For months, thousands of El Paso County voters have had reason to look forward with anticipation to this 2012 primary election.
Republican voters, that is.
Thanks to the local GOP's clear division, most simply described as the establishment versus the grassroots, this region has produced a handful of races for the primary ballot. So, as usual, we began thinking of how the Independent should approach this election, since ballots should be arriving in mailboxes now.
Should we make endorsements, as we've often done in the past, even for GOP primaries? Just four years ago, we didn't hesitate to fully endorse Dan May against incumbent John Newsome for 4th Judicial District Attorney, and Mark Waller against Douglas Bruce for the Legislature. (Both won, and faced no opposition that November.)
Or should we split hairs, as we've also been known to do, and call our picks only "recommendations"? (When we've done that, almost everyone has treated them like endorsements, anyway.)
We looked at the local races for Congress, the state Legislature and the Board of County Commissioners. We talked to some candidates, such as Robert Blaha, who's challenging U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn. We've also done more ongoing coverage in the past two years than previously, thanks to reporter Chet Hardin covering county- and state-level politics and enhancing our understanding of the Republican scene.
In the end, one conclusion became inescapable. We cannot, in good conscience, make recommendations or even suggestions for any El Paso County races. To do so would feel wrong because we have so many differences with all the GOP candidates in contested primaries.
We encourage everyone to vote, as always. And we'll offer some thoughts, but only to underscore the reasons why we aren't taking sides. For instance...
• Congress, 5th District: Sure, we've had our issues with Lamborn since he went to Washington in 2007, and we've sided against him repeatedly. After Lamborn's "tar baby" comment, boycott of the State of the Union address, and continued poor constituent services, we gave Blaha a long, hard look. But even after Blaha graciously came to the Indy for a lengthy conversation, we couldn't embrace him. He told us he could work with both sides, so we asked which Democrats he'd seek out first. He couldn't name any, instead singling out Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. — Coburn being far to the right, and West insisting that up to 80 Democrats in the U.S. House are communists. That, and other answers, stopped us from backing Blaha, even as a lesser of evils.
• State House District 19: In this race with two incumbents, created by reapportionment, Amy Stephens did merit consideration for pushing state legislation to implement the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But she has refused to talk to us, even by phone, and she has to be accountable for the GOP leaders' killing of the civil-unions bill. Marsha Looper has been cooperative, but her catering to the tea party and her flip-flop to go against civil unions turned us away.
• Other legislative races: In state Senate District 10, we have Larry Liston vs. Owen Hill. Liston is not a consensus-builder, simply one who toes the party line. Hill's further to the right, and he stopped returning our calls when we discovered serious questions about his true residency ("Hill's second home," News, May 23) and whether he lives in the precinct where he's registered to vote.
In the redrawn House District 21 (south and southwest El Paso County), we don't view Lois Landgraf or Albert Sweet as qualified for anything more than doing what they're told by GOP bosses, and we chastise the Dems for not coming up with an alternative.
• County commissioners: In District 3, incumbent Sallie Clark is challenged by Karen Magistrelli, while in District 4, incumbent Dennis Hisey faces Auddie Cox. Here's where the term-limits issue resurfaces, with Clark and Hisey seeking third terms, and we still can't excuse their 2010 tactics in pushing the deceptive ballot language that fooled many voters. That was wrong, and they made it worse by refusing to rectify the situation with a re-vote in 2011 and putting it on this November's ballot.
So even if the voters go back to a two-term limit, Clark and Hisey get their third term if they win this year. But at the same time, neither Cox nor Magistrelli has convinced us they're ready for the responsibility. Their knowledge of the issues and arguments is shallow.
Nobody should take any of these non-recommendations as de facto support for incumbents. We simply don't see a way for the Indy to jump in the same bath water with any of those candidates. We'll leave it to GOP voters, who likely aren't looking to us for serious guidance anyway.
Sure, we'll have plenty to say before the November election when the Democrats, independents and American Constitution Party will bring more choices. But not this primary.
We'll cover it, and we'll be anxious to see the news come June 26. But we don't want to make any candidates in this Republican primary think we're trying to help them win. We disagree with them on too many basic, vital issues.
So, Republican voters, this time you're on your own.