Press "Enter" to skip to content

Down on the Ground at the Ballot Box

By George Sibley

Ballots come out soon for the election being described as the most important election of our lives. I hate to give it that much weight since, like the last election, it is going to hinge on a host of contests that will probably be decided by one percent either way – no mandates (although they will of course be claimed).

That noted, though, it is clearly a turning point election at the federal level: Either enough Democrats will be elected to bring a modicum of two-party balance back to the United States Congress, or we will solidify a single-party federal governance by a political party that, at best, clearly does not have a very inclusive concept of We the People.

The challenge of restoring that two-party balance is made more difficult by two factors: one, the number of gerrymandered House safe seats the Republicans have; and two, the fact that the Republicans are led, somewhat blindly and irrationally, by a predatory rogue who has captivated an apparent unshakable bloc of around 40 percent of all voters nationally – a bloc that sticks with him despite the fact that he almost daily comes up with new ways to injure and insult them. That 40 percent base apparently doesn’t care what he does to them so long as he keeps poking his finger in the liberal eye, erasing the black guy’s legacy, and tooting his increasingly crude dog-whistle tweets.

Do I hope enough Democrats get elected to bring at least the perception of a two-party balance? I do, and will vote accordingly, but I don’t pretend to believe that this would be anything more than a stopgap; a tossing of sandbags into a breached levee to buy time. Democrats and Republicans alike will march off to a toxic Washington where the permanent corporate legislature waits, twelve or fifteen thousand strong, thirty lobbyists for every representative, three hundred for every senator, ready to smoothly and efficiently commence their education in The Way Things Are In Corporate America. This is the Washington government today.

Democrats are faulted, even among themselves, for practicing identity politics, which is to say, giving voice to the sometimes narrow and conflicting interests of women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, GLBTQs, the young, the aged, et cetera. Never mind that, taken together, all of these identity groups constitute We the People. It is a big-tent party, and that seems commendable to me.

The problem is, within the tent there is mostly just a lot of milling around with no real unifying vision, and a growing polarization between progressive and moderate factions. The main unifying element the Democrats have today seems to be hatred for the lout in the White House, and for the toadies in Congress that enable him. But hatred, love – love me, hate me: Trump doesn’t care so long as he remains the focus of all passion, and he probably takes at least as much energy from those who hate him unconditionally as from those who love him unconditionally.

Diverting attention from Trump to his asinine governance strategies might be the best strategy for the opposition – the resistance, if you will. However the congressional elections turn out in their dead-heat contests, the most effective resistance to his assaults on science and reason is already being deployed by a handful of urbanized states – Colorado among them. Led by California – the biggest and most urban state, the fifth largest economy in the world – these states are simply ignoring Washington policies and going ahead with strategies to address the changing climate. Last month California’s legislature committed that state to a 100 percent conversion to renewable non-carbon energy by 2045. Can they do this? Technically it is possible; economically it will require a lot of long-term forward-financing (taxpayer support); politically it will be difficult even in that mostly blue state, and they will probably be actively opposed by the Trump administration at every turn, as they are on their decision to stand by their strict auto emission standards. Who prevails will be determined by how far and wide the Trumpsters’ partisan conversion of the federal judiciary has proceeded.

Another positive example: when the Trumpsters announced that the feds were relaxing methane emission standards for the benefit of the gas and oil industry, Colorado and California, along with a few other states, announced that they would retain their stricter regulations for this greenhouse gas, 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Colorado’s regulations encourage capturing methane to burn for heat or power, lemonade from lemons; the aspen Ski Company gets a good chunk of its lift power from a methane-powered plant it funded that captures methane from a coal mine. This is economic development, jobs, as well as an environmental benefit – what’s wrong with that for making America greater?


’m proud to live in a state that takes a rebellious stand for evidence-based science against the federal call to allow reality to be set from the top down as national policy. But I do realize that this is not a consensual stance throughout the state. Colorado, politically, is a big blue Front Range island with an archipelago of smaller islands like Pitkin, Gunnison and San Miguel Counties, surrounded by a shallow (population-wise) red sea. And there are some initiative contests in Colorado that need careful thinking from the 55 or 60 percent of voters, who won’t be voting in blind faith, if we are to continue to be a state that tries to anticipate the future rather than restaging the past.

There are two constitutional amendments to consider. I always approach constitutional amendments with caution and skepticism: they are one-shot binding laws that we won’t be able to legislatively adjust, alter or make fit better; constitutional amendments eliminate a chunk of our self-governance, and that shouldn’t be done lightly. That said, I will vote for Amendment 73, for Great Schools, Thriving Communities. This is a complex amendment to create a Quality Public Education Fund through a very progressive income tax, and adjustments to school property taxes that will slip a little reform into the ever-unfolding Gallagher amendment inequities. It will also be exempt from the more negative budget-limiting aspects of TABOR. But the best argument for it is its potential to put more resources toward preparing the coming generations for a difficult future.

If it fails despite all its virtues, it will probably be because its opponents can run a simple but misleading question against it: Do we need more taxes for education? Never mind that only Coloradans netting more than $150,000 will pay that tax, the top eight percent of taxpayers. Everyone else will pay nothing, and actually see a modest drop in their school property taxes if it passes. For too many people, tax is a word they no longer have to think about; just say no. Even if it is for an important purpose, and takes most (in this case all) from those who can best afford it. Please look carefully at Amendment 73, beyond the knee-jerk just say no.

Also look deeply at Amendment 74, which I will not vote for. But this amendment is going to sound great on first glance to a lot of people even beyond the Trumpster bloc – to everyone who “just don’t trust the guvmint.”

To the private property “takings” protections in the Constitution (Bill of Rights Article II, Section 15), Amendment 74 would add the condition that no government law or regulation can reduce fair market value for an individual’s private property without just compensation. Well, that sounds fair, right?

But suppose your town or county officials had to pass an ordinance restricting lawn-watering in order to extend or save the community water supply: That browned-out lawn is going to reduce my home’s fair market value, right? A taking! Pay me!

This amendment would essentially undermine any municipal or county efforts at land-use planning, which is usually undertaken to protect property owners against wild-card excesses from other property owners and undesirable growth (sprawl). But if this passes, property owners will be able to demand just compensation for things they can’t do with their property that would have been more lucrative – no pot shops in the school zone? No adult entertainment bars next to the park? No franchises or chains on Main Street? My property’s fair market value is diminished! Whether such claims succeed or fail, taxpayer money has to be spent defending the community. Oregon tried this amendment; many billions in claims later, they passed another amendment to undo it.

Our constitutions – state and federal – already cover compensation for real damages to private property, for public or private purposes; this amendment is not just unnecessary, it is potentially destructive, especially at the local level. But it is going to sound great to those whose knee-jerk reaction is to hate any government they can’t drown in the bathtub.

It is an important election. Vote Democrat in the national elections just to restore a little two-party integrity at that level; even if you lean Republican, your Democrat will be brought in line by the corporate legislature anyway. But on the Colorado items – think it through; let your head inform your heart. But do vote.

George Sibley lives, writes and votes in Gunnison –