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A dialogue concerning various ballot items

Essay by Martha & Ed Quillen

2000 election – November 2000 – Colorado Central Magazine


Ed: I haven’t totally made up my mind yet, but I’m sure leaning toward Ralph Nader. For one thing, he actually ventured into the interior of Colorado. He seems intelligent, thoughtful, and fair-minded, all things you’d like in a president, and he raises issues that the other candidates would like to sweep under the rug. Plus, no one could doubt his integrity or courage; he’s certainly not for sale, and anybody who’d take on General Motors in 1966 must have cojones grande.

Martha: Both George Sibley (in this issue) and Ed (in the Post) have written about how a vote for a third-party candidate can make a real difference, but I’m not sure I believe that — at least not for the 2000 election.

Why? Well, according to George and Ed, the third party often puts issues on the table. But the truth is, I think the issues we see this year have been on the table forever. I think these issues — campaign finance reform, a safe Social Security system, better Medicare, improved schools, more economical health care, tax relief — are what the candidates promise in order to prove that they are for “the little guy.”

But in the last 20 years — despite all the similar political promises made by Reagan, Bush and Clinton — our health care and school systems have offered less and less for more and more money. Whenever the government gives students more money for college, tuition goes up. Whenever we get subsidies for housing, medicine, utilities, etc., the price goes up. I suspect that’s why so many Americans are leaning toward Nader. He presumably will take on the institutions that keep increasing our bills, but not our services.

According to Nader, the parties have morphed into one corporate conglomerate that serves the interests of the wealthy industries that pay for campaigns instead of the interests of us ordinary working Americans. The absolute best spin on Nader’s anti-corporate viewpoint, however, comes from Jim Hightower’s book about the 2000 campaign, If The Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates.

Hightower is not only informative, he’s hilarious, snide, and hyper-critical. Curiously, even though I generally agree with the people who say that there’s too much negative campaigning, I think Hightower’s negativity is superb. He ridicules Bush, Gore, Bradley, and McCain with facts, stats, sarcasm and equal opportunity bashing, and I suggest that everyone read Hightower’s book. But…

The truth is, I don’t really agree — with George, Ed or Jim Hightower — that the simple solution lies in populism. Instead, I think populism has already done its job and highlighted the issues of the “little guy.”

Although few people seem able to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with America today — besides greedy HMOs, failing schools, dishonest politicians, duplicitous insurance companies, road rage, telephone slamming, air traffic delays etc. etc. etc. — I think our biggest problem is that when nothing is looking up except the economy we are all terrified of sinking the economy. The sad reality is that people don’t generally change their way of dealing with things during good economic times because they are afraid to rock the budget.

Personally, I’m not sure both mainstream candidates aren’t lunatics to want to become president when our economy is stagnating, the Middle East is exploding, and the terrorists are hankering after mayhem. Clearly, Nader is probably the sanest of the bunch, in that Nader might not be running if he could actually win. But even so, I’m voting for Al Gore — even though I certainly can’t say I believe, “Gore, Gore, he’s our man, if he can’t do it, no one can…”

On the contrary, I just think that Bush has too many sleazy billionaire friends to advise him astray and that he knows too little about foreign affairs when it looks as though they’re becoming central.

Also, I was very upset about Bush’s response regarding the death penalty in Texas. Personally, I’m not against the death penalty, but I think it should be reserved for recalcitrant serial criminals who pose either an escape risk or a risk to prison personnel, and most states have reserved executions for just such extreme cases. But Florida and Texas — the two states run by the Bush boys — seem to be on a jihad. And George W.’s assertion that he has every faith in the infallibility of the state of Texas is downright stupid and it makes my skin crawl.

Considering how many innocent men have been released from prisons recently due to newly available DNA tests, Bush has a clear obligation to look into the hows and whys of such errors. So at this point — although I know I’ve already gone on and on — I’d like to recommend another book, Actual Innocence, by Barry Scheck, Peter Neufeld and Jim Dwyer. When this campaign started, it looked like overturned convictions were going to be a central topic, so I read this book (which was almost always touted in magazine and newspaper articles as being against the death penalty). Actually, the book is more concerned with why American courts convict innocent people, and the authors actually suggest many small, common-sense changes we could make to prevent such travesties.

George W., on the other hand, claims innocent convicts who get out on appeal — many of whom have finally been exonerated (often after spending decades in prison) due to the efforts of these authors and others of their ilk — prove that the system is working. Yeah, sure.

Thus, I say, vote Gore.


Ed: Curtis Imrie is a friend, and his heart’s usually in the right place. Besides, it’s not like there’s any danger he’s going to get elected. If Curtis wasn’t running, I’d vote for Drew Sakson, the Libertarian — they’re both good guys, fighting the good fight to protect our rights and privacy from the War on Drugs. And McInnis says he wants to “intensify” that outrage, which means he doesn’t really believe in a small, limited government, no matter what he says. If he’s lying about that, what else is he deceiving us about?

Martha: Sure, vote Imrie. Or if you really hate donkeys, vote Sakson or Good. This year, we need to show the incumbent that there’s quite a bit of dissent out there regarding his policies. But McInnis is the well-funded front-runner who will probably win — even though I meet a lot of people, especially people concerned about growth, the environment, and campaign finance reforms — who are really fed up with McInnis. So I’d like to make a suggestion.

Remember that the winner becomes our representative — ours not theirs — so if McInnis wins and you’re upset about the way things are going, keep writing, keep lobbying, keep faxing and e-mailing, and always be clear about your cause and assiduously polite (for hateful mail is routinely disregarded). In short, I guess what I’m saying is, perhaps professional lobbyists prevail so often because they’re persistent and the voters are not.


Ed: I hear John Ford’s a pretty good guy, but I really don’t have a problem with another senate term for Ken Chlouber. Ken’s accessible, he’ll argue with you, he’s good-natured with a great sense of humor, and unlike so many Republicans, he’s not a hater.

Martha: I’m still hoping to hear Ford before I decide, but I think Chlouber’s been all right on many issues.


Ed: Carl Miller’s done a good job in the legislature, and certainly deserves another term. I don’t always agree with Carl, but he’ll always explain his position — he treats his constituents with respect, and he goes to bat for us when necessary. What more could you want from a state representative?

Martha: I’m voting for Carl Miller. The truth is I lean toward both Carl and Ken Chlouber because I often see them at local events in Salida, at Western State, and in local parades, and I think the most important thing when it comes to these state offices is accessibility.



Ed: Jim Thompson deserves another term. Of course I don’t agree with everything he says and does, but there have been many occasions that it seems like he’s the only sensible one of the three commissioners — he’s usually the “1” in all those 2-1 votes. Jim will at least ask some good questions as the county marches down the merry road to becoming a gated enclave for millionaires who are going to remove all of us undesirable economically challenged low-lifes.

I don’t have anything against Carol McFarland — she’s a fine person who has served this county in many capacities — but we’ve got a pretty good commissioner in Jim.

De Luca-Merrifield

Ed: Joe De Luca’s a bright guy who’s put in some serious study on county issues. De Luca’s thoughtful and responsive, and he’s certainly not in the pocket of the developers. One reason I like the guy is that he’s got the right enemies.

Martha: I’m voting for De Luca and Thompson. This has been a strange campaign, far more vociferous than anything I’ve seen locally in the past. In essence, however, I think De Luca’s victory over McMurry meant that most Chaffee County residents were ready for a change, especially in how our county goes about approving subdivisions and handling growth. So for me, in lieu of the overwhelming response in the primary election, supporting De Luca is a given.

And since McMurry and Everett generally tended to vote together and agree, with Thompson often offering the only dissenting vote (when there was one), I think the only way to insure any change is to elect Thompson and De Luca. According to their opposition, these two candidates are anti-growth, but I don’t believe that for a minute — nothing they have said would indicate any such thing. Therefore, I personally don’t expect any big changes if they’re elected — after all Thompson has been a commissioner for quite a while, and De Luca strikes me as a fairly conservative guy. But I do think De Luca and Thompson will usher in some modest change — and at this point we need commissioners who will show more reluctance in approving poorly planned and potentially costly developments.


Library District DeBrucing

Ed: It’s just to let them keep whatever they get from fines and copying, without that counting against the Bruce Amendment revenue caps. No problem there — the more money libraries have, the better, even if I have to pay some of it because I forget to take my books back in time.

Martha: Sure, I’m for money for the Salida Regional Library — but while I’m commenting, I sure wish the library would eliminate its one-week borrowing time for new books (with a 25¢ daily overdue fine), and instead opt for a two-week take-out. Of course, the really annoying thing is not so much the money, even though the quarters add up pretty fast, as it is the shorter-than-usual turnaround time — which makes libraries in the Springs and Denver look positively generous.

Salida School Mill-Levy Override

Ed: I’m torn on this one. I know Salida schools are hurting, but this is five mills forever. There’s no revenue cap or expiration date. So as real-estate valuations rise, so does this tax, and I’m not sure we can afford to buy into that — maybe we can afford five mills this year, but what about five mills when the assessor says our house is worth $500,000? You know and I know that even if our house is supposed to be worth a lot, we’ll never have that much money. If they’d put some sort of limitations on it, I’d be glad to support it.

And I’m honked anyway at these schools. They seem eager to put cops in the halls, but not to offer advanced-placement classes or the like — Salida kids go off to college without calculus and have to compete against kids who’ve had two or three years of it in high school.

Until our schools get as serious about providing some academic excellence as they are about teaching “holistic refusal skills” and other claptrap, and as long as they have football but cut back on art and music, I don’t know why we should increase their support. They certainly don’t reflect my values or priorities.

Then again, I haven’t paid much attention since our younger daughter graduated in 1996, and I don’t want to be one of those old grumps who won’t support local education because he doesn’t have kids in school. After all, somebody paid for my schooling.

Martha: I used to be torn on this, but not anymore. I am absolutely voting against any more money for Salida’s schools. Our schools need more money because they overspent for five years, but somehow the board didn’t notice it — even though many citizens accused them of just such profligacy. Now, having spent more than a half million dollars they didn’t have, District R-32-J needs more money.

But unfortunately, in those five years while the district was spending all that extra money, our school test scores remained poor, their programs were unpopular, and more and more kids were taken out for homeschooling. The truth is, many of my friends removed their kids from the Salida school system long ago (and the kids that I personally know did better at home and are doing fine in college.)

Although there has always been good and bad in our system, I don’t think Salida’s increasing academic problems have had anything to do with our teachers (our kids actually had some excellent teachers — although many of the best are now gone, several of them having retired early). Instead, I suspect that our problems have happened because the administration and the school board have made — in my opinion — serious mistakes and they keep on making serious mistakes.

TAKE THIS MILL LEVY, for example. A Maysville man, Kent Maxwell, went to meetings to warn the board about Tabor standards. Maxwell suggested that the hike should have a monetary cap and he proposed a mill levy that would expire after a finite period of time (e.g. four years) unless it was renewed. He pointed out that otherwise — as housing prices escalate in Chaffee County — the mill levy amount could increase beyond the needs of the district. But the school board decided to disregard Maxwell’s input.

Then, just this week, Maxwell claimed that the current wording on the mill levy wasn’t legal. And, lo and behold, it seems that the wording might be illegal. Apparently, the board and their lawyer aren’t exactly sure yet. Now the school has decided to “provide a supplemental mailing to identify the financial impacts,” according to Superintendent Wilson.

Now wouldn’t you think, after being forewarned, the school board would have ironed this out? Well, not in Salida, that’s for sure. Our last few school boards have generally done whatever the superintendent has wanted them to do — and they’ve seldom bothered with the hard work of investigating legalities and appraising financial feasibility. That’s how they ended up $500,000 plus in the hole after the last superintendent. And that’s how they’re making a mess out of their current proposal.

Truthfully, at this point, I wouldn’t trust the Salida school board or our superintendent with an allowance, let alone an open-ended mill levy. The reason I’ve decided this, however, lies in how the district has handled this latest fund-raising fiasco. Even though almost everyone I know in Salida is terrified that they will not be able to hold on if housing costs continue to escalate and their taxes thereby go up accordingly, the school would not even consider a dollar cap on their mill levy increase.

Also, even though — according to the school district’s own statements to support this mill hike — new teachers can’t afford housing here, and we are in need of money because the number of children enrolled in our schools has steadily decreased (not increased), our school board does not seem very worried about our community’s future financial picture.

Teachers, young families, and senior citizens are all having a tough time holding on here in Salida, and our school board couldn’t care less. They arrogantly refused to consider a monetary cap on their mill levy or to make the hike temporary until the bigger picture could be ascertained. They wouldn’t listen to a mere citizen this time around (just as another school board arrogantly disregarded warnings that our district was overspending last time around).

THE WAY THIS current proposal reads, in five or ten years we could end up with a very expensive school system for a couple of dozen kids. Why? Well according to Superintendent Wilson (who generally speaks for our school board now, just as Superintendent Guest spoke for them back when they were going into the hole), the board merely asked for a straight mill levy without a cap or end date because it was simpler.

So how was it simpler? Oh, yes, I know, because if someday it provides twice as much money as our schools need, they can keep it. That’s simple all right, and — take your pick — our board is either wholly duplicitous or wholly stupid when they claim to have done this merely for simplicity.

Salida is far from a wealthy town. Our schools need money, but until they decide to be fair, honest, and aboveboard in acquiring it, and until they learn to address the financial concerns brought to their attention, and until they figure out why they keep losing so many students to private and home education, I don’t think they should get it. As long as Salida’s school board doesn’t care about the citizens’ money, I think we’d be foolish to give them any of it. Vote no on the District R-32-J Mill Levy.

Statewide Ballot Amendments

Martha: At this point, I’ve got to admit that I’m particularly confused by this year’s amendment choices. The consequences of approving Amendments 21 and 24, for example, strike me as supremely unpredictable. But I’m voting no on both of them, because it strikes me that the amendments would as likely prove to be bad as good.

Amendment 21 calls for a $25 dollar reduction in taxes — including property, income, vehicle, utility and some sales taxes — with that reduction to be increased $25 annually. It’s been lambasted by state representatives from both parties and by Chaffee County’s local commissioners because it could lead to financial insufficiencies and resultant cuts in services. But I suspect its worst flaw lies in how much it diminishes the local voters’ future say over their own destiny. Shouldn’t voters get to decide on whether the benefits of a given community service are worth the tax burden?

Amendment 24 attempts to alleviate some of the consequences of rapid, poorly planned growth, but the Amendment is extraordinarily complex, calls for numerous public votes which could prove costly, and demands much remapping and rezoning which may not be in the best interests of all counties.

Amendment 24’s efforts to curtail rampant development in populated areas may also inadvertently redirect development to less populated areas — since the amendment exempts cities and counties of less than 10,000 from adopting this development-discouraging proposition and allows counties of less than 25,000 to vote on whether to adopt it.

IN SHORT, the results of voting for Amendment 24 strike me as downright mysterious. Although everything might turn out well, with such a convoluted amendment guiding our course we won’t know if it will make things better or worse until the end of the story.

I’m also voting against Amendments 23 and 25, and against Referendum E. It seems to me, there are far too many unpredictable, convoluted Amendments proposed these days, and far too many groups willing to champion their own objectives with poorly written, poorly contrived, proposals. Although I’m undecided on the rest of the ballot proposals, I probably won’t vote for or against most of them — except for Amendment 20, the medical marijuana proposal. I’m going to vote yes on that — but only because a yes vote in this instance is a no vote to old laws, old bad legislation, and old, inhumane propositions.

Ed: I could still be persuaded to vote for 24, I suppose, but I’m worried that it will end up encouraging the sorts of things it’s supposed to stop, like sprawl and extensive commuting. I don’t think we’re any better off if it’s so difficult to develop in Frémont County that the developers start chopping up Custer County. That’s sprawl and it’s more commuter traffic.

On the other hand, anything that the Colorado Board of Realtors, along with most of the other Colorado greed lobbies that have never lifted a finger to improve our lives, is so opposed to — well, it must have considerable merits. So I’ve got to do more thinking about it.

I’ll definitely vote yes on Amendment 20, since it’s a step toward ending the horrible War on Drugs. Let’s face it — are most citizens more at risk from somebody burning a few leaves, or from jackboot no-knock lethal-force raids?

I’m against 21 — we should have the right to tax ourselves for our own services. Doug Bruce says the legislature will pick up the financial slack, but with money comes control. Do I want Marilyn Musgrave or some other wannabe Ayatollah in the legislature deciding what books should be in our library? Of course not.

And I’m against Amendment 25, which requires a woman seeking an abortion to wait at least 24 hours and receive a packet of propaganda. Opponents of abortion have every right to try to persuade people to agree with them, but not at state expense.

Amendment 22, for background checks at gun shows, won’t make any real difference one way or another on firearms and their availability to the wrong people, so why vote for it?

What’s left here? Amendment 23, along with Referenda A-E — I haven’t have a chance to look at those yet. And if I don’t get time, I’ll just abstain, or follow a good rule: When in doubt, vote no.

–Martha and Ed Quillen