by Rick Langenberg:
Local voters will receive their ballots in the mail this week in one of the more pivotal elections in the area and across the state.
At stake are an extremely contested sheriff’s race and several local and state ballot propositions that will have a big impact on the future of Teller County and the entire Pikes Peak region. And throughout Colorado, the election will determine the governor’s seat and a Colorado U.S. Senate positon that national political experts say could determine which major party gains control of the Senate.
The election is being done through a complete mail-ballot system, with drop-off vote centers in Woodland Park and Cripple Creek from Oct. 20 to Nov. 3. For more information, call 719-689-2951. Ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 4 in order to be counted. Sample ballots are available on the county’s website at www.co.teller.co.us/. For El Paso County voting information, visit car.elpasoco.com/Election/.
The main contested local election involves another political shoot-out between Sheriff Mike Ensminger and challenger Mark Manriquez, an unaffiliated contender. This will represent the final showdown between these candidates, who squared off four and a half years ago during the Teller County Republican Primary. Ensminger won that contest handily, but this time around, Manriquez, an investigator for the Colorado Division of Gaming, has run a much more aggressive and broad-based campaign as an unaffiliated candidate. He has received endorsements from the Teller County Democratic Party, Teller County Tea Party, Colorado Springs Police Protective Association, and Fraternal Order of Police.
The two candidates and their supporters don’t care for each other too much, as evident during a debate last week, sponsored by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce (see related story). Ensminger has run on his record for the last four years, saying major strides have occurred in enhancing public safety, protecting the rights of gun owners and offering more transparency within the agency. He cites much community support and endorsements from such law enforcement leaders as District Attorney Dan May, Woodland Park Police Chief Bob Larson and Cripple Creek Police Chief Mike Rulo. But Manriquez has heavily criticized the incumbent sheriff’s policies and says the department is getting bombarded with way too many lawsuits and officer turnover for an agency of its size, problems he attributes to lousy management and a lack of training. He also has heavily criticized the current operations of the Teller jail and its business model, contending this could create major legal problems for the county.
The two candidates also argue about their respective opponents’ qualifications for the position. In fact, there aren’t too many issues the two sheriff candidates agree on.
As for other key races, Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is facing a stern challenge from former Congressman Bob Beauprez. In addition, a hefty competition has ensued for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat between incumbent Mark Udall and U.S. Representative Cory Gardner. Both of these races are extremely close, according to current polls.
Teller and El Paso voters also will decide on a 5th Congressional District seat of the U.S. House of Representatives, currently held by Doug Lamborn. Lamborn is being challenged by Democrat Irv Halter.
A number of key state and local ballot issues will play a big role in determining the economic future of the local area.
Colorado and Teller voters will decide on whether three current and future horse racetrack venues can get transformed into full-scale casinos, with Amendment 68. This measure is being heavily opposed locally. Both the Cripple Creek City Council and the Teller County Commissioners have passed resolutions opposing Amendment 68, citing the economic impacts for the gaming towns and for the areas where the new casinos would be located. This issue has generated a slew of pro and anti-68 television commercials.
On a more local level, Woodland Park residents will once again get a chance to decide if the city should finance an aquatic center. But unlike past failed bids, this one won’t require any tax hikes for the $15 million funding package that will pave the way for a new facility with several pools and a number of amenities, associated infrastructure and bond repayment costs. The Woodland Park government will foot the bill for the project through its current revenue stream. The project has gained the full support of the Woodland Park City Council, which passed a pro-2A resolution.
In Green Mountain Falls, residents, along with those in several cities in El Paso County, will vote on a slight fee hike to pay for storm water capital improvements and flood control projects associated with Fountain Creek. The average fee hike requested represents a $7.70 increase for the average residential property. The fees could generate nearly $40 million. This issue has generated much debate. El Paso voters also will decide if the government can spend $2.04 million in excess revenue to fund improvements to trails, nature centers and regional parks.
In Manitou Springs, residents will decide the future of establishing retail marijuana establishments. The city council has already given the green light for two recreational marijuana outlets. But only one recreational marijuana store has actually opened for business. However, a group of business owners conducted a successful petition drive that counters the decision of the city council and would prohibit recreational marijuana sales within the city limits. This vote could have an impact on future actions taken by the Woodland Park City Council and the Teller County Commissioners. Leaders from both entities have banned recreational marijuana outlets, but these prohibitions only passed by a single tally in both cases. By law, this ban can be revisited again. Already, a few local leaders have expressed an interest in allowing the recreational marijuana issue to be decided by a vote of the citizens.