To Secede or Not to Secede?

An argument over secession in Colorado is a microcosm of the Republican Party's struggles.

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U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., speaks after retaining his seat in Colorado's Fourth Congressional District during a Republican Party election night gathering in the club level of Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

DENVER – If you want to understand the demographic shift in Colorado, go to the H Mart on Parker Road in Aurora on a Sunday morning before a football game. The giant Asian superstore resembles a multicultural Costco, complete with food samples of kimchi, dumplings, pickled vegetables and soymilk. The shopping cart traffic jam includes a cross-section of all ages and ethnicities, including Latinos, Africans and Korean families in Broncos jerseys.

I think it's great. I love seeing the American mosaic and the changing American West epitomized in a grocery store. Aurora itself is the third largest city in Colorado, and Colorado's Sixth Congressional District the most diverse in the Rocky Mountain region.

But others disagree. They feel alienated from a state that's not what it used to be. Sixty miles away, in Colorado's Fourth  Congressional District, a group of eleven Colorado counties are serious enough about seceding from the state that the proposal is on the ballot November 5th. As secession leader Sean Conway put it in a Bloomberg News story, "The state I love, as a third-generation Coloradan, has really left me."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

If it has, that's his choice. And that's exactly the problem for Colorado and national Republicans. They're going backwards as Democrats gain votes in a new, different, more diverse state. University of Denver Political Science Professor Seth Masket explained in the Bloomberg piece, "Colorado is a perfect example of demographic change leading to political change."

Secession leader Conway is also a friend and former Senate colleague of Fourth District Rep. Cory Gardner, a Republican. Next Tuesday, Gardner himself will have to vote on whether or not to secede from his own Congressional district since it will be on his home ballot in Yuma County. Gardner has repeatedly dodged the question from reporters about how he will vote, after initially stating in June he was sympathetic to the movement.

Meanwhile, tea party U.S. Senate candidate and Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck told the Denver Post he's voting no.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the tea party.]

Gardner is widely regarded as a rising star in the Republican party. He's been mentioned as a dark horse candidate for speaker, despite only being elected three years ago as part of the 2010 Tea Party wave. He's respected by both the tea party caucus and House leadership, but straddling those two worlds can create complications for someone who needs to be taken seriously on the Georgetown cocktail party circuit.

But the secession question, like immigration, put leadership-seeking Washington D.C.  Republican Cory Gardner at odds with Yuma County Republican Cory Gardner. It's the same tea party internal struggle that's tearing the Republicans apart nationally. Do you cater to a retrograde base nostalgic for a time that never was and never will be again, or do you alienate your base in the long-term interests of your party?

So which way will Gardner go, to secede or not to secede? How he votes will tell us a lot about the direction he thinks he and the Republicans are going.

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