Every four years, without fail, we all hear the same mantra: "This is the most important election of our lifetimes..."
It's not a theme espoused by just one party. Republicans and Democrats use the cliché with equal fervor, and they're employing it again now in the final days before the 2012 general election.
But this time, they actually might be right.
About half of America is shuddering at the prospect of a Mitt Romney presidency, especially if it comes with continuing GOP control of the House — and perhaps new control of the Senate.
The other half can't stomach the possibility of Barack Obama having another four years in the White House, largely because of volatile feelings over social issues that have escalated so rapidly during this administration.
On the home front, we see similarly hardened positions and concerns. Yes, El Paso County might have a strong Republican base, but unaffiliated voters are plentiful enough to change outcomes. And a level of dissatisfaction with some area office-holders could have an impact.
With mail ballots arriving as this issue hits the streets, we offer our endorsements in contested races between the two major parties. (Last week's Indy contained endorsements on ballot issues; see the "Cheat sheet" on p. 13 for those, and explore the archives at csindy.com for our full explanations.)
For the record, we're not weighing in on candidates from outside the two major parties except for U.S. House candidate Dave Anderson, who is unaffiliated. The others, idealistic though they may be, have not in our view mounted serious, sufficiently funded campaigns or connected with the electorate.
President, Barack Obama (D) vs. Mitt Romney (R): President Obama deserves a second term.
We haven't forgotten the state of our economy when Obama took office, and how much it has improved since. We have more jobs, the stock market has recovered, and the American auto-making industry has survived and rebounded. As promised, the war in Iraq has ended, and a specific plan has been announced for withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014.
Obama pushed through the most significant health care reform of our generation, finally brought an end to Don't Ask Don't Tell, and lest we forget, had the vision to bring into his administration his former rival, Hillary Clinton, whose accomplishments as secretary of state have restored much of America's stature globally.
And yes, we do have palpable fears about the policies and priorities of Romney and the GOP, which threaten the middle class, reproductive rights (actually the rights of all women, in varying ways) and the elderly.
Their stated goal of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would have disastrous consequences for millions of disadvantaged Americans.
As for the social issues, we believe a Romney presidency would lead to reversal of Roe v. Wade, the cutoff of funding for Planned Parenthood, the end of requirements for insurance companies to cover birth control, an even more conservative-dominated Supreme Court, and erosion of a level playing field for gay and lesbian Americans in everyday life.
We understand the excitement for Obama is more muted now than four years ago, which could affect turnout. But we strongly encourage everyone in his camp to vote. Colorado is one of a handful of swing states in what should be a nail-biter of an election, and how Colorado Springs votes very well could help determine who will be sworn in next January.
The president won't carry El Paso County, but he needs to come close to the 39.9 percent here who voted for him four years ago.
If that happens, Obama should win this state. Whether you vote early or on Nov. 6, vote as if your country's future is on the line. Vote to re-elect Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
U.S. House, District 5, Doug Lamborn (R) vs. Dave Anderson (unaffiliated): Our frustrations with Rep. Lamborn are no secret, and have mounted throughout his three terms. His shallowness on issues, his disdain for constituent services, his unwillingness to debate opponents, his belief that corporations deserve the same rights as people, his embarrassing boycott of the 2012 State of the Union address — we simply do not see how anyone in this district could have a positive feeling about him. And that is a shame, for if we had a real leader representing us in Washington, the Speaker of the House could emerge from this congressional district two decades from now.
Fortunately, in this election there is a refreshing choice: Dave Anderson, a capable, articulate, retired manufacturing executive. We've watched Anderson chart his course, knowing he couldn't win a Republican primary, but trying to unseat Lamborn as an unaffiliated candidate.
Anderson's business acumen and common-sense ideas would make for great ammunition in a debate, but Lamborn has refused to give voters the opportunity to see them together and compare.
If the GOP faithful heard Anderson's fiscally conservative stances, they might be swayed. He feels we are "vaporizing the middle class," that we should take a hard line in trade dealings with China, and that free-trade agreements (a Lamborn favorite) do far more harm than good to our economy.
With votes from Democrats and enough frustrated Republicans, Anderson still might turn his longshot candidacy into an upset. He has our enthusiastic support. Vote Anderson.
U.S. House, District 3, Scott Tipton (R) vs. Sal Pace (D): While we are largely a Pikes Peak-area newspaper, since the Independent is distributed through parts of Pueblo County we feel compelled to take a stand here, especially since the choice is so clear. In his two years since replacing longtime Rep. John Salazar, Scott Tipton has repulsed us with arch-conservative positions — against regulating greenhouse gases; against gay rights; for ceasing government funding of National Public Radio; etc. — and more recently with baseless attack ads.
Pace has made a strong impression on us during his rapid rise as a state legislator: He knows the district well from having worked for Salazar, and he's a great listener. We feel Pace could go to Washington and instantly become part of a new wave of promising young leaders there. Vote Pace.
University of Colorado
CU Regents: For the District 5 seat, we heartily endorse incumbent Kyle Hybl (R) of Colorado Springs for another six-year term. Hybl, an El Pomar Foundation executive, has distinguished himself as a long-time champion of both UCCS and the Springs.
For the at-large vacancy, we like incumbent Stephen Ludwig (D) for a second term in his race against challenger Brian Davidson (R). Ludwig graduated from UCCS in the '90s, already serves on the regents' strategic planning committee, and understands the necessity to support continued growth of the Colorado Springs campus. Vote Hybl and Ludwig.
Just a note: We wish that our metro area had more competitive races in this state-level election. In most districts, we have Republicans looking at slam-dunk victories over obscure, little-known opponents.
All we'll say here is that we wish newly elected (or re-elected) GOP legislators would set philosophical differences aside and communicate more with the Independent. If elected, they will represent all the citizens of their districts, including our readers. They might take their cues from Reps. Mark Waller and Bob Gardner, who have proved willing to work with us and present their side on issues.
That said, three races are in contention, and at least two of them will help determine which party controls the state House of Representatives for the next two years.
House District 17, Mark Barker (R) vs. Tony Exum Sr. (D): Elected two years ago, Barker hasn't made nearly enough of an effort to represent most of his largely low-income and racially diverse constituency. And it shows: At a recent forum, his introductory remarks focused entirely on his background, without a word on issues or what he's done for HD 17. Exum, by contrast, has spent years living in the area and really knows the people there. The retired city firefighter and CSFD battalion chief understands why many folks need a hand up, not a hand out from their government, especially when they can't make enough in low-paying jobs to support their children. He knows that most HD 17 families qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches for their children, and he's sensitive to making sure the less-affluent school districts are properly funded.
Some key differences: Barker appears willing to let drillers for oil and gas have their way, while Exum wants "to ensure that we still have clean air and water," even if that means local-level regulation. As for electric power, Barker has no trouble saying "we're gonna have fossil fuels for a long time"; Exum supports incentives with accountability for alternative power sources. Barker opposes legislation to allow civil unions in Colorado; Exum supports it. Vote Exum.
House District 18, Pete Lee (D) vs. Jennifer George (R): Lee has proven an effective first-term lawmaker, though Republicans clearly were intent this year on killing his bills in committee as part of an effort to unseat him. He now faces a stern challenge from George, who has made many friends locally with her consulting and volunteer work.
Both are smart attorneys, and we need more people like them in public service. We're told the race is very tight. Both sides have endured dirty campaign tactics, the result of state-level PAC money buying anonymous ads.
We have admired Lee for his long-standing commitment to restorative justice (also the area of his biggest legislative accomplishment), in which first offenders are prompted to understand fully the impact on their victims and society, and allowed the opportunity for restitution. It's effective in reducing recidivism and the high cost of avoidable incarceration, both of which offer tangible benefits to society.
Lee deserves credit for pushing his Hire Colorado bill this year, which would have given Colorado companies an inside track on state contracts, following the lead of 29 other states. George says it puts new requirements on local businesses, but in reality it simply gives more benefit to businesses that, for example, offer pension plans or health insurance to employees — and less to those that don't. (GOP leaders killed the bill in committee.)
We're concerned that George has chosen not to fill out most questionnaires from numerous local citizens groups, and ducked the Citizens Project debate co-hosted by FOX 21 and the Independent. We have observed that candidates not responsive before the election are often equally unresponsive when elected.
We are also concerned with George's stance on education vouchers. She tells us that, in accordance with her support for unlimited choice in K-through-12 education, she would favor parents being able to direct their money to private and parochial schools. That's not realistic, and not even allowed by Colorado's constitution. By comparison, Lee has endorsed choice within the public school system, but opposes vouchers and unlimited choice as being detrimental to public education as a whole.
We'd like to see how much Lee could accomplish as part of a House majority. Vote Lee.
House District 20, Bob Gardner (R) vs. Michael Goldsborough (D): This is a redrawn district, with Gardner (who has served three terms in District 21) seeking a fourth and final term. Goldsborough has not run for office before.
While we might agree with more of Goldsborough's specific positions, we feel that Gardner has represented his constituency (and this region's interests) well. We've seen how Gardner's understanding of the legislative game has helped him rise into a leadership role in Denver, how he's fought for the rights of those with developmental disabilities, and how he knows more than most lawmakers about the intricacies of military and education issues.
Goldsborough has potential and could try again in two years, but we feel Gardner's experience and expertise have earned him a final term. Vote Gardner.
Commissioner District 3: Sallie Clark (R) vs. John Morris (D): It's true that we endorsed Clark four years ago against a Democratic opponent for her second term, and we acknowledge Clark's energy in addressing such issues as child abuse, the No Man's Land problem, and the Interstate 25-Cimarron Street interchange. Who knows, if Scott McInnis hadn't stumbled so badly in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, she might have been his running mate.
But there is a problem here, and it's the self-serving maneuverings by Clark and fellow commissioners Dennis Hisey and Amy Lathen regarding term limits. Their push in 2010 for three four-year terms, intentionally approving the use of confusing and misleading ballot language, was bad enough. Then came their refusal to allow a re-vote in 2011, citing (inflated) cost estimates as the reason.
By delaying the re-vote until now, Hisey and Clark are eligible for three terms regardless of the term-limits outcome in this election. Those actions were repugnant, and have harmed locals' belief in their elected leaders and government as a whole.
Clark now has a credible opponent in John Morris, who headed the El Paso County Democrats from 2004 to 2008. Morris, a retired history teacher who knows local issues well, also feels that this divided (three ways, among Dems, Republicans and unaffiliated) district is the best chance to end 40 years of a GOP monopoly on the Board of County Commissioners. "We need a progressive voice in their conversations," Morris says. "What I would bring is new questions, different questions."
And in addition to term limits, Morris feels that commissioners' not seeking voter approval for the $50 million Citizens Service Center investment is yet another example of why the public has lost trust — the county is now committed to $13 million a year in debt service.
We know this: Democrats are likely to vote for Morris, and 5,900 Republicans voted against Clark (and for challenger Karen Magistrelli) in the primary. If enough of those GOP votes would swing to him, Morris could pull off an unlikely upset. Regardless, this is the best chance to see how deep the term-limits angst goes. Vote Morris.
Commissioner District 4: Dennis Hisey (R) vs. Doskor Hanchett Jr. (D): We won't revisit the term-limits reasoning, but it also applies to Hisey. In this race, we have to consider whether to endorse a rookie challenger with limited civic experience who hasn't run for office previously.
Hanchett, retired from civil service, was a soldier in Vietnam and has earned a masters degree in public administration, plus a graduate-level certificate in finance. He supports limiting commissioners to two terms, and he's against fracking, wanting to be careful with drilling to protect the water supply (while Hisey has been overly friendly to the oil-and-gas industry). All this, along with having been a business CEO and working in government jobs for two decades, is enough to convince us. Vote Hanchett.
The Independent's 2012 endorsements
President: Barack Obama/Joe Biden (D)
U.S. House, District 5: Dave Anderson (unaffiliated)
U.S. House, District 3: Sal Pace (D)
Commissioner District 3: John Morris (D)
Commissioner District 4: Doskor Hanchett Jr. (D)
CU Regents: Kyle Hybl (R), Stephen Ludwig (D)
House District 17: Tony Exum Sr. (D)
House District 18: Pete Lee (D)
House District 20: Bob Gardner (R)
1A, El Paso County (increasing sales tax by 23 cents on every $100 spent, for sheriff's needs): YES
1B, El Paso County (reducing term limits for commissioners, other county officeholders): YES
Amendment 64 (marijuana decriminalization and taxing): YES
Amendment 65 (request to limit federal campaign contributions and spending): YES
Amendment S (giving preference to veterans in state personnel system): YES
2A, Calhan (more road and bridge maintenance): YES
2B, Manitou Springs (joining Pikes Peak Library District): YES
2C, Manitou Springs (directing pre-existing funding to parks): YES
2D, Fountain (building new fire station): YES
Special district measures
5A, Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (sales-tax renewal for 2014-24): YES