Why Colorado Springs has remained a Republican community for more than 100 years

J. Adrian Stanley --- The Colorado Springs Independent 

Growing up here, Alex Johnson was always aware that his family was in the majority.

El Paso County is home to more than 175,000 Republicans, 91,000 Democrats and 154,000 unaffiliated voters. As you may have noticed, it tends to elect almost exclusively Republican candidates.

That's never bothered Johnson, 21, who just graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Denver, where he served as president of the College Republicans. Johnson is now looking for his first job — as a legislative aide, he hopes, for a particularly conservative state representative from Colorado Springs.

Still, he's always been curious about how this city became such a consistent Republican stronghold. So when he decided to write a bachelor's thesis (which was optional), he focused on answering that question by searching archives, talking with local historians like Pioneers Museum director Matt Mayberry, and consulting community leaders like Thayer Tutt, the president/chief investment officer and trustee of the El Pomar Foundation.

We sat down with him to talk about his thesis, which examines four historical developments that served to cement the power of the Republican upper class and expand its support locally: the 1890s clash over mining unions; the 1920s showdown between Springs Republicans and the Ku Klux Klan; the city's bid to acquire major military bases in the 1940s and 1950s; and the explosive growth of the evangelical sector in the 1990s.

"In a larger sense," Johnson says, "it sort of tells the story of elite power and the Republican Party's power, because those things are very connected and I didn't try to divorce them."

Indy: In the 1890s and early 1900s, anti-union Republicans in Colorado Springs went up against the Western Federation of Miners in Cripple Creek, over what was then the biggest industry, gold mining. Colorado Springs residents largely ran the mines and didn't want any interference; miners in Cripple Creek, which was then a part of El Paso County, wanted more rights and their own county with separate representation. The Springs lost that battle ... What did that mean for both sides?

Johnson: The miners, it's my view, felt underrepresented because the county officials came from Colorado Springs. The state senators favored Springs interests. The state representatives were focused on this area instead of Cripple Creek and all its outlying towns, which had the population base of the county ...

I'm not actually convinced that much changed when they separated the county, because Cripple Creek still continued to be a mining area ... and then of course you saw the subsequent Colorado Labor Wars in [1903] and [1904], so this clearly wasn't settled by the division of the county ... But I think that having a common struggle and a common enemy in the Western Federation of Miners definitely helped [Springs Republicans] organize.

Why did Republicans fight so hard to keep the county together? Didn't they benefit politically when it split, because they lost a large liberal population?

They wanted that population base, and they wanted sort of that power at the state level. They just wanted [Cripple Creek voters] to "vote right." And ultimately, in my view, it's a story of control, it's a story of power, because they wanted to maintain some sort of power and agency over their facilities and over their workers, and I think one of the means to do that was through politics.

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