or more of residents in 2015 were of one ethnicity.
These included Elyria-Swansea, in central Denver, which was 83 percent Hispanic; Belcaro, in southeast Denver, which was 93 percent white, and Westwood, in southeast Denver, which was 80 percent Hispanic.
Notably, no neighborhood had 80 percent or more black residents. The committee plans on using this information to direct their efforts in the next six months.
For more on these stories go to ColoradoIndependent.com.