By Rick Langenberg (Editorial/Commentary):
Apathy and Teller Republican “good ol’ boy and girl-ism” are the preliminary winners of the first stage of the local election season.
In case you haven’t heard, Woodland Park has finalized its non-election slate once again with four candidates running for four seats. Hit the drums please, as the final winners are Dave Turley for mayor, incumbents Ken Matthews and John Schafer and Noel Sawyer for council, with absolutely no competition for any of these positions. If it wasn’t for a ballot issue on changing the use of lodging tax funds, the election would be cancelled. I say go ahead and pull the plug on the whole municipal affair and maybe wake this town up.
What is troubling is, this is a familiar trend in Woodland Park. Oddly enough, this is a town not lacking in contentious issues, running the gamut from affordable housing and water resources, to economic development and several new mega developments, to an aqua center and much more. Among the do list on City Manager David Buttery’s plate should be addressing the lack of people running for local offices. Something is definitely wrong in the City of Apathy. Whenever an appointed position arises, the competition is quite keen, but apparently potential office-holders are frustrated during the real deal by what they see as a rigged deck, or possibly the time commitments involved.
Crack all the jokes you want about the political craziness in Green Mountain Falls, but at least the town down the Pass is thriving with a lively democratic spirit, highlighted by probably the most contested mayoral race in recent history and a competitive trustees contest. If we could just get the two political camps to sit together without killing each other, everything would be fine. But then they would probably decide to kill me.
Now, let’s move on to the Teller head Republicans who held their good ol’ boy and girl charade, or known formally as the county assembly, last Saturday in Divide.
Here, the scenario is even more troubling. Teller Republicans need to make a decision on changing their current caucus and assembly process, getting rid of the system entirely (which is what I would vote for), or launching a ballot issue to make all county elected positions into appointed slots. Last Saturday, the far majority of the delegates made an overwhelming decision that basically will negate a possible primary election for the contested race of assessor this summer. Pending a miraculous petition effort by the current assessor over the next two weeks, Betty Clark-Wine is out and Violet Watt will assume the position in Jan. 2015 (see related story).
This column is not an endorsement or criticism of any of the two prime candidates for this position, as both Betty and Violet did quite well in their speeches and presenting their ideas for running the office. But the question is this: Should these types of elections be determined by county employees, the county commissioners (who now are apparently the experts on all county positions) or by the voters of Teller County. If you vote for the first choice, county elections will now be determined by 100 tallies, amounting to approximately one percent of the registered voters of the predominant GOP party.
I say the second path outlined is the better choice, but finding a way to develop a more equitable system is the problem. Teller Republican leaders have an apparent love affair with an antiquated caucus and assembly system that may have worked in the 1800s, but now has become anti-democratic.
With the new process implemented by the Republicans, a perception of an outright good ol’ boy and girl charade prevails. And this wasn’t always the case.
Four years ago, with the timing of the assembly and primary, if a Teller Republican office-seeker couldn’t quite secure the needed delegate support, candidates still had the option of petitioning their way onto the ballot in a realistic manner. This happened in the Teller sheriff’s race, and despite all the complaints about mud-slinging, Teller County had a great sheriff’s race with two outstanding candidates, Mike Ensminger and Mark Manriquez. I thought it was a great race, and a candidates’ format run by the WP Chamber of Commerce and Debbie Miller, was probably the best one they ever did.
Prior to the sheriff’s showdown, the Teller Republicans produced some great non-conventional winners, such as Buck Buckhanan and Patricia Crowson, who won by challenging the good ol’ boy assembly victors. If Republican candidates try that route now, it’s almost like committing political suicide. With the current petition rules, the hurdles facing such probable sheriff and assessor candidates as Danny Riley and Betty Clark-Wine, are pretty steep.
But Republicans aren’t the ones at fault. Part of this anti-democratic system deals with the lack of competition from the Democratic Party and Independents, who apparently just can’t contend due to the change in political dynamics in Teller County. In 1994, a Democratic county commissioner candidate lost by less than 200 votes. In their most recent challenge, two Democratic commissioner candidates were slaughtered by two-to-one-plus-margins during Barack Obama’s first bid for the White House, when the Democrats attempted an ambitious resurgence in Teller and El Paso counties.
That’s why Teller Republicans, since they preside over the majority party, need to tweak their system, or change the timing of their primary, assembly, or anything.
Now, with ridiculous stringent petition rules and time deadlines, the only real route to office is achieved by whom candidates are friends with and the endorsement of party insiders. In essence, almost all races are now determined by the whims of 100 GOP party insiders.
The other option is just to eliminate county races entirely, or most of them, and make everything into an appointed position, under the guidelines of term limits. If this is the path the Teller GOP wants to follow, then maybe they should just put together a ballot initiative and let the voters of Teller decide the issue of how county elected seats should be determined.
But regardless, Teller Republican leaders shouldn’t keep patting themselves on the back and act like an actual democracy exists with 100 people deciding the fate of every county seat.