The bloom is off the environmental rose in Colorado, where bumper stickers once proudly proclaimed, "Don't Californicate Colorado."
In a state where voters four years ago turned down the winter Olympics on the grounds they would damage Colorado's matchless landscape, the tide is now running against the environmental movement.
The anti-environmental evidence is everywhere, ranging from letters to newspapers exhorting industrial development to the comment of a resort bartender that "scenery is fine but jobs are better."
Last November the state's voters rejected every ballot measure supported by the environmentalists.
These included a nuclear energy limitation initiative, a measure prohibiting non-returnable bottles, a severance tax on minerals and a corporation tax that would have replaced a sales tax on food and even an innoculous proposal to put a consumer counsel in the state public utilities office.
Democrats went down to defeat along with the enviromental propositions.
In an election where Republicans in most states were losing ground, the Democrats lost nine seats in the Colorado lower house. Colorado became only the fifth state in the union where Republicans control both houses of the legislature.
"My feeling is that people in Colorado sort of have the idea of that the Democrats are not interested in the bread-and-butter issue of jobs," says Democratic Sen. Floyd Haskell. "I don't think that's true, but that's the preception. People are looking at the Democrats as if they're wild-eyed types who are concerned mostly about the environment and maybe the people on welfare."
Much of this preception has to do with the Democratic administration of Richard Lamb, the state's legislator, Lamb was one of the few officeholders to support the anti-Olympics initiative. He was considered a staunch environmentalist when he was elected during a Democratic sweep of state offices in 1974.
That reputation was an unmitigated asset them. It is less of an asset now. Colorado, with its heavy dependence upon tourism, was one of the first states to be affected by the energy shortage and rising gasoline prices. Soon afterward, the building boom leveled off in the fast-growing cities of Denver and Colorado Springs. This down turn brought immediate economic worry to a state where the booster spirit and a belief in the goodness of growth remain strong.
"It was easy to be for the environment when unemployment was 2.5 per cent and a business was booming," says a Republican political aide. "You could send in your card to the Sierra Club and feel good about it."
An aide to Lamb puts it in this way: "Lamb and a lot of other environmentalists have found that it's one thing to point to environmental perils and another thing to try to stop them. He was called upon to make good upon his promises at the very time the economy was declining."
Two sets of statistics tell the story. One is the record of unemployment, still low by Northeast standards, which shows a doubling of joblessness from 36,000 people (3.6 per cent) in 1972 when the winter Olympics was defeated to 72,000 people (6.1 per cent) this year.
The other is the record of polls taken for the Republican Party from 1972 to 1976, which show a steady decline in concern for environmental is for pocketbook issues.
Pocketbook issues were listed as most important by 30 per cent of voters in a 1976 poll, while only 13 per cent mentioned environmental issues. A similar poll in 1972 found 26 per cent of voters listing environment as the most important problem and 18 per cent listing pocketbook issues.
The problems of the Democratics are not issues alone. Lamb's administration has acquired a reputation as frequently inept, and the governor's mercurial personality has not worn well with Coloradians. He failed to deliver on an important environmental issue, the blocking of an interstate beltway around Denver. Lamb at one point threatened to stop this highway with "a silver spike," if necessary, but the courts allowed the beltway to be built.
But there are many politicians in both parties who think the environmental movement would be in trouble even if Lamb were more popular.
"The whole desire to slow down growth, conserve energy and protect the environment has run out of steam," says one of the Lamb's own aides. "The people were with Dick Lamb when he tried to stop the Olympics; they're not him now."
It would be a mistake, warns Rep. William Armstrong, one ofthe state's two Republican House members, to exaggerate the decline of the environmental movement.
"I think that Colorado is a pro-environmental state and always will be," says Armstrong."But/there has been some reshuffling of priorities, as there always is when the economy is pressing."
Armstrong, considered a likely GOP contender against Haskell in 1978, has tailored his own generally moderate environmental record to reflect the new priorities. For instance, he opposed an expansion in a wilderness area favored by Haskell on grounds it infringed upon the authority of a local water district.
Haskell, for his part, is saying the Democrats must make an economic issue of the environment if they are to survive politically. This is what Haskell, a 61-year-old New Jersey-born lawyer, did in 1972 when he pointed out both the economic and environmental disadvantages of the winter Olympics during a campaign that ended in an upset victory over Republican Sen. Gordon Allott.
"If people don't point that saving the environment is good economics, they're going to find themselves isolated," Haskell says. "We have to point out that dirty air causes bad health and destroys buildings."
That "dirty air" which Coloradans associate with Los Angeles is very much in evidence these days in Denver, a city of 1.2 million people that is supposed to double in size during the next 25 years. Denver is now talking about building power plants elsewhere, a California-like solution that State Treasurer Sam Brown calls "exporting our smog."
It is all reminiscent of what happend in California many years ago when sagging economic conditions put the damper on a flourishing early-day environmental movement. After World War II the California addiction to growth defined as progress continued. Flourishing orchards were destroyed by the subdivisions and smog became the commond condition of Southern California.
This pattern is being repeated in Colorado, where people came to enjoy the good life and then damaged what they came to enjoy. Denver is still a long way from Los Angeles, both in geography and lifestyle. But the bumper strips that proclaimed "Don't Californicate Colorado" already are a mocking memory.