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In a few days, it'll all be over. It'll either be President Al Gore (inventor, by the way, of the algorithm, without which computers would not exist), or President George W. Bush (let's call him "Incurious George").

Al and George W. are wholly recognizable types. Al: hard-working, serious, empathetic, painfully eager to reach out to others, somewhat embarrassed by his fortunate ancestry and wholly caught up in the tumult of those extraordinary times.

George W: serenely unaware of and unaffected by the changing world, never imagining that the era of Wasp ascendancy in all things was coming to an end.

Our native aristocracy, such as it is, produces two very different kinds of leaders. On the one hand, you have the caretakers -- those who simply do their best to extend and protect the existing order. Look at Taft, Hoover, Bush the Elder; they saw themselves as stewards, as fiduciaries, not as change agents.

As president, George W. would certainly fall into this category. He'd protect inherited wealth, grease the skids for business and curb the regulatory powers of the Feds.

But we've produced another kind of aristocrat, those who, like Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Jack Kennedy, believe that their privileged lives confer obligation, not opportunity. Rather than using their connections to get richer, they dedicate their lives to enlarging and amplifying the promise of this country. Al Gore falls squarely within this tradition.

And that's why Al so desperately wants to be president and so often makes a pandering fool of himself in the process. He wants to make the world a better place. And that's also why George W., with his careless charm, is just a little imprecise about the details of governance. Running the country is the Bush family business, and the family has loyal consiglieres like Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice to do the actual work.

Closer to home, this year's crop of initiatives has some seriously toxic potential. Like mixing uppers and downers with a stiff shot of bourbon, the interactions of the initiatives could produce some wonderfully horrific results. Suppose, for example, that we passed three statewide initiatives.

Amendment 21 would strip local governments of tax revenues, Amendment 23 would equitably fund public schools and Amendment 24 would, according to the real-estate community, virtually end real-estate development.

If we listen to the opponents of each, and then deduct 90 percent for lies and hyperbole, we're still left with disaster. Depleted tax revenues, shattered business confidence and heavy new demands on the public purse might bring about a replay of the late '80s, when Colorado Springs was the foreclosure capital of the country.

Will it happen? Who knows? Better to ask why all this stuff is on the ballot.

It's because the state Legislature is unable/unwilling to pass legislation that deals with the urgent issues of the day.

If we want good government, we've got to get rid of partisan elections (via, of course, an initiated amendment to the state constitution). Why can't candidates for the legislature run on their own merits, instead of hiding behind a party label?

Compare Mary Lou Makepeace, Ted Eastburn and Jim Null with Doug Dean, Doug Lamborn and Keith King. The former three won election to our nonpartisan City Council on their own considerable merits; the latter three have little to recommend them other than the "R" label that they bear. If we value representative government, we'd better fix it.

Meanwhile, as a resident of School District 11, I am literally praying for the passage of 3B, which would keep D-11 reasonably solvent.

As a community, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves for allowing our largest district to fall into such perilous straits. And even if we don't give a damn about the brats, 3B's failure would send property values tumbling throughout Colorado Springs.

Take a look at the Lowell neighborhood, which was literally destroyed after cash-strapped D-11 closed both the elementary and junior high school 15 years ago. Now imagine the impact of a dozen such closures, which 3B's failure might mandate. Families with school-age children would simply leave the district, rather than see their kids bused to crowded, dilapidated, and ill-equipped schools in another part of town.

And finally, this week's best disgruntled e-mail came from Sierra Club chapter president Jim Lockhart, the latest to testily weigh in on Mayor Makepeace's increasing reputation for playing obvious audience-member favorites. Lockhart's commentary came after last Thursday's city budget hearing: "I think a multiple regression analysis of who she [Mayor Makepeace] let speak for 10 minutes and who she cut off in mid-sentence would produce a perfect chart of who has influence in this town."


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