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The Loss of Transit in Metro Denver and the
"Culture of Opposition"

The 16-point loss of metropolitan Denver's $6 billion regional transit plan was a surprise to much of the metro area's political establishment. Years of regional planning preceded the transit proposal, and its defeat was a major disappointment for many in local government and the environmental and business communities. But the Guide the Ride proposal is not alone. It joins a list of significant tax and investment initiatives since 1992 to suffer defeat by Colorado voters.

At work behind their failure is a distinct "culture of opposition," in which a deep antagonism toward sweeping government initiatives has spawned a predisposition among voters to just say "no."

The opposition culture is marked by several features: a community's desire to wall out social change; cynicism toward government and the desire to "send a message" to politicians (especially in Washington); distrust of unspecified, expensive public projects and special interests who might reap windfalls; a shift to the right of the Colorado political center; a new generation of political tacticians who oppose increased taxes and advocate less government; and finally, a competitive media market that tends to emphasize controversial, headline-grabbing aspects of tax initiatives.

Most recent to fall to the opposition culture was RTD's Guide the Ride, whose weaknesses made it particularly vulnerable. Before detailing RTD's problems, it's important to describe the opposition culture and illustrate its reach, particularly at the statewide and regional level.


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