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Public Eye

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Where, oh where, is the two-party system? It used to be that when it came to endorsing candidates, already-elected politicians would stay at arms length during primary races. Now let's not be nave; there has always been deal-cutting and promise-making going on in the back rooms. But publicly, local politicians -- almost all of them Republican -- have usually been savvy enough to at least feign neutrality, knowing that the same-party candidate may end up winning and sitting next to them week in and out on the same governing board.

Just two years ago, for example, Tom Huffman was challenging incumbent Betty Beedy for the Board of County Commissioners. Other than Commissioner Ed Jones, Huffman couldn't beg a whit of public support from any of the other sitting commissioners, even though Beedy had, for the four years prior, brought them nothing but shame and humiliation.

Huffman won and, this year, advised his four colleagues not only to pick their favorite horses in this year's county commissioner races, but actively work to get them elected. As a result, all of them have thrown their support solidly behind novices, whose main qualifications are political schmooz-a-thon-ing, over experienced government policy-setters.

In a primary race that's still six months away, Huffman, along with Commissioners Jones, Jeri Howells, Chuck Brown and Duncan Bremer, have already endorsed former county GOP Chairman Wayne Williams over eight-year City Councilman Bill Guman.

Now, in one of the fastest-growing counties in the country, Guman should get major Scout points for his expertise in things like land use and infrastructure, not to mention his card-carrying membership in the Christian Coalition. But he is obviously no Republican match for Williams who, along with Focus on the Family vice president Tom Minnery, headed the local GOP from 1997 to 1999.

Williams, it's worth noting, is also the same guy who was hired by the county two years ago in a lawsuit designed to keep Commissioner Brown, who was seeking re-election, off the ballot. Williams, an employment lawyer, got his clock cleaned when he tried to argue in court that Brown's petition signatures had been inappropriately gathered. The county lost and had to shell out about $16,000 to Williams for losing the argument. What's truly remarkable is that Chuck Brown is now endorsing and supporting Williams, the same guy that worked so hard to kick him off the team.

The commissioners (with the exception of Bremer) have also fallen in love with Jim Bensberg, a political gadfly who currently works in U.S. Senator Wayne Allard's office, over Republican dynamo MaryAnne Tebedo, who established a 16-year reign in the state Legislature after serving as Ronald Reagan's local point woman in the 1980s.

Tebedo is the clear favorite for nostalgia-seekers and a media that is chomping at the bit to learn more about her stances on everything from young black women (they are promiscuous, she has said) to teenage pregnancy (which, she noted, drops off dramatically after age 25). But Huffman has decided that a Tebedo win would be a "disaster."

In layman's terms, Guman is a moderate and Tebedo is an extremist's extremist. In current far-right Republican Party translation, just like in the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, that makes Bensberg and Williams just right.

So are we supposed to thank these Republican officials for saving us poor hapless citizens from certain catastrophe?

Obviously, not everyone is pleased by their efforts to control the game.

"It's interesting to me to see them choose inexperienced first-time candidates over those who have considerable experience," notes Colorado Springs City Councilman and GOP activist Charles Wingate, who replaced Guman last April and reports that his first year in office has been an intense learning curve. "If I've got the choice between experience and no experience, I'm going to take experience every day of the week and twice on Sundays."

For his part, Guman reports that witnessing the behavior of his fellow politicians has been a learning experience of an entirely new sort -- he's seen local Republican politics at its worst. "It's gotten totally out of control," Guman says. "They should at least feel an obligation to maintain neutrality."

"But, ultimately, it will be the people of El Paso County who will elect me, and not a group of local politicians."

Which begs the final question: When a handful of ultra-conservative Republicans control the game, is there any room for representative government? After all, even in an El Paso County GOP primary with really good turn out, these candidates will be elected by perhaps 25 percent of the registered voters.

But aren't they supposed to be representing all 516,929 of us?

-- degette@csindy.com

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