Before most elections, we hear the same urgency, the same call to action: Whatever you do, VOTE! Because this could be the most important election of our lives.
VOTE! Because this could be the most threatening, and potentially damaging, election of our lives.
It is critical that you cast a ballot on or before Nov. 2. And it's equally critical that you complete your ballot, from top to bottom. This election, take the time to intelligently weigh in on all the state and local races and ballot measures. Many of the measures further down the ballot could shape our lives for years to come.
As for what to do on those measures:
JUST SAY NO. Please follow Nancy Reagan's advice on all the numbered ballot measures. The only state initiatives meriting support are the three lettered issues, Amendments P, Q and R, noncontroversial housekeeping measures designed to clean up outdated parts of Colorado's constitution.
It's more complicated at the local level, as we'll cover in next week's Independent. For example, El Paso County Question 1A will determine whether or not medical marijuana dispensaries should be banned in the county's unincorporated areas. But it is worded in a confusing way. If you want dispensaries to remain legal, you must vote NO. If you want to outlaw them, then vote YES.
See what we mean? In this election, just voting is not enough. It's important to invest the time to truly understand the issues.
SO WAKE UP! Fight off any lethargic temptation, with ballot vultures preying on (and praying for) voters' apathy. Their backers will be out in force, hoping others won't be. Help vote down measures backed by anti-government, stealth interest groups or out-of-state organizations with deep pockets. We cannot let them sell us their snake oil.
John Hickenlooper (D)
Dan Maes (R)
Tom Tancredo(American Constitution Party)
If John Hickenlooper replicates statewide what he has done as Denver's mayor, Colorado will continue to evolve as an economically vibrant, environmentally sound, tolerant, creative and wonderful place to live, work and raise our families.
With his background as a petro-geologist, small-business entrepreneur and mayor of our state's largest city, Hickenlooper truly understands the issues facing Colorado. As governor, along with Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia (a familiar and respected presence in Colorado Springs), Hickenlooper will build bipartisan coalitions to help small businesses create needed new jobs; balance our demand for fossil fuels while making Colorado a renewable-energy leader; and support our farmers, ranchers and rural communities as well as the arts and other creative enterprises. Last but not least, Hickenlooper has the vision and the knowledge to develop inclusive, long-term solutions to our vexing water and transportation problems.
We applaud his positive, collaborative, can-do style and his ability to work with all Coloradans. He says more than a fourth of his mayoral appointments have been Republicans.
We are lucky Hickenlooper's in this race — because his opponents are train wrecks.
Dan Maes barely captured the GOP nomination by riding the tea party express past the imploding campaign of former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis. But Maes' candidacy has plummeted due to his loose-cannon statements and questionable résumé, and a number of state tea party leaders announced Monday that they won't back him in November. Maes compares the potential legalization of marijuana to prostituting "our teenage daughters" and making money off taxing and regulating it. Even such mainstream Republicans as former local U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley (1987-2007) and local developer and onetime gubernatorial candidate Steve Schuck (1986) will not support Maes.
This leaves us with former five-term congressman Tom Tancredo, the season's only third-party candidate polling higher than 15 percent. He has called for the bombing of Mecca and other holy sites if America is attacked again by terrorists — a move that could lead to another world war. Three months ago, speaking at a campaign event for U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck, Tancredo said this of President Barack Obama: "The greatest threat to the country that our founding fathers put together is the man that's sitting in the White House today." Later, in an op-ed for the Washington Times, Tancredo said Congress should bring impeachment charges against Obama for failing to "defend the United States against foreign invasion." Also, Tancredo's way-out views on immigration and his on-and-off support for Amendments 60, 61 and Proposition 101 make him unpalatable for those anywhere near the middle.
There is a chance that, in this era of voter apathy, Tancredo could actually win. One early October poll shows him far ahead of Maes and within eight points of Hickenlooper. Coloradans cannot afford to wake up and have Tancredo running our state. Especially with such a quality alternative.
Endorsement: John Hickenlooper
Michael Bennet (D)
Ken Buck (R)
In January 2009, few people outside Denver knew much about Michael Bennet, who had never run for public office. After Gov. Bill Ritter selected the Denver Public Schools superintendent to replace Ken Salazar, who left to join President Obama as Interior secretary, many doubted Bennet's ability to succeed.
Now, 21 months later, Bennet has passed every test. He has tirelessly crisscrossed our state and visited El Paso County more than two dozen times in the past 18 months. In multiple interviews with the senator, we have been impressed not only by his command of the issues, but also by his ability to truly listen and engage in real conversations about real problems. His regional offices also provide first-rate constituency services.
And, not to be forgotten, Bennet made it through a formidable primary challenge from Andrew Romanoff, developing a forceful campaign style and effective organization along the way.
Bennet's background outside politics provides him with valuable perspective. His intimate knowledge of turning around bankrupt companies gives him an understanding of how Wall Street actually works. Specifically, Bennet has the expertise to balance our need for free markets with appropriate government oversight to ensure consumers, investors and workers are not screwed by Wall Street shenanigans.
His track record running our state's largest public school system, and his time working as Mayor John Hickenlooper's chief of staff, show him to be an adroit negotiator and public policy expert who always looks for win-win solutions. It also shows that when tough decisions need to be made, he'll respond.
Bennet's performance since winning the nomination has strengthened our positive opinion. From the moment this matchup was set, Bennet's operation has been proactive in pointing out Ken Buck's contradictions and misstatements.
Buck wants to privatize veterans hospitals and the Postal Service, eliminate Social Security and health care reform, keep tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 percent, and deny women the right to choose even if they've suffered rape or incest. And after primary opponent Jane Norton questioned his manhood in a TV ad, Buck said voters should choose him "because I do not wear high heels."
Endorsement: Michael Bennet
Doug Lamborn (R)
Kevin Bradley (D)
While we applaud Kevin Bradley for entering this race, he is underfunded and inexperienced. We wish Democrats had another advocate as forceful and vibrant as they had with retired Air Force officers Hal Bidlack in 2008 and Jay Fawcett in 2006.
While Democrats, independents and even many Republicans are justifiably disappointed in Rep. Doug Lamborn, a broader strategy is needed. Next time, instead of opposing Lamborn in the low-turnout Republican primary during the middle of summer, we think that in November 2012 a viable, moderate challenger should run as a member of a new, post-partisan Pikes Peak Party. Such a candidate would capture Democratic and unaffiliated voters, along with enough mainstream Republicans to give Lamborn a challenge.
Another possibility: Moderates could push for a more balanced district when congressional seats are redrawn before 2012. Some like the idea of a Southern Colorado district reuniting Colorado Springs and Pueblo. But as long as Democratic Rep. John Salazar has that seat, he wouldn't want to let go of Pueblo.
Recommendation: Cast a protest vote for Kevin Bradley
John Suthers (R)
Stan Garnett (D)
We have watched, known and often admired John Suthers for years — from his days serving as El Paso and Teller counties' district attorney, to his administering Colorado's Department of Corrections, to his appointment as Colorado's U.S. Attorney by President George W. Bush, to his present position, which he's held since being appointed by Gov. Bill Owens in 2005.
Suthers is a nice guy, but nowadays he's too tied to big business and too partisan for our liking. Colorado's attorney general (after being elected) should not get involved in political grandstanding. Moreover, Suthers' passion for public service, after a quarter-century, appears to have waned, as evidenced by his refusal to run for governor when pushed by many GOP leaders.
Stan Garnett, the Boulder County DA, is at heart a consumer advocate. He's revved up to fight hard for normal people when they get a raw deal. He also will aggressively push for shorter jail time for nonviolent crime, as he has done in Boulder. Shortening the time such nonviolent convicted criminals are incarcerated saves the state an enormous amount of money.
While we see pros and cons to both candidates, it is time for fresh energy and perspectives. Accordingly, we side with the man who champions the cause of consumers as well as small businesses, and who would push for needed prison reforms.
Endorsement: Stan Garnett
Cary Kennedy (D)
Walker Stapleton (R)
Four years ago, Cary Kennedy sought and won the office of state treasurer, an important but low-profile job that disburses and accounts for nearly $20 billion annually and manages Colorado's $6 billion in state investments. She promised "transparency" and "accountability," and that's exactly what she has delivered. Now Colorado's most basic financial information — checkbook, balance sheet and investment portfolio — are all online. Kennedy also recently introduced the award-winning Colorado Tax Tracks, an innovative online tool that allows all Coloradans to see how their tax dollars support different state programs.
More importantly, Kennedy has steered the state smoothly through the worst of the recent recession/depression. She has avoided entangling the state in investments tied to the subprime market and risky stock portfolios. As a result, Colorado credit ratings remain strong, while numerous other states have been downgraded.
Her opponent, Walker Stapleton, not only comes across as stuffy and rigid, but his campaign attack messages are just plain deceptive. For instance, he insinuates that the current state treasurer is to blame for Fortune 500 companies moving out of Colorado. (Really.) He talks about the need for the treasurer not to be political, then jumps on the soapbox to voice his opposition to "automatic funding for K-12 education with no accountability." (Really.) Oh, and he insists that medical marijuana is a "backdoor legalization effort ... with ex-cons making $40,000 a month!" (Really.)
Endorsement: Cary Kennedy
Secretary of state
Bernie Buescher (D)
Scott Gessler (R)
Appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter to fill the vacancy left when Mike Coffman entered Congress in 2009, former Western Slope state Rep. Buescher has cut his department's budget by 20 percent while improving customer service across the board. Under his leadership, the state has also cleaned up inaccurate voter files, removing thousands of duplications and inaccurate data.
Buescher's focus is on "collaborative skills" from his years as a leader in the Legislature, while his opponent, attorney Scott Gessler, has a more combative focus, often resorting to litigation.
Buescher has been in office less than two years. No need to change leadership when he's just getting his sea legs.
Endorsement: Bernie Buescher
Sharp reduction in property taxes intended for school districts
This is the first of the "evil three" stealth amendments that would drastically impact how the state operates. Put forward by Douglas Bruce and his allies, these measures at first glance almost seem reasonable until one understands their true impact. Amendment 60 would:
• overturn hundreds of decisions by local voters across Colorado to raise money for specific local needs, like fire and police services, water and sewer programs, libraries, schools, roads, ballfields, etc.;
• reduce by $1.5 billion the property taxes that taxpayers pay for their local schools, while mandating that the state cover for all shortfalls — thus reducing by 95 percent or more the funding for courts, jails, human services, public health and higher education;
• and require publicly owned organizations to pay property taxes. So the University of Colorado in Boulder would pay millions in property taxes, giving Boulder a financial windfall, while students statewide would need to pay more in tuition.
The people who placed this and their other stealth measures on the ballot refuse to debate their proposals or to come clean on who has financed their initiatives. It's clear that the intent here is destructive.
Vote NO on 60
Prohibits state government from incurring debt by obtaining any loans
This second stealth amendment would make it unlawful for the state to finance any debt whatsoever, and would only allow local government to do so with voter approval, and for periods shorter than a decade. So instead of borrowing over the expected life of an asset to build Denver International Airport or new buildings at colleges, the state would need to collect the entire amount up front. This would force citizens to pay taxes for years before they get any benefit.
Moreover, at the local level, cities and schools that currently have issued 20-year or 30-year bonds to pay for local infrastructure would be prohibited from borrowing any additional funds until these measures have been largely paid back. So for the next decade or more, most if not all state and many local governments would be prohibited from building needed new schools, police stations, roads, water and sewage plants.
Finally, this measure would prohibit local government agencies from entering into any lease agreements, or even using credit cards. (Debit cards would be OK, but are often less advantageous for the state to use.)
Vote NO on 61
Grants full legal rights to any fetus from the moment of fertilization
Two years ago, more than 70 percent of Colorado voters shot down the first version of this amendment. This time some language has been tweaked, but the message is just as clear. This amendment, if enacted, would outlaw all abortions, including after rape or incest, or even when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. It would also limit commonly used forms of birth control, emergency contraception, stem cell research, and treatments for tubal pregnancies where there is no chance for a viable outcome. Need we say more?
Vote NO on 62
Opposes national requirement for showing proof of health insurance by 2014
Pure and simple, this measure is a PR stunt designed to mislead citizens that they can opt out of federal health care mandates. Regardless of whether it passes or fails, Colorado must comply with the new health care laws. Moreover, we ask those pushing this amendment if they want to return to the days when health insurance companies could:
• deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions;
• drop their older customers after they get sick;
• and stop allowing parents to cover dependent children until they are 26.
If this is enacted, hundreds of thousands of public dollars will be wasted on needless legal proceedings.
Vote NO on 63
Cuts various taxes, and fees for vehicle registration
Don't be fooled by this final Douglas Bruce-inspired idea, which would mean never paying more than $10 a year for vehicle registrations, seeing all taxes on car rentals disappear, and paying a lower rate of state income tax. It would cut more than $2 billion from the state budget, which would decimate higher education, social services, road and bridge infrastructure, law enforcement and prisons, and even public libraries.
Vote NO on 101
Sets stricter new criteria for bail and bonding
This measure would severely limit a state program allowing judges to release criminal defendants into closely monitored pretrial services, without having to post bond, while awaiting trial. If passed, only nonviolent first-time offenders would be eligible for pretrial services, and all others would have to pay a bond or sit in jail awaiting trial. Pretrial services have helped reduce jail overcrowding and have aided the judicial system in evaluating suspects. We feel judges are fully capable of making decisions about setting bond on a case-by-case basis. This issue is opposed by the state's district attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs and even defense attorneys, who don't normally side with law enforcement on matters involving defendants.
Vote NO on 102
Moves oversight of bingo and raffles from the secretary of state to the Department of Revenue
First of three proposed amendments that fall under the "housekeeping" label, this measure — proposed by state Rep. Kent Lambert of Colorado Springs — would transfer the supervision of bingo games and raffle operations to the state Department of Revenue. This is a better way for the state to do business, with the revenue department already overseeing the gaming industry in Cripple Creek, Blackhawk and Central City.
Vote YES on P
Sets up structure for relocating state government temporarily during major disasters
This measure enables the basic operations of state government to relocate to a different location in the event of an actual or imminent major disaster in Denver. Currently, the Legislature is not allowed to take this action without advance approval by voters, something impossible to do in an emergency situation. The intent here is to have a plan in the event of, say, a terrorist attack or disease pandemic.
Vote YES on Q
Stops property taxes for those using government property for private purposes
This primarily addresses the fact that ranchers who currently lease portions of state-owned property for grazing cattle are required to pay property taxes on that land, though they do not own title to it in any form. The new law, fully in force by 2013, would remove the property tax for ranchers whose lease payments are $6,000 a year or less. It often costs more to collect such taxes than we receive in return. The financial impact of this common-sense measure would be minimal, estimated at no more than $50,000 a year for the entire state.
Vote YES on R
• Mail ballots will be sent Tuesday, Oct. 12. If you have signed up but haven't received one by Oct. 15, call the El Paso County elections department at 575-8683.
• Early voting, separate from mail ballots, runs Oct. 18-29 (except Sunday, Oct. 24) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Centennial Hall, 200 S. Cascade Ave.; Powers Branch, 5650 Industrial Place (southeast corner of Powers Boulevard and Airport Road); and Chapel Hills Mall, 1710 Briargate Blvd., #350 (between JCPenney and Burlington Coat Factory).
• For more, call 575-8683 or go to car.elpasoco.com/election.