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News Flash!!! There are no Democrats left in El Paso County.

Hard to believe, I know, given that only a few years ago there were local elected officials who were members of the Democratic Party. Moreover, as recently as November 2000, tens of thousands of votes were cast for the Democratic nominee for president, Michael Duk ... I mean Al Gore.

But, perhaps tragically and certainly inexplicably, all of those Democrats have gone, except for a tiny remnant of true believers. Don't believe me? Want evidence? This is an election year. Such years feature caucuses, primaries, party conventions, nominees for various offices, contests that are more or less spirited, culminating in November elections, wherein we (the people) choose our elected leaders. It's called democracy.

As far as the Republicans are concerned, it's working just fine. We've got a bunch of candidates emerging, ranging from eminently qualified to totally nuts, and we'll see some entertaining primary contests.

But that's it; the vanished Democrats aren't fielding candidates for most of the local offices that are up for grabs. Want to vote for a Democrat for one of the two open seats on the County Commission? Too bad -- so far no candidates. You'll just have to cast your ballot for whatever card-carrying member of the NRA and the Christian Coalition Republican primary voters decide to support.

And if you'd like to see the two-party system in action in most of the Legislative contests, fuhgettaboutit -- once again, so far no Dems, though once-rans Tony Marino and Mike Merrifield offer a couple of likely exceptions. Given, then, that the Democrats have about as much local visibility as, say, the Natural Law Party, one is driven to the conclusion that the local party leadership has simply given up.

And that, I submit, is disastrous. Granted, it's tough, even impossible, for a Democrat to win in much of El Paso County, but it's utterly irresponsible for the party to slink away without a fight.

Absent even token opposition, Republican candidates move sharply to the right, pandering to the conservative minority who participate in caucuses, and vote in primaries.

Moreover, just as a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while, the Dems would pull a few upsets. But if you don't play, you can't win. And there's another reason that we need successful Democratic candidates for minor offices in El Paso County.

It's because such candidates would be sensible, politically crafty moderates, who could garner a bunch of votes from Republicans and independents. That's more important than you might think.

Our El Paso County Republicans are widely regarded, even by other Republicans, as right-wing loonies who wouldn't have a chance in a statewide race. That's why there hasn't been a governor, U.S. senator, or any statewide elected official from Colorado Springs in the last 30 years.

Local GOPsters bear the mark of Cain; that's why even a moderate Republican from El Paso County has no shot. For proof, look at former D.A. John Suthers, who ran for attorney general and lost in a year when the GOP swept every other statewide office.

But if we had a competent, attractive moderate Democrat holding a partisan elected office, well, it might be a different story.

But just to show you how truly hopeless the local Dems -- 'We few, we happy few' -- have become, listen to this: There's a guy down in Fountain named Mike Miles, a Democrat, and apparently a perfectly capable person, who is gearing up to run for the United States Senate -- in 2004!

Mr. Miles has never held elected office of any kind, but apparently feels that this is no handicap; after all, in common with all political neophytes, he has lots of great new ideas. Sounds like a quixotic quest, but that hasn't prevented a bunch of our leading progressives from gathering round and lending him their support.

Miles may be a great candidate but, as local businessman Steve Schuck spent $2 million discovering, voters usually prefer candidates for major office who have some political experience.

Tim Wirth, Hank Brown, Wayne Allard, Roy Romer, Dick Lamm, Ben Campbell -- every one of 'em served in the Legislature before moving on to higher office. The lesson's clear -- if you want to go to the Super Bowl, you have to play all of those boring games in the regular season, and if you want to be a big-shot politician, you have to pay your dues at the local level.

Of course, as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza found out, tilting at Windmills can be a lot of fun ... more fun than running for the Legislature, anyway.


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